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Once again, it's Spring; and once again, Stage Door Productions has brought professionals and nonprofessionals together to share their love of musical theatre and their talents in what is, by now, an annual event: THE BEST OF BROADWAY 3, closing this weekend at the KROC Center, is Director Brandon Kelly's latest "greatest hits" collection to entertain Memphis' audiences. This is the second year I have attended this event, and even though a review at this point probably won't make much difference in bolstering attendance, BEST doesn't really need it. The audience here is "a given" (and a vocal "given" at that) - a multigenerational aggregation of relatives and friends, lovers of musicals, and people who simply want to be entertained; and in that latter respect, THE BEST OF BROADWAY 3 does not disappoint.

First of all, there's a positive spirit permeating the audience - everyone wants this cast to succeed (and many have a vested interest in effecting such an outcome); second, (and I was reminded of this last week when seeing the youthful cast of Justin Asher's YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at Germantown Community Theatre), it's exciting to see and hear - among the professionals associated with the show - the talents which may well populate Memphis stages in future years.

There is impressive range in the songs and shows comprising BEST. For example, the elegant, jazzy interpretation of Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away from Me" by the musically gifted (and experienced) Donna Lappin is followed by five young men with Motown "moves" in "The Battle of the Stars," emulating the exciting vocals and choreography of the Four Tops and the Temptations (it's a "greatest hits" number all its own). Individual numbers from shows (i.e., a particularly well sung "Corner of the Sky" from PIPPIN) are offset by medleys of megahit shows (and, of course, the "Disney Music Machine," as I like to call it). Even the medleys, though, showcase some surprisingly colorful performances (one of the best salutes Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS) and show-stopping moments (some powerful vocals from LES MISERABLES). The sophistication of Sondheim (a tender performance of "Being Alive") is offset by a bewigged "rocker" working the audience with "Don't Stop Believing" from ROCK OF AGES. In short, there is no lack of variety.

Particularly impressive this year was the inventive and visually striking choreography by Jarek Stultz. The "Corny Collins Show" from HAIRSPRAY, which ends the first act, was spirited and exciting - and the audience, roaring and whistling, was practically on its collective feet. More, however, was to come - the tap-happy numbers from 42nd STREET, the jungle gymnastics from THE LION KING, and more. Mr. Stultz may have been putting some of his young performers through their paces for the first time, but it doesn't show. (Admittedly, I am a proud bearer of an AARP card, but the swaying and foot-tapping that could be spotted in my seat had nothing to do with my advanced years.)

Certainly, there are "rough edges" here and there - a few notes just shy of a singer's grasp, a dance step not quite in unison; but there's a certain charm in such shortcomings when there's such a winning eagerness to please; and, certainly, there are indications of exciting talent. Executive Director Lindsay Mitchell's mission to establish "a safe, healthy, and creative environment" which also provides "the backbone to personal, professional, and artistic growth" has apparently "taken root," and I for one laud the success it has had enriching the Memphis community. I also look forward to THE BEST OF BROADWAY 4 ("the Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise"). Gina Jones provides just the right touches of costuming in numbers that demand them. Through April 26.

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From This Author 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 (read more...)