By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Approx. Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
There certain phrases or words we hear that we’ll equate with a celebrity or someone of the like and when I hear the word blonde, my mind immediately goes to Miss Marilyn Monroe (even though she wasn’t a natural blonde), and the films she starred in during her short time on this planet. One of her most popular was and is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), but some may not know it was a best-selling novel by Anita Loos in 1925 and brought to the Broadway stage in 1949 with Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Robin, and Book by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields. Today, it’s on the Heritage Players stage in concert, Directed by Tommy Malel, with Music Direction by Rachel Sandler, and Choreography by Tommy Malek and Loiri-Struss-Weatherly. It’s a step back into a time when anything goes and ladies did what they could to get by, without batting an eyelash.
In a nutshell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert concerns itself with Loreli Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two carefree young women sailing across the Atlantic to Paris while running into various men who might be able to help them along the way, including an old noblemen, a zipper king, a Philadelphia society type, and a button manufacturer with a big heart and short temper, who is hot on the tails of Miss Loreli Lee.
Though no name is given for Set Design, it’s worth mentioning the effective and appropriate unit design and the use of set pieces to create various locations help move the story along without clunky scene changes and over the top gaudiness. Whomever is responsible for this design is to be commended. In tandem, Sound Design by Stuart Kazanow and Lighting Design by Atticus Boidy are both spot on. This is probably the clearest sound design I’ve heard outside of an equity house and every performer was crystal clear, even over the 30+ piece orchestra, kudos to Kazaow for a job quite well done. Lighting was inconsistent, at times, but not enough to deter from the production as a whole, Heritage Players stage is a lot of space to light and at points, it gets a little too dim, but overall, Boidy creates a splendid design.
Tommy Malek gives us a superb costume design that is authentic and detailed and completely takes us back to this decadent era in our history. His attention to the details in style is second to none with fringe and sequins and low waists – it’s all flawless. His Wig Design is pure magic, transforming these performers into their characters, it’s like wrapping the already well put together package up in a nice silk bow. Malek is to be commended on his exquisite Costume and Wig designs.
One of the other hats Tommy Malek puts on in this production, along with Lori Struss-Weatherly, is that of Choreographer. While taking care of the major tap number in the second act (“Maimie is Mimi”), Struss-Weatherly’s choreography is hands down remarkable. She has managed to keep this crew in step and looking good and has certainly given the audience a number to watch out for and enjoy. Malek has this ensemble moving graciously and efficiently with his choreography and every step works for this production making for a great showing.
Music Direction by Rachel Sander is on point and her work with the entire ensemble is tight and pristine. Sandler certainly knows her way around a score and it shows in this production. There are a few warbles within the choir, but overall, her work is to be commended. In the same vein, David Zajic’s work in conducting this amazing orchestra is superb.
The final hat Tommy Malek puts on is the hat of Director and he certainly has a good grasp on this material and his vision is clear. Directing a concert version of any how is a challenge, but Malek manages to make this production his own effortlessly. He keeps his staging engaging and the transitions are seamless making for a great pacing. It was an interesting choice to keep in the instrumental bits where absolutely nothing is happening on the stage and dim lighting, but, since it’s a concert version, one really can’t cut out the music, right? Well, maybe a few cuts would have helped this one an only criticism I have of this otherwise outstanding and polished production. Malek is to be applauded for his work and efforts.
Moving to the performance aspect of this production, the ensemble work is wonderful and the chemistry between them is authentic and charming and each and every performer on the stage is giving 100% making for a stellar ensemble.
Featured are Maddie Bohrer as Loreli Lee and Heather Moe as Dorothy Shaw and both of these performers are cast exactly as they should be. Both have a strong, confident presence that is required to lead this ensemble. Bohrer embodies her character and seems to have a tight grasp on her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Vocally both are powerhouses as shown in the famous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” performed by Bohrer and Moe is a standout in her renditions of “It’s High Time,” that sets the bar high for the rest of the production and “I Love What I’m Doing” is a sensation.
Justin Moe as Henry Spofford, Matt Wetzel as Josephus Gage, the Zipper King, and Jeremy Goldman as Gus Semond, Jr. and Adam Abruzzo as Pierre and Robert (pronounced Ro-bear) are stellar in their individual roles and fill out this ensemble nicely. Moe portrays just the right temperament, and has a beautiful vocal tone as shown in his featured numbers such as “Just a Kiss Apart” while Goldman does a splendid portrayal of his short tempered and knee-jerk reactor character, but also contrasts that with a soft side with a smooth rendition of “Bye, Bye Baby.” The definite comedians of this bunch are Wetzel and Abruzzo who both have impeccable comedic timing and Wetzel shines vocally as in his featured number “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow.”
Rounding out the featured ensemble is Beth Cohen as Mrs. Ella Spofford, Rick Roberston as Sir Beekman, and Robyn Bloom as Lady Beekman. Beth Cohen pulls off a flawless Philadelphia socialite who like to have a drink more often than not and her delivery of the dialogue is spot on. Likewise, Rick Robertson is hilarious as Sir Beekman and he has this character down pat that is apparent in his performance of the funny “It’s Delightful Down in Chile.” Bloom gives a solid showing as the prudish, dominating Lady Beekman and the chemistry between her and Roberston is delightful.
Final Thought… Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert is a fun, raucous jaunt through a bygone era where everyone was simply out to have a good time and it shows this ensemble is having a blast. With a phenomenal orchestra, able players, concise and well placed choreography, this production is polished and raring to go. It feels like it runs a little long, but you’ll be engaged and entertained every minute. Get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Heritage Players’ production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in Concert will play through March 1 at Heritage Players at The Thomas Rice Auditorium of the Spring Grove Hospital Campus, Catonsville, MD. Purchase tickets at the door one hour before show time or purchase them online.
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