BY SANDY STAGGS
There is one BIG REVEAL in “I Feel the Earth Move,” the Greenville Little Theatre’s hot rock show that enthusiastically dances and grooves through the 1970s. And it’s a doozy too! No spoilers here, except that Greenville’s favorite saxophonist Doug Norwine plays the Clarence Clemons part with The Boss. You will have to witness this outstanding solo performance yourself!
When Kristofer Parker addresses the Greenville Little Theatre audience after a kickin’ opening of the Kool & the Gang party song “Celebration” with “How you doing, Greenville?”, you get the feeling the “I Feel the Earth Move” show has just stopped by Heritage Green for one-night only, and the cast and band have only one chance to make a lasting first impression.
And that’s the concert vision this marvelously-motley crew performers have set out for you as they chart through some four dozen bona fide hits of the 1970s, and covering every single genre of the decade with star-quality vocals and instrumental perfection.
The success of this show lies not only in the stellar performances, but the simpatico of this tight-knit gang who, with the exception of new blood Greenville musician Daniel Harper, have synced many times before. Most were in the recent exciting run of “Hairspray,” several were superstars in the like-minded “Jukebox Heroes” revue at Center Stage earlier this year, and half the vocalists and the entire band (with the lovely addition of Kelley Norwine on keyboards) are back for an encore after last year’s solid run of “Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay!”
Actor and rock musician Chuck Chapman is back and punching in with his power ballads (“Beth” by Kiss) and classic rock in every sense: he gives a great Steven Tyler nod replete with a scarf-wrapped microphone stand in “Walk This Way,” as well as a pleasing “My Sharona” by The Knack.
He is joined by Harper in a bountiful pairing for the bluesy rock “American Woman” by The Guess Who, which is only a precursor to Harper’s crowd-pleasing take on the requisite Southern rock trope, Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Tim St. Clair II, who is also director/music director for this engaging show, turns Jersey Boy in a pitch-perfect rendition of Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You,” though no falsetto in this one. And
And Parker completely sold me as a ladies man (“This one is for the ladies”) grooving as the smooth-talker crooning with temptation in every note: Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” (with silky jazz sax by Doug Norwine), grinding in Marvin Gaye’s sultry “Let’s Get It On,” and shining brightly in “Shining Star” in the Earth, Wind & Fire medley with Rick on basso line.
And though the women may be fewer in number, this trio often presents the more synced performances, as their complimentary voices blend and stack with heavenliest of harmonies.
Mary Evan Giles, fresh off a starring turn as Tracy Turnblad, is at the top of her game. Not only did she bring tears to my eyes with a less-gruffy, more refined version of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” but she absolutely ignited with an earth-shattering “Barracuda” and the commanding vocal breadth of young Ann Wilson of Heart, backed by fellow “Hairspray” alum Jessica Eckenrod in the Nancy Wilson parts, and John Atkins charging up the proceedings with his pulsating rhythms on electric guitar. And she effortlessly shows us her softer side in the show’s titular composition “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King.
Khristin Stephens, who recently delighted audiences as Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray,” channels Donna Summer with tonal precision in her rousing “Hot Stuff” (with Eckenrod and Giles backing), and poses a tantalizing interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
St. Clair presents a nicely paced and arranged set list and balances the heavier rock components with emotional segments that honor the songwriter/performers of the ‘70s, which was a new concept in those days. And his light choreography allows the music reign, but is especially potent for the touchstone story in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which I also had the pleasure of seeing the ladies perform in “Jukebox Heroes.”
Several in the cast support the band and seamlessly play their own instruments (Chapman, Giles and Harper on guitar), but Eckenrod, who illustrated Carole King’s “Beautiful” so beautifully in “Jukebox Heroes,” exceeds that performance here on piano in Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” And as the-artist-still-known-as-Jessica Eckenrod, she revives Prince’s early and all-but-forgotten “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”
But Connor is the piano showman in this revue, with a touching “New York State of Mind” which he shares with Norwine during that sinfully jazz sax solo; Elton John’s “Your Song” in a special costume and candelabra just for the occasion; and he stays on the piano with Chapman for “Crocodile Rock.” He also gets in one of the more surprising (but welcome) acts on the program when he delivers a sweet ode to Elvis Costello in “Alison.”
Thomas Brooks’ costumes are quite dazzling for this production: polyester slacks all around for the men and the band, paired with silk tuxedo ruffle shirts in a multitude of flamenco colors and for the musicians, silver silk tops. And for the women, he adorns Giles in a crushed blue velvet and sequin mini-dress with flared sleeves and white go-go boots; Eckenrod in Abba-esque bell bottoms and a parka; and Stephens is stunning in a caftan ensemble one might have seen the refined divas of the ‘70s wearing like Diana Ross or Dionne Warwick.