One thing can be said for Montauk Theatre Productions. They know their audience. If this knowledge precludes their taking risks that would make their productions a little smarter, it nevertheless doesn’t stop them from creating crowd-pleasing entertainment.
Their recent cabaret evening,The Show of the Century, billed itself as a celebration of the popular music of the last century, from ragtime, blues, and jazz through swing, rock 'n' roll, and disco, and concluding with current pop, techno, and hip-hop sounds. Would that it were, but while Broadway and Tin Pan Alley were the undisputed leaders in popular song for the first half of the 20th century, from the 1950s onward there was a major shift in musical tastes, and Broadway no longer reigned supreme. With a few passing references to Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and even Gloria Gaynor, the creators of The Show of the Century paid lip service (sometimes lip-synching service) to these changing tastes, but still relied too heavily on the Broadway musical for their material. Rather than explore the contributions made by such artists as Carole King, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Sid Vicious, etc, and thus make smart commentary on how America evolved in a century of rapid change, the evening became a tribute to one distinctly American art form. This lack of breadth became particularly egregious in the later years, when the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber was prominently featured at the expense of home-grown American composers like Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, and of course, Stephen Sondheim. And if the evening were to be primarily a tribute to 100 years of Broadway, how fitting it would have been to bring everything full circle with a selection from Ragtime, the last major musical of the 20th century.
But as stated earlier, the producers and the director (Montauk’s artistic director, Anita Brown) know whom they serve, and the nearly full house of friends and family ate it all up with a spoon. Indeed it was hard to resist the relentlessly cheerful cast as they sang and danced their way through years of classic nostalgia. While they didn’t all possess the vocal resources required for such a range of singing, Kirsten Becker, Carrie Ethier, James Martinelli, and Tamer Tewfik were an engaging group of high-energy personalities. Martinelli, who also choreographed, was an especially vibrant presence, a natural dancer who seemed confined by the cozy environs of the Shooting Star Theatre’s tiny stage.
The uncredited set, consisting of black velour drapes, silver tinsel columns and glittery gold stars, was strangely appropriate to each decade, and was lit by Joshua Dunn with a clarity that belied the limited number of instruments he had to work with. Costume consultant Jennifer Grambs supplied a fashion parade that more than suggested ever-changing styles as the years progressed.
The Show of the Century may not have been nostalgia with a clear-eyed view of its intended subject, but it was a moderately pleasant evening that brought pleasure to its audience of a "certain" age and mindset. As a song from the immortal Oklahoma reminded: "the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye." While indigestible, corn can still be oddly satisfying, and sometimes even tasty.
Musical Selections: 1
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita