Stage Door explores the songs of the 1960s with ‘What’s New Pussycat?’

 

The cast of Stage Door’s ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ explores the songs and dance moves of the 1960s.

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By Christine Dolen | cdolen@Miamiherald.com

Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs is throwing a Baby Boomer nostalgia fest in its side-by-side theaters, with a nice production of Leonard Gershe’s 1969 play Butterflies Are Free playing in Theater One through mid-September, and the just-opened musical revue What’s New Pussycat? in Theater Two all month.

As its title hints, What’s New Pussycat? was originally focused on the music of Burt Bacharach, but the show’s co-creators — director Michael Leeds and director-choreographer Kevin Black — expanded their concept to include a wide range of music from the 1960s.

Projected headlines between segments remind the audience of key news events and suggest themes for the different sequences of songs. One little boo-boo: A headline about Jane Fonda marrying filmmaker Roger Vadim is accompanied by a photo of Fonda and her subsequent hubby, politician Tom Hayden.

But what matters most in a revue with barely a spoken word, of course, is assembling a cast of strong, versatile singers. What’s New Pussycat? is certainly blessed that way, with South Florida favorites Shane Tanner, Clay Cartland, Mike Westrich and Leah Sessa joined by Sara Ashley and Brandy Lee Ward. Working with musical director Eric Alsford, the six ably deliver the show’s wide-ranging goods, both individually and as an ensemble.

The songs are loosely grouped thematically. The first segment is all about popular dances: Dancin’ in the Streets, Let’s Twist Again, The Peppermint Twist, Do You Wanna Dance? and, for the audience clap-along participation tune, Land of 1000 Dances morphing into The Name Game.

Then there’s a geographical-travel sequence, with Ashley’s wistful Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, Cartland’s comical Pretty Woman, These Boots Are Made for Walking, California Dreamin’, Tanner’s jazzy Georgia On My Mind, Do You Know the Way to San Jose? and I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

The protest era gets a nod (and guitar accompaniment by Cartland) with Eve of Destruction, Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag and lovely six-part harmony on Bridge Over Troubled Water. The first act ends with a cluster of Beatles tunes: Westrich’s melancholy Yesterday, Tanner’s The Long and Winding Road and a rousing Hey Jude.

The second act is all about crushes, love, marriage and breakups, closing out with a string of songs from the movies. Motown gets its props with Westrich’s Shop Around and Ashley’s Stop in the Name of Love. Sessa longs for commitment on Wedding Bell Blues, and Cartland (who seems to get all the show’s goofiest bits) croons the Turtles’ Happy Together. Ward delivers a powerhouse At Last, Westrich a gorgeous Unchained Melody, Sessa a tough Goldfinger, Ashley a haunting What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?.

As with most revues without an elaborate set, the actors in What’s New Pussycat? change costumes a lot, and the women — the brunette Ward, the blonde Ashley and the redhead Sessa — are done up like beautiful birds from the fashionably swingin’ ‘60s.

Because the show is so well sung, the revue is fun for those born after the 1960s (the entire cast, for example) and for older seniors whose teens dug that music back when it was new. But it’s Boomers who are most likely to get their groove on with What’s New Pussycat?.

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