The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Sierra College Foundation
Broadway at Sierra 2013 - July 14, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
After a 7-year hiatus, “Broadway at Sierra” is back. This summer revue of Broadway music highlights local talent, giving busy workers and students a convenient short-term opportunity to show what they can do. And they do great!
The first half of the show has the appearance of a rehearsal: nearly all 31 performers on stage, no costumes, and director Fred Weber at an upright piano putting them through their paces. As they began singing "Comedy Tonight," I could tell that this was a remarkably strong ensemble. Although they weren’t all on mics, they produced a rich, balanced sound that filled the theater. I counted only 7 ensemble numbers, and I would have loved to see (hear) more.
The “rehearsal” was interrupted during the first number by the “unexpected” appearance of a Monte Python-style King Arthur, fully costumed and accompanied by his squire Patsy, who simulated the sound of a horse’s hooves by striking coconut halves together. The King demanded to know what was going on, and thus began a dialog, mostly between him and Weber, about the many facets of Broadway musicals. That was the set-up for one number after another – an amazing 63 in all! They accomplished this by shortening many tunes from their original versions, but I don’t think the audience ever felt short-changed. And obviously, most presentations came one after another in rapid succession, with hardly any time for applause.
(Click here to open the program in a separate window.)
More than half of the numbers were solos, and it seemed like each cast member had their opportunity to stand alone out front. The rest of the songs that weren’t performed by the whole group, were done in twos and threes. I can’t say, though, that every number was of equal quality. There would be one or two that I’d rate a “B” – and then a string I’d rate “A+.” Overall though, I thought the individual singing was excellent. There were many truly outstanding voices, and even the few I might not characterize as “outstanding” were listenable and gave entertaining performances. As room-filling as was the ensemble sound, I would have liked to have had the solo voices amplified a bit more: occasionally I felt myself straining to hear or make out words. I should mention here that the “orchestra” was a key part of this show, and it’s amazing how much music came out of 4 instrumentalists under the direction of conductor, Ray Ashton.
With 63 songs and a darkened theater, it was impossible to follow the program, but in a way it wasn’t necessary because most of the selections were from musicals of the 30s through the 80s, and were probably familiar to most in the audience – except perhaps the younger set. Without being able to read he program, it was a nice touch to project a graphic of each show, along with its name and year introduced on each of two screens above the performers’ heads.
The stage was almost always alive with activity. Most songs incorporated movement of some kind, and there was occasional choreography, with one outstanding tap dance number in “42nd Street.” I’ve resisted mentioning individual performers, but accompanied by six excellent tappers, Amy Wolfley’s dancing (and singing) in this number – was every bit a show-stopper. And behind it all, one could see the hand of master choreographer, Sam Williams – and Amy herself, as Asst. Choreographer. But besides the dancing, there was a lot of spontaneous movement – even behind a current performer or performers – and it gave me the impression that all this singing and dancing was the most natural thing in the world.
The second half of the show began with an extended set of songs from Les Misérables that had everyone in costume. And with many changes, I believe everyone was costumed through the remainder of the show.
Really this was a complete entertainment experience. Besides the singing and dancing, there was a good dose of comedy throughout, a bit of drama, and some scenes that were really well acted. And I think I’d go see this show again, just to hear the next-to-last number: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. With everyone singing and dancing to this high-energy piece, and the saxophone wailing on stage, it really got one’s blood racing.
There’s no question that this was a continuation of the brilliant “Broadway at Sierra” revues of the past, and the enthusiasm of the audience underscored that point. No one actually said it, but surely we were all thinking: long live “Broadway at Sierra!”