July 07--Each year, the staff at the Timbers Dinner Theatre takes on a challenge of its own making: to produce a musical revue using a theme and a list of songs never previously performed under the pines in Mt. Gretna.
It's easier said than done, considering the Timbers has been staging revues since the 1970s.
Yet, they pull it off each year, thanks to the half-dozen talented, young performers who are hired during auditions in New York, and the professionalism and experience of the Timbers staff -- manager Kathy "Tap" Roberts, director Sharon Miller and musical director Andy Roberts.
This year's revue, which opens Tuesday and runs through Aug. 31, is titled "On With the Show." Act I is a slice of Americana, featuring a medley of more than
40 songs that reference a city, state or region in the United States. Act II, according to a Timbers' tradition, mixes a comedy sketch with about 15 songs and is titled "Carwash Capers."
"We try to keep it different every year," said Miller, who travels to Gretna each summer for two weeks from her home in Orlando, Fla., to direct the show. "We strive never to repeat a song. This cast has great voices. They're all new. The oldest is 24, and the youngest is 19."
That young and new cast features:
Libby Anderson, who will be a senior in musical theater at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis. Her recent roles include "A Chorus Line," "Liesl in "The Sound of Music" and Charlotte in "Marat/Sade."
Diane Huber is a Lancaster County
native who recently graduated from Pace University in New York. She has played Serena in "Legally Blonde," Lucy in "Jekyll and Hyde" and Ulla in "The Producers."
Meghan Miles is a resident of Long Island, N.Y., and a recent graduate of Long Island University. In addition to performing in various cabarets around New York City, she has appeared as Daisy Hilton in "Side Show," Eponine in "Les Miserables" and Grizabella in "Cats."
Aaron Mor recently finished his second year as a voice student
at Juilliard, where he appeared in the school's productions of "Cosi Fan Tutti" and "Don Giovanni." Last summer, he participated in an intensive opera program at the Chautauqua Institution.
Mark Montondo is from Rochester, N.Y., and will be a junior at SUNY-Fredonia. His favorite roles have included Claude in "Hair," Charlie Brown in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown!" and Freddy Eynsford-Hill in "My Fair Lady."
Robert McFletcher is from Battle Creek, Mich., and received a master's degree in education from Grand Valley State University. His credits include Tom Collins in "Rent," Coalhouse Walker Jr. in "Ragtime" and Robbins in "Porgy and Bess."
The cast arrived June 23 and began to learn the music under the direction of Andy
Roberts, the pianist and band leader at the Timbers for 28 years. Miller arrived three days later and began the staging portion of the show, which includes all dancing and movements on the stage. The performers intensively rehearsed Act I and Act II for one week each.
"They're working out great," said Roberts, who, in addition to natural talent, discovered another outstanding trait in the six performers.
"They're nice and loud," Roberts said with a laugh, adding, "which is great because we don't use mics. It's acoustic. We have a couple of little mics above the stage, but for the most part it's acoustic."
Miller came up with the theme for this year's show last summer. But she didn't put anything down on paper until this year. She
researched songs about places in America and found plenty.
"I wanted to do something completely different, and then it popped into my head one day -- songs about America," Miller said. "I could not believe the wealth of songs about Americana.
"Act I is all Americana, but none of the songs are patriotic songs like 'America the Beautiful.' It's songs like Neil Diamond's 'Coming to America,'" Miller said. "We do a section on coast to coast -- a song about New York, followed by a song about California, followed by a song about New York, and so on."
After discussing the theme with Kathy Roberts and Andy Roberts in the off-season, the Timbers' team thought they had a winner.
"I did like it right away," Andy Roberts said.
Looking over the setlist, Roberts nodded his approval.
"It's got a lot of diversity," he said. "I've got a real good feeling about the show. Even for us, it's a real variety of songs. And they're all new. Maybe one or two of these we've done as part of something in the past 10 years, but that's it. It's a real sharp crew. They're all picking it up real quickly."
After a fun opening number that's all about rhymes, the "Nifty 50 United States," Act I is divided into four sections. The first is the Bi-Coastal Medley: New York vs. California. There's some real classics in the medley, including "New York, New York," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "California Dreaming," "New York State of Mind," "Hotel California," "Spanish Harlem," "If You're Going to San Francisco," and ... you get the idea.
The show ratchets up a notch in the next section with dance numbers and is aptly named Dancing in the USA. The diverse setlist includes "Dancing in the Streets," "Pennsylvania Polka," "Charleston," "Peppermint Twist" and the "Harlem Shake," to name a few.
The next section, These United States, is all over the map, musically and geographically. Songs include "Route 66," "Deep in the Heart of Texas," "Carolina on my Mind," "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Old Cape Cod," "City of New Orleans" and "Kansas City."
Act I closes with an America Medley, featuring Neil Diamond's "Coming to America" and Neil Sedaka's "The Immigrant," among others.
Following an intermission, Act II takes off in a completely different direction with song and a fluff storyline in "Carwash Capers." The fictional story and characters were completely developed by Miller.
"It all takes place at the Gretna Car Wash," Miller said with a laugh. "When I started writing it, I had to develop the characters and then fit in the music. Once I had the characters the music just flowed.
"At the end, there's the big tap number. I tried to put more popular songs in Act II, plus some Broadway favorites."
The setlist includes "Car Wash," "Chocolate," "Call Me Maybe," "Greased Lightning," "Car Wash Blues," "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger," "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and a tap medley of "Move Like Jagger" and "Brand New Day."
The Timbers' veteran band includes Roberts on piano, Dave Lazorcik on drums and Andy Alonso on bass. Look for Roberts to play the fiddle during a hoe-down sequence in Act I.
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If you go
The dinner buffet and evening show is $28 per person. Lunch buffet and matinee is $23 per person. Or patrons can order off the menu. Shows are performed Tuesday through Saturday. For more information or reservations, call 717-964-3601. The Timbers Dinner Theatre is located on Timber Road, one mile north of Route 117 in Mt. Gretna.
Get the CD!
Also new at the Timbers: a CD recorded by the house band that should be available to purchase in late July. It features musicians Andy Roberts, Dave Lazorcik and Andy Alonso, with Roberts' daughter, Nicole, on vocals. Music of the 1920s and '30s is featured. "It's the first time the Timbers band has done a recording," Roberts said.
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