IF YOU GO
What: Swinging '60s revue
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.org
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Full Disclosure: The Naples Daily News is the sponsor of the Naples Players production of "Shout! The Mod Musical."
The Naples Players swung into the '60s Wednesday. Five dolly birds boogied to the hits of Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu. Mary Quant minis were mondo cool. "Shout! The Mod Musical" offers much to love, but - like the decade itself - the experience often feels divided and turbulent.
Five women - Joyce Austin, JamieLynn Bucci, Debi Guthery, Alyssa Haney and Jasmine Vizena - serve as archetypes of the era. Songs like "I Only Wanna Be With You," "Son of a Preacher Man," "To Sir, with Love" and "Wishin' and Hopin'" combine with go-go-boots, plastic raincoats and Union Jack umbrellas to illustrate a colorful London filled with peace, love and understanding.
Plot? Uhhh. How to find love and happiness? Why a '60s setting? Who knows! Each girl - according to the "oh so mod" "SHOUT!" magazine - gets a "color" and an attribute (homemaker, liberated, beautiful, brash).
Songs come interspersed with barely humorous letters to advice columnist Gwendolyn Holmes and passably silly jokes that recall "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." Unfortunately, a booming period-accurate (and modern-day annoying) laugh track accompanies the jokes. The chummy hooting felt obnoxiously jarring in a quiet house where the flat jokes often fell like bombs during the London Blitz.
Director and choreographer Dawn Lebrecht Fornara works overtime to fashion something creative out of this generic, unfunny revue. Crisp dance moves - from the swinging, snapping arms of "England Swings" to the iconic pistol poses of "Coldfinger" - drive the action forward.
If her cast of five seems somewhat lost on the big stage, they at least have the energy of 20 women. Comic scenes - bland as they are - reflect care and effort to wring laughs from this turkey.
I do wish Lebrecht Fornara had focused her attention more toward music; some of the iconic pop songs in "Shout!" permeate into this generation. Without a chorus and with few true dancers in her cast, choreography options were limited. Her visual spectacle and clever movement keeps the show from feeling slow, but it can distract from the vocals. For instance, "To Sir, with Love" gets lost in a wave of arms, legs and girls trudging up and down the steps of the set.
There's a lot of energy and motion on stage - sometimes too much. The best moments feature either a singular routine ("England Swings") or quiet, less frenetic moments ("You're My World" / "All I See Is You"). The five-part harmonies sometimes falter as well - with the enthusiastic cast pushing so hard to please the audience that they fail to listen to each other.
If "Shout!" truly, smashingly delivers anywhere, it serves as a brilliant spotlight for Jasmine Vizena (Yellow Girl). Seen previously in "Annie" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," Vizena breathes life into the flimsy structure. Her effervescent saffron presence seems a ray of sunshine, her voice a golden warble rising above the stage.
She grabs Dusty Springfield anthem "Son of a Preacher Man" and owns the song - clapping, stomping, kicking. She also leads "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and title number "Shout." Her character's fangirl love affair with Beatle Paul McCartney ends with a tender rendition of another Springfield song, "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself."
Joyce Austin displays solid acting range as Orange Girl. She carries the thin script with surprising grace; there's no real showstopper for her, but "I Only Want to Be With You" pleases. Alyssa Haney (Blue Girl) and JamieLynn Bucci (Red Girl) offer solid vocal and comedic debuts in their first leading roles.
Debi Guthery, while always a pleasure to watch, is badly miscast as the promiscuous Green Girl. Worse, costumer Mary Wallace's chartreuse minidress, worn during the first act, fits Guthery poorly. A piled-on auburn wig adds to the woes, making the elegant actress look more like a slatternly guttersnipe than the sexually liberated free-spirit her character represents.
Although Guthery never seems comfortable, she gamely embraces the character. Audiences will love the Green Girl's break-up routines, although an involved pelvis-thrusting moment during a questionably funny marijuana skit may raise eyebrows.
Creatively, the show clicks on nearly every level. Charles Fornara's five-person band pumps out the sound with enthusiasm. The audience often squealed with delight at recognizing songs ("Downtown," "Shout") before there were lyrics.
Aside from Guthery's verdant calamity, Wallace's costumes mostly hit the mark. I especially love her late '60 creations. Vizena gets a pair of black and yellow checkered knickers. Haney vamps in a zip-up bodysuit in shades of blue, while Guthery gets emerald fringe!
Wallace saves her best work - and some flashy sequins - for last; audiences will scream and "Shout" for the glittering Union Jack-inspired encore! Carol Smith's hair and make-up design captures the period - look especially for Haney's delightful blonde bob or Austin's fabulous Angela Davis-style 'fro.
Mike Santos crafts a gorgeous set. Mod boxes and cutout squares - all with rounded corners frame the stage; two giant L-shaped cutouts soar upward to add more depth. A series of steps lead up to London's skyline - with Westminster Palace and Big Ben evident. On the third try, the Naples Players finally grasp how best to use their video projector. Groovy patterns, "Shout" magazine covers and fantastic colors serve as a constant backdrop.
Jeff Weiss delivers acceptable but uninspired lighting. I wish the show had featured more color and life to cue the zippy action and flashy choreography, especially as it relives some of music's most iconic tunes.
"Shout!" gets the blood pumping, hands clapping and platform boots stomping. Hands down, the music of the '60s retains a lovely, sinuous beat that enchants and enthralls. Look for Vizena's amazing amber songbird or Haney's azure angel.
"Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty." Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.