Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Kritzerland's New Kids in Town!

Make way everybody, we’ve got some new kids in town and they’re out to take over musical theatre one song at a time. Of course, I’m referring to Kritzerland’s latest cabaret show at Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal. On Sunday, January 5th, Bruce Kimmel’s New Kids in Town! featured nine terrific up-and-coming young people ranging in age from 9 to 18, all of whom we’re sure to see on L.A. stages for years to come. What was especially memorable about this show was that the program included not just songs you’d expect to hear from the 18 and under set, but many that showed unexpected emotional depth from singers so young.

The cast and production team of New Kids in Town! Photos by Karen Staitman

Following a brief introduction by producer and host, Bruce Kimmel, the show kicked off with the sparkling trio of Sami Staitman, Sarah Staitman and Jenna Lea Rosen singing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof. The adapted lyrics to Rosen’s verses as Tzeitel imitating Yente, the matchmaker, provided some innocent laughs at Kimmel’s expense and set the lively tone of the evening. Kimmel writes all of the song transitions, filling them with little-known musical theatre trivia and stories that make the Kritzerland shows more than just a series of songs. The behind-the-scenes dish is funny, surprising, and always entertaining.

Rosen returned later in the program with two additional songs. The first was a delicately expressive take on Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashmans “Disneyland” from the musical Smile that slowly built to some pretty great high notes. The second was a compelling version of Sutton Foster’s signature song “Gimme, Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie that closed the show. If there’s anything I know, it’s that Rosen is destined to do Funny Girl one day. You can already hear it in her voice.

Sarah Staitman was featured on the beautiful ballad “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods. Its lyric is especially poignant and reveals new colors when sung by a young woman rather than an old witch and I applaud her for digging into the complexities of Sondheim at such a young age. Song and dance man Quintan Craig was ready to strut his stuff on “All I Need is the Girl” the Jule Styne classic with a Sondheim lyric from Gypsy, and “Santa Fe” from Disney’s Newsies. Craig is charming and charismatic, with a lovely singing voice and the kind of self-assurance that will land him in any number of Golden Age musicals, especially since he’s a terrific tap dancer. He has a smart understated way with comedy too, smoothly one-upping Carter Thomas in Sondheim’s princely duet “Agony”, also from Into the Woods. Thomas toured in Mary Poppins and is an energetic performer who put his own spin on Kander & Ebb’s “Wilkommen” from Cabaret and an unforgettably bold “Shy” from Once Upon a Mattress.

Sami Staitman is currently appearing in Pure Imagination: The Musical World of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, directed by Bruce Kimmel at Pacific Resident Theatre, and sang a lovely arrangement of the pair’s “Once Upon a Bedtime” and “The Dream” from the show. She returned later with a specialty number that Kimmel wrote for a musical revue called What If entitled “Annie” about a young girl who auditions for ANNIE but doesn’t get cast as the lead. Every young girl wants to be Annie and, as Staitman excitedly reveals, she eventually gets to do the role anyway because the original girl winds up with strep throat. It’s a delightful story song with a comic ending that the audience loved.

It would be impossible to do a show like this without including at least one or two numbers from the real ANNIE. Oliviana Marie, Paige Befeler, Brennley Brown and Hadley Belle Miller are four young actresses who have all appeared in Charles Strouse’s orphan musical and gave us their high energy, absolutely adorable take on “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” featuring choreography by Kay Cole.

Each of them also sang a solo number that highlighted their unique style. Oliviana Marie easily won the title of Miss Personality with a comedy song that showed off her acting chops, tap dancing, and ability to sell a pun. “At the Codfish Ball” may have been a hit for Shirley Temple in 1936 but Oliviana’s version was a delightful bubble of fun and a perfect choice for the girl with the Pepsodent smile who recently appeared in the title role in ANNIE at Burbank Community Theatre.

Miller played Michael in Cathy Rigby’s latest national tour of Peter Pan and sang “I Wont Grow Up” as her specialty number, handling the fast patter like a pro and delivering the lyric with perfect diction. She also has a natural likability onstage that is thoroughly engaging. Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle” takes on new meaning when sung by a young girl and Befeler’s version had a wistful quality that made her final notes even more heartbreaking than when sung by an adult.

Brown is poised beyond her years and possesses an extraordinary understanding of what a song is trying to say. “Reflection” from Mulan and “The Girl I Mean to Be” from The Secret Garden were absolutely beautiful, and when her voice opened up and began to soar on “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, it was incredibly satisfying. She’s well on her way and I’ve no doubt we’ll see this young lady in a recording studio before long.

Veteran cabaret entertainer Sharon McNight added a little salty to the sweet by bringing the ANNIE numbers full-circle with her growling red hot mama version of Miss Hannigan’s “Little Girls.” Even Kimmel was good for a song, charming the audience with a tongue-twisting Danny Kaye comedy number he learned when he was a boy, called “The Maladjusted Jester.” Then it was one last audience sing along to “Tomorrow” and that’s a wrap for Kritzerland’s New Kids in Town! 

Kritzerland at Sterlings Upstairs at the Federal is produced and hosted by Bruce Kimmel, with associate producer, Adryan Russ. Music director for this performance: Tom Griep

Sarah Staitman, Quintan Craig, and Jenna Lea Rosen

Paige Befeler, Hadley Belle Miller, Oliviana Marie, and Brennley Brown

Brennley Brown and choreographer Kay Cole

Tom Griep, Bruce Kimmel and Sharon McNight

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