The Sacramento Choral Calendar
The Best of Broadway - June 22, 2016
by Dick Frantzreb
Over the past 5 years I've seen 16 or 17 High Voltage shows. They do 4 a year, and I'm always on the edge of my seat in anticipation when the lights go down. Why? Because in each show I know that I'll see something I've never seen before, something I couldn't even imagine. And that expectation was confirmed once again on this Wednesday evening in Stage One of Harris Center at Folsom Lake College.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
There is always a dazzling start to a High Voltage show, but "A Musical" from Something Rotten! was just about the most flashy opening I've seen. Apart from the fast-paced action on the stage, the song was genuinely funny, incorporating moments from many different musicals. Then "Will Power" from the same show kept up the excitement. In fact it felt like a mini rock concert, and I don't recall having seen anything from High Voltage that really "rocked" like this number did. Against a background of extraordinarily vivid projections, the energy was explosive and the staging was totally fresh — and fascinating.
As always, I was surprised and delighted by the choreography, which in just about every dance number incorporated moves that were exciting, artistic, interesting, graceful — sometimes even funny. But more than that, they were very often moves that I'm sure I've never seen before. I don't know how Director/Choreographer Debby Wilson or her upcoming Assistant Choreographer and daughter Anjie Rose Wilson will take this, but in my notes on "Cool" from West Side Story I wrote, "Bob Fosse would approve." And I think the same would go for Jerome Robbins, choreographer of both the original play and the movie. Actually, so often what you see on stage goes beyond choreographic routines. The numbers are kinetic, so full of energy and movement that you can't look away. And watching "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray, I found myself reflecting on the infinite variety of ways in which the human body can move.
You hear so much good singing in a show like this. "Excellent singing" was what I wrote in my notes about the duet in "What You Mean to Me" from Finding Neverland. But I was also impressed by the duets in "Step Sisters' Lament" from Cinderella, in "No Matter What" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast and in "She Used to Be Mine" from Waitress. The choral singing was outstanding in so many numbers, but I especially loved "Seasons of Love" from Rent and "Façade" from Jekyll and Hyde. And it wasn't necessarily all pretty singing. In "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the performers sang with the nasal sound of showgirls — a brilliant touch. And although I probably didn't pick up all the clever references in the updated lyrics from this 1949 song, I did catch the reference to Madonna's "Material Girl."
So many of the 30 or so numbers in a show like this are just pure fun, like "Believe" from Finding Neverland that was full of creative walk-ons, like the performer being held up by two others who was pedaling an imaginary bicycle as they transited the stage. "When I Grow Up" from Matilda The Musical wasn't so much funny as it was totally cute with performers bringing onstage a variety of props: hula hoop, ball, jump rope, pogo stick, scooter, and roller blades. And those without props played imaginary games while the singing proceeded. Another humorous example is "Be My Friend" from Edges that was essentially a satire on Facebook.
It was a show with so many highlights, but I have to mention the two-song sequence from Grease: "Summer Nights" and "Greased Lightnin'." I don't think I've seen a sharper performance, even in the original movie or "Grease Live!" that was broadcast this past January. These numbers were full of high-energy choreography and strong, accurate singing that made it all seem so authentic. More than that, as I scanned the faces on stage, I saw each one as an actor, as much as a singer or dancer — and it was thoroughly entertaining. I got the same feeling watching "Façade" from Jekyll and Hyde. Apart from the impressive costumes, and of course the singing and choreography, the highlight of this piece was the intense acting, with each performer inhabiting their part.
Another strong element of this show was the projections, which have grown sophistication and quality over the years with Zach Wilson's increasing skill and creative genius. The animations and transitions in "Believe" were particularly impressive, but honestly Wilson's projections provided visual interest and a sense of place that enhanced every number in this show.
So many of the members of this extraordinary troupe have blossomed into remarkable performers over the years, and when one comes onstage alone, there's a good chance that the audience is about to get something special. That was certainly the case in "I'm Not That Smart" from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, in "The Music and The Mirror" from A Chorus Line, and in "The Patter Mashup." "Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago was a showcase of 2 great dancers, but it wasn't just great dancing: their performance simply overflowed with personality. Take a look at the program and see who was behind these exceptional individual performances.
This show marked the end of High Voltage's Season 7, and good as it was, it was bittersweet because several of my favorite performers have "aged out" and will be moving on. But I've just looked at the cast list for Season 8 (http://edmthighvoltage.info) and I see that many other favorites will be returning, and it will be fun to see what special qualities the new members will bring. Of course, I know they'll deliver the same over-the-top entertaining shows I've become used to. And I can hardly wait to see what delights and surprises will be unveiled at their first show on September 30.