Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending The Musical Theatre Project (TMTP) at the Beck Center for the Arts. I was invited by my good friend Joanna May Hunkins, who has just become Associate Director. TMTP was formed in 2000 to foster a deeper appreciation of the American Musical. Through its concert and cabaret series, TMTP educates, as well as entertains people of all ages. It is headed up by BILL RUDMAN, an educator, a broadcaster, a producer and the founder of TMTP. He has created more than 40 concerts and cabarets that celebrate and share musical theater as a uniquely American art form. His radio programs, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle,” are heard across the country on public radio stations, Public Radio Exchange (prx.org) and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. In 1983, he and New York author Ken Bloom co-founded Harbinger Records, a label that has won critical praise for albums devoted to the American musical and the Great American Songbook. In 2000 he became the first recipient of the Robert Bergman Award for his work in arts education and community outreach. Armed with a passionate mission, this man is well grounded and experienced, to lead this educational treasure chest.
On Thursday night, TMTP presented the American musical classic Babes in Arms. The evening was produced by the hosting venue Beck Center for the Arts, and artistically fueled by the Kent State University Musical Theatre Program. What a fantabulous collection of Producers, which resulted in an incredibly charming evening of education and performance quality. The incredible host Bill Rudman introduces us to what we are about to see, guides us through the storyline, provides fascinating background on the show, and the artists who created it, which includes the legendary song writing team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
Babes in Arms is a 1937 musical that concerns a young man and woman, in their 20’s, who put on a show with their friends to avoid having them be sent to a work farm, since their parents are out of work vaudevillians. It is truly the first “Hey, let’s us kids put on a show,” which screams Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Providing the talent for the occasion is the Kent State Musical Theatre students, and boy, do they deliver the goods. With sharp, fun direction from Terri Kent, tap dancing magic provided by Choreographer MaryAnn Black, and fierce Music Direction by Nancy Maier, assisted by Jennifer Korecki, this is one of the best concert staged musicals that I have ever seen. With the energy of the engaging cast, and the production values, this production delighted the nearly full Beck Center crowd.
This cast was ridiculously cute and entertaining. Kyle Kemph (Val Lamar) has to be the patronus of Mickey Rooney. This kid is packed with musical theatre muscle, and along with effortless charm and a beautiful voice, nailed it. Lindsay Simon (Billie Smith) takes on the iconic Judy Garlandesque role, and creates a full blown musical sack of fabulous sugar, with a side of sass, and alongside Kemph, created a solid team to lead this bouncy musical. Michael Crowley brings his charm to Marshall Blackstone. Kristen Hoffman and Christopher Tuck, as Dolores Raynolds and Gus Fielding, are the character actors you want to go out and have a shot with. Blessed with engaging voices, and faces that are mugtastic, these two are a delight. The rest of the cast is solid as well, Jennifer Kirchner serving Baby Rose realness, William Tipton and Kirk Lydell bringing Nicholas Brothers’ charm and movement alive and lovable, Troy Kowatch giving us a hilarious look at day dreaming as Peter, Tyler Hanes and Andy Donelly providing the racist tension in the show by showing both sides of the coin with the Calhoun brothers, and finally Kevin Lauver delivering a hilarious ride as Rene Flambeau.
Providing great production work was Production Manager and Lighting Designer Jaime Benjamin, Sound Designer R. Eric Simna, and Stage Manager Nathan Rosmarin.
This was a great time and I can’t wait to see another TMTP production. Keep your eye on their website http://www.musicaltheaterproject.org/
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