Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 1999
This is a very pleasant evening at the theatre. I left the house thinking, “This will be pleasant.” and when I turned to my companion at the end of the show she said, “Well, that was pleasant.” Pleasant. Pleasant is the word.
Is pleasant good enough? On a hot summer’s evening when you are not in the mood to have your brain challenged by Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams, Sherlock Holmes, Virginia Woolf, or William Shakespeare, I suppose it is.
“Stardust” is a revue featuring the lyrics of Mitchell Parish. If you said, “Who?” I don’t blame you. There have been a rash of revue-type shows over the past decade or two paying homage to the work of famous composers, lyricists, or teams. The problem here is that, while Parish wrote lyrics to a few songs still recognizable to ’90’s audiences, he is just not famous enough. Nor are his lyrics of the very highest caliber.
To fill you in, Mitchell Parish was born in Lithuania in 1906 and emmigrated to New York’s lower east side shortly there after. He made the typical climb from immigrant squalor through peddling songs on tin-pan alley to fame among New York’s night club set. He collaborated with musicians Hoagy Carmichael, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Leroy Anderson, and others. Parish died on April 2 of this year at the age of 92.
That Parish’s lyrics are not really the thing is evident because the songs presented in “Stardust” become more entertaining and interesting as the composers change, not as Parish matures.
“Stardust” is by no means a play. There are a few very stilted bits of information on Parish’s life presented throughout the evening, but that is it. Thank heaven no one claims credit for writing the “book” for this show (no decent writer would dare!) This is just a sextet of attractive and talented young performers singing songs in an array of lovely costumes.
There are no duds in this ensemble. They can all sing and they are darned good-looking. I was especially impressed with the range of singing styles displayed by Jason Dula. His “Sophisticated Lady” is a stand out. Shane Rhoades is the specialty dancer. Gary Bowman provides some comic relief and hits one surprising and lovely high note. Silva Mateosian and Erika Insana are also strong comediennes. Mateosian has a real belter’s voice which she has to rein in so as not to overpower her comrades. Katherine Bilofsky gives a beautiful rendering of “Forgotten Dreams” in the second act.
By Theater Barn standards designer Jay Ennis has created a spectacular set. A great many rolls of tin foil gave their life to decorate the art deco style double staircases and balcony that surround and surmount the three musicians, and the end result is really very effective. And the afore-mentioned array of lovely costumes, designed by Denise Dygert and Guy Lee Bailey deserve their own round of applause. They are simple and elegant and make the performers look like a million bucks.
I would like to applaud the Theater Barn for putting the musicians on stage. The other two musicals I have attended this season have housed their orchestras/bands/ensembles off-stage and out of sight. The music might as well be pre-recorded. I liked the good old days when the conductor got his/her own bow at the opening of each act and at the curtain call. I don’t think musicians are people to hide away in shame – they are an integral part of an evening of musical theatre. This team of three (Kevin Wallace – paino; Ellen Rizzo – synthesizer; and Jason Schultheis – percussion) provide solid accompaniment to the singers, and Wallace takes a strong vocal turn himself on “Ciao, Ciao Bambina”.
I would also like to acknowledge that no one in this show is wearing a body mike. The Theater Barn experimented with them last year with fairly disasterous results one evening when I was in attendance. This is a small house and these are trained actors and singers. Let them do their thing unmiked.
“Stardust” runs through July 11 at the The Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY. The show runs an hour and three-quarters with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999