Sunday, August 20, 2023

Here Lies Love - Broadway

You’ve probably never seen a musical on Broadway like Here Lies Love.  With a score by David Burns (of The Talking Heads) and Fat Boy Slim, this immersive, disco-pop biography of Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, is a wildly entertaining production.  You know you’re in for something different when you have to weave through passageways to your seats (there is a seating option and dance floor option.  I chose the former).  The interior of the Broadway Theatre has been reconfigured as a huge dance floor.  Most of the orchestra seats have been removed.  The atmosphere, with Justin Townsend’s vibrant, criss-crossing, and multi-colored lighting; M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer’s blaring sound work; and Peter Nigrini’s pulsating video projections, is reminiscent of Studio 54 where Ms. Marcos spent many a night dancing to the disco beat. 


The 90 minute, intermission-less production, with its catchy songs and Annie-B Parson’s energetic and bustling choreography, keeps the show at a frenetic pace.  Director Alex Timbers masterfully stages the musical, utilizing every space of Scenic Designer David Korins’ refitted theater - from the moveable platforms on the dance floor, within the aisles of the mezzanine, and on the shrunken Broadway Theatre stage itself.  There is never a dull moment in Here Lies Love.  Throughout the show a DJ shouts to the audience to stand and show their stuff.  Even if you stay put in your chair, your feet can’t help but boogie.


The story begins with Imelda Marcos, a poor, country girl, whose beauty pageant win propels her to the capitol, Manila.  From there, in quick succession, she meets and marries Ferdinand Marcos who, after a stint as a State Senator, becomes President.  Their rule is harsh, riddled with corruption.  While the country suffers poverty and hardships they are spending state money on a lavish lifestyle.  The pleas of Ninoy Aquino, a critic of the Marcos regime (and former love of Imelda) play out at certain points of the show.  Eventually, President Marcos declares martial law to stamp down dissent and after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Imelda and Ferdinand leave a disenchanted country for exile in the United States. 


The songs by David Burns and Fat Boy Slim, encapsulated, for the most part, within surging disco rhythms, propel the story forward and add shading to the main characters.  When combined with Mr. Nigrini’s grainy newsreel footage and stark captions projected around the theater, audience members come away with an understanding  of the historical era dramatized in the show.


The all-Filipino cast is superb, led by Arielle Jacobs as Ms. Marcos.  This is a star-making role and Ms. Jacobs is up to the challenge.  She superbly moves from shy, country lass to a confident, arrogant world leader.  The actress brings a great deal of nuance to her role, providing a well-rounded character study of the former first lady.  Jose LLana’s Ferdinand Marcos, more a secondary character in the production, nonetheless, manages to imbue within his portrayal a brashness and charisma that is at times hypnotic and chilling.   Conrad Ricamora’s portrayal of Ninoy Aquino, the doomed opposition leader, is virtuous and impassioned, a fitting counterpoint to the Marcos rule.  Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, in the small role of Aurora Aquino, delivers a quietly intense performance.

Here Lies Love, dancing the night away at The Broadway Theatre.

Back to the Future - Broadway

Fans of the movie Back to the Future will not be disappointed with the musical adaptation.  The show is a rollicking good time with a superb cast – especially Hugh Coles as the klutzy, milquetoast George McFly – and a fully operational DeLorean.  It zips.  It zooms.  Yes, it even flies!  Audience members not familiar with the film should still find the production entertaining, but at certain points during the show they might be scratching their heads wondering why everyone is hooting and hollering.  My advice – go see the film beforehand.


The book of the musical, adapted by original screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, follows the same storyline as the movie, with a few alterations that don’t really matter.  For example, the Libyan terrorists are gone.  George McFly’s encounter with an alien Marty has been exed and the skateboard chase with a fuming Biff trying to wrangle Marty is replaced with a frenetic romp through the halls of Hill Valley High School.  There’s no manure this time.  Just a bowl of spaghetti.  In addition to the changes, the  librettists have greatly expanded the character of Goldie Wilson, the malt shop worker who eventually becomes Mayor of Hill Valley.  Portrayed by the actor, Jelani Remy, he now gets his own high-energy production number, “Gotta Start Somewhere.”  Roger Bart, adding his own delectable spin to the role of Doc Brown, sings and dances with a couple of well-conceived production numbers, primarily the Act II opener, “21st Century.”  [Note:  This is the second “mad” scientist role for the veteran performer.  He was the original Dr. Frankenstein in the Broadway and national tour of Young Frankenstein.]


