If the debut of “HITS, The Musical!” national tour was limited to a one-word review, that exclamation would be most appropriate.
So would “Amazing!” “Sensational!” and “Fantastic,” among many other choices.
Indiana County residents fortunate to be among those in attendance for the singing and dancing extravaganza at the Benedum Theater in Pittsburgh on March 11 surely drove home humming or singing some of the 80-plus songs that were presented in medleys from several decades of familiar tunes in many genres — from Broadway to Hollywood and many stops in between.
Executive produced by legendary hitmaker and Grammy Lifetime Achievement honoree Dionne Warwick and her son, multi-platinum record producer/Oscar nominee Damon Elliott, the show is a 90-minute musical journey that recreates the biggest hits in pop, rock, rap, film and Broadway from the 1960’s to the present.
Producers say that “Until ‘Hits! The Musical,’ there has not been a show featuring only performers ages 10-22. Some might say they are too young and not ready for the big time. And how wrong they would be!”
What an impressively talented, enthusiastic, tireless group, including Pittsburghers Loren Prisuta, 14, and Nasir Butler, 22!
Everyone offered stunning versatility and maintained a joyous vibe throughout the evening.
AFTER A nationwide search of more than 7,000 auditionees, producers say the cast of 29 represent the most extraordinary singers and dancers in the country.
They add, “These future recording artists and Broadway stars represent the very best of America’s youth.”
Bob Gries, founder and executive producer, created the musical to give performers the opportunity to take center stage and showcase their individual talents.
Welcoming the audience, already pumped up from the pre-show recorded music getting them in the mood, the Cleveland native praised the city and the historic theater, the roots of which go back to when it began as the Stanley Theatre in 1928, where many of the greats of American entertainment performed through the decades, including Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Laurel and Hardy, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnez and the Three Stooges.
AN AMAZING SHOW!
Gries promised, “This will be one of the most amazing shows you have seen.”
And it was!
Well-spoken and multi-talented Colin Mash, a native of Eastern Pennsylvania who studied at Temple University, was outstanding as narrator-vocalist, advancing the show from decade to decade as he set the mood of the various time periods, providing context via news headlines and the music.
Before the tour began, Mash said, “I just wanted to let everyone know that the setting is not just like any Broadway show. This is a concert setting which is so fun!”
This is a fast-paced show constantly in joyous motion. It has to be physically demanding too, even for such youthful talent. But they were more than up to the task through many costume changes, wonderful dancing and singing. They sang solos and in various combinations with others, including full group offerings.
NO ENERGY SHORTAGE
There may not have been this much energy on stage in a long, long time.
Pittsburgh’s Loren Prisuta, 14, had earlier promised, “If you love music, you will love the show!”
That is certainly true.
“It’s just an all-out fun show,” she said.
“I like to describe it as a marriage between a concert and a musical, on one of the most impressive and dazzling sets I’ve ever seen,” she adds. “There is such a fantastic sampling of a broad range of hits; songs that will take you back in time all the way up to songs of the present day. This is most definitely a family friendly, all ages show. Young kids up to seniors will appreciate and love it.”
Prisuta is in the eighth grade at Pine-Richland Middle School in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
She carries a lot of responsibility in the show.
Prisuta has the opening vocal lines of the evening with the Carpenter’s “Sing,” the lead in “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” in the “Stage and Screen” medley, solos with Four Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up” (penned by Ray Davies, formerly of the Kinks, who probably would be impressed with Prisuta’s powerful on-the-mark interpretation) in the “Rock” medley, lead vocals on “Love Shack” in the ’80’s medley, solos with Mariah Carey’s “Hero” in the “’90s” medley, and opens with Madonna’s “Music” in the “2,000s” medley. She is also a Supreme in the “’60s,” in Abba in the “’70s,” Sporty Spice in the Spice Girls in the “’90s” and in various other songs on stage singing throughout the show.
CHANCE OF LIFETIME
“It’s a chance of a lifetime to work with such an incredible cast and creative team. I’m learning and developing with every performance, and am so grateful to be here,” she explains. “Every single cast member brings their own uniqueness and talent, and that is what makes the whole show so spectacular. I bring my passion for performance to the stage and hope to pass that joy along to the audience, and hope to inspire other young people to pursue the arts if that is what they love.”
Being a part of this tour also means a lot to Pittsburgh’s Nasir Butler, 22.
“I have always dreamed of traveling around the world and being able to perform and do what I love for people from all different walks of life,” he explains. “And to be able to do it with others that are so passionate makes it so much more of a great experience for me. I hope I am able to bring much happiness and great memories for those who come see the show, regardless of their age.”
He also performs throughout the show, including serving as one of four soloists for the song “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”
“It has been an honor to have the legend Dionne Warwick and her talented son Damon Elliot join as executive producers for this show,” he adds. “They are so, so supportive of every single cast member in the show and they make sure that they let us know how talented and amazing we are and how much we are helping this show become one of America’s greatest HITS!”
As one audience member remarked after the Pittsburgh show, “They are really good!”
Rex Rutkoski is a veteran regional, national and international freelance writer based in the Pittsburgh suburbs of Freeport, Pa. He can be reached at rex firstname.lastname@example.org