“The IT Girl” at Meadow Brook Theatre, Oakland University Campus, Rochester Hills, MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Meadow Brook Theatre
Fun Musical Romp at Meadow Brook
If you need a break from the serious stuff of life, Meadow Brook has just the ticket: “The IT Girl”, a lighter-than-air confection of spun sugar and flaming youth. The Roaring Twenties setting lets everybody wear cool period clothes, dance the Charleston and escape, from time to time, into the black and white world of silent film. And of course, our heroine gets her man.
Speaking of silent film, fans will no doubt recall the movie “IT”, a breezy 1927 star vehicle for the Brooklyn Bombshell, Clara Bow. She was known forever after as “The IT Girl” for her role as Betty, a lively young lingerie clerk with plenty of pizzazz in the world’s biggest department store. The musical of the same name, which appeared off-Broadway in 2001, follows pretty much the same cutesy-cliched plotline as the film, but is set to jazzy music by Paul McKibbins, carefree lyrics by BT McNicholl and book by McNicholl and Michael Small. Set in New York City, there’s love at first sight, bootleg booze, romantic rivals, a silly contest, some moments of pathos and lots of spirited singing and dancing in between.
Sara Kmiec brings high-wattage charm and nonstop perkiness to the role of Betty and delivers an equal measure of song-and-dance talent. Jonathan, Betty’s love interest and son of the Waltham department store owner, is played with sincere warmth and a touch of class by Nathan Cockroft. Vying for Jonathan’s attention is the dazzling Jackie Raye as Adela Van Norman, the local social climber. Dan Fenaughty as Jonathan’s sidekick Monty is splendidly goofball and also aptly double-cast as a clown. As the leads, only Kmiec and Cockroft have single roles to play. The rest of the talented cast have multiple roles, some as many as five. They include Larissa Klinger, Ron Williams and Stephanie Wahl.
True to form, Travis Walter brings boundless affection and razor sharp pacing to his direction. The action stays at a breakneck pace, soaring like a rocket from start to finish. There are some really interesting shadow effects in a few dance numbers (reminiscent of the effects in some of Fred Astaire’s filmed sequences), enhanced with jaunty choreography by Jeremy Benton. Standout songs include “Step Into Their Shoes”, “Why Not” and “A Perfect Plan” which showcase the exceptional voice and dance talent of the performers.
Scenic design by Jen Price Fick attempts to strike a balance between the needs of the script (the real world of Betty vs the “black and white world” of silent film) and the stagecraft at hand. The mixed result: drab, grayish set pieces are called upon to serve as a lingerie department, a yacht and a couple of different domiciles. They also provide the background for several intervals of black and white “silent movie” action performed by the cast, realized with clever strobe lighting effects by Matthew J Fick. This really livens up the proceedings and is a very cute narrative device, but the slightly ghoulish white face paint and black lips worn by the cast, even when they aren’t in “black and white movie mode”, is a little disturbing. Wardrobe by Corey Collins is likewise in the grayscale color range, although the clothing is fun and perfectly reflects the period.
The cast, individually and as an ensemble, not only have first-rate vocal talent and dance moves, but also the chops for broad comedy, so essential for pulling something like this off with such panache. And playing right along is the excellent six-piece orchestra led by Heidi Joosten. Everyone is clearly having a great time, and so will you.
When: Now through June 23, 2019
8:00 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
6:30 p.m. Sundays
6:00 p.m. Saturday, June 15
2:00 p.m. Wednesdays & Sundays; Saturdays June 8 & 22
Tickets $30 to $45
Where: Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall
378 Meadow Brook Rd
Rochester Hills, MI 48309