American Reflections' U.S. Debut
Those in attendance Friday at Santa Monica College's Main Stage were treated to an exuberant crash-course in U.S. history and all things Americana as the highly anticipated revue "American Reflections: Broadway in Concert" hosted its opening night before taking the show abroad to China.
The ambitious production, skillfully directed by department Chair Perviz Sawoski and professor Terrin Adair-Lynch, began with an uplifting tune of melodic synergy as the cast opened the show with the sweeping "It's a Grand Night for Singing" from the musical "State Fair."
And with their opening number, the cast set the bar higher than the high-soaring notes they belted; a standard which each held throughout the entire show with the prowess and presence of true stage veterans.
The audience was then whisked to the lovelorn streets of "West Side Story" as Geoffrey Going and Leanne Tallis performed an endearing rendition of "Tonight."
Before anyone could huff and puff, the swift cast was once again on stage with Boo Rutledge as Little Red Hiding Hood for the uproarious prologue of "Into the Woods" which included other noted characters from the Brothers Grimm fables; most notably with Darren Giglio pulling off double duties as narrator and the Big Bad Wolf.
One reason for the production's success was in ability of the cast and stage directors Mercedes Aponte and Alyssa Tyson to readily transform the stage and pull off quick costume changes between numbers.
They made it all look effortless. Noteworthy too was Sean Conlin's lighting design, which resourcefully set the mood for the various numbers on a stage that mostly remained clear of elaborate props.
After the slight detour into the enchanted forest, the troupe gyrated their way to the rollicking sounds of Memphis and "All Shook Up" with Alex Edlefsen as a refreshing upgrade from all those Elvis impersonators as he matched the King's every hip sway and knee-shake.
And so continued the odyssey into America's musical heartland segueing from Motown's golden days with Brittany Batson's powerhouse performance of "And I'm Telling You" from "Dreamgirls" to Rutledge's delightful turn as Nashville sweetheart Dolly Parton for the buxom blonde's hit "9 to 5."
The production, which will travel to China for an Oct. 16 performance at Shandong University's 50th anniversary gala as part of SMC's cultural exchange with the esteemed school, gave its audience an authentic feel not only for various musical genres but crucial turning points in America's history as well.
From the beehives of "Hairspray" to the slick 'dos of "Jersey Boys" with Edlefsen, Giglio, Justin Braun and Remy Remigio nailing such impressive high notes that Mariah Carey herself would shake in her 9-inch-pumps, the swinging 60's was accurately depicted culminating with the era's psychedelic-fueled days of "Sweet Charity" and the cast's fiery version of "Rhythm of Life."
SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang is certain that this will translate well to the Chinese audience at Shandong.
"I think this is a remarkable accomplishment," said Tsang. "This is a true reflection of American culture and our musical, theatrical tradition."
Among its many highlights, including a sizzling cover of "I'm a Woman" and crowd-pleaser "Puttin' on the Fritz" from "Young Frankenstein," "American Reflections'" biggest accomplishment is having such a polished show ready in a span of about two months, which is unusual for a production of this scope.
"With all the little time we had, it definitely exceeded our expectations. The fact that everything came together so smoothly is a marvel and it's exciting to see," said stage manager Alyssa Tyson.
SMC Trustee Dr. Nancy Greenstein was also impressed with the show's outcome. "Whenever I come here to see a student performance, I'm always so proud of them and how talented they are and how hard they work to perform the way they do."
Greenstein believes that the revue will efficiently share the message of global citizenship when it travels to China. "More than just the performance, the students are going to get to interact. The performances are a great stepping stone for the interaction and that's where a lot of the exchange is going to take place."
"They have done more than I expected," said Tsang as the show ends its SMC run Oct. 5 before its China debut.