By Beverly Friend, PHD, American Theater Critics Association
What an extraordinary experience. We had expected to be pleased – but found ourselves delighted! We had expected the singers to be skilled — but found them amazing. We expected to enjoy the tried and true music — but were bowled over by sensitive new interpretations that brought each rendition vividly to life. “TO LIFE” is the eminently suitable name for the show: To Life: Stories & Music Celebrating the Contributions of Composers to the Golden Age of Broadway. It is both a description and a toast to a production where nothing is hackneyed, and nothing is old hat!
Kudos to Black Box Booking and Hy Juter for bringing this fantastic production to Willow Theater in Sugar Sand Park. You don’t have to be Jewish to love the performance because these songs and lyrics are far from limited – they are universal. This is not just a homage to Jewish composers, but a tribute to great talent that transcends all labels.
What makes the performance unique is the way the superb cast put across the songs – with fine voices, captivating body language, appealing facial expressions, twinkling eyes, and dancing feet. Their charisma made each song – no matter how old in years – become reborn as if never sung before. Each unfolded in a new way.
When Mark Sanders sang “Maria,” from Westside Story, his voice resonated with his love and longing for her, and the same was true when he soulfully brought forth the meaningful lyrics of Irving Berlin’s “I’ll Be Loving You, Always.” When Wayne LeGette cried out, “If I Were a Rich Man,” followed by “Sunrise Sunset, “the audience was mesmerized – carried right into the heart of Fiddler on the Roof.
I longed to invite either – or both – of these performers to my home– not to do any work, or even to converse with me– just to sing!
Jodie Langel and Alix Paige were equally captivating. Paige brought down the house with “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” from Funny Girl and Langel hit every emotional note with “People” from the same show. In one of many interesting anecdotes, we learned that this famous song was almost dropped from the original production. What a loss that would have been.
And what about Jeffrey Bruce and Paul Reekie? Bruce, a Noel Coward look-alike, smoothly moved between the roles of informative narrator and skilled performer who not only could sing well, but also trip the light fantastic. Music Director Reekie, hitting the ivories, added his voice to a lively, versatile rendition of “I Love a Piano,” from Stop! Look! And Listen! The whole cast was as attractive as it was talented.
Music by Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim filled the air. Five singers and an excellent pianist presented 25 of their most famous numbers, and there was not one wrong note in the bunch. Kudos to writer Scott Siegel, who has created more than 300 major concerts, and director/choreographer Shari Upbin for splendid work.
We didn’t want the enchanted day to end.
Willow Theater at Sugar Sand Park, 300 South Military Trail, Boca Raton, Fl 33486, January 18-Feb 3. Tickets $35, For more information and to purchase tickets call 561-347-3948 or contact www.willowtheatre.org