Monday, February 22, 2016

Smokey Joe’s Café—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

“Trip the Light Fantastic”

This musical revue is written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller and directed by Julianne Johnson-Weiss (also a cast member).  Musical Director is Mak Kastelic and choreography by Jehn Benson.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th Floor), 1111 SW Broadway, through March 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

We all do it…wax nostalgic…take excursions down Memory Lane…wish we could go back to those days of yore, “the good ole days.”  If you could step into a time machine and take a trip back to your youth and change something from the past, would you?  Of course, keeping in mind, you would not be the person you are today.

But, putting “what-ifs” to one side, does not music, song and dance take you back in a special way to that same era:  The days of high school, as in the musical Grease or Hairspray, or the mid-West of The Music Man, or to the SW in Oklahoma, or the streets of The Big Apple of West Side Story, et. al.

Well, in this revue, you can take that journey, tripping through the late 40’s and jazz, cascading into the rock & roll & ballads of the red-hot 50’s and then taking a u-turn into the turbulent sixties and beyond.  Almost 40 songs comprise this era in the production and what a safari it takes us on.

You will be treated to a front row seat as you re-discover the bloom of young love in “Ruby Baby,” “Love Potion #9”and “Dance With Me.”  Then put on your travelin’ shoes as you search for your purpose in life in “Kansas City” and Searchin’.”  Get your heart broken by the gals in “Trouble” and “Poison Ivy.”  Discover sex in the moves of the Shimmy and “Little Egypt:” discovering the power and glory of womanhood in “I’m a Woman” and the males’ response in “There Goes My Baby;” and reliving the songs that epitomized the era, “Treat Me Nice,” “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.”  And that’s just a sampling.

There is no linear story, as such, and no dialogue.  But part of the purpose of a production is to entertain and move you and this certainly fills the bill with energy to spare!  The band, led by music director, Mak Kastelic, with Michael Bard, Ben Finley, Dave Muldoon and Amy Roesler are sensational and not only add to the festivities but manage not to overpower the singers (which often happens in musicals).  And Benson’s dances are outstanding.  To be able to utilize such a small space and be able to create such amazing dance numbers is exceptional.  The dance highlights for me were the classic “Jailhouse Rock,” the lovely ballet in “Spanish Harlem,” and the revival-inspired “Saved.”

Johnson-Weiss, the director and performer, is a legend and, whenever you can see her perform, consider yourself blessed.  She has a voice that will make the rooftops tremble and angels take notice!  And the organization it must have taken to just create the intricate entrances and exits and costume changes is a feat worthy of notice.  She excels in her solo numbers, such as the touching, “Fools Fall In Love,” the rollicking, “Hound Dog,” and (as mentioned) the boisterous, “Saved.”  My companion, Deanna (an impressive entertainer and music entrepreneur herself), exclaimed that just seeing her was a treat in itself.  I would agree but would add that the whole cast of nine is on par with her.

Lisa Gilham-Luginbill had some nice moments to let her vocals shine in her solo, “Falling Out of Love can be Fun.”  And, as the “Shimmy” girl, all I can say is, “Ow!”, as well as her “Trouble” number.  She is also a real asset in the group numbers.  Kayla Dixon is a real, hot temptress, especially in her solo “Don Juan,” duet in “You’re the Boss” and “Trouble” and a delight in the lovely ballet in “Spanish Harlem.”  Elizabeth Hadley has a powerful presence in “I Keep Forgettin’” and “Pearl’s a Singer,” as well as her group numbers.

Jeff George has a great rock & roll number in “Treat me Nice” and the dance in “Spanish Harlem,” as well as his presence in male group numbers.  Nartan Woods is touching in “Loving You,” and “I Who Have Nothing.”  Raphael Likes is impressive in “Young Blood” and the powerful, “Stand by Me.”  Jerrod Neal is just fine in “You’re the Boss” and with his male counter-parts in group numbers.  And Jeremy Sloane is sensational in the Elvis-inspired, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Ruby Baby.”

The showstoppers for me were “I’m a Woman” and “Stand By Me.”  The simple but very versatile set was by Steve Coker; the inventive lighting, a real asset, was by Phil McBeth; and the outstanding costuming for quick changes was by Janet Mouser.  If you see this show, you’re in for a real treat.  And, if you don’t, shame on you!

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

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