Summer Camp Talent Show

Grove Street Wannabees - Favorite 20th Century Eras

Book and Directed by Brian Saxe
Musical Director Martin St. Lawrence, Choreography by Brittney Jensen
Midtown International Theater Festival
New 42nd St. Theatre
348 W. 42nd St. (279-4200)
Equity showcase (Festival closes Aug. 5; call for schedule)
Review by David Mackler

With the verve of Up With People (remember them?) the energetic cast of characters known as the Grove Street Wannabees (directed by Brian Saxe) greets their audience with a trite song about the last century, the new century, and a Y2K joke or two. Their stated purpose is to invoke "favorite 20th Century eras," and placards are used to announce the time frame being featured. It's a good thing they do, because except for some costume changes, there is no feel for any period, and the show is a chronological jumble that evokes a drama camp's showcase for friends and family.

And that's a shame, because there was some talent on stage - some attractive voices, some glimmers of personality, some hints that in other circumstances some of these performers might shine. Rebecca Carlson had a bright, clear voice, although it was better suited to her performance of the Depression era "The Best Things In Life Are Free" than to disco's "I Will Survive." Aly Wirth seemed like she was having a good time, and was fun to watch. A high point was when these two were joined by Jessica Sherr for "Chattanooga Choo Choo," which featured some good vocal styling and harmony. But that was the exception, not the rule, as the show's theme kept being undercut by its execution.

How does "Someday My Prince Will Come" (from 1937) fit into a Depression setting? Following it with "Easy to Love" might work if romance is the theme, but this section had begun with an overpassionate "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" by Michael Bruck. And the song before we are ushered into World War II was "Tea for Two," that toe-tapping hit from the 1920s.

A well-sung though contextless "I'll Be Seeing You" by Lisa Dale was followed by "You'll Never Walk Alone," a song from 1945 whose hymnlike qualities invoke many things, but not usually World War II. And as performed by Fil Straughan, it seemed mostly to be about a throbbing voice and a catch in the throat. Carol Biaggi was successful visually invoking Rita Hayworth's "Put the Blame on Mame," but vocally left much to be desired. (This was also the case with her Monroe-ish "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.") But it required a vast stretch of directorial hubris and audience passivity to squeeze Andrew Lloyd Webber's "It's Like We Never Said Goodbye" into a post-WWII, pre-baby-boomer slot. Yet it must be acknowledged that Paula J. Riley did a great Gloria Swanson, and she sang as if it all made sense.

This sort of time warping and misappropriation of songs kept the audience off balance as "The Party's Over" showed up in the "Flower Power" section, and "What I Did for Love," by that noted dance composer Marvin Hamlish, showed up in the Disco section. But all of that had to take a back seat to the comedy sketches that introduced some sections. Spot-on impersonations of Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows by Ricardo Cordero and Jessica Sherr couldn't save the Honeymooners piece, and Cordero and Paula J. Riley as Archie and Edith Bunker in similarly excellent performances were no excuse for an endless, poorly written All in the Family routine.

And so an occasionally entertaining section like the campy tango with Aly Wirth and Keith Hallworth, or an inexplicable but lively "Crazy" (Brittny Spears, not Patsy Cline) by Lisa Dale were completely lost in the surrounding muddle. This show has been previously presented with different casts and lineups, and is described as "similar to shows that are normally thought to only be on the stages of Las Vegas or Atlantic City." The distractions of gambling and drinking might be just what The Grove Street Wannabees need.

Also with Jackie Enfield, Scott Hunter, Brittney Jensen, Hilary Phalen.

 Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler