The Sacramento Choral Calendar
How Now, Dow Jones - September 12, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
“How about our chorus performs a whole musical, dialog and all.” “What?!!” True, it’s not a project the typical chorus would tackle, but Samantics is not a typical chorus. Everything I’ve seen this group perform has been innovative, often calling for individual singers to put an extra measure of personality, flair – and maybe a little wackiness – into their performances. So staging a musical is a natural for these irrepressible people. And I’m not sure any other chorus I’ve seen could have brought it off so successfully.
How Now, Dow Jones debuted in 1968 on Broadway, and according to the Samuel French website, “This musical comedy follows Kate, the voice of Dow Jones, whose fiancé won't marry her until the Dow Jones Average hits 1,000! Bribery, adultery and neurotic Republicans abound in this madcap and timely tale set in the heart of Wall Street!”
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
Samantics’ performance took place in the tiny Wm. J. Geery Theatre in Sacramento. Of course, there wasn’t a “set” for this show: the singers sat in uneven rows of chairs. But they moved around when performing, there were some hilarious props, and everyone was appropriately costumed for this story of Wall Street in the 1960s. There was even some choreography, including an amazing scene where they mimicked Washington crossing the Delaware. Another way they made this look even more like musical theatre was to have new characters come in from off-stage (or from the audience in one case). And occasionally people left the stage or changed seats to emphasize the changing scenes and action of the show.
Every performer/singer had music (and presumably a script) in front of them in a black binder. But it was clear that many of them had memorized a good portion of their parts. The ensemble sound was very solid when the whole company (or a men’s or women’s sub-chorus) was singing. And throughout, it was clear to me that what I was watching was primarily a chorus.
The music in this show is truly wonderful, so much so that I was thinking I might buy the cast recording on Amazon. If memory serves, there were at least a couple of songs that could be called full production numbers. And I’m still humming the most familiar song from the show: “Step to the Rear.” (You know it. “Will everyone here kindly step to the rear and let a winner lead the way?”) As usual, Sam Schieber accompanied the whole production, directing cut-offs from the piano. And also as usual, he brought this wonderful variety of music to life.
The lyrics were witty and to my mind nothing short of brilliant. In both the music and dialog there was irony – and every other comedic device – in abundance. Indeed, much of the show was laugh-out-loud funny. And that humor was due to the characterizations and comic timing of the performers. The leading characters were all strong actors and singers – Gina Marchitiello as Kate, Ryan Ritter as Charley, Bob Irvin as Wingate – but I have to add a word about Madeleine Wieland as Cynthia. I’ve seen her in Samantics concerts for a couple of years now, and I’ve come to think of her as a singer who could act. Now I see her as an excellent actor who can sing. But looking over this company (and for tonight it was more of a “company” than a “chorus”), I saw so many strong, lively characters. To me, it was almost as engaging as it would have been if the black binders were missing, and they were moving around in sets on an elevated stage behind a proscenium.
Watching this 1968 parody of Wall Street (which, incidentally, earned 6 Tony nominations and one win), I’m amazed it hasn’t been staged more widely. So much of it resonates in light of the financial tailspin we experienced starting in 2008. I should mention that this foray into musical theatre for Samantics is not surprising because Sam Schieber is as experienced and at home in the world of musical theatre as he is the world of vocal performance and choral singing. He says this may be just the first of many “concert musicals,” rescued from obscurity. I say, “That was great fun. Bring them on!”