by Aaron Sarlo
My family loves musicals. Therefore, I have seen more than my share of movies and plays wherein the entire cast bursts into a lavish, well-choreographed song and dance. Musicals, as a genre, require the audience to know to suspend their disbelief before they set foot in the theater. Reality, while ostensibly orbiting the plot, plays second fiddle to the spectacle in a traditional musical. Revues, on the other hand, are more like a collection of vignettes set to songs, kind of like live-action music videos. Revues are almost 100-percent spectacle, the story more of a theme than a necessary set of waypoints.
It is in this vein that Director Nicole Capri crafted “Singin’ on a Star,” the über-fun, Summer Musical Theatre Intensive production currently running at The Arkansas Repertory Theatre. “Singin’ on a Star” is a true musical revue, and is fantastically entertaining.
For those of you not in-the-know, The Rep’s SMTI program, headed by Capri, enrolls students and young adults from all over Arkansas and immerses them in the dramatic arts. The kids learn acting, singing, lighting, costumery, the whole shebang, and each year they produce a play for Arkansas theater aficionados. This year’s superb SMTI outing, “Singin’ on a Star” is the culmination of the very best the program has to offer, and showcases the drive and determination of a group of very talented young performers.
Where does one begin to praise this terrific show? Well, for starters, it is a blast. This group of students is a powerhouse at theater production, and this revue is out to entertain you with a vengeance. There is singing, dancing, beautiful lighting, terrific set design, even a videography which vacillates between biographical tidbits about the cast and graphics that enhance the action on stage. The whole production is a finely-tuned, well-oiled machine, and there is never a dull moment. You might find yourself liking certain songs more than others, but that would be the closest thought you would have to a complaint as the cast of dozens performs with a precision and verve owed to a troupe of Broadway veterans.
“Singin’ on a Star” is subtitled ‘The actor’s journey from stardust to stardom,’ and the songs neatly reflect the inherent tribulations at the ground floor in show business. The more than two dozen songs selected for the production imbue the it with revolving themes of hope (“I’m a Star”), frustration (“I Wish I Could Go Back to College”), and unbridled determination (“Live Like We’re Dying”), each performance impossibly transcending the one that preceded it. As I stated, I’ve seen numerous plays and musicals, so it’s difficult to impress me with this genre. That said, what Capri and her students have achieved with “Singin’ on a Star” is remarkable in scope and execution. At no time did I feel like I was watching students who were given a very tight timeline to complete a nearly impossible task. Instead, I felt I was watching a true grade-A musical revue employing a cadre of actors who were so good that they made all their tireless work seems light and effortless.
You’ll have your own favorites from “Singin’ on a Star,” but I really liked “The Girl in 14-G,” performed expertly by the very talented Angela Morgan, as the aforementioned “Girl” who sings about the downside of apartment life in New York. Another personal favorite was “Another Hundred People,” which featured very impressive choreography that perfectly illustrated the anonymity associated with living in a big city. The “Jersey Boys Medley” is a throwback to the Doo-Wop era, and all of you Boomers will be shocked at how well those young men pull off Frankie Valli and Leslie Gore. (The audience let out a few happy shrieks when the Boys hit some of those high notes.)
There is, almost literally, a song for everyone in “Singin’ on a Star,” but if you are a cynic, and you think impassioned performances won’t hook you, then I can assure you that the stagecraft undoubtedly will. All-in-all, if you’re looking for a feel-good production, with a cast so impressive you’ll be hard-pressed to pick stand-out performers (because they’re all so flawless), look no further.
"Singin' on a Star" runs through Nov. 3 at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.