Theatre Review: “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

CINDERELLA
July 7, 2015
Starlight Theater, Kansas City, Missouri

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Imagine I’m telling you this in my “old man” voice: Back in my day, theater on television was a rarity. Two things that kids looked forward to were the annual presentations of Mary Martin in “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella,” starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. This touring production captures the magic of my early television memories.

The story is well known. Cinderella (Paige Faure) lives with her mean step-mother (Beth Glover) and two step-sisters (Kaitlyn Davidson and Aymee Garcia). While step-mom dreams up ways of marrying her daughters off and moving up in life, Cinderella toils in the house, cooking, cleaning and making the beds. A chance meeting with Prince Topher (Andy Huntington Jones) allows her to dream of a better life When the Prince invites every eligible lady in the kingdom to the ball, in the hopes of meeting his future bride, Cinderella longs to go. But she could use a little help…

Well produced and performed, this version of “Cinderella” mixes up great songs (by the legendary Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers), a strong cast and a familiar story to make it sure to entertain everyone in the audience, both young and old. The cast is in fine voice and the choreography is sharply performed. Both leads have great range and the supporting characters, especially Cinderella’s mean relatives, prove themselves fine comediennes. And the magic isn’t reserved just for the performances. Some amazing sleight of hand occurs when Cinderella obtains her ball gown. I urge you to pay attention and if you can tell me how they do it, please drop me a line. The accompanying orchestra also helped keep the show moving, helping give a familiar story a few much needed high notes.

“Cinderella” continues at Starlight through Sunday, July 12, 2015.

Theatre Review: “Miss Saigon” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Miss Saigon
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
September 7, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

In April 1991 one of the great “spectacle” musicals opened on Broadway. The show was “Miss Saigon,” which I had the privilege to see shortly after its opening. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning three for Lead Actor in a Musical (Jonathan Pryce), Lead Actress in a Musical (Lea Salonga) and Featured Actor in a Musical (Hinton Battle). “The Will Rogers Follies” took home the bulk of the awards that year, including Best Musical. But “Miss Saigon” had the last laugh. While “The Will Rogers Follies” ran for two years, “Miss Saigon” ran for almost ten. In fact, as I write this, it is the 12th longest running show in Broadway history. The current touring production opened this week at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and it proved a fitting end to a successful season under the stars.

Saigon. 1975. As the war in Vietnam comes to a close we meet Chris (Charlie Brady) and John (Nkrumah Gatling) as they pay a visit to Dreamland, the local club where you can find ANYTHING you desire, courtesy of the club’s owner, who calls himself The Engineer (Orville Mendoza). The club is buzzing with the heat of a steamy night as well as the heat coming off the girls who work there. New to the club is Kim (Manna Nichols), who has just lost her family and now finds herself homeless and alone. As the girls gyrate and compete to win the nightly crown of “Miss Saigon,” Chris spots Kim from across the room. In this terrible place torn apart by war he has discovered an angel. John arranges with the Engineer that Kim and Chris spend the night together and, when morning comes, they are in love. But any plans they make for the future come to a halt when Chris, his fellow Marines and the US Ambassador evacuate Saigon.

Brilliantly staged, this production of “Miss Saigon” is equal in scope to the one I took in more than two decades ago at the Broadway Theater (that is the name of the theater…it’s actually on 53rd Street and is currently hosting the revival of “Cinderella”). I’ve always been impressed with Starlight’s ability to reproduce the scale of Broadway on their stage and they do it again with this show. The cast is well voiced and bring an emotional quality needed to the subject matter. I must give special attention to both Mendoza and Nichols who were, in my opinion, as good as their Tony Award winning predecessors. On an unseasonably hot September night their voices soared high and clear over the audience. Technically the show is also first rate, from the direction to the new choreography by Baayork Lee. Theatre fans may recognize Miss Lee as the original Connie in “A Chorus Line.” She has done an outstanding job or translating the show in her own way.

