Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
The New McCree Theatre continues their season this week with the homegrown production of Those Gorgeous Glamorous Girl Groups at their home in Flint.
Written by McCree Executive Director, Charles H. Winfrey, and directed by local theatre stalwart, Cathy E. Johnson, the show is alternately a history lesson, a treatise on racial equality, and a delightful musical. Mostly though it was, for me and anyone who grew up in Michigan in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a wonderful trip down memory lane. (The first music I ever purchased was a Supremes album).
A bit of housekeeping to begin: A show, theatre or otherwise, starts at the time posted. Saturday, fully one half of the already sparse audience, showed up well after the curtain. This can not only bother the seated audience but the actors as well. (An apparent change in curtain time for this show might help explain the situation.) But, the comings and goings within the audience surprised me, too. This is not a nightclub folks. There are people performing. Give them a break. Sit down and watch the show.
The show, which is mostly a musical review of the burgeoning black girl groups of the 50s and 60s through modern times, focused on the Phil Spector era in Philly and, of course, Motown.
TGGGG started slowly as the production was plagued by sound problems. (It was explained to me that McCree Theatre lost most of its microphone sets due to theft). The third song in, “Mr. Lee”, kicked up the pace. It was more energetic with nice costumes (the costumes were great all the way through), the girls seemed more committed and the young male dancer nearly stole the piece!! The cast worked through over a dozen songs in the opening act. Almost all had the audience tapping toes and clapping in tempo. Most songs will be remembered; “There Will Be Days Like This”, “Mashed Potatoes”, “Locomotion”, “One Fine Day” were very impressive. “Never Walk Alone” was powerful. McCree has some wonderful, strong voices that easily handled the material.
The McCree Theatre band, as they were introduced, directed by Dr. Phil Young, was wonderful. Percussion, bass, keyboard and sax all could have played anywhere – but I particularly enjoyed the sax player.
The second act featured more standards from “Da Doo Ron” to “Zippity Doo Dah” to “Don’t Mess With Bill”. “And Then He Kissed Me” featured a very strong voice (I wish the program had listed the individual singers for each song). Another strong number was “Love Child”. In fact the second act seemed stronger overall. “We Are Family”, “Needle In A Haystack”, and “Want Ads” all were delightful.
The set was sparse, as needed, to accommodate the singers and dancers. There was a wonderful backdrop featuring many of the girl groups of the 50s and 60s. The lighting was sepia toned and helped set the mood for the trip down memory lane.
I would be remiss if I didn’t offer some theatre criticism. A lot of the action took place in the back 1/3 of the set where unfortunately, the mics were at their worst. Bringing the performers down stage would have helped. Additionally, more than one number featured the vocalists singing toward off stage or even toward upstage. No matter the production, it’s important for the performers to engage and face the audience. I made this note quite a few times. Just a comment to the younger, less experienced actors: when you’re onstage, make the most of it. Commit to the action because simply walking through it can draw attention to you and away from the featured performers. Finally, actors doing some of the narrative must slow down. Communication with an audience doesn’t happen when the lines are delivered as if in a race to get them over with.
The glue, if you will, holding this production together and providing a through line was the narrator and DJ, Cassondra Harris. Full of life, information and energy, Harris spun the ersatz records and provided most of the historical information. She was engaging and delightful. She reminded me of the late Shirley Hemphill, a brilliant comedienne.
Despite the technical difficulties and the uneven range of talent, this show rocked and was extremely entertaining. The tech issues will resolve and the performers will only get stronger. McCree featured many enormously talented young folks. They can hold their own in any venue. TGGGG is at its heart a tremendous concert!
Those Gorgeous Glamorous Girl Groups continues at the New McCree Theatre, through April 12, 2014 at the venue on 505 Cloverlawn in Flint. 810-787-2200. Take a wonderful, exciting and entertaining trip down memory lane and check out the tremendous home-grown talent available in Flint!