Sunday, September 12, 2004

Best of Broadway

Tap dancing is alive and well in Sacramento.

The 32nd annual Best of Broadway musical extravaganza, Kaleidoscope, at Luther Burbank School 6 evenings and 4 matinees through September 25th, is very definitely heavy on the tapping, with lots of singing by lots of local talented folks thrown in for good measure. Students from 26 different performing arts studios around the Sacramento region are represented, 55 in the dance ensemble, 63 in the vocal ensemble, 45 children, 4 sign language interpreters and 3 program pages full of volunteers behind the scenes.

By anybody’s calculation, this is a monumental undertaking.

Best of Broadway was an idea conceived by David L. MacDonald in 1973 as a way to raise money for a local boys’ home. Thirty-two years later it is still under the direction of MacDonald and still raising funds for local charities.

“Kaleidoscope” features numbers from 23 different Broadway shows, some as well known as “Phantom of the Opera” and some as obscure as “The Card.,” with enough big numbers to make your head spin.

The opening number, “I want to be Famous” from “Fame” looked for all the world like a jazz choir performance taken to the extreme, and was followed by the first children’s number, “Come Along and Join Us” from “The Card,” with the children dressed all in black and red--a stunning visual picture.

There are nearly 60 different numbers which vary from the outstanding to the downright bad (fortunately more of the former than the latter). Some principals were clearly not up to the demands of a solo performance, but most gave outstanding performances, many at a professional level. Unfortunately there were some microphone problems on opening night which made volume variable, but the professionals in the group were able to overcome them and the problems were quickly resolved.

In the outstanding category were Roberta Mumm (long-time Davisites may remember her excellent performances with the Davis Comic Opera Company several years ago) and Lou Parell in three numbers from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Both gave first class performances worthy of any professional stage.

Bill Miller, who was a towering Martin Luther King in the last production I attended, was again powerful in two numbers from “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” and “Time to Live,” the first act finale from “Voices.” Miller has a huge voice and a commanding presence and is a force to be reckoned with.

Aaron Clemens also gave a powerful performance, along with Miller, in three numbers from “Don’t Bother Me...” as did Elise Reese singing “It Takes a Lot of Feelings” from the same show.

The incomparable Randy Solorio, a long time Best of Broadway performer, appeared in several numbers, including “Once Upon a Dream” from “Jekyll and Hyde” in the first act, and several numbers in the second act, ending with the rousing finale, “A Shout-Out to Broadway” from “Shout,” which had all cast members on stage and in the aisles, while the audience clapped along with the music.

The children’s second act number, “The People Tree” was just plain adorable, with the children dressed in bright primary colors, making a striking visual as well as an enjoyable musical number.

Gerardo Martinez and Ruben Sanchez added fun to “The Way it Ought to Be” from “A Tale of Two Cities” with their professional looking swordplay.

“That’s the Way I Like It” from “Boogie Nights” was fun, with all the disco costumes and the huge hair on the dancers.

A section of the show called “Broadway Goes Latin” was a lively non-stop tribute to many of the Latin numbers from several shows, including “Copacabana,” “The Boy from Oz,” and “4 Guys Named Joe.” Kathryn Skinner, Solorio, and Pelenta Forrest were particularly good in “Havana,” “I Go to Rio,” and “Macarena,” respectively.

A group with the unlikely name of the Public Apology Quartet (Enrique Ruiz, Matt Freeman, Matthew Holsinger and Dewight Mitchell) performed in several numbers and were fun to listen to, particularly in the first act “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” sounding for all the world like The Platters’ 1959 recording.

Special recognition should be given to costume coordinators Cathy Carpenter and John Pohlman for the consistently classy look throughout the show and to lighting designers Dion Cook and Kevin Arnold, who even gave the “pit chorus” (a group in a glass box off to the side who helped add some vocal “oomph” to many of the performances) their own special light.

Musical Director Dan Poole helped a band of 4 sound like a full pit orchestra.

This is a production that occasionally feels like watching a 3-ring circus, but, like the circus, offers something for everyone--and it benefits some good charities in the bargain.

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