“Oliver!” at Super Summer Theatre

July 11, 2012 (Opening Night), Spring Mountain Ranch

The British National Theatre Company of America’s production of “Oliver!” opened on a strong note at Super Summer Theatre.

The sets were richly painted and detailed, with deep colors, lots of textures, and multiple levels that were enhanced by varying heights of set pieces and props. The lighting enhanced the creation of a dark, forbidding, grimy atmosphere, effectively transporting the audience to a war-torn, crumbling city.

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre

Immediately notable in the opening of the show was the talent and professionalism of the child actors. The children were focused, clean and confident in their scenes, group dances and interactions. Sara Andreas, who played Oliver, demonstrated vibrant vocal quality and strength. She was in good company, as every lead and ensemble member sang strong and clear.

Costumes were period-appropriate, with good detail and style.

The choreography for the children was delightfully creative, with a modernized hip-hop style suffusing the children’s movements throughout group lifts, canon movements and prop work. The fresh style was eye-catching and fitting in its street-feel, and in many ways reflected movement that children naturally do.

All of the children were good dancers, and the sharpness of their performance was impressive. Whether in formations or during simple gestures of the head, focusing to and away from a lead adult character, the children moved in unison and were obviously well-rehearsed, giving the production a polished appearance. Great job, especially on an opening night.

Oliver! at Super Summer Theatre.

“Consider Yourself” had interesting formation work and character choreography, including umbrella choreography.  Artful Dodger performed a quirky, clean, memorable dance solo.

Violence toward women and children was graphically presented in “Oliver!”, and was disturbing. Children in the audience may need adult guidance to navigate the violent themes.

While these themes are part of the original foundation of the show, and traditionally central to the show’s theme of ‘survival’, they make the audience wish that one of the victimized characters would outright resist, outwit their persecutors or trick them into turning on each other, or that the offenders would ‘get their due’ as vividly as Oliver and the women suffer abuse and death.

This production of “Oliver!” was admirably directed, choreographed, and performed. With modernized choreography, robust singing and confident performances, it entertained the full-house crowd and set a high bar for its three weeks of performances.

Audience: appropriate for ages 10-up

Rating: A

Signature Productions’ “Hairspray”

April 11, 2012 at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center

Signature Production’s Hairspray blew our wigs off with its high production quality and joyful performances.

The cast had terrific energy, talent and passion. Even though many characters were written to be somewhat over-the-top or caricature-ish, the actors in this production played those at just the right level to be believable, likeable and relatable.  These subtle choices in acting and direction are to be commended.

The interaction of the actors established solid relationships, drawing the audience in from the first moment.

Singing by every actor was strong and well-articulated. All sang at a professional level.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"
Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Direction was superb.  Transitions were inventive and clever, and performed smoothly.  Use of sets, lighting and script during scene changes made them as engaging as the scenes. Staging was creative and contributed greatly to the storytelling.  Placement and movement of each actor had a reason, and furthered the story.

Choreography was pleasingly stylish, sharp, and well-rehearsed.  It was not distracting, gratuitously complex or self-aggrandizing; it was well-chosen for the level of dance ability of the cast.  The cast performed it cleanly and joyfully. Choreography of sets, such as the jailhouse bars, was witty and interesting. And choreographed special effects using real hairspray –- terrific!

Costumes were richly designed and constructed, authentic in style to the 60’s, eye-catchingly detailed, expressive of each character’s story, and perfectly tailored.

Lighting was judicious and effective in creating the right mood and directing the eye to the action.  Sound had no discernible problems, and the performers’ voices sounded natural and clear.

Sets were impressive in size, detail, construction, mobility and variety.  Of special note was the huge blue-checkered backdrop early in the show, and the simple jailhouse scene set: the former perfectly symbolized the aesthetic of the 60s and created a ‘groovy’ atmosphere with its rich colors and sophisticated execution; the latter effectively evoked the setting due to its shape, minimalism and starkness.

