The Best of Broadway - June 17, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
I'll confess that I'm a big fan of El Dorado Musical Theatre's High Voltage troupe. I think this is the seventh or eighth show of theirs that I’ve seen in the past 3 years. I don’t want to miss them because they are just so darned entertaining. I’m sure there are people out there who are put off by the fact that none of these young performers are over the age of 20. To that I say, we train 18 and 19-year-olds and send them to war. What’s so surprising about 18 and 19-year-olds (and some much younger) who have learned to sing, dance, and act like professionals?
As in previous High Voltage shows, some numbers were repeats, and I must say I relished them. (Click here to open the program in a new window.) In all there were 28 full numbers from Broadway musicals. Many were from shows that will be unfamiliar to the average audience member, so when one of the actors reads a bit of background on the song from offstage, it's very helpful. For example, "I Want It All" from Baby wouldn't have gone over so well and been instantly understandable, if we had not been told that the 3 performers were at different stages of life: an unmarried college student, a married twenty-something, and a woman with 3 grown daughters. And they all had just learned that they were pregnant.
Most of the numbers were either solos (or duets or trios) – or they featured one or two singers backed up by an ensemble. And when the individuals sang, I didn't hear immature adolescent voices. Time after time, just about every voice I heard was a big, Broadway voice – and some very big, indeed. And speaking of voices, it seemed to me that there were more numbers with ensemble singing than I have heard before, and the ensemble sound, too, was darned good. Besides that, each individual had the stage presence of an experienced performer – nothing looked amateurish to me.
Every EDMT or High Voltage show is just full of creative staging ideas and transparent execution. In "We Both Reached for the Gun" from Chicago, a girl sits on the main character's lap and acts like a ventriloquist's dummy with all the right moves. To me, it was a great imitation. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from Mary Poppins was another cute number (did you know that word is in your spell checker?). In it, the performers were constantly spelling the word out with their arms and hands – incredibly fast. The show was signed for the hearing-impaired, and it was fun to see the signer smile as she struggled to keep up.
Maybe I'm not as observant as I think I am, but when it comes to the end of a High Voltage show, I know I've seen all kinds of staging and choreography, but I'm never conscious of seeing the same dance move twice. Surely there are an infinite number of ways in which the human body can move and an infinite number of patterns of moves, so why are so many other choreographies I've seen in other places so uncreative by comparison?
So... there is the sheer variety and creativity of High Voltage's staging and dancing, but another thing I notice is that, complicated as so many choreographies are, the synchronization seems almost flawless to my eye. At one point, all 20 or so performers were doing a subtle slap of their thighs while singing and moving their feet. Each slap was in sync, none more vigorous than another. Then there was the song “Purpose” from Avenue Q in which each member of the cast had a puppet on one arm – a cute touch in itself – but while they sang and danced, the puppets mouths moved in sync with theirs. This is one example of pushing choreography beyond traditional limits: there were also numbers where the kids danced around chairs, danced with mops or showed off their individual talents, such as gymnastics (e.g. in “I Can Do That”) or beautiful solo dance routine (e.g. in "Reflection").
And what is it about tap dancing that is so engaging? Maybe it’s that one doesn’t see it a lot (except in every EDMT production), but the tap numbers are always among my favorites. And what about “A Capella Tap,” a tap dance number that included most of the cast – and no music whatsoever. I’ve seen it once before, but it is still stunning to watch.
The close coordination in “A Capella Tap” and so many of this evening’s numbers was aesthetically satisfying to be sure. But then, there was "Freak Flag" from Shrek, where each performer takes off into their own energetic little world, and with that and the heart-pumping music and silly costumes, the entertainment is raised to a whole new level. I've seen this number performed three times now, and if I had it on video, I'd watch it again, and again, and again. And I’m not the only one who loves the effect of this piece; it’s the only one that got spontaneous applause while it was being performed.
The sad thing about this show (for those of us who are familiar with these kids) is that this was the last performance for a number of them. What’s next? Often these kids go to colleges with strong programs in music and the arts. But I understand that a number of these particular EDMT “graduates” are on their way to New York. And for those headed that way, tough as it is to break into “the business,” I feel good for them because of the quality of the experience and training that they have had in developing their prodigious natural talents.
I've used that word “cute” a lot in describing tonight’s “Best of Broadway” show, and you would be amazed at how many times I wrote that word in my notes. But this show goes way beyond “cute.” It is full of great singing, dancing and acting, and when it ended – as is always the case for High Voltage shows – the audience was on its feet and cheering. This time, though, the theater was nearly full, and it’s heartening to me to see that the word is getting out that these shows are something special. The next one is on October 10. Don’t wait till the last minute to get your tickets.