The All Night Strut, conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Fran Charnas, musical arrangements by Tom Fitt, Gil Lieb and Dick Schermesser with additional arrangements by Corey Allen. Directed and choreographed by T. Dewayne Barrett. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Phil Sloves, Sarah Talbot, La'Nette Wallace, Don Seward; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!"
Josh D. Smith and same as above photo
At the intermission, opening night, of "The All Night Strut" at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY I watched a couple leaving the property, heading for their car because the man, as he passed me, said "I can't believe their lack of theatricality" which struck me because I had just been thinking "I can't believe their lack of musicality." It was a very odd moment for me because this company has had a very good season of musicals and this was their last hurrah which seemed to be less "hurrah!" than it was "huh?"
With 27 songs from the 1930s and 1940s and also "Lady of Spain" from 1950 this show should have been a delight. Instead four people, two of whom I liked earlier in the season, seemed to have no connection with their music. Arranged for quartet performing close harmony most of the time there was often no lead vocal giving out with the melody for each song and sometimes when there was a lead singer it was as though no rehearsal time had ever been devoted to the tune for only harmony persisted and the lead line of the song seemed to have only a dismal, partial clue as to its composer's real intent when writing it.
The tenor seemed to only sing in monotone, sometimes using a second or third note to vary his one-note delivery. The soprano had two voices, chest and head, and seemingly no way to connect them. Worse, when she did move from low voice to high voice in a refrain the awkward transition caused her to change keys so that the harmony from the other voices became cacaphony instead. The baritone seemed incapable of getting the rhythms right and his low notes were often misplaced. Not even "Ain't Misbehavin'" came off well. The alto was the best of the four musically but not one lyric she sang ever had any emotional resonance. It was as if she was singing in a foreign language without any knowledge of the words or their meaning.
They all looked good in excellent costumes by Jimm Halliday and they were all able to rock side to side to the music, with perfect 1940s arm movements. However they were not dancers and so the obviously amusing choreography in numbers like "I Get Ideas" which opens the second act were wasted in awkward, frustrating alterations. Director/choreographer T. Dewayne Barrett showed us some wonderful concepts that his cast could not bring off correctly. It's a shame because the director's use of the circular stage with its turntable should have kept the show fluid and fun.
The cast consists of (in no particular order): La'Nette Wallace, Phil Sloves, Don Seward and Sarah Talbot.
The set by Kevin Gleason looked fine and Andrew Gmoser's lighting was appropriate. The one true star of the show was the music director, Josh D. Smith, who performed some extraordinary pianistics during the show and was on a band platform high above the stage along with drummer Ken Swinkin and bass player Tyler Luppi.
This disappointing conclusion to the Mac-Haydn's excellent season is no one's fault, really. The difficulties could well have been opening night jitters and the show may come together and be the enthralling review of the 1930/1940 popular music collection that it has been in the past. The show premiered in 1979 and has been done often, so it cannot be the show I saw opening night. It's a toe-tapper if you enjoy this music which I do.
Phil Sloves, LaNette Wallace, Don Seward, Sarah Talbot; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
The All Night Strut plays through September 14 at The Mac-Haydn Theatre located at 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, New York. For information and tickets call 518-392-9292 or go onto their website at www.machaydntheatre.org.