The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Broadway Through the Decades - September 24, 2017
by Dick Frantzreb
This was a new beginning in so many ways for El Dorado Musical Theatre's High Voltage. It was the first performance of the Season Nine troupe, expanded from 20 to 22 performers, and relaxing the age limitation to allow members up to the age of 22. But the most striking thing was the fact that half the group were new to High Voltage. In an age-limited group there will be some turnover every year, but this was a drastic departure from previous years, and waiting for tonight’s show to start, I wondered whether they could keep up the high standards of past High Voltage performers.
The beginning of the show was a clever acknowledgment of the large number of newcomers. The song was “On Broadway,” and with this group's typically clever choreography, each member was briefly introduced by flashing their name on the large screen behind them. Returning members were first, with a notation of the number of years they had been part of High Voltage. Then the new members were introduced in the same way. Presently, the choreography had the returning members in three lines on the left and the new members in three lines on the right. Then they switched sides. Then they merged, and the symbolism of the move was unmistakable ― and touching to a long-term fan like me.
The other big change in this first performance of the new season was the organization of the program. (Click here to open the program in a new window.) In every show of the past 5 years that I've witnessed, the program consisted of about 30 Broadway numbers, new and old, and in no particular date order. This newly titled show, “Broadway Through the Decades,” organized the program into pairs of decades, starting with the 1950s and 1960s. Two performers opened each section by summarizing the highlights of the period in terms of world events, popular culture and Broadway openings.
In the first half of the show, it felt like there were more solos and less choreography than in past shows, and frankly there were a few solos that seemed to fall short of this group's standards. I was a bit worried that this would be a rebuilding year. Even in this first half, though, there were quite a few excellent voices (and acting), and some delightful ensemble numbers. One of my favorites was “Kansas City” from Oklahoma! complete with Oklahoma accents and rope twirling. The “Hair/Aquarius/Sunshine” medley from Hair was another high point with some impressive vocal riffs and an ending high note that galvanized the audience. I noticed the audience reaction again in “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin. The excellent solo singing and creative choreography drew the biggest applause of the evening ― to this point.
As I suggested above, early in the first half of the show I thought I could perceive problems. Some returning members who had minor roles in previous years were being showcased ― and were a bit shaky. New members seemed a bit tentative. Then I began to see a change: new members were becoming relaxed and demonstrating why they belonged in the group. The singer who had flatted in his first appearance came back with a remarkably strong voice and with accurate pitch ― and style. Early on I noticed a small girl who seemed almost sad and out-of-place on the stage. Then when she got the opportunity to dance she seemed to blossom, and I recognized that she could be the heir to Anjie Rose Wilson ― the group's best dancer in previous seasons (and tonight's choreographer). And this young girl's energy and confidence only built further as she danced through the rest of the show. I also noticed the new boy who packed the vocal quality and instincts of a pop singer into a small package. Then there were the newcomers whose faces were just beaming from the sheer joy of being part of this outstanding group of performers. Before the end of the first half, all my worries for Season Nine of High Voltage had evaporated.
Throughout the show, the veterans did what veterans do: they gave their best ― a best that epitomized the high standards established by years of High Voltage shows. One of the joys of watching young people perform over a period of years is to see and appreciate the refinement of their skills and the maturing of their talent and confidence. It was truly gratifying to see this in so many of tonight’s young “veterans.”
Act Two was full of what I love most about High Voltage shows. First, there was the choreography of so many numbers, but especially that in “Can't Be Bothered Now” from Crazy for You and in “Uptown Girl” from Jersey Boys. Then there were numbers where the sheer passion made you sit up and take notice. I felt the performers’ intensity in “Façade” from Jekyll and Hyde and “Mama Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening. And speaking of passion, it overflowed in the Hamilton Medley which was a visual 9-course meal and a miracle of concentration and memorization on the part of these performers. And let's not forget the fun, present in so many numbers, but especially in “Be the Hero of Your Story” from Big Fish, with cute walk-ons and culminating in the “Alabama Stomp” and fish being thrown onto the stage.
Each High Voltage show is a journey. You sit there, and these young performers, through their songs, dancing and acting, take you to places ― including emotional places ― both familiar and unfamiliar. Their work is framed and coached by professionals like Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson and Vocal Director Jennifer Wittmayer and so many others (see the program). But what you see from your seat is the talent, dedication, energy and personality of those young people. They surprised me time and again tonight with what they can do ― as they have always surprised me. And in the end, watching them just lifts my spirits. That’s what happened this evening, and I’m looking forward to it happening again and again as High Voltage’s Ninth Season moves forward.