Back to Broadway - October 10, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the latest show by El Dorado Musical Theatre’s High Voltage troupe, 22 young performers – teenagers with none older than 20. As always, the evening was full of the highest quality entertainment. As I was driving to the show, I was listening to a TED talk about the overuse of the word “awesome.” My dictionary defines it as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration.” It’s a word I use very rarely – only when deserved – but believe me, this, like every High Voltage show, was truly awesome.
The show began with “One Short Day” from Wicked, and when the curtain went up on the Emerald City, one was immediately struck by the variety and creativity of the costumes. As the show proceeded, I don’t believe I saw any of these young performers dressed the same in two different scenes. Planning each scene’s look, organizing the costumes backstage, and coordinating the quick changes are clearly the fruit of professional (and no doubt heroic) efforts by costumer, Mary Curry, and a small army of helpers.
Even as I was being dazzled by “One Short Day,” I was a little apprehensive about what was to come. This was a new group of performers: nine of the 22 were not in the previous High Voltage show. Many of last year’s members have moved on to college or Los Angeles or Broadway, so I was a bit apprehensive about how this year’s High Voltage would compare. I shouldn’t have worried, or even wondered. This new group continues High Voltage’s standard of top-notch talent. In the second number, “A New World,” each cast member had a short solo, and I was surprised and impressed with the strength of each individual voice, including the new people. Those strong voices were in evidence throughout the show, and one couldn’t help but be amazed at the powerful, well-colored sounds and sensitive stylings produced by those so young. And the strong individual voices made for some of the best ensemble singing I’ve heard from High Voltage, especially from the young men. If these people were allowed to stand still on risers, they’d make an excellent chorus.
These shows feature scenes from a variety of Broadway musicals, and this time there were 29 numbers. (Click here to open the program in a new window.) You’ll notice I said “scenes,” not “songs.” The costumes, the acting, and the choreography make each one a complete scene. And although many of these numbers would be familiar to the average audience member, many were from shows I’d never seen – or even heard of. And some included lyrics and melodies that could only be pulled off by professionals. Though these kids aren’t paid, they perform like professionals. And one of the reasons they perform like professionals is that they are trained and directed by professionals like director/choreographer Debbie Wilson and vocal director Jennifer Wittmayer.
Wilson’s creativity never ceases to amaze – and delight – me. Every scene is set and staged so differently, so creatively. The staging is in itself a work of art. And the choreography is never stale, formulaic – or even predictable. No dance number is remotely like any of the others. As for the dancing itself, I’m always struck by the sharpness of the performers’ moves. They have the precision of a drill team, but with choreography that is far, far more complicated. They move together, often as a full company, in near perfect synchronization with one another, performing routines that are mind-bogglingly complex – usually while singing and handling props. To the observer, it seems superhuman, and superbly entertaining.
One thing I respect about the High Voltage is the idea that they are a unit. There are no “stars.” Someone can deliver an individual performance that is absolutely brilliant, but they don’t take a bow after completing their number. The set just goes dark, and this fabulous performer runs offstage to change into their costume for the next number. They get their bows at the end, but it’s always as an ensemble. I’ll confess I’m aching to tell you about the brilliant dancing in one number, or the fantastic voice in another number, or the over-the-top comic acting and singing in yet another – but I won’t. I didn’t take enough notes to give all the credit that’s due, nor do I have the space to give proper recognition to 22 outstanding individuals.
Although some scenes were solos or involved a small group of performers, there were many that packed the stage and were dazzling production numbers. Some of these were “One Short Day” from Wicked, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (amazingly this word is in Microsoft’s spell checker) from Mary Poppins, “We Both Reached for the Gun” from Chicago, “I Got Rhythm” from Crazy for You, “When You’re an Addams” from The Addams Family, “King of New York” from Newsies – and my all-time favorite, “Freak Flag” from Shrek. But I could go on and on. I can still visualize some of the many highlights of these numbers – and they still make me smile. But when you’re seeing them in the theater, it’s something else. There’s a transfer from stage to audience of energy and joy that is simply indescribable. Last night there was one man in the third or fourth row who stood up to applaud after many of the numbers. I envied his abandon, because those numbers deserved that kind of response and I was too reserved to join him. But when the performers were taking their final bows, there was no hesitancy – we were all on our feet, applauding, standing and cheering because what we had seen and heard was indeed awesome.