Babes in Arms, a classic Rodgers & Hart “let’s put on a show” show, blasts onto the stage in the latest FrederickTowne Players production. The youthful energy of the cast fuels this two and a half hour funfest.
The show is essentially just a showcase for some legendary songs, strung loosely together around a tale of summer stock theater, romance and comedic identity confusion. Director Kirk Bowers get the most from his mostly teenage cast, and sprinkles in a few Frederick veterans in memorable roles.
Set in Cape Cod, the set uses the large stage at Frederick Community College’s JBK Theater to tell the story. Several of the set pieces deserve singular mention. The weathered boards on the on the backdrop of the walls of the theater accurately replicate structures all over Cape Cod. The barn exterior scene is community theater set design perfection, with credit due to Set Designer Kyle Huth’s skill and vision.
While you never see the skillful sextet that plays behind the backdrop, you definitely hear them. The overture plays like a 40’s top hits list, beloved songs like “My Funny Valentine,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” and “Where or When. Musical Director Pete Myers does a good job of planting those great songs in the audience’s heads, and folks left the theater humming and singing.
The ensemble is brimming with exuberant energy. Choreographer Kendall Sigman has done a good job teaching the steps, but an even better job of teaching how to look like the hard work is fun. Every dancer was smiling, and their enjoyment is contagious. What the dancers lack in classic dance skills is compensated by their energy.
Several of the performances warrant a mention, but every single cast member makes the most of their individual moments. Thomas Bricker (Valentine White) plays the male lead with a genuine, sincere and subtle touch. His struggle to get his review produced is the underlying story, but his relationship challenges with Kendall Sigman (Susie Ward) and Brittany Bartlett (Jennifer Owen) set the tone. Ms. Sigman has a pure and sweet presence, and the audience was rooting for her from the first scene.
Brittany Bartlett imbues her character, a Hollywood child star now aiming for Broadway fame, with personality and a powerful and clear singing voice. Bette Cassatt (Phyllis Owen) is the hovering, annoying Stage Mother from Hell. She carries it off very well, the audience despised her from the outset. Morganne Chu (Terry Thompson) is a singing and dancing tour-de-force, and she has some really effective laugh lines.
A couple of the comic relief roles suffered from minor tech glitches, but the actors got the laughs anyway. Jacob Keith (Gus Field) is a hoot in his portrayal of the bumbling but lovable love interest of Morganne Chu’s character, Terry Thompson. Mr. Keith wasn’t wearing a body mic, and some of his best lines were left onstage. He’s genuinely funny, so pinning a mic on him would definitely amp up the humor level;the same with Lou Zammichieli (theater owner Seymor Fleming). Lou has good facial expressions, but funny lines that you can’t hear due to a lack of a microphone just aren’t funny lines.
James Funkhouser (Lee Calhoun) is the pompous and questionably talented southern playwright who’s unjustifiably high sense of self-worth leads to frequent belly laughs. The deep southern accent also lead to a couple of unintelligible lines, which left me looking for the missing joke a few times. Overall though, the guys who are supposed to get the laughs actually deliver them.
The final mention is reserved for the actress whose performance justifies the ticket purchase. Devin Taylor plays Bunny Byron, the beleaguered assistant to insensitive theater owner Seymour Fleming. Ms. Taylor’s power and presence make all of her production numbers memorable, but one in particular, “The Lady is a Tramp,” was drop-dead perfect.
The FrederickTowne Players are ending the summer with a rousing musical of youthful optimism overcoming corporatism, full of fun and energy from start to finish.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Babes in Arms plays through October 2, 2016, at the The FrederickTowne Players performing at the JBK Theater at Frederick Community College -7932 Opossumtown Pike in Frederick, Maryland. For tickets, Call the box office at (240) 315-3855,or purchase them online.