Sunday, September 03, 2006

Let Freedom Ring (Ensemble)

‘LET FREEDOM RING’ an audinece pleaser at Ensemble

The arts are representative of the era from which they come. They reflect the activities, the attitudes and the people of a particular time period. ‘LET FREEDOM RING,’ Bill Rudman and Eric Coble’s musical review, stresses the concept of era representation built around the theme of social conscience as reflected in the American musical.

Composed of 40-some songs from 75 years of American musical theatre, they echo lyricist Sheldon’ Harnicks’ belief that the songs are social documents. “They tell us who we were and who we are--as individuals, as members of a community, as citizens of a nation.” They are most-often the writings of those lyricists who had a social conscience and spoke their beliefs in the words to the songs included in musicals.

Rudman believes that Yip Harburg was the most politically committed lyricist. Others might argue that Oscar Hammerstein, who built his shows with Richard Rodgers around a social theme expressed in each show’s major song, eg., “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” in ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ and “It’s a Puzzlement” in ‘THE KING AND I.’ That, not withstanding, Rudman and his co-conceiver, the prolific playwright Eric Coble, have constructed a generally well-integrated review.

Integration, blending the songs into a unified theme with clear transitions, is a major problem with many reviews. With the exception of the passage from their love segment (“Who Cares,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “What Good Is Love?”) into the work segment (“Song of the Sewing Machine” and “Millwork”) and the first act finale “The Silent Spring” transition to “Joe Worker,” the verbal, dance and spoken bridges work well. One might also question, however, the choice of “Joe Worker” which seems to fit better into the work segment, as an act finale. Usually, the last song of an act leaves the audience with unfinished business which they must come back to solve or is a dynamic presentation which leaves the audience buzzing.. “Joe Worker” didn’t succeed on either of those levels.

The Ensemble production, under the apt direction of Eric Schmiedl, is very entertaining. David Shimotakahara’s and Pandora Robertson’s choreography is outstanding. In fact, it is the show’s strongest element.

High point numbers are “Status Quo,” “It’s the Right Time to Be Rich,” “Everybody Says Don’t” and “A Wonderful Way to Die.”

Nancy Maier does an excellent job of piano accompaniment. Todd Krispinksy’s scenic design is attractive and functional. Steven Schultz’s projections are purposeful and often include creative whimsy.

The cast is effective, but uneven. Placing Mick Houlahan, a consummate professional singer and actor on stage with a group of still learning college kids made for a startling contrast. Houlahan is confident, knows how to sing meanings instead of just words, and can control an audience with a smile or a twinkle of the eye. Though the kids try, they just look and sound like they are close to being ready for prime time, but not quite there. This production, with the likes of Dan Folino, Tracee Patterson, Monica Olejko and Kyle Primous, would have been astounding.

This is not to say that Hannah DelMonte, Erin Childs, Javar Parker and Michael Russo are bad, they aren’t. They were just outclassed by Houlahan and the requirements of the material.

The strongest of the youth quartet is DelMonte. She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice, a compelling presence and lights up the stage when she speaks. Childs has an affable voice in the lower registers, but has trouble projecting in the higher range. Some of her acting is shallow.

Parker was inconsistent. Some of his vocals (e.g, “Just Don’t Make No Sense”) were excellent, while at other times he sang without much meaning. Russo has a pleasant voice, but little stage presence. He never appears completely relaxed, especially in songs like “The Locker Room” in which he seems to be uncomfortable with the material. Often he makes distracting facial configurations, singing out of the sides of his mouth.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LET FREEDOM RING!’ is a sure-fire audience pleaser. With a more experienced cast and a few adjustments in the script, this could have been a complete winner.