Monday, July 2, 2012

Summertime at Harlequin

Summer Session: Set in the ’70s
reviewed by Alec Clayton

Christian Doyle
Jesse Smith, Jessica Low, Lindsey Larson and Christian Doyle

Jesse Smith
Christian Doyle and Lindsey Larson
Harlequin Productions has an unbeatable formula for its summer music extravaganzas: pick a theme or an era (‘60s music, Motown, women singers, etc.) and the top hits from that time or genre; pull together four or five of the best musical theater performers in the South Sound and an all-star rock band — and rock out. Just to keep it… honest?... they every once in a while alternate these rock ‘n’ roll song fests with The Rocky Horror Show or A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night, written by Scot and Bruce Whitney “with apologies to William Shakespeare.”

With a formula like that, how can they possibly go wrong? They can’t, and they’re proving it once again this summer with Summer Session: Set in the ’70s.

Summer Session is a revue of hit songs from the’70s including such greats as Don McLean’s “American Pie,” “Young Americans” by David Bowie, “Only The Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” Dire Straits’ “Sultans Of Swing” and Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

The singers are: Christian Doyle, who local theater-goers will remember for his outstanding performance in last summer’s Summer in the ‘60s; Jesse Smith right off his recent stint as Tommy in The Who’s Tommy at Centerstage; Lindsey Larson, making her Harlequin debut after a role in Titanic the Musical at 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle; and Jessica Low, also making her Harlequin debut, whom I haven’t seen since A Chorus Line and Children of Eden at Capital Playhouse.

Also singing on one song, “Sultans of Swing” — and doing a damn fine job of it — is musical director and band leader Bruce Whitney. Regulars at Harlequin shows know that it has become a tradition for Whitney to step out of his role as band leader to sing on at least one song in their summer music revues as well as in their annual Christmas show in the Stardust series. He is unassuming and sings with restraint, and is always a crowd pleaser.

The band is made up of favorite local musicians Andy Garness, drums; Rick Jarvela, Bass; Brad Schrandt, keyboards and horns; Daven Tillinghast, guitar; and Whitney on keyboards and acoustic guitar. They were joined on few songs at the opening of the second act by local high school students Alec Taylor on trumpet and Julia Soto on baritone sax.

The band stands behind the singers and the only set pieces are a few chairs and music stands. The only theatrical touches are some dramatic lighting and a film projection by James Bass — a nice touch and competently done, but scarcely noticeable because your eyes are glued on the performers.

All four are excellent singers, and their dance moves are exciting. The two women throw themselves into the dancing with exuberance, especially Larson, who is a dynamo of energy. The men exhibit more cool than excitement in their dance moves.

The show opens with a couple truly iconic songs from the ear, “The Wall” performed by the quartet, followed by Doyle soloing with an acoustic guitar on “American Pie.” This guy could and could be a rock star.

There are so many great songs wonderfully staged that I hardly know which to single out. The first to come to mind is Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” performed marvelously by Larson, Smith’s rocking version of the Bee Gee’s “Stayin Alive.” Then there’s Low’s solo on “Go Your Own Way,” and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” with Larson taking the lead and the band and chorus rocking out is so loud and wild that I thought How can they possibly follow this?! Only something totally contrasting like a ballad could work. So they started with a whispery quiet version of “Stairway to Heaven” that built into a hard-rocking song by the whole group.

And finally the whole group had the entire audience on its feet dancing and clapping to a rousing “Take Me to the River” that turned the theater into a gospel meeting house. That’s been a trademark of their summer musicals since the first one, “Dancin’ in the Streets” when the whole audience spontaneously rushed the stage to dance and sing with the performers.

The magic continues.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through July 22
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

1 comment:

parksidemrstaylor said...

Awesome show! We went with family to watch son Alec on trumpet and must go again!!!