For me, the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Bootleggers' show is a bi-annual delight. It's a treat to see the men and women who serve our salads, drinks, and desserts all year - and who perform for a few minutes prior to each production - get their own show. This is their chance to shine and, while Blame It On the Movies isn't quite as fun, overall, as past Bootlegger revues, its cast proves that they deserve more time in the spotlight.
Conceived by Ron Abel, Billy Barnes, and David Galligan, this musical revue is a collection of songs from movies released throughout the 20th Century, as well as a few original Barnes compositions to help tie the theme together. And to be frank, I was bored by the start of Thursday's intermission, not due to poor performances, but because I knew only two of the 20-plus included in the first act. On top of that, the early- to mid-20th Century compositions share a similar tone, so even though there are a few relatively upbeat numbers, the first half of the evening feels a bit monotonous.
Still, there are notable early moments, including Antoinette Holman's soulful delivery of songs included in the "Jungle Medley" and every number so earnestly performed by Jennifer Diab, who seems to hold nothing back as she belts out "Dream" and the "Foreign-Film Crossover" as if she's declaring, "This is my chance to be in the spotlight, and damn if I'm not going to make it count!" Director/choreographer Jim Hesselman stages a rousing number that features the entire ensemble tapping their toes while singing "Shoo Shoo Baby." Sara Nicks, Brad Hauskins, Marc Ciemiewicz, and Chris Galván share a bit of their comedic talents in "Kalamazoo," which Hesselman presents as a oneupmanship number with the men vying for Nicks' attention. Sunshine Ramsey even tones down her impressive belt for a humor-filled, physical-comedy take on "I Get the Neck of the Goose."
The evening didn't fully come alive for me, however, until the second act, which is filled mostly with songs I have heard before, and songs of varied genres and tempos, which helps significantly. Kirsten Sindelar's spunky "Let's Hear It for the Boy" from Footloose is a much-needed dash of pepper, while Hauskins' gentle guitar playing and soothing stylings on Tootsie's "It Might Be You" add a good bit of heart to the mix. Hauskins also blends well, harmonically, with Galván and Nicholas Munson on the titular "Town Without Pity."
While I prefer the actor's silly comicality, Ciemiewicz's "How Do You Keep the Music?" number allows him to show a softer side as he delivers the ballad with pitch precision and lilting emotion. Morgan Griffin's tight vibratto adds a personal touch to her "Walk on the Wild Side," while her "Oscar Losers Crossover" had me smiling from ear-to-ear for the humor of the piece.
And the highlight of the evening's second half, at least for me, is the soulfully sultry rendition of The Color Purple's "Miss Celie's Blues," performed by Holman, Sarah Hayes, Ramsey (who finally lets her vocals loose), and Andrea Moore. Not only do these women impress with their solos, but their harmonies are so beautifully blended that they penetrate to the very soul.
My only issue with the staging, meanwhile, is Hesselman's take on Act I's "You'll Never Know." Munson's rich tone is impressive as each of the female performers approaches him with notes or headshots to demonstrate their affection for him. The song ends, however, with Ciemiewicz doing the same thing and Munson looking uncomfortable, which had the audience laughing, but seemed to me lazy humor at the expense of same-sex relationships. While Ciemiewicz and Munson play it cute, and the bit played well to the audience, I still wonder when something as simple as same-sex affection is no longer fodder for laughter.
That small joke, though, takes up just a few seconds of Circa '21's presentation of Blame It On the Movies, and isn't enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I left the performance with a big smile on my face, singing "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "Miss Celie's Blues" all the way home, while also looking forward to my next opportunity to see the Bootleggers perform.
Blame It on the Movies runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island) on Thursdays through August 28, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.