Recent rumors of a “Miss Saigon” film are running rampant, based on a comment producer Cameron MacIntosh made regarding the success of the recent “Les Miserables.” Since that film made almost $150 million in the US alone, I’m betting that the heat will soon be on at a theatre near you!

“Miss Saigon” continues at Starlight through September 13.
Additional Dates
Hartford September 16
Detroit September 24
St. Paul October 8

Theatre Review “Footloose: The Musical” Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, Missouri

Footloose: The Musical
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri
August 5th, 2013

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

On a muggy night in the Heartland, it seemed fitting that the production of “Footloose” would be sweat inducing and, for female attendees, steamy. As the title song belted out and a company of extras began to dance to the iconic pop-rock beat of the 80’s, my ears perked up. I’m well versed and cultured enough to know about previous generations, but I’ve never seen the movie “Footloose,” nor had I ever a care to. In that moment of cutting loose and kicking off the Sunday shoes, I found myself interested. I was ready for this glimpse into the 80’s. My expectations jumped up to the par with everyone else that night as the cast showed off their best moves during the opening number. Boy did those hopes fizzle out.

Ren McCormack (Max Clayton) and his single mom, Ethel (Paula Leggett Chase), are heading from the city lights of Chicago to the humble countryside of Beaummont. A stereotypical middle-American small country town. The kind that is drenched from hillside to hillside in golden wheat and pristine corn fields. The residents are set in their ways and are already weary and gossiping about Ren and his mom the morning they arrive at church. Despite the police and other community leaders, Reverend Shaw Moore (George Dvorsky) is the overriding moral, spiritual and political leader of this town. Years ago, a tragic accident took the life of four teens, including Shaw Moore’s son. Since then, the Reverend has imposed a strict no-dancing law in the town. As absurd as this sounds, this has actually happened in the U.S. (the town of Elmore City, Oklahoma banned dancing for over 100 years and was Dean Pitchford’s inspiration for his script for “Footloose”). For the energetic Ren, who expresses his emotions through dance, this is a nightmare. He manages, though, with the help of classmate and friend, Willard Hewitt (Matthew Dorsey Moore) and the pastor’s daughter, Ariel (Taylor Louderman).

For a musical called “Footloose”, it really seems like the big dance numbers are kept to a minimum and dancing in general through the middle part of this story is stifled. It seems like the dance choreographer is playing the part of Reverend Moore during half these songs. If there were more songs like “On Any Sunday”, “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”, this would have been a grand dance and song musical on par with other greats. That doesn’t mean the other songs aren’t good. When you have Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar and Jim Steinman sharing the writing credits, you can’t go wrong with some rockin’ songs and love soaked ballads.

The show has a problem settling on a main idea. On one hand it could be a time capsule of an aging era. On another it’s the story of young vs. adult and traditional vs. new. It also tries to be a sexy, hip look at the lives of teenagers in a small town. Some of those ideas will grab hold and really stick with a viewer. But as for me, I was a bit overwhelmed by all three together and underwhelmed by each on their own. My personal preference would have been a time capsule. Every generation has the conflict of “parents just don’t understand” and very few stories actually have a whiff of creativity when it comes to exaggerated teen comedy/dramas. If these two ideas took a seat back to fun dance numbers and this musical’s catchy 80’s music, “Footloose” would have been a memorable evening at Starlight.

As I stated with Starlight’s previous iconic 80’s musical “Flashdance”, I may have been created in the 80’s, but I’m a product of the 90’s. I haven’t seen the 1984 movie, nor its 2011 remake. Some of the older people in the audience seemed to really dig it, but this is not my cup of tea. I loved the music, the dancing (when it happened) and the creative set pieces by Robert A. Kovach. My view of the 80’s is that it was the last generation with a true rebellious nature. The music struck a nerve in an era of growing morality and Reaganomics. Genres like punk rock, grunge and some sultry pop icons like Madonna festered and spoke to a confused and rambunctious generation. I wasn’t hoping for that style of music or any blatant liberal ideology. I was simply hoping for it to touch upon these ideas in a sentimental manner and sometime comical fashion.

