Musicals Tonight has been known for doing stage readings (mostly staged with the script in hand, cut the dance breaks in song) of under-produced musicals for many years. However their production of the Gershwin’s Funny Face was not only completely off book but also fully choreographed. I’ve seen a few Musicals Tonight Productions over the years (mostly to support friends) and while they have been cute excursions they haven’t been anything more than that. However if this is any sign of what’s to come they need to start looking at a bigger stage, a bigger house and a higher ticket price.
While the script of Funny Face isn’t anything to get excited about, director/choreographer Casey Colgan created a show that should be running in one of the major regional theaters or on a Broadway stage. The costumes are stunning and compliment not only the characters but the dance moves as well. The scene work holds true to the style when the show was written but is easy to follow and understand. The dances, while utilizing similar moves, all felt different and exciting, fun and romantic, goofy and wonderful.
As the script isn’t the reason to go see Funny Face, I won’t go into a plot synopsis. I will mention that the score by the Gershwin brothers is phenomenal. Well know classics such as “’S Wonderful”, and “My One and Only” are beautifully arranged by Music Director James Stenborg. Unknown gems and cuts songs Musicals Tonight added back for this production should be well known when they sound like this.
Jessica Ernest and Patrick Graver star as Frankie and her Guardian Jimmy (originally played by Fred and Adele Astaire). Ernest is delightful as the little liar. She walks the line of damsel in distress and puppet master with ease. Her voice is clear and sits perfectly in all her songs. Her dancing is spot on and perfectly executed. Graver seemed a little young for the role at the beginning but proved why he was cast again and again. His taps are simple and he has the feel of Fred Astaire. His straight man comedy plays wonderfully against all the over the top characters around him but he never gets lost in the crowd.
Frankie’s love interest, the handsome heroic aviator Peter Thurston, is played by Seth Danner has a lush baritone that carries throughout a house with not the best acoustics. We hear our first major recognizable tune from him. He does not disappoint. Suave, romantic, drop dead gorgeous. Women want him, men want to be him, some men want him too. Danner surprises us in the second act with his dance skills singing “My One and Only.” He Charlestons around the stage, lifts Ernest and comes right back in singing.
Jimmy’s love interest is one of his other Wards, June, played by Whitney Winfield. Both her songs were added by Musicals Tonight and for good reason. This character seems to fade into the background and not be important for anything plot related. Thank goodness Winfield was given more to do. Standing in a pool of light singing the heart breaking “How Long Has This Been Going On” the audience holds their collective breath as to not have any chance of interrupting her. She is captivating. Her second song “Shall We Dance” sees a totally different side of her. She shows that she is not just a simple ingénue but smart and fun girl who Jimmy is lucky to end up with.
There are two comedic pairs. Dugsie, the ladies man and our third ward, Dora, played by Blake Spellacy and Caitlin Wilayto respectively, have some great numbers and fun scene work. The first duet in the show, “Once” sets the mood for the rest of the show. Dora is beyond quirky and closer to insane but Wilayto makes her lovable. Wilayto also has some terrific pointe work within one of the vaudeville numbers. Spellacy delivers again and again. His comedic timing is off the charts and his dancing puts the rest of this beyond talented cast to shame. One of the added songs, “The World Is Mine” seem to have been added just so that he could show off his impressive tapping with Herbert played by Edward Tolve.
Herbert and Chester, played by Bill Bateman are our lovable crooks. Bateman plays the wise and intimidating crook while Tolve is the younger more impressionable with a heart of gold. Tolve is also an excellent tapper and give Spellacy a run for his money. Bateman keep the show grounded and moving. A quick and understandable talker, his experience shines through and guides us through the story.
The Police Sergeant, played by Doug Jabara, helps with creating some drama to this otherwise light musical. Jabara has a rich baritone obviously suited for roles like Javert. However his brand of comedy in the show is amusing and the choices he made to justify a poorly constructed character let us know there is so much more to this man. With the last of the added songs “Dance Alone With You” Jabara shows a softer side to the gruff and sometimes sleezy man we come to know. By the end of his short number we all want a bear hug from this man.
The ensemble for this show are stellar. Kyle white is seen doing gymnastics across a very small stage. Parker Krug and Christian Brown are brilliant as their dumb cop characters. Caleb Dicke is the stand out of the men as the nerdy clerk. When he has his scenes he owns the stage as if he was the lead of the show. All four men are excellent dancers seemlessly matching each other and standing out with individual tricks. Briana Fallon is a firecracker keeping the boys in line. Kacie Burns has the best pout on stage. Andrea Weinzierl is a man-eater and she will have them all. Giulia Dunes has legs for days and some of the best extension. All four ladies are terrific dancer as well but Dunes definitely stands out. Dicke and Gunes have a dance solo at the top of the last scene which while very short is nothing short of flawless.
Run; don’t walk; to see this show. There is only one week left in its run. Bring your producer friends. This show needs to extend.