Friday, September 22, 2000

Best of Broadway

Glitz! Glamour! Tap dancers! Kids! A cast of over 200. What else could it be but Best of Broadway's musical extravaganza, "Lights on Broadway," opening last weekend to a near capacity audience in the Bert Chappell Theatre on the Hiram Johnson High School campus.

Now in its 28th season, Best of Broadway was the brainchild of Producer/Director David L. MacDonald, who saw it as a way to raise money for a local boys' home. Twenty-eight years later, MacDonald is still running what has become an annual event. It's "amateur" in the purest sense of the term--people doing something for the love of it--but there's nothing "amateurish" about this production.

From the opening, "Staying Alive," the start of a three-number tribute to disco, to the finale, with Mardi Gras revelers singing on the stage, in the boxes, in the aisles, and passing out necklaces to the audience, this is a non-stop delight. There is never a dead spot and the parade of local performers, which included the current reigning Miss Sacramento, Sherilyn Peek, is an impressive tribute to the talent in the Sacramento area.

MacDonald has chosen this year's material from some lesser known Broadway shows, giving the audience a chance to become more familiar with such works as "The Fix," "The Boy from Oz," "Hot Shoe Shuffle," and "Swing," along with old favorites like "Oklahoma," "The King and I" "South Pacific" and Carousel." In Act 2 a condensed version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was performed, ending with a lovely rendition of "This I Pray" sung by Kalynn Dodge.

While all of the principals were excellent, there were some outstanding performances. Randy Solario appeared in several numbers, but was best in "I've got to be a Rug Cutter" and "Go to Rio" (with the equally delicious Kathryn Skinner). Lisa Teeple brought a Betty Boop-like coquettishness to "How Lucky Can You Get." Joe Moss was the perfect "Song and Dance Man." Lynda Williams overcame some mic problems to give full voice to "Alleluia." Cheryl Debose brought down the house with "Sweet Georgia Brown." Eleven year old Christopher Carlson (late of the cast of the touring company of "Les Miserables") was an audience favorite with his "Bigger Isn't Better," from Barnum.

Just when you think surely the local talent bank has been exhausted, out comes an ensemble of some 70 children, all dressed in sequins and tap shoes, to perform "Don't Be Anything Less" from "Snoopy." The children were disciplined, professional, amazingly talented and showed the result of lots and lots of rehearsal under the direction of choreographer Gina Cox and choral director Wendy Frampton Holly. Keep an eye on the smallest little blonde in the center...she's adorable and every bit the professional.

"Lights on Broadway" is a tour de force for costume coordinators Gayle Battaley and Heather Strickler. There were sequins galore, fur, feathers, tuxes in black, white and blue, and even a tribute to "Cats," with those wonderful feline costumes. Six people are listed on the program as "backstage monitors" (under coordinator Judith Malkasian). One can only imagine the scene, as there were a number of very quick costume changes for large numbers of people.

Choreographers Diana Ruslin and Terri Taylor-Solario keep the action moving, with dance numbers that are interesting and varied, from disco to swing to tap to samba.

Dan Kern has created a simple but effective set which evolves from a disco bar to a cathedral to a mardi gras party with the simple change in draping of curtains or placement of lamps. A rose window is added to the balcony for "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" scenes, nicely back lit by lighting designer Dion Cook (who added a hint of twinkling candles in the interior of the "cathedral.") A separate fence piece is wheeled on stage for the "Cats" tribute.

Almost as much fun as the action on stage is the performance of sign language interpreters Christie Lindsay and Carol McConnell. Watching these women at work makes one understand how it is possible for the hearing impaired to actually feel the beat of the music and enjoy the rhythm of the production.

Production Coordinator is Mary Taylor, and Music Direction is by Mark Stivers, who conducts the 4 piece offstage band.

Performances are held at the Bert Chappell Theatre on the Hiram Johnson High School campus, 65th St. at 14th Ave. in Sacramento on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays through September 30. Ticket prices are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased by phone or in person via the Best of Broadway Box Office at 4010 El Camino Ave., Monday- Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 pm. or through any outlet. Call (916) 974-6290 or visit the web site at for more information.

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