Signature Productions' "Hairspray"

Casting an actual child in the part of Little Inez is rarely done, but Malia Blunt sang, acted and danced with skill and poise.  Her talent and skill are professional-theater level, maybe even Broadway-ready.

This performance belied the label ‘community theater’.  In all respects, including staging, costumes, sets, directing, acting and singing, this company and production offered a professional theater-level experience.  If a few of these theatrical and production elements were weaker, the show would still have been well-worth attending.  But every element was designed and performed with excellence, which made attending it fun and memorable.  The production sparkled with professionalism. This show was truly a gem.

Audience: All Ages

Event Rating: A++

Signature Production’s “Singin’ In the Rain”

Performed at the Summerlin Library Theater, April 2011

One of America’s most beloved movie musicals was brought to life this month in Las Vegas, complete with real rain, great singing and mostly great dancing.

The rain effect, using real water, surely was a difficult technical task to design and run.  With the help of UNLV’s Engineering Department students, this production successfully made it rain on cue and with no drainage problems.  It added a wonderful dimension to the live production.  Although the rain itself was spotty and uneven, it was amazing to see it at all on this small library stage in the middle of a desert.  Stage crew and engineering students alike deserve a lot of credit for making it possible.

The principal actors were engaging and committed.  Evan Litt, as Don Lockwood, brought to life the lead character with style and ease.    David McMullin, as Cosmo Brown, was energetic and a very decent tapper.  Shannon Winkel , as Kathy Seldon, had an angelic voice that was a treat to hear.  Kelly Albright, as Lina Lamont, was spot-on, line for line –  a complete resurrection of the original film’s character, in vocal effect, mannerism, and acting.

Some things in movies cannot be reproduced on stage.  Gene Kelly purposefully experimented with the unique ability of film to capture close-ups, stunts or visual angles that cannot be done live.  This show cleverly re-staged some of the movie scenes so the story line worked successfully onstage.  One example was Don Lockwood’s getaway from his screaming fans, which in the movie involved Don climbing on top of a bus and jumping into Kathy Seldon’s car.  In this stage production, Don escaped on foot and bumped into Kathy at a bus stop.  It worked perfectly.  Also, in the set-up scene before “Broadway Melody”, McMullin alone tries to explain the concept of the singing and dancing part of their “talkie” movie to studio owner, RF Simpson, which allowed Litt to participate in the “Broadway Melody “dance sequences (in the film, both Don and Cosmo are in the owner’s office, as well as Don being the main character in the dance sequence).

McMullin was impressive as Cosmo, especially in the physically demanding “Make ‘Em Laugh” scene, where he sang, launched himself around the set doing physical comedy, and even threw a little contortion into the mix.  His acting was marred only by his habit of emphasizing one-liners with a facial grin so pulled back it almost seemed like a grimace.  But his energy and projection was, like the rest of the cast’s, fantastic.

Choreography by Teresa Martinez stayed true to the style of Gene Kelly’s original choreography, for the most part.  The original spirit of numbers like “Moses Supposes” and “Good Mornin’!” was preserved very well.   However, there were lost opportunities in the “Broadway Melody” montage number though, when short stops in the music, which were obviously supposed to be used for tap breaks (tap solos) were choreographed as dance freezes.   Another problem, perhaps only noticeable to trained dancers in the audience, was the technique of the ensemble dancers, which lacked leg and foot lines and walking style.

The use of home-made films to re-enact the vocal-dubbing scenes in the original movie effectively reproduced a very interesting and core aspect of the original film.

Huge credit must be given to all the leads for doing what neither Gene Kelly nor any film musical actor ever had to do – sing while they did that Gene Kelly choreography.  That is truly difficult, and a remarkable feat – a testament to many, many hours of rehearsal.

The finale was the most visually-satisfying scene, with the ensemble and leads all in yellow rain slickers and dancing in the rain – a very pleasing end to the show.  Signature Productions gave community theatre a professional sheen.