Unfortunately, myriad technical shortcomings, the lack of a connective story and unfocused direction caused the production to suffer significantly, detracting from the efforts of the performers and often distracting the audience.
Performers often delivered their songs while standing with their face in shadows; abrupt seemingly unplanned lighting changes interrupted a number of the songs; and the failure of the microphone eventually became a running joke between the performers and audience. When combined with the near empty, elevated stage, featuring nothing more than the piano and accompanist, and a lack of real costuming, the overall effect is, at best, reminiscent of a show in rehearsal.
The producers may, in fact, want to consider developing a storyline that frames the production as a "look behind the curtains." In its current form, the show suffers both from a lack of story and slow song transitions, which could have been easily avoided with some scripted banter or a little vamping on the piano. The incorporation of some sort of filler material would also divert attention from lengthy gaps that brought the show to a grinding halt between each song and left this reviewer with the impression she was at a music school recital rather than a show.
For the majority of the solo songs, the singers simply stood on the stage, with little movement, reinforcing the recital feel. The performers also approached their material with the serious intent of a student, emphasizing diction and technique at the expense of interpretation. While their attention to detail and accuracy are to be commended, allowing the performers more freedom to move and explore the nuances of their songs may have helped them to develop an emotional connection with the music and audience.
Additionally, although a few of the performers appeared comfortable singing and dancing, the majority of the cast clearly had difficulty remembering the dance steps in concert with the song. Lively, upbeat numbers suffered from this approach the most, as the slower tempo used to coordinate the dance steps with the lyrics drained the energy from many of the numbers and left the singers moving awkwardly and fighting for each phrase.
The most successful songs of the night were those in which the performers broke out of their practiced routines, indulged their emotions and engaged directly with the audience. A few of those moments were accidental, such as when a prop gun failed to fire; instead of getting flustered the actors became more lively and animated, capturing the audience with their humorous reactions.
The songs featuring all-girl harmonies were also among the best performances of the night. Not only were the harmonies spot on, but the ladies seemed to genuinely enjoy singing with each other, and the audience warmly responded to the connection.
Throughout the night, a number of performers had lovely, genuine moments and the audience responded emphatically. Autumn Rinaldi colored her version of "Can’t Help Lovin' Dat Man," with quiet longing; Lisa Rosenstock reveled in the chance to be a pistol-packing, hair washing, full on diva; Wayne Munie and Bill Webster took full advantage of the comic possibilities in "Honey Bun" and "Jingle Jangle Jingle," respectively, and Carly Niehaus and Allegra Schaeffer brought skill and enthusiasm to the song and dance numbers, playing off the other performers and charming the audience. The show as a whole would be greatly improved if the entire cast worried less about technique and more freely embraced the music as demonstrated in these stand-out numbers.
"The 40's and Its Music" celebrates the American songbook from this influential era and, although flawed in execution, offers audiences the rare opportunity to see these classic songs performed live. To reserve your tickets, or for more information, call 314-832-2114.