New York-based choreographer and Wright State graduate Brandon Kelly, assistant choreographer of the Broadway and touring companies of “Come From Away,” returns with aplomb. He honors the Fosse tradition in fantastic fashion for “Big Spender” (the hostesses of the Fandango Ballroom, including the unique, well-acted, gender-bending inclusion of Chap Hollin as Helene, ignite the moment with fierce attitude and fun individuality), “Rich Man’s Frug” (divinely groovy slinkiness and head-bobbing abounds), “Rhythm of Life” (pulsating with uninhibited, “Hair”-esque flower child vibes), and a superbly crisp “I’m a Brass Band” that enjoyably embraces contemporary sensibilities in perhaps the most organic, show-within-a-show usage of the dress rehearsal concept.
Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE
Credit: WRIGHT STATE THEATRE
Tassy Kirbas, a triple threat conjuring Broadway legends
Wright State’s musical theatre program is often viewed as a training ground for aspiring performers and I truly believe Tassy Kirbas delivers a performance that would have Broadway producers leaping from their seats in amazement.
Setting the stage ablaze with confident radiance and remarkable style, she embodies Charity Hope Valentine with an incredible professionalism beyond her years. Her comedic earnestness and terrific vocals keep the action fun and engaging as Charity’s quest goes through ups and downs, but her outstandingly exquisite dancing – the shapes, the images, the precision – is a sight to behold. From the outset, when she dazzles in the dance-centric “Charity’s Opening,” it’s apparent something special is brewing. By the time she reaches the middle of Act 1 with a top hat and cane to effortlessly render “If My Friends Could See Me Now” with gusto, she’s absolutely conjuring the authenticity of Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Allen to the utmost.
Folks, I don’t know what you have planned in the coming days, but anyone interested in the Fosse technique should immediately purchase a ticket to see Kirbas in action. A master class is underway, and a student is the teacher.
Mitchell Lewis, a bundle of neurotic delight
Charity’s romantic pursuits finds a glimmer of hope in claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist, wonderfully portrayed by Mitchell Lewis. Attacking the role with a neurotic, George Costanza-esque urgency, Lewis is a delightful presence, which makes his final scenes a kick in the gut, particularly his looks of conflicted concern late in Act 2 during the rousing merriment of “I Love to Cry at Weddings.”
The quartet bringing new life to an old score
Music director F. Wade Russo, conducting a small yet solid orchestra, effectively heightens Coleman’s iconic jazz score with a refreshing vocal quartet. Accenting certain scenes with beautiful harmonies akin to the Manhattan Transfer and borrowing a page from Coleman’s “City of Angels” and Burt Bacharach’s “Promises, Promises,” Tanner Gleason, Melissa Matarrese, Lily Rowan and Alex Tischer appealingly elevate such numbers as “Too Many Tomorrows” (smoothly led by Nick Salazar as Italian film star Vittorio Vidal) and the breezy title number (led by Lewis).
A return to normalcy
At the beginning of the season, Wright State students had to wear masks on stage, which did not hinder the quality of performance but took some getting used to nonetheless. Due to recent updates in COVID guidelines, masks are gone, ushering in a return to normalcy that’s been greatly missed.
HOW TO GO
What: “Sweet Charity”
When: Through April 3; Mar. 25, 26, Apr. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m., Mar. 26, 27, Apr. 2 and 3 at 2 p.m.
Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy., Dayton
Tickets: 937-775-2500 or wright.edu/tdmp