Wednesday, December 6, 2006

“Twelfth Night of Stardust” at Harlequin

Published in The News Tribune Dec. 1, 2006

Every year Harlequin Productions puts on an original musical comedy for the holiday season. They are showcases for 1940s swing music centered on light, holiday-themed romance stories set in Manhattan’s Stardust Club. This year marks their twelfth “Stardust” show. Appropriately, this one is called “The Twelfth Night of Stardust” -- a title with multiple references: the twelfth night of Christmas, the twelfth show in the series, and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which is lightly lampooned in the story line.

I’ve seen three shows in this series. Of the three this is the best. The cast and the script are superior to the last two.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1946. The performers in the Stardust Club are waiting for the arrival of R. Morino, a heartthrob crooner in the Frank Sinatra mold, who has contracted to headline the club’s Christmas Eve floorshow. All of the club’s ensemble performers are looking forward to Morino’s arrival, but none so much as Roxie Grover, who spent one evening with him a few weeks earlier and who recently received an invitation to be his date at a prestigious holiday ball. But when Morino arrives at the club, he is arrogant and dismissive of the other performers, and he acts as if he doesn’t even recognize Roxie. She is devastated and confused.

That’s all I’m going to say about the story line.

The nightclub setting is beautiful. This is not a cheap club. It looks more like a country club than a cabaret, with dark wood, a hanging chandelier and tasteful holiday lights.

The five piece band is made up of some of the best jazz musicians in the South Sound area -- Keith Anderson, drums, Drew Gibbs, piano, Rick Jarvela, bass, Steve Munger, sax, and Syd Potter, trumpet.

The ensemble cast includes actors who are fast becoming household names in South Sound regional theater -- such as Antonia Darlene, Brian Claudio Smith and Geoffery Simmons. Darlene, who plays Cleo Jackson, was recently seen as Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls” at Tacoma Little Theater and in last year’s wonderful production of “Ragtime” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Simmons, in the role of Wade Mitchell, was my pick for best actor in a musical last year for his performance in “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at TLT, and was also outstanding in “Ragtime” and in Harlequin’s “Let the Good Times Roll.” Smith (Morino) is a Shakespearean actor who was a great comedic success in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and outstanding as the tragic-comic Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” both at Harlequin. This is his first venture into musical comedy, but you’d never suspect it from this performance, since he immerses himself into the role so thoroughly.

Other performers include Caitlin Finne as Roxie, LaVon M. Hardison as Loretta Mae, Loni Cappus as Rita Norman, Jason Thayer as Stuart Henry and Deanna Marie Molenda as Zoe Grover.

The show opens with “Brazil,” a showcase musical number with samba dancing and the cast resplendent in red hot South-of-the-border costumes. Some 20 song and dance numbers follow, featuring swing-era classics like “Ain’t We Got fun,” “Taking a Chance on Love” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”

Simmons blows the house away on bluesy and mellow renditions of “As Time Goes By” -- with great sax and trumpet solos by Munger and Potter -- and the smoky Thelonius Monk hit “’Round Midnight.” Darlene shines on “Waitin’ on the A Train,” combining versions by Peggy Lee and Duke Ellington. Mixing, genres, there’s even a brief ballet performance by Molenda to Potter’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Suger Plum Faries.”

All singing and dancing, with a surprisingly clever story, the show runs a little over two hours, with a 20-minute intermission, ending with a great tribute to Broadway as the chorus line sings and high-kicks to “Lullaby of Broadway.”Some performances are sold out, but the Harlequin Web site lists possible extra shows. Call or visit the Web site early for tickets.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays, 3 p.m. Dec. 16 and 23, 7 p.m. New Years Eve, with extra shows possible

WHERE: State Theatre, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia

TICKETS: $38 -$12 (student rush)

INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

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