When my editor asked if I was interested seeing in the Four Seasons Theatre production Great Dames: Leading Ladies of Stage and Screen, a tribute to the Great American Songbook (through March 9 at Overture Center's Promenade Hall), I thought, "Let's see, would I enjoy an evening at Overture Center in one of the smaller, more intimate performance spaces, with chandeliers twinkling overhead, and star performers singing and swaying in their classiest tuxedos and little black dresses?"
I said yes immediately.
Actually, she had me at Four Seasons Theatre.
Four Seasons has consistently demonstrated a fervor to deliver Madison's best voices, and Great Dames is no exception. The company always looks like it's having fun, too, and that's important. At one point near the beginning of the first act, one narrator asks another, "Are you a musical theater geek or a movie musical geek?" There's no need to choose. Four Seasons pulls in the best of both worlds, and both are shown off in Great Dames in high style.
While in past years, the Songbook series has focused on a single composer, like Cole Porter or Irving Berlin, this season's performance centers around the great female personalities of stage and screen. Fanny Brice, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and of course Judy Garland are all represented here. One section of Dames honors celebrated female roles, such as Adelaide from Guys and Dolls and Agnes Gooch from Mame. The performers consist of seven female vocalists, the "dames," and two male narrators and singers who help weave the whole revue together with just the right amount of story and exposition. Kudos to these gentleman (Michael Herold and Rick Henslin) who enlivened when they performed, but knew to let the ladies shine at the show's center.
Group numbers soared, from the opener "Broadway Baby" to the show closer, a medley of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "Get Happy," made famous by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Smaller duets were also a welcome treat. Erica Halverson and Amy L. Welk gave the gents a great send-up in their rendition of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me Kate. Later, they greatly amused the audience with their take on frenemies: "Bosom Buddies" from Mame. The night was chockablock with standout performances -- none fell flat -- but I particularly enjoyed chanteuse Leslie Cao, who delivered crystal-clear hits throughout the night, and did it -- like the aforementioned Miss Gooch -- in a "family way."
Dames, like the other Four Seasons shows I've seen, is the product of a company that truly loves and revels in musical performance. It truly sparkles. Even if you don't know Judy from Barbra, if you have ears, you'll enjoy this show. But if you do happen to be any kind of "musical geek," you'll be as delighted as I was to learn that Four Seasons is bringing Sondheim's seldom-performed Assassins to Madison next winter. If Dames is any indication, this company will kill it.