BWW Reviews: Little Theatre of Manchester Takes a Tour of the American SONGBOOK - with Some Detours
Christopher Berrien, center, is soloist with the company in "Lullaby of Broadway"
Little Theatre of Manchester pays tribute to the greatest American composers of the 20th Century with its fourth Music Revue, SONGBOOK at Cheney Hall.
Marge Patefield who had the lead performing role in LTM's GYPSY, MAME, and ANYTHING GOES dons the director's hat for this show and reprises "Some People" from GYPSY. She performs with ensemble members Jim Metzler, Alexis Derr, Nicole Giguere, Christopher Berrien, Glenn Gordon, Maria Grove, Christine Gill, Mike Zizka and Dacia Ball. Zizka doubles as narrator for the show, giving a little information about the songs, their composers and even why they have been included in the revue's lineup.
Music Director Kim Aliczi puts together a selection of more than 30 musical numbers from members of the great American Songbook like Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin with medleys featuring tunes from one composer or themes, like songs about trains. The numbers offer a mix of group numbers and solos. Choreographer Sheila Waters Fucci adds some dance steps and dramatic elements to help the ensemble, attired in black evening wear, act out the stories of the songs.
The revue provides a sort of coast-to-coast tour of the songbook, with Act One featuring songs from Hollywood followed by a second act comprised of Broadway tunes. A slight detour is offered with a trip to Britain for a lovely acapella, four-part-harmony version of Manning Sherwood's "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (a three-person band accompanies on the other numbers from the floor of the house where audience members sit at cabaret tables.) A second tune, technically not in the songbook, Zizka explains, is the finale, "The Best of Times is Now" from La Cage aux Folles.
Some nice banter introduces "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and cast and audience alike seem to enjoy the fun spirit of the production. Standing out vocally is Guguere.
Presenting a revue of works from the greatest composers of the 20th century makes perfect sense in the historic setting at Cheney Hall, built in 1866 which was standing when these numbers debuted on stage or film. (Cheney Hall is Connecticut's oldest operating theater).
Get there early for seats. The tables, most of which seat four, filled up quickly at the performance I attended, which appeared sold out. Seating is general admission. The tables are decorated festively with glittery star centerpieces to match the gold columns, lights and starry backdrop on stage. Lite snacks and refreshments are available for purchase in the room (the downstairs lounge is not in use for this production). Roses also are available for purchase if the songs put you in a romantic mood.
The show is a breezy two hours with intermission. SONGBOOK runs Through Aug. 18: Thursday at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $20: (860) 647-9824;email@example.com
Little Theatre of Manchester finishes out the 2013-2014 season in November with Fiddler on the Roof. John Pike will direct.
-- Lauren Yarger