Covering 100 years of history and music is no easy feat to achieve. Director/writer, Kerry Meads, and co-writer/musical director, Vanda Eggington have accomplished this goal in Lamb’s Players Theatre’s new staging of the original musical revue, American Rhythm.
Ten ensemble members are the hosts of the evening. The performers, which include Sandy Campbell, David S. Humphrey and Lance Arthur Smith, talk about important historical events and culture during each time period. In between dialogue, the artists sing, mostly snippets and mashups, ranging from “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” to “Thriller.”
Meads and Eggington have updated the 2000 show, especially during a section reflecting on the 2010s. In the latest incarnation, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” are just a few of the tunes sampled during the sequence.
Also new is Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography. With the help of Siri Hafso and Luke Harvey Jacobs, her movements cover a variety of different styles of dancing.
Hafso is given the most physically demanding material. From backflips to shimmying, the dance captain has a wildly energetic presence.
If the sound of the band overpowered the players in the introductory montage on opening night, the band quickly blended in more naturally with the stars.
The seven-person ensemble covers almost every popular music genre from 1920’s standards to modern pop music. Credit goes to conductor/keyboardist, Andy Ingersoll, who leads with caffeinated enthusiasm.
Several musicians are given solo numbers to perform. Trombone player, Dave Chamberlain, and Ingersoll both sing with old-fashioned coolness.
American Rhythm is at its strongest when dealing explicitly with certain historical events. Handling serious subject matter, Meads creates a visceral effect by referencing the agonies of the Great Depression and lives lost during World War II.
Even a few of the fun vignettes, including one set in a Prohibition speakeasy, are not just used as lighthearted escapism. Meads injects danger as sirens from Patrick Duffy’s audio plays in the background.
Though the night never becomes boring, the final part of Act I and the beginning of Act II do not have the same impact. The main reason is because once WWII is covered, the production turns into a more conventional revue. Segments revolve around the songs, instead of exploring interesting historical facts about the United States.
Turning things around is Benjamin Roy whose gospel-esque singing on “A Change is Gonna Come” brings attention to the civil rights movement. After his solo, Meads and Eggington continue to find a balance between singing and a grand presentation.
Several versatile crewmembers are responsible for capturing the different decades. Mike Buckley’s set, Jeanne Reith’s costumes and Blake McCarty’s projections are full of small details that should appeal to fans of nostalgia.
Nathan Peirson’s lighting is low key, but his tribute to Studio 54 is very disco friendly.
A significant amount of excerpts are used quite effectively, yet there are a few melodies that are teased awkwardly. Most disappointing is a non-vocal sample of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” though Rik Ogden’s guitar playing expertly channels Kurt Cobain’s musical skill.
Singling out certain thespians is hard to do, since there is strong singing from everyone onstage. Besides the aforementioned players, Joy Yandell, Kiana Bell and Catie Grady each have several solos that cover a variety of emotions and expressive vocal talent.
Though impersonations are not the focus of the story, Smith proves to be a spot on imitator. He perfectly channels Neil Diamond and Dire Straits vocalist, Mark Knopfler.
American Rhythm is not without humor, with a lot of the comedy going to Campbell and Humphrey. Campbell is at her funniest during a tribute to the 1980s, while Humphrey gets laughs just from simple mannerisms.
Despite an inconsistent middle section, Meads has found a unique way to display how the world has changed over the span of a century. That automatically makes American Rhythm ambitious in a way that is not expected of a typical revue.
Consistently rousing live music and grand sounding group work makes the Coronado theatre worth visiting. It’s a family friendly extravaganza perfect for the summer.