Theater is magical under almost all circumstances. You go into a room, the lights go down, and you’re suddenly in a different world. Sometimes many different worlds. But once in a while, something unique and extraordinary happens, even by theatrical standards. The audience can just feel the joy oozing out of the pores of the performers and that exultation becomes contagious, making the beauty of the experience all that much greater. The happy songs are just that much more cheerful, while the sad songs take you beyond that lump in your throat all the way to wiping away a tear. It’s like the colors are a little brighter and the sounds are a little clearer, almost as if there’s more oxygen in the air and the fantasies are real.
That’s exactly the case with Opening Up: A Musical Revue, presented by The Actors Guild of Parkersburg. The sheer exultation at finally being able to sing again onstage is just so real that the performances are even more special than they normally would be. And that’s saying something with the absolutely stellar collection of talent that populates the stage for this show. The Guild has put together a veritable all-star team for this presentation. And it feels an awful lot like the talent surrounding them is causing every cast member to up their game to an even higher level.
The show is made up of a series of well-known numbers from Broadway’s biggest hits, with a lone song from a movie, Reinnie Leavitt’s interpretation of the immortal “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. And the pieces alternate between ensembles, like the titular “Opening Up” from Waitress, and solos like R. J. Lowe performing “I’m the Greatest Star” from Funny Girl. There are also some beautiful duos, such as “For Good” from Wicked presented poignantly by Reinnie Leavitt and Sherry Wilson Braid. There are hilarious songs, such as Josh Martin’s terrific version of “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton, “Hard to Be the Bard” from Something Rotten led powerfully by Cole Mazaher, and “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys and Dolls, sung perfectly by Marsha Parsons. For the romantics in the crowd, there’s the sweet duet between Seth Fearnow and Morgan Stubbe in “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen.
Quite possibly the most satisfying highlights of the show, however, are the emotionally powerful pieces. The first half of the show ends with three impactful songs from immortal shows. “Back to Before” from Ragtime, “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables, and “I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray, featuring the powerhouse vocals of Heather Hepburn, sends the audience into intermission short of breath. Sherry Wilson Braid gives a sweet, heart-wrenching performance of “The Winner Takes It All” from Mamma Mia! Finally, Avery West, Cole Mazaher, and Reinnie Leavitt lend powerful tenderness to the closing songs, “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and a medley of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel and “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music.
There simply isn’t room to laud all the lovely performances in this show. But the most fulfilling element of the evening is undoubtedly the sheer exuberance of the performances. Like thoroughbreds who’ve been stuck in a corral and are finally set free to gallop, these remarkable artists are clearly overjoyed to finally get to stretch their vocal cords. And that delight washes over the audience from opening to curtain call. You need to see this show. Unfortunately, though, there are only three chances to do that. The curtain goes up Friday, July 16 at 8pm. Another evening performance is scheduled for Saturday, July 17. There’s also a matinee at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 18. Tickets are going fast, so get them today. You’ll be glad you did.
Photography by Olivia Reeder