Play Review: 'Club Morocco' a one-of-a-kind experience

Published: Wednesday, June 09

By Sean Dalton, Heritage Newspapers



Jessica Grové and Paul Kerr embraced last Saturday night on the Encore Musical Theatre's stage bringing the experience that is "Club Morocco" to a magnificent crescendo.

As their alter egos, main attraction Nugget Rialto and mysterious hardboiled dick Frank McCann, reached the end of their story, rain from the weekend's merciless storms pounded the Encore's roof.

I honestly had no idea it was real. It felt like part of the show, part of "Club Morocco."

We were all part of "Club Morocco" that night, which I think is what co-creators Barbara Cullen and Jon Huffman, and artistic directors Dan Cooney and Steve DeBruyne, and the rest of the people responsible for crafting and executing this production were aiming to achieve.

Bulls-eye.

This is easily the most innovative show I've seen, period -- not just from a musical theater perspective. I've seen a bunch of concerts, live comedy and, of course, movies. This is the most original idea in entertainment I've seen, and it was a privilege to witness it first hand.

As folks walk in the door, a couple of the cast members pose as doormen, talking in slang from the '40s and cajoling folks to get in the dancing mood.

While everyone is being seated, other cast members wait on tables -- the front "row" of seats during the show is round black nightclub tables. These also flank the stage on both sides, with the rest of the seating in house being the usual theater seating.

Once the show gets going, "Club Morocco" comes to life. While there is a plot that occurs on stage every so often, this show is mostly about the wonderful '40s music Tony Owens, as Chick Valentine, and The Swing Street All-Stars play. Just about everyone in the cast performs a song and does so extremely well with passion and visible joy, but Owens is the man who stands tallest like a giant.

During the show, a row of lights on either side of the theater illuminate, inviting the audience to come out onto the dance floor blurring the line between reality and fiction.

Not every number filled the dance floor. Sometimes there were only a handful of couples, while other times it seemed like half of the house was swinging their honeys to the hopping tunes.

It wasn't until halfway through the show, watching the actors blend in and out of the crowd, weaving the story through stage and sometimes audience that it dawned on me that "Club Morocco" isn't the play setting, it's the main character.

And that character enveloped all of us.

For those who had fun attending "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," you owe it to yourself to see "Club Morocco."

Both shows had innovative, voluntary audience involvement that added a great amount of fun and laughter to the experience. "Club Morocco" brings that and a whole bunch of charm.

The actors do just as good a job with the acting part of the gig. Kerr's line delivery and comedic timing punched the laughs out of us, and he handled the more dramatic stuff with just the right balance of tongue-in-cheek seriousness.

When she's not shining on the microphone Grové shines as Nugget during her interactions with lead Kerr. The two really seem to enjoy working with each other and play off their respective stage chemistry in a way that made me feel joy.

Tony D. doesn't just sing, but participates as a character in the plot arch, speaking in jive-speak. Steve DeBruyne (master of ceremonies Steve LaRue) is hilarious as his "interpreter."

The trio brings a great deal of chemistry to the stage, sowing fun and laughter every chance they get.

The "Club Morocco" dancers -- Clare Elsentrout as Kitten Springs, Sebastian Gerstner as Slick Wannabe, Nathan Magyar as Rocco deHavilland, Cara Manor as Ruby, Evan Williams as Butch Wannabe and Sarah Zuccaro as Minx Mirage --do a wonderful job dancing the night away, and were great at gently convincing folks to dip their toes in the water on the dance floor.

Williams, who played the hilarious Leaf Coneybear in "Spelling Bee," should have gotten more lines, but then again he was one of the highlights of that show. Maybe next time.

The rest of the cast, Barbara Coven (Club Morocco's mother-hen Velvet St. Regis) and Tim Henning (Club Morocco owner Torch Tangier) prove their years of experience on stage with clean professionalism. Another highlight of the show is when Henning banters with club patrons.

I can't close this review without mentioning a couple of technical difficulties, particularly with the instruments and at a few points with the microphone, but they weren't nearly enough to take me out of the experience.

"Club Morocco" has began an upward trend from where the Encore's core team started with Spelling Bee. It will be intriguing to see where the trend goes from here.

These shows obviously symbolize what the Encore staff wants to do in Dexter, judging by my talks with Cooney. Shows like "Annie" and "Oklahoma" are nice, but they're mechanically standard, well-tread ground.

Broadway-infused community musical theater is transcendent in "Club Morocco," and with shows like this Dexter has a chance to shine in a unique way.
 

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