Hello Broadway!

20140625_174221Scott McQuiston, Lydia Lyons, Reg Huston and Gracie Poletti (photo by Stephen Moorer)

By Susan Meister

Sue me, sue me, what can you do me? I love American musical theater.

And apparently most everyone else does, judging by the crowd at the Golden Bough Playhouse in Carmel, where a group of local musicians lent both their talents and their enthusiasm to a list of 32 songs from famous Broadway composers and lyricists. Threaded together by a narrative comprising both history and light patter, it was altogether a hugely ambitious amount of material to learn, master, and perform. By the end of the evening, some voices were fraying, but the energy level was maintained to the finish.

One of the principals, Reg Huston, is about an entertaining a presence as imaginable. He’s big, his opera-trained voice is big, his comedic talents clear, and his ability to knit together an ensemble remarkable. His account of South Pacific’s “Some enchanted evening,” was every bit as moving as Ezio Pinza’s. His role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience, some of whom had seen him in it before. But perhaps his standout comedic turn was in the song “You’re timeless to me,” from Hairspray. Joined by his fellow extraordinary performer Scott McQuiston in drag, it was simply great fun.

The choreography by Sherri Beck, not credited on the program*, fit the cast and the material perfectly. Gracie Poletti and Lydia Lyons, in their ever-changing costumes, were a fine part of the cast. Lyons, handed some very challenging songs, was sounding a bit strained at the end, though along with everyone else, lent magic to the stage. Susanne Mentzer of Met Opera fame lent her considerable vocal skills to the performance. It would be exciting to hear her on the main stage. The mix of songs, too, was well chosen, though I would have liked to hear more Stephen Sondheim, perhaps today’s musical theater most important figure. His songs are not all that singable, which probably limited their value to this program, but his genius is yet to be outshone. That said, I was happy with the roster.

Stephen Tosh and his band gave wonderful support to the singers; Tosh’s keyboard skills are, in particular, prodigious and consistently enjoyable on whatever stage he turns up.

Stephen Moorer, whose brainchild this was, and his collaborator Walt deFaria, need to be handed an extra measure of appreciation for the production. It was fun, witty, ambitious, successful, and a treat for the theater-going audiences in our area.

What has always impressed me about musical theater, which is a distinctly American idiom, is its optimism. Despite the eternal themes of love lost, sorrow, challenge, pain, and ambiguities of fortune, mostly everything comes out okay in the end. More, there is celebration of all that’s good about America, its particular vernacular, its physical beauty, its belief in itself. While the front pages these days don’t hand us much in the way of good news, “Hello, Broadway!” will bring it to you once again. Bravo.

The production continues weekends through July 27.

*Correction: Beck is named/credited in the program handout.