Nostalgia Abounds in LEADER OF THE PACK

by Walter Bender

Barley Sheaf Players opened their latest production, LEADER OF THE PACK, on September 9. LEADER OF THE PACK is a semi-biographical account of the life of Ellie Greenwich, one of the most prolific songwriters of the 1960’s. We follow Ellie from her late high school days through her discovery, marriage, the height of her songwriting career, divorce, and career rebirth following a breakdown.

Steve Barainyak (left) of West Chester plays music producer Gus Sharkey, and real-life married couple Jessica Potts (center) and Ben Potts (right), both of Devon, play Ellie Greenwich and her one-time husband and songwriting partner Jeff Barry (respectively).

The show is narrated by a number of characters, including Darlene Love (credited in the show as “Featured Vocalist” as each of the characters in the show is a combination of people in the life of Ms. Greenwich.) Darlene Love was one of the busier studio singers in the 60’s, recording backup for many artists as well as singing lead for her group “The Blossoms.” Ms. Love is portrayed by Janine Herd, who has a sparkling personality that comes through in her performance. Her voice is strong, performing many of the signature hits written by Ellie and her main writing partner, husband Jeff Barry (the characters played by real-life couple Jessica and Ben Potts.) Ms. Potts has a perfect voice for this style of music, and she gives her all to each of her songs. Mr. Potts has a terrific tenor voice and has a great feel for the music of the 60’s. Gus Sharkey is played by Steve Barainyak. Sharkey is an amalgam of several music producers, including the legendary Phil Spector, for whom Greenwich and Barry wrote, produced, and performed many of their hit songs, and Mr. Barainyak is alternately sympathetic and driven as he inspires the team to write their dozens of hits. They are joined by featured dancers Marcus Barainyak, James Barnett, Lindsey Barnett, Laurie, Burke, Emma Harbert, and Kevin Robinson. Ensemble singer/dancers include Kelly Colquitt, Shamus Halloran, Stephanie Kupski, Carolyn Salerno, and Jamie Trommelen who play multiple roles, as well as sing lead and backup in several of the Greenwich/Barry songs. There is a terrific band backing up these performers, directed by Randi Carp. The band supports without overwhelming the singers, which was greatly appreciated.

The show is directed by Ron Quirk, who assembled this fine cast of performers, assisted by producer Caroline Salerno. The set was beautiful, a unit set that was functional, decorated by “records” with the names of many of the hit songs featured in the show. Choregraphy was the vision of Emily Lucas who incorporated many of the signature movements of the era. Wireless stage mics were used by featured singers, which helped to keep their voices as the dominant sound (and, aside from the fact that wireless mics didn’t exist in the 60’s, were appreciated by the audience.)

The production was a lot of fun to watch. The script has its weaknesses…the story is truncated and romanticized, the end of the show is abrupt and a departure from the rest of the show…but the pace was brisk, the cast was having fun performing these hits, and the audience was engaged. I confess I’m a bit of a purist about the music of the era, so I was disturbed a bit by some of the singers taking liberties with the melodies of some of the songs…the style of the 60’s was much purer, and without some of the attempts to embellish the tune. I also confess it was obvious mine was the minority opinion that evening. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the production.

Music and Lyrics by Ellie Greenwich and Friends
Book by Anne Beatts
Directed by Ron Quirk
September 9-October 1, 2011
Barley Sheaf Players
810 N. Whitford Road
Exton PA

You may also like

Leave a Reply