‘40s Songs, Great Voices, Comedic Magic

Erika & Camille Belt Big Band Tunes

Mix the magic and affirmative smiles from the mute narrator with well-cast voices and all you need are the familiar songs. The only problem All Night Strut: a Jumpin’ Jivin’ Jam posed for me was to keep from singing along.

The heart of this 1940s song-and-dance show came from the World War sections and the most moving moment before intermission found Erika Hall as Rosie the Riveter leading the full ensemble over the roar of war planes in “On a Wing and a Prayer.”

Act two gave Erika and the other three band singers—Camille Metoyer Moten, Joe Dignoti and Joseph O’Connor—the spotlight and they shined in a sequence that built ever bigger from O’Connor’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” to Dignoti and Moten on “Dream” and “As Time Goes By.”

Then Erika belted “Operator” so powerfully that only the smooth harmonizing of all four on “Java Jive” could maintain the momentum.  We’re blessed to hear Camille’s vocal talents in many settings, but Erika was seen most recently in a non-singing role so it was great to hear her and want more of a voice that is only getting stronger.

Full exposure for the four singers didn’t slight the best voices in the ensemble, especially David Zenchuk and Courtney Stein as the chorus boy and girl in a mini-musical. They step in when the stars battle over the leading man’s womanizing and croon “Exactly Like You” before a climactic “Lullaby of Broadway.”

If you’re of an age where all these songs are old friends, I can’t imagine you won’t enjoy this musical revue. If you aren’t reliving the past, it’s still great song and dance, and there’s Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek for comic relief. Director Susan Baer Collins got the ball rolling with great casting and kept it moving briskly throughout.

Who better than Anthony, Omaha’s top comedic actor, to don clown garb and shine in a silent role, more cheerleader than narrator, encouraging our enjoyment and tossing in enough magic to require crediting the “magic advisor,” Arthur Fratelli, aka the Amazing Arthur. If you’re not easily amazed, wait until you see Anthony tear up a newspaper and convert the “Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor” headline into a “War Ends” celebration.

It’s big band music, and conductor/pianist Jim Boggess made six men sound plenty big enough, despite his pounding the keyboard with a hand that had just suffered a six-stitch wound. The dancers, typical of recent Playhouse musicals, weren’t the traditional leggy chorines, but a diverse array with little Aaron Ellis and Rachel Busse, who doubled as hip-hop choreographers, the liveliest pairing.

This isn’t the first time a musical revue has drawn on 1940s favorites from the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. Some of the old Stage Door Canteen creations focused more fully on WWII, and others did more with the Duke, Count Basie and Fats Waller. But All Night Strut might be the best combination of these hits. Can't wait until next season brings Kathy Tyree as Ella Fitzgerald.

With the band performing on stage, the only way to make it even better would be to watch from a little cocktail table with beverage close at hand. Only the little tables were missing. The Playhouse actually allowed drinks in the auditorium, even posting signs to assure playgoers that it was permissible.

All Night Strut: a Jumpin’ Jivin’ Jam runs through March 30, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, on the Hawks Mainstage of the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Tickets are $40, $24 students. Call 402.553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.org.  

posted at 05:57 pm
on Saturday, March 02nd, 2013

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