By the time I walked out of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust Road at the Theatre at St. Jeans my spirits had soared to the moon. This new revue, directed by Susan H. Schulman, is told entirely through Carmichael’s enchanting songs, with hardly a word of dialogue. Spoken words aren’t needed. The story is evocatively told through the songs and dances. Every note and every step is perfection.
The 90-minute show, produced by The York Theatre Company, was conceived by Schulman, Michael Lichtefeld and Lawrence Yurman and developed with the songwriter’s son, Hoagy Bix Carmichael, who was sitting in front of me the night I went.
The seven-member cast is the most talented you could find anywhere. Together and individually they take us on a journey through four decades in America — the early years of ragtime, jazz and the blues, the romance of New York in the 30s, the years of uncertainty during World War II and the post-war Golden Age of Hollywood. Lichtefeld’s choreography reflects each period and those actors really own that stage when they dance, just as they do when they sing.
Alex Allison’s costumes are on the mark, and downright exquisite for the women’s gowns. Nothing on Broadway could beat them, or anything else about this show. The York Theatre has outdone itself with this one.
Yurman provides music supervision and arrangements for the wonderful six-man onstage orchestra. You will be transported back to a time when the music was revered and not amplified to the point of distortion. James Morgan and Vincent Gunn have created a set consisting of small round tables, chairs and a bar that transform easily from a neighborhood hangout, to a military canteen and finally a lavish Hollywood nightclub thanks to Jason Kantrowitz’s lighting and a few simple touches. The scenes change without your even noticing but then, there you are, in a whole new atmosphere and setting.
I was wowed by the Fred and Ginger-style ballroom dancing and the full cast numbers, but also touched by simpler scenes, such as the one in the USO Canteen where three lonely servicemen sing of home. Markcus Blair longs for “Memphis in June.” For Cory Lingner, it’s “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” and Dion Simmons Grier gives us a soulful “Georgia on My Mind.”
A nice contrast is a scene in the Club Heart and Soul in Hollywood. Danielle Herbert is the height of sophistication in a red gown and glittery jewels as she sings “How Little We Know.” It could have been a scene in a big studio movie of the era.
In that same setting Mike Schwitter gives us a moving “I Get Along Without Very Well” and Sara Esty brings to life the ever-popular “Skylark,” as does Kayla Jenerson for “Stardust.”
All together close to 50 songs are sung and danced. And if you love tap, which I do, Lingner (in photo) is a marvel.
The show runs through the matinee on Dec. 31. It might be the best way to spend New Year’s Eve in all of New York. It gets my vote.