“Footloose” will be at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City until August 11th.

Theatre Review “The Little Mermaid: The Musical” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, MO

The Little Mermaid The Musical
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 23, 2013

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Any time you’re hoping to replicate the success of a Disney production, you’re going to be automatically met with how well you stack up against the original. Even with a hazy memory of how the story to “The Little Mermaid” went, I still had a fairly good idea what to expect and I’m glad to report that not only does this Broadway-style production stays true to the 1989 classic, it is a delight to watch.

For those readers whose memory may be equally fuzzy, let me catch you up to speed. Ariel (Jessica Grove) is a mermaid and also the youngest daughter of King Triton (Edward Watts). Much to his dismay, she constantly visits the ocean’s surface and dreams of not only walking on the shore but living on dry land with the other humans. It doesn’t help when she rescues and falls in love with a Prince Eric (Nick Adams). Anymore information and I will have ruined the first half for those of you who haven’t seen the 1989 film or read the children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen.

The show gets off to a slow start with a song written for the production, but kicks into gear with the song everyone should know, “Part of Your World”. Grove is definitely talented and easily hits the high notes in the song. In fact everyone in the show is well cast in their roles. Still there are some low moments. The film’s most popular song, “Under the Sea”, doesn’t feel as epic or magical as it should in my opinion. My memory may have been blurry but I distinctly remember that song. I will add, in the show’s defense, that I’m sure it’s hard to create a sea alive with song and dance on stage. You could say it’s a tad villainous, but Ursula (Liz McCartney) almost steals the show. Any time she’s on stage, her presence is definitely felt and McCartney really belts out the lyrics in grand style, especially during the songs “Daddy’s Little Angel” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

Major props to the men and women behind the scenes of this production. To add to the effect that they’re underwater and swimming the cast is literally whisked into the air and across the stage. One man who certainly deserves a lot of credit is John MacInnis, who choreographed the show. One of the best instances of perfectly matched movements is during “Sweet Child” when the eels, Flotsam and Jetsam (Scott Leiendecker and Sean Patrick Doyle), move as one entity. Though “The Little Mermaid” lacks a lot of big dance numbers, one thing that really impressed me was watching the the actors constantly “swimming” in place, even when they don’t speak a single word during the scene. On the negative side, someone should send a note to the sound guy. Often times the music was much louder than the singing and I often saw parents covering their children’s ears because of how loud the volume was. I even found myself wincing at the volume a couple of times.

I haven’t seen the animated film in almost 20 years but I may have to after seeing this show. There may be a few things from the film that the production didn’t do justice, but I can guarantee there are plenty they triumphed on. The cast of “The Little Mermaid” should be proud they did the original justice while creating new memories for children of all ages.

This production runs at Starlight Theater until July 28th. For tickets visit www.kcstarlight.com

Theatre Review “Flashdance: The Musical” Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, Missouri

Flashdance: The Musical
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri
July 9, 2013

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I’ve never seen the 1983 film “Flashdance.” I wasn’t even sure what the story was about as I strolled to my seat to watch the musical production, appropriately titled, “Flashdance: The Musical”. The only thing I knew about the film was that it featured the song “Maniac” as well as the famous and steamy scene featuring a 20-year-old Jennifer Beals dousing herself in water. After watching “Flashdance: The Musical” I think I’ll stick with that sultry movie image and the few musical numbers from the stage show that really stuck out.

