Magic in the Music a Magical Evening

Anita Hollander, John Anker Bow and Michael Beltran

Like summer stock theaters everywhere The Surflight brings in the summer crowds with tried and true big musical favorites like Camelot, State Fair and Cats. But in the fall season they do smaller musicals and some straight plays.

Last year they tried something new. The world premiere of a "play with music" called Tales by Twain. I didn't care for it very much but I kept an open mind when I learned about Surflight's current production, Magic in the Music.

In a way Magic in the Music reminds me a bit of Crazy For You, which Surflight ran in the summer of 2003. That play was stitched together from characters and songs from the songbook of Irving Berlin.

"Magic," like "Twain," is also a world premier but this production is based on the songs of Stephen Schwartz. He's not the household name that Berlin is but he has produced an impressive body of work that includes The Magic Show, Pippin, Godspell and Children of Eden. However, where Crazy For You was a conventional musical, "Magic" has virtually no plot.

Now if you have read my review of Cats you know how much I dislike that plotless mishmash (no matter who stages it). Yet I really loved Magic. Although it was clearly imperfect it's still amusing and the cast was great. But there's a reason I particularly enjoyed it.

It's filled with magic tricks and stage illusions and I'm a big sucker for magic. I've been a magic buff since I was a little kid and I'm not above inflicting a card trick or two on friends occasionally.

As for the cast, they all did a great job and it was like a Surflight homecoming. There were members we've seen for the first time this year, like John Anker Bow, Kristen Alberda, Matty Price and Justin Bohr, in only his second appearance at Surflight (not including a tiny role in You Can't Take it With You). Then there were veterans like Anita Hollander, Michael Beltran and the redoubtable Andrew Foote. There were even two complete newcomers, a (female) named Bryan Tramontona, who didn't have enough to do for me to judge her abilities and Noel Berkofsky, who has a beautiful operatic voice of great power.

The surprise treat, however was the reappearance of the lovely Elena Gutierrez. She's played at Surflight for a number of years but I didn't see her for the first time until 2003. And she didn't appear at all this season until now. It was great to hear her beautiful voice and her enthusiasm is always palpable.

So what about the magic? They're standard illusions like sawing a woman in half, Zig-Zag, the Zombie floating ball and various stage tricks like appearing and disappearing doves and canes that turn into silks. Ironically it is in the performance and execution of the magic that the play falters.

The cast, talented though they are, are not professional magicians. And it was obvious that they had not had the time to rehearse the tricks they did for the time required to truly master them. So their magic performances were uneven and often revealed the secret to people in the first few rows or who sat the extreme sides of the auditorium. I think magic consultants David Bush (who also wrote the book) and Al Belmont and director and choreographer Corin Hollifield could have taken greater care in watching their angles and staging some illusions farther upstage out of the footlights.

This being a first-time production, however, I'm willing to forgive the rough spots. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And I think that with a little polish, this diamond in the rough could be very successful in other venues too.

This play marks the end of Surflight's regular season. I'll see you in December with a review of Surflight's Christmas show. Buy your tickets early! They'll be doing Miracle on 34th Street again. When they last did in 2002 it sold out and was the Surflight's most profitable show. Think about that. On Long Beach Island in December!

Note: Because of an unscheduled trip to California (where I contracted the mother of all colds) I was unable to see the Christmas show.

At the Surflight October 22 - 30, 2004 at 8:00 pm;  October 24 28 & 31 at 2:00 pm.  No performances October 25 and 26,