BWW Reviews: LTM MUSIC REVUE Floats Along on Choppy Seas
LTM Musical Revue
Directed by Todd Santa Maria
Performed by Little Theatre of Manchester
at Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road
Manchester, CT through August 19
Up front, I don’t care for musical revues. When I go to a theatre, I want a musical or a drama or a comedy with some narrative drive. To my eyes and ears, musical revues feel like cruise ship entertainment. Now, before I’m branded the hater that I am, I will confess that I also don’t like cruise ship entertainment. Or cruise ships, for that matter. I get sea sick and the food isn’t that great. Yes, I’m crabby.
Little Theatre of Manchester’s third musical revue in as many years delivers exactly what a musical revue is expected to deliver: songs, smiles, no plot. As far as cruise ship entertainment goes, it’s fine. Not “Love Boat” great and not “Titanic” awful. There are moments that are truly wonderful and moments that barely rise above high school variety show.
The song selection, under the banner of “Shows We Have Never Done,” is pretty intriguing. With over five decades behind them, it is surprising to find songs included from Finian’s Rainbow, The Most Happy Fella, On the Town and Jesus Christ Superstar. Many of the songs are from shows that are recent Broadway hits (Newsies, American Idiot, In the Heights) and Broadway flops (13, [title of show], Catch Me If You Can). The biggest chestnut in the show is “Over the Rainbow,” which has been cleverly packaged alongside “Home” from The Wiz and “For Good” from Wicked, making a sweet Wizard of Oz musical triptych.
Surprisingly tucked in amongst the familiar(ish) titles are two songs from musicals by local composers: “Anson Williams” from Lint! The Musical by Bill Arnold and Scott Auden, and “One Grain of Sand” from One Step Closer by Angela Klimaytis.
Generally, the individual songs are solid in and of themselves. The challenge for any revue comprising itself of tunes from musicals is whether or not the songs are in good hands and whether or not they can stand apart from their show. Director Todd Santa Maria makes some wonderful choices and some dubious ones. Certain numbers are staged to mimic the Broadway productions (“Don’t Break the Rules” from Catch Me If You Can, for example). Other songs are performed without context, like “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair (with nary a hog in sight). The show would have been more cohesive if one or the other direction had been chosen.
LTM’s odd decision to have the audience seated at least 15 feet from the stage and the director’s choice to have many of the numbers start or stay to the rear of the stage often leaves a large void of 30 or so feet between actors and audience. There is little set to speak of and the quality of lighting and sound range from excellent to poor. There are moments when actors are nicely framed in a spotlight and others where a blue wash leaves them copping a deathly pallor. Solo numbers were clearly audible while group numbers like “Blackout” from In the Heights were practically indecipherable.
The cast varies from Broadway-ready to nervous jitters. John-Michael Whitney has a lovely tenor and provides one of the nicest twists in the show, a gender-swapped version of “On My Own” from Les Miserables. In this instance, the revue format allowed us to see a character song from a different perspective. Ric Plamenco dances beautifully and has a mega-watt smile. At some points, his voice is clear and distinctive (“Seize the Day” from Newsies) and at other points disappears (“One Grain of Sand”). James R. Williams has a booming and powerful voice used to tremendous effect in numbers from Once on this Island and Next to Normal.
The ladies similarly have standout cast members. In particular, young Mary DiRoberts has a soaring soprano that takes flight on “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife. Jasmine Kehrhahn nails the passionate “Anthem” from Chess, while Kate Brophy shakes the wild out of The Wild Party’s “The Life of the Party.”
Special attention goes to Jenna Mitchell for her surprising “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific. Cast MVP goes to Anup Kumar, a relative newcomer who brings energy, sharp dancing and brio that could light up his native land of India during their next blackout.
Best moment of the show? A simple staging of “Nine People’s Favorite Things” from [title of show]. The clearly delineated characters and story-within-a-story left me thinking, “Why didn’t they just do that show?”
Photo of the cast of LTM Music Revue by Chris Heustis of Photosynthesis.