It’s not that the story is terrible. It’s that nothing feels spectacular about it. Alex Owens (Jillian Mueller) toughs it out with other men at a steel mill during the day, but at night she flashdances at Harry’s Bar. She works alongside some sassy ladies by the names of Kiki (Dequina Moore), Gloria (Kelly Felthous) and Tess (Katie Webber). One day at the steel mill she meets the boss’s grandson, Nick Hurley (Matthew Hydzik). He immediately takes a liking to her, but she’s not interested. She’s far more entranced by the Shipley Academy, where professional dancing dreams are fulfilled. The rest of the story is fairly predictable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the theme of the plot is about pursuing your dreams and at times realizing what’s most important in your life. The problem lies in some of the unnecessary side plots. One about the strip club owner, C.C. (Christian Whelan), who’s trying to lure Harry’s women to his establishment down the street. Another about the falling out between Gloria and her boyfriend Jimmy (David R. Gordon). Of course I get the impression people aren’t there for the supposed drama unfolding on stage. I assume they’re in attendance to relive the decade that brought us new wave, hip hop and the popularization of hard rock.

The music does a fantastic job at blending different genres of 80’s music, accompanied by some entertaining dance numbers. Sadly not all songs are like this. Some are just dry ballads or poorly written songs. The musical really succeeds when background sets are constantly changing, when an ensemble of dancers and singers flow in and burst with excitement. The fun is poured on when costume changes occur. They’re quick and incredibly sexy. It’s frustrating when songs like “Steeltown Sky”, “Manhunt” and “Chameleon Girls”, are followed with numbers that trip and fall flat like “Just Out of Reach”, “Remember Me” and “Where I Belong”. It’s not that the actors in this did a poor job; many were fantastic and showed great vocal range. It’s just that the lyrics were confining and didn’t give the performers room to grow. Veteran stage actress Jo Ann Cunningham, who plays Hannah, Alex’s mentor, is given her own song, but the balance between lyrics and music seemed incredibly wobbly.

All the right pieces are here, except a good script and solid set of songs. At one point I wondered if maybe this was a movie that never really needed a stage adaptation. But maybe I’m missing something. The 80’s was when female artists like Whitney Houston and Madonna shined and really helped pave the way for other musicians. Also it was a continuing and growing age of women in the workplace. I grew up in the 90’s. I watched the birth and death of music videos on TV. Grunge, punk rock and gangsta rap became mainstream. It’s hard for me to feel nostalgic or relate to the show being put on. So if you’re a Generation X child or enjoyed the 80’s, you’ll enjoy this musical. But if you’re a product of the 90’s like me, you’ll be dreading the day when they make “Spice World: The Musical”

The show is currently running in Kansas City through July 14th. The current tour continues into next year. The next three stops are:

Chicago — August 6th-18th
Memphis — September 17th-22nd
Indianapolis — October 1st-6th

A complete list of tour dates can be found at: www.flashdancethemusical.com

Theater Review “Catch Me If You Can” Starlight Theatre – Kansas City, MO

Catch Me If You Can
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, MO

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

“Catch Me If You Can” is a true story based on Frank Abagnale Jr (Stephen Anthony), a quick talking fast learning teenager who, in the 1960’s, was an airline pilot, doctor, and a lawyer, all before the age of 21! Frank spends the majority of the story being tailed by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes), a devoted and stubborn man who has made catching Abegnale his number one priority.

Following the divorce of his parents and the loss of his father, Frank Sr. (Dominic Fortuna), Frank Jr, decided being on his own is better than living in a broken home. He starts out by faking a Pan Am Pilots badge. He flies to over 26 different countries and helps copilot over 250 flights. He cashes his fake Pan Am checks all over the world under different aliases to stay a step ahead of the feds. This catches the attention of Agent Hanratty who is the only agent in his department who really feels this “shadow” pilot is trouble. He doesn’t realize that his cat and mouse game will one day land one of the most notable imposters of the 20th Century. While on the run from Hanratty, Frank decides to drop the pilot job and starts practicing medicine as an overnight ER physician. Here he meets Brenda Strong (Aubrey Mae Davis) who not only steals his heart but makes him think about dropping the whole charade he has been living and be an honest husband. Well that doesn’t go just as planned when, while meeting Brenda’s parents, he decides to announce that he will be practicing law thus starting another career as lawyer.

