The Stephen Schwartz Project
Reviewed April 13 by Brad Hathaway

 

t A Potomac Stages Pick for an evening of youthful, energetic performances

 

Michael J. Bobbitt seems to have solved the problem inherent in the "jukebox musical" type of revue, the problem of keeping the interest level high despite the fact that songs written for a specific plot point have to be performed out of context. Bobbitt's solution? Assemble a cast with a wide range of talents and have them attack the material unrelentingly. There's nary a dip in the intensity in any one of these eighty-five minutes. There are peaks. Each time Felicia Curry steps on the stage the energy level spikes. There are no valleys, however. Even the quieter moments, such as Jobari Parker-Namdar's exquisite rendition of the heart-tugging "Cold Enough To Snow" are intense and demand your attention. When the entire cast lets loose on Bobbitt's stage-filling choreography, there is a sense of joy that compensates for any limitation of individual dancing skills. It is all full-out, just like the singing. All nine young performers attack the material with a combination of confidence and collegiality that makes this an infectious evening.

 

Storyline: A high-spirited revue presentation of a sampling of the songs of the composer/lyricist of Godspell, Pippin, The Magic Show, The Baker's Wife, The Children of Eden, Captain Louie and Wicked who was also the lyricist for Leonard Bernstein's Mass, Charles Strouse's Rags and the animated films Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Bobbitt conceived of this revue based, as the rather pedestrian title states, on the work of Stephen Schwartz. He selected twenty-seven songs Schwartz wrote between 1970 when he provided a new score for a project called Godspell and became an instant wunderkind, and 2003 when his latest Broadway effort, Wicked, became something of a phenomenon that continues to draw crowds. As anyone who has followed his career knows (or those who attended the ArtSpeak! evening when he came to Poe Middle School in Annandale to sing a few songs, answer a few questions and generally inspire the students and families with his love of the art of the popular song), many of his songs deal with the aspirations of individuals for better things - think of "Colors of the Wind" (with music by Alan Menken) or "Corner of the Sky" or "Defying Gravity."

Felicia Curry adds to her impressive list of performances leading an exciting “Ain’t It Good” (from Children of Eden) that goes from soulful solo to a rousing gospel sing, clap and stamp along that is the highlight of an evening full of highlights. She also is a standout on "Manchild Lullaby" with its lyric by Leida Snow. Florrie Bagel brings a clarity of enunciation as well as pitch to The Magic Show's "West End Avenue" and Amber Moorer delivers the lyric of "Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas with dramatic effectiveness. On the other hand, Andrew Sonntag's "Out There" (from Hunchback of Notre Dame) misses some of the meaning of the lyrics. Godspell's "Day by Day" is rendered in multiple languages (which avoids the boredom the song can engender as it endlessly repeats its three-word title). "The Spark of Creation" (also from Children of Eden) acts as a pair of bookends giving a jump start to the start of the show and delivering the final image before the curtain call. 

The small theater that is MetroStage, with its steep banks of seats gives everyone in the audience an unimpeded view of Bobbitt's inventive choreography including nifty uses of light sticks and sneakers with wheelies. The walls reverberate with the enthusiastic singing of the cast. The band led by Doug Bowles puts out a sufficiently supportive sound, but, strangely, the arrangements by John L. Cornelius II give more of a laid back jazz club atmosphere to the accompaniment at times when theatrical pizzazz seems called for. Alex Cooper's strikingly attractive set is dramatically lit at appropriate moments by Jason Arnold. For all the attractive setting and youthful performers, the visual impact of the show isn't all that it could be, however, because the costumes are a fairly unattractive mélange of layered outfits. Pity.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz with additional music by Alan Menken, Charles Strouse and additional lyrics by Leida Snow. Conceived, directed and choreographed by Michael J. Bobbitt. Musical direction by Doug Bowles. Musical arrangements by John L. Cornelius II. Design: Alex Cooper (set) Emily Dere (costumes) Kevin Laughon (properties) Jason Arnold (lights) Jessica Lee Winfield (stage manager). Cast: Florrie Bagel, Priscilla Cuellar, Felicia Curry, Kerry Deitrick, Benjamin Horen, Amber Moorer, Jobari Parker-Namdar, Andrew Sonntag, Clif Walker. Band: Brent Birckhead, Doug Bowles, Jean Finstad, Vishal Panchal, Darius Smith, Danny Villanueva.