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.

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