by Scott A. Eckert
Directed by Pam Myers-Morgan
Music Direction by Scott A. Eckert
Choreography by Stephanie Butler & Melissa Rose
Set Design by Terri Ferguson
Costume Design by Christina Cook
Light Design by Brooks Powers
Props Design/Set Decoration by Kateri Cale
Echo Room Quartet
Scott A. Eckert – Serge Dupre
Andrea Bunton – Drums
Peggy Honea – Bas
Timothy Moore – Piano
Echo Room Danseurs
Janie Burkes – Stephanie Butler
Donny “Quickstep” Cander – Rodney Morris
Echo Room Crooners
Digby Horn – Malcolm Beaty
Maria Del Castillo – Andrea Cox
Lulu Glade – Annie Benjamin
Adelaide Bell – Whitney Coulter
Montague Rollins – Greg Hullett
Blanche Danvers – Ashlie Kirkpatrick
Edith LaSylphe – Terri Ferguson
Babe Rollins – Angela Davis
Reviewed Performance: 2/10/2017
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Finding unique ways to enjoy an evening out with a special someone gets easier every February when Echo Theatre presents its annual production of Her Song, a musical review of songs written, at least in part, by women. Billed as a step back in time, the action takes place in a 1930’s-era supper club known as the Echo Room. There are multiple crooners, talented musicians, and a little drama sprinkled throughout.
Patrons have a choice of purchasing theater-style seats, or being a part of the set, itself. Small, café tables surround the dance floor of the club and highboys are available seating on the edges of the stage. There is a bar stage right which is fully functioning and guests may sidle up for beer, wine, and specialty drinks or be served by wait staff. There are eats, as well, served up by Beyond the Box Catering. Although the food is pre-packaged, it is tasty and satisfies a craving for gourmet snacks. All drinks and food are strictly cash only, so be sure to bring enough including a tip for your servers.
Arriving early is encouraged. Guests may enjoy the mellow music of the Echo Room Quartet, which consists of a keyboard, drum, bass, and saxophone. Taking a spin on the dance floor, enjoying some sips and eats, and conversing with other guests results in an ambience for the entertainment that demands all modern-day distractions be turned off and safely tucked away. Splurging the extra $5-10 per seat on café seating is well worth it, in my opinion.
Even if the entire evening had consisted of this ambience, soft music, and conversation, it would have been thoroughly enjoyable. I found myself wishing the supper club existed outside of the month of February. The evening didn’t end there, however, and my date and I found ourselves in for a real treat.
The entertainment opened with Babe Rollins, played by Angela Davis, welcoming the patrons and introducing herself and her brother, Montague Rollins, played by Greg Hullett. Babe and Montague are siblings and, as we would find throughout the evening, Montague appears to be quite a ladies man. Throughout the musical performances, there are short bits of dialogue to keep two main subplots alive. First, there is romantic intrigue between Montague Rollins and a beautiful Cuban soprano, Maria Del Castillo, portrayed by Andrea Cox. Second is the revelation that Montague’s successful music career has been, at least in part, the result of taking credit for songs written by a young, black woman, Adelaide Bell, who wishes she could get credit, but knows that her songs will be more widely accepted in 1930s America if it appears a white man wrote them.
Before I discuss the musical numbers themselves, I believe recognition should be given to the set designer, Terri Ferguson, and the lighting designer, Brooks Powers, for providing an authentic backdrop for the music. The set was beautifully done with café seating around the dance floor, wraparound bar, and heavy drapes with shiny gems that glittered like stars in the lights. Powers provided lighting that was highly complementary and changed with each song to provide the most appropriate support to the visual display. These subtle nuances did not go unnoticed, and I especially enjoyed the visual experience during the song, “Fine and Dandy”, with Angela Davis perched atop an upright piano (it was a bit high, but it worked), in a stunning black velvet evening gown. The stark black of the gown was so well contrasted with the shiny backdrop, enhanced by lighting, that I found it to be one of the high points of the evening, artistically.
Costumer, Christina Cook, also deserves recognition. Every time a woman entered the stage, she was wearing a completely different, and beautiful, evening gown. The gowns complemented the songs that were being sung perfectly. A fine example of this is when Angela Cox was introduced as Del Castillo. She arrived in a stunning, red gown. Her hairpiece was adorned with blood-red roses which perfectly complemented both the gown and the story she brought with her.
And yes, there were songs. 32 of them, in fact. With such a lengthy playlist, it would have been easy for the show to drag on, but expert hostess, Babe Rollins, kept the action moving along as number after number entertained and delighted us.
There were several standouts and I won’t be able to cover them all, but here are the highlights of the evening.
From the first few songs, it became evident that the musical direction of Scott A. Eckert, along with the extreme talent chosen by director, Pam Myers-Morgan, resulted in strong voices, perfect harmonies, and perfect timing. “Hello! My Baby!”, performed by Malcolm Beaty (Digby Horn) and Ashlie Kirkpatrick (Blanche Danvers), was exceedingly cute. Beaty’s facial expressions in this and many other numbers connected with the audience and added to his performance. Kirkpatrick and Beaty had great fun with this number and their styles played off each other with perfect timing.
Whitney Coulter, in the role of Adelaide Bell, owned the stage and my rapt attention with every song she performed. My favorites from the evening were “Jazz Baby” and “Down Hearted Blues”. Coulter’s electrified the room with sass, expertise, and her smooth, yet strong, vocals. Coulter’s command of the stage was exciting to experience.
Andrea Cox, portraying Maria Del Castillo, had the opportunity to demonstrate the range of her talent. “Juramé (Promise, Love)” exhibited Cox’s stunning ability to perform a powerful operatic piece with extreme passion. Her expert vocals and emotional delivery allowed me to understand perfectly what the song was about, even though I don’t understand the language in which it is performed. As I listened, I wondered whether this talented actress would also be entertaining in other forms of music. It would not be long before this question was answered, as Cox sauntered onto the stage in Act II in a blood-red velvet gown to deliver a talented performance of “Put the Blame on Mame.”
There was a range of musical styles represented throughout the evening. Annie Benjamin, as Lulu Glade, performed western-styled songs, complete with yodels, and provided a light-hearted, comical interlude when she performed a duet, “My Cross-Eyed Beau”, with Ashlie Kirkpatrick.
The finale to Act I found me dying to join the performance as bandleader, Serge Dupre (Eckert) lead nearly the entire cast in a romping rendition of “Diga Diga Doo”. It was a wonderful way to end the act and to leave me wondering what was in store for Act II.
Even more engaging was the encore, “Catch On”. The entire cast seemed as if they had been possessed by the music as they danced, sang, and drew everyone in the audience into participating in the rousing finale. I looked across the café tables and theater seating during this song and found that everyone in the audience had smiles on their faces, hands in the air, and bodies moving to the beat. This was the culmination of a delightful evening of songs and artistry.
If you would like to spend an exciting evening being entertained and wowed by talent, I highly recommend you purchase a seat and take the trip out to the Bath House Cultural Center for a taste of days gone by while enjoying the results of the talent and passion of a group of women who were pioneers in music. To round out the experience, dress to the nines, immerse yourself completely, and hobnob with the cool crowd.
Echo Theatre at the Bath House Cultural Center
521 East Lawther Drive, Dallas, Texas 75218,
Plays through February 25th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00pm, Saturday matinee at 2:00pm. Theater seating is $30, café floor seating is $35-40.For info/ tix http://www.echotheatre.org/ or call/email the box office at firstname.lastname@example.org.