“Salute to Broadway” – presented by Peninsula Lively Arts

Another spectacular performance from an organization that never disappoints its audience

"Phantom of the Opera" performed by Gary Stanford Jr. and Merrill Grant with ballet dancers from Peninsula Lively Arts photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn
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When Peninsula Ballet Theatre changed its name to Peninsula Lively Arts, that should have alerted all of us that great changes were forthcoming. And were they ever! They have expanded their repertoire to include not just ballet and contemporary dance, but also hip-hop productions, the Peninsula International Dance festival, and most recently, Broadway Musical Theater works. Christine Leslie, the executive director and CEO of Peninsula Lively Arts, is leading this organization and challenging it to continue to bring the best entertainment to the Bay Area.  They obviously acquire the talent and intellect required to succeed in these genres before deciding to branch into somewhat new territory, so they are excelling from the very first production. The Bay Area theatre patrons are the beneficiaries of their new and exciting ventures.

Les Miserable’s “One Day More” photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn

A perfect example of their ability to succeed in a new genre from the very first performance was The Salute to Broadway show at the Fox Theatre on February 3rd.  This type of production is a perfect fit for their talented directors, choreographers, and performers.  It allowed them to showcase budding talent currently in classes offered by Peninsula Lively Arts as well. The show consisted of 23 show- stopping hits from 23 of the most beloved Broadway shows of all time. Performed in chronological order, and introduced with a brief synopsis of each play, the songs ranged from the 1920’s through each decade until the 2000’s.

Act 1 opened with an emotional, mesmerizing rendition of “Old Man River” from Showboat, a mega-production from the 1920’s. With Gary Stanford Jr.’s captivating voice, and Mercury Van Sciver’s interpretation of the lyrics through dance, it was an amazing way to open a show that promised to take us on a journey of our society as reflected in Broadway productions through the decades. Every time Gary Stanford Jr. performed, he commanded the stage . It was a joy to watch him. It is not surprising that he is the artistic director of the entire show. 

Gary Stanford Jr. and Merrill Grant in a duet from the Great Waltz Photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn

The combined creative genius of Gary Stanford Jr., Gregory Amato, principal choreographer, and Justin Pyne, vocal and music director transported the audience to the Broadway stage. Most of these numbers were of Broadway caliber, with local talent that could be on a New York stage tomorrow.  Many of the performances told the story of the play without any narration needed. However, the narrator added connections between the Broadway shows and what was happening in the world when the shows were first performed. Looking back, you can see why particular shows appealed to audiences during each decade.  It makes you think about how the current Broadway shows are reflecting our current society.

Arielle Rothman and dancers in the Tribute to Broadway photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn

Most of us in the audience knew the 23 songs performed, which added additional pressure for the performers to live up to our expectations. They certainly did. I can’t mention each performance and each talented cast member here but there were a few stand-out numbers and performers that connected with the audience in a spell-binding way. Every solo Adrienne Tiffany Herro sang gave me chills. The tone and range of her voice show her great talent, but it was the emotion she packed into each performance that made her stand out, even among excellent vocalists. During her performance of “The Winner Takes It All” from Mamma Mia you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.  Truly, I could see that everyone was as captivated as I was. The accompanying interpretive dance by Alyssa-Marie Muna and Phoenix Wilkins added to the beauty of this show-stopping moment of the production. The whole company of dancers is extremely talented, but when these two were on stage, their dancing was of Broadway caliber.

Kelsey Dougherty sang a very steamy version of “Steam Heat” from The Pajama Game to close Act 1. She led a superb group of vocalists and dancers in a performance that might have been imported from a Broadway stage. The audience was reluctant to see Act 1 end, even on such a high note.

Merrill Grant and Gary Stanford Jr. perform “Phantom of the Opera” Photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn

When Gary Stanford Jr. sang duets with Merrill Grant and Rachel Sue, it was captivating. Stanford Jr.’s Phantom and Grant’s Christine made a magical duo in “The Phantom of the Opera” from the play of the same name. They delivered again in “Only You” from The Great Waltz.  Rachel Sue and Gary Stanford Jr. performed an outstanding rendition of “Ya Got Me” from On the Town. 

One of the goals of the Peninsula Lively Arts that became apparent during the performance was the showcasing of new talent, the students in their various classes. I applaud the organization for encouraging young dancers and vocalists to pursue the Arts, use their talents to entertain, and continue to grow. One can never predict the next superstar. These young performers fit well into the numbers in which they were cast. For example, while Damien Marhefka sang a rousing version of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man and Arielle Rothman did the same with “Strike Up the Band” from the play of the same name, young performers accompanied them with rather complicated marching choreography. The audience seemed to appreciate the addition of these young future stars from our area.

A Broadway routine from the talented dancers Photo by Vin Eiamvuthikorn

The final song of this production was “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray, which made its stage debut in 2002. The entire cast performed this number. The energy on stage was contagious, so of course, the audience participated as much as it could. No one wanted this beat to end, but sadly it did. I am already looking forward to the next production by the Peninsula Lively Arts’ Peninsula Broadway Theater arm.

For more information about Peninsula Lively Arts, including upcoming performances and classes they offer, go their website, PeninsulaLivelyArts.org. Their Peninsula International Dance Festival coming to San Mateo in July is a spectacular gathering of talent you won’t want to miss. This is truly an organization that works for and with people of all ages.


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