Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Tale of Three Cities

Over the last two weekends, I have seen no less than 5 musicals.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the Empress Theatre's Forever Plaid and a stake production of Joseph..., it was the three high school musicals to which I was looking most forward.  Never having been to a production at any of these schools, I had no idea what to expect - which was half the fun!  I was surprised in mostly good ways by three productions at three schools in three different cities.

Bye Bye Birdie
School: Cottonwood High School
Who I Know: Adam Wilkins, Director
My Date: Some cute guy I met named Kirk

The Good:
Cottonwood used a very talented, quite large, live orchestra.  The live overture, played from an actual orchestra pit, added that extra something that just puts you in the mood for a great show.  Kirk said he'd never seen people clap for the overture; I commented that maybe he's never seen them deserve it.

The set incorporated stairs and platforms to give great places for its 80+ cast.  The varying levels added texture to both the blocking and choreography, especially in large group numbers.

Areas for Improvement:
Sadly, the choreography was largely non-existent.  Even Kirk picked up on it, jokingly impersonating the choreographer, "Ok... we're going to bounce.  And then... we're going to bounce this way."  Bye Bye Birdie, like most musicals, relies on production numbers to keep the audience awake.  This one didn't succeed.

I was also somewhat unimpressed by the vocal direction.  Harmonies, when present, were frequently out of tune.  Many of the leads seem to have been cast in parts outside their vocal range.  Surprisingly, despite their large cast, chorus numbers were very difficult to hear.

The sound system did nothing to add to the show; many microphones sounded like they were in a tunnel, and several others worked only intermittently.

I enjoyed many of the characters portrayed on stage, and Conrad Birdie had a very nice voice.  Overall, however, there was little I could grab onto and just love.  I left feeling like the show did not reach its potential.

West Side Story
School: Granger High School
Who I Know: Luke Johnson (Student Director), JJ Freeman, Cameron Sellers, Gum Marco, Denton Gno, Jamie Munson, Jeremy Gidney
My Date: Tess Fife (mother-in-law who happens to work at Granger)

The Good:
The choreography for West Side Story was imaginative and told the story well.  The movement was consistent with the mood and style of each piece, although there were many instances where I wished a bit more time had been spent in making the moves precise.

I loved the way Granger used lighting to influence the mood.  I found out after the fact that my friend Cameron actually designed the lighting.  The set, comprised of many large turning flats, worked well, and the scene changes were completed efficiently.

Areas for Improvement:
Granger's sound system was not much better than Cottonwood's, with mics frequently not working.  I recognize there is little the schools can do to fix this, but it still brings down the overall quality of the show.

The girl playing Maria did not quite have the upper range for the role, and her high notes frequently came across as shrill and piercing.

What Granger did best was to capture the mood of a hard-to-tell story.  Although there were technical things I would have changed, the cast helped me to feel this story.  I was very impressed by the girl who played Anita, and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the male leads.  All in all, this was a very good production.

Guys and Dolls
School: Cyprus High School
Who I Know: Roy Nichols III, Evan Brown, Tane' Glaus, Dustin Hamp, Warren Tharp, Caleb Aston, Perry Whitehair, Arvid Bryce Johnson, Aleea Brunson
My Date(s): Arlee Heslop, Skyler Bluemel-Fife, Adam Fife (for the first act)

The Good:
Harmonies that were in tune.  Microphones that worked.  A chorus that I could hear.  Clean, creative choreography.  Leads cast in appropriate vocal ranges (mostly).  Perfect costumes.  Amazing set/set changes.  Impressive detail in the characterization.  You name it, I pretty much loved it.

Adelaide was amazing.  The two guys who play Nathan Detroit's buddies were AMAZING.  The actors had been trained to hold the end pose of their song while the audience clapped.  And - let me tell you - the audience clapped.  I swear "Luck be a Lady" almost got a standing ovation.  I'd have stood if someone else did.

Areas for Improvement:
I still didn't love the leading lady here.  Across all three schools, the range of the ingenue seemed to be just beyond the range of the girl cast to play her.

Although I loved Roy Nichols III in the role of Sky Masterson, sometimes I wished he didn't lay on the character voice so thick.  In the moments where Sky's honesty should have shown through, the character voice (especially in his singing), made me feel a bit detached from the emotion.  I do wonder, though, if I'd have picked up on that if I didn't know Roy.

Guys and Dolls was a great, high-energy end to my High School Musical weekend.  Even though the show was nearly 3 hours long, I never felt the energy lag.  I really couldn't have asked for more from this great production.

I am sad I missed Alta's Crazy for You, where I could have supported a few other friends and seen Susan DeMill's choreography.  I'm thinking that with my involvement with youth in the area, this pre-Thanksgiving musical tour may become a bit of a tradition for me.  Thanks to the great shows I saw, I am already looking forward to next year.


Miss Megan said...

I saw Bye Bye Birdie last night, and agree that the vocal performances weren't the best. Every time one character in particular started to sing, I cringed. But I thought the acting was wonderful and the humor was spot-on, even if they didn't know to pause for laughter ;-D

I like your idea to "make the high school musical rounds" every year. I might do the same!