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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nostalgia Trip

Theater Reviews

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Sometimesthe title says it all. Hula Hoop Sha-Boop is a cavalcade of hit tunes from the 1950s, brought to life by a quartet of talented young singers. The fastpaced, 90-minute show zips through more than 70 songs before the final curtain in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret.

Hula Hoop Sha-Boop remains the numberone-selling show in the Milwaukee Rep’s history, having been revived numerous times. Originally conceived in part by John Dillon, the Rep’s former artistic director, the show eventually took shape under the guidance of Larry Deckel and John Leicht, with musical arrangements by Deckel and John Tanner.

The creators have assembled a number of medleys that flow together easily, if not always seamlessly. Some of the more extended songs are particularly well done, including “Runaround Sue,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Love Potion No. 9” and “He’s a Rebel.” In each case, humor combines with clever choreography to make the songs memorable.

The show’s lifeblood is its cast. This foursome demonstrates a fine vocal range, a keen sense of comic timing, and cleverly executed choreography. This last ability is key, as the tiny Stackner stage requires perfectly placed steps. This group is so talented that one forgets how little room in which they have to work. Kudos to director DavidHunter Koch and choreographer Darci Brown Wutz for their contributions.

Needless to say, the era’s popular music is punctuated by its dances, including the Twist, the Watusi, the Pony and the Mashed Potato. If you don’t know how to do these dances, you’re probably too young to fully appreciate this show.

Although Hula Hoop keeps social commentary to a minimum, it reminds us that 1950s American culture was linked to the television set. In these days of multi-media technology, it seems quaint to think how the television dominated the news events of that era. To make the point, there’s an actual working TV as part of the set.

In sum, Hula Hoop Sha-Boop is a welcome antidote to this grim, endless Wisconsinwinter. The cast members’ smiles alone are enough to brighten one’s evening. What’s more, Hula Hoop is a nostalgia trip for a certain generation. They undoubtedly will be happy to see the show return once more.

Hula Hoop Sha-Boop runs through May 25.
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