By Bill Hirschman
It won’t be hard for patrons to locate Broward Stage Door’s newest revue, Vegas: A Night on the Strip. All they have to do is look for the flames from the three-alarm fire as the production burns down the house.
Aside from one well-intentioned but major miscalculation, this latest in an increasingly impressive parade created by director/choreographer Kevin Black and musical director Ben Bagby is a blazing hot look back at the music most associated with Sin City and its iconic performers from Ol’ Blue Eyes through that Presley fella to Celine Dion.
Musical revues are not some people’s preferred choice of theatrical entertainment – some of us would prefer Sweeney Todd or Spamalot — but undeniably the offerings at Stage Door over the past year have become ever more polished, more assured and, admit it, more satisfyingly entertaining.
Black, a veteran of cruise ships and a dozen Stage Door productions, has his formula for these shows down to a scientific equation. But they require serious talent in all areas to stave off the feel of a money-saving slightly-better-than-amateur offering – and Black and his colleagues certainly have the requisite skill sets to do that.
Once again, six gifted singer-dancers croon and cavort their way through 30-plus musical standards that have been artfully arranged as interwoven medleys or solos with backup oohs and ahhs, mostly gathered chronologically in themes, in this case entitled Let The Good Times Roll, The Rat Pack, Elvis: The King, Getting Hitched, Las Vegas Legends and Cirque On The Strip. Between these sections as the cast changes into yet another set of sparkling costumes (although the Elvis section looks like garb from a leather bar), the audience is treated to scene-setting snapshots and film clips of Vegas stars projected on the back wall.
Everyone wisely avoids imitating icons such as Tom Jones when Daniel Bourgoin, Jar’Davion Brown and Brad Rakushin each get a shot at “She’s A Lady,” an audience participation “Delilah” and join together for “It’s Not Unusual.” In fact, Bagby balances ensuring that certain musical phrases are replicated to guarantee audience identification, yet often has singers twist notes and phrasings that make the songs almost sound fresh.
What the sextet of performers does is pour every ounce of energy these 20-somethings have into passionately belting and gyrating for most of the 90-minute intermissionless show.
The word “most” refers to that last section, which must have seemed an imaginative and innovative idea on paper, but which has a major problem. Two skilled acrobatic performers Cherrise Pawlak and Derick Pierson dressed in spangly outfits execute genuinely impressive if familiar feats on those seemingly silken swaths of aqua-colored material hanging from the ceiling and in two large suspended hoops, while the singers moan New Age tunes endemic to these kinds of exhibitions. The feats are especially impressive because the show is staged in the smaller of Stage Door’s two auditoriums. You’ve never been this close to the action.
The problem is that after 75 minutes of powerful driving music, the momentum stops dead as we admire the artistry of these aerialists performing for 15 minutes to wraithlike melodies. And then come the curtain calls with the same airy vibe.
Forgive the presumption, but the way to end the show was right in front of them. During one scene-changing break, the digital band slammed out a wordless spin on the anthem, “Viva Las Vegas.” If the whole cast has launched into that at the finale, the audience would have carried them out of the place on their shoulders to the bus going back to the condo.
The way these shows are structured, it’s rare that any individual gets an extended solo, but Rukushin – emitting a ring-a-ding-ding Sinatra/Deano vibe — does such a good job on “My Way” that more than a few people in the audience Wednesday were murmuring the words. Similarly, one woman could not resist singing along when Gabrielle Graham crooned a heartfelt edition of Elton John’s “Your Song.”
But mostly, it’s the cast slipping in and out of standards that may start out slow like the charismatic Arlene Coutee’s slow sensual opener to “Luck Be A Lady,” but quickly pivots into a finger-snapping pile-driving renditions. Chantal Deshaies is front and center solo briefly for “Burning Love” with her castmates joining in soon after.
Rounding out the troupe, 12-year-old Emily Taylor Kaufman sets the tone introducing the Cirque section with her only appearance, a truly weird riff on “Nature Boy.”
While the cast members all have powerful voices, they are blasted out of the theater’s speakers along with the multi-layered soundtrack digital at a level audible at the Festival Flea Market down the road. No need for “assistive listening devices” this time.
Other than that last section, if you’re looking for a quiet holiday matinee to soothe your nerves from last-minute shopping, this ain’t it. But if you seek a rousing energizing evening, it’s worth checking out.
Vegas: A Night on the Strip plays through Jan. 22 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Margate. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Running time is 90 minutes no intermission (although the program says there is one). Tickets are $38 – $42 with $16 student tickets. Call 954-344-7765 or visit www.stagedoortheatre.com. It will play at the Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton February 3-12.