Yes, this is Steve Bornfeld’s Showstopper reviewing Steve Wynn’s ShowStoppers. Har-dee-har-har. Now …
As a Broadway-reared native New Yorker, perhaps I carried unreasonable expectations into this Great White Way compendium at the Encore Theater, showcasing an array of showboating production numbers. Except they’re not all showboaters, so the disconnect between the title’s promise and the show’s delivery—and overuse of some musicals while skipping obvious others—is disconcerting.
Visually, this is Flo Ziegfeld World—top hats to tap shoes, from downbeat to curtain. You couldn’t ask for more sight-and-sound bling for your buck: a 31-piece orchestra, sumptuous sets, elaborate costumes and sparkles and spangles in spades. Yet audiences might scratch their noggins over Wynn’s conception of “showstoppers” and not even recognize several that never escaped their individual musicals to dent the larger public consciousness.
ShowStoppers is backed by nearly 30 singer-dancers and fronted by powerhouse performers Andrew Ragone, Randal Keith, David Burnham, Kerry O’Malley, Nicole Kaplan and Lindsay Roginski. Highlights are considerable: the playful “Anything You Can Do” (Keith, O’Malley); seriously flashy “Cabaret” and “Willkommen” (featuring appropriately creepy Ragone); a roof-rattling “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (by roof-rattler O’Malley); an electric “Razzle Dazzle” (Ragone redux); and ShowStopper’s genuine showstopper, Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” (led by sizzling Roginski, a veteran of the Broadway version). Another big-ticket tune, “One” from A Chorus Line, was marred by a sloppy line opening night.
That tunes are presented out of story context matters just as little as if they comprised a PBS concert. Great Broadway songs sell themselves as self-contained gems, except from many Stephen Sondheim musicals in which they’re more narratively intertwined. However, a couple standalone Sondheim-ers—raucous “Comedy Tonight” or trenchant heartbreaker “Losing My Mind”—would’ve acknowledged his genius.
In interviews, Wynn said he wouldn’t mind “exhausting” audiences. While there are wow moments, they don’t amount to exhaustion. Modulating the repertoire with change-of-pace picks is fine, but will anyone but theater hard-cores swoon over “Little Brains, a Little Talent” from Damn Yankees when “Whatever Lola Wants” is more beloved? Same for under-the-radar “The Game,” rather than “(You Gotta Have) Heart.”
With the caveat that obtaining rights for certain inclusions can be difficult, why cram in three numbers each from Cabaret and Chicago and ignore “America” from West Side Story or “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof? Or sidestep across-the-pond contributions, sacrificing spine-tingling “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables or something Andrew Lloyd Webber?
One wonders whether, by favoring enjoyable but secondary “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Elegance” from Hello, Dolly! over “Before the Parade Passes By” and the title song, the creators/Wynn are less into providing recognizable faves for casual musical theater fans than parading their Broadway-insider IQ.
And if obvious options are considered clichéd, these talented folks could reinterpret them with creative snap.
Quibbles over choices are unavoidable with a gargantuan selection pool, and the lineup will likely be regularly refreshed. Still, the initial balance is off in ShowStoppers, at least to the Broadway fan who hangs out here in Showstopper.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.