A sure-fire crowd-pleaser, the music of Leonard Bernstein is guaranteed to entertain the year-round audiences in South Florida. One of the pitfalls of doing an evening of overly familiar music is the opportunity to compare, fairly or not, the performances to the originals (and I am certain that many in the audience were there for the premieres).
A three-member cast and musical director, no set to speak of, and tons of enthusiasm transcend the inherent comparisons and make a subtly entertaining evening of nostalgia. From West Side Story, Candide, On the Town, Wonderful Town, et al, director Amy London keeps things moving along and the actors performing in a relaxed and humorous mode.
The show is most definitely "ballad heavy" and a good thing that turns out to be. While some of Bernstein's music is terrific fun ("I Can Cook, Too", "Carried Away" for example), it's the slower numbers that hit the heart of the listener. At the top of the list are Leah Sessa and Lindsey Johr's haunting rendition of West Side Story's "A Boy Like That/I Had a Love." Both beautiful ladies have a chance to tone it down a bit and act a song that lies in the right register for both. A magnificent "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide, with its intricate harmonies, is the highpoint of the evening.
Rounding out the trio, Clay Cartland has charisma to spare, and sells his songs through the power of his personality. Primarily a character actor, Cartland uses everythinghis voice, his charm and his excellent body languageto get the song across, and succeed he does.
All three performers are quite young. One could quibble that they haven't vocally "ripened" into the "Bernstein Genre," but, with London's astute direction and the sheer force of their personalities, the audiences can look forward to a rewarding, and somewhat familiar, evening of beautiful music. Major credit to musical director Mark Galsky, who keeps things moving along at a swift musical pace, contributing amusing anecdotes throughout.
Is this "great theatre"? Far from. But, to while away a few hours with a winsome trio of performers, and rejoice in some of the most beautiful theatre music, hell, make that "most beautiful music," ever written, Bernstein on Broadway fits the bill. Enjoy!
Bernstein on Broadway, through July 27th, 2014, at The Plaza Theatre, 262 South Ocean Boulevard, Lantana, FL. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. For tickets and more information, call 561-588-1820 or visit theplazatheatre.net.
-- Jeffrey Bruce