Hillbarn's 'Babes in Hollywood' a sparkling jaunt through American Songbook

By Joanne Engelhardt
MediaNews Correspondent

Article Last Updated: 12/19/2008

"Babes in Hollywood: The Music of Garland & Rooney" is a delicious way to savor the holidays. Running through New Year's Eve at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, this frothy confection is overflowing with infectious charm, thanks to an energetic sextet of performers and a pitch-perfect three-piece onstage band.

The short trip down nostalgia lane literally zooms by, due in large part to director/choreographer Tim Bair. Projection operator Aya Matsutomo deserves special mention, too, because this show uses a multitude of sometimes-grainy black-and-white photos to great advantage on the movable panels that are the mainstay of the set.

Of course, what's not to like when you get to listen to such golden oldies as "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," You Made Me Love You," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "That Old Black Magic."

Ostensibly, this is the story of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland from their early years at MGM. But that's just a theatrical device used to showcase many wonderful tunes from the 1940s and '50s, all of which were recorded or sung on stage by Rooney or Garland.

The six talented performers form a cohesive ensemble, and each is featured in a number or two. Kathryn Fox Hart is the most Garland-like, with flowing brown pompadoured hair and ruby red lips. She's delightful, and she doesn't attempt to imitate Judy while singing "Over the Rainbow" — that's a good thing.

Tom Reardon, Jenni Daw-Crisp and Sean Patrick Murtagh are the three other singer-performers, while Alex Dreschke and wide-eyed Arielle Fishman have a go at being Mickey and Judy in their younger years.

There are several standout numbers — in particular, the twirling trunk used while "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe" is sung; "Happy Feet," where the performers do a tricky number with dance sticks, and "Mr. Monotony," with figures in silhouette.

After Reardon and Murtagh team up to do a mean two-step on "For Me and My Gal," the entire cast chimes in by ringing a set of colorful bells. Later, Daw-Crisp surprises with an all-out tap to the tune of "I Got Rhythm."

Mae Heagerty-Matos cleverly costumes the performers in matching plaids and pastel colors in the first act, then in more formal blue attire with lots of bling in Act II. Dee Morrissey's hairdos are spot on from the era as well.

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