SWING! at Open Air Theatre Is High Energy

by Jean and Bill Brenner

About 30 young people and some older ones performed in SWING which opened Friday night at Washington Crossing (NJ) Open Air Theatre directed by Jordan Brennan and Louis Palena.  The songs and dances were supported musically by a band of eight instrumentalists under the direction of Jay Kawarsky, piano/conductor.

JIll Palena, Suzanne Slade, Lauren Brownstein, Gina Turner star in SWING! running at the Open Air Theatre at Washington Crossing through June 26.

SWING features a collection of music and dance styles from early swing to  jazz styles, jitterbug and even hip-hop.  There is no dialogue, just one song and dance after another.

None of the performers was alive when swing music was popular in the early ‘30’s to the mid ‘40’s.  But that did not matter.  They sang, danced and played as though it were their era. They had a lot of fun and that was good.

The show demands high energy.  The cast gave it that.         

However, the show begs for really good precise dancing, really good voices, and a Tommy Dorsey style band.  Unfortunately, not everyone could sing well; not everyone could dance well; and not all the instrumentalists played well.  But, they did have fun, and the modest audience appeared to be engaged.

Certain performers need to be mentioned: Suzanne Slade and Louis Palena were terrific in the gibberish song, “”Bli-Blip.”  For that number, their voices were mixed well by the sound engineer.  In later ones, however, Ms. Slade’s voice sometimes sounded shrill, overpowering Palena’s very rich voice which mostly was on pitch.

Sharon Rudda is a trained modern and ballet dancer.  The curious idea of incorporating ballet into swing seemed out of place, but her beauty and ability became acceptable, including a later interesting number, “Caravan,” which added two other ballet toe dancers, Nicole Calebrese and Nichole Garafola,  mixing ballet of the three women with the tap dancing of three gentlemen: Louis Palena, Jordan Brennan and Kyle McClellan.

The first act was better rehearsed than the second act, which was rougher and mostly disappointing, but still exuding high energy.  Visually, creative and  colorful costuming enhanced the show throughout.

Opening nights often can be a final dress rehearsal.  We hope the show will tighten and improve over the next several performances so that the performers can be pleased with the results of their arduous rehearsal time.

It is important to say that for the most part, the evening spent relaxing to music of a bygone era while sitting in a densely wooded outdoor theatre was very pleasant.

SWING plays this weekend and next at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $15 for adults general admission; $10 for children 12 and under.  If the sky appears to be threatening, call 267.885.9857 to make sure the show is “on” or check the website: www.DowntownPac.com.

Washington Crossing Open Air Theatre has performances of a variety of plays and musicals every weekend until early October, with an array of shows listed on the website.  They are presented by various companies, not just Downtown Performing Arts Center, the producing group.  And there are daytime children’s shows periodically through October, as well.   The next show is PAC’s Stars and Stripes on July 4 weekend, and then, Urinetown by the Once Upon A Time Players under the direction of Brendan Stackhouse on July 8, 9, and 10.

If you go, be sure to bring good pillows, one to sit and one to lean upon, a jacket to don as the night air cools, and bug spray to protect your skin.  We discovered that sitting higher in the sharply raked seating took us out of the buggier area.   

June 17 – 26, 2011
Open Air Theatre
355 Washington Crossing-Pennington Rd
Titusville, NJ

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