October 11, 2016
Mr. Mambo Comes to Town
Jukebox musicals — shows like Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia! and Beautiful, which take a singer’s or group’s songbook and string it into a storyline — have become a Broadway staple. Dean Parker reckons he’s got a live one with Mr. Mambo, which debuts at Northampton’s Academy of Music on Saturday.
It’s formed around the songs of Tiffany, the eighties teen sensation whose platinum hits included covers of “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Parker, who grew up in West Springfield and is now an actor, producer and writer based in Los Angeles, says the songs’ catchy tunes and “identifiable emotions” make them a natural for musical theater and “helped in creating the storyline.”
He has chosen the Valley for the show’s world premiere because of his local roots and the abundance of talent in our area. The youthful cast of 16 is refreshingly diverse: though Tiffany’s teenage fan base was largely white, this production fields an ethnically mixed ensemble.
The scenario is inspired by the topics and titles of 15 songs recorded by Tiffany. It centers on four high school friends, Kristen (Allison Reardon), Casey (Tina Sparkle), Danny (Arnaldo Rivera) and Johnny (Jarod Bakum). They have their sights on entering a hot TV dance competition hosted by the eponymous “Mr. Mambo” (Silk Johnson). That adventure, along with shy Johnny’s secret crush on Kristen, spurs the plot’s romances, jealousies, breakups and make-ups.
“I wrote the show because I felt that Tiffany’s hits, and even her lesser-known songs, would translate well into the musical-theater genre,” Parker says. “What I love most of all is the feel-good quality that all of her songs have.” In creating the storyline, “I simply looked over the list [of her songs] and the story and characters took shape.”
I attended a recent rehearsal of Mr. Mambo, held in the dilapidated ballroom of the former Kimball Hotel, a once-elegant downtown Springfield landmark, now a condo block. As the performers ran through songs and dance routines, observed by musical director Michael Rheault, choreographer David Bovat and dance captain Aileen Merano Terzi, I spoke with Bob Sands, who directs the production.
“It’s a fun show,” he told me. “I like the music in it, and the fact that, like Grease, there’s a lack of parents. It’s all about the kids.”
Rivera, who came up through the Serious Play! youth ensemble and more recently played Othello with Real Live Theatre, said, “Being a nineties kid, I always liked the eighties and the music. This show is not Shakespeare, but every once in a while I like to be part of a production that’s just fun and good times — singing, sweating, all that.”
At the Academy of Music, Northampton, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Info and tickets at mrmambo.net.
Contact Chris Rohmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 21, 2016
Academy of Music, Northampton, MA
World Premier One-Time Performance
By Tim O’Brien – “In the Spotlight” Reviews
How often does a western Massachusetts audience have the opportunity to take in a world premiere of new musical theatre? Well, after watching Dean Parker Presentations’ Northampton debut of his musical comedy “Mr. Mambo,” this reviewer answers, “Not as often as we should,” because this light-fare homage to the stylings of 80’s mall songstress Tiffany is off to a terrific start, smack out of the gate.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, “Mambo” is a so-called “jukebox musical,” where songs by popular artists are strung together to tell a story, or at least amplify the plot. (See the ABBA-driven “Mama Mia” for one of the best-grossing examples of the type.)
California-based actor/writer Parker served as executive producer and crafted the book. Plot-wise, it’s reminiscent of “Grease” and “Bye-Bye Birdy”; Pennsylvania nice-guy Johnny (Jarod Bakum) has a crush on classmate Kristen (Ally Reardon) but is barely on her radar screen; she’s obsessed with possible stardom on the “Dance America” TV show. Not exactly heavyweight stuff. But no worries – here, the fun’s all in the journey.
Reardon consistently delights with her big smile and good-kid delivery; she also sings the living daylights out of whatever’s handed to her. Bakum seems a bit stiff as the smitten male ingénue but handles his songs well and occasionally pulls out a saxophone to accompany the recorded score; extra points earned for that talent. Second leads Casey (Tina Sparkle) and Danny (Arnaldo Rivera) are both excellent as the high-school couple that hits the skids in the midst of the dance-show drama. Aileen Merino Terzi is strong as the cattily calculating dancer Amber Cattrell, and Lauren Duquette has a nice turn as the sharp-tongued but good-hearted show-runner. The biggest laughs come when Silk Johnson is onstage; he portrays over-the-top dance show host Eric Archer as a talented but unwitting blowhard and pulls it off with real charm. The chorus ably sings, dances and smiles as it should.
Director Bob Sands has molded a cast of mostly-youthful performers into a very solid ensemble. With no prior productions to help inform the production, he’s brought the book’s raw vision to life with wit and energy. Musical director Michael Rheault (no stranger to new musicals) has teased excellent vocals and harmonies from the lead performers and chorale alike. Kudos as well to veteran choreographer David Bovat; the cast bounds their way through some clever moves.
Off-Broadway “workouts” provide directors and producers with the opportunity to take some chances and make mistakes as they hone a show to be its ultimate best self. Other than some relatively slow set changes and an apparently migratory tree, “Mr. Mambo” delivered the goods in a genuinely entertaining fashion.