A stellar Robin De Lano and seven terrifically talented dancers made magic yesterday as Inland Valley Repertory Theatre closed its 2013 season with a two-performance only staging of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Song And Dance at Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion

rd1 Not a musical in the traditional sense, Song And Dance started life (or at least its first act did) in 1979 as Tell Me On A Sunday, a one-act song cycle written especially for Marti Webb (London’s second Evita), which then went on to become both a 1980 BBC TV special and a hit album for Webb, whose “Take That Look Off Your Face” hit Number Three on the British pop charts.

The tale of a small-town English girl’s romantic adventures in New York and Los Angeles, Tell Me On A Sunday told its story entirely in song—via letters (or emails when transposed by IVRT to 2013) sent home to Emma’s mum, sung missives in which she recounted a fizzled romance with a certain Sheldon, a rebound love affair with the commitment-phobic Joe, and an illicit dalliance with married-with-children Paul, any hope of a happy ending resting entirely in Emma’s resilient English spirit.

Not nearly the downer this brief synopsis might suggest, Emma’s tale is spiced by witty observations of New York and L.A. life, whether in an entire song about Angelinos’ penchant for “Capped Teeth And Caesar Salad” (lyrics by Don Black) or in throw-away lines like “I’ve never met a waiter who didn’t say ‘Enjoy’.”

Lloyd Webber’s Broadway superstardom made a transfer to the Great White Way an appealing prospect, but how to expand Emma’s story into a full-fledged Broadway production?

The answer Lloyd Weber came up with was to take Tell Me On A Sunday and (with the help of lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr.) turn it into a Song And Dance’s sung-through first act, then create an entirely new, entirely different Act Two, one that would tell Joe’s story through the medium of dance, with Lloyd Webber’s orchestral Variations as its musical soundtrack.

Flash forward to 2013—and director Hope Kaufman and choreographer Kim Eberhardt’s re-envisioning of Song And Dance’s two acts as a more cohesive whole, one whose second act would not only feature Joe and his coterie of friends but Emma herself—in dance mode this time round.

Clearly, for Song And Dance to work, particularly as reconceived by Kaufman and Eberhardt, a stellar Emma is of the essence, and in the luminous De Lano, the IVRT creative team found their ideal leading lady.

1450177_10201702769124839_1881781795_n A two-time Featured Actress Scenie-winner for her roles in MTG’s concert staged readings of High Fidelity and Call Me Madam, De Lano proved herself equally sensational all by her lonesome, whether belting out high notes or singing ever so sweetly or simply soaring to the exquisite “Unexpected Song,” a Lloyd Webber-Maltby collaboration not in the original Tell Me On A Sunday. Add to this De Lano’s significant acting chops and a girl-next-door charm you’re either born with or not, and the result was a mesmerizing first act, thanks also to Kaufman’s imaginative direction, music director Ronda Rubio on keyboard, and some terrific onstage costume changes by Jeanette Capuano.

Song And Dance’s second act stripped the stage of scenery and props to give us Chris Giroux as the aforementioned Joe, whose life we then followed through the medium of dance as he interacted with the various women and men in his day-to-day—Bobby Collins as Kevin, Matt Edgerton as Nick, Nicole Bravo Escudero as Scarlet, Max Herzfeld as Jack, Chanel Kaufman as Carrie, and Tiffany Renee Schwanz as Sunny in a series of superbly executed dance moves combining grace and athleticism, jazz, ballet, and modern, De Lano joining the dance ensemble midway through to give Emma and Joe the happy ending denied the heretofore ill-fated English damsel in Act One.

Act Two replaced Act One’s live piano-percussion combo with prerecorded orchestral tracks, the better to back up this half hour of dance with a more symphonic sound.

Prior to yesterday’s evening performance, IVRT producing artistic director Frank Minano and executive director Donna Marie Minano announced the company’s 2014 season—three Tuesday-Wednesday shows (when Candlelight Pavilion’s mainstage productions are dark) and an October bonus. They are Arsenic And Old Lace, Gypsy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Songs For A New World—an exciting upcoming season indeed.

In the meantime, yesterday’s Song And Dance served as a triumphant grand finale to a memorable 2013.

Inland Valley Repertory Theatre at Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
October 29, 2013

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