The All Night Strut, conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Fran Charnas with musical arrangements by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb, and Dick Schermesser with additional orchestrations by Corey Allen. Directed and choreographed by T. Dewayne Barrett. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Phil Sloves, Sarah Talbot, La'Nette Wallace, Don Seward; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!"
Josh D. Smith and Same as above photo
At the intermission of "The All Night Strut" at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, New York, a couple passed me, heading to their car to leave and he muttered, "They weren't very theatrical," which was odd because I had just been thinking, "They weren't very musical." It's a sort of something for everybody show, in more ways than one.
It's not that this is a bad show, far from it. It's just that some things don't jell the way you expect them to and this show is like that: things don't really jell. There are twenty-seven musical numbers from the 1930s and 1940s plus "Lady of Spain" from the early 1950s, a trio of musicians on a high platform above the stage and there are four pretty people on stage in snazzy Jimm Halliday costumes to look at. So what could go wrong? Sadly, its the four pretty people. They sing close and not so close harmony throughout the show and that is the best thing they do. They seem to be so good at it that sometimes they all sing harmony and no one features the actual tune of the song. Other times somone does take the lead but can't quite get the melody out or, in some cases, the melody emerges but the soloist changes key mid phrase and that sets the harmony all wrong the final result is aural chaos.
I cannot believe that this is the way the show was constructed in New York City back in 1979. It would not have been a hit and would not be presented again all these years later. I'd like to think that this was just a bad opening night and that the show will be terrific for the balance of its run, but there are too many clues pointing to a different conclusion.
For one thing the baritone couldn't quite connect with "Ain't Misbehavin'" melodically, rhythmically or even physically. For another clue there is the tenor who sang almost every song in a monotone on one, two or sometimes three notes. There is the soprano who has two voices, chest and head and she couldn't connect the two and often when she moved up to the higher voice she changed the key in which she was singing. Then there was the alto who sang very nicely and moved nicely but somehow never made much of any lyric for the songs she sang. Energy levels were low throughout the show and lyrics didn't manage to convey meaning or emotion. That's a lot of clues.
As for their dancing, well, the humor in the director's concept for "I Get Ideas," kind of got lost in the inept movements on stage. The director, T. Dewayne Barrett, has brought many lovely ideas onto the circular stage with turntable unit and they should keep the show fluid and attractive, but his players sometimes don't make them work, even forgetting to place their floor mikes when and where they should. I know that rehearsal times are short in summer stock musical theater but the only two people who seemed to forget this important blocking were the two members of the full summer company, both of whom managed to deliver much better work in other shows.
The cast consists of La'Nette Wallace, Phil Sloves, Sarah Talbot and Don Seward.
The Musical Director, Josh D. Smith, actually emerges as the star of this show playing piano on stage and rocking the house with his exquisite finger work on the keyboard. He was a definite plus in this show as were the drummer and bass player (Ken Swinkin and Tyler Luppi respectively).
Jimm Halliday's costumes were wonderful, colorful in act one and black and white formal in act two. Kevin Gleason's set pieces were just what the show called for and Andrew Gmoser's lighting was just right for the show as conceived. What didn't work was the sound which distorted some voices some of the time and which didn't help to distinguish words the soprano spoke or sang.
After a really delightful season of musical theater at the Mac-Haydn this swan song was a big disappointment, but with luck and time all things tend to improve. I hope this show does just that and soon.
The All Night Strut plays through September 14 at The Mac-Haydn Theatre, located at 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, NY. For information and tickets contact the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line to www.machaydntheatre.org.