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Review: GOLDEN: MTWICHITA AT 50 at Music Theatre Wichita, Century II PAC, Convention Hall

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Review: GOLDEN: MTWICHITA AT 50 at Music Theatre Wichita, Century II PAC, Convention Hall

How lucky are we in Wichita to have such a wonderful theatre community?! Better still, how lucky are we to have such a gem like Music Theatre Wichita? Producing Director Wayne Bryan and his cohort of Wichita Favorites paid homage to the city that has supported MTW for the past 50 years by showering them with some of the amazing talent that has graced the Concert Hall stage. Talent that was nurtured by Wayne and the MTW organization; talent that cut their baby teeth and grew up on the Concert Hall stage.

The concert was intertwined with historic archival footage of previous shows and informative clips taking us behind the scenes to see how the MTW Organization operates. Film footage segued into the live action, with each of the featured performers delivering their songs. Kicking off the evening was my favorite leading man, and Guest Star Matt Bogart. His smooth, supple voice and slick delivery got the audience in the mood and the program off to a perfect start. Matt began his career at MTW with Children Of Eden in 1993, and spent many summers here, appearing in 11 shows, including Thoroughly Modern Millie and Guys and Dolls. He went on to appear on Broadway, including Chris in Miss Saigon, Smokey Joe's Café, The Civil War, Aida, and Jersey Boys.

Debra M. Walton, who also has a storied history with MTW, was next on the bill. Her most recent performances at MTW include Leading Player in Pippin, and the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, but her first performance was playing Minnie Fae in Hello Dolly. Walton has an incredible energy that transcends the filmed segments and fills the stage with her smoking red hot inimitable presence. More fun was had when Wayne Bryan joined her for an old-fashioned soft shoe, to the delight of all the audience.

Wichita native and WSU alum Javier Ignacio grew up on the Century II stage, with roles in Aida and Damn Yankees. His Broadway credits include Side Show and the soon to be produced revival of the gender swapping Company. Javier's soaring tenor, along with his unique phrasing, delivery, and magical stage presence stole the show this evening.

Desi Oakley, another Wichita native with a big, sparkling clear soprano voice that toes the line between legit and incredible belt, lit up the night with her captivating song interpretations. Desi played Jenna in Waitress and Roxie in Chicago on Broadway, and played many more roles at MTW, including Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Desi appeared as a youngster in her earliest years at MTW and credits the institution for helping develop and guide her career, as well as open doors for her on Broadway.

Woven within this evening of beautiful vocal performances, the MTW Ensemble, with choreography by our new Artistic Director, Brian J. Marcum, treated us to several excellent production numbers, including a huge, showy tap number that brought the house down. I couldn't keep my eyes off Taurean Everett as he danced in the opening sequence. Taurean is a WSU and MTW alum, and appeared in The Cher Show, Miss Saigon, and Mamma Mia on Broadway. The Ensemble included MTW veterans Tanner Pflueger, Maura Gill, Peyton Royal, Matthew Davies, Katie Pohlman, Anthony Giandiletti Jr., Lena Owens, and Daisy Wright.

One of the archival film clips included the MTW warehouse, where all the costumes and sets are stored. Leading this section was Mary Sue Dymak, a woman who wears many hats in the MTW organization. She is not only the company Videographer and Historian, but is also in charge of costume and set rental. This means Mary Sue maintains The Warehouse, and she, along with Rental Assistant Jacob Locke, gave us an amusing and lighthearted tour.

We were also treated to a big, fun production number by The Trust Company of Kansas Teen Choir. When the choir was first formed, they would perform in the lobby of the Concert Hall under the Vocal Direction of WSU School of Performing Arts Department Chair Linda Starkey. When Linda stepped down, Emily Sternfeld-Dunn stepped up as Musical Director and Arranger, and Joshua Larson, their Staging Director, upped the Choir's game and moved them to the Concert Hall stage. Now the Choir has the awesome responsibility of opening MTW shows, and membership is prized by local High School students as a steppingstone to a successful high school musical career, and possibly a chance to get a spot in the resident ensemble for the summer!

And what would a celebration of MTW be without celebrating Nancy Reeves, the beloved Company Manager who started as a bookkeeper with the organization. Nancy saw her role grow as Wayne recognized her skills an organizer. Wayne and the ensemble paid tribute to her with a short number that included "The Nanikin", a mannikin dressed to look like Reeves, repleat with two flamingos, her favorite birds. The number included a short video montage dedicated to the many performers Reeves has served over the years. She is retiring this year, and she will be missed by her MTW family.

The audience got yet another opportunity to watch Wayne Bryan take a solo turn in another large production number with the MTW Ensemble. It's such a joy to watch Wayne perform, with his infectious smile, impish energy, and his unflagging ability to sell a song and dance number. I hope he returns after his retirement to perform for us now and again.

The next spot in the program was dedicated to our Local Stars! Wayne says these performers could easily have careers on Broadway but choose to make Wichita their home. Karen Robu was the first to step out, with her long fiery red hair, delivering equally fiery songs with her superb belt, and willingness to step into risky roles with confidence. Karen wowed us with recent her recent performance as Berthe, with her above ground antics in Pippin, and her infamous chandelier swinging in Nice Work If You Can Get It.

Following Karen was her husband, Tim Robu. Tim is THE character man in town, and his work this evening was proof - a well-rounded character with a perfect accent - never over the top, delivered with his beautiful, dulcet baritone. Tim has appeared in many shows at MTW since the early 1990s, but his favorite role is Amos in Chicago.

Katie Banks-Todd, a serious operatic soprano, also graced the stage, giving us a dramatic eleven o'clock performance that showed off her power voice. Now a Vocal Music Director at USD 490, Katie's Broadway credits include Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera, and The Jerry Springer Opera at Carnegie Hall. Her most notable performances at MTW include Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music and Mrs. Potts in Beauty and The Beast.

Local Star Steve Hitchcock Jr. started out as a child actor with MTW, and we've come to expect him in funny man roles like Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls, and Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, but we've also enjoyed him as Cornelius Hackl in Hello Dolly and Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast. Steve's clean and precise baritone, along with his straightforward comic delivery style put a nice button on the solo performances.

The Company finale was spectacular, utilizing all those fabulously amazing voices to sing praises to the first fifty years of MTW. These was also an elaborate costume parade to show off some of those costumes of those first 50 years. This finale was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience and was well deserved.

Musical Direction by Thomas W. Douglas was pristine. Sound by David Muehl was spot on. Scenic designer J Branson did a nice job of curating the selection of previous select backdrops from the first 50 years and getting them photographed for projection. Matt Miller's lighting design successfully accommodated projections, a film screen, and the live action on stage. The stage lighting was effectively dramatic and atmospheric. The beautiful black-tie costumes were coordinated by Jacob Locke.

GOLDEN: MTWichita at 50 ran August 25-29 at the Century II PAC in the Convention Hall.

Get your lawn chairs ready! Next up is Grease, which runs September 15-19 at the Capital Federal Amphitheater in Andover, KS. Tickets are available by calling 316-265-3107 or visiting on the web at MTWichita.org



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