As their first offering in their summer musicale series, Edward Keith Baker has conceived and directed "By Popular Demand" -- 14 Years of BRT Musical Highlights featuring a cast of seven performers. This is not a little cabaret act but rather, a full evening of selections from musicals that Bristol Riverside has successfully produced in the past. Opening with a medley of songs from such well known musicals as, "Kiss Me Kate", "Chicago", "Brigadoon", "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "My One and Only"and "Roar of the Greasepaint", it also includes tunes from "Zorba", "110 in the Shade", "Moby Dick" and Larry Gatlin's "Alive & Well and Living in the Land of Dreams." The program expands with more songs from these shows, plus some from, "Evita", "Forever Plaid", "The Robber Bridegroom", "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine", "The Rothschilds", "Man of La Mancha", "She Loves Me", "Noel & Gertie", "Two by Two"and "Texas Flyer" (another Larry Gatlin show).
This formidable assemblage of Musical Theater is linked together by Mr. Baker who acts as narrator and briefly introduces each of the numbers and performers. The set, by David J. Abers, is simple but effective, consisting of colorful silk cloth drops, and a pile of props draped around an old trunk. The band is situated behind the performers on stage giving the whole evening a concert feel. In fact, during the group numbers the performers hold black music folders. This is understandable as the amount of material they sing is quite daunting.
The four women/three men ensemble is very ably accompanied by Mark Yurkanin on Keyboards, Bob Gargiullo on Bass, Lawrence Jacobs on Percussion and Neil Nemetz on Guitar. One of the highlights of the evening, besides the material itself, is the group vocal arrangements by Mr. Baker. Some of the harmonizations are obviously not from the original scores and are quite lovely. All four women are well cast, with great voices and good acting skills. Of special note is Sharon Alexander who excels in such numbers as "Only Love" from "Zorba", "I Hate Men" and "So in Love" from "Kiss me Kate" and "That Dirty Old Man" from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". Lois Anne Sach shows her vocal and thespian versatility in songs ranging from the comic, "Nelson" (presumably about the stiff and not very talented Nelson Eddie) from "A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine" to the dramatic "Aldonza", from "Man of La Mancha". Bethe B. Austin sings an adorable "No Boom Boom" from Zorba, an empathetic "A Trip to the Library" from "She Loves Me" and a triumphant "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from "Evita" which she just performed at BRT this past spring season.
Also very worthy of mention is James Donegan who has a bright tenor voice and is delightful in the title song, "She Loves Me" (from the show of the same name) and kicks butt when he grabs the microphone and rips out "Cry" from "Forever Plaid". Maura O'Neill Schorpp also has a great bright belt and lots of personality.
Bristol Riverside's next summer musicale is entitled "Love, Luck and Ladies: an evening of Loesser, Lane and Loewe", which will feature most of the same cast. It is scheduled to run August 9th -- 19th. For tickets call the box office at: (215) 785-0100 or log onto Bristol Riverside Theatre's website at:www.brtstage.org .
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