It had so many traditional favorites from American musical theater, that it might well have been subtitled “The Best of Broadway!” Just the night before, I was in downtown Houston and viewed the national tour of “Evita” with several friends.
We were in excellent fifth row orchestra seats, but my friends agreed with me that at least 20 percent (I think more) of what was sung and/or spoken from the stage could not be heard in the cavernous Wortham auditorium. And I hope I won’t lose my credibility as a critic when I tell you that the Class Act offering was ten-fold more enjoyable. (Forgive me, Andrew Lloyd Webber!)
Following a delicious Overture from conductor Martin VanMaanen, and his fine seven-piece orchestra, the joyous proceedings got under way against a nicely painted backdrop of rosy moon over Manhattan skyline. As for music, well, what better opener for the many area youngsters who made up the enormous cast than a rousing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun? Pretty Megan Kane was in sassy form as she led this number in full-length gown and feather boa. She was backed by dazzling tiers of dancers in top hats and sparkling, satin-finished vests in every color of the rainbow.
It was just the beginning of an evening of costume delights from designers Christine Hensley, Kate John, Margy Korfhage, Cindy Odom, Carrie Osterman, Norma Porter, Deb Spiess, and Dana Spencer.
Next, Kristin Hammond shines as Annie Oakley singing “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” in a sparkling red and white cowgirl outfit with enough white fringe to supply the Houston rodeo. Andrew McKinney’s rich, deep voice carries very well when he joins her for a humorous “Anything You Can Do.”
Hammond’s long note (“Anything you can sing I can sing longer…”) was a pip, and would have gotten Ethel Merman’s approval. It was fun to watch the youngsters in the audience as they beamed watching their peers on the stage.
A Fiddler on the Roof segment began with “Tradition,” and a fine violin solo from Sarah Andes. F.B. Kern aged beautifully, and was a convincing Tevye. The peasant costumes were a marvel, the choral work and musical counterpoints rapturous, and the choreography superb. I had the urge to stand up and scream “Bravo!” but we critics are not supposed to tip our hands before press time. “Matchmaker” followed with the delicious harmonies of Laura Estrada, Courtney Roche, and Lauren Spencer.
The King and I section began with “The March of the Siamese Children” as they came in beautifully costumed procession through the audience. While a bit stiff at times, it was a perfect number for Class Act to continue its own tradition of giving very young children the chance to taste the thrill of being on stage. The bright voice and smile of Susie John (as Anna) closed out this segment with “Getting to Know You.”
Dressed in colorful medieval garb, Ryan Cowles and Bryan Jarrett blended their mellow voices nicely for the amusing “Agony” from Into the Woods. The forgettable tune itself, has probably earned its obscurity, but the boys do a nice job with it.
Annie treats included “A Hard Knock Life” that was full of energy and enthusiasm from the girls. Travis Hensley leads “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” aided by the smooth trio of Susie John, Amber Gensbigler, and Ashley Matlock. Here we have more snappy dancing from the ensemble to lift the number to a big finish. Credit choreographers Tony Smith, Boni Schuetz, Shane Dickson and Katherine Goodfellow (also Associate Producer).
From Carousel there was a lusty “Blow High, Blow Low” from the guys that featured acrobatics and surprisingly deep-voiced richness. Sarah Franz, Amber Gensbigler, and Ashley Matlock were fine featured soloists in a “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” that was at its best in the choral ensemble excellence for which Vocal Director, Brumfield, is so well known. The same ensemble excellence was evident in “This Was A Real Nice Clambake,” which featured solos from Elizabeth Porter, Annie Horak, Wes Fruge, and F.B. Kern. If that worked up an audience appetite, there were complimentary cheesecake and beverages during intermission.
For hilarity in Act II, we had “There is Nothin’ Like A Dame” from South Pacific. Then Erin Roche did a haunting “Bali Hai.” It reminded me of the vivid colors that bathed the island in mysterious light when the film version played in the hometown Paramount Theater of my youth. Whitney Gentile did a bubbly “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” surrounded by a wonderful, high-stepping chorus.
Bryan Jarrett returned, with fine voice and exceptional stage presence, to go it alone with “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin. “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys & Dolls, may have been choreographed a bit too mechanically, but it had revival-style energy. Soloists Matt Wilson, Ross Bautsch, and Michael Stablein keep the ship afloat.
A longtime personal favorite of mine, The Music Man, closed the show. If I were the cast, I think that title would become the official nickname for Mr. Brumfield. His artistry brings astonishing vocal purity to “Iowa Stubborn.” Sarah Franz brings us a plaintive and sweet Marian in “‘Til There Was You.” Ross Bautsch solos while the dancers bring down the house in “Shipoopi,” with a routine that is part polka, part Virginia reel and part pogo stick! Mr. Jarrett, who had just given his acrobatic all in “Shipoopi,” quickly returns to lead the finale in an exhausting “Seventy-Six Trombones.” It is full of color, joy and movement for a perfect, foot-stomping finish.
If you are ever tempted to throw up your hands and say “What’s becoming of kids today?” you owe it to yourself to see the next Class Act offering. (Tentatively scheduled for the first weekend next March at Montgomery College). Class Act is turning out a generation to be proud of.
(The Courier 7.30.00)