Curtain Up: “‘S Wonderful” is anything but

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You have to wonder how Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre could have blown this one. Broadway Palm has a perfectly nice venue. There is a production company that puts together shows for several theaters in a chain including Broadway Palm, so there would seem to be resources available to put together a good production.

There are many talented young singers and actors starving for work. A revue featuring the songs of “George and Ira Gershwin” — who could ask for more? With all those things going for it, “’S Wonderful” falls spectacularly flat.

The revue strings together some great Gershwin tunes with a few silly plot lines. That in itself is no crime — the audience knows what to expect, and is not there for the plot. There is a single piano accompanist. That arrangement is suitable for Gershwin, and Loren Strickland does an outstanding job on keyboard. The cast is young, attractive and energetic.

Unfortunately there seems to be not one outstanding voice among them — or if there are any, they are not given a chance to let it be heard. Pitch problems are there, and ensemble numbers lack power and smoothness. Since the songs are all raced through, none of the young people get a chance to show what he or she can do by way of interpretation.

The core problem is that the songs are not allowed to shine. With only one or two exceptions, all are performed at a rapid clip, without allowing for the varying moods of these wonderful tunes or sensitivity to the lyrics — “I Got Rhythm” is presented in the same way as “A Foggy Day.” The choreography is almost constant — one found oneself hoping for a change of pace, for one of the performers to be allowed to simply stand on stage and deliver a song without effects. The director may have thought that this is the way to keep the audience awake. The lack of variety has exactly the opposite effect. The production accomplishes the difficult feat of making 30 or more great and varied songs sound alike. One hears echoes of the fabulous singers who have performed them — Tony Bennett, Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman, on and on — and wishes one could be listening to one of their recordings instead of this live presentation.

Even visually there is nothing to hold the attention: the settings are inartful and the costumes are bland.

TheatreZone in Naples, with revues like “Beehive” and “Leader of the Pack,” has shown that this kind of pastiche can be successful, on a small stage with a small cast, if the presenters trust the songs, the performers and the audience. Dumbing down Gershwin does no justice to them or us.

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