by DICK KEREKES
On New Year’s Eve, Players by the Sea opened their first show of 2010, THE TAFFETAS, a nostalgic flashback to the girl groups of the l950s, as conceived b Rick Lewis in his l988 cabaret production. Back in those days The Chiffons, The Maguire Sisters, The Cordettes and The Fountain were the darling ladies of the radio airwaves. In April of l989, this show premiered Off-Broadway and ran for 165 performances. If you have ever seen Forever Plaid , you have an idea what this show is like as the formats are similar but THE TAFFETAS features 4 ladies instead of men.
The four Taffeta sisters started singing in their home town of Muncie Indiana, mainly at the Moose hall and supermarket openings. But tonight is their big night with an appearance on the national television show (fictitious of course), SPOTLIGHT ON MUSIC. The show is being watch by the great Ed Sullivan who may book them on his show if he likes what he sees and hears! Wow!
In the course of the two hour show, we were treated to 44 songs that were all among the best on the Hit Parade between l949 and l960. Some of the most popular got the full treatment (all the verses) while for others we just got the familiar refrains in medleys. In between the songs, the girls chatted about their home town and each other, providing much of the humor in the production.
Donna played by Christine Dumars, was the cut up of the four, and she used her powerful vocal ability and comic talents to make us laugh. Ms. Dumars, has just returned to the stage in Jacksonville, having return from graduate studies in Memphis. You may remember her in outstanding performances in Seussical, Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know and She Loves Me, to name a few.
Nikki Spies appears as Peggy. Ms. Spies is a graduate of Douglas Anderson and is currently pursuing a musical theatre degree at Jacksonville University. I saw this talented actress and singer most recently on the JU stage as Judy Garland in Hurray for Hollywood.
Leslie Richart as Cheryl, was seen on Player’s stage for the first time in Pippin as one of the hip cats. Leslie really comes into her own in this show, doing a number of solos displaying her fine voice that she also shares with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in various concerts.
Kendra Holton Helton completed the foursome of lovely ladies, playing sister Kaye. Never have is seen a performer come so far in so short a time. It was just about one year ago, I saw her as Luisa in The Fantasticks at a local dinner theatre. Since then she has performed major roles in Into the Woods Pippin and Die Fledermaus.
Director Lee Hamby assembled this fabulous cast, and adds another impressive show to his long resume of outstanding shows that include Bat Boy the Musical, Sweeney Todd and Hair just to a name three of the many award winners. Lee teamed with new Choreographer Max Sjostrom to bring out all the charm and feeling in this show. Mr. Sjostrom has been traveling the country dancing professionally all over the country and is back in his native Jacksonville, still performing as well as teaching and choreographing dance.
Hamby designed the television program set using white ceiling to floor curtains that change colors with some songs with the light design conceived by Jim Wiggins. Costume designer Cassandra Breckenridge is making her Players debut as well and brings a wealth of experience to this field from designing costumes for showgirls and burlesque dancers in Las Vegas for several years. Her creations for the four sisters are much more modest and very delightful , with black and white skirt and sweaters in the first act and colorful pastel gowns in act two. You will love those l950s hair styles!
Director Hamby also created the wonderful song reference pages in the program, that not only list the songs but who recorded them and when and where they showed up the hit parade.
I probably knew 98% of the songs and among my favorites were “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window”, “Where the Boys Are”, “Cry”, and “Sincerely”. I really loved them all, and it was a great trip down memory lane. For a young couple sitting nearby, it was a pleasant lesson on the music that made the 50s so memorable. You can’t help loving these musical classics no matter how old you are.
The music is live with Musical Director Laura Paden on the keyboard, Cory Cook on percussion and Samuel Clein on bass. This three piece band did an excellent job of showing off the wonderful voices and talents of these fantastic four performers. Want to see more of these lovely ladies, then call 249-0289 and visit their website at www.playersbythesea.org All performances at 106 Sixth Street, Jacksonville Beach Florida.
This was the first time in their history Players has opened a show on New Year’s Eve and they did this show as a fund raiser. Patrons were treated to the show, heavy hors d’oeuvres, champagne and hats at midnight. The place was sold out and a good time was had by all. I certainly hope Players establishes this as a tradition since it is a great way to bring a new year. Don’t miss The Taffetas.
by DICK KEREKES