The Best of Broadway Part 2
Conceived and written by Jeff Owen and Claude McNeal
American Cabaret Theatre; 631-0334 Through Sept. 26
American Cabaret Theatre delivers The Best of Broadway Part 2 (1950 to the present) in the form of a well-crafted book musical that ties a broad swath of material together for a satisfying “aha” moment.
Running as the dominant theme throughout is the individual quest that fuels ambition to grasp a bouquet of goals — stardom, fame, personal fulfillment, being loved. Power isn’t the push until How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Evita, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera show up.
Songs illuminate the many layers of what it takes to be a winner, be it a show or an individual. ACT’s technical elements rise to the challenge, making us believe the cast of 11 and four-member orchestra are emerging on stage from the wings of houses along the “Great White Way.” Rodney Tolliver’s outstanding properties and set design, Jerry Panatieri’s costume design, lighting by Lisa Jakubowsi and Gary DeMumbrum and musical direction by John Austin Butsch are a part of the success.
Bob Motz and Panatieri provide stunning renditions of some of the best-loved characters, as a team and in solo numbers. They are the comedic essence of “Comedy Tonight” (Forum). Motz brings “The Impossible Dream” into the seats; Panatieri makes “Mr. Cellophane” and “Sue Me” his very own.
And while Mary Lou Szczesiul partners with Motz for the poignant “It Couldn’t Please Me More” from Cabaret, Panatieri teams with the ensemble of men to nail “Keep It Gay” from The Producers. Hayley Bridgewater’s characterizations go straight to the heart, particularly in West Side Story and The Fantasticks.
Peggy Chambers lights up the stage with “Hello Dolly,” “Send in the Clowns,” “Guys & Dolls.” Gary DeMumbrum is the essence of evil serenading “My Friends” (Sweeney Todd) and suave singing in the chair choreography of “Brotherhood of Man.” Jake Haley’s impeccable nuances enrich solos from Bye Bye Birdie, Les Misérables and Cabaret.
Evita and Kiss of the Spiderwoman get perfect deliveries from Megan Monesmith. LaTasha Strahan imbues individuality on a range of characters from The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Dreamgirls.
“The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company) becomes a standout with Mary Lou Szczesiul, who is equally effective partnering with Chambers for “Bosom Buddies” (Mame).
Jessica Zeller and Nataly North-Lowder each extend several solo numbers as dancers. They teamed with Jeff Owen and Bridgewater for the show’s effective choreography and staging. Steven Kent Murphy, Jennifer Kirk, Jeffrey Lee Stone and Butsch comprise the orchestra.
Jeff Owen earns praise for his direction of the fine vehicle he co-wrote and co-conceived with Claude McNeal.