Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Seeing a large group of 10- to 23-year-olds sing and dance, repeatedly, for nearly two hours, is a prospect many of us would shrink from. The appeals of precociousness, after all, usually don't stretch too far beyond the family tree. Don't confuse the Rep's latest production for a school play.
“Sing, Dance, Repeat!” shines with professionalism and talent that far belies the youth of the nearly 70 actors featured. Conceived and directed by the Rep's director of education, Nicole Capri, the production surveys the last 100 years in the United States through popular song. In the early going, standards like “Stormy Weather” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” mix with theater numbers like “You Can't Get a Man with a Gun.” Later, the standards segue into pop landmarks, like M.C. Hammer's “Can't Touch This,” and popular cabaret numbers, like Kristen Chenoweth's “Taylor, the Latte Boy.” Narration, filled with snapshots of momentous historical happenings, moves the production along briskly (though sometimes dizzily — we're hearing about World War II only minutes after World War I).
The musical arrangements often remain faithful to the originals, staggeringly so in Robbin Gordon's impressive rendition of “Stand By Your Man” (aided, visually, by a massive blonde wig and a hideous, but surely accurate, period dress), but Capri and music director Leslie Harper pick a few spots to reinterpret classics. A dramatic, stripped-down version of the Beatles' “Yesterday,” sung by Alex Bush, Kenneth Martin, Alex Mitchell and the company, provoked chills as the closing number to the first act.
The choreography, too, deserves praise. The opening company-led number, “Sing! Sing! Sing!” features a dexterous and eye-catching tap dance on risers. Zach Powers, a student of famed local dance instructor Joel Ruminer (whom Capri cites as her main influence), always delighted when he came onstage to do a fleet-footed solo tap. My eyes were usually on his feet, but couldn't help but enjoy the near placid, effortless look on his face as he danced.
Henry Melhorn, too, deserves special praise for his comic timing in “Taylor, the Latte Boy” and as Elvis in “Jailhouse Rock.” Suzanna Gibbs, Shelby Kirby, Gracie Stover and others all proved that no one can emote like pre-teen girls. Really, it's hard not to be impressed with every performer in this large company.
“Sing, Dance, Repeat!” comes as the Mainstage extension of the Rep's Summer Musical Theatre Intensive, an educational and obviously empowering training program that's as deserving of attention as any of the professional productions the Rep hosts within its season.
The show continues Thursday through Sunday.