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Theater Review: 'Icons'

Night of the living icons at The Players Theatre.

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“Icons” is (or are) having an iconic good time at The Players. The show is an original musical revue created by Jeffrey Kin and Barry Ayers. The icons in question are the American show-biz variety. Stars of the Hollywood firmament …

We’re talking Sophie Tucker, Judy Garland, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows (aka Ralph and Alice Kramden), Minnie Pearl (but not Mini Me), Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Carole King and the King of Rock and Roll (aka Elvis). These and other simulated luminaries appear in their most, signature, crowd-pleasing bits. (Iconic, you might say.) So, Marilyn does “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” not Prodigy’s “Firestarter.” Elvis does “Jailhouse Rock,” not “O meschina!” from “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Give the people what they want, as Ray Davies once said. What’s wrong with that?

An iconoclast might reply that nostalgia pushes your happy buttons. Audiences laugh and applaud at the songs of their youth and the stars on their childhood lunchboxes. It’s a knee-jerk response. Performers don’t have to work too hard to get it — they don’t even have to be good.

The good news is, these performers are good — and some are very good indeed. A few standouts …

Alana Opie goes beyond surface imitation to capture Janis Joplin’s soul; her “Piece of My Heart” is straight from the heart—and she’s equally raw and real as Patsy Cline. Brian Craft morphs into a rubber-limbed Donald O’Connor (“Make ’Em Laugh”) and a strutting Elvis (“Jailhouse Rock”). Lindsay Nickel de la O does a touching Judy Garland (“Somewhere under the Rainbow,” naturally.) Phyllis Banks gets the crowd clapping and singing as Tina Turner doing “Proud Mary.” (What else?) Apart from his fedora, John Andruzzi doesn’t resemble Sinatra, but he’s got the Voice and attitude down in “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” And speaking of attitude, Natalia Mock is adorable as Marilyn Monroe selecting a victim, sorry, volunteer from the audience and serenading him with “I Want to be Loved by You.” Mock is also spot-on as Madonna doing “Like a Virgin” — and she hilariously ends her bit by dropping to the floor in a seductive sprawl, then rolling off the stage. (Mock’s mockery is pretty much the only satire in this love letter of a show.) Kudos also to Jennifer Baker, Sue Cole, Rod Rawlings, Miriam Roeming-Engle, Bill Sarazen, Angela Wood and the rest of the 20-person cast.

Some strong performances here. And guilty pleasures, too …

These include: Tamara Solum’s Cher in Native American garb doing “Halfbreed” (If Cher’s an Indian, I’m the Pope of Greenwich Village); Cinda Goeken’s Minnie Pearl in a price-tag festooned hat; and a barrage of “The Brady Bunch” (which is more like a recurring childhood nightmare to yours truly).

My guess is director and choreographer Dennis J. Clark gave the actors a few pointers, pointed them in the right direction, then turned them loose to channel the icons dear to their hearts. His heart’s in it, too. After opening with an oddly flat “Fame” (which feels more like minor notoriety), he puts the pedal to the medal and never slows down. As to the tunes, a revue of this scale is like juggling chainsaws. But musical director Berry Ayers never misses a beat.

It’s a fun night of theater with a music hall vibe. No icons are harmed at any time. Iconoclasts who need a spoonful of satiric medicine in their sugar water might want to stick with “Forbidden Broadway.” This is a show for people who love show business — and that applies to both sides of the stage.

And it’s easy to see the performers get a kick out of playing the various stars. For a few minutes they’re Sinatra, Elvis, Madonna … whoever. They feel that electric charge, and the audience feels it too.

That’s show biz, baby.



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