Dance plays a central role in the show which, at first glance, seems surprising.  You wouldn’t think the Back to the Future musical would have so many full-throttled dance numbers.  As conceived by Choreographer Chris Bailey, they help enliven scenes and provide a bit of Broadway razzle dazzle.


Back to the plot – Teenager Marty McFly has a life he would rather forget.  His family consists of a slacker brother and sister, a frumpy mother who likes to hit the bottle, and a spineless father bullied by his high school nemesis Biff.  Marty’s only salvation is his beautiful, level-headed girlfriend Jennifer.  Very quickly, Marty is summoned to meet his scientist friend, Doc Brown, to witness a DeLorean time machine he invented.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, Marty takes the souped-up car back 30 years to 1955 in order to change time to save his dying friend, poisoned by the plutonium that powers the vehicle.


Complications, of course, arise.  How does he convince a younger Doc Brown he is from the future?  How can the two of them get Marty back to his own time?  How can he fend off his teenage mother who has the hots for him instead of his future father, endangering his very existence?  And how does he avoid his adversary, the dim-witted Biff?


Director John Rando smartly gives the audience what they want, with just a few changes and embellishments.  As with the famous DeLorean, the musical is at a full-throttled pace.  Speaking of the scene-stealing automobile, Mr. Rando has worked Broadway magic, along with Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin, Sound Designer Gareth Owen, Scenic Designer Tim Hatley and Illusion Designer Chris Fisher, to bring the car to life.  When it revs up to the required 88 miles an hour you believe it is attaining that necessary speed.  Near the end of the production it flies (couldn’t figure it out even from the center orchestra).  The creative team also brilliantly melded their skills during the pivotal clock tower sequence.  Bravo for their technical wizardry.


The score  by noted film composer Alan Silvestri and producer/songwriter Glen Ballard is pedestrian at best.  While satisfying within the context of the show, there is nothing memorable about the music and lyrics.  Is this a detriment to the enjoyment of the show?  No, but to have at least one catchy original number, besides the Huey Lewis and the News hit, “The Power of Love” and the Chuck Berry classic, “Johnny B. Goode,” would have made the musical even more captivating.


The cast is led by Casey Likes, who only made his Broadway debut in last year’s Almost Famous.  In Back to the Future, he is an ideal Marty McFly, bringing his own spin to a role so entwined with Michael J. Fox.  He infuses his character with just the right blend of bewilderment, enthusiasm, and gung ho spirit.  Roger Bart makes an ideal Doc Brown, providing much of the humor in the show.  He has the crazed, spirited zeal necessary for the character to come alive.  As with Casey Likes, his interpretation of the role, made so memorable by Christopher Lloyd, is distinctly his own.  Hugh Coles eerily recreates the role of George McFly.  He brings a pathetic, yet endearing quality to the role. Nathaniel Hackman, a hulking presence, is an ideal Biff Tannen as he menaces the members of the McFly family.  Jelani Remy provides a sparkling liveliness in the expanded role of Goldie Wilson.  Liana Hunt is pleasing as the coy, but also self-assertive, Lorraine Baines, Marty’s younger, friskier mother.


Back to the Future, a comedic, exuberant gem, now on Broadway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Oliver! - Sharon Playhouse

The production of Oliver!, running at the Sharon Playhouse through August 20, is a mixed bag.  The three adult performers - James Beaman (Fagin), Justin Michael Duval (Bill Sikes), and Gina Naomi Baez (Nancy) - add a professional sheen to the show.  However, the two key child actors are not up to the task of carrying a large-scale musical.  Ivan Howe brings a sweet and pleasing nature to the central role of Oliver, but he often seems lost within the production.  Phoebe Amankwah gives the Artful Dodger the outsized confidence necessary for the character, but her portrayal is too one-dimensional.


Oliver!, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, is based on the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist.  As with the novel, we are introduced to Oliver, an orphan boy in one of the notorious Victorian era workhouses.  He is impudent and brazen.  Through a series of misadventures he meets the Artful Dodger who introduces him to Fagin, an aged “den mother” to a bevy of thievish children he teaches the art of pickpocketing.  Lurking around is Bill Sikes, a former member of Fagin’s gang, but now an older, hulking brute still in the game, and his beau Nancy.  When Oliver is nabbed during his maiden outing as a thief, a whole series of events are triggered that not only save the young boy from a life of crime, but reveals his true identity.


