Nancy Sasso Janis
Onstage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
Waterbury, CT - Seven Angels Theatre Stage Seven Community is proudly presenting ‘Showstoppers,’ a celebration of the Broadway music that has been performed on this Waterbury stage throughout its long history. WATR’s Tom Chute conceived this tribute to just a small portion of the music and musicals featured at Seven Angels over the past 26 years and then reached out to area theatre friends to collaborate on which numbers to perform. The result is a star-studded cast bringing to life some of the best of the best of 7A productions. I loved reliving those shows I had seen on this stage and regretting having missed the rest of the productions that made the cut to allow ‘Showstoppers’ to fit neatly into two hours.
Mr. Chute himself served as the suave host of the evening in his tuxedo and opened the show with “42nd Street” backed up by a stage-full of young tap dancers. When Earlene Babcock arrived with some flapjacks for the host, she joined the host for “Sh-boom” from ‘The Taffetas’ and then invited herself to stick around to assist in any way she could, to the delight of the preview night audience. Whether she was mangling the name of the Artistic Director Semina De Laurentis or flirting with the host, Michelle Gotay’s alter ego was on fire at this performance and even managed to crack up Mr. Chute.
The rest of the first act was one “showstopping” tune after another performed by the best of area talent, so I will only hit the highlights. The mother-daughter team of Mary and Veronica Johnson followed up with “Where the Boys Are” from ‘The Taffetas’ and Brian D. Fortin Carter was amazing on “Cry” from ‘Forever Plaid.’ Don Leona took on Alfred P. Doolittle for “With a Little Bit of Luck” from ‘My Fair Lady.’ The trio of Courtney Chute Chenkus, Jimmy Donohue and Stephanie Varanelli Miles went back to ‘Annie’ to reprise “Easy Street.” Erin West Reed, Marcia Maslo, Leah Juliett and Ms. Miles brought down the house with a smoking rendition of “I’m a Woman” from ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ and Mr. Donohue closed out the act with a fantastic “Betrayed” from ‘The Producer’s’ complete with a break featuring Miss Earlene herself.
Act two got off to a great start with more fabulous dancing and Rob Girardin (in his 7A debut) singing ‘Footloose.’ Courtney Chute Chenkus (Mr. Chute's beautiful daughter) became Elle Woods for “What You Want” from ‘Legally Blonde’ with Veronica Johnson, Erin West Reed (7A debut,) and WCSU student Leah Juliett for back up. Jeff Savage remembered ‘Hello, Dolly’ with “It Takes a Woman’ with a company of guys. The dreamy Moses Beckett sang a beautiful “Try to Remember” from ‘The Fantasticks’ as only he can. The powerhouse duo of Carletha Hawley and John Carter performed a wonderful “Honeysuckle Rose” from ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ and Lucia Dressel and Priscilla Squiers remembered ‘Mame’ with a terrific “Bosom Buddies.” Mr. Chute joined Marcia Maslo on “Who Can I Turn To?” from the recent ‘He Wrote Good Songs.’
A 7A history show would not be complete without a reprise of the ‘Nunsense’ series, so members of the cast broke open the nun closet to perform the title song in the habit. Mary Johnson, Marcia Maslo, Courtney Chute Chenkus, Priscilla Squiers and yes, Jimmy Donohue could not have been more adorable or funny. It bears repeating that Mr. Donohue, who will be directing the upcoming production of ‘Bye, Bye Birdie’ at The Gilbert School, is a mainstay on the 7A mainstage and simply shines in everything he does.
Some 7A history was shared during the introductions of the upcoming numbers and I was thrilled to hear a mention of my top ten list for this year when ‘Legally Blonde’ came up.
Holly McCann served as music director of this large set list and played piano in the pit with Mark Ryan on drums and Mike Conroy on bass. The fun choreography was done by Nefra Sullivan-Wihbey. Daniel Husvar did the scenic and prop design and Matt Martin was in charge of sound design, as always. The splashy lighting was designed by Brandon Cook and Stephanie Gordner. Costumes by Claire Gaudette were plentiful and classy.
‘Showstoppers: Broadway at Seven Angels Theatre’ features over 30 great songs from 25 seasons and one from 2016 and runs Jan 13-15 and 20-22. Tickets are $35 or buy four for $99.
Nancy Sasso Janis (@nancysjanis417) is one of the newest members of the Connecticut Critics Circle and contributes theater news to Patch.com. Check out her Facebook page Connecticut Theater Previews. Pictured: Courtney Chute Chenkus, Stephanie Varanelli Miles and Jimmy Donohue in "Easy Street" Photos by Seven Angels Theatre