Sunday, September 18, 2005

Best of Broadway

If “Best of Broadway” (which opened in Sacramento at Luther Burbank School) were to hand out “the show must go on” awards, I would nominate Lou Parell in a heartbeat.

It was Act 2. We had already watched a rousing opening number, “Happy,” from “Grand Hotel” and a section called “Broadway’s Latin Suite,” a salute to Latin music in Broadway musicals.

The tone changed and a section featuring songs from “Napoleon” began. Lou Parell had just stepped into a pool of light, dressed as Napoleon, and he began the dramatic, “The Dream Within,” when pinpoint lights started flashing on the walls around the house and an obnoxious honking sound began going on and off.

At first we weren’t sure if it was part of the show or not, this being such a varied show with all sorts of different moods, but then someone said something about a fire alarm and ushers were coming down the aisle telling us we had to evacuate the building. Parell sang through it all, to the end of his song, even though the theater was empty.

While we milled around outside, someone told me that the rumor was that either one of the children in the cast had pulled the fire alarm in the bathroom, or the stage smoke had set it off (though I didn’t notice much stage smoke). Some members of the cast, still dressed in zoot suits from the Latin suite, were standing on the sidewalk yelling “Don’t leave! There will be more!”

Twenty minutes and three fire engines later, we were back inside the theater watching Parell pick up where he left off, in a touching duet with Marji DuBois while Jen Kern and Gerardo Martinez performed a dance duet.

This had been an evening already plagued with microphone problems. Marlee Hernandez, who started out beautifully in “Teenager in Love” from “Return to the Forbidden Planet” lost the sound in her mic shortly into her number, which was a shame, since she had a lovely voice (displayed in the opening number, “My Night” from “Closer to Heaven.”)

Likewise several children who had solos in “I Know” from “Children’s Letters to God,” the rousing first Act finale were unable to be heard because one of the four microphones was dead, which must have disappointed the audience full of family and friends. Other microphones popped and sizzled throughout much of the show.

Despite the problems, however, Best of Broadway, in this year’s extravaganza, “Light Up the Night,” has delivered another enjoyable evening showcasing some of the finest talent Sacramento has to offer.

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-three years later it is still under the direction of MacDonald and still raising funds for local charities.

After 33 years, this may not exactly be the “best” of Broadway (with obscure musicals such as “Closer to Heaven,” “Down River,” “The Card,” “Feel It,” “Children’s Letters to God,” and the aforementioned “Napoleon” (which opened in 2000 in London to mostly negative reviews and closed after 16 weeks), among the old favorites like “West Side Story” and “South Pacific,” but it was an extravaganza nonetheless.

Choreographers Terri Taylor-Solario, Diana Ruslin and Kat Bahry have done an outstanding job of blending dancers with non-dancers and having all look spectacular. Bahry, who was able to get some 75 children to perform such complicated synchronized dances, deserves special kudos.

Musical director Dan Pool, choral director Aaron Clemens and children’s choral director Enrique Ruiz deserve credit for the enthusiastic musical performances.

Sign language interpreters Cristie Pell and Kathy Jackson gave their own performance, nearly as entertaining as what was going on on stage.

This was an edgier “Best of Broadway.” Gone are the sequins and glitter and in their place are costumes (coordinated by Cathy Carpenter and Joan Pohlman) which look like they may have come from Britney Spears’ discard bin. Lots of cut-off jeans, bare midriffs, net stockings with holes in them, tattoos, and leather, all of which worked well for the salute to “We Will Rock You,” with the outstanding “We are the Champions,” led by the powerful Dewight Mitchell.

As the cast assembled on the stage and in the aisles to perform the finale, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” from “George M,” I wondered what George M. Cohan would have thought of the look of inner city urban blight, and decided that given the enthusiasm of the performances, he would have loved it.

Best of Broadway continues through October 1, with a 7:30 curtain. Even with a fire drill and 50 musical numbers, you’ll be out by 10:30.

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