BWW Review: Nostalgia Returns to Kansas City With BIG BANDS ARE BETTER at Musical Theater Heritage
Entering Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center for BIG BANDS ARE BETTER, is like stepping out of a time machine and into the Copacabana of the 1930s and '40s. The scenery, costumes, and the musical arrangements by Brad Cox take the audience back to when Swing was king, a time known as the Big Band Era and a unique program that should not be missed.
Cox plays piano and doubles as the bandleader for a group of musicians who can only be described as magnificent. Matt Baldwin on saxophone and clarinet, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, Brett Jackson saxophone and bass clarinet, Marcus Lewis trombone, Zak Pischnotte on saxophone and flute, Brian Scarborough on trombone and tuba, Rich Wheeler on Saxophone, Sam Wisman on drums and percussion, and Nate Nall trumpet who performs a superb solo of "Moten Swing" during the Tribute to KC Medley in the first act.
George Harter, founder of Musical Theater Heritage in 1998, emcees the program while educating the audience with fascinating tidbits of the history of Swing and the bands that made it popular. Harter produced and hosted "A Night on the Town" for KXTR radio and Kansas Public Radio for 35 years. The program was nationally syndicated for 16 years.
Under the direction of Jessalyn Kincaid the cast, Alison Sneegas Borberg, Jon Daugharthy, Erikka Dunn, Molly Hammer, and Tom Nelson, interact with each other as if they were patrons at a nightclub. The interaction at times is like a little drama of its own. In the first act, Nelson is sitting at a table with Dunn and excuses himself, leaving the stage. He returns a few minutes later with two glasses, but before returning to the table with Dunn he takes one of the glasses giving it to Hammer who is sitting alone, which seems to irate Dunn. He then takes to an old-style microphone to sing, "Concerto For Cootie/Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me".
Molly Hammer follows Nelson with a rendition of "Over The Rainbow" which was over the top, leaving the audience awestruck. All the performers have marvelous voices which blend together harmoniously. Borberg and Daugharthy are wonderful with "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", their interaction bringing new life to the old favorite.
The Tribute to KC Medley an instrumental includes "Moten Swing", "In The Groove", "Blue Devil Blues", and "Jumpin' At The Woodside". "Jumpin' At The Woodside" was first recorded by Kansas City musician Count Basie in 1938. The first act concludes with the ensemble performing "I Got Rhythm", leaving the audience eagerly awaiting the second act.
After a little "Moonlight Serenade" from the band the second act opens with Dunn, Hammer, and Broberg performing an Andrews Sisters favorite "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Dunn is amazing performing "You Took Advantage of Me". Before Harter tells of the history of "Mack The Knife" the audience is treated to "Stardust" and "I've Got You Under My Skin". Daugharthy's rendition of "Mack The Knife" is powerful and without flaw. The nights' entertainment concludes with "In The Mood".
BIG BANDS ARE BETTER continues at Musical Theatre Heritage through February 24th. For more information or to purchase tickets online go to their website at www.musicaltheaterheritage.com.
Photos by Manon Halliburton