Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2005
Seeing the well received and lively opening night performance of Bye Bye Broadway at North Pointe last night took me back a quarter century or so to the summers when I used to write and direct my own original musicals. There is nothing so exciting, after all that work, as when the audience walks in the door and wonderful actors bring your words and music to life. Whether or not the show goes on to make you rich and famous, you have realized that dream of bringing it to life on the stage, and it is a priceless moment.
That is what “Bye Bye Broadway” is about. The show itself concerns the efforts of a group of mediocre actors to bring a show, any show, to Broadway in order to get a shot at that dream. And the real life cast, crew, and creative team where there as well, experiencing first hand what their fictional counterparts were singing and dancing about.
Bye Bye Broadway is an original musical with book and lyrics by Copake resident Carl Ritchie and music by Ben Moore. It was commissioned in 1997 by the Drayton Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada, and had its successful world premiere there in 1999. North Pointe and Logical Productions are giving the show its U.S. premiere in a venture that marks North Pointe’s first foray into nurturing a new work. This production is a true Columbia County effort, with Ancram resident and Ghent Playhouse Artistic Director Tom Detwiler directing and Valatie resident Richard B. Lapo, Jr. serving as Musical Director and providing the piano accompaniment for the show in the role of Francis.
This story is a classic backstage story that evolves into a show within a show within a show. Egotistical leading man and director Roger (Robert Dalton) and his backer, aging diva Dorothy (Alaina Warren Zachary) are staging a new musical based on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. Dorothy has her eye on the shy young juvenile John (Noah Massimo) who is desperate to make a success on the stage or else he will be forced to return home and join the family’s mortuary business. Long-suffering understudy Lucy (Stephanie Tanaka) secretly and futilely pines for Roger, who is obsessed with his beautiful and talented ex-wife, the unseen Sylvia. Lucy’s hopes for stardom and happiness in Roger’s arms seem thwarted by the arrival of ditsy blonde bombshell Dawn LaRue (Amy Fiebke) who, although completely unsuited for any role, has obvious charms that overpower her lack of acting skills.
The cast has to bid their Broadway dreams “bye bye” several times during the course of the show. As the “Rebecca” musical nears completion, word arrives that DuMaurier has sold the story to Hollywood, so the company quickly switches gears and, using the same music, creates a musical based on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. But it turns out another company is bringing Jane Eyre to Broadway, so the make another last minute change and prepare to present Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Opening night is looming when they learn that another Dickens musical, based on Bleak House, retitled Nothin’ But Fun, is about to land on the Great White Way. They pack their bags and prepare to abandon their dreams when, deus ex machina, Lucy saves the day and wins her man.
Bye Bye Broadway will not set the world of musical comedy on fire, but it is a spritely and compact musical, until the bitter end when it morphs into an annoying series of solos separated by clunky scene changes. Ritchie and Moore will probably do pretty well peddling it to the community theatre world. But I can’t help feeling if they had played it a little less safely they would have a more marketable and entertaining show.
Ritchie draws on every backstage stereotype in his book and lyrics, a little too much so and the show threatens to bog down in the predictable. I wish there had been a little more edge to the show overall, both the book/lyrics and the music. It is all fun but it is all forgettable and pervaded with a sense of déjà vu. Been there, done that. Another opening, another show about the backstage bickering of show biz types we know all too well.
Moore’s music fares a little better. There are some nice tunes, and he uses and reuses them well as the shows-within-the-show change rapidly. Lapo performs them professionally and Ritchie has done a nice job of incorporating his character of Francis into the script in amusing but not intrusive ways.
The cast is a strong crop of Columbia County community theatre regulars with the exception of Dalton. He is a handsome man and a fine singer, and also a versatile fellow having designed and built the large and attractive set which fills the North Pointe stage from floor to ceiling. He also assisted Joanne Maurer with the costumes, about which more later.
Alaina Warren Zachary and Amy Fiebke are true pros who it is always a treat to see and hear. I fully agree with Zachary’s character Dorothy that both she and her portrayer are capable of far more than playing frustrated middle-aged frumps. Ritchie and Moore do give her a moment to shine in her final solo Dorothy’s Turn, but then she is thwarted by an poorly cut red gown.
Fiebke gets to show off both the blonde and brunette sides of her talent as Dawn, and she is charming and beautiful in either shade. Fiebke has also provided the simple choreography for the numbers, which doesn’t overtax anyone’s dance abilities. But “Bye Bye Broadway” is not a dance intensive show.
A great deal of the show, particularly the first act singing, rests on Tanaka’s slender shoulders, and she manages quite well. Again she is thwarted by some costume choices, in this case making her look too pretty (not a hard thing to do given the excellent raw material), when her character is described as repeatedly as mousy. Her singing started off a little tentatively, but built in strength as the show progressed and she got her bearings. I can’t help that suspect, however, that Tanaka is a better alto than she is a soprano. Whenever she gets to belt out a lower note the power of her voice is noticeable, while she strains for some of the high notes. It would be nice to see her tackle a singing role more within her natural range.
Massimo is a winning juvenile, tall and handsome in a non-traditional way. He is quite a good actor, but, alas, an unpredictable singer. Just as he is sailing along nicely he opens his mouth and out comes a note that just isn’t in the score.
Detwiler’s direction is practical but not inspired. There were too many times when the actors ended up lined up in a row. Too “linear” I think would be the esoteric turn of phrase.
The show is supposedly set in 1938, but there is little in Maurer and Dalton’s costumes to suggest the era. The styles are kind of all over the place, and I am not sure that setting the show in a specific year is all that important anyway. There are an awful lot of costumes too, more than struggling Depression-era actors would probably have. I am not speaking here about the costumes for the different shows-within-a-show which are obviously necessary, but the day wear for the characters, especially Tanaka’s Lucy, are excessive. Budget and time could be saved by winnowing down the costume changes to only the necessary.
The opening night audience I attended with just loved this show. They laughed loudly at all the jokes, (Ritchie has turned out some funny ones), and gave a hearty hand to all the numbers. This is community theatre and the community loved it. And this is certainly family entertainment – kids over 8 will have a blast.
Bye Bye Broadway runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 31 at North Pointe Cultural Arts Center on Rt. 9 in Kinderhook, NY. The show runs two and a half hours and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-758-9234 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2005