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BWW Review: RED, WHITE, AND BROADWAY: A STAR STUDDED TRIBUTE TO AMERICA at Music Theatre Wichita

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The event was presented at The Capitol Federal Amphitheatre in Andover.

BWW Review: RED, WHITE, AND BROADWAY: A STAR STUDDED TRIBUTE TO AMERICA at Music Theatre Wichita

It was another beautiful night in Andover, Kansas. The temperature was in the mid-80's, there was a slight breeze, and not a rain cloud in sight. Many in the crowd were purchasing snacks from the food trucks parked behind the audience. Golf carts were transporting the super annuated and folx with mobility issues from the parking areas to the audience area. The VIP area was humming, and the atmosphere was super festive.

The outdoor amphitheater stage, designed by Jordan Slusher, was covered with red, white, and blue bunting, and boasted a scrim with pinwheels and chaser lights that sat directly behind the lush 20-piece orchestra, conducted by Musical Director Thomas Douglas. There were large screens and video coverage from Kent AV, which is much appreciated for those of us in the sections farthest away from the stage.

Promptly at 8pm, the Barbershop Quartet Performance Check took the stage for a very tight rendition of Seven Bridges Road. So perfect, I thought, using this song for an opening - I've heard it sung ad infinitum at the Winfield Bluegrass Festival, and the man who wrote it, Steve Young, says it describes a beautiful place that folks went to get away from the city. I ran into Chy Billings, one of the members of Performance Check, after the show, and he told me that the group had chosen it because they knew the audience would be familiar with it; it was an inspired choice because it gave us an immediate sense of place. Chy also told me how much he enjoyed working with Brian J. Marcum, MTW's new Artistic Director, who conceived, directed, and choreographed this stellar piece of musical Americana. Managing Director Angela Cassette came out to thank sponsors, and acknowledged the performance was taking place on the ancestral land of the Wichita, Kiowa, and Osage peoples.

Then we got right to the good stuff. Wichita's own Injoy Fountain gave us a new tradition with her excellent rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Astute readers will remember Injoy from Season 17 of The Voice, where she was a member of Team Kelly. Brian J. Marcum and his wife, Jennifer Marcum (Beauty and The Beast), Stevie Mack (Pace Graduate), and Simeon Rawls (OCU Grad, Forum Theatre) gave us some classic patriotic tap realness! We got to watch Producing Director Wayne Bryan sing and dance, which was a total treat! Local favorite Steve Hitchcock Jr. (Mosley Street Melodrama, Forum) gave us a thoughtful interpretation of Grand Old Flag, which he shared with the amazing Erin Elizabeth Clemons. Clemons, who played all the lead female roles at some point in Hamilton on Broadway, possesses an incredibly clear, strong, and expressive voice, and imbued everything she sang with such incredible passion. We were so lucky to have her in Wichita for the duration of this show.

Dramaturgically speaking, Marcum tucked many relevant historical tidbits into the proceedings to help us remember the basis for our deep patriotism. Included is the poem Emma Lazarus penned in 1886 that is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. There was a musical Salute to all five branches of the Armed Services, and a letter from Abe Lincoln to a mother who lost five sons in the Civil War.

Katie Banks-Todd (Phantom of The Opera, MTW regular) led a rousing, modern version of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, backed up by Jennifer Marcum, Carter Tholl, and accompanied by Simeon Rawls performing a well-executed character dance incorporating some of the popular dance moves of the WWII era.

Isaiah Bailey, who comes to us from the touring production of Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, had many standout moments in this show. Bailey's voice is elegant, strong, and articulate, and he sang with great power and conviction. He is also an OCU graduate.

Wichita native Arri Simon, who performed with Jeremy Stolle in the beginning of the season, has developed a very promising career in NYC as a composer, performer, and educator. Arri gave us a stirring interpretation of America the Beautiful, as well as a rousing clarinet solo in Alexander's Ragtime Band. Another inspired touch by Marcum through this section of the show were quotes from Martin Luther King and a reading from The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.

As we veered into the shank of the evening, Injoy led us into Lift Every Voice and Sing, where she was joined by the rest of the cast in powerful arrangement. Katie Banks-Todd took me right back to my childhood, sharing her modern version of God Bless America, claiming her rightful place next to Kate Smith!

Sound by David Muehl was impeccable. Lighting by Don Fox was festive. The red, white, and blue costumes were coordinated well by Jacob Locke. There was also a special appearance from the Trust Company of Kansas Teen Choir! A fireworks display was held after the July 3rd and 4th performances, and the July 3rd performance was sold out in advance. What a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July! I overhead many patrons commenting on how much they loved the MTW outdoor series and how they wished this would become a new tradition.

Thanks, Kerri, for the golf cart ride to my car after the concert! You're the best.

Next up for Music Theatre Wichita? Golden: MTWichita at 50, which runs Aug 25-29 at Century II in the Convention Hall. For tickets, call 316-265-3107 or visit mtwichita.org


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