Frank will eventually be caught but the relationship that Abagnale and Hanratty have developed over the years does not let the story end with Frank’s capture. Abagnale was arguably the greatest ever at forgery and impersonation so, after a short stint in prison, he ishired on by the FBI and today is still very good friends with Agent Hanratty.

If you have read the book or seen the movie you know that “Catch Me If You Can” is nothing short of a brilliant story. Unfortunately the stage performance I witnessed was far from brilliant. I felt that Frank’s cracking voice was just unnecessary. I understand that he was a teen but short of a having a deep baritone voice the performance would have been much more believable if he (Anthony) would have just used his real voice. The jokes were corny, the songs sub par, and only a couple actors were not guilty over completely over acting.

That being said Hanratty (Janes) and Frank Sr. (Fortuna) kept me in my seat while watching this play. They give great performances and are really the only good performers I saw on stage. Both actors have experience on Broadway and it showed. Their actions matched their characters and emotions and their performances were effortless in a good way.

“Catch Me if You Can” is truly is great story and Starlight is a great venue to experience musical theater but if you would like to know the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. I would advise you rent the movie or read his book.

Theater Review “Memphis” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, MO

MEMPHIS
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 10, 2012

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The time – the turbulent 1950s. The place – Memphis, Tennessee. Alabama born W.C. Handy, the father of the blues, wrote his first song here. Mississippi’s Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, died here. In between those two the musical heritage of the city grew, exploding into a new sound. That sound is captured in the Tony Award winning Best Musical, “Memphis.”

The show opens in a non-descript club, one that clearly caters to a strictly black clientele. The joint is jumpin’ until a new visitor walks in. A white visitor. This is Huey (Brian Fenkart). Huey loves the music he’s heard from outside the club and wants to experience it in person. It seems to sing to him. As he refers to it in the show’s first big number, he’s listening to “The Music of My Soul.” While there he meets a Felicia (Felicia Boswell), a featured singer in the club, which is owned by her brother, Delray (Quentin Earl Darrington). It’s obvious that there is an initial spark between Huey and Felicia, but to pursue such a romance in 1950s Memphis could have tragic consequences.

One day, while working his day job at a local department store, Huey is put to work in the stores record department. Tired of listening to Perry Como all day he puts on something a little more lively. The store starts hopping and record sales boom. However, when the manager learns that Huey has been playing “race music,” he fires him. Huey enjoyed his brief time selling records and begins applying for D.J. jobs around town. He comes across a local station whose weekly “Blues” show includes songs by Patti Page and Roy Rogers! When the D.J. vacates the booth for a moment Huey sneaks in and takes over. Next thing you know….HOCKADOO!….the city of Memphis begins to groove.

Packed with songs you’ll leave the theatre humming, “Memphis” is that rare 21st Century musical that wasn’t based on a film (“Spamalot,” “The Producers”) or full of familiar songs (“Jersey Boys”). The songs, by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, are well written and, unlike some musical numbers, quite memorable. DiPietro had written the book for the musical “All Shook Up,” so he certainly has a knowledge of the early days of popular music. Bryan was once studying medicine at Rutgers when a friend of his called and asked him to join his band. That friend was Jon Bon Jovi, and Bryan has been the group’s keyboard player since day one, so he certainly has a knowledge of current popular music. And that is what “Memphis” is, a blending of various types of music into, as Dick Clark would say, “something you can dance to.”

The cast is first rate. Both Fenkart and Boswell were involved in the original Broadway production and their talents are more than evident. Fenkart gives Huey an almost child-like quality. He can’t seem to comprehend that what he’s trying to do is wrong. He loves music. All music. And he wants to share his love with anyone within listening distance. Boswell has a voice that would knock you down in the back row of the theater. Her solo number, “Colored Woman,” is one of the show’s highlights, as are her duets with Huey. The entire company was in fine voice, often causing those in the audience to rise to their feet and dance along, the sure sign of a great musical.

