BWW Reviews: BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't 'Gotta Have a Gimmick'

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BWW Reviews: BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't 'Gotta Have a Gimmick'

Stage Door Productions BEST OF BROADWAY 2 Proves You Don't "Gotta Have a Gimmick"

As a former instructor of English for thirty-six years, I should have known the importance of doing my homework; had I done so, I would have been better prepared for Stage Door Productions' staging of BEST OF BROADWAY 2 last evening at the KROC Center. I had decided beforehand that the evening would focus on the burgeoning performing talents of teens and pre-teens - beaming with enthusiasm, praying that voices didn't crack, trying not to make eye contact with proud parents and grandparents. I had also decided that I would have to consider the pros and cons of staging a "greatest hits" performance, for the nature of providing a "best of" approach is a divided one. On the one hand, you know that you are not ever going to be entirely disappointed; there will undoubtedly be that number (or numbers) already lying dormant in your memory, just waiting to be nudged and lodged in your head as you whistle your way out the door. On the other hand, the number loses a little something when you remove it from its proper context - the characters that song helps to define, the plot that it helps to elucidate. That, however, is "the nature of the beast."

After the well-chosen "On Broadway," initially performed by a quartet (and invoking the Drifters' Sixties hit song) and, eventually, by the entire cast, the show properly opened with a number that both surprised and delighted me - a sophisticated Caroline Sposto bringing wit and an elegant swing to Gershwin's "Nice Work If You Can Get It." With that American Songbook standard and that particular performer (obviously beyond the high school diploma years), I quickly realized that Stage Door Productions was providing a venue for more than just youngsters. Quickly thumbing through the program, I read Executive Director Lindsay Mitchell's Note, which stated in part, a "place where siblings and parents could perform side by side and share an experience together . . . ." I quickly became curious about what was to follow, and I was not disappointed.

I thought of the challenges of putting on such a show; they might have stifled a "Let's put on a show"-Mickey Rooney-and-Judy Garland. Artistic Director Brandon Kelly must have had quite a dilemma; there were the "adult" numbers like "Someone to Watch Over Me" (nicely sung by Rachel Mahalati" and "Summertime" by Tekay (exhibiting a lovely falsetto melting into a warm lower register), flying high over the heads that the youngest members but warmly embraced by those of us with several decades in our rear view mirrors. Mr. Kelly had to be careful in his "juggling act." The nature of the presentation and the composition of the audience required an "all things to all people" approach, and for the most part, he has succeeded.

Interspersed with the adult performers were the enthusiastic, eager-to-please young people. Obviously, if you have a half dozen tiny divas-in-training (led by "Izzie" Cochran), there's the audience-friendly "Hard Knock Life" from ANNIE. These little charmers were up to the choreographic challenges provided by dance instructors Leah Beth Bolton (whose "Louise" in GYPSY is still wowing audiences at nearby Playhouse on the Square) and Stephanie Hill. Attired in white and grey, young Parker and Griffin Mednikow were smile-inducing with YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN's "The Kite" (one of these boys has a great little croak to his voice, not unlike that of "Froggy" in the OUR GANG comedies). Two youth-oriented musicals with which I am not familiar - MATILDA THE MUSICAL and 13 THE MUSICAL - were absolute delights; the young talents dominating here reflected the material and more than justified the cost of a ticket. There were also the "showstoppers" - the big numbers that best represent the Broadway Big Leaguers: "Do You Hear the People Sing?" (LES MISERABLES) and THE LION KING MEDLEY (here, the costumes, choreographic tribal dances, and Julie Taymor-inspired special effects combine for an exclamation mark for the show).

Even in such a "by the numbers" approach that a "Best of" evening entails, there were some surprising moments. For example, "Summertime" and "Memory," both numbers usually sold by spotlight-loving divas, were here interpreted by men. I've already mentioned Tekay's rendition. "Memory" also took me aback, as Michael Corry (father of Gabriel, one of the youth in the show), offered a warm, delicate take on the song, holding that last syllable of the last word in the song, "begun," with a sustained, shimmering effect. In the midst, too, of those Disney-franchised numbers from THE LITTLE MERMAID (Allie Rich, Caley Moore, and Rachel Moore have lovely harmonic moments here) and LION KING, there is that "sit up in your seat" moment that comes about when a once overly familiar, "corny" old "feel good" number "Put on a Happy Face" suddenly makes you sit up and smile, especially as it is delivered with shining aplomb by bow-tied young David Rhea, who even ventures into the audience to charm one of the ladies. (The young man has a Neil Patrick Harris glow about him.)

I don't know about the background experience of some of the more mature performers, but all of them were well showcased. Jared Johnson has the look and the voice to sell "The Devil You Know" from SIDE SHOW, Dian Brown could have been dropped from the lap of MOTOWN (or, perhaps more suitably, STAX) in earning applause for HAIRSPRAY's "I Know Where I've Been," and Rachel Newsome's "As Long As He Needs Me" knows how to nail that final powerful line.

I really enjoyed my evening with this multigenerational group, and I was pleased that a BEST OF BROADWAY 3 is on the agenda for next year. Perhaps a different approach might work (what if more original touches were taken with numbers like "It's a Hard Knock Life," perhaps letting the teenage girls have fun with the part? Or what if the songs were wittily narrated?) On the other hand, why tamper with something that successfully achieves what it set out to do. Through June 1. ey Rooney-and-Judy Garland. Artistic Director Brandon Kelly must have had quite a dilemma; there were the "adult" numbers like "Someone to Watch Over Me" (nicely sung by Rachel Mahalati" and "Summertime" by Tekay (exhibiting a lovely falsetto melting into a warm lower register), flying high over the heads that the youngest members but warmly embraced by those of us with several decades in our rear view mirrors. Mr. Kelly had to be careful in his "juggling act." The nature of the presentation and the composition of the audience required an "all things to all people" approach, and for the most part, he has succeeded.

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Joseph Baker I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from 1971 until 2007. When I retired, I was Chairman of the English Department and moderator of the Film Society. I have always been involved in the arts, and upon retirement I pursued my interests in painting (watercolors, acrylics, oils) and sketching (charcoal, pen and ink, graphite), ultimately resulting in a one-man show at WKNO Gallery in 2013. Having taught American, British, and World Drama, I have always had an interest in local theatre; and my reviews of plays at such venues as Theatre Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, and Circuit Playhouse have been posted on FACEBOOK and CALLBOARD in Memphis.


 
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