The Satin Dolls
Chestnut Fine Arts Theatre
One thing patrons can depend on is leaving The Chestnut Fine Arts with a smile on their faces and usually several tunes spinning in their head. The only variation from that is when The Chestnut performs a non-musical fare, which is a rarity. And, even then patrons leave with a smile on their face and a fulfilled satisfaction of seeing an enjoyable show.
The current show, The Satin Dolls, delivers the punch and walk down memory lanes as expected from the line up of "Satin Dolls" to perform. Music from three 50s and 60s legends provides a stroll down the lane of pleasant memories. In the first half, Doris Day, Connie Francis, and Rosemary Clooney tunes keep the audience entertained and awaiting the next melody to burst forth.
Who can forget the perky Day and her string of movie and musical hits long before the TV series? Her songs of the night included Sentimental Journey, Que Sera Sera, My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time, A Guy Is a Guy, I'm in the Mood for Love, Secret Love, and When I Fall in Love. The best part is the audience always wants more. Everyone has his or her favorite Day tune, and most were performed with style and grace. Missing were several movie tunes like Teacher's Pet and It's Magic. But, the audience always wants more.
Next, Connie Francis, a talented singer long forgotten by many strung together a high-powered career starting in the 1950s with guest shots on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show. Francis sprang on the Top 40 Rock 'N Roll scene with several Neil Sedeka hits like Stupid Cupid and Lipstick on Your Collar and then parlayed her success to such torch songs as Who's Sorry Now among others, and her poignant Where the Boys Are. Her upbeat set led to excited audience cheers and smiles.
And then there is Rosemary Clooney. Known as a big band and concert performer mostly, her persona in White Christmas gives her lasting memories to those who watch the timeless classic annually during the holiday season. Her teaming with band leader Mitch Miller shot her to fame with Come On A My House and Mambo Italiano. Her touching renditions of Hey There and Tenderly topped the charts in the early 1950s. A fifty-year career cannot be compressed into a 10- minute tribute so many of her famous ditties did not make it into the show. Still, reflections of her career and music leaves the audience wanting even more Clooney.
After intermission, the music of Dinah Shore captivated the crowd and some of her classics stem from her days also as a big band singer before the advent of TV. Shore's hits included Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, Dinah, Buttons and Bows, and You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To. And, could any Dinah tribute be complete without her signature (but truncated) theme song: "See the USA, in your Chevrolet..." Oh the memories...
In a totally different vein, Ella Fitzgerald's music comes from her Harlem roots, her difficult life, and a classic voice that may never be matched. Ella could sing it all–torch, love ballads, upbeat numbers, blues, popular, and her favorite jazz. Her music spanned all barriers of the 40s-60s, and her performances continued to draw large crowds till her last days. The show brings out such Ella classics as Taking the A Train, I'm Beginning to See the Light, But Not for Me, and It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, and others.
Further, could any retro 50s female vocal show be complete without the iconic Judy Garland? Absolutely not! And, again, how does a music director constrain her success, popularity, and songs into a 10-minute set? Audiences know they will hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You know you will hear something from Meet Me In St. Louis, in this case, The Trolley Song. And you expect to hear other famous pieces as well. In this case, the touching Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You do not disappoint the audience. As the set progresses, other Garland memories and songs come to mind, but as long as it ends with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, audiences end with satisfaction.
Now, for performers, Brad Zimmerman assembles the most talented casts for his shows. In this case he found three songstresses whose vocal ranges encompass the low register of the featured singers. In this show, Zimmerman did not use the high-pitched soprano sounds generally heard in many area productions. Instead the mid range vocals were a pleasant surprise and fit with the legend's musical talents. His three performers, Samantha Agron, Colleen Grate, and Julie Shaw prove to be the perfect fit for this music. Each performed the memorable numbers of the legendary singers with respect to the original but with a few twists to make the music fresh and not a mimic.
All three performed so well and provided such good back up and harmonies, not one can be singled out. That's a sign of a good production and equally in performers and performance. Looking back at the program, each stood out in individual numbers, and each delivered a great performance through all six legendary featured songstresses. Rarely can an audience feel the equality of all ensemble performers. In this case, it happens. Kudos to the singers and the director.
Even though the ladies take center stage, the accompaniments stood out last night. Of course at The Chestnut, the piano talents of Brad Zimmerman come to the forefront. Without his masterful knowledge and selections, the evenings would never develop as they do. But credit him with surrounding himself and his performers with a talented band. In Satin Dolls, the standout performances go to Harold Steinhardt on woodwinds. His musicality took several songs over the top. His outstanding solos on saxophone and clarinet stand out. His music complimented the vocal performers throughout the show.
The band relied heavily on the bass skills of Danny Kabul and gave the depth needed for many of the featured numbers. His work on Fever to open the second act brought smiles and laughter to the crowd. Many times a bass is just a background instrument, but Zimmerman always finds a way to feature all members of the Chestnut band and Kaul's performance and talent displayed well.
With the type of music of the show, the percussionist spent the night mostly with muted sticks and wires. Finally toward the end of the show, Garett Heinz broke out with the rhythm sticks in the Ella jazz number, showing his masterful drum beats and expertise. While the percussion was soft and mellow through most of the show, take that away and the music just would not move. Credit Heinz with understanding the softness needed for this performance and watch for him in another show where he can "let go" and let his Gene Krupa skills unfold.
In all, Zimmerman's Satin Dolls provides a fantastic journey through the songstresses of the 40s-60s, by highlighting the careers and music of six legends. No one leaves disappointed. But, leave the audience wanting more is a ticket to success. In this case, audiences always leave wanting more as evidenced by full houses nightly and some performances sold out long in advance. Sometimes, shows extend or add more performances to accommodate the crowds. When people drive in from Topeka and Eureka Springs for Chestnut shows, the reputation speaks for itself.
Don't miss this show. Once you see one show at the Chestnut, you will want to see more.