By Bob Evans
Call it a grand slam for a premiere musical production at the KC Rep as “Last Days of Summer” opened to an enthusiastic, sold out opening night, drawing the audience to its feet as the curtain call began.
The book and lyrics were, written by Steve Kluger, with music, and orchestration by Jason Howland; “Last Days of Summer,” directed by Jeff Calhoun, amazed the audience with a WWII era story of a young man, his baseball hero, a jazz singer and provided a peek into an interment camp during wartime. The show brought some to tears as the story unfolded. With the backdrop of a baseball season and the New York Giants team, the story reminds of the 1950’s Broadway hit, “Damn Yankees!”
No, the show will probably never reach the level of it predecessor, but the show contains all the elements to make a serious run at Broadway. The show will continue to develop, change, and fine-tune, as it moves toward a potential Broadway show. Intricate characters, 1940s music, great costumes, creative set design, non-stop scene changes, strong vocal and acting performances add to the allure of the show. Beyond that, the chemistry among the cast sends emotional waves to the audience and enhances the enjoyment factor of “Last Days of Summer.”
As a baseball movie with great music, “Last Days of Summer” allures and fascinates as it weaves its magic. Add to that a kid who idolizes a well-known baseball hero, a jazz singer, childhood dreams, and an enchanting, but simple story with no villain or dark sub-plot.
“Last Days of Summer” contains heart and soul by creating a story about a young man with big dreams of meeting his baseball hero. As an over-bearing, not-so-honest letter-writer, Joey Margolis (beautifully played by Robbie Berson) sets his sights on meeting Charlie Banks, (played with street-wise attitude but unending charm by Corey Cott) a hot-headed NY Giant, noted mostly for his uncontrolled temper and fights. Charlie’s behavior changes when a seductive night club singer, Hazel MacKay (Emily Padgett) intervenes. While Hazel deploys her plan to control Charlie’s temper, she finds a co-conspirator in pre-teen Joey. Combined, the two connive to keep Charlie in line while creating a better future for the threesome. The plans progress with heartfulness and sweetness until an unforeseen tragedy curtails the plan.
While the intervention to reforming Charlie continues, some fun sub-plots keep the story light and fun to watch. Joey tricks Charlie into being his “father” at his bar mitzvah; Joey travels cross-country to see his best friend in a Japanese interment camp; Joey connives to get Hazel to let him perform with her to impress his first girlfriend; the Giants team members pitch in to tutor Joey for his bar mitzvah. All of the heart-tugging episodes just lure the audience deeper and deeper into a sort of father-son relationship with Joey being the catalyst to teaching Charlie to be a fuller, better, compassionate man. Amazing chemistry catapults “Last Days of Summer” to a higher status.
Little Orphan Annie had Daddy Warbucks and Sandy; Stan Laurel had Oliver Hardy; Larry and Moe had Curly; Amos had Andy; and the list goes on. In “Last Days of Summer” Joey had Charlie, Hazel, The Green Hornet, a.k.a Craig Nakamura (played by Jim Kaplan). The magic happens among the relationships of Charlie and Joey, Charlie and Hazel, Joey and Hazel, Joey and Craig, Joey and the NY Giants. With each scene, the characters burrow further into the hearts of the audience.
Amazing performances come from the three central characters in the show, Robby Berson as Joey, Corey Cott as Charlie Banks, Emily Padgett as Hazel MacKay. Their singing, acting, and chemistry score in “Last Days of Summer.” The threesome capture the essence of the characters with the direction of Jeff Calhoun. Cott’s swagger and cocky attitude contrast sharply with Berson’s over-confident and over-reaching Joey. As Hazel, Padgett knows how to finagle and control Cott’s character, but not always Berson’s character. The trio makes the whole evening fun, melodic, and enjoyable.
For changes, adding a dance number to both acts for the character of Stuke would be great. The character has much potential and this premiere version did not give Chris Dwan a lot to do with his character or dance skills. The character of Stuke would be a great fit for a featured dancer to add that enhancement to a stellar show. At the time period of the show, tap-numbers were extremely popular. A big tapping number would add to the audience enjoyment.
The cast is: Robby Berson, Lauren Braton, Joseph Carr, Corey Cott, Chris Dwan, Gary Neal Johnson, Jim Kaplan, Katie Karel, Mike Ott, Emily Padgett, Josephine Pellow, Benjamin Priestland, Tim Scott, Emily Shackelford, John Michael Zuerlein.
“Last Days of Summer” benefits from the KC Rep’s creative team who created stunning moving sets, time-appropriate costumes, music direction and orchestration, dramatic lighting, and other elements. On opening night, some of the dialogue was difficult to understand, but minor corrections on the sound=board can correct that.
The creative/production team is: Mary R. Honour, stage manager; Rachel M. Dyer, Tenley Pitonzo, assistant stage manager; Jason Howland, music; Steve Kluger, book and lyrics; Jeff Calhoun, director and choreographer; Jason Sherwood,, scenic designer; Loren Shaw, costume designer; Jen Schriever, lighting design; Ken Travis, sound design; Kim Scharnberg, orchestration; Paul McGill, associate director and associate choreographer; John Wilson, fight choreographer; Allison Hanks, wig design; Tara Rubin, casting director.
Music from “Last Days of Summer” gave the show the texture of 1940s America. The musicians, led by music director, Rick Hip-Flores. The orchestra is: Tod Barnard, Jeff Harshbarger, Brett Jackson, Stephen Malloy, Brian Scarborough, Jonathan Lloyd Schiriock, Brandon Wilkins.
For more information about “Last Days of Summer” go to the KC Rep website. Tickets, dates, times, etc can be found there.
Tags: Last Days of Summer, Jeff Calhoun, KC Rep, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment