By Dale King
Broward Stage Door Theatre has boosted the jukebox musical genre to new heights. Once thought of as the unloved stepchild of traditional music-and-dialogue performances, jukebox-style productions are drawing larger and more exuberant crowds, at least at the Margate venue.
Swing, Swing, Swing, now playing at Broward Stage, is the fourth all-melody production this year, and it is the best of them all. Coincidentally, this show was conceived and created by Kevin Black, the same man who concocted The Soul of Motor City, which, with several extensions, played through the entire summer at Broward Stage, finally closing in September — two months later than its original finale date.
Actually, Broward Stage Executive Producer Derelle Bunn prevailed upon Black to develop a new show for her 24-year-old performance center. And he pulled together a spectacular one, a production that not only plumbs the intriguing roots of swing music, but brings together a marvelous sextet of vocalists who deliver the goods with panache — singing, dancing, jiving, tap dancing and just having a good time, one they energetically share with the audience.
“Swing music has its roots in jazz, beginning in New Orleans and Kansas City, then eventually moving across the nation,” said Black. “Once it reached New York City, the phenomenon quickly became the pop music of its day. With a strong drum and bass line, it became an unmistakable rhythm that led to the high energy dance styles of the jitterbug and jive.”
Swing, Swing, Swing pays tribute to the jazz-engrained classics, told through various thematic groupings of songs and artists. The six performers who’ve earned their chops on stages from here to New York and back include Danny Durr, Sharyn Peoples, Don Seward, Emily Tarallo, Alexandra Van Hasselt and Elijah Word.
The show gets a massive melodic shot in the arm from a live trio fronted by bandleader and musical director Michael Friedman, a youthful maestro of the keyboard. He draws raves from the gallery with a couple of solos. He opens the Gershwin set with “Rhapsody in Blue” and gets the cast moving for a boogie-woogie segment, banging out, “I Love a Piano.”
Rupert Ziawinski smacks the bass enthusiastically, mugging and sometimes singing with the cast. Percussionist Roy Fantel is a bit hard to see in the far rear corner of the stage, but his style is fine and unmistakable.
The six singers are apt and able performers. They easily move on and off stage for costume changes. The men arrive back out front with tuxes and tails while the women trade their crimson togs for outfits running a gamut from sexy black or black gowns to gold-weaved tops and black skirts.
The show moves quickly as the performers make their way through an Art Deco club masterfully crafted by set designer Michael McClain. In the midst of this 1930s and ’40s motif, the cast revisits such classics as “Tuxedo Junction,” “Stardust,” “Stormy Weather,” “I Got Rhythm” and, of course, “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”
Most of the time, the ensemble sings together, with one, two or more stepping out to lead. Peoples is center stage with “In the Mood” and joins Seward for a nostalgic “Sentimental Journey,” her soprano voice mixing nicely with Seward’s cool, deep tones. Tarallo keeps working the low notes with “Tuxedo Junction” and Durr rides the rails with “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”
Word is back at Broward fresh from the summer jukebox show. The tall, lanky performer who’s done Kravis and is heading next to the Wick combines with Durr and Tarallo in “Minnie the Moocher.” She maintains that mood for a smoldering rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
Word and Tarallo join voices for “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Van Hasselt and Durr make the most of “Embraceable You,” part of a song set demanding tight harmony.
Van Hasselt demonstrates her clear, resounding voice in “After You’ve Gone” and doubles up with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (sung slowly at first, then very fast) and “Bei Meir Bist Du Schoen.”
Seward delivers “Sophisticated Lady” in a smooth, suave manner. Wood has all the right tones and moods for “Take the A-Train” and Seward follows with a moving version of “Drop Me Off in Harlem.”
The finale finds the ensemble all together for a “Swing Revival” that features “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” “Zoot Suit Riot” and “Jump, Jive and Wail,” with the guys taking a Blues Brothers cue.
Before conceiving and directing Swing, Swing, Swing, Black and Michael Leeds created Pompadour and What’s New, Pussycat, last season’s two jukebox musicals. Black also directed and choreographed Spamalot, Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show and Into the Woods for Entr’acte Theatrix, among others.
Swing, Swing, Swing runs through Nov. 20 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 Sample Road, Margate. Tickets are $38-$42 ($16 for students) and are available by calling 954-344-7765 or visiting www.stagedoortheatre.com.