Broadway at Music Circus is produced by the California Musical Theatre organization, and is the leading summertime venue for musicals featuring top name and local stars and productions. Shows are produced at the Wells Forgo Pavilion, and each season features six productions of shows such as The Music Man, The King and I, The Little Mermaid and more.
Memphis opens the 2012-2013 Season of Broadway Sacramento
Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, opened the new season for Broadway Sacramento on Tuesday night, and runs until Sunday November 4th.
Memphis is the story of an illiterate white man, Huey Calhoun, who has a feel for the black music played in the underground clubs of Memphis in 1951. He enters their world, and through sheer guts and tenacity, brings the music he loves to the white audience of his town, battling racism and the establishment the whole way. The story is loosely based on real Memphis, Tennessee disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who played a mix of white and black music on his radio and TV shows, and who was the first to broadcast Elvis Presley's debut record.
Memphis The Musical was the creation of Broadway producer George W. George, and written by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan (music and lyrics) and Joe DiPietro (lyrics and book.) All the music is original, and tries to recreate the early sound of rhythm and blues melding into early rock & roll within a Broadway musical sound. The story begins three years before Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis would burst on the scene, so it makes sense and feels right that the story doesn't use, or simulate their style of music. (Berry's own song Memphis, Tennessee came out in 1959.)
The production uses some clever devices to help convey the story. When a record is played, the singers will suddenly appear somewhere on the stage, but not in the scene with the characters. And when Huey hosts a TV show, you see both the live presentation and a camera view projected above, so you can tell what the home viewers are seeing on their black & white sets. And transitions between scenes are smooth and seamless using lighting techniques and sliding stage elements.
Bryan Fenkart plays the part of Huey Calhoun as a fast talking slick country boy with a good heart. He brings humor and expression to the part, and does a good job singing with his reedy tenor voice, especially when mixed with the other singers. Felicia Boswell plays the part of Felicia Farrell, the young black woman whose music takes Huey's soul, and steals his heart as well. Their interracial relationship creates the conflict that drives the story and sets the obstacles that the characters need to overcome. Boswell's voice is the star of the show, as she soars with heart and soul in song after song, but never overdoes it. So many of today's female “diva” singers feel they have to warble and change notes as much as possible to show their talent, but Boswell never goes there, and treats the songs with respect and authenticity. She first shines bright in Colored Woman and Someday in the first act, and Love Will Stand When All Else Falls in the second.
In the supporting cast, Horace Rogers as Delray, Felicia's brother and protector, has a strong presence and excellent baritone voice. He is the one, during group songs, who pushes the melody over the top. Gator, as played by Rhett George, is silent in most of the first act, but gets to show off his powerful tenor voice in Say a Prayer and again later in the second act. Will Mann as Bobby is great as the shy big man who comes out of his shell when he has a chance on Huey's TV show. And Julie Johnson as Mama shocks everyone with her breakout song Change Don't Come Easy. After hiding behind her frumpy mom role in the beginning, she slowly emerges until she brings the house down in the second act. And the entire cast puts on a rousing finale with Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll.
The story itself is somewhat cliché and filled with “we know better now” elements about racism in the mid 20th century south, and elsewhere in America. It would have been more socially relevant back in the 1960's, and probably much more controversial with the interracial romance and kisses, and especially the morning-after scene when Huey and Felicia get together. But the story also has some surprises, and ably carries the theme and the music along. And it avoids the predictable happy ending, leaving you with some hope of romance and for the future of these people.
The reception by the Sacramento crowd was very appreciative, and brought a standing ovation for the cast, spurred on, no doubt, by Julie Johnson and Felicia Boswell's outstanding performances. The band, who remains mostly hidden during the show behind the set pieces, got to come out during the final number, and were also greeted warmly by the crowd for their great “behind the scenes” performance. Memphis the Musical plays at the Sacramento Community Theater through November 4th. For tickets and information see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com.
Ken Kiunke 10/31/12
Originally published in the Gold Country Times. Reprintable with attribution to the Gold Country Times and Ken Kiunke
You all know the story—“A tale as old as time”—of Beauty and the Beast. A vain, wealthy man is cursed because he cannot see people for the beauty within. He breaks the curse when he meets a plain, ordinary woman and falls in love with her despite her lack of physical beauty…no wait, that’s Shrek. In Beauty and the Beast, he falls for the most beautiful woman in town. Perhaps he didn’t quite learn the lesson, but Belle learned it for him, falling for him despite his frightening appearance.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—the stage musical based on the Disney animated film from 1991, opened the 2017 season of Sacramento’ Music Circus on Tuesday, June 20 and will play through Sunday, July 2. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1994, is an expanded re-telling of the story from the film, using all of the songs from the original and adding seven more. Composer Alan Menken worked with lyricist Howard Ashman in the original, and after he died, Tim Rice and Menken wrote the new material. Menken and Rice later teamed up again to write new songs for Disney’s latest version of the tale, the live action film released earlier this year. So this little regarded story by French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont has become a big part of the culture, and a family favorite. The audience at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, an in-the-round theater with great seats no matter where you sit, held many excited youngsters eager to see the show.
This production features Jessica Grove as Belle, the Beauty of the title, a young woman living in her “provincial town” who reads voraciously and dreams of adventures beyond the French village. An early version of the more modern “Disney Princess,” she is smart, independent, and caring, but she does still dream of meeting her prince charming, as she sings in the opening song “Belle.” Grove has a lovely voice and strong stage presence to carry the role—crucial as she is in nearly every scene. Her leading “man”—the Beast, (sometimes known as Prince Adam) is played by James Snyder, who has a very powerful voice, which shows especially in the song “If I Can’t Love Her” at the end of the first act, as he struggles with his desire to win Belle’s heart and break the curse, knowing he is hideous and frightening in appearance, (and fairly cranky as well.)
The role of the Beast is quite challenging. Behind makeup, fangs, and wild hair most of the show, he is initially intimidating and harsh, and then becomes frustrated, confused, and easily manipulated by Belle and his servants, who desperately want him to win the love of Belle so they can be freed of the curse that transformed them into household objects. Belle, once his prisoner, becomes his teacher. Even when he is supposed to be at his most ferocious, as when he saves Belle from the wolves, (a powerful scene in both the original animated film and recent live action version,) on the stage he barely makes an impact. Belle does as much to fight off the wolves as he does, and then it is she who helps him home and nurses him to health. Snyder is not a large man either, only a few inches taller than Grove—not quite living up to the description of the Beast as “Seven or eight feet tall” as Maurice, Belle’s father, tells it. So though he may not be as intimidating as you may expect the Beast to be, Snyder carries the role well, expressing the conflicted character in both the poignant and comic scenes.
But the role that can really make Beauty and the Beast shine is that of Gaston, the vainglorious bully who sets his sights on Belle as a prize he can win—the only girl in town not crazy for him. Peter Saide is tall and muscular, and plays the bombastic egotist perfectly, in the songs “Me”—one of the new numbers—and in the highlight of the show, “Gaston.” In that song, sung with his lackey LeFou (Jared Gertner) he delivers lines like “I’m especially good at expectorating” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating” with great gusto, while he struts about, impressing the girls and beating up on LeFou. While he is a comical, devious thickhead, he brings life to the show and the scenes in town.
Bringing life to the Beast’s castle are the enchanted objects, the Prince’s servants, led by Cogsworth the clock, played by David Hibbard, and Lumiere the candelabra, played by Michael Paternostro, who make up the comic duo running the household. Mrs. Potts the teapot and her son Chip the teacup join them and the rest of the staff, along with several imaginative plates, napkins, silverware, and an extremely acrobatic carpet (Connor Wince) in the rousing “Be Our Guest,” another big highlight of the show. Colorful and chaotic, the dance makes great use of the circular stage and rising platforms, along with the voices of the company of performers. Mrs. Potts, played by Shannon Warne, later delivers the iconic title song, the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast.” Courtney Iventosch as Babette the feather duster, and Jacqueline Piro Donovan as Madame de la Grande Bouche, the operatic wardrobe, also add comedy to the staff.
The opening night audience loved the show, giving the performers a standing ovation. The orchestra, with conductor Craig Barna and 11 musicians, do a fantastic job enhancing the production, creating a big sound from a fairly small group. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, directed by Glenn Casale, runs at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, July 2. Even at two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission, it can keep school-aged kids engaged and entertained. For tickets and information, see www.CaliforniaMusicalTheatre.com. The Music Circus season will continue with On The Town opening July 11.
Ken Kiunke 6/22/2017
Originally published in GoldCountryMarketing.com. Reprintable with attribution to Gold Country Marketing and Ken Kiunke
West Side Story
The Little Mermaid
The Music Man
The King and I
Hunchback of Notre Dame
About Music Circus
Beauty and the Beast
Singin' in the Rain
7 Brides for 7 Brothers
Little Shop of Horrors
The Drowsy Chaperone
In The Heights