5 & Dime Theatre Cabaret: An Evening of Song

The 5 & Dime Theatre presented a two-night benefit cabaret on April 14 – 15, 2016 at their theatre home at 700 East Union Street, in Jacksonville, Florida. This was the finest evening of song we have ever heard in thirty-six years of covering the theatre scene in this area. Oh, we have seen some fine cabaret shows over the years but none with TEN featured singers performing!

Before we comment on the show, just a few words about this event and similar productions by community theatres in North Florida. The cost of everything is going up, and that includes the cost of putting on theatrical performances. Theatres are reluctant to raise the price of tickets at the box office, preferring to stage special events, like cabarets, to bring in the additional funds needed to keep things going. In the past few months, Theatre Jacksonville, Players By The Sea, and Orange Park Community Theatre have all held fund-raisers filled with song. We personally think this is a great approach, as each event provides an opportunity for many talented performers to appear, combined with an evening’s entertainment for the audience.

We went to the Friday night show, which consisted of twenty-two songs over a period of two hours. The show was conceived by Josh Waller and Lee Hamby, two of the original founders of The 5 & Dime. The amazing Laura Peden was the Musical Director, and played the piano; she was accompanied by Jacob Schuman on guitars (3 of them) and bongos. Ms. Peden has been the musical director for a number of musicals locally, and also really showed off her acting talent as Mary in ABET’s “The Savannah Disputation.” Mr. Schuman very much in demand as a musician and has played guitar in many local shows, including “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Aida,” “Blood Brothers,” and “Children of Eden.”

Each singer sang a solo, and some were paired for duets. The show opened with everyone on stage singing “Heart and Music “and closing with “I Feel So Much Spring.” The participants apparently were free to choose the songs they wanted to sing, and we were treated to a variety themes, styles, and lyrics. Most of the songs never made the hit parade, but were solid numbers in many lesser known musicals over the years.

Ilana Gould sang “Here I Am” from “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Ms. Gould previously starred in “Hairspray” at Theatre Jacksonville and won best Actress for her fine portrayal.

Hearing Juan Carlos Unzueta sing is always a pleasure; he sang “Try” from “Where the Sky Ends.” He recently appeared at Theatre Jacksonville in a leading role in “Light in the Piazza.”

Amy Allen Farmer, whom we last saw on stage at Limelight in “Ring of Fire,” sang the most provocative song of the evening: “Old Fashioned Love Story, from “The Wild Party.” Amy is raising two daughters who are becoming more independent, making it possible for her to appear in more shows.

It is good to have Aaron DeCicco back on our local stages, and her voice is better than ever. Aaron and her husband Erik previously were living in New York, but have moved back to Jacksonville to raise a family. Her rendition of the “I Love You Song,” from “. . . Spelling Bee,” sung together with Juan Unzueta and Amy Allen Farmer had the audience in tears.

Katie Riley’s appearance was her Jacksonville stage debut. She sang “Stars and Moon,” a song she first performed at the age of twelve; and we are looking forward to seeing her again in local musicals.

Katie Swider McCloskey and Tyler Humphrey, co-stars in “Ordinary People” at ABET and Amelia Theatre, reunited with “We’re Just Friends” They both also did outstanding solos. We recall seeing Katie previously in “L’il Abner,” a production by the Youth of the Beaches Arts Guild.

Lee Hamby, who is the Managing Director of 5 & Dime, spends much of his time directing musicals and creating sets and costumes but still finds time to do a show. He made us all hungry when he sang “Sara Lee,” and then nostalgic with his rendition of “Cry,” Johnny Ray’s great hit from the fifties.

Josh Waller, whose career we have been following since his Jacksonville University days, entertained us with “What More Can I Say” from “Falsettos,” which will soon be revived on Broadway.

Jonathan Leonard who has a great voice and will travel recently appeared in “Grease” at Amelia Community Theatre and in “Miracle on 42nd Street” at Limelight. He sang “Shouldn’t I Be Less in Love With You?” from “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

The production was certainly a crowd pleaser, and we hope it will return as an annual affair for the theatre. Next up at The 5 & Dime is “The Comparables,” which opens on May 13 and will remain on-stage through May 22. The play is directed by Kelby Siddons; the cast includes Gretta Russe, Kirsten Livingston, and Milan Alley. For additional information visit the theatre’s website at the5anddime.org, which includes information about upcoming events, ticket purchases, and a link to the group’s Facebook page.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.