Lionel Bart’s score is more successful than his book for the show, which is partially understandable since he had to condense a novel of over 600 pages.  The musical is very episodic and scenes directed by Michael Kevin Baldwin can come across as somewhat ponderous.  The intimate, less raucous moments of the show, staged within TJ Greenway’s multi-faceted sets, are more rewarding.


The score is the strength of the show.  It includes well-known songs, many steeped in the English Music Hall tradition of sing-a-longs and boisterous melodies.  There is the rollicking “Consider Yourself” and “Oom-Pah-Pah,” which choreographer Michelle Lemon uses to stage lively, upbeat production numbers.  The dancers, especially the younger members of the ensemble, aren’t always in step, but the routines are diverting and entertaining.  James Beaman’s Fagin delivers two comic gems - “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation.”  Gina Naomi Baez can belt (“It’s a Fine Life”) and show bittersweet tenderness ("As Long as He Needs Me") in her numbers.


Costumed in period garb by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, the cast, primarily the aforementioned central characters, bring a thoroughness and reliability to their roles.  James Beaman strikes just the right mix of comic sensibility and mischievousness to the role of Fagin.  Justin Michael Duval is aptly menacing as the roguish Bill Sikes and Ms. Baez, with a gorgeous vocal delivery, shows vulnerability and bravado as the doomed Nancy.  John Bergeron’s Mr. Bumble can come across a bit too cartoonish and Savannah Stevenson, who lends her beautiful voice to a number of songs, could have toned down her bellowing tirades.


Oliver!, playing at the Sharon Playhouse through August 20.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.


Beauty and the Beast - Legacy Theater

The Legacy Theatre is a jewel box of a performing space.  However, shows need to be reconceptualized to take advantage of the theater’s intimacy.  Simply scaling down versions of big time musicals can be problematic, which is the case with their current production of Beauty and the Beast.  Director Keely Basiden Knudsen utilizes just the essential cast members - Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Babette, Madame de la Grande Bouche, and a small ensemble - to bring the musical to life.  They are outfitted in the standard supernatural costumes, designed by Jimmy Johansmeyer.  Large, showcase numbers, such as “Be Our Guest,” the dreamy, boisterous song from Act I, is reduced to a few dancing dishes.  The climatic “storming the castle scene” near the end of Act II has been excised.  Even the invention of Maurice, Belle’s father, normally a huge, clanking hulk is slimmed down to nightstand sized.


Beauty and the Beast is the perfect show to introduce young children to musical theater.  I took my oldest daughter to the original Broadway production when she was six years old.  But young ones can become fidgety if the spectacle onstage is not catching their fancy.  The Projection Slide Design by Matt Kizer Design LLC and the Project Programmer Adam Jackson provide very basic video projected backdrops.  The straightforward projections, utilized throughout the production, help speed scene changes, but are lacking in theatrical magic.  The pacing of the musical was also just a step slow.  Choreographer Paola Pacheco Rarick adds a few basic dance steps to liven up the show. The transformation scene that comes at the end of the musical, always a tricky moment to direct, was artfully rendered. 


The plot, for audience members not familiar with the Disney tale, revolves around Belle, an independently-minded young woman, living in a provincial town with her eccentric inventor father Maurice.  On the way to a fair, he becomes lost, ending up at an enchanted castle overseen by a beast and his servants, who have been transformed into household objects by an enchantress.  The only way to break the curse on the inhabitants - the beast, formally a handsome prince, must gain the love of a young lady. 


Maurice is imprisoned by the irate beast when Belle, worried about his disappearance, appears.  In quick succession her father is freed and Belle becomes the prisoner, destined to spend her life within the castle walls.  Of course, after a few false starts, the two begin to fall in love with the assistance of the loyal servants.  But, will their relationship be consummated before it’s too late?  What about the dimwitted he-man, Gaston, looking to wed Belle for himself?  Will he spoil it all?


The score for Beauty and the Beast, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, is full of memorable songs, thanks to exposure in the numerous animated and live-action films.  They include the scene-setting opening number, “Belle;” the boastful “Gaston;” the beautiful ballad, “If I Can't Love Her;” and the Grammy and Academy Award winning title number.  The small pitband of six musicians, under the directorship of Cathyann Roding, bring a surprisingly full sound to the production.


The cast is led by Melanie Martyn as Belle.  The actress is engaging with a wonderful singing voice.  Dan Frye’s beast, which unduly shifted between rough-edged and docile, could have used padding to bulk up his appearance in order to come across as more menacing.  Niko Charney brings a carefree, bon vivant spirit to Lumiere.  Josiah Rowe’s Cogsworth is satisfactorily indignant.  Gaston, usually portrayed by a strapping, clean-shaven actor, is given a different, not altogether successful spin with Scott A. Towers in the role as a bearded, long-haired mountain man type.  While his portrayal could have been more over-the-top, his sidekick LeFou, played by Robert Peterpaul, could have toned down the histrionics.  Susan Kulp makes an agreeable Mrs. Potts, gorgeously singing the title song.  David Bell is generally convincing as the befuddled Maurice.


Beauty and the Beast, playing at the Legacy Theatre through August 27.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Cottage - Broadway

The Cottage is a frothy, fizzy drawing room comedy with enough laughs to keep audiences happy as they drift out of the boutique-like Helen Hayes Theatre.  It also has the best flatulence scene since the bean eating sequence from the film Blazing Saddles.


Directed with comedic aplomb by Jason Alexander, the show begins innocently enough with the next morning afterglow of two lovers - Sylvia (Laura Bell Bundy) and Beau (Eric McCormack).  Slowly, and deliciously, what unfolds is not what we think as other characters begin to enter the sumptuously detailed living room by Scenic Designer Paul Tate dePoo III.  I don’t want to spoil the fun that playwright Sandy Rustin has swimmingly fashioned, but let’s just say there are a continual array of surprises and humorous clowning that are unceasingly entertaining.  Enough said.

Mr. Alexander knows his way around scenic comedy and Broadway productions (he was in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at age 22 and won a Tony Award for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway).  His set-ups are well-orchestrated without seeming forced.  He allows his highly talented cast to take the reins of a scene and play it to the hilt.  As Director, he humorously appends a few running jokes, such as off-beat cigarette storage containers - that add a quick chuckle.


Ms. Rustin has crafted a delectably appetizing treat with characters that are at times pompous, arrogant, dimwitted, but decidedly funny.  Just when you think there can be no more surprises, she reaches into her theatrical bag of tricks to produce one more hilarious revelation.


The cast, handsomely outfitted by Costume Designer Sydney Maresca, is superbly shepherded by Jason Alexander.  They are a well-oiled ensemble and a joy to watch.  Eric McCormack shows his leading man chops as the put upon, philandering lawyer Beau.  Laura Bell Bundy, lushly adorned in a platinum blonde wig, is the perfect foil as the beleaguered Sylvia.  The actress has enough eye rolls and facial tics to conjure up the ghost of British comedian Marty Feldman.  Alex Moffat, combines the chaotic madness honed from his Saturday Night Live days with a dash of Monty Python antics to give his character Clarke a manic silliness.  Lilli Cooper (Marjorie), always a reliable performer, is more the straight (wo)man in the show with one uproariously hysterical scene.  Dana Steingold, a petite dynamo of a performer tithers her way through the production with dizziness and gumption as the not-so-waifess Dierdre.  Nehal Joshi, is wide-eyed and genuinely woeful as Michael…or is that Richard.


The Cottage, a worthy diversion during these last days of summer.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The Flying DeLorean & Other Notable Automobiles on Broadway

