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Stardust Road: IU, An Important Stop!

The whole cast working together (Photo: IU Summer Theatre)

This summer’s Premiere Musical at the IU Summer Theatre is Stardust Road a Hoagy Carmichael Musical Journey. Hoagy’s son Hoagy Bix Carmichael has spent years on the project working with musical director and arranger Lawrence Yurman, choreographer Michael Lichtefeld and director Susan Schulman.

Hoagy Bix, right away says that the challenge the team set for itself was to integrate the familiar and not so familiar songs into a tapestry reflecting his father’s history and accomplishments. There are nearly forty of Carmichael’s song. “Lazy River,” “Stardust” and “Georgia on My Mind” of course, and the show  also features novelty pieces like “Bessie Couldn’t Help It,” “The Rhumba Jumps” and “Charlie Two Step.”

Stardust Road’s intermission-less hour and a half comes in five roughly historical sections. “Uncle Bill’s Tavern” is presided over by Sean Blake with some fancy tap dancing from Broderick Balsley and Lisa Podulka.  “Club Old Man Harlem” features a lovely version of “Two Sleepy People” by Sean and Lisa and a graceful transition of “Blue Orchids” into “The Nearness of You” with Broderick and Katie Swaney.

The years of World War II are remembered as “Hollywood Canteen” offers hometown memories. There’s a nicely integrated set of “Memphis in June,” “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” and “Georgia on My Mind” from Sam Sanderson, Broderick and Sean. The show’s most solemn moment is a nicely staged flag draped bench on a couple of chairs as a coffin for “A World of No Goodbyes.”

Part Four is “Club Heart and Soul” with the theme one fingered on a little pink keyboard by Danielle McKnight. The segment features the song that drew the most laughs, Sam singing the story of “Queenie, the Quick Change Artist.” The wrap-up was Katie and Lisa in a graceful mix of “Star Dust” and
“Skylark.”

For the finale, Sean, who’d been missed at “Club Heart and Soul” was welcomed back by the audience for “Serenade to Gabriel” and then the whole company gently ended the trip along Stardust Road with “I Walk with the Music.” Generous and enthusiastic applause followed from an audience that perhaps wasn’t quite ready for the show to end.

As Hoagie’s son, Hoagie Bix and the IU Summer Theatre’s artistic director Jonathan Michaelsen have said the purpose of the Premiere program is the development of musicals. This was a workshop production with Hoagie Bix, the music arranger, the choreographer and the director watching the show, the features of the production and the reaction of the audience in the Wells-Metz.

The cast drawn from IU’s Musical Theatre Program with guest Sean Blake is a strong one.  The music  is artfully arranged and was directed from the piano by Lawrence Yurman. Michael Lichtefeld nicely exploited the dance skills of the cast. I like those swing dance moves, and I was happy to see that he added some tap to the evening.

Susan Schulman is the creative director working to use a minimum of props in an ever changing look that worked with Dan Tracy’s simple design, the music and the moods. Megan Branham worked the lighting to keep our eyes where they should be and Macy Kloville’s sound was nicely balanced and clear.

Stardust Road plays August 15-18 at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre before continuing on in its journey.

You may find this review and a preshow interview with Hoagie Bix Carmichael and Jonathan Michaelsen at WFIU.ORG/ARTS

At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.

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