Little Theatre of the Rockies - Babes in Hollywood” is a Fun Lovely Show

by John Bromley
Greeley Tribune – June 15, 2007

David Grapes’ joyous, stunning new musical revue “Babes in Hollywood – The Music of Garland and Rooney,” is beautifully mounted on Greeley Central’s small but lovely stage.  This wonderful production which opens the Little Theatre of the Rockies 73rd season of professional summer stock theatre, features four of UNC’s School of Theatre Arts and Dance best performers – recent graduates Colin Harrington and Emily Van Fleet and current sophomores Rhianna Pfannenstiel and Michael Covert. Staged by Grapes on Marc Haniuk’s evocative unit set, which is anchored by a giant rear projection screen.

The score as arranged by Andrew Herron contains over 25 American Standards. However Babes in Hollywood is not just a celebration of the careers of Mickey and Judy but also salute to the era’s rich popular music.

It was obvious from the rousing opening number that this is a talented company, brilliantly inspired and led by Grapes.

The four players are divided into couples.  Harrington and Van Fleet are the young Judy and Mickey, with Covert and Pfannenstiel as the twosome in maturity.  The actors sing and dance with rare ability, sometimes alone, sometimes together.  The interweaving of the two stars’ songs, careers and troubled lives is done with sympathy, understanding, and a nice appreciation of the effects of celebrity on personal lives.  Garland – whose music is immortal – drank, drugged and married to great excess, and died in her forties; Rooney, whose artistry was the lesser of the two, is with us yet.  Their lives and troubles are sketched, but with commendable restraint; it is their art that is always center stage.

The songs are a series of showstoppers.  The four actors collaborate to lovely effect on Rogers and Hart’s “Where or When” in the first act, and then the stage is cleared for Van Fleet’s recreation of her glorious “Over the Rainbow,” the song which made her tenure as Dorothy in Boulder Dinner Theatre’s production of “Wizard of OZ” so memorable.  “Be a Clown,” opened by Colin Harrington in balloon pants and including hilarious audience participation, was another glorious moment, as was the medley of songs drawn from the period of Rooney’s military and Garland’s USO service, which closes the first act.

The second act opens with Covert’s ravishing “But Not for Me,” continues with Pfannenstiel’s lovely “Come Rain or Come Shine” and has a particularly heart-stopping moment when Covert leaves his heart in San Francisco.   The pace quickens with three big dance pieces, two tap and one soft shoe; then we pause to mourn Garland’s death in “After You’ve Gone,” before we experience the highlight of the evening - an amazingly heart-felt rendition from Pfannenstiel and Musical Director Vince diMura at the grand piano of Garland’s gut wrenching “The Man That Got Away.” That number alone would have been worth the entire price of admission. 

A medley of “Get Happy” and the FDR theme song “Happy Days are Here Again” buries the somber mood, and the show finishes triumphantly with a reprise of  “Over the Rainbow,” this time sung by all four players.

I saw the show with my 4-year-old friend Jordyn, who sang and clapped the whole time.  It’s that kind of show, gloriously danced and gloriously sung, that is a tribute not just to the enormous talents of the players but also to Grapes’ ability to assemble just the right musical material to celebrate the creative gifts of Mickey and Judy.  The result is a premiere of unusual distinction.  This is the summer show you deserve to see!

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