Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

Finian's Rainbow @ Saratoga SBMT

Saratoga drama Group two years ago had the gall to change their name to the grandiose South Bay Musical Theater. There were two excellent reasons for changing the name, but no good reason for the choice of SBMT. The good reasons were:
1. Hostile Saratoga City: Although they performed in the City of Saratoga's city council chambers, they had to pay rent, and the council were total jerks about not allowing them to keep their sets in place during the run of a show - everything had to be struck before each Wednesday city council meeting.
2. They only did musicals, "Drama Group" was a misnomer.

The reason the new name is bogus is they are not in the South Bay, Saratoga is the gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountains. The people who participate in the group come from all over the SF Bay Area and Santa Cruz. A better name woud have been West Valley Musical Theater, but they share the auditorium with West Valley Civic Light Opera (also a misnomer because they do musicals, not light opera). Foothill musical theater is taken by Foothill College up the road a few miles.

Last night I went to see the final performance of Finian's Rainbow, which has some of the best music and most clever/odd lyrics of all time. Lyricist was Yip Harburg, whom you may know from The Wizard of Oz and the depression era classic  Brother, Can You Spare A Dime. The story is his too, it is horrible, and that's what killed this show on Broadway.

Almost everything about this production was superb. The backdrops were the most beautiful I have ever seen in a community theater production. They had life size trees built on stage, one of which was sturdy enough to climb and swing from. The lighting plot was overly complex, and there were a couple of burps, and a few WTF light changes, but even with a computerized board they did well. Audio was flawless, with most of the cast miked. No feedback ever, everyone was heard when they needed to be, and not when they were off stage.

And the orchestra. Wow. More than 20 people who blended in so well that I almost forgot they were there. In key, on tempo, fine intonation, and a conductor who was clear about what he wanted and communicated it to both the orchestra and cast.

The leading lady is why I went to see the show, she is more than amazing. A natural redhead, she fit the Irish woman image to a T. The fellow playing the male lead had an even stronger voice (I didn't think that was possible) and looked every bit the part modeled after a young Woody Guthrie. The fellow playing Finian I have known for a long time, and while he is a decent actor with a fine Irish accent, I thought he was a mismatch for the part. At times he acted like the character was an Irish Tevye, which Finian is decidedly not. Og, the leprechaun who is changing into a mortal from not being in Ireland and Finain's stealing his crock of gold, started out too strident, but eased into the part so well that by the time he sang I Love The One I'm Near toward the end, he stole the show.

There were more than a dozen fine strong voices in the ensemble, all of whom had their moment in the spotlight. There were many African-Americans in the cast, which was wonderful to see in lily white Saratoga. The main sub-plot involves sharecroppers and Southern racist politics.

The biggest WTF for me was the choreography. It is clear the choreographer was born with Gotta Dance! tattooed on her forehead. It is clear she and the director don't know when enough is enough. Every possible bit of music, including scene changes and "incidental" music, featured the entire ensemble on stage hoofing it. And every production number was drawn out well past its logical conclusion, a couple of them seemed to go on forever. There were dancers in the final two or three numbers who did not know what the next step or formation was - which is typical because rehearsals usually get to the end of the show last, and don't repeat the latter choreography nearly as much as the early stuff. I can say one good thing about the dances is they never repeated a step from one bit to the next. Come to think of it, that's not a good thing. It's better to have a theme.

Corollary to that is the only casting WTF. While Finian was mis-cast, he at least carried the role acceptably (and sometimes well), Susan The Silent, who communicates with dance for 99% of the show and has several dance solos (another case of the choreagrivation mentioned above), the woman cast in the role was not a good dancer. She was not graceful. Her leaps barely left the ground. The foot work which was her language did not flow. Every woman in the dance ensemble (and some of the men) was a better dancer. She was not chosen for her looks, either. Susan is supposed to be almost as pretty as the leading lady - in fact she should look enough like the leading lady to be mistaken for her from a distance. Nope. Not even close. Not that this actress was unattractive, she just wasn't that "notch above", which the part called for. It annoyed me that with all the dance talent SBMT has available, they cast her in this role.

Closing night at this theater usually gets a standing ovation. The only person who stood was one of the rehearsal accompanists in the 2nd row. I blame the over-choreography. It made a simple, light-hearted show into a chore.

Next up at SBMT is Guys And Dolls. I only know two of the cast. The Salvation Army leading lady is on a par with the Finian leading lady, so that will make it worth seeing, but Nathan Detroit, the part I've always wanted to play, was cast with someone who often beats me out on those roles, but IMHO doesn't do as well as I would have. Not a reason to run screaming, though.
Tags: review, theater, theater drama

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