Later this week I head to Broadway to catch the new musical Back to the Future. Its been a big hit in London. The show opened last week in New York to mixed reviews. However, everyone – from critics to audience members – agrees that the star of the show is the flying DeLorean. Click here to read an article in the September 2, 2021 issue of The New York Times entitled “In ‘Back to The Future: The Musical,’ the Car Is the Star of the Show.”  Can’t wait to see a bit of Broadway magic.
That got me thinking about other shows where an automobile was one of the stars. Here are a few. How many have you seen? Which musicals would you add?
Grease – opened on February 14, 1972
My first Broadway show without parental accompaniment. Grease is still one of my all-time favorite shows and cast recordings. While the entire body of souped-up Greaased Lightning doesn’t appear on stage – just the grille, hood and headlights – it is an iconic part of the show, along with one of the best numbers from the score. For a number of years, it was the longest running musical in Broadway history, notching 3,388 performances.
Sunset Boulevard – opened on November 17, 1994
A March 19, 1995 article about the show’s full-scale fiberglass copy of Norma Desmond's Isotta Fraschini (pronounced ee-ZOH-tah frah-SKEE-nee) proclaimed “Driving Miss Desmond: The Car's a Scene-Stealer.” The town car had an open chauffeur's compartment and a convertible top over the rear seat. It is a faithful replica of the Isotta used in the original "Sunset Boulevard," the 1950 Billy Wilder film starring Gloria Swanson. The show ran for 977 performances.
Ragtime – opened on January 18, 1998
The replica of a working Model T appears on stage and its desecration becomes a central plot point of the show. Three songs about the automobile appear in the score – “Henry Ford,” “Wheels of a Dream,” and “The Trashing of the Car.” Ragtime ran for 834 performances and won four Tony Awards including Best Book, Best Score and Best Featured Actress for Audra McDonald. It lost out to Lion King for Best Musical.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – opened April 28, 2005
The stage adaptation of the beloved film – that starred Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes – was a big hit on the London stage, running for 3 ½ years. On Broadway, just 285 performances. I personally loved the show and thought it should have run much longer. I sat in the 10th row, center orchestra and when the car started flying, I was in awe. Never figured out how they did it.
Hands on a Hardbody – opened on March 21, 2013
The musical is based on the true story of an endurance competition at a Texas dealership where contestants try to keep their hands on a truck the longest to win it.  All the character’s personal stories, choreography, everything revolved around the red pick-up sitting center stage. Crazy idea that didn’t resonate with audiences. After 28 previews and 28 performances the musical closed. The show had music by Trey Anastasio, the singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist of the rock band Phish.


Monday, August 7, 2023

Summer Stock - Goodspeed Opera House

The theatrical adaptation of the movie musical Summer Stock, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through August 26, is a throwback to the old-fashioned, rousing fare that was a staple during the Golden Age of the Broadway musical.  The story is a variation of the “let’s put on a show,” that was the basis for Babes in Arms and “let’s go to Connecticut to rehearse” from Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn.  The musical is the perfect accompaniment to a summer’s day or night along the Connecticut River.


      Corbin Bleu and the cast of Goodspeed's Summer Stock. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

As the show begins, Joe Ross (Corbin Bleu) needs a rehearsal space to direct his upcoming musical.  The star of the show, Gloria Falbury (Arianna Rosario) volunteers her family farm in the Nutmeg state, much to the displeasure of sister Jane (Danielle Wade), who stayed home to run the aged, money losing establishment with her father Henry (Stephen Lee Anderson).  Adding to Jane’s woes is the pressure from neighbor Margaret Wingate (Veanne Cox), who wants to add their parcel of land to her growing empire. 


The performers arrive and combine rehearsing hours with farm chores and with helping to bring in the harvest.  Jane, a crackerjack performer in her own right, is recruited for the show.  Love, of course, ensues between the central characters as the question of will the show go on pulsates throughout the troupe.  Catastrophe is averted at the last moment as sorted couplings work themselves out to produce…ta da…the requisite happy ending.


      Corbin Bleu and the cast of Goodspeed's Summerstock. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The book by Cheri Steinkellner incorporates members of the special forces from WW II, which enables a diversified cast for the production (African-Americans were able to serve in the branch).  It is witty, full of sparkling moments for the stars and featured performers, and moves briskly forward. 


The score includes just a few numbers from the Judy Garland/Gene Kelly film, primarily the classic “Get Happy.” The creative team, however, has gone to the American Songbook vault to incorporate such iconic tunes as “Accentuate the Positive,” ”It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “”Me and My Shadow,” and “Always.”  Happily, each song fits the mood and situation of each scene like a well-worn glove.  Jay Hilton’s splendid Sound Design ensures each one of the songs comes across with a magical delight.


As Director and Choreographer, Donna Feore is able to keep the show moving at a lively pace.  Scene changes, staged mostly in Wilson Chin’s minimally designed barn, are gratifyingly quick.  The dance numbers, most featuring the superb talents of Corbin Bleu, are vivacious, and include many members of the talented cast.  The are artfully and creatively crafted on the small Goodspeed stage.  My main critique is, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, in Act II there are too many production numbers, which caused the show to lag towards its winning conclusion.  Ms. Feore imbues each character with an effervescent charm and displays a deft hand at taking each element of the musical and creating a handsomely produced whole.


