by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened its first show of 2012 on New Year’s Eve with the hip, cool, swinging musical “The Wildest.” It will continue from January 5 to January 21, in Jacksonville Beach. Call 249-0289 for reservations.
This outstanding musical review is an opportunity for theatregoers to step into a time machine and be transported back to the big band scene of Las Vegas in the 1950s. Singer/trumpeter Louis Prima and his vocalist wife Keely Smith were all the rage in the Vegas nightclub world, along with musical greats Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and all the rest of the Rat Pack.
Randy Johnson, Thomas Porras and Prima’s daughters, Luanne and Toni Elizabeth Prima, conceived and wrote this tribute to the late great entertainer, who died in 1978.
As an audience we were treated to some 40 songs with a mix of blues, jump & jive, rock and roll, jazz, and sizzling torch songs. For younger audience members it’s an education in big band swing music which is making a comeback; for older folks a trip down memory lane.
Kellina Chavoustie is making her directorial debut, with Gayle Featheringill as Assistant Director. We can’t think of a better show to launch Kellina’s directing career, since she is an accomplished choreographer and what is this show totally about? Song and Dance!!! Ms. Charvoustie and Musical Director Aaron Marshall have cast an ensemble of outstanding and experienced musical theatre performers.
It was good to see Amy Allen Farmer back on stage after an interlude to have her first child. She sings solos, duets, and ensemble numbers and we loved them all. Among the best was the classic “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
The amazing Aaron Marshall as Musical Director assembled the fabulous Swingin’ Band, with Zeek Smith (piano), Michael Ulmer (trumpet), Daniel Dickinson (saxophone), Damon Martin (bass) and Landon Baker (drums). In addition, as a member of the cast she contributed her wonderful voice in several songs, and was most impressive in the haunting solos “You Go to My Head” and “I Wish You Love.”
Amanda Morales moved to Jacksonville in January 2011 and has already established herself as an accomplished actress in seriocomic and dramatic roles in “Dividing the Estate” “The 39 Steps,” and “The Children’s Hour.” Now we have all learned she is also a very accomplished singer and dancer. We especially liked her rendition of Peggy Lee’s signature song, “Fever.”
The Dual Critics became fans of Leelynn Osborn when we saw him in the role of Buddy in “Sideshow” at Douglas Anderson; since then he has graduated from UNF with a music degree. He has previously appeared with the Alhambra and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. As the character, Vinnie, among several songs he will impress you with is “Just A Gigolo,” one of Prima’s most requested.
Blake Osner is another well-known musical theatre performer, who excels in musical comic roles in such shows as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Full Monty,” and “The Rocky Horror Show,” just to name a few. We recall experiencing his talents with his excellent Cabaret show performed at Boomtown several years ago. Katie Swider is a new face on the theatre scene, having recently graduated from the Florida State Theatre program. Possessing an excellent voice, she teams up Blake Osner on two old standards, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “That Old Black Magic.”
If you saw Players’ production of “Superior Donuts” you surely recall that big tough bad guy, Kevin, played by UNF student Jerald Wheat. Who knew he could sing and dance? Well Mr. Wheat certainly has great stage presence as a singer and dancer, and we particularly liked his playing the character called The Goose, and singing a classic favorite “St. Louis Blues.”
Joe Walz playing the part of Red, expressed in his program biography he is glad to be back on the PBST stage! When has he left? In the past three years he has done seven shows and will be in the upcoming “Three Days of Rain.” We suspect he may really sleep in a back room!! One of the most well rounded actors in this area, he does serious drama (Mecurtio in “Romeo & Juliet”), demanding comedy (Richard Hannay in “The 39 Steps”), and leading roles in musicals, including Billy Flynn in “Chicago” and Pseudolus in “Forum.” We are hoping he finds time to try out for the Alhambra some day, to complete his circuit of all the local theatres.
In a cameo role, Maria Garcia, a new FSC theatre student, is just starting her career on the stage. She appeared as Kitty, as a member of the ensemble.
Brian Grant’s set design recreated all the glamour of a Vegas club, with the stage wrapped in black with silver accents, a couple of tables and chairs, and a sleek bar for those martinis and other signature drinks. The costume design by Shayna Leigh Lacy included dressy but informal gowns in bright colors for the women and informal slacks and tops for the men in the first act, the second act brought added glamour with formal black and white for everyone.
Jim Wiggins as Lighting Designer, created a colorful light show giving us the feeling we were really in a night club. Special kudos to Sound Technician Lana Mullins. The performers were miked out of necessity since big bands can be loud, and Ms. Mullins did an excellent job of mixing the voices.
Many readers may not be old enough to recall Louis Prima, who in his prime was one of the hottest acts in Vegas. Check out You Tube for video clips of his performances. If you’re curious about the title of the show, it’s based on the title of one of Prima’s in most acclaimed albums, which is listed in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.”
This is a fast-paced show with excellent voices showcased with creative staging, especially the dancing. Don’t miss it!
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM