Off-Broadway Review: HOAGY CARMICHAEL’S STARDUST ROAD (The York Theatre Company)

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by Tony Frankel on December 2, 2022

in Theater-New York

HEART AND SOUL, INDEED

Forget Broadway, this is where the hits keep coming. One of the most vivacious revues to come along since Ain’t Misbehavin’, Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road is a smash. With the thin device of a group of friends who congregate at a roadhouse during WWII, you wonder — looking at the dozens of songs in the program — how this could work, as many revues lack soul and boffo talent. Well, this one is a marvel, thanks to a winning seven-member triple-threat cast who strew stardust in your eyes and into your heart.

Danielle Herbert, Sara Esty, Kayla JenersonDion Simmons Grier, Danielle Herbert, Mike Schwitter,
Sara Esty, Cory Lingner

You should recognize many of these tunes, but you will be surprised how many were penned by American composer, singer, self-taught pianist, and actor Hoagy Carmichael, who wrote and co-wrote with America’s greatest lyricists (Frank Loesser, Mitchell Parish, Johnny Mercer, etc.) several of the most highly regarded popular standards in American music. Co-produced for York Theatre Company by Carmichael’s son, Hoagy Bix Carmichael — who was in the house opening night — it is arranger Lawrence Yurman that should be credited for the evening’s success. At the piano with his 5-piece band, Yurman freshened these hits with a sound that is a tribute to the era of popular song. Whether medleys or solos, dance breaks, a jazzy combo or tinkling piano bar-style accompaniment, Carmichael’s classic compositions cloak us in a cascade of comfort, contentment, delectation, exuberance and cheeriness.

Dion Simmons Grier, Danielle Herbert, Sara Esty, Cory Lingner,
Kayla Jenerson, Mike SchwitterMike Schwitter, Danielle Herbert, Dion Simmons Grier, Sara Esty,
Markcus Blair, Kayla Jenerson, Cory Lingner

With 90 minutes of non-stop joy, every song is a standout. Forget yodeling, belting and other cheap singer tricks, this cast delivers straight vocals, reminding us of Carmichael’s genius in both storytelling and hooks. And the harmonies! Andrews Sisters in “Billy-a-Dick”, Barbershop in “Don’t Care for the Heck of It”, 50s’ Sha-Na-Na in “Heart and Soul” (with toy piano yet!), and Glenn Miller’s Pied Pipers throughout.

Danielle Herbert, Cory Lingner, Mike Schwitter,
Dion Simmons Grier, Markcus BlairMarkcus Blair, Kayla Jenerson, Cory Lingner,
Danielle Herbert, Mike Schwitter, Sara Esty

On a simple set of rolling tables and piano, creators Susan H. Schulman (director), Michael Lichtefeld (choreographer) and Yurman create four distinct settings: The roadhouse, a USO canteen, and nightclubs in Harlem and Hollywood. This way, we can follow the friends as they do their best to celebrate while heartbreak and war surround them. In one particularly stunning moment, sultry temptress Danielle Herbert delivers “How Little We Know” spotlit in a gorgeous, glamorous red dress (Alex Allison, costumes), with curtains projected on the wing flats (Brad Peterson, projections), the stage bathed in blue (Jason Kantrowitz, lights), and a black screen lit with stars behind the upstage orchestra (James Morgan and Vincent Gunn, scenic designers). In front, Cory Lingner and Sara Esty in white tux and gown do a Fred and Ginger dance sequence. Can you say enchantment?

Lawrence Yurman (piano), Danielle HerbertDanielle Herbert, Markcus Blair, Sara Esty, Cory Lingner, Kayla Jenerson

Showman Lingner is also a mean tapper who got applause in the middle of a medley (“The Rhumba Jumps”) and blew me away in a tap duet with Esty (“Lazy River”). Esty is a sexy chanteuse (“Just A Shade on the Blue Side”); Dion Simmons Grier has a deliciously distinctive husky vibrato (“Old Man Harlem”); Kayla Jenerson brings sweet simplicity to “The Nearness of You”, one of Hoagy’s most-covered songs; Mike Schwitter is a crooner deluxe who offers a heartbreaking tenor (“I Get Along Without You Very Well”); and the stage lights up with the fantastic presence of Markcus Blair, whose comedy and wonderful warble made “Gonna Get A Girl” a highlight. Not one lyric was lost, thanks to sound design by Julian Evans.

Cory LingnerMike Schwitter, Kayla Jenerson, Markcus Blair, Sara Esty, Cory Lingner,
Danielle Herbert, Dion Simmons Grier

Positively everyone is at the top of their game here. Stardust Road is chockablock with reminiscences for those who want to swing down memory lane, blockbusters for Broadway musical enthusiasts, and crafty ear worms to inspire the younger crowd. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mike Schwitter

photos by Carol Rosegg

Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road
The York Theatre Company
The Theatre at St. Jeans, 150 East 76th St (between Lex & Third Ave)
ends on December 31, 2022
Tues-Sat at 7:30; Sat & Sun at 2 (check for holiday schedule)
for tickets ($60-$95; $20 senior & student rush; $30 35 years and under),
call (212) 935-5820 or visit OvationTix
for more info, visit York Theatre

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