When you read the 64 page program for “Best of Broadway’s” 35th anniversary extravaganza, “Sounds of the City,” you have an overwhelming desire to count things. For example, there are 57 musical numbers. There are 212 performers listed in the program, 49 dancers, 91 adult vocalists and 72 children plus an additional 4 sign language interpreters and volunteers too numerous to count, other than the 69 listed as ushers.
This is a big show.
Best of Broadway was an idea conceived by David L. MacDonald in 1973 as a way to raise money for Good Samaritan Boys’ Homes. Thirty-five years later it is still under the direction of MacDonald and still raising funds for local charities. MacDonald describes it has having grown to “a hybrid between professional theater and community theater.” Both extremes were blatantly apparent in this production.
Act 1 illustrated different aspects of city sounds, from the night life (including a little bit of the sleazy side), moving into a daytime business area,, and finally a segment that deals with the theatrical life of a big city.
There were outstanding performances, such as Dewight Mitchell in songs from “The Life,” “Grand Hotel,” and “Dream Girls”
Randy Solorio stood out in “Riverside Drive” from “Jimmy,” and in “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Kendra Mattingly, looking very reminiscent of Winona Ryder, was outstanding in “Dream Babies,” from “The Me That Nobody Knows.”
A trio of Melissa Gibson, Meagan Morrison and Lauren Sater were first rate in “Just Arrived,” from “Copacabana.”
Mark Stivers, music arranger, created a medley of Broadway show stoppers, “Music of the Night” by Lou Parell, “Memory” by Nalisha Gray, “Once in a Lifetime” by David L. MacDonald, and “What I Did for Love” by Teresa Taraya, where each sang bit of his or her song and then the four blended together contrapuntally. It was a magical moment.
But the real “magic” comes when the children enter. Their first number was “Light Sings” from “The Me That Nobody Knows” and they were militantly adorable. Watch the left side of the stage for real scene stealers!
Act 2 focused on two shows, “Civil War” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (the version by Dennis DeYoung from the musical group Styx).
Dewight Williams again gave a towering performance in “River Jordan” while Natasha Greer led a moving vocal and dance ensemble in “Someday.”
Enrique Ruiz (also the Children’s Choral Director) was a sensitive Hunchback in several numbers. Ryan Ritter, Rando Solorio and Sam Williams were very funny in “Alms for the Beggarman.” And Feature Musical Director Marji DuBois was wonderful in just about everything.
Christopher Carlson’s mic went dead in “King of Fools.” The actor has toured professionally and his experience as he worked to be heard over the amplification of the rest of the singers on stage. He did, however, have an opportunity to come back, fully miced in the delightful “On a Sunday by the Sea” (with Melissa Gibson, Amy Longstreth, Laura Lothian and Randy Solorio”).
I have reviewed “Best of Broadway” for seven years now and every year I complain about the inconsistent sound system. Levels are sometimes ear splitting, other times distorted, or, in the case of Carlson and Choral Director Corey Rickrode (in “By the Grace of God”), simply not there. When they are good, they are very, very good, but for a show that is a hybrid of professional and community theater, they are not consistently good enough.
The company is also showing the loss of lighting designer Dion Cook. The team of six people credited with lighting (and sound!) design made this a very dark show where much too much of the dancing was done in semi-darkness, while follow spots concentrated on the singer. Particularly bad was a lovely ballet done by Sara Rewinkle, Randy Solorio, Diana Ruslin and Jerald Bolden which was not lit at all, while the focus was on Marji DuBois and Enrique Ruiz. Lighting designers should recognize that the dancers work just as hard (if not harder) and deserve their own moment to be seen as well!
The children’s second number, “The New Ashmolean Marching Society” from “Where’s Charley?”was absolutely stunning, with all 72 dressed in marching band costumes. Kudos to costume coordinators Cathy Carpenter and Joan Pohlman and to children’s choreographer, Kourtney Staab-Spencer.
There will be plenty of opportunities to catch this show. It will run through September 16 at Luther Burbank Theater in Sacramento, and then from September 21 through the 30th at the Whitney Theater in Rocklin. It’s well worth the money, and the money goes for a good cause, so it’s a win-win situation.