Off-Broadstreet Theater closes its 24th season with “Deja Vu: A Familiar Musical Review,” the theater’s 205th production. The show brings together a variety of well-known show tunes, ranging from an early 20th-century Al Jolson song to an early 21st-century Billy Joel song. As the subtitle makes clear, these are not far-out songs but ones that many in almost any audience would be able to hum along with.
The show works with four singers (two men and two women) accompanied by a pianist, a bass player, and a percussionist. There is no plot, just the songs. Over half are sung as solos, and the rest are ensemble pieces or duets. In two acts, the songs appear in roughly chronological order.
Although Bob Thick and his wife, Julie, bill themselves as Off- Broadstreet’s producers, which means they are busy with every aspect of running a theater and putting on plays, Bob is also seen on its stage from time to time, most recently in last fall’s “The Fantasticks.” He is on stage again for “Deja Vu,” and once again, he turns in a striking performance, with his booming but focused and expressive voice that is clear no matter where you sit. The other male singer, Barry Abramowitz, is a newcomer to Off-Broadstreet. Although his theatrical experience seems to have been mostly in nonmusicals, he too sings clearly and expressively. One of his solo numbers is “Old Man River,” and anyone familiar with Paul Robeson’s recording of that song will be aware of what guts it must have taken Abramowitz to move down into Robeson’s deep-bass territory to sing the song. He carries it off, and although his rendering may not have had quite the resonance of Robeson’s, his version clearly pays homage to Robeson.
The two women are Denise Mihalik and Gabrielle Visser Trumbull, both Off-Broadstreet veterans. Mihalik is responsible for six solos, Trumbull for four. Mihalik, who has toured with the National Opera Company, and sung with a variety of other opera companies throughout the United States, has a lovely sound. On the faculty of the Westminster Conservatory, she sings with a voice that is clearly classically trained, but unlike all too many from the opera world, there is no wobble whatsoever, and also unlike many from that world, she is able to make every word of these show tunes audible and as meaningful as the composer intended them to be. Trumbull is more of a belter, but she doesn’t get in the way of what she sings, and she is able to hold back when the ensemble requires it.
There are three medleys, one that opens the show with tunes from some of the most famous musicals — “Oklahoma,” “Annie,” “Pal Joey,” “Guys and Dolls,” among others; one that features songs from World War II; and the third, Jim Rudl’s medley from “West Side Story.” The show ends with the audience joining in to sing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which, however iconic it may have become, did begin life as a show tune.
The instrumental accompaniment is integral to most of the pieces without ever being intrusive, and the three players all are sensitive to the singers’ needs. The pianist, David Raunick, new to Off-Broadstreet, has played piano and directed at Florida dinner theaters, directed Broadway revues for cruise lines, and served as organist and children’s choir director for a church in Edison. The bass player, Bob Garguillo, has been playing in orchestras in New York and Philadelphia and in a variety of local theaters. James Jarvie, the percussionist, an Off-Broadstreet veteran, was last heard at Off- Broadstreet last summer. “Deja Vu” represents his 28th production at the theater. He also plays with other theaters and local schools and universities.
The set, designed by Thick, is simple but effective. Regulars at the theater could identify some of the pieces from previous productions, and one was heard asking whether the cupboard was meant to represent where the Thicks had found the oldies being played in the show. The lighting, is unobtrusive but fun and included the use of a mirror ball in songs such as “When You Wish upon a Star.” The costumes, by Ann Raymond, are simple but attractive and coordinated.
Thick is not just one-fourth of the cast and the set designer, he also directed the show. Julie Thick is responsible for the choreography, and as is usually the case at Off-Broadstreet, just right. If there is any miking for “Deja Vu,” it must have been done with some brand-new unheralded technique. It was a joy, and an unusual one these days, to hear the music without the distortion brought on by microphones.
“Deja Vu,” weekends through Saturday, November 29, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Musical. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766.