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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 3 years ago

'The Wonder Years' offers a blast from the musical past at Court Cabaret

Florida Studio Theatre's latest revue is an incomplete yet endlessly entertaining look at two decades of the Baby Boomers' favorite hits.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Ah, the Baby Boomers. Not merely the original young generation — the original youth market. Starting in the 1950s, that pop culture Godzilla stomped its way across America’s music, movies, fads and fashion. “The Wonder Years: The Music of the Baby Boomers” manages to fit that monster on the tiny Florida Studio Theatre cabaret stage.

The farrago of fan service begins with high-energy dance music. Then it turns on the TV with a barrage of themes from “Howdy Doody,” “Davey Crockett” and other 1950s “kiddie shows.” This sweetly infantile legacy has been satirized by everyone from Thomas Pynchon to the writers of Mad Magazine. But this revue plays it mostly straight.

Mickey Mouse memories segue to adolescent growing pains. The first wave of Boomers hit high school in the 1950s and it shows. Hormonal hopes and horrors filled their minds and music. Hard-hitting topics include nagging parents (The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak”), teenage rejection (Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want to”) and love, love, love (Sam Cook’s “You Send Me,” The Platters’ “Only You,” and Connie Francis’ “Where the Boys Are.”) After another gyrating dance set, the revue offers a hagiographic ode to Elvis. (“Hound Dog, “Don’t Be Cruel, “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.”)

Stacey Harris has also performed on Broadway in "Bells Are Ringing" and on national tours of "Cinderella," "Show Boat" and "Dreamgirls." Photo by Matthew Holler

After a nod to the twilight of the 1950s, the revue tunes into 1960s television. (Adult TV shows, at least in theory.) Earworms include the themes from “Bonanza,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” (Not “Gilligan’s Island,” in case you were worried.) The British Invasion then crashes America’s rock 'n' roll party with blasts from The Beatles and The Stones. (Mick “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and the Moptops want to “Hold Your Hand.”) Starting in the mid-'60s, love takes a walk on the wild side. (Ray Davies meets “Lola” and Jim Morrison wants to “Light Your Fire.”) The decade hits the home stretch with a nod to feminism (Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking”), an uneasy look to the future (David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”), and two anthems of protest (Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” and The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.”) It ends with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” What else?

It’s a great ride, thanks to Catherine Randazzo’s snappy direction, Dewayne Barrett’s cardio-intensive choreography, Darren Server’s music direction, and Jim Prosser’s deftly distilled arrangements. Prosser also backs up the band on keyboard. Alayna Gallo, Chris Anthony Giles, Michael Gray Grieve and Stacey Harris are the quartet in question. They’re all fine singers, but Gallo is a standout. She scales the musical mountain of “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love.” (The mountain is high, but Gallo doesn’t fall off.) Costume designer Susan Angermann and projection designers Thomas Korp and Sarah Dunham also serve up sweet eye candy. Their visual treats go perfectly with the musical confections.

Stacey Harris, Chris Anthony Giles, Michael Gray Grieve and Alayna Gallo perform the show through June 9. Photo by Matthew Holler.

It’s a fun revue. And perhaps too ambitious. It skips around in time. And there are a few conspicuous omissions. No Hendrix; no Dylan; no Beach Boys. Sex and rock, yes. Drugs, no.

“The Wonder Years” is incomplete. But that’s to be expected.

Baby Boomer culture truly was a monster. It’d take a six-hour Ken Burns schedule to do it justice. This revue covers two decades in 90 minutes.

Unlike the decades in question, it’s fun from start to finish.

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