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The Grove Street Wannabees: Favorite 20th Century Eras

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Grove Street Wannabees is an old-fashioned musical revue which exists only to entertain its audience and showcase its group of talented young performers. Though this production currently playing in the Midtown Manhattan Theatre Festival, the sixth variant in the show's history, has its flaws, it frequently succeeds at doing just that.

As directed by Brian Saxe with musical direction by Martin St. Lawrence, this production is performed as a retrospective of 20th century music, divided into a number of different eras such as World War I, the Depression, the Baby Boomer Era, and so on. The songs, which include musical theatre standards such as "Give My Regards to Broadway" or "Try To Remember," and pop hits like "That Loving Feeling" or "I Will Survive," are mostly well chosen. Despite the occasional anachronism (such as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "As If We Never Said Goodbye," written for his 1993 musical version of Sunset Boulevard being sung by Norma Desmond in the World War II sequence or a 1920s flapper singing "Some Day My Prince Will Come"), the musical numbers almost always come across well.

More problematic is Saxe's book. Though one of his sketches, a 20s gangster (Ricardo Cordero) talking about the difficulties of body disposal is humorous, the take-offs on The Honeymooners and All in the Family serve to remind of the comic genius behind those shows that is not present here, while a monologue introducing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" proves very unnecessary, while a Shirley MacLaine sketch later feels rather strained.

Even faced with these difficulties, the cast is allowed to shine. Hilary M. Phalen possesses the most beautiful voice in the company, and uses it to melt hearts in "Vilia" early on in the show and "Windmills of My Mind" later. Her presence and warmth are so strong, and her voice so striking, it is frequently disappointing she is not onstage more often. Scott G. Hunter brings a similar passion to his numbers, and proves a very capable dancer for Brittney Jensen's simple and attractive choreography.

Michael Bruck, Keith Hallworth, and Lisa Dale all put a lot of life and emotion into their numbers. Paula J. Riley acts well (and does an excellent Jean Stapleton impersonation), but has more difficulty in her songs, while Carol T. Biaggi, though blessed with excellent comic timing and an effusive personality, simply doesn't have the voice to sell "Put the Blame on Mame" or "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" to their full potential.

The first lyric in the show states, "In all of time, there has never been a century like the last hundred years," and musically, at least, that sentiment could not be more true. The Grove Street Wannabees is at its best when it embraces this as a sort of musical buffet. All the selections may not be to your liking, but there is nonetheless plenty for everyone to sample.


Spotlight on Productions
The Grove Street Wannabees: Favorite 20th Century Eras
Through July 29
The Midtown International Theatre Festival
The New 42nd Street Theatre, 348 West 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets $15 per show / Festival Pass $99
Festival Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200

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