Bye-bye, blackbird
The music, the melodrama and the shoulder season

by Judith Reynolds

Pack up all my care and woe, here I go, swingin’ low.

ye, bye, summer. It’s cool, and the ponderosas are already shedding. Hordes of motorcyclists are about to descend. Fortunately, one breezy show will bridge the gap into fall.

The Diamond Circle Melodrama will extend one of its shows into September. If you haven’t seen “The Four-Legged Fortune,” now’s the time. Rumor has it that this year may be the Diamond Circle Melodrama’s last. Let’s hope not.

“Fortune,” along with its witty vaudeville sidekick, “Culinary Cabaret,” a food-themed revue, will run Sept. 6-25. The package is the product of Producer Jeannie Wheeldon’s professional chum, Eric Hoit. He’s artistic director of The Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville Theatre in Oceano, Calif. Wheeldon wooed Hoit away long enough to shape the 2006 DCM lineup. In his peripatetic career, Hoit also has directed more than 50 musicals in regional and stock theaters. Credit Hoit, Musical Director Helen Gregory, piano man and host C. Scott Hagler, and a knockout cast for the high-energy shine attached to “Fortune.”

One smarmy sparkle comes from the ever-smiling villain, Captain Grindley Goodge (a smart, oily Mark Baer). Goodge swaggers into every scene, sure of his schemes and his questionable charm. He’s as easy to boo as quirky heroes are to cheer. The young Tom Meredith (a wide-

eyed Jeff Rice) wins the audience’s collective heart as much as an aging jockey, Nat Gosling (the big-eyed Don Rush). Nat saves just about everything: the horse race, the horse of the title, and the proverbial day by a sneeze. Two pairs of lovers wend their way across class lines to find happiness. And not to give anything important away (like the ending), there will be kisses all around.

Director Hoit plays the Victorian melodrama close to its vested origins. With considerable energy, the actors project their lines and intentions. When they deliver audience asides, they lean over the apron, announce their plans in crisp stage whispers, and accompany their lines with a wink, smile or one raised eyebrow. Spot-on entrances and exits keep the action moving swiftly.

Stylized movement has been kept to a minimum, a nice break from seasons past when elbows or knees

moved in tandem too often. It’s a Victorian stage convention that can be easily overdone. This season Hoit has resisted the temptation.

Fresh, detailed costumes give the production a 19th-century air. Several painted backdrops create a variety of indoor and outdoor scenes. A pair of Queen Anne chairs instantly turns a hotel room into a parlor.

The 2006 vaudeville revue is even more fun. Originally Hoit created “Culinary Cabaret” for his company in California. It travels well. The food theme keeps it from being just another talent show, as DCM has sometimes presented in the past.

Maitre d’ Peter Hamon introduces the show, and the ensemble opens with a rousing rendition of “Be Our Guest.” One solo features the engaging Cat Yates. She vamps into the audience with a comic-sultry rendition of “I Can Cook, Too.” An ensemble sketch takes place at the Musical Comedy Diner where customers encounter annoying, robotic service with a twist. With each order, the wait staff breaks into an all-too-appropriate song, and then the staff multiplies miraculously.

A pudgy male quartet, an aging Pillsbury Doughboy, an office under siege at its ritual coffee break, and a quirky take on Julia Child, lead up to the side-splitting finale at the Diamond Circle Test Institute on the theme of cooking with – bananas.

Hoit keeps the action moving and Music Director Gregory has ensured cut-glass delivery. A local with Broadway touring and composing credentials, Gregory, along with Hagler, music director at St. Mark’s Church, share the piano bench for the revue.

When Hagler plays and sings a jazzy version of “Bye Bye Black Bird,” it’s a mellow moment in all the high jinks. It reminds us that Durango would be the poorer if the Melodrama were to draw its curtains after an incredibly long run.

For 45 years, the Melodrama has consistently presented the only high-quality summer entertainment in town. It would be a loss if it were to vanish. •



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