Folks not familiar with Sacramento’s Music Circus might think from its title that the company specializes in dancing elephants or singing clowns, but for those who make Sacramento and its surrounding communities their home, the Music Circus is a top-notch musical production organization. The just completed 66th season of five productions started and ended with terrific shows. In between those two were three others that were not nearly as strong. In fact, one of them was almost a complete mis-fire.
Here are my capsule reviews of all five:
The season opened in late June with an extended two-week run of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” The musical version of the 1992 animated film (hence the Disney name in the title) was superbly directed by Glenn Casale. (Mr. Casale is now listed as the Artistic Consultant for the organization, having retired from his position as Producing Artistic Director, that position now held by Scott Klier.) Mr. Casale had directed the same production on tour and so had access to the original Disney production costumes (originally designed by Miguel Angel Huidor), which added tremendously to the production with the great costumes for the Beast’s servant staff (Cogsworth, Lumiere, Babette, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and Madame de la Grande Bouche).
The story is not a true play on the classic tale of the beast who is really beautiful and the beauty who needs to fall in love to be truly so. Here the beast is quite the beast (inside and outside) until he falls in love with the beauty (who is beautiful from the start). But never mind. The play works when it is as perfectly produced and acted as this one was. Standouts in the cast were Jessica Grove as Belle and James Snyder as the Beast. Scene stealing support was offered by Adam Lendermon (Le Fou), Peter Saide (Gaston), Michael Paternostro (Lumiere), David Hibbard (Cogsworth), Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Madame de la Grande Bouche) and Shannon Warne (Mrs. Potts).
The best songs were “Me” (Mr. Saide and Ms. Grove), “Gaston” (Mr. Saide and Mr. Lendermon), “Be Our Guest” (Mr. Paternostro, Mr. Hibbard, and Ms. Warne), “Human Again” (Mr. Paternostro, Mr. Hibbard, Ms. Donovan, and Ms. Warne), “If I Can’t Love Her” (Mr. Snyder) and “Beauty and the Beast” (Ms. Warne). The 11-piece orchestra was directed by Craig Barna (who, along with Mr. Casale, consistently adds to any production he is part of). John MacInnis provided the minimal choreography for a full cast of 29 performers.
As good as the opening production was, the follow-up was the weakest of the year. “On the Town,” directed by Linda Goodrich (new to Music Circus), failed to capture the New York feel provided by Leonard Bernstein’s music or the poignancy of the story of three sailors on a day pass in the big city (book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green from an idea by Jerome Robbins). The 27-member cast had its moments (most especially on “New York, New York,’ which featured the three male leads: Sam Lips, Matt Loehr and Clyde Alves). The highlights were probably Jennifer Cody’s solo (“I Can Cook Too”) and the “Coney Island Dream Ballet” (Mr. Lips and Courtney Iventosch).
“9 to 5: the Musical” followed and was a distinct improvement, probably the third best show of the season. It is essentially the Dolly Parton movie that co-starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman. The roles, respectively, were played by Tricia Paoluccio (a Parton look-alike, who played the role well), Vicki Lewis, Anne Brummel and Paul Schoeffler. Kristine Zbornik also stood out as the faithful secretary to Mr. Schoeffler’s character.
The production (directed by Mr. Casale, with Jeff Rizzo conducting the orchestra) also featured Ms. Parton in recorded visual narration at both the beginning and end of the production. She was shown on the four large screens that were new to all productions this year. They were used to good effect in all of the shows and are a valued addition to the experience of seeing these musicals in the round at the Wells Fargo Pavilion.
“Damn Yankees” was the fourth production of the summer. This one was a hit on Broadway when the real Yankees were the perennial pennant winners in the American League (the 1950s) and while the story was fun then, it is pretty staid and weather-beaten now. (Richard Adler and Jerry Ross composed the music and wrote the lyrics from the book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop.) Still, it offers some good roles for its leads, and the cast for this production was up to the task. Jason Graae played the Devil with the same scene-stealing excellence he has brought to all of his past Music Circus performances. Lindsay Roginski was also excellent as Lola, as were Lynne Wintersteller as Meg Boyd and Zach Trimmer as Joe Hardy.
The production was directed by Charles Repole, with Craig Barna again in charge of the 15-member orchestra. Michael Lichtefeld provided the choreography.
The season closed with “Sister Act,” the musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg film. Simply stated, this was the surprise production of the year, headed by a standout performance by Zonya Love in the Goldberg role. She was all that a singing Whoopi would hope to be, and her acting was also on par with the star’s performance in the movie. She received strong support from Lynne Wintersteller (doing back-to-back performances after starring in “Yankees” just two weeks earlier) as the Mother Superior. Other standouts in the cast were Jeanna De Waal, Alan Wiggins, and Rufus Bonds, Jr.
Mr. Casale directed with Dennis Castellano conducting the orchestra and Randy Slovacek providing the choreography. And special mention must be given to three supporting players. As the gang members to Mr. Bonds’ character, Chris Chatman, Justin Keyes, and especially Todd A. Horman were hilarious, almost to the point of stealing the show in their second act trio, “Lady in the Long Black Dress.” Other highlights were “When I Find My Baby” (Mr. Bond, Mr. Chatman, Mr. Keyes and Mr. Horman), “I Could Be that Guy” (Mr. Wiggins), “Raise Your Voice” (Ms. Love and ensemble), “The Life I Never Led” (Ms. De Waal) and “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” (Ms. Wintersteller).
“Sister Act” was Music Circus at its best: great performances in a thoroughly professional production that featured terrific singing and dancing along with a story that left everyone feeling joyful. It might be overstatement to say that this season-ending production saved the season, but after the strong opening “Beauty and the Beast” provided, the three shows it and “Sister” sandwiched had been varying levels of disappointments. So it was good to close strong.
And with that thought in mind, let’s hope that next summer’s season will be stronger still, from start to finish.