Summer Lovin', at Heritage Square Music Hall, is a string of songs held together with a thin thread of plot. A traveling troupe arrives at an old theater planning to stage a play, only to discover that the place is closed while the theater board contemplates converting it into an art-movie house. The photographs on the walls and the props and wigs in an old trunk inspire the actors to an outpouring of tribute and impersonation. It's difficult to square the simplicity and straightforwardness of the concept with the depth of pleasure the performance provides.
A high level of musical skill is offered: T.J. Mullin, Rory Pierce, Alex Crawford, Annie Dwyer, Johnette Toye and Renato Lunnon sing and move well, and some of them play an instrument or two. Pianist and musical director N. Randall Johnson has flying fingers and an infectious enthusiasm for what he does, and he's ably backed by Jeff Foerster on bass and sometimes Crawford on drums. Most of the musical revues at Heritage focus on a particular decade, but the premise of Summer Lovin' allows the cast to hop around through time and pick almost any number in any genre they wish -- from an old music-hall routine to The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp." Their choices are rocking or wistful, tempestuous or funny. Toye does a smokily sweet-voiced impersonation of Patsy Cline singing "Crazy," and she and Dwyer are a fast-singing hoot on the Andrews Sisters' "Hold Tight," warbling "Fododo-de-yacka saki" and insisting they "Want some seafood mama." Mullin, Pierce and Lunnon meld their voices beautifully for Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Helplessly Hoping." Then there's Pierce as a homesick twelve-year-old begging to be taken home from "Camp Grenada," Mullin soulfully singing Sinatra's "One for my Baby," and Lunnon belting "La Vida Loca," swinging his pelvis and gyrating his nipples (honestly!) under his silky shirt until the women in the audience are shrieking and one has been inspired to reach across two rows of seats and shove a dollar bill into his pocket. Dwyer and the band had all the women shouting sisterhood with a raucous, stomping "Redneck Woman"; Rory Pierce roused fond memories as John Sebastian on "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice"; and Crawford led the group in a harmoniously rocking Temptations-style "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
Okay, the songs are well done. Very well done. But there are other reasons the show is such a whoop. One of the main ones is that you like these folks. Maybe they're horrors in their private lives. Maybe they kick dogs or are mean to their spouses or have massive, querulous egos, but that's not how they come across. On stage -- between raucous numbers -- they seem pleasant, understated, somewhat self-deprecating. They watch each other with what seems like genuine enjoyment, and they're quick to laugh. When they interact with a member of the audience, it's not canned shtick. They actually listen to and play with that person's response.
Everyone who's ever attended a show at Heritage Square knows that the front of the house represents a danger zone for men. Annie Dwyer stalks between the rows of chairs, selecting victims to flirt with, berate or cajole. It ought to get old, but it cracks me up every time. The woman has such fearless energy. And it was downright eye-misting to see her and a red-hatted audience grandmother singing "Those Were the Days, My Friend," with their arms around each other. It's hard not to enjoy a cast that's having such a good time and is so eager share it with you.
It didn't hurt that the audience was largely composed of regulars on the afternoon that I saw Summer Lovin'. They knew the score. They sang and clapped along; they gave Annie as good as she dished out. During the intermission, they clustered at the base of the stage, leaned against the worn seat backs, sat down in the aisles or hummed the songs in the line for the ladies' room, as relaxed as if they were at home. Heritage Square Music Hall is more than a performance venue: It's a Colorado community.
Get the Arts and Theater Newsletter
Weekly information keeping you in the know when it comes to the art and theater scene. Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events.