by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Orange Park Community Theatre (OPCT) opened its 41st season with the Florida premier of the musical “Heartbeats”. The work debuted in 1989 with the playwright Amanda McBroom, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, and George Ball, her real-life husband, starring in the leading roles.
The songs tell the story of a couple, Annie and Steve, approaching their 20th wedding anniversary, which happens to be Annie’s 40th birthday. In a series of 20 or so scenes separated by short blackouts, we learn that the magic of the early years is gone, as are their two children, who are now grown. Yes, it is about the trials and tribulations of marriage as middle age approaches.
We have seen a number of plays, movies, and sit-coms about marriage, with infidelity, drugs, alcoholism, or finance being the driving force in the plots. Not in Heartbeats, where the problem seems to be communication; comunication that has eroded over the years. One particularly funny and well-done scene concerns a difference in their television viewing preferences: football for him, reality shows for her.
Ms. McBroom has written 20 songs in various styles, some tender, and some funny, others poignant. You will hear a song titled “Putting Things Away”, which is about taking your groceries out of the bags and putting them in the panty. Now that is truly original. Or “Jeff’s Song”, the funniest in the show, about their son and his adventures as a college student . One song you’re likely to know is “The Rose”, written by Ms. McBroom in 1979 and made famous by Bette Midler: it was the song of the year and winner of the Golden Globe Award
This musical was directed by Bob Houston and Connie Senkowski with Bill Leseur lending a hand as Assistant Director. They have cast it well.
Sara Green, in her first leading role in a musical on local stages, was excellent as Annie, a character we could really relate to and really liked. She gets to really show off her singing talent to go along with her acting talent, which we have seen in such productions as Picnic and You Can’t Take It With You, also on the OPTC stage.
T. J. Howard is becoming an OPTC regular and favorite with his 7th show. He is very believable as husband Steve and his solo in Act II, “Old Habits Die Hard” was one of the most powerful in the show.
Shelley Hayes, Emily Piatt, Toni Stephens, Stephen Lowe and Steve Cohn play multiple roles in the various scenes, adding much of the humor in the show with their excellent comic timing. As an ensemble, they sing pretty darn well too.
Two young and talented actors have impressive supporting roles. Fifteen-year-old Hannah Morgan, whom we recently saw in Florida State College’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, plays the young Annie in flashbacks that go back twenty years, and is also Jennifer, Annie’s daughter. Russell Thrift is young Steve and also Jeff, the couple’s son. Mr. Thrift, a Junior at Douglas Anderson, has had a busy and productive two years, starting with the role of Colin in Theatre Jacksonville’s “The Secret Garden”, followed by a major role in “Aussie Song” at ABET, and as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver” at OPCT.
Tim DeBorde as Musical Director brought out the best from the songs, aided by the hard work of a very dedicated cast. Charlie Mann is the one-man “band” playing the piano and an electronic keyboard, and his performance was perfection.
The set designed by the director was anchored during the entire show by a kitchen scene on the left of the stage. The right side was used for various locations that included a grocery store, a country-western bar, and an intimate neighborhood bar. The set allowed rapid scene changes, and used furnishings to suggest other places and times in the memories of Annie and Steve.
The costumes by Regina Manning were simple, but had many colorful touches, and helped define the characters in various ages and stages, ranging from adolescence to mid-life.
The audience, which included a number of married couples, thoroughly enjoyed this musical. At the intermission, we overheard many comments about experiences that were very much like those in the show.
Singer/songwriter/actress Amanda McBroom has had a long career in show business. In the late 70s and through the 1980s, she appeared in New York musicals and made many guest appearances on television shows such as M*A*S*H, Star Trek, and Happy Days. As a cabaret performer, she has appeared all over the world. Still a very attractive lady at age 63, she remains in demand as a singer, performing mainly in the New England area these days.
This delightful musical will play through September 26 at 2900 Moody Ave in Orange Park Florida. You need to call for reservations as OPTC now is assigning numbered seats. In the past, it is been general seating, but now you can select where you would like to sit. Call 276-2599, or visit their website, www.opct.org where you can also reserve seats.
HEARTBEATS theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM