APPLAUSE! Musicals in Concert


Dates and Venue 15-18 April 2009 @ 8pm | Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (Burnaby)

Reviewer Ed Farolan

What is unique about the format Artistic Director Scott Ashton Swan has created when he founded his company Applause! Musicals Society is its educational and historical nature. He produces BC premieres of rare, shelved and forgotten musicals, mostly from Broadway, and presents it somewhat half readers' theatre and half actual performance, in that actors dress up in period costumes (as in this case, the 1920s) doing their song and dance routines, and yet, they've got their books in hand, reading occasionally from the script.What's amazing is that, in two weeks of rehearsal, they're able to come up with their lines and songs as though they were actually doing a full performance of a musical!

In his brief lecture in what he designates as his Musicals 101 "classes" 10 minutes before curtain time on preview night, Ashton Swan gave a small talk about this revue, and in this particular session, he talked briefly about the composer, Julie Styne (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Peter Pan, Gypsy, Funny Girl, etc.) and also about how Carol Channing first starred in Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes, in 1949, but when the sequel Lorelei was done in 1974, she was in her 50s but insisted on playing the 19-year old, and how she had to be heavily "made up" to play the role. For a 10-minute lecture, you learn a lot about these forgotten revues and the gossip that goes with it. So I must commend Ashton Swan for introducing this unique format, educating the young audience about these past Broadway musicals. Although I also enjoy off-Broadway musicals, particualrly those of Sondheim, personally I enjoy these old-fashioned musicals, with their wit and play on words. We don't have that kind of humour anymore in the new musicals on Broadway.

I saw familiar faces in this production. Young Lorelei is played by Susan Skemp and the older Lorelei who reminisces about her life is played by Lorna Olson who sits down on a reserved seat in the front row and occasionally talks to the audience from there. Both sang fabulously, but their accents differed. I think Skemp should put more of that Arkansas accent in her speech. Ashton Swan, in his preview talk, bemoans the fact that there are more women who audition for the shows and so, in this particular revue, he had to use two actresses to play male roles: Camina Bernhardt and Jennifer Suratos who play the Parisian detective brothers Louis and Robert Lemantier. They were funny and the audience enjoyed their comic routines.

For a preview night, which is almost like a dress rehearsal, all the actors performed remarkably well, full of energy, in almost perfect timing in their dance routines, almost faultless in hitting those high notes. The audience took particular note of Dane Szohner who plays the "zipper baron". He played and sang his part really well. This is the first time I saw this actor who reminds me of a somehwat young Ronald Reagan. I hope to see this young talent in the next Applause shows. Another actor who caught my eye was Stephen Street who played Lord Francis Beekman. The duet with Skemp, "It's delightful down in Chile" was comical and witty, particularly when the ensemble comes in with their maracas, dancing to the cha-cha-cha--that was even more hilarious.

The song which became a classic, especially when Marilyn Monroe popularized it in the movie version of Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes, was "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", which was sung by both Skemp and Olson to the delight and amusement of the audience. Kudos to Director Jason Franco for a well-directed musical, and to Music Director Vashti Fairbairn who did all the piano music accompaniment. And of course, to Scott Ashton Swan whose role in this production is also that of Stage Manager. Looking forward to your next production, another forgotten musical, Titanic, on June 10-13.

i© 2009 Ed Farolan