Tuesday, April 5, 2011

THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Struts into the Colony Theatre

(from top to bottom) Michael Dotson, Scotch Ellis Loring, Jennifer Shelton and Jayme Lake. Photo Credit: Michael Lamont

The Roaring Twenties came to a shocking halt with the stock market crash of 1929. It was the end of a cultural and economic era, and the country soon found itself caught in the throes of The Great Depression. Even the music reflected the changing times as The Jazz Age gave way to a new musical period of stark reality. “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” became an anthem for millions of Americans down on their luck.

Without money to spend on entertainment, families gathered around their radios at home to help them forget their troubles. The Big Band sounds of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller became popular in dance halls and music did its job of carrying people through the hard times once again.

Some of the most glorious music of the 20th century was written during this Big Band/Swing era of the early 1930s and '40s and The All Night Strut! now playing at the Colony Theatre celebrates it with style. “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Minnie The Moocher,” “In The Mood,” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” are only a few of the songs highlighted in this dazzling musical memoir.

A youthful optimism permeates the direction and each song is cleverly staged by directors Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel to convey the resiliency of a people that kept soldiering on despite the many setbacks of the early war years. It’s a loving tribute that will be meaningful for older and younger audience members alike; the former as they reflect upon their own personal memories and the latter, as they discover, for a few brief moments, the moxie within our truly American heritage.

One of the really special things about the show is the way musical director Dean Mora has recreated the sound of the period. You won’t hear any contemporary belting or modern pop versions of these songs, but rather an authentic blend of voices and orchestra that captures the unique style of those old recordings. It’s a subtle and very distinct way of approaching the music that, once your ear adjusts, is absolutely gorgeous.

Another highlight is the World War II Medley featuring songs like “GI Jive,” “White Cliffs Of Dover,” “Rosie The Riveter” and a most poignant and haunting “I’ll Be Seeing You” that ended Act I, revealing more than a few misty eyes in the audience. Act II opens with dinner jackets and ballroom elegance, and plays through a set list of hits that includes “Juke Box Saturday Night,” “Ain’t Misbehavin',” “Dream,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” along with a host of other specialty numbers.

The cast of four includes Jennifer Shelton, Jayme Lake, Scotch Ellis Loring and Michael Dotson. Shelton, all sparkle and personality, gets a chance to show off her alto chops in this quartet with Lake taking the soprano. Dotson impresses with some nice falsetto lines and Loring is just all-around great to listen to. The four play well off of each other adding humor and charm throughout.

Mora (on piano) and his band members Jim Garafalo (bass) and Ray Frisby (drums) sit high atop a breathtaking multi-leveled bandstand designed by Stephen Gifford, one of L.A.’s most talented scenic designers, and Sharon McGunigle’s costumes have a bit of fun with the playfulness and efficiency of the period using color and movement with the textiles, rather than an abundance of sequins and glitter (oh, except for the tap number!)

I am also in love with Luke Moyer’s lighting for the show. Like a smoky topaz glittering in a cigarette haze, he pulls out all the stops with The All Night Strut! It’s as if the lighting itself is a character, using Gifford’s white satin draping as a canvas. The dusky gray/white of the club gives way to shadowy rich reds, cascades of repeating patterns on the floor, magenta splashes, violet and pink washes and even a powdery white effect that I still can’t stop thinking about. I don’t know how he creates the texture, but it was truly stunning and one of the most beautifully lit shows I’ve seen.

Don’t miss The All Night Strut!, conceived by Fran Charnas with musical arrangements by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb, and Dick Schermesser, additional orchestrations by Corey Allen. The show runs through May 1st at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. Its timeless music and polished sophistication present a classy and irresistible evening you won’t forget. For tickets and more information go to http://www.colonytheatre.org/.

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