By ROBERT DIGITALE
The first season’s actors soon will be eligible for Medicare, but Summer Repertory Theatre keeps cranking out fun shows with hyper-talented college thespians from around the U.S.
With 44 seasons under its belt, Santa Rosa Junior College’s SRT kicked off its premiere performance Friday night with a crowd-pleasing musical based on the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
This year’s company demonstrated what SRT audiences over the decades have come to appreciate: dazzling voices, eye-catching dance routines and acting that wins hearts.
“Welcome to the opening night of our 45th season,” SRT’s Artistic Director James Newman said in greeting the audience Friday.
He noted that 2016 will be the last season before the college’s red brick and white-columned Burbank Auditorium undergoes a major renovation, part of a bond improvement program approved by voters.
And he promised a wide spectrum both thematically and stylistically in this season’s five productions.
Friday’s “Nice Work” got things off to a strong start, with a show that makes the most of such Gershwin classics as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful” and the title song.
The musical amounts to a step back in time. Remember those 30s-era movies with the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers? Well, when leading man Alex Stewart deftly whirls leading lady Aubrey Reece around him, you will feel like you’ve got a seat at the RKO sound stage.
Don’t come looking for depth and meaning in this tale of a devil-may-care playboy about to get married for the third (or fourth time) and a female bootlegger trying to find a place to hide her hooch in Prohibition-era America. Your search will merely lead you to conclude that there’s an anti-gravitas field surrounding this work.
Fear not. Under the direction of Anne McAlexander, the cast still makes the most of it, grabbing laughs and nicely moving the story along.
What’s special here is Gershwin done well. Reese, as the bootlegger, delivered a sweet rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me.” She and Stewart combined for melodious magic in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” And the rest of the cast added beautiful touches to these American standards. The singing is first rate.
So is the movement. Attired as leggy showgirls and tuxedo-clad gents, the ensemble dances with flair. They tap, they twirl. They lift and flip. (Here’s to hoping they all stay healthy over the next seven weeks.)
The audience responded at the curtain with a strong ovation.
Bravo to the rest of the cast: Daniel Bellusci, Sophie Madorsky, Mark Jammal, Alexa Erbach, Tom Meglio, Danielle Honeyman, Trevor Carr, Michelle Owens, Māta Barr, Bryce Baxter, Justin Genna, Areo Keller, Jessica Merghart, David Miller, Makenzie Morgan Gomez, Julia Procaccino, Nathan Stukey, Elliott Styles and Amy Lin Tilson-Lumetta.
Up next is the small-stage comedy “Boeing Boeing,” which opens Tuesday. It will be followed by the tribute to 80s music, “Rock of Ages,” opening July 2. “The Little Dog Laughed,” a comedy of manners set in Hollywood, starts July 12 and the musical “Merrily We Roll Along” begins July 15.
The season runs through Aug. 13. For tickets and show times, click here.
SRT casts a wide net for its actors. Among the colleges represented by this year’s company are UC Irvine, University of Michigan, Boston Conservatory, Cincinnati College and the University of Oklahoma.
Some of these young people will follow their SRT predecessors from past decades on to Broadway, national touring shows and television. And Sonoma County gets the pleasure of seeing them here first.