Back in 1964, when songs by Ellie Greenwich such as “Leader of the Pack” were at the top of the pop music charts, parents were probably moaning, “They don’t write songs like they used to.” Now the kids who danced to “Do Wah Diddy” and “Chapel of Love” are themselves parents and can’t unplug their offspring from Britney Spears, gangsta rappers and generic boy bands. “Leader of the Pack,” a revue of Greenwich’s songs about love, hope and marriage, will thus seem touchingly innocent or hopelessly dopey, depending on your generation.
The show is a revised version of a production seen briefly on Broadway in 1985. The book from the original has essentially been tossed out, the new show a straightforward revue. As such it’s punchy, raucous, predictable and a little long. While it doesn’t have a play’s dramatic tension to sustain interest, it does have pulsing energy and a terrific pace.The cast, backed by an onstage eight-piece band, consists of five singing and dancing couples and diva Jewel Tomkins, who has great stage presence and knows how to belt a number.
There is no script and no storyline, but director Kurt Stamm manages to evoke the young-love theme embedded in Greenwich’s songs by showcasing each cast member’s distinctive style and personality, turning 28 separate songs into linked vignettes.
The cast is uniformly good and unself-consciously energetic, with special kudos to smoky-voiced Brenda Braxton, Amy Goldberger and Denise Summerford.
The set, a bare-bones “Ellie’s” club scene fronting a stage-high scaffolding construction, works well. The band, ably conducted by Nathan Hurwitz, sits on top of the scaffold, joined occasionally by cast members or a motorcycle lifted there by elevator. The only scene change is a brick-wall drop representing the outside of the club.
Costume changes are frequent, and the designs are fun, ranging from black leather everything to pink Jackie Kennedy-style shift dresses. Lighting is excellent, but the sound system clinkers are still being worked out, which raises the question of those dumb black mouth mikes. If Sophie Tucker could be heard in the last row of the second balcony with only her pipes for amplification, why saddle performers with technically imperfect mikes that make them look like football coaches calling plays on the sideline?
After Wilmington the tour continues through June 3 with runs at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Mich., the Bushnell in Hartford, Conn., the Shubert in Boston, Buell Theater in Denver, the Dallas Music Hall and Weidner Center in Green Bay, Wisc.