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'All night strut' musical theater not worth taking

The Musical Theatre Southwest's production of the "All Night Strut" is, judging from the response of at least one audience member, positively soporific.

The gentleman sitting next to me promptly fell asleep 20 minutes into the show. No wonder - appalling sound problems, flat choreography and a lack of vocal variety sink this production.

The "All Night Strut" is a musical review that somewhat resembles baseball: 99 percent boredom, one percent excitement. A cast of nine vocalists sing and dance their way through the music of the 1930s and '40s.

The show is split into two acts, as each act begins with an unbearably dull era radio recording. The songs were apparently selected and arranged with musical monotony in mind. The "World War II Medley" stands out as the worst arrangement of the night. The performers were clearly uncomfortable with the piece, not to mention the endless drone of songs that sounded almost exactly alike.

Rhythm and tone somehow disappeared in the orchestra, the arrangements and the vocals. Perhaps the show's most glaring error is the more classical vocal style of the cast.

A bit of soul would have gone a long way toward rescuing some of the "All Night Strut's" musical numbers.

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The production was directed and revamped by Reuben Murray, the Musical Theatre Southwest's executive director. Murray wisely expanded the cast from four to nine, gave the show a setting, introduced dancing and incorporated story lines for each vocalist.

Even so, Murray was unable to redeem a show that was probably boring to begin with.

Mark Pino's brilliant portrayal of an out-of-work executive during the Great Depression almost made the evening bearable. His character, though given very little time, was the most three-dimensional one on stage.

Pino can both act and sing, a miracle in Albuquerque musical theater. His first act rendition of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" brought the house down.

Wendy Laverne Baker destroyed every song she performed. Her mannerisms and vocal style were phenomenally fake. Even the hot pink rouge make-up plastered all over her otherwise pretty face was more genuine. One could not believe a single phrase she sang.

Mimi Burns' vocals, however, were remarkable. Her range and power did not in any way prevent her from being expressive.

Burns sparkled throughout the night, constantly lighting up the stage with her energetic and appealing presence. Why she was not given more solo time remains inexplicable.

How Joel White managed to be cast in a show that requires strong vocals is a mystery. White is the weakest singer in the cast. He lacks both vocal confidence and the ability to be heard past the footlights. This sort of casting is a grave mistake for the musically- centered "All Night Strut."

Credit should be given to Joe Gonsowski, who has grown remarkably as a performer during the past year. Of the "All Night Strut's" cast, Gonsowski is the best dancer and most consistently in the moment. His confident steps and vocals, not too mention his obvious improvement, are a credit to his work ethic.

Starring in "Tommy" last year clearly stretched him to the brink of excellence.

James Mills' portrayal of a bartender is fabulous, hamming it up and then toning it down to believability at just the right moments. Though stuck behind the bar most of the night, he still manages to steal several scenes with his skillful acting.

Dreadful technical problem's marred the performance. The wireless microphones worn by the cast were never in sync or properly adjusted for each actor.

Most of the singers at one time or another appeared to be swallowing their phrases because of their microphone difficulties.

This would have be annoying enough, but there were several times when singers could not even be heard due to sound problems.

The "All Night Strut" would be a wonderful show to take one's grandmother to. She might appreciate hearing the music of her era performed. That is, if she doesn't fall asleep before the first act is out.

The "All Night Strut" runs through Feb. 24 at the Hiland Theatre, 4804 Central Ave. SE. Tickets can be obtained through the Musical Theatre Southwest box office by calling 262-9301.

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