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Rollicking musical brings own style to old favorites

New York Nights features, from left, Alison Burns, Heather DiBianco, Michelle Oppedisano and Kristina Huegel.

Courtesy of Marilyn Michaels, The Light Box

New York Nights features, from left, Alison Burns, Heather DiBianco, Michelle Oppedisano and Kristina Huegel.

New York Nights may sound all glitz and glamor, but the New York Nights musical created by Show Palace Dinner Theatre artistic director Matthew McGee and sidekick Scott Daniel is nuthin' but glorious heart and soul, with some doo-wop, pop, funk and gospel mixed in.

It showcases favorite songs from the 1960s — Aretha Franklin, Neil Sedaka — and reminds us that there was some really good stuff done in the 1970s, 80s and '90s, too — Billy Joel, Meat Loaf, Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper, to name a few.

And there are some poignant moments when songs made famous by Donna Summer, the BeeGees, the Monkees and Whitney Houston remind us that songs are forever, but their singers aren't (think the recently departed Summer, Houston, Robin Gibb and Davy Jones).

Still, it's a happy show, the mood set by Tom Hansen's meticulously detailed backdrop at the foot of the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge, where street corner harmonizers and big-haired chicks dream of romance and/or stardom as they dance and sing through the streets in a cleaned-up Saturday Night Fever, with the feel of West Side Story.

Even so, McGee and Daniel's book is all original, a sort of innocent fairy tale, complete with a fairy godfather (a preening Scott Daniel) who sings falsetto, swoops his 'do up high, but is still one of the guys.

The show really pops, thanks to excellent casting that includes the voices and moves of eight talented Show Palace newcomers and three of the venue's best and favorite veterans.

The heart-stopper is the lovely Alison Burns, fresh off her triumph as Janet in American Stage in the Park's Rocky Horror Show (where McGee played Dr. Frank N. Furter and no doubt recruited her). Burns' Angie and crooner Justin Lore as her longtime boyfriend Tommy do pop magic with Sedaka's Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, setting up the show's conflict, where Tommy wants to leave Brooklyn for the life of a song star, and Angie wants her Tommy with her.

Major crowd pleasers are Heather DiBianco as wise-cracking, gum-snapping Nikki, the tough girl of the neighborhood, singing a saucy Cyndi Lauper-style Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and bigger-than-life Fredena Williams as the sassy landlady with a colorful past, Ms. Crosby.

Williams sets the bar high near the opening, with her take on the Aretha Franklin classic, Think (Freedom). You'd never guess she's a New England Conservatory of Music grad in classical vocal performance, as she shimmies and shakes her booty and sings to the skies.

Same with Gabrielle Mirabella, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music in opera and theater, who does a wailing, campy I Put a Spell on You as the witchy song producer and a rock-em, sock-em take on Benatar's Hit Me With Your Best Shot, along with the cute-as-pie Michelle Oppendisano as Jackie, willowy Kristina Heugel as Chrissy, the dimbulb "Joisey goil," and Burns.

Lore and appealing newcomer Stephen M. Ray Jr. do an hilarious comic take on Meat Loaf's ambiguous But I Won't Do That ... whatever "that" is. Joe Haladey rounds out the quartet as the loosey-goosey Johnny.

Show Palace favorite Troy LaFon does an okay job lip-synching on the sax (hey, we can't all be Clarence Clemons), but is a pleasure to watch in his smooth-as-silk dance moves and comedy double-takes as the landlady's boyfriend.

Writers McGee and Daniel include just enough local and cultural references for fun, channeling Friends' Joey Tribbiani at one point and poking fun at local icons. In fine musical tradition, some of the songs advance the story, others underline a point, and a couple are just for fun.

A behind-the-scenes star is musical director/song arranger William Garon's tracks and his only-he-can-do-it seven part a capella harmony opening the second act with a slow and sweet How Will I Know. And Hansen's mobile sets make those four Brooklyn stoops seems like a whole neighborhood.

New York Nights is fun from start to finish, coming in at just over two hours, and the kind of show you wish would go on forever. To paraphrase another 1970s icon, Jacqueline Susann, seeing it just once is not enough.

>>If you go

Musical evening

New York Nights, a musical, matinees and evenings through July 15 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U. S. 19, Hudson. Dinner and show, $49.50; show only, $38.45, plus tax and tip. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469. Group discounts available.

Rollicking musical brings own style to old favorites 06/09/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 2:22pm]
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