America in Words and Music at the Richard Goad Theatre

Photo by Jackie Teeple, Two-Eight Photography
From left: Jessica Acuri, Ramzi Jneid, Jesse Seann Atkinson and Sarah Hoeven in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s America in Words and Music: A Vaudeville Revue

America in Words and Music: A Vaudeville Revue, at the Richard Goad Theatre through July 29, is an entertaining tribute to America’s musical and literary heritage, appropriate for our country’s birthday month. In one hour, four members of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) sing, dance and recite American classics, ranging from Mark Twain to the musical Chicago. What better way to spend a July evening than to appreciate American artistry presented wholeheartedly by four very talented performers.

LBSC veterans Jessica Acuri, Jesse Seann Atkinson, Sarah Hoeven and Ramzi Jnaid (who is usually on the production side, and behind costume design here) showcase their singing, dancing and orating talents in this high-energy, immersive production.

Atkinson, who also choreographs, seems to ground the group with his sonorous voice and stage presence. Hoeven offers the clearest, most articulate renditions of the poems, shining with Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Acuri’s voice is higher-pitched and sweeter, and Ramzi contributes effusive warmth.

Director Helen Borgers has assembled a rich range of materials for them to deliver, which collectively highlight the values that “make America great,” as she notes.

The performance begins with all four filling the modest space of the theatre with their tap dancing to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” before segueing into poetry and prose recitations. Bringing to life Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Bells” is a feat divided among them, each successive performer ringing a bigger and bigger bell and intoning each subsequent verse more and more ominously.

Other poems by Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman feature as well, their works emphasizing America as a place where boundaries don’t apply (a fitting reminder for our times), whether in the form of walls, race, class, or even life and death. The performers imbue each poem’s words with ardor, underscoring their beauty and meaning.

Prose passages similarly depict what it is to be American. Twain (twangily enacted by Hoeven and Atkinson) portrays how we are free to redefine ourselves, however preposterously; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby mirrors our dreams of wealth; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick evokes the expansiveness of our imaginations; and Raymond Chandler brings home a hard-boiled Los Angeles.

Some of the readings are enhanced by visual projections, such as a black-and-white picture of old Hollywood accompanying the Chandler passage, ocean waves accompanying Melville, and a close-up of green grass for Whitman.
Music, arranged by Edmund Velasco, changes seamlessly from song to song and the performers don’t miss a beat, using their tap shoes frequently. A duet about two sisters, performed by Acuri and Hoeven, is especially charming, and the show ends with a very sultry “All That Jazz” that has all four giving it their all.

Because this is a revue, there isn’t a narrative thread, though there is sometimes introduction of an author or context. While you may not be familiar with every piece, their sounds and words combine to form a resonant portrait of American culture. America in Words and Music is a fireworks burst of what it means to be American, and a reminder that our nation’s inclusive, creatively borderless legacy is a treasure to be celebrated.

America in Words and Music continues at the Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through July 29, with shows Fridays and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $12.50. For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.

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