The atmosphere is swank and fun at The Theatre on San Pedro Square no matter what the show. This past week the world premiere of Bandstand Beat opened to a pleased audience. Well, mostly pleased.
The song selection is great, no beef there. From The Supremes to Ricky Valens to the Big Bopper the songs are well-known and enjoyable. But, I didn’t feel like the cast matched the original talent of the songs, nor did they bring any real new interpretation to them. They sang well in most cases, but the arrangements didn’t do anything for me and with the exception of a few solos, the presentation was a bit flat. With no real jokes or interesting facts about the original artists to move it along, the actors seemed rushed to get to the next bit and often time people we out of breath or it seemed ad-libbed.
The look is fantastic, perfect costuming and set. From the 60’s hues of the tailored dresses to the skinny black ties of the polished live band the setting is worth a flash of the applause signs that flank the stage. Even a stage manager’s headset “sets” a tone that is undeniably nostalgic. The use of the space was clever too, but (there’s that but again) the lighting was all over the place and I didn’t feel like this was a “live” studio show. The set was there, just didn’t feel connected to it, didn’t think the actors were at “home” either.
There were dance lessons before the show and several took part in learning the twist. But (yes, more but) not as many got up to dance during the show. Maybe it was a lazy Sunday. Maybe it was the fact that the lessons were taking place while people were trying to get seats, drinks, and read the program. Maybe it was that the floor to dance was seemingly blocking the view of other patrons. A few daring souls participated but (sorry) many in Sunday’s audience were playing the part of sitting audience.
Opening weekend comes on the tails of what is often two weeks straight of rehearsals that continue long into the night. This can be murderous on a musical as vocal chords are given few opportunities to rest. Pair that with a matinée which is a bit early to sing, a mere 14 hours after the last performance and it’s no doubt that some of the spark that might otherwise be there was faded. But (that’s the last time I’m going to use that word) I felt like some of the actors (many of whom I have seen perform similar roles with much more energy) were phoning it in. There were line flubs, lyric drops, and some of the choreography was far too mechanical for my taste. Other shows overcome the difficulties of tech week, I didn’t feel this cast was able to win me over.
That being said, the rest of the audience liked this a lot more than I did (for what its worth they gave a partial standing ovation albeit a bit delayed.) And, maybe I was at a disadvantage with higher expectations? Even so, I have to give this effort 2 1/2 out of 5 jewels in the tiara. Bandstand Beat play through October 9th at the Theatre on San Pedro Square in San Jose.