Arianna Rosario and Danielle Wade in Goodspeed's Summer Stock. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

The cast is stocked with performers that have significant Broadway roles to their credit.  Corbin Bleu possesses an exuberant personality, a dynamic singing voice and scintillating dance steps. His performance and charisma lift the entire production.  Arianna Rosario (Gloria Falbury) and Danielle Wade (Jane Falbury) are ideally cast as the two loving, yet rival, sisters.  They have a wonderful chemistry, which is essential for the plot of the show to work.  Veanne Cox, who most recently demonstrated her dramatic talents in last spring’s Webster’s Bitch at Playhouse on Park, brings a deadpan, comedic persona to her featured role as Margaret Wingate.  Will Roland, the archetype of teenage angst in the original Broadway productions of Dear Evan Hansen and Be More Chill, is a joy as Margaret’s coddled, frumpy, and good-hearted son Orville.  Stephen Lee Anderson, Gilbert L. Bailey II, and J. Anthony Crane round out the solid and engaging featured group of performers.


Summer Stock, a triumphant, shimmering piece of musical theater, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through August 26.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.

Bandstand - Playhouse on Park

Before I begin my review, let me applaud Playhouse on Park for producing a challenging, unfamiliar, yet rewarding show. Bandstand ran for only 166 performances on Broadway in Spring 2017 and had no national tour.  While other theaters in the state mount the same, well-worn titles, Playhouse offers something different and refreshing.  Now the review…


The musical Bandstand, playing at Playhouse on Park through August 20, is top notch musical theater.  The production is first rate with a knockout performance by lead Katie Luck as Julia Trojan, a grieving widow finding love and a renewed vigor for life. 


The story focuses on Donny Novitski, who has just returned from a horrifying stint on the Solomon Islands during WW II.  A musician, desperately seeking work in the clubs of Cleveland, he finally finds direction through a song contest that could change his life.  He quickly puts together a tight combo of war veterans to help him fulfill his dream.  Each has been physically or psychologically impacted by their experiences overseas.  This set-up gives the book by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker a satisfying depth and weightiness.  There is honesty and truth to the story, which could easily be about veterans returning home from any armed conflict over the years.


As Donny is recruiting musicians, he looks in on Julia Trojan, the widow of his best friend who died under friendly fire.  She wants to know the full details of his death.  He is hesitant to reveal the shocking truth.  By happenstance he hears her sing and recruits her to be the vocalist for the now Donny Nova group.  As the date for the contest nears, stress mounts within the band and with Donny and Julia.  They overcome adversity to set up an ending, then finale, that is both surprising and gratifying.


The score by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker, under the outstanding Musical Direction of Melanie Guerin, is full of extended numbers, which furthers character development and define settings.  There are wistful songs, rousing numbers, and introspective tunes that come together to form a worthwhile whole.


Director Sean Harris, along with Choreographer Darlene Zoller and Robert Mintz, have crafted a show that pops and zings.  The large cast flows into each scene with a breezy effervescence.  Set changes are quick and keep the momentum of the production on the upbeat.  Harris effectively utilizes James Rotondo’s rectangular rotating set and sliding paneled backdrop, along with Jackson Funke’s Lighting Design, to successfully create the various segments of the show.  The Director presents each character’s personal demons with just the right amount of acuteness without becoming maudlin.


Choreographers Zoller and Mintz employ dance, primarily, as a vehicle that augments scenes, with the Act II opener, “Nobody” the only all-out spirited production number.  Choreography also helps define the inner feelings of characters, most notably of Donny Novitski.


The cast is led by Benjamin Nurthen as Donny Novitski and Katie Luke as his love interest Julia Trojan.  Ms. Luke possesses a powerful voice that can be tinged with emotional force - “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” - and a dynamic tension - “Welcome Home (Finale)” - that brings down the house.  She appealingly conveys warmth and vulnerability as she navigates her new, uncertain future.  Mr. Nurthen brings an unsettling passion to his role as we witness his rollercoaster ups and downs.  His performance would be enhanced if he spoke slower and more clearly and if he added more nuance to the role.


The actors, who play their own instruments (augmented by an off-stage band), form a topflight combo.  They are Jack Theiling (Jimmy Campbell on saxophone), Alan Mendez (Davy Zlatic on bass), John Elliott (Nick Radel on trumpet), Chris Haley (Wayne Wright on trombone), and Dan Jantson (Johnny Simpson on drums).  Mindy Cassle, looking like a young Thelma Ritter, adds a bit of spunkiness to the show as Julia’s mother.  Special mention goes to James Felton II, a superb dancer, who’s shadowing of Donny Novitski provides an inner look into his soul.


Bandstand, at Playhouse on Park through August 20.  A show not to be missed.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.