Fabulous Fifties

The Whole Backstage Theatre, in Guntersville, is running a lively review of 1950s music, The Fabulous Fifties, through next weekend.  If you remember that decade sixty years ago, if you remember American Bandstand, or merely wish you did, come on out for a fun evening of songs to bring you back to those times.

This is an original compilation of songs from the 50s and 60s, with pieces of some 90 songs packed into two-and-a-quarter hours.  It actually averages out to less than 90 seconds per song, because the music is grouped by style, with each phase getting an introduction and slight history lesson.  While the rapid-fire medleys keep the action moving, the evening is at its best when the right performer has been matched to a song, and the music is allowed to run its course, the majority of which occurs in Act II.  There are a few songs in which the performers are a cappella, or they accompany themselves with live instruments (generally, the better parts of the evening), but most of the show is a staged karaoke act, with performers singing the lead vocals, sometimes accompanied onstage by others pretending to play an instrument, or singing along with the recorded backup vocals.

One gets the impression that everyone who auditioned was given a role, and Johnny Brewer, the director and musical director, did his best to spread the work around.  Due credit goes to Brewer for organizing the show into a reasonably coherent reminder of (or introduction to) that decade of music, and then keeping the action moving at a rapid clip.  There are also some very funny “scenes” put together to tie a few songs together, like the “Boy Meets Girl” sequence in Act II.  Kate Griffith’s choreography doesn’t actually showcase any of the 50s dance crazes, like the jitterbug, the cha-cha, or the Lindy hop, but it does provide some nice background visuals that “feel right” for the songs.

This is true “community theatre”–a performance by the Guntersville community, for the Guntersville community.  All the performers look like they’re having a blast, and the audience members get some extra chuckles seeing their friends and relations up there cutting loose.  A few people were absolute stand-outs, and garnered extra applause and whistles when they got their turns.  Kate Griffith, Chris Roberts, Laura Kate Smith, and Marsha Cryar, kill it almost every time they have the microphone.  Greg Leach’s bass voice is put to good use on a number of songs, and especially on Sixteen Tons.  Byron Waldrop, Brandon Wilson, Denton Gillen, Tim Hays, and Sarah Kritner didn’t always quite have the vocal chops for their songs, but they were always entertaining, which is what it’s all about.  It would be impossible to call out every nice performance in a cast of almost 40, but the ensemble works well together to provide an easy, fun evening.

The costumes, by Sue Bilke and crew, are very nicely done, with a much wider variety, and many more costume changes, than one would have expected for this kind of show.  Brewer’s scene design is necessarily simple, given the requirements of the show, but provides a nice backdrop for the performances.    If the Whole Backstage Theatre doesn’t own a follow-spot, they should have begged, borrowed, or stolen one, to prevent featured performers from having to walk through darkness in the middle of their numbers, in order to get to their next pool of light.  That said, Brewer’s lighting design is otherwise entirely acceptable for the purposes of this show.  David Welch, running the sound board, generally does a good job of keeping the sound balanced between the performers and the recorded music.

Overall, this is a fun, relaxing evening of “old time” remembrances, especially if you know someone in the show you can cheer for, and there even a few show-stopping performances scattered throughout, to provide some “oh, wow” moments.  Head on over to Guntersville and check it out.  Show times and ticket information can be found at this link.

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