REVIEW ** 1/2
WHAT: "That '70s Revue"
WHEN: Through May 15
WHERE: MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main St., Amherst
TICKETS: $25 to $30, with discounts available
Many people have fuzzy memories of the '70s -- partially due to the decades that have passed since then and perhaps because they were chemically impaired for some of the period.
MusicalFare is ready to remedy that, with an original revue created by Michael G. Hake, Kathy Weese and Doug Weyand. As a premiere work, "That '70s Revue" is almost two shows -- a first act that plays more like a concert and a chock-full second act that shows the promise this concept holds.
Act I features many well-known '70s songs including "We Are Family," "Dancing Machine," "Love is in the Air," "Love the One You're With" and "When Will I Be Loved." It is a bit of a hodgepodge that feels hastily put together and, while the songs are all nicely performed, the decade has an antiseptic, variety show atmosphere that doesn't really feel distinct from "That '60s Revue" or "That '80s Revue." To be truly campy, it needs to be more cheesy.
There is no chronological or thematic pattern to the songs, which might have been grouped in some way that allows for a slight story arc of some kind. Veterans Lisa Ludwig, Weese and John Fredo can create a dramatic or comedic mountain out of a molehill, but in Act I, they need a molehill badly.
We get a preview of what was to come in Act II in Ludwig's hysterical "You Light Up My Life" and comedic response to Fredo's sensuous "Let's Get it On," which got a roar of approval from the audience.
Things perk up considerably in the second half as the act opens with turbulent images onscreen and the company, in tie-dye and bare feet, belting out "Ball of Confusion."
This is followed by a superb medley of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (Fredo), "Imagine" (Weese) and "Let it Be" (Sacco) backed by the company as chorus. It's a genuinely moving number, followed by an equally powerful rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Kent State tribute, "Ohio." Somehow, "Cherokee People" doesn't quite pack the same wallop, nor does Cher's "Dark Lady," which has a few campy laughs.
The cast forgets its tribulations by escaping to Studio 54. Kurziel-Formato's choreography goes into high gear here with le Freak, the bump and some nice slow-dance numbers as well.
The costumes here are especially nice, and Kelly Cammarata's solo dance numbers here are terrific. Mention must also be made of newcomer Kristin Hopwood, whose strong voice shines in several numbers.
As with every revue, as interesting as what is included is what is omitted and here '70s stalwarts Barry Manilow, John Denver, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Carole King, Carly Simon and ABBA don't make the cut.
Marc Sacco does a nice job with those reedy tenor parts and is the spitting image of Peter Brady -- like in the opening set. Jason Bravo impresses with his smooth singing and intentionally bad disco moves. Replete with leisure suit, John Fredo plays the equivalent of the soul singer, doing a nice job on the R&B numbers and doing a mean Tom Jones.
As always, Hake's music direction is solid, supported by a fine ensemble that features a nice "American Pie" recurring refrain by Michael McGuire.
Chris Schenk's groovy set is reminiscent of the variety show era, too -- "Sonny and Cher"-esque circles and arches. The set features a screen built into the backdrop, which does add to the show when it evocatively projects images of news events of the era. In the first act, when we could use more to look at, it is used primarily to feature the artist who originated the song being sung onstage.
Conversely, in Act II, Kurdziel-Formato's choreography is so visually stimulating that the screen is actually distracting.
Before the show, MusicalFare Artistic Director Randall Kramer unveiled his exciting and ambitious 2005-2006 season, which includes the local premiere of "Urinetown" and the cult favorite "The Last Five Years."