Broadway World Review: HITMAKERS – THE BRITISH ARE COMING! at JCC CenterStage Theatre
by Colin Fleming-Stumpf
If you're a child of the 1960's British Invasion, if you're an ardent fan of the Beatles/Stones/Who/etc., or if you're just one who enjoys learning about the vast annals of rock history, Rochester's JCC Center Stage Theatre has just the thing for you. For its annual Hitmakers series the JCC is currently featuring The British are Coming!, and it's a hugely fun compilation of some of the best tunes from both sides of the pond.
For this year's Hitmakers series, Directors Ralph Meranto and Esther Winter team up with Rochester's revered music/film critic and cultural stalwart Jack Garner to take the audience on an informative and highly entertaining journey through the history of British rock, from the early days of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show to the lesser-known (to millennials like me, at least) tunes of the late 60's by the likes of The Troggs and Herman's Hermits. The show weaves Garner's script-a detailed history of the rockers of the British invasion and their impact on American pop hits-in-between the hits themselves, which are performed by nine of Rochester's finest singers (and a killer band to boot!).
While I can't claim any sentimental connection to the music (I was born well after the 1960's), I'm as big a lover as any of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, and their counterparts, and since I wasn't around to hear them at their prime (though the Stones are still trudging along) I relish the opportunity to hear this iconic music performed live. And I can't imagine that there are nine singers out there who can perform this music as powerfully as the folks featured in this production. While it's hard to single out particular songs, standouts include Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" featuring Darren Frazier and Rich Steele; The Beatles' "Blackbird", a gentle and mesmerizing rendition featuring Marc Cataldi and Jordan Bachmann; and, most especially, an absolute powerhouse cover of The Animals' seminal hit "House of the Rising Sun" performed by Janine Mercandetti, whose colossal blues vocals absolutely blew the roof off the place. Seriously JCC staff, there's probably structural damage.
An extra kudos to Ralph Meranto for the production design of this year's Hitmakers series, which practically transports the audience to the set of the Ed Sullivan show; and to Musical Director Casey Filiaci, for marshalling the most killer band to provide the foundation for these iconic songs.
Hitmakers: The British are Coming! is a ton of fun, and an absolute masterclass of talent. It's playing on JCC's Centerstage until February 17th. For tickets and more information, click here.