A local group will have audiences jumping and jiving as it launches its first season as San Luis Obispo County’s only nonprofit professional theater company.
San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre kicks off its 2017-2018 season this week with “The All Night Strut!,” an exuberant musical revue featuring jazz, blues, bebop and pop standards from the Great American Songbook. The song-and-dance show, which opens Friday, runs through Sept. 17.
Created by Fran Charnas, “The All Night Strut!” — which premiered off-Broadway in 1979 — showcases music and dance from the 1930s and ’40s. The soundtrack features such familiar favorites as “In the Mood,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “A Fine Romance.”
It’s the first main-stage show produced by the former San Luis Obispo Little Theatre since the company officially changed its name and logo earlier this year to better reflect its status as a professional regional theater. San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre — or, SLO Rep — now relies on paid cast and crew members as opposed to unpaid volunteers.
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“The All-Night Strut!” is the kind of show the company would have struggled to stage in the past given the limits of a relatively small local talent pool, according to Kevin Harris, SLO Rep’s managing artistic director.
For starters, he said, “You have to find four of the most amazing triple threats who can sing and dance and act.”
“The actors are constantly in movement,” said Michael Jenkinson, the show’s director and choreographer. “You can’t believe how much athleticism is going on … while they’re singing these incredibly intense harmonies.”
“It’s a four-person show that has the energy of a cast of 20,” he added.
“The All-Night Strut!” offers another, more complicated casting challenge, Harris said — that of race.
“It’s never felt right to do (the show) with an all-white cast,” he said, so he’s pleased to have two African-American actors in SLO Rep’s production. “We’re so stoked to be able to open the door on diversity in our casting.”
Cast members Katie Worley-Beck, Keenon Hooks, Méami Maszewski and Tim Stewart are backed by a live band led by music director Mark Robertshaw — a rarity for local theater productions, which usually use pre-recorded music.
Harris said the performers have just two and a half weeks of rehearsal to perfect the show, compared to a more typical seven or eight weeks. “We certainly couldn’t have done that in the past” given amateur actors’ schedules, he said.
Harris promised that theatergoers are “going to sense a real difference in what we’re bringing to the table this year.”
“We really look at this show as a celebration of this transition” from community theater group to professional company, he said, describing “The All Night Strut!” as “a pure evening of 100 percent enjoyment.” “We want it to be a big party.”