CLEARFIELD — Having attended several productions in recent years produced by Clearfield City, including having been involved on the production team of a few, I knew what to expect when I arrived at the Bicentennial Amphitheater to see their July offering of Give My Regards to Broadway, directed and choreographed by Alyn Bone. The venue is situated on a hillside behind the Clearfield Library and provides tiered seating with a good view of the stage and nice acoustics from anywhere in the audience. The stage and audience area are open to the elements, and until the sun dipped behind some trees to the west there was a “sun-in-the-eyes” kind of squint on most of the actors’ faces. Once the sun went down, though, the sun wasn’t a problem (although there weren’t many options until the second act for the lighting designer, Bryan Butterfield). The stadium seats are unfortunately wildly uncomfortable, inducing numb backsides and legs by intermission, but those in the know planned ahead and brought their own cushions or camp chairs. I, alas, forgot mine and was condemned to painful lower extremities. But I was looking forward to seeing a show with which I was not familiar at all.
I enjoyed the pre-show music that played as the audience gathered beforehand—a selection of patriotic songs that encouraged the audience to hum and sing along. The music helped set the stage appropriately and gave the audience some insight as to what was to come. The stage set was simple and informative, clearly depicting a rehearsal hall/stage area of the “New Cohan Theater” set up for rehearsal. There was an old upright rehearsal piano (which was cleverly constructed to hide an electric piano), costume racks, various publicity posters from past productions, and props stacked around the stage. This clearly depicted a “show in progress,” even before any actors entered the scene.
From the moment to actors came onstage, they established the time and place of this story. The many scarves and mittens worn indicated it was wintertime and the building was unheated (the actors were believable, despite the actual outside temperature being well over 90 degrees), and the costumes obviously placed the time frame in the 1970’s, although it was never really clear why. The story could have easily been set in the present day, but as it was, the costumes were colorful, fun, and sometimes extreme with bell bottoms, peace signs, and crushed velvet suits on a few of the characters. The story was basic, mostly a flimsy plotline which served to tie the George M. Cohan songs together. If juke-box musicals had been around in George M.’s time, they would look like Give My Regards to Broadway.
There were several plotlines running through the show, the first being that the director/producer Dick Foster (played by Jared Garlick) is trying to raise $100,000 to put on an Off-Broadway show and is hoping to convince an aging former child star Mona Monroe (played by Kirstin Garlick Harris) to take on the challenge. (Yes, it’s a little reminiscent of Babes in Toyland.) She is not tempted however, and without a star to lead the show Dick is in dire straits. The chorus kids are let off the hook to go get some lunch, when in comes Mary Collins (portrayed by Melinda Patterson), fresh off the bus from New Rochelle and eager to make her mark in show business. Dick blows her off as an amateur, until one of his chorines collapses in the greasy spoon diner and is rushed to the hospital. Out of desperation Dick gives Mary an audition. She can dance and sing, and although her acting is not terrific, he decides to give her a shot. Of course this Peggy Sawyer-esque character will end up taking on the lead and saving the show. Another plotline involves Legs Ruby (Brandon Garlick), the boyfriend of one of the chorus girls, who is on the lam from gambling debts and looking for a place to hide. His storyline provides the most humor as he tries to find different disguises from the wardrobe department, and each time he comes on stage he is in a different outlandish ensemble cobbled together from various past productions. Legs is pursued by two gangster types, Mugsy and Babs (Terry DeMille and Kari Hatch, respectively) who completely steal the show. They were funny and goofy and outlandishly dressed and played very well off each other. The two actors were definitely the high point of the whole production.
Yet another storyline has to do with the niece of Betty, the dance captain, coming to New York to “visit.” Betty (played by Brittany Szymanski) fears that her niece Millie (Melissa Goertzen) would expose the lies about her life that she’s been telling the folks back home in Virginia. The playwright goes to great lengths to set up this conflict, and then nothing ever comes of it, except an opportunity for another song, which is perhaps the whole point. The plot twists when unexpectedly a young MBA student (Jonathan Hatch) shows up with a check for $100,000 from mysterious unknown Broadway Angel who wants to finance the show. Suddenly the chorus kids are called back to work, Legs is thrown into the show as his cover from the gangsters, and Mona Monroe shows up again, all eagerness to work with “Dear Dick” now that he’s in the money, which means that Dick must now choose between sweet young eager unknown Mary Collins and jaded, established, well-known star Mona to carry the show. Which will he choose?
The score is full of George M. Cohan standards such as “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” and others that might be less well-known like “Virginia Song” and “So Long Mary.” Several members of the audience hummed and sang along with the better known songs. However, the show itself took a while to get on its feet. Act One was slow moving through all the exposition and introduction of every character and the myriad storylines. I wasn’t even sure who the lead was until well into the first act, and it wasn’t until Jared Garlick sang a solo in the second act which showed off his voice that it became clear why he was cast as the main character. Act Two was much more entertaining when the “show within the show” was actually performed. The lighting design and simple set were effective at this point, using lighting to designate the “onstage” and “backstage” areas of the production. I enjoyed watching what the cast was doing “backstage” (i.e. costume changes, set changes, etc.) while the “show” was going on in a different area. At first it seemed that it might be confusing to the audience to follow, but it worked quite well.
Bryan Szymanski acted as music director, as well the pianist Eddie Cowles, who did a wonderful job playing the piano live for the musical numbers. I also thought that the ensemble numbers sounded beautiful. In the current era of canned and pre-recorded music, it was a nice change to have a live accompanist onstage for most of the musical numbers. The soloists covered the wide range of ability and experience, but the absolute high point of the show vocally was the trio of soldiers at the front of World War I (Jared Garlick, Bryan Szymanski and Brandon Garlick) who sang a beautiful three-part a cappella version of “It’s a Grand Old Flag” during the second act that was really lovely. The choreography relied on using the ensemble in big dance formations and creating interesting pictures onstage to keep visual interest. The best dance number was the Act Two opener “It’s a Grand Old Flag/Yankee Doodle Boy” which featured Brandon Garlick in an Uncle Sam costume on a rotating pedestal shooting confetti canons at the end.
“Give My Regards to Broadway” is a short show (90 minutes or so, including the intermission) packed with great old songs from the original Yankee Doodle Dandy, George M. Cohan. Anyone looking for a cute show with lots of heart should definitely come and check out the latest offering from Clearfield City. Just remember to bring a cushion for your seat.