After finishing up in Kansas City the show moves on to:
Las Vegas – July 17-22
San Diego – July 24-29
Los Angeles – July 31-August 12

For more tour dates and information on the show, go to www.memphisthemusical.com

Theater Review “The Addams Family” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, MO

THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
July 3, 2012

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I had the chance to see “The Addams Family” while it was in previews in Chicago over Thanksgiving 2009. I didn’t go, which was disappointing since it featured two of my favorite performers, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. I had seen both on Broadway several times (in fact, the first time I saw Neuwirth on stage was in a touring production of “A Chorus Line” in 1980) and truly admire their talent. The show moved on to Broadway where it received horrible reviews. Yet, thanks to the star power of the leads, it played for 18 months, closing shop with Roger Rees and Brooke Shields in the lead roles. My understanding is that the audience didn’t enjoy the show because it almost totally dismissed the television show and films that fans were familiar with and based itself around the original cartoons produced by Charles Addams. That would be like remaking “Star Wars” and leaving out Darth Vader!

The production that is currently in Kansas City (other dates can be found at the end of this review) makes good use of some of the best known television bits and is a pretty enjoyable night at the theatre. Before the curtain rises, the familiar Vic Mizzy composed “Addams Family Theme” plays, encouraging the audience to snap-snap their fingers along. The show opens in the family cemetery, where the ghosts of Addams past gather for a yearly celebration. This delivers the best song of the show, sung by the entire company, called “When You’re an Addams.” We learn that young daughter Wednesday (Courtney Wolfson) has met a boy and has fallen in love. She is worried because the boy is “different” – think how Marilyn was “different” on “The Munsters” – and won’t be accepted by her family. Luckily big romantic Uncle Fester (a brilliant Blake Hammond) can spot love when he sees it. He forbids the spirits returning to their resting places until true love is found. Wednesday tells her father, Gomez (Douglas Sills) but begs him not to tell her mother, Morticia (Sara Gettelfinger). Not one to keep a secret from his beloved ‘Tish, Gomez reluctantly agrees. When the young man and his family arrive for dinner the table is set for some ghoulish fun!

I can see where the show may have disappointed earlier. With the exception of “When You’re and Addams” and Morticia’s big second act song, “Just Around the Corner,” there really isn’t anything memorable about the score. Nice music and pedestrian lyrics do not a great musical make. However, when you have a talented cast and some incredible mood setting scenery, the picture the music is trying to paint is a lot clearer. My hats off to the cast for braving Kansas City in July. As the curtain opened it was a steamy 95 degrees where I was sitting. And I wasn’t wearing a costume or make up. The cast was full of energy and in fine voice. Sills, a Tony award nominee for his work in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” gives Gomez a sentimental side only hinted at by John Astin on television and the late, great Raul Julia in the films. He is a man truly in love with his wife and the slightest hint of betrayal – read: not telling her about Wednesday – cuts him to the quick. Gettelfinger is also strong, again making the role her own. Hammond is spot on as Uncle Fester. He has a great number where he seems to float about the stage while singing to his beloved moon which earned much deserved applause. The rest of the familiar characters – brother Pugsley, wacky Grand-ma-ma and butler Lurch – have a few moments to shine but are mostly background characters. More attention is paid to Lucas (Brian Justin Crum), Wednesday’s bethrothed, and his parents (Martin Vidnovic and Gaelen Gilliland) in the show. There is even a Cousin Itt sighting or two!

All in all, “The Addams Family” is a nice way to spend a couple of hours with some old friends.

The show is currently running in Kansas City through July 8 and then through August in the following cities:

WASHINGTON D.C. – July 10 – 29
PITTSBURGH, PA – July 31 – August 12
ATLANTA, GA – August 14 – 18

The show resumes its tour in Dallas in September. For additional tour dates and more information click here.
http://www.theaddamsfamilymusicaltour.com/