The Sacramento Choral Calendar
The Best of Broadway - June 16, 2015
by Dick Frantzreb
I’ve seen nearly every public High Voltage performance since 2012, and this is the twelfth time I’ve written a review. It’s time to break the rules. What I mean by that is that, at least in the last couple of years, I’ve refrained from mentioning individual performers. This is a troupe with a great sense of camaraderie and team spirit – and there are no “stars.” They don’t even take bows after their individual numbers. Instead, when the music stops, the lights go out, and they run off in the dark, while the next act runs on in the dark. It’s an ethic I admire, and I’ve honored it by describing the show and just hinting at the brilliance in individual performances. Until now. So what’s different? With this last performance of the season, they’re losing 7 individuals to college, professional careers and other pursuits – one-third of the group. And I want to offer a “hail and farewell” to those seven – and mention some of the others who were so outstanding on this night. But first, let’s take a look at the big picture – the specific excellences that made this High Voltage show so thoroughly entertaining.
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First, there was the dancing. These kids are all trained as dancers, and the choreography they are given calls on all the intelligence, skill and flair they can muster. It’s the work of Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson (and increasingly her Assistant Choreographer and daughter, Angie Rose Wilson). And each dance was fresh – and exhilarating. That’s how tonight’s show started, with the high-energy “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line, filled with creative ensemble moves. “King of New York” from Newsies was another example (among many others this evening) of precisely coordinated ensemble moves that are a thing of beauty and a delight to watch as they progress. But then, there are the contrasting numbers when performers throw precision to the wind and cut loose. A perfect example of this was “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” from Shrek The Musical. I’ve seen this several times now, and I never tire of it – nor apparently did the audience members who surrounded me. It’s hilarious to see these kids, always so precise, controlled and ultimately professional – let their hair down and just act silly. And tonight’s show ended with a delightful surprise – a new number in which they could act up and act out, “Revolting Children” from Matilda The Musical.
Within the context of ensemble dancing there are the outstanding individual dancers. For example, I recall “Go Into Your Dance” from 42nd Street that featured the tap dancing talents of Bethany Wheat, Kelly Maur, Allie Frew, Lindsay Alhady, CJ Knoble, and Anjie Rose Wilson.
The quality of the singing is another of the great strengths of High Voltage. Tonight there were many numbers with ensemble singing, and sensitive as I am to choral singing, I couldn’t help but notice a remarkably good choral sound in “The Woman’s Dead” from Curtains and in “Seasons of Love” from Rent. But the excellent choral sound is no surprise because it’s built on excellent individual voices. “The New World” from Songs for a New World was an especially good demonstration of this when one singer after another took center stage to sing a phrase or two, and then moved back while someone else continued the song. It was one wonderful solo voice after another, demonstrating just how strong the singing ability of this troupe is.
I can’t comment on each impressive solo or song with a featured singer or singers, but I will mention “You’re Nothing Without Me” from City of Angels. It was a duet with Andrew Wilson and David Bryant – two brilliant actor/singers in this number, though they’re no less talented as dancers. It was great to see them play off each other, but sad, too, because both will be leaving High Voltage and the El Dorado Musical Theatre. David had a special moment in his solo performance of “Confrontation” from Jekyll & Hyde. It required consummate acting skill, switching between the characters of Jekyll and Hyde, and David delivered a virtuoso performance. The whole thing was unbelievably intense, culminating with flames projected on the screen behind him. As the last note faded, the audience responded with cheers, and applause longer than any I’ve heard for a High Voltage number. It felt like it lasted for a full 30 seconds – maybe even longer. Andrew was scheduled to sing another selection from Jekyll & Hyde, “This Is the Moment,” potentially as moving, but after giving a stellar performance – including singing – in the first half of the show, by intermission it was clear that a persistent vocal problem would keep him from doing his best. So the number was cut, and I’m sure it was the right decision. Andrew Wilson is such a complete performer, having provided so many highlights in High Voltage productions and so many brilliant leading and supporting roles in EDMT musicals that it was better to let that body of work be his legacy, rather than risk a less-than-perfect final solo.
Let’s change the mood here. I’ve been talking about the singing and dancing in tonight’s show, but there are other ways of looking at the overall production. I’m always impressed with the variety built into High Voltage shows. There is the alternation of solo or small ensemble numbers with those that involve the whole company. But there is more than that. There are different styles of music: the 50’s rock of “Greased Lightnin’” from Grease, the cowboy Western sound of “One More Angel in Heaven” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat or the elegant “Ten Minutes Ago” from Cinderella with choreography evocative of ballroom dancing. Then there are so many creative staging ideas: every performer holding a Muppet-style puppet in “Purpose” from Avenue Q or everyone signing (for the hearing-impaired) in “Strong” from Cinderella (while the paid signer looked on, smiling) or the setting of “Why Are all the D’Ysquiths Dying” from A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in which the ensemble didn’t really dance so much as strike poses – unlike anything I’ve seen them do before.
Of course, one of the greatest elements of variety is the alternation of serious numbers with comic ones – and there was a lot of wonderful comedy tonight. Ryan Van Overeem is an excellent comic actor (and singer), and he delighted tonight’s audience early on with “I’m Not That Smart” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and again later, joined by Lauren Metzinger, in “The Song That Goes Like This” from Spamalot. But I laughed my way through so many other songs: “What Kind of Man” from Curtains, “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” from And the World Goes Round, “Positive” from Legally Blonde – and many others that I’ve already mentioned.
Several other elements contributed to the excellence of tonight’s show. There were the projections that gave a sense of place for a song, and these were the work of cast member Zach Wilson. And I can’t fail to mention the costumes that were the work of Mary Curry. These two elements came together effectively in “In His Eyes” from Jekyll & Hyde. Behind singers Kelly Maur and Claire Soulier was a 19th century London street scene. And the ladies were dressed in dazzling period dresses. It took a while for me to notice but eventually I realized that the projection was tinted blue on the right to match the color of Claire’s dress and red on the right to match the color of Kelly’s dress. This is a perfect example of the attention to detail that establishes the professionalism of each of these High Voltage shows.
Now comes the part that brings me down this time each year: realizing that many of these wonderful performers will be leaving EDMT. And this is the first time I’ve named them: David Bryant, Allie Frew, Kylie Joerger, CJ Knoble, Lauren Metzinger, Nicole Sevey, Bethany Wheat, and Andrew Wilson. Many of them will go on to careers in the performing arts, and all who know them or have seen their work wish them well. I’m sure they will continue to dazzle audiences as they have dazzled me. And I take consolation in the thought that many of tonight’s outstanding performers will be back for the next season, joined by a new group of talented young people. But the happiest thought is that the El Dorado Musical Theatre – a true community treasure – will continue to give hundreds of young people the opportunity to develop their talents and perform to the delight of future audiences.