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Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre opens 30th season with “|Thru the Decades” musical revue

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Courtesy of Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
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Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers is celebrating the start of its 30th season with a head-bobbing, toe-tapping show that has something for everyone. Titled “Broadway Palm Thru the Decades,” the revue features a musical number from the top-selling show of each season dating back to 1993.

The first show was “Me and My Girl,” said the show’s writer and director Victor Legarreta.

“The next season, the top selling show was “42nd Street,” so I put that in. That’s how I went throughout this, but if we got to a year that had a repeat, like let’s say, just for an example, 2008 was “42nd Street” again. I had to go to the number two show. So, I kind of went through the entire 225 shows and picked the best ones from each year, and that’s how I put it together.”

The result is a stunning compilation of dazzling song and dance numbers from the best Broadway shows to ever grace the Broadway Palm main stage.

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“We have everything from “The King and I” to “South Pacific” to “The Full Monty” to “Saturday Night Fever,” Legarreta said. “We have “Kinky Boots.” We’ve got “Rock of Ages” all the way back to “The Music Man.” So, it’s a variety that you’ve got across the board.”

Celebrate you, to elevate you

When you struggle to step, we'll take a helping hand

If you hit the dust, Let me raise you up

When your bubble busts, Let me raise you up

If your glitter rusts

Let me raise you up. (and up)

Raise you up Raise you up Raise you up

[“Raise You Up,” Kinky Boots]

For long-time Broadway Palm patrons, “Thru the Decades” is a nostalgic trip back in time, but for people who’ve only come to a show or two, or who have yet to take in their first Broadway Palm production, there is no better introductory show, said Broadway Palm pre-eminent choreographer Amy Marie McCleary.

“My friend Amy said it really well. She came and saw the show and she said it’s like a musical flight. So it’s like a tasting. You know? It is, because you get to see like a little highlight from 30 different shows,” said McCleary.

“So, if you’re a fan of musical theater, then you get to have all these songs beautifully performed for you. If you’re not a fan of musical theater, it’s a great thing to come and see because you can see what you might like. So, if you hear the song from “Sister Act,” ‘that’s beautiful, I love that,’ and then you can come see it later this year.”

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Courtesy of Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
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Piecing together numbers from 30 different Broadway shows to tell a seamless, cohesive story is no mean feat, but Legarreta and McCleary negotiated the obstacles like world class Olympic hurdlers.

First, Legarreta needed a story. Riffing on last year’s production of “A Night on Broadway,” in which a dad and his son share a bonding moment while exploring the history of Broadway, “Thru the Decades” features that same dad, played by Legarreta himself, telling his son all about Florida’s premiere dinner theater.

With the son played alternately by Nik Olson and Eli Van Zanten, it’s a fan-pleasing window into the history of Broadway Palm.

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Even though they now had a winning storyline, creating and changing sets for 30 very different shows is a daunting task, even for the technological geniuses at Broadway Palm. Employing a brand-new LED screen, Video Wall Designer Chris McCleary created stunning backdrops for each number. Legaretta said couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

“Whatever song we’re doing, he has projected any setting that we need in the background,” Legarreta said. “So, for example, for let’s say “Rock Island” from “Music Man,” he has projected a train car that is moving during that number on the back screen. So, it looks like they’re in that setting, and when you’re jumping from number to number to number in a completely different show in a completely different setting, he has done that. He’s changed the set instantly to another set, which is astounding,” said Legaretta.

To pull of an ambitious show like this one, Legarreta and McCleary also needed a stellar cast of multi-talented singers and dancers. With Casting Director Brian Enzman’s help, they exceeded their highest hopes.

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Courtesy of Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
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Even with the cast they’d assembled, the choreography was a huge challenge. From “Cabaret” to “Singin’ in the Rain,” every successful show creates its own world and that environment influences how the characters look and feel and move. In “Thru the Decades,” McCleary’s cast has to change their dance vocabulary from number to number.

McCleary was up to the challenge, which she credits to the quality of her dancers.

“The dancers in the show are amazing, so I was really overwhelmed because they’re so good,” said McCleary.

“I was like, ‘I have to make sure this choreography lives up to your standards.’ They challenged me to give them the best choreography that I possibly could.”

Their ability to shift from once dance style to another is miraculous.

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“With a show like this, they had to do “Singin’ in the Rain.” They had to do “Disco Inferno,” said McCleary. “Those are two very different styles in your body. They had to do “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which is like very Fosse. So, it was a little bit like show whiplash, but in the end, like I always say, the heart is what makes it great.”

Did I capture your imagination?

Did I break you down and make you smile?

It's a serious little situation

Why don't we loosen up and dance a while?

[“Let It Go,” The Full Monty]

The result is an unqualified theatrical triumph, as evident from the audience’s reactions.

“To go through and watch the audience’s reactions, I can see the audience react differently to different parts of the show,” said Legarreta.

“So, I’ll have three generations of people in the audience; let’s just say a young lady, her mom and her grandma. All three of them are watching the show, but their reacting the same, but differently, to the entire show. So, they’re enjoying the classics, but then you get to some of the more modern ones and you see the kid sit and start to bounce and bob. And then you see the mom listening to a song from her childhood.”

On occasion, audience members even dissolve into tears; one into sobs.

“You know that touched on something in her life or some moment or maybe it was her song with somebody and it’s just amazing to see what touches what touches somebody at a certain moment, and everybody’s different,” said Legarreta.

That kind of emotion is especially palpable as the dad relates how Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre stepped up to help the community in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, during which Victor and his wife lost their home.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” Legarreta said. “But, the Broadway Palm opened their coolers here, and they called the chefs in and cooked everything they had and they went out and first responders and anybody else who was coming up they had food outside to give to anybody. They packet it up and gave it to whoever needed food. They just opened their doors and gave it to anyone who needed it.”

But that’s Broadway Palm. It’s not just about staging, producing and selling seats at shows. Over the course of its three-decade existence, Broadway Palm has built a reputation as a member of the community.

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“The Broadway Palm’s mission statement has always been ‘compassionate people inspiring happiness,’ and that’s what they try to build their business model on,” said Legarreta.

“That’s their mission. It’s beautiful, and at the end of the show, I put in a quote that was Debbie Prather’s quote and she had said that if anybody asks what we sell here it’s happiness. We’re in the happiness business. And that’s the quote I literally have the child say at the end of the show. It puts it puts it perfectly. Almost every night after he says that the audience applauds and if they’re doing that, then the Broadway Palm is doing their job.”

Oh, the movie never ends

It goes on and on and on and on

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard

Their shadows searching in the night

Streetlights people, living just to find emotion

Hiding, somewhere in the night

Don’t stop believin'

Hold on to the feelin'

Streetlight people Don't stop...

[“Don’t Stop Believing,” Rock of Ages]

Go here for the performance schedule, times and a cast list.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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