by Terrance Mc Arthur
And it came to pass in 2012 that Reedley’s River City Theatre did bring forth Legends, a remembrance of famous performers, and it was good.
And in the year of 2013, it came to pass that it did bring forth Legends Too!, and it was good…too.
As before, writer-director Mark Norwood has strung together a mythic variety show of tributes to stars of the past under the watchful eye of Ed Sullivan—who manages to slide in a few vintage commercial taglines—played with a deadpan glee by Taniman Clark (who also briefly channels Lawrence Welk). There are a few added twists in this edition to add a bit of variety. There is a running storyline of complaints of gender inequality. The female performers point out the preponderance of male solos, while bemoaning the fact that they are mostly relegated to parts of groups (Andrews Sisters, Lennon Sisters, Mamas and the Papas). To add to their anger, there is a tribute to “brothers,” from Righteous to Blues.
The festivities kick off with a lively “Cuban Pete” from Lucy & Ricky Ricardo (Stacie Hall and Erik Valencia) that captures a goodly amount of that Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz magic. Hall also provides a heart-tugging high point as Annette Funicello singing “No Way to Go But Up,” with a tender, Clark-delivered, short biographical tribute to the former Mouseketeer. In addition to Lucy and Annette, she appears as Michelle Phillips in the Mamas and the Papas.
Thomas Hayes and Joseph Ham blew the lid off the Opera House with their turn as Simon & Garfunkel singing “The Sounds of Silence.” It will tear you up (and that sentence works, no matter which pronunciation you put to “t-e-a-r”)..
Joseph joins with his sister Jessica Ham as the famous brother & sister team of Donny & Marie Osmond, and it’s definitely “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock-and-Roll.” The only thing missing is Donny’s trademark purple socks—I wanted to see them! Jessica also takes the stage as Barbra Streisand, singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” complete with the round, bulbous hairdo that Babs used to wear that looked like an alien creature clinging to the back of her head. Jessica’s voice deserves a better hairdo.
The Andrews Sisters get a double tribute with a trio of grown-ups (Heather Awbrey Glosier, Alina Gonzales, Brianne Vogt) and a junior edition (Elizabeth Applegate, Heidi Harris, Jacquelyn Klassen), uniting in a rip-snorting rendition of “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.” Glosier also gets to be wistful as Bernadette Peters, and Vogt breathlessly takes us down “Moon River” as Audrey Hepburn (She really needed a cat to sing to, the way Hepburn did in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Gonzales wails on the Christina Aguilera version of Etta James’ “At Last,” and she gets some audience participation going to provide her Ikettes for Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”
Chris Giese shines as a Beach Boy on “Surfin’ USA,” and gets to yuck it up singing “A Boy Named Sue” a la Johnny Cash. Jordan Williams, who ably plays piano for other performers, gets a solo spot as Liberace in an outfit and wig that looks more like Prince. Zach Clemmer giggles as Mozart playing his post-mortem compositions, and Stephanie Barnett is woefully under-utilized, only appearing as Mama Cass Elliot and protesting during the War of the Sexes sequences.
Jeff Lusk and Matt Milton bring it on back with the Righteous Brothers on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feelin’” much better than Tom Cruise ever did in Top Gun. Lusk gets to be the “old” Frank Sinatra,” trading songs and insults with Joseph Ham as the “young” Frank, and Lusk also shows up as Roy Orbison. Milton gets to sing the Bobby Darin “Mack the Knife” in a blood-red spotlight, and to strut his stuff as Tom Jones.
Jacob Alvarado gets to step-dance about the stage as Michael Flatley of “Riverdance,” and to mug as Denny Doherty of The Mamas and the Papas, and fighting with Valencia’s John Phillips. “California Dreaming” never sounded so good.
Hayes sings a Frankie Valli tribute, and amazingly coaxes tunes out of the ukulele as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole on “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” Klassen, Applegate, Harris, and Jessica Ham unite as the Lennon Sisters.
People of a certain age will have fond memories as they watch these tributes. People below a certain age need to hire a mature person to explain things to them…or go on YouTube and look up the original performers. It’ll be worth the time…and so will this show.
Legends Too! finishes its run June 6-9, with evening shows at 8 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. For tickets, call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500. For further information, check out Reedley’s River City Theatre Co.’s KRL event page.
Check out a video interview with Mark Norwood about Legends Too! & Les Miserables herein KRL.