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Hart to heart: Burbank's Colony Theatre fights to survive

The struggling Colony Theatre produces a touching musical feast.

May 12, 2013|By Lynne Heffley | By Lynne Heffley
  • Brett Ryback, Rebecca Ann Johnson and Ben D. Goldberg star in the world premiere musical "Falling for Make Believe" at the Colony Theatre.
Brett Ryback, Rebecca Ann Johnson and Ben D. Goldberg… (Courtesy of Michael…)

The Colony Theatre in Burbank continues its fight for survival due to serious financial shortfalls, but you'd never know it from the venerable mid-sized venue's fine season-ender, "Falling for Make Believe." This world premiere musical by Mark Saltzman, developed by the Colony, delves into the troubled life of lyricist Lorenz Hart through actual events, deft fictional constructs and a feast of glorious Rodgers and Hart songs.

The musical opens in 1943, on the day of Hart's New York funeral. Sensitive Pennsylvania farm boy-turned-Broadway hopeful Fletcher, one of Hart's lovers (and a Saltzman creation) listens to radio tributes and grieves for the happily-ever-after that never was. In contrast, we see composer Rodgers give a eulogy carefully crafted for public consumption.

(Hart was an alcoholic and a closeted homosexual fearing career-ending exposure. The torment that both fueled and undermined the gifted lyricist's creative genius wasn't public knowledge even decades after his death from pneumonia.)

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Following the rather broadly telegraphed opening scene comes a flashback to 1927. Fresh from summer stock, Fletcher (Tyler Milliron) prepares to audition for a brand new Rodgers and Hart show, "A Connecticut Yankee," and his friend Peggy (Megan Moran, playing multiple roles with engaging comic energy) teaches him one of the show's songs.

At the performance I attended, you could almost hear a collective "ahh" from the audience during Milliron's achingly expressive rendition of "My Heart Stood Still." The music, after all, is where this production lives. "Manhattan," "This Can't Be Love," "Where or When," "Pal Joey," "I Could Write a Book" are just a few of the nearly two dozen songs woven into Saltzman's script. (And top marks to sound designer Drew Dalzell.)

Rebecca Ann Johnson is a showstopper as vivacious real-life Broadway diva Vivienne Segal (here transparently renamed Vivian Ross). With her gorgeous pipes, Johnson is up for anything, belting out "The Lady Is a Tramp," bouncing through "Mountain Greenery" with Goldberg and crooning a nuanced "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." What Brett Ryback as Rodgers and Ben D. Goldberg as Hart lack in comparable vocal power they make up for in melodic, resonant stylings. And Ryback is so convincing at the onstage piano, that it's nearly impossible to tell if he's faking it.

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