Review - All Singin', All Dancin' & The Columbine Project
The star of Town Hall's 3rd Annual All Singin', All Dancin', the traditional finale to the Scott Siegel-created Broadway Summer Festival, didn't take the stage until the end of curtain calls, but his vibrant presence was felt throughout the evening.As in past years, the evening was given to one up-and-coming choreographer to create a song and dance revue utilizing classic (and some terrific not-so-classic) musical theatre songs performed by some of today's top flight stage and cabaret performers. This time the honors went to Josh Prince, who had just made his Broadway choreographing debut last season with Shrek. With Siegel and Prince co-directing, the evening featured a sampler of musical theatre dance styles.
Karen Murphy got us started with a lilting "I Wish You A Waltz" (from Ballroom) which was interpreted in a light balletic style reminiscent of Agnes De Mille by the show's core dance ensemble: Cameron Adams, Erica Mansfield, Ali Solomon, Amber Stone, Joe Komara, Michael Mindlin, Bobby Pestka and Ryan Worsing. This group would be featured all evening in routines as diverse as shimming (naturally) to Lieber & Stoller's "Teach Me How To Shimmy," playing sexual violent couples in a traditional chair dance (to Marilyn Maye's plaintive vocals of "Mean To Me"), miming classic film moments to Grand Hotel's "I Want To Go To Hollywood" and, in a very funny finale, refusing to respond the "Broadway Rhythm" cry of "Gotta Dance!"
The subtle differences between the comic dance styles of British music hall and American vaudeville were demonstrated when Jeffrey Schecter and Jessica Lee Goldyn's adorably eccentric moves to "Me and My Girl" were eventually followed by the knockabout show-biz of Schecter and Kevin Bernard's "Be a Performer!" And the Astaire Award winning Spencer Liff (a last-minute replacement performing with only 3 hours of rehearsal) displayed enchanting charisma to go along with muscular ballet moves suggestive of Jerome Robbins; first in a comical turn as Marilyn Maye's pupil for Hello, Dolly!'s "Dancing" and later in a gorgeous pairing with Alexander Gemignani, as the vocalist sang an unamplified "Lonely Town" while the dancer interpreted the lyric of On The Town's most heart-tugging ballad. Earlier in the evening, Gemignani (who only seems to get to show his hearty comic chops in Scott Siegel's shows), brought down the house with stoic cockiness singing the title song from the revue, Leading Men Don't Dance.
KendRick Jones, who I swear must be a reincarnation of both Nicholas Brothers, gave a masterful rhythm-tap solo for "I Wanna Be A Dancin' Man," including his signature move where he seems to glide across the floor on tiny water jets. While Town Hall audiences have been marveling at his intricate moves and clean taps for severAl Siegel shows, Jones is also developing into a much more confident singer; a quality that will hopefully gain the young performer notoriety as a leading man who certainly does dance.
Speaking of confident singers, joining the evergreen Marilyn Maye, the delightful Alexander Gemignani and the elegant Karen Murphy (who got to bust out her silliness with the Gershwin spoof, "Just Another Rumba") was the clarion-voiced Liz Callaway, whose sexy, lightly-jazzed "Cheek To Cheek," was followed by her sweet and shy "Lion Tamer" (audiences still chuckle when she sings the line about getting along with cats, remembering her lengthy sting as Grisabella at the Winter Garden) and an enrapturing "The Music That Makes Me Dance."
In a running gag that might remind the older (or the geekier) among us of a classic routine from New Faces of 1952 (remember "He Takes Me Off His Income Tax?"), Kevin Bernard rushed onto the stage three times during the evening in a confused state, asking the musical question, "Do I Hear a Waltz?," fearful that, as another Stephen Sondheim lyric suggests, he was hearing music that nobody heard.
The deep, dramatic timbre of Douglas Ladnier gave moody colors to "Begin The Beguine" and "Good Morning, Heartache"; the latter with a lyric penned by a young Ervin Drake the day after a pretty, young showgirl turned down his marriage proposal. In one of the evening's sweeter moments, Siegel pointed out Drake sitting in the audience with that same pretty, young showgirl who, decades later, accepted his second proposal.
Now that I've had a chance to think about it, I wish I had stayed for the talkback that followed Sunday night's performance of The Columbine Project, if only to ask playwright/director Paul Anthony Storiale why he chose not to have his two leads, Artie Ahr and Justin Mortelliti as high school outcasts Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, take part in the play's curtain call; opting instead to have them lying dead on the stage floor in character while the rest of the company took their bows. Did he think the audience would feel uncomfortable applauding the actors who played the teenage murderers? Was he concerned that fanatics in the house might be applauding the actions of those they portrayed? Oh well, missed opportunity.Originating in Hollywood and moving Off-Broadway with its original company, The Columbine Project is, sadly, over two hours of missed opportunity. Storiale has assembled a text taken from journal entries, public record and personal contact with survivors of the tragedy of April 20, 1999; when Harris and Klebold set out to kill 250 of their classmates with homemade bombs and high-powered rifles, succeeding in killing 12 students and one teacher before turning their weapons on themselves. He's connected the real-life words with imagined scenes depicting the hostile school environment where white-capped jocks ruled the hallways and anyone who wasn't one of them was labeled "faggot." Unfortunately, the author/director has failed to inject any depth-providing dramaturgy into the evening and the piece plays out as an episodic cardboard recitation of facts.
I couldn't say for certain if Storiale's intention was to create a theatre piece that gave the appearance of being put together by a high school or amateur theatre group. Certainly The Actors Temple Theatre, with its small raised stage and community center appearance, lends itself to such a concept. But while rough edges and a lack of polish could add an interesting layer to the evening, the production simply seems under-rehearsed and perfunctorily mounted. The acting of the 19 member company rarely goes deeper than surface line readings, the staging frequently borders on ludicrous (see photo), the set (Josh Iacovelli is credited with scenic adaptation) -- a background of hung fabric with a few pieces of furniture -- looks carelessly thrown together and the performance I attended seemed plagued with missed light cues and awkward scene transitions.
There are moments that manage to rise above it all. Rya Meyers, as devout Christian student Rachel Scott, does fine work with a monologue where she describes the feeling she gets from writing her most personal thoughts in her journal. And an extended scene where Eric and Dylan gleefully videotape their suicide notes to the world swells with much-needed realism. But by the time Storiale has capped off the production by having the one gay character sitting on a library table, under which is the dead body of the one black student (the bodies of the two killers are just to their left), paraphrasing Yip Harburg's lyric to "Over The Rainbow" while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar as the rest of the company gradually enters and sings along, the play has already been buried under a mountain of ineptitude.