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“Godspell to Wicked”: Broadway’s best, cabaret style

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Delightful. Entertaining. Deliciously fun.

What more could you want from a theater experience designed to celebrate the 40-year career of one of Broadways best and brightest?

Sacramento Theatre Company presented the last in its 2010-2011 Cabaret Series Thursday night with “From Godspell to Wicked: The Musicals of Stephen Schwartz.”

“From Godspell to Wicked” was a whirlwind tour of the 40-year career of one of Broadway’s most renowned composers and songwriters, Stephen Schwartz. The show presented melodies from some of Schwartz’s more famous stage plays, including “Godspell,” “Pippin,” “The Baker’s Wife,” “Children of Eden” and “Wicked,” and even included a few songs from some of Schwartz’s lesser-known work on Disney movies such as “The Prince of Egypt” and “Pocahontas.”

The setting for the evening’s performance was a small cabaret-style theater, arranged with café tables and lit with votive candle centerpieces. The room held about 80 guests and – although the room wasn’t packed to the gills – it was certainly comfortably full.

The mostly over-50 crowd was attentive and lively throughout the course of the song-and-dance-filled evening. At times, the audience was encouraged to sing along (which they did), and the performers showed their appreciation by stepping up the performance with each successive act.

“Everyone always seems to have a good time,” said Fred Heartt, 60, a wedding officiant from West Sacramento. “The other two (cabaret series) shows were very good, too.”

Heartt and his wife, Justine, are season-ticket holders at STC and said they have attended each one of the cabaret series performances this season.

“They always bring in someone from their Young Performers Conservatory, someone just starting out,” said Justine Heartt, 51, an administrator at Sacramento State University. “It’s exciting to see new, young talent.”

The youngest person on stage for “From Godspell to Wicked” was Hannah Zimmerman, a 16-year-old budding singer and actress from Auburn. Zimmerman, who is a student with the YPC, has two years’ experience to her credit, but her stage presence belied her relative newness to the stage.

Even as she stood very still for each song, her voice and facial expression showed the depth of meaning for every lyric and the mood of every note.

As she sang, it was easy to see her as a young woman spurned in “Kind of Woman” from “Pippin,” or the magician’s assistant who dreams of bigger things in “Lion Tamer” from “The Magic Show.”

Along with Zimmerman, the ensemble cast included noted STC company members Michael RJ Campbell, Maggie Hollinbeck and Martha Omiyo Kight.

Back row (l to r): Zimmerman, Hollinbeck, Daniells, Laun, Omiyo Kight
Front row (l to r): Campbell, Garcia

“She has three wonderful, experienced tutors (in Kight, Campbell and Hollinbeck) to help and guide her through the process,” said Michael Laun, producing director for STC and the Cabaret Series productions.

Hollinbeck, whose most recent credits include Christmas Past in 2010’s “A Christmas Carol,” took command of the stage and really showcased her vocal range with her performances of “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife,” and the vocally challenging “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.”

Campbell, who is currently rehearsing for another upcoming STC show, “Sherlock Holmes,” and Kight both gave standout performances every time they took the stage.

Campbell’s engaging presence and rich voice were especially on target with his breathtaking delivery of “Proud Lady” from “The Baker’s Wife.”

The intimate nature of the evening was emphasized by the close proximity of the stage to the audience and the performers’ entrances and exits from the stage at both sides without the benefit of a back curtain. The show felt informal without being unprofessional; serious without being pretentious.

Without question, the highlight of the evening came when Laun took the stage and announced that he would be tackling the song “Popular” from “Wicked” – a song written and arranged to be sung by a female.

“In “Wicked,” the girls get all the good songs,” Laun said. “Tonight, it’s my turn to have some fun.”

Laun proceeded to deliver a delightful, witty rendition of the song, complete with flips of the wrist, finger-pointing, and a few hip-twists to accentuate his “La la la la-de-dah’s.” This one moment was worth the price of admission.

“He’s a stitch to watch,” said Elise Hodge, 37, an actress and writer from Los Angeles. “He’s definitely comedically engaging.”

Although the theater’s seating left something to be desired, if you’re looking for an intimate and fun evening listening to some well-known Broadway music sung with passion and energy, you’ll quickly forget that your chair isn’t plush, because the performances certainly are.

“It felt like a very informal setting, but that made for a genuine experience,” Hodge said. “It felt as if the performers were sharing their love of musical theater with each and every person in the room, one to one.”

As the evening came to a close, Hollingbeck and Kight came together to sing “For Good,” giving us the moral of “Wicked,” and the lesson for the night:

"Who knows if I’ve been changed for the better," the song goes, "but because I knew you, I’ve been changed for good."

After last night’s lighthearted and engaging performance, I can say the same.

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