BWW Reviews: Theatre Harrisburg SUMMER SALUTE TO THE BEST OF BROADWAY Delights Whitaker Center Audience
For the third year, Theatre Harrisburg and the Alumni Chorale of Lebanon Valley College have presented their ambitious SUMMER SALUTE TO THE BEST OF BROADWAY MUSICALS at Whittaker Center. Steven Flom as Production Director and Gregg Mauroni as Musical Director presented a program calculated to keep the outdoor heat away on August 10 and 11, but to keep the heat going on stage.
A number of well-known area performers, especially ones active on the community theatre scene, were involved with the production and on stage. Immediately recognizable performers included Joseph Chubb, Kat Prickett, Sarah Pugh, Tom Hostetter, and Marisa Keener. The list of musicals whose songs were appropriated for audience entertainment included HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, SPAMALOT, 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, CHICAGO, and HAIRSPRAY - shows as old as FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and as recently revived as PIPPIN were on hand to greet the audience.
Presentation alternated between choral performances and staged or semi-staged scenes - the latter included a neatly choreographed "Breaking All the Rules" from CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and "At the Ballet" from A CHORUS LINE, which was a standout performance by vocalists Laura Gingerich, Sarah Pugh, and Marissa Keener. A semi-staged, gently choreographed "Cell Block Tango" from CHICAGO was a fine vocal performance as well, though the presentation didn't quite hold up to the music. But Amy Rosenberry gave the audience a marvelous alto solo on "Hello Dolly," backed up ably by the "waiters" of the men's ensemble.
Choral numbers included "Find Your Grail," from SPAMALOT, which had some inspired soloing by Manuela Saxman, and "Morning Glow" from PIPPIN, which held up perhaps not as well - but "Find Your Grail" is a big piece, begging for more and yet more, asking for over-the-top numbers of people, while "Morning Glow" is easily overwhelmed by too many people; the one is big and brassy, while the other is slight and silvery, possibly a bit too delicate for such emphatic treatment.
A newly arranged duet of songs from Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, set against each other, of "The Ladies Who Lunch " and "I'm Still Here", is perhaps best left unrepeated, as both strong Elaine Stritch numbers, played against each other, weakened themselves. "The Ladies Who Lunch" needs all of its verses and more venom, and "I'm Still Here" is an anthem of survival that doesn't quite play against the other set of lyrics and musically takes away some of the other's bite. On the other hand, both are fine and powerful women's songs, and their inclusion at all is significant.
Some of the finest performances on stage were the jazz ensemble singing "I've Got You Under My Skin" (from BORN TO DANCE), the huge choral working of "The Launch" from TITANIC, and the completely delightfully staged "Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which along with the last two numbers, a staged "Mama I'm A Big Girl Now" from HAIRSPRAY and a fabulously loud, exuberant "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and "Swing Low" from BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR, were worth the entire show in and of themselves.
A relatively full house was as enthusiastic as the performers were on opening night, and the musicians for the show were in fine form, offering the audience a really delightful experience.
Although the Lebanon Valley College Alumni Chorale has other performances this year, this is the only one done jointly with Theatre Harrisburg. The season for Theatre Harrisburg begins next month, at the Krevsky Center, with BLEACHER BUMS.