There’s more entertainment packed into these 90 minutes of songs by the great Hoagy Carmichael than offered by two of what’s currently on Broadway. A company of seven young, triple threat performers sing and dance through number after number with no bridging dialogue. Some are better vocalists, some better dancers; all are talented, exuberant, and focused. Even to a Carmichael fan immersed in the genre, much is unfamiliar. There’s a goldmine of material here. The production is captivating.
Sara Esty and Company
Five period chapters frame the piece: Stardust Roadhouse, somewhere in Indiana; Club Old Man Harlem; USO Canteen; Club Heart & Soul, Hollywood; and the Stardust Roadhouse years later. These are distinguished by set change (James Morgan, Vincent Gunn), projections (Brad Peterson), and a wide variety of mostly terrific costumes – all era-correct, well designed, and fitted, a few more homemade looking (Alex Allison).
Dion Simmons Grier, Danielle Herbert, Sara Esty, Cory Lingner, Kayla Jenerson, Mike Schwitter
Occasionally director/choreographer Susan Schulman interjects the glimpse of a story: a group of friends nostalgically gather at the closing of their local watering hole; the shy young man who envies his peers’ success with women; two solitary, heartbroken women whose songs overlap finally toasting one another across a club; soldiers, letters in hand, wistfully singing about Indiana, Georgia, and Memphis; the creation of a flag-draped coffin by stacking furniture – the flag then correctly folded by two servicemen who turn with formality, presenting it to the grieving widow. Almost everything makes successive sense.
Schulman is one of a very few artists who could successfully take on a musical in constant movement, not always dance, where relationships are (if intermittently) implied, set must be changed by symbiotic cast, and vocals replace dialogue. Choreographic imagination is given full berth.
Lawrence Yurman at the piano; Danielle Herbert
There’s a harmonizing girl group (Kayla Jenerson, Danielle Herbert, Sara Esty) whose in sync gestures are spot-on (later we see terrific hand jive); a pair of creamy ballroom dancers worthy of a late 40s film (Cory Lingner, Sara Esty); an expansive tap solo by the boyish Lingner conjuring Gene Kelly – athletic, solid, leaping and landing with confidence; a refined tap solo by long-limbed Mike Schwitter, a Robert Lindsay type whose vocals, exemplified by the rueful, “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” also engage.
Cory Lingner and Company
Danielle Herbert gives us a 50s girl-with-the band “How Little We Know,” a crackerjack femme fatale “Bessie Couldn’t Help It,” and as spirited (and original) an interpretation of “Heart and Soul” – replete with pink toy piano – as you’re likely to see. Kayla Jenerson’s “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) could be more fun. The performer excels at ballads. (Note to props, she holds a rose while Markcus Blair sings “Blue Orchids”- an easy fix.)
Blair is the credible shy guy “Gotta Get a Girl”/Because I never had a girl…”, later performing a sashay-and-slide, hat-tipped-just-so “Lyin’ to Myself.” ‘A better singer than dancer. Dion Simmons Grier personifies your home town neighbor with cozy, flannel vocals like “Two Sleepy People” and “Georgia On My Mind.” He could pay a bit more attention to lyrics.
Sara Esty (York debut) is a star-in-waiting. The thespian sings blues “Just a Shade on the Blue Side” with heart and superb vocal control, is a marvelous tap and swing dancer, “Sing Me a Swing Song (And Let Me Dance),” and partners eloquently. Esty inhabits lyrics. Natural stage presence and freshness will admirably serve. Watch for her.
The band is first class; Lawrence Yurman’s immensely diverse arrangements so rich and evocative, I’d pleasurably listen again without visuals.
A call out to never better sound design by Julian Evans.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Markcus Blair, Kayla Jenerson, Cory Lingner, Danielle Herbert, Mike Schwitter, Sara Esty; photo of Dion Simmons Grier
Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road
Conceived by Susan H. Schulman, Michael Lichtefeld, Lawrence Yurman Developed with Hoagy Bix Carmichael Music by Hoagy Carmichael
Music Supervision/Arrangements/piano – Lawrence Yurman Directed by Susan H. Schulman
The York Theatre Company
The Theater at St. Jean’s
150 East 76thStreet, between Lexington and Third Avenues
Through December 31, 2022 matinee