By Richard Gubbe and Rachel Gubbe
Timeless and timely are intertwined in the fabric of all four Starlight Theatre performances at Rock Valley College this summer.
The first run of each of the four shows again exhibited the diversity of talent from this area and the willingness of Director Mike Webb to deliver difficult and sometimes sensitive scripts with top-notch skill. He didn’t shy away from the challenging hits of “Mary Poppins,” Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,'” the current award-winning hit “Memphis,” and the reality check content of “The Last Five Years.”
A wide range of talent is needed to pull off a stage version of “Mary Poppins.” Bringing in Samantha Owen to play Mary was a coup for Webb. Her top-of-the-world vocal skills combined with vibrant sets and flying routines bring the musical to life.
Owen, a RVC grad who also graduated from the American Musical Dramatic Academy in New York, took time from performing in New York to return to Starlight Theatre. Owen was in “Phantom of the Opera” for Starlight in 2011 and her New York achievements have included “Forbidden Broadway,” “Chess,” “Children of Eden,” “Broadway’s Rising Stars” and “Broadway by the Year.”
RVC’s Mary Poppins is an engaging show like no other. Soaring props and a flying Miss Poppins deliver the magic. Webb has a cast consisting of 45 fantastic actors, all playing huge roles that include toys and statues coming to life. The altered script from the movie provides a whole new experience.
The live music, provided by Musical Director Steve Wolfgram and his orchestra, is magnificent. The cast if filled with talented singers, most notably Peyton Schoenhofer, playing the role of Bert, and Rose McGregor, playing Mrs. Corry. Both have amazing range and control. McGregor also is appearing in Starlight’s fourth show of the season, “Young Frankenstein.”
Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s classic has delighted Broadway audiences for over 2,500 performances and received nominations for nine Olivier and seven TONY Awards.
From “Supercalifradgulisticxpealidocious” to “Jolly Holiday,” the musical, based on the books by P.L. Travers, will let you wander through the world of endless possibilities.
Read no further unless you think sex can be funny. Young Frankenstein delivers more laughs scene after scene than any comedy film transformed into a musical. This show takes the 1970s cult classic film further into the depths of sexual innuendo through song from the twisted mind of Mel Brooks. When Brooks went back and added music to his genius movie, he created a monster adult hit.
The film-favorite double entendres are delivered crisply by Webb’s group of characters that befit those of the long list of stars in the film. The fact that casting had to be a nachtmare and finding area singers, dancers and actors necessary to pull off what’s inside Transylvania mania is quite an accomplishment.
The live orchestra synchronizes streams of energy to pump up the monster-size voices. Performers for every song are superb, led by none other than Frederick Frankenstein, pronounced Fronkenshteeen, played by the multi-faceted Charlie Rasmann. He takes to Gene Wilder’s character with ease and adds a booming voice to his timely wit and banter.
Two scintillating female voices grace the stage. Charlie’s wife in real life, Stephanie Rasmann, plays his fiancé Elizabeth. She surpasses Madeline Kahn from the film with her rich, intense voice and doesn’t disappoint with “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life.” Rose McGregor is superb as Teri Garr’s Inga, not only looking like her but singing with depth, clarity and power. Her vocals, quips and footwork are sensational.
Nathan S. Forrester turns in a phenomenal portrayal of Peter Boyle’s monster, and the only regret is that he doesn’t get to sing more. Perhaps the funniest role is delivered by none other than Eric Wilson. He mimics Marty Feldman’s Igor, that’s pronounced, ‘eye-gore’, in voice, movements and walking THIS way.
Perhaps the most challenging scene is the four-person dance and comedy shtick of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” with Inga, Igor, Frederick and The Monster tap dancing with a precise, Vaudevillian flair.
Frau Blucher, (whinny included) is splendidly played by Shawna Bartimoccia. Frau, along with The Hermit (Jack Hill), and Inspector Kemp (Don Stein), execute timely laughter in their key roles. Bartimoccia rivals Cloris Leachman in the film and lovingly echoes “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
The show also features other engaging dance routines, highlighted by “Transylvania Mania” that shows off intricate work involving most of the 30-plus-member cast. The playful number is challenging and satisfying, but beware, the characters also dart through the audience for even more frightful fun.
“Young Frankenstein” provides the most hilarity at Starlight this summer.
The show picks up again July 29 and runs through August 2.
Not short on comedy either, this historical profile of the racial struggles in Memphis in the 1950s charts both progress made and not made in society. The harsh reality is transformed into humor and delivered in a sensitive way.
The dancing in “Memphis” needs to be and is superb and the voices of the two main characters challenge those of the national touring show that came to the Coronado last March. Ray Fanara far exceeds the offering of Huey Calhoun from the national company. Jayla Williams-Craig delivers a powerful performance as Felicia in her first Starlight show, her strong bluesy voice resonating throughout the campus.
The humor is provided by Calhoun’s mother Gladys, a prodigious performance by Janet Bracken, and from Bobby, playfully assumed by Jaylen Marks, who also appears in “Young Frankenstein.”
When Calhoun falls into success playing rhythm and blues at a white station, all hell breaks loose. Echoes of the messages from the 1950s ring true as the country embraces R&B to prove that music knows no barriers. And the messages are clearly heard.
The only ingredient needed for this show would be bigger crowds to enjoy it. “Memphis” returns July 22-26.
“Last Five Years”
A poignant and somber introspective, the acting and voices of “The Last Five Years” are well matched. Some say it’s best to see the movie first to understand all the complexities involved. The content is timely to the lives of many or someone they know.
Jason’s Brown’s modern musical, rated PG, chronicles the life of a marriage from meeting to break-up and from break-up to meeting. Karen Manley Kahler is Cathy and Matt Myers is Jaime in Starlight’s smallest cast ever.
The woman evolves from an ambitious, fresh-faced girl in a new relationship to a woman stunned by a betrayal and a divorce that she is only beginning to understand. Her love interest is an ambitious guy on a promising first date with a dazzling career to someone who is blinded by success and ego. He is very lovable, yet makes unintentional choices that sabotages his own happiness.
“The Last Five Years” returns July 15.
For tickets to the second half of the season, call box office at 815-921-2160.