“Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know” – a musical comedy revue – was the opening show at a new live theater venue in Billings, and both Elizabeth and I decided to catch it. We’re pleased that we did.
Speaking of secrets, I’ll whisper one of mine: Musical comedy revues are not, as a rule, what lures me into a theater. But this is an effort by Kelly Martin, a talented and energetic performing artist, and this venture joins (capital-V) Venture Theater downtown, and Billings Studio Theater up on Rimrock Drive, as commercial spaces for plays and other live productions.
Martin has acted (sometimes directed) on both the Venture and BST stages. He owns a business called Prince Party Productions and is leasing space on the east side of the former Cine 7 Movie Theater at 925 Broadwater Ave., where he has converted one of the movie rooms into the Prince Theater. It’s spacious, has plenty of comfortable tall-backed chairs, and a raised stage in front of the large movie screen – which has been retained, and is used in this production.
“Secrets Every Smart Traveler …” hit the boards on Friday, March 23 (we caught it the following evening), and plays March 30-31, April 1, 7 and 13-15. Kelly Martin and the three other local actor-singer-dancers are what drew us, and they are the reason to see this production.
Vint Lavinder is an amazingly versatile actor-singer-dancer; whatever role you need he can probably portray (in fact, he may already have done so). Sondra Baker (versatile too – but so are all four) punctuates deadpan comic routines with flagrant hoots and bawdy gestures. Rachel Sitzman uses her physicality (as do all four, in their various ways) and her wide range of voices and volumes to slink, strut, underline a moment, look bewildered or bemused.
The fifth person on stage sits at a keyboard through all the comings and goings and quick costume changes. She is pianist Carolyn Peters, the show’s music director, and she’s working as hard as the actors. The high-steppin’ choreography is by Michelle Guelf.
Lights are effectively done by Sue Hewitt. Sounds, and slides on the very big screen, are coordinated by Dallas Martin.
The screen functions like a sixth character – or like a visual, not vocal, Greek Chorus. When the skit is in Paris – Sitzman in a sexy dress, singing a torch song in French; Baker arriving onstage as a translator who conveys the English meaning (or not) of each line that Sitzman sings – Parisian scenes grace the wide, tall screen behind them. When a voice says, “This is your captain speaking,” then apologizes for the delay, and announces that after an alcoholic beverage is consumed – not by the passengers but by him – the plane will take off, a photo of a pilot in a cockpit fills the screen.
Having in a previous scene been dressed in suit and tie, Lavinder shows up in T-shirt and boxer shorts to sing and schlep through “Naked in Pittsburgh” lamenting his lost luggage and smashed laptop. “Seeing America First” stars Martin and Baker recounting the hazards of various iconic sightseeing sites and concluding that it would be better to “See America Last.”
The show began at 8 p.m. and we were out before 10. Two acts with a total of 23 scenes, performed in the style of “Laugh In” or “Saturday Night Live”: skit after skit, some situations recurring or recapitulated. Listed in the program are the 13 different authors of these skits, so don’t look for some unified perspective. The show is a smorgasbord.
At smorgasbords, you browse and choose your dishes. Many dishes in “Secrets Every Smart Traveler …” I relished, laughing out loud. A few dishes I picked at, waiting for the next laugh-out-loud moment. In every scene, however, I enjoyed the performers: their craft, wit, artistry of movement and voice. It was fun.
Soon the fall 2012 season will be announced. “Our shows will always be either a comedy or musical (we live drama every day)” – so writes Kelly Martin in the program, promising “to deliver the highest quality performance possible.”
I counted the house the night we were there, about 80, a pretty decent crowd, similar to Friday night’s crowd, but there were plenty more seats in that big room. Doesn’t sound too bad for one night at a new theater. But Martin intends to pay his performers, and with the fixed expenses of rent, lights, heat, etc., for the big room, this is, he writes, “a slow, costly endeavor … and the only way it will succeed is with your support.”