Theater review: Broadway on the Rock
Building on the success of last year's The Music of the Night: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber and A Flat Rock Playhouse Christmas, the theater company has created a new mainstage revue titled simply Broadway on the Rock that traces the Broadway musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Wicked.
It's a speedy and often thrilling tour of nearly 75 years of theater history, condensed into less than two hours. Four distinct and talented vocalists (a fifth singer had to leave the show; more on that later) bring some of the stage's most beloved numbers to life and tackle a few lesser-known tunes with equal enthusiasm.
Broadway on the Rock is elegantly staged with no real set, just a variety of levels, the seven-member band spread out symmetrically across the stage like living furniture to break up the space and give the eye a lot of distinct places to land. An adult chorus of about 20 comes in from the wings for several songs in each act, and a troupe of dancers appears for three numbers.
All of which is more than enough to keep the show moving along and the audience entertained. Broadway on the Rock assumes familiarity with musical theater history, and the brief introductions made by the singers are more reminders than revelations, in the same way the "Overture of Overtures" is a kind of "Name That Tune" for the audience to play in their heads. ("Oh, what's that one? I'm sure I know it!")
Since Lloyd Webber got his due in 2017, this show gives him a quick double-dose (the instrumental "Jellicle Ball" and Phantom's "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" open Act II) and stops for more than one number from a few other masters of the genre: Rodgers and Hammerstein, of course, Sondheim (two from West Side Story, one from Company), Steven Schwartz (Godspell and a suite from Wicked), and Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. The French duo's Les Miserables is represented in both the opening "Broadway Suite" and a separate suite of its own in Act II, paired with "Why God, Why" from Miss Saigon.
Some of the stand-alone songs are among the show's best, as the vocalists get the full length of the number to build emotion and character, particularly Lindsay O'Neil singing "As Long as He Needs Me" (from Oliver!) and Sean Cooper leaning into "Being Alive." (Cooper's operatic instincts made him seem a bit stiff early on, but he soon loosened up.) Alexa Green took on "Defying Gravity" with full diva delivery, and Alfred Jackson delivered "Maria" (from West Side Story) and other songs with skilled modulation and precise power.
The second act, which covers the past 30 years or so, might have benefited from some less-traditional selections, but you'll find no Rent, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors or Next to Normal in this lineup (more recent shows such as Hamilton are likely still unavailable for a revue in any case). Instead, there's "In His Eyes" from that cult curiosity Jekyll & Hyde, which skews more to the warhorse vibe of the other Act II selections, such as The Lion King.
Missing from Act I were the sprightly fun of "Let's Fall in Love" and "Almost Like Being in Love" -- both listed in the program but scrapped (at least for opening weekend) with the sudden departure of fifth vocalist Khadijiah Rolle, who had a family emergency, will not return and is sorely missed. The Rock did a terrific job papering over the seams where Rolle's departure left gaps in the show -- I'd guess that a duet or two became a solo and that the remaining vocalists took Rolle's parts as well as their own in some group numbers -- and without the discrepancies between the printed bulletin and the onstage lineup, few would have noticed the last-minute fixes.
The lighting, by C.J. Barnwell, was already smartly conceived, and the enormous changes necessitated by a major cast reduction at the last minute were absorbed by Barnwell and his team as if nothing had happened. We all should be a little sad, though, that a fifth of Ashly Arnold Crump's lovely, cabaret-worthy costumes never made it to the stage. Heaven knows what extra sweat was expended by the production manager (Adam Goodrum), stage manager (Elly Leidner) and assistant stage manager (Constantina Barile) in re-thinking an entire show with 20 percent fewer cast members at the last minute, but there was no visible hitch in the flow from beginning to end.
Matthew Glover, who conceived, directed and choreographed Broadway on the Rock, has earned bonus credit not only for creating another fine, world premiere stage experience but also for helming a final show that looked great and ran smoothly despite being massively altered by circumstance. The same medal should be awarded to musical director Alex Shields, who conducted his diaspora of a band from his keyboards and kept the music flowing seamlessly. The musicians are top-notch, especially asked to perform on their own little islands, at times surrounded by a chorus and soloists.
One thing that didn't change from rehearsals to opening weekend was the several appearances of the young women from Hendersonville's Pat's School of Dance, who were such a joy in their brief appearance in "A Flat Rock Christmas" and this time get three excellent show pieces: an early tap number, the Rockettes-like "One" (from A Chorus Line), which was the rousing Act I finale, and some distinctive Cats moves in Act II. It's impossible not to smile when these dancers' feet are flying. They're bubbling with infectious fun, have clearly trained hard for their appearances and are well served by Glover's showy, familiar choreography.
If Broadway on the Rock is a notch less than Flat Rock intended, the Pat's School of Dance team is surely several notches more fun than anyone might have expected.
Broadway on the Rock runs Wednesday-Sunday through July 21. For showtimes and tickets, visit www.flatrockplayhouse.org.
(Photos by Treadshots, courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse)