Friday, June 20, 2008

‘Fabulous Fifties’ revue might improve with age

Published in The News Tribune, June 20, 2008

Tacoma Little Theatre has undertaken a gargantuan challenge – and almost pulled it off.

When the national touring company of “The Pajama Game” decided to yank production rights away from regional theaters, TLT was left holding the bag with a cast already in place and no show to produce. So artistic director David Duvall wrote an entirely new musical review to highlight the talents of the cast, and Chris Nardine, who was slated to direct and choreograph “The Pajama Game,” put his talents to work on this new musical review.

It is daunting to even imagine what a huge job it must have been to arrange 40 show tunes and to have each one fully staged – not just soloists coming out and singing songs, but fully choreographed ensemble song-and-dance numbers. I have nothing but praise for the cast and crew, but the result that I saw on opening night fell a little bit short of being the big entertainment it should have been and may well now be.

There was nothing wrong with the performance, but it lacked a little spark that it may have gained with repeated performances. It felt to me like a high school musical.

The set by John Parker and Jason Ganwich is a simple riser with three sets of steps and a back curtain upon which various colored lights are cast. It is simple and effective. Ganwich’s lighting is excellent.

The cast members all do a good job. Most outstanding are Stephanie Leeper and Jennifer Littlefield. The two of them demand attention whenever they are on stage. Leeper’s comic chops are terrific, and she proves that she can also be terrifically sultry and sexy. Littlefield stands out even when she is buried in the chorus. Perhaps more than anyone else in the cast, she seems to really feel the music. You can see it in her fluid and rhythmical movements. Leeper and Littlefield are particularly outstanding on “America” from “West Side Story,” one of the more rousing tunes in the show.

Doug Fahl is the quintessential romantic lead. Tall and handsome and with a mellow voice, he stands out on such songs as “Hey There” (ironically from “The Pajama Game”), which he sings in duet with Rachel Boyer.

Major comedic strokes are provided by Sam Barker on such silly songs as “Big D” from “The Most Happy Fella” (a duet with Ashley Middleton, who really knows how to belt out a tune) and on the big finale, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls.”

Another comic stroke was a running routine in the form of James Thomas Patrick repeatedly coming out on stage to sing verses from “Progress is the Root of All Evil” from “Lil’ Abner.” It’s kind of silly but fun to watch the “progress” of his song.

All-in-all, there were five or six very entertaining songs in this show, and although none of the performers really knocked my socks off, I think they all show talent. But I’m afraid a lot of the shows and tunes from “Broadway’s Fabulous Fifties” are not really so fabulous. Shows such as “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” are certainly great, but a lot of what passed for musical entertainment in that decade is pretty boring stuff now, and two-and-a-half hours of 1950s show tunes without a story line is tough for me to sit through, although I know a lot of people eat it up. For those who have fond memories of the era, I can recommend this show.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 29, ASL performance June 29
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22 adults, $20 seniors/students/military and $18 children younger than 12
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

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