The most difficult reviews to write involve shows that are not quite shows in the traditional sense of the word; this includes experimental works, cabaret pieces, and revues, all of which have the potential for lovely presentation and intriguing thoughts but don’t really have narratives or storylines.
Such is the case with “The Wildest,” the toe-tapper now at the Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell. This collection of song standards created by the exuberant jazz legend Louis Prima is presented by an affable and attractive cast.
And while there is no plot in sight, if you are looking to be serenaded by six talented young people, this is place to spend an evening surrounded by sweetness — from the performances to the front of house staff to the complimentary dessert.
Hailing from Louisiana, Prima was a trumpeter, band leader, singer, composer, and occasional movie star. Inspired by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Prima got his start in New Orleans and made the US Hit Parade repeatedly from 1934 through ‘39. He co-wrote “Sing, Sing, Sing” with Benny Goodman (not included in this evening of theater), and his scat-singing, use of songs from his Italian heritage, and memorable performance as orangutan King Louie in 1967’s “The Jungle Book” became trademarks of his career as a performer.
All of this is well represented in “The Wildest,” as the cast of six bops along with goofy enthusiasm through the evening’s 25 selections. There aren’t any surprises in this show, designed to be a nostalgic sort of wave that gently washes over you.
The production works best when the actors have the opportunity to play off of one another and flirt and converse. For example, Tess Ammerman’s lovely soprano is best put to use in “It’s Magic,” as she wanders into the audience to seduce male theatergoers. It’s worth noting that any of the seats on the center aisle are fair game for a flirty cast member to take aim at you. You’ve been warned.
John Bergeron’s baritone and sense of comedy are well-employed in “The Pussycat Song” and especially in “Just a Gigolo.” OBT newcomer Ben Menahem’s gentle physicality transforms for the King Louie number “I Wanna Be Like You,” and Elizabeth Rzasa proves to be the best dancer of the bunch.
But the standouts of the evening are Sasha Saco and Kevin Hack. She’s a triple threat, full of tease and charm, and his piercing, soaring tenor is a solid instrument that is used with facility and effectiveness throughout the evening — presented with joy and big smiles, and that’s fine. If you’ve got a hankering for the vibes and tunes of yesteryear, this will do the job.
It’s a good deal of fun — and the audience I attended with had a great time. The thing to remember, though, is that “The Wildest” isn’t so much a musical as a concert, complete with the sweaters and bobby socks of a firmly bygone era. It’s a blast of silly, earnestly sung standards, and you’ll find yourself humming along, after happily consuming the dessert of your choice, as is OBT’s signature.
The Wildest, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Weekends through Saturday, November 10. $27 to $31.50. Call 609-466-2766 or visit www.off-broadstreet.com for information.