Take the Stage Performance Company’s latest production, Connected, took place last weekend at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington. A musical review of 15 songs from current Broadway hits such as Hamilton and Something Rotten, as well as songs from classic shows like Everyday Rapture and The Will Rogers Follies, Connected featured precisely executed choreography and a dazzling array of costumes.
The highlight of the show, for me, was the amazingly detailed choreography. Twenty-eight young performers from grades 4 through 10 performed on a bare stage that allowed their skills (and costumes) to shine.
I was blown away by the precision with which these young people performed and I couldn’t wait for intermission to scour my program for the choreographer’s name. Imagine my surprise to find that each song was choreographed and staged by a different set of people! The credit for the precise performances, then, is clearly shared by the talented team of directors and choreographers but most of all the young performers who clearly worked hard and brought their all to this show. The choreographers asked a lot of these young people, and boy did they deliver!
The show opened with what I think is one of the most upbeat songs to grace the Broadway stage last season: “Opening Up” from the new Sara Bareilles musical Waitress. The ensemble filled the bare stage with tight, energized moves (choreography by Donna Reese) as several soloists (as this is an ensemble piece with young performers, soloists were not credited in the program) took turns with the lead vocals. The song featured many freeze-frame style moments in which the ensemble struck poses behind the singers. What a great song to start the show off on a high note.
“Opening Up” was the first of several numbers that featured large dance ensembles. Some of the most inventive numbers include “Pandemonium” from The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee (staging by Tammy Roberts) which featured dancers doing cartwheels on chairs, and “Shaking the Blues Away” from Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (Choreography by Donna Reese and Diane Hamilton) which featured an dazzling tap routine during which jump-ropes were utilized with such dexterity that applause was heard multiple times throughout the song.
Other showstopper numbers included the Act I closer “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Anything Goes. Dancers filled the stage in dazzling red and gold sequined costumes before the lead singer (Kelsey Keza) came out – she wasn’t credited in the program but I hunted her down because her performance certainly deserves recognition. In a show characterized by ensemble performances, this was the one song that showcased a single performer. Keza proved worthy of the spotlight, displaying a strong voice and a sense of confidence, stage presence, and energy that show she belongs onstage.
My favorite number was Act II opener “Our Favorite Son” from The Will Rogers Follies. This song featured the ensemble in breathtaking red, white and blue sequins, topped off with hats that contained hidden tambourines. The song climaxed with an intricate sequence of hand clapping in which the ensemble is seated in a line of chairs across the stage. (Choreography by Erica Hilburger and Diane Hamilton based on the original by Tommy Tune.) This “hand dancing,” as I will call it, was so well synchronized, featuring 28 sets of hands striking laps in unison, 28 heads turning with precision, and 28 sets of arms raising and lowering on cue, that the audience erupted into spontaneous applause several times before it ended.
I had the pleasure of taking four young companions to the show with me. My friends, all of whom were under the age of ten, were unanimous in their favorite songs. I can assure you then, that the most “kid friendly” songs in the show were those which I described above. They also really liked “When You’re a Wimp,” from A Christmas Story: The Musical, a song which featured excellent vocal harmony and “God, I Hate Shakespeare” from Something Rotten! which shook things up by adding props suggestive of well-known Shakespeare characters. These astute young critics and I conversed on the way home and the takeaway was that the costumes and dancing throughout the show were great.
The band, helmed by Walter “Bobby” McCoy, underpinned each song with energy. The band laid down a great swing sound on “Shaking the Blues Away,” Brian P. Butler performed a stirring clarinet solo on “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and Paul Rossen added a lovely Renaissance piano solo to “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”
The songs that did not feature the large ensembles, like “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana and “Helpless” from Hamilton, (Both songs were staged by Susan Alexander Thompson and Tammy Roberts) didn’t quite have the same energy as the bigger numbers but it was a nice balance to include some more intimate numbers between the large song-and-dance pieces.
Take the Stage’s Connected played on February 24-26, 2017, at The Bender JCC of Greater Washington’s Kreeger Theatre – 6125 Montrose Road, in Rockville, MD. For more information on Take the Stage, go to their website.