BWW Review: EMBRACEABLE YOU Brings Gershwin Revival to Servant Stage Company
One of the best purveyors of good works in area theatre is Servant Stage Company in Lancaster County. With free and pay-what-you-will performances, month-or-longer rotations of performances around area nursing homes (where shows and parking are both free, and attendance is not limited to the nursing home residents), and residencies at The Trust Performing Arts Center and soon at Lancaster Bible College, Servant Stage has been bringing affordable, professional quality productions to people who might otherwise be barred from attending live performances - even community theatre is no longer cheap in most towns. That the productions are good as well as affordable, and that they're family-friendly without being aimed at children makes them one of the best entertainment choices possible for many people.
Their current EMBRACEABLE YOU: RHAPSODY IN GERSHWIN is a prime example of what Servant Stage does exactly right. On March 6, their first performance of the show at The Trust was filled with all ages, from retirees to small children who were getting some of their first exposure to the Great American Songbook. Director Daniel Stargel and Music Director Andy Roberts adapted a collection of George and Ira Gershwin standards along with historical notes about the Gershwins and the original performances of some of America's best-known music into just a bit over an hour of entertainment that was relaxing without being empty.
The cast for the production, to be repeated this coming weekend at The Trust, is comprised of some area stalwarts, both known and lesser-known outside the Lancaster theatre community (Sight and Sound does not publicize the names of their actors), all of whom brought enthusiasm as well as talent to the show: Brandon Cameron, Emily Homberger, Michael Popovsky, Holly Wert, Sarah Zahn, and Ric Zimmerman. Included, also, should be musical director Roberts, who performed on stage as the accompanist to the performers and who delivered what may have been the single biggest crowd-pleaser of the show, an abridged "Rhapsody in Blue." Roberts is more a jazz man than a classical performer, which showed in his technique, but it's a piece as suited to a dark, smoky bar as to a concert hall and adaptable to the style of almost any pianist of any worth. Roberts is no mean pianist, and the crowd enjoyed it thoroughly, which was deserved.
As to the vocals, the show began with an ensemble "Strike Up the Band" and continued through to an ensemble "Love Is Here to Stay," with room for diversions into songs from PORGY AND BESS, OH, KAY! and, not surprisingly, from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, currently on Broadway.
Moments appreciated by the audience included a duet by Popovsky and Zahn of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Holly Wert's outstanding solo of "Summertime," and Cameron and Homberger's "Shall We Dance" (no, not the other song from THE KING AND I). The men, in ensemble on "Swanee," pulled off a not-quite-barbershop arrangement that was particularly nice, and a relief from the all-too-common habit of aping Judy Garland's inimitable performance of it.
The choreography by Wally Calderon suited the songs chosen as well as the performers, and Ric Zimmerman's choices as costume designer were dignified and attractive without being intimidating to younger audience members, who were clearly enjoying themselves fully.
The only drawback to the show while at The Trust is that the beautiful bank architecture in the main room at The Trust isn't really acoustically proper - its owners, Lancaster Bible College, would do well to place acoustical panels around the room in the existing framing created by the old bank's designers. When loud enough for voices to be audible throughout the entire room and its cavernous ceiling, lyrics were frequently muffled. Nonetheless, live Gershwin is better than recorded Gershwin, and any Gershwin is worth celebrating.
EMBRACEABLE YOU continues this weekend at The Trust on the 12th and 13th with shows at 3:00 pm and at 7:00 pm both days. Visit servantstagecompany.com for tickets and information about all current and upcoming shows.
Next up, in May and June, is a new and revised production of THE OLD-TIME GOSPEL RADIO HOUR, which will play at several public locations including Lancaster Bible College and at Coleman Memorial Park in Lebanon. Expect this to be a serious treat not only for gospel music lovers but for bluegrass fans and for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION addicts.