Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rock, Roll and Remember—Portland Musical Theatre Company—East Portland

Music For Savage Beasts

This musical revue was conceived, created and directed by Deanna Maio (also the Founder and Artistic Director of the company).  It is playing at The Mister Theater, 1847 E Burnside (parking lot to the West of the building), through May 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandmusicaltheater.org or call 971-225-7469.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” as Dickens wrote, not speaking of the 30 years this music covers, of course, but the quote does seem appropriate.  It was the 50’s, the post-war era, where America was reinventing itself.  And part of any good revitalization, music was to play an important part.  And none more important on television, for reaching those “huddled masses,” than Dick Clark and American Bandstand!

The three decades they would cover were certainly some of the more turbulent years America would encounter.  There was the Cold War, the Korean conflict, and the Viet-Name era.  There were Civil Rights Marches, free love, and the drug culture.  On the screen there were the lighter Beach Party flicks (w/Annette & Frankie)  but the rebels seemed to rule, with Brando in “The Wild One,” Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Hair,” and Fonda & Hopper with “Easy Rider.” “Grease,” “Hairspray” and “Saturday Night Fever” would soon evolve out of this.  Times they certainly were “a-changin’” and the one, uniting force among the Youth for those three decades was Bandstand and it’s “music to soothe the savage beast” within.

This revue begins its nostalgic trip down memory lane with, appropriately enough, a slumber party, in which, like Dorothy and her Emerald City, or Alice and her Wonderland, we are reawakened into a splendicious new world of fun and dance, and music and singing, where cares were sung about, not fought over; conflicts were choreographed on the dance floor; and the music was in rhythm to the heartbeat of a new generation.  The magic of melodies was mesmerizing.

These few, these seven people, carry us through a selection of 30 years of music with over 50 songs in less than 90 minutes.  Whew!  They are Taylor Mead (also choreographer), Adrian Christoph, Andy Roberts, Brit Eagan, Erik Montague, Malderine Birmingham and the incomparable, Deanna Maio (also Director & Creator).  Most of the numbers are ensemble pieces with only occasional parts of them as solos.  And the songs range from Elvis and Carl Perkins, to the Beach Boys and Connie Francis, to the Village People and Michael Jackson, and everybody in-between.

I was a teen through these ages and recognized most of the songs, as well as danced (poorly) to the numbers.  The only excuse for dancing, in my opinion, was the slow numbers, where you could hold your lady “close to you.”  My, how times have changed, as we now have “friends with benefits.”  Shame on us.

And the classics are all here, too, with “Rock Around the Clock,” “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” from the early days, to the silly “Lollipop” and “Tutti Frutti,” to the heartbreaking “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Somebody to Love,” to the hoppin’, “Boogie Fever” and “Flashdance,” and to the kinetic dancing in “Thriller” and “Footloose.” 

The cast is super on all counts but ya can’t keep a good woman down.  Maio positively soars as she her operatic voice nearly takes the roof off the theater, and her rendition of Francis’, “Where the Boys Are” is heartfelt and stunning.  I believe we haven’t heard the last of either of these ladies.  If this show is like a loaded deck of cards, then Maio is the Queen (and should have the power to change the sexist name of the space from “Mister,” to something more inclusive).  Everything works and my one hat is off, to the several she wears, in the creation of her shows.  Looking forward to her next incarnation!

The ensemble does blend beautifully, as they not only sing and dance to the beat but also, many times, assume the attitude of characters from those eras, with their expression and costumes, which reflect the times as much as the music.  Keep in mind, this young cast was not even around as teens during that thirty year period but they recreate it to a tee. 

As Maio puts it, “Our intention is to capture the feeling, the spirit, and the energy of a show that showcased teen culture…we’re appreciators, and not impersonators…I want this show to remind you that no matter what happens, music can bring hope and joy where there was none.  It has the ability to heal us, to make us stronger and to bring us together.  Its power endures.”  Wise words for these very troubled times.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.