News Column

Two summer musicals brighten local theater scene

July 14, 2013

YellowBrix

July 14--Two musicals are being staged in Anchorage this month -- very different and rewarding in different ways.

Oddly titled "[title of show]" can be seen at Cyrano's. The brackets indicate the blank that needed to be filled in on the entry form for the New York Musical Theatre Festival, where the play debuted in 2004. It caught the attention of New York stage insiders, made it to Broadway, won some awards.

It's a musical about writing a musical, served up as if we're watching the creators and performers create it on the spot, right down to the sandwiches they order while working, a transcript as it were. Sort of like what you'd get if Luigi Pirandello had written a musical comedy, except that one would expect a Pirandello piece to deeply probe humanity and have some heart -- which, along with a proper title, "[title]" lacks.

What it has is an abundance of references to several other musicals, "Wicked," "Les Mis" etc., and repartee as snippy and empty as an episode of "Friends." The theme, insofar as there is one, is that creative people need to overcome the "vampires" of doubt and be true to their artistic vision because, as is sung near the end, "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."

If you adore musicals, you'll find a lot to snicker at in the show. And if you're not a Broadway geek, the terrific cast makes "[title]" a delight to watch. Alex Pierce and Scottie Heverling as the composer and writer of the show and Regina MacDonald and Tiffany Chance as the actress friends they recruit for it create an electric ensemble.

Chance is particularly manic and spectacular, shifting voices, pushing herself to the point of breathlessness at least once. I knew Pierce could sing, but did not know that he could sing so well. In fact all of the actors hit their pitches, which isn't always the case nowadays. ("American Idol" almost had me convinced that singing in tune was no longer done.) Dustin Lima is the deadpan, mostly silent onstage accompanist.

I'd like to hear them singing better music. The songs in "[title]" are pretty workaday, spoofs of Broadway fill music without legs of their own. Fortunately, the cast has legs and knows how to use them. The smooth, tight vocals and busy dance routines more than overcome the fluff of the content. For that the director, musical director and choreographer -- Shelly Wozniak, Bridget Sullivan and Kristen Vierthaler -- share the accolades.

Better music is the constant at Anchorage Community Theatre's current show, "The Marvelous Wonderettes." Writer (one almost wants to say amalgamator) Roger Bean uses pop hits from the 1950s and '60s to tell the stories of four high school girls.

Act One presents the four at their senior prom in 1958, the audience treated as if they're the crowd of Springfield High students and faculty at the event -- we even get to vote for the prom queen and people in the front row count the ballots. (Patrons will be asked whether they want the front row or not, since that can land them in an interactive slot.)

The cast consists of rivals Cindy Lou and Betty Jean (Emily Littlefield and Emily Foreman), shy and prissy Missy (Megan Perkins) and odd girl out Suzy (Lisa Willis). They thread short narratives about their lives and dreams between the songs -- and they're singing almost the whole time.

We learn how those dreams worked out in Act Two when they again perform at their 10-year reunion, throwing some Motown into the mix. The plots are thin and told rather than shown. But it's great to hear the oldies and songs like "Leader of the Pack," "Secret Love" and "It's My Party (and I'll Cry if I Want To)" are mini-novels all by themselves. Tunes like "Mr. Sandman," "Sincerely," "Dream Lover" and "You Don't Own Me" are some of the most enduring and, let's admit it, elegant music of the last 100 years. The selections demonstrated what a short distance separates the Four Freshman from the Fifth Dimension.

The singing is generally good, often very good. However, the recorded accompaniment sometimes, as in "Heat Wave," forced the performers into keys that didn't match their best range. The adjustments sounded amateurish, not worthy of the finals at the Alaska State Fair karaoke contest, and these voices are all better than that.

The script may be light, but the acting is tight and humorously in character. Perkins stands out as the mouse who comes out of her shell to make a move on her favorite teacher. Willis, who we already knew to be a fine singer, comes out here as a born comedienne.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332. SHOWTIMES

"[TITLE OF SHOW]" will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Cyrano's, 413 D St., through Aug. 4. Tickets at centertix.net.

"THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES" will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Anchorage Community Theatre, 1133 E. 70th Ave., through July 28. Tickets at actalaska.org.

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