Saturday, July 4, 2009

Theater review: Florida Stage's ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ is wonderful -- as revues go, that is

Michelle Pereira, Dana Dawson, Eric Collins
and Irene Adjan in Some Kind of Wonderful.

By Hap Erstein

For no particular reason other than its aging Baby Boomer audience — of which I am one, by the way — Florida Stage has commissioned a musical revue of the pop song hits of the years 1960 to 1965 to fill its summer show slot. The result is called Some Kind of Wonderful, a nostalgic stroll down the airplay charts of the Camelot era.

While its creators Bill Castellino and Christopher McGovern — the team that premiered Cagney! earlier this season — do not have much fresh or theatrical to say about these 40-some songs, they do deliver a couple of hours of the aural equivalent of comfort food.

From today’s perspective of niche broadcasting, where country, soul and heavy metal rock each have their own radio stations, it is interesting to note that in the early ’60s, “everyone listened to everything,” as this show puts it. So it is in Some Kind of Wonderful, with Your Cheatin’ Heart bumping up against Big Girls Don’t Cry and The Girl From Ipanema.

As intriguing as that is, it does not allow for much traction between songs. The show is a string of hits sung well by a very appealing five-member cast, but it rarely musters much theatrical momentum. Chances are audiences will not mind though, especially if these musical numbers originally recorded by the likes of Connie Francis, The Drifters, Neil Sedaka, Sam Cooke and Elvis, to name a few, happen to be the soundtrack of their youth.

Summer has never really been a time for cutting-edge theater at Florida Stage. And with the economy still languishing, this is probably no time to change the seasonal formula. Still, it is hard to miss the fact that Some Kind of Wonderful is more about putting butts in seats than it is about crafting memorable theater.

Those reservations noted, there is plenty of entertainment to be had in this show. Director Castellino approaches much of the material with an affectionate sense of humor, as when the ensemble “wimowehs” their way through The Lion Sleeps Tonight, illuminating themselves and some cheesy props with flashlights, in a production number that might be a low-budget response to The Lion King. And when Irene Adjan belts out People, from Funny Girl, she serenades one of the ‘60s most iconic couples, whose identity is one of the evening’s best punch lines.

Adjan and Barry J. Tarallo often play nerdy high school sweethearts Tammy and Tad, she of the pink-framed spectacles, he of an automotive obsession over his Ford Falcon. Michelle Pereira seems to have been dealt the more histrionic torch songs or at least she turns such potential throwaway songs as Where the Boys Are and Besame Mucho into high drama.

Spiky-haired Eric Collins all but defines guys gone goofy with love (Goin’ Out of My Head, The Birds & the Bees) and winsome Dana Dawson vamps her way through the faux-tragic It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To) and Cupid. The latter, delivered atop the piano, raises the auditorium’s ambient temperature a few degrees and gives musical director McGovern a few opportunities for comic double takes.

Give McGovern credit for some fresh five-part arrangements, and for the wisdom to include frequent sensuous saxophone solo spots for Jason Reed. Rupert Ziawinski showboats well on bass, insinuating himself into a few dance numbers, and Neel Shulka rounds out the combo solidly on percussion.

Still, the order of many of the songs seem haphazard and the transitions between the spoken reminiscences and the musical numbers they lead into often seem forced. Or maybe I was trying to make the show more than it wants to be. Some Kind of Wonderful is a revue and an entertaining one, but Florida Stage audiences have been trained to expect more than that.

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Continuing through Aug. 30. Tickets: $45-$48. Call: (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3837.

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