Theater review: ‘Let’s Face the Music — A Tribute to Fred Astaire’

It doesn’t take long in Let’s Face the Music — A Tribute to Fred Astaire for audience members to start grinning.

That collective grin begins when Astaire, in the person of Winter Park Playhouse’s Roy Alan, begins to dance his first number, “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.”

By the time he gets to “Cheek to Cheek,” there’s a major love fest going on, and the man by my side — the man I’m spending my life with — is moving his feet up and down uncontrollably. “Heaven, I’m in heaven,” Alan sings, and we are.

Audiences have been sharing this rapture for some time now: This is the third time around for the Playhouse’s Astaire tribute, which started out in 2005. The good news is that the irrepressible Laura Hodos again plays Adele Astaire, Fred’s jokester sister and dance partner for the first 30 years of his life. The other good news is that the Playhouse, having moved one door down the street, now has a stage wide enough to showcase Alan and the rest of the cast.

In Let’s Face the Music, that includes not only Hodos, who sings a few numbers and provides all of the playful narration, but also Alexandra Schudde as Ginger Rogers and others and two teenagers, Cameron Jordan and Aubrey Peeples, as the younger versions of Fred and Adele.

The two youngsters are light-footed and sweet (although Peeples doesn’t always enunciate and is overwhelmed by a curly black wig). And Schudde, even though some of the songs don’t fit her voice,  dances like a dream — and, like Hodos and Peeples, looks lovely in designer Todd Mummert’s elegant gowns.

Under Michael Edwards’ direction, Let’s Face the Music again has a solid musical backing (this time around, it’s musical director Chris Leavy at the piano, along with drummer Sam Forrest and bassist Rick Richolson). But sometimes even the new, wider stage does the show no favors: The stage is still shallow, and the more balletic numbers (especially the gorgeous “Night and Day” and the final “Let’s Face the Music”) look hemmed in.

Better to enjoy listening to all the classic songs from the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others. And best of all to focus on Alan’s Astaire when he’s alone onstage — to appreciate the elegance and grace of his movements in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” to watch his feet fly in “Fancy Free” and “Slap That Bass.” I’m told that this is the last time Alan will do his Astaire show. So be forewarned: Heaven runs only through Sept. 19.

‘Let’s Face the Music — A Tribute to Fred Astaire’
What: Winter Park Playhouse production of Roy Alan musical revue, based on Larry Billman’s Fred Astaire: A Bio-Bibliography and the choreography of Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan.
Where: Winter Park Playhouse, 711-C Orange Ave., Winter Park.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, through Sept. 19; no performances Labor Day weekend.
Cost: $26 and $35 general, $26 and $33 seniors, $20 students and entertainment professionals.
Call: 407-645-0145.

(Photos of Roy Alan courtesy of Winter Park Playhouse.)

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