Jukebox Musical: An August Pleaser in Dennis

The Uh-Ohs of the 1960s Bounce off the Walls of the Cape Playhouse

Twangy songs rattle the memories of audience

leaderofthepack1_599
   A rousing rendition by the cast of Leader of the Pack. Photos by Kathleen A. Fahle.

By Libby Hughes, drama critic for Cape Cod Today

As we slide down the hill of August to the end of summer, the Cape Playhouse has chosen two absolute musical winners at the peak of their season. The third show, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" scored instant success. Opening night of its back-to-back fourth show struck it even richer. ":Leader of the Pack" wrenched the audience out of its seats for the first real standing ovation thus far. Perfect summer fare for all ages.

Plot

"The Pack" hit Broadway in 1985 and garnered a Tony Award nomination. However, Frank Rick, drama critic of The New York Times, described it as an "embarrassment." Rich was ironically called the "Butcher of Broadway," so his review did not kill it instantly. Some parodies have crafted the title for modern consumption such as: "Leader of Iraq" and "Leader of Barack!" The simple plot of the show is based on a true story. Ellie Greenwich, a girl from Brooklyn, could play the accordion and write songs. Her dream was to have her songs played on the radio. She stormed the doors of the Brill Building to break into the business. She made it big. Her collaboration with another songwriter, Jeff Barry, turned into marriage and...Well, the second act tells it all. No need to spoil it right here.

Songs

All 22 songs were composed by Ellie Greenwich, who also wrote some of the lyrics with Jeff Barry, Jeff Kent, Ellen, Foley, Phil Spector, and George Morton. Anne Beatts helped with the book. The groups of the sixties like the Jivettes, Ronettes, and Shangri-Las were in constant motion with their legs and hands, chopping the air with their arms, bending knees, moving shoulders and hips. The women were in short, short mini-skirts defying the below-the-knee skirts of the 1950s. Many of the lyrics were repeated over in triplet form, but every word was distinct and made sense! "Baby, Baby, Baby," "Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh," and "Da Doo Ron Ron, Da Doo Ron, Ron, Da Doo Ron Ron" are samples of this stuttering foreign language that has a nasal twang to it.

leaderofthepack2_399The title song, "Leader of the Pack," was written for the Shangra-Las. It has a Romeo-Juliet theme. Betty, a high school girl, falls in love with Jimmy, head of a motorcycle gang. Her parents object because he's the wrong kind of boy. When she tells him they have to break-up, he screeches away on his motorcycle, goes into a dangerous spin, and dies.

Choreographer, the star

Much of the success of this particular production of "Leader of the Pack" is due to Mark Martino, Choreographer/Director, who choreographed "Scoundrels" as well. The pace was professional and the movement of props went like clockwork. He captured the flavor of the sixties.

Ensemble

The other half of the stardom belongs to the ensemble of seven, who operated on high energy vocally and physically. We remember Laione Michelle from "Beehive." Who could forget that stunning voice that seems even richer this time around? She socks the audience with her mezzo twang of the 1960s. Bridget Beirne convinces us of Ellie Greenwich's ambition in the music business that overrides even love. But when separation happens she is devastated. Her rendition of "Rock of Ages" could have been more effective if it had not been so broad. Aside from that, her performance was impeccable. Chasten Harmon and Jaimie Kelton were equally outstanding as part of a trio, quartet, or sextet. They never stepped out of character.

Gregg Goodbrod played Jeff Barry, the songwriter and husband of Ellie in a fairly credible way. We didn't see the nuances that his character needed through his own songwriting ambition, separate from Ellie's, and his yearning to start a family. The dynamic of coming back from LA to work again with Ellie didn't show the strain and change in their relationship distinctly enough. Musical Director, Matt Castle is part of the show as Gus and he does a splendid job. Jeremy Leiner and Ivory McKay make essential additions to the male part of the ensemble.

Set, Costumes, Lighting

Scenic Designer, David Esler created a series of platforms that Christopher Chambers skillfully lighted in limes, blues, pinks, and reds. Gail Baldoni, Costume Designer, made short, sleeveless dress sheaths in lime, red, and blue for the sixties decade. Her sky-blue gowns were stunning. The beehive wigs and bouffant hairstyles made the costumes. The five piece orchestra onstage became part of the whole musical.

Uh oh, this jukebox musical is a summer pleaser and will pack ‘em in.

Call quickly for tickets to "Leader of the Pack." Aug. 4-16: Monday through Saturday at 8:00pm. Matinees Wed, at 2:00pm; Sat. 8/9 at 4:00pm; Thurs. 8/14 at 2:00pm. 508-385-3911 in Dennis on Rte 6A. Visit the Cape Playhouse site here.

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