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Thursday, July 13, 2006 | The Roaring 20s, the Fabulous 50s, the “Me Decade” of the 70s. Lamb’s Players Theatre’s current production takes the audience on a whirling, time-travel journey through the decades of the 20th Century and the music that helped shape the nation.
The music is the centerpiece of “American Rhythm,” but the beauty of the production is the ensemble. Ten actors, dancers and singers plus a charismatic band share the stage and the spotlight for this musical extravaganza.
Starting off in the 1920s with John Rosen acting as a sort of narrator and setting the scene, the production sparkles with great music, fun costumes and dance numbers all appropriate to each era. The band plays pages of favorite tunes from the decades – most recognizable to any age group – as cast members amble on and off the stage, singing all the while. It’s as if your jukebox, or a CD player, kept skipping to the best songs. Like a “best of” collection of songs at your fingertips.
The show never stops; the cast is on their toes the entire time. History’s milestones through the years are illustrated both in songs and in vignettes.
The costuming is appealing and adds eye-candy to the production. I began to eagerly await the fashions of the decades and the costumes did not disappoint.
The players don’t disappoint, either. The sheer exuberance, excitement and willingness to give it their all is obvious to the audience. Any vocal weaknesses were made up for by the cast’s enthusiasm. Oftentimes, audiences don’t let their hair down at performances, but this ensemble got the audience going. By the time the show reached the 70s, audience members were doing the “YMCA” (I mean the arm gestures) along with the cast.
“American Rhythm” is packed with standout performances: Season Duffy, Moriah Angeline and Kelli Kelley boogie-woogie a super-cute wartime medley that moves the timeline to end of the decade and into the 50s. Here, the advent of Rock n’ Roll (“Blue Suede Shoes”) is juxtaposed with the martini-lounge, Dean Martin-esque singers doing 1960s singer-songwriter tunes (“I Go Walkin’”).
The singer-songwriter numbers groove on, moving through the 60s and into the 70s where the performers really pack a punch. Wearing super-high platform shoes, zip-up disco pantsuits, flared pants and one wicked afro, cast members jive through the disco decade’s popular hits. The genuine exhilaration coming from the performers was contagious and even older audience members were whistling catcalls to the cast.
I actually wondered if some of the elders in the audience would be game for the final swoop through the 80s and 90s. They were. A little Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Devo brought the show to the end of the 90s.
It should be mentioned that the attention to details throughout this performance are what makes it delightful. Watch closely, the band has little interactions with the performers. The pianist/conductor Don Lemaster exudes charisma and sings during numbers.
“American Rhythm” closes with an introspection of each cast-member; an explanation of what genre of music touches each and a short solo. It’s an innovative ending that gives each player a solitary spotlight in a show that embraces the ensemble production and makes it loads of fun.
“American Rhythm” plays at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, through Aug. 13.