by CHARLES DONELAN
Successful Broadway shows lead eternal double lives, coming into existence first in the theater but then living on wherever and whenever its numbers are performed. As satisfying as it is to see a whole musical, there’s a lot to be said for the pleasures of a good revue, and this is an excellent one. The songs are drawn from current (Matilda, Sister Act), recent (Jekyll & Hyde, Jersey Boys, Rent), and classic (West Side Story, Grease) musicals, and they reveal the extraordinary range of talent present in the SBHS performing arts program. A live orchestra in the pit, anchored by John Douglas on piano and Lito Hernandez on sax and as music director, keeps the whole thing flowing beautifully, and the trio of directors — Grace Apostolopoulos, Malcolm McCarthy, and Claudia Fanaro — do a brilliant job of showcasing the singing, acting, and dancing of these talented performers.
“Wild, Wild Party” made a great opener and gave the entire ensemble a chance to get their dance on. “Take Me or Leave Me,” a funky, gospel-tinged duet from Rent, came next, and Claudia Fanaro and Camille Umoff lit up the theater with their vocal pyrotechnics and clever, intricate choreography. Grease is one of the most familiar of all high school musicals, but when you have a Sandy as sweet as Ciara Tolliver and a Danny as warm and funny as Gabe Reali, “Summer Nights” sounds fresh again.
The medley of “When I Grow Up” and “Revolting Children” from the new musical Matilda featured Hailey Turner as Matilda and Bradley DeVine as Bruce and included an amazing dance sequence involving lots and lots of fast-moving chairs. This number showed off the extent to which these students are aware of what’s happening on Broadway right now.
No night of Broadway musicals would be complete without something from West Side Story, and I am delighted to report that the selection for this program was not another version of one of the show’s now-predictable covers but rather a carefully choreographed and pleasingly jazzy version of “Cool,” a dance number that features three couples as Jets and a pair of athletic guys as Riff (Andrew Gutierrez) and Raff (Drew Janssen). The high level of dancing throughout is one of the core strengths of this edition of Music of the Night, with Nolan McCarthy, Drew Janssen, Ciara Tolliver, and Camille Umoff contributing particularly noteworthy steps to the very impressive cumulative impact.
As for the voices, no one who sees this show will leave without noticing the huge talent of Grant Bower, whose flexible and confident falsetto as Frankie dominates the Jersey Boys medley. Bower is all over this show, fluidly morphing from the radio pop of “Walk Like a Man” into the Catskills schtick of “Keep It Gay” fromThe Producers, and then the high drama of the beautiful “Someone Like You” duet from Jekyll & Hyde. But that’s not all — along with Claudia Fanaro and Sable Layman, Bower also delivers a terrific version of “Fabulous Baby,” a disco song from Sister Act.
Yes, there were clunkers. The finale, “Hey Jude” from Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, hit all the right notes emotionally and was beautifully choreographed but also turned out to be fiendishly difficult to sing, especially for actors on the move. Nevertheless, there isn’t a better way to chase the blues or reach for the stars in Santa Barbara this week than by going to see Santa Barbara High’s spirited Music of the Night.