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Review: Friends' reunion is audience's delight in OCT's 'Kickin' the Clouds Away'

'I wanna be happy, But I won't be happy, Till I make you happy too'

In a special gift for audiences, Oregon Cabaret Theatre has made those lyrics by Irving Caesar and music by Vincent Youmans come dramatically alive in "Kickin' the Clouds Away," the first show of its 2009 season. The song was penned in 1924 for a world recovering from a war, reveling in the Roaring Twenties and about to enter a Great Depression.

It was a financially troubled but hopeful era, much like ours is today.

Forming a soundtrack behind it all was some of the best music and dance of the 20th century. This was the era of artists such as Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

The creators, choreographers, singers, arrangers, dancers and musicians of "Kickin' the Clouds Away" are four old friends and two new ones. Suzanne Seiber, Tamara Marston, John Stadelman and Jim Giancarlo have been friends and colleagues for more than two decades. They have performed in, written and directed many Cabaret shows over the years. Joining them for the show are Mark Turnbull, musical director and playing hollow body guitar, along with Aaron Blenkush on grand piano. Turnbull's masterful guitar work, Blenkush's lush piano playing and their slicked-back hair and short sideburns set the tone for the night. And the singers perform without microphones.

Adding to the family-reunion feeling are a gorgeous black and gold art deco set by Craig Hudson, stunning costumes by Kerri Lea Robbins, tasteful sound design by Tom Freeman and meticulous stage management by Kathleen Mahoney.

There is a tremendous amount of respect and camaraderie in "Kickin' the Clouds Away," and herein lies the magic of the show.

"Creating this show has been a labor of love," Giancarlo said, "a true group collaboration."

There are six stars on the stage and each one shines. The audience can't help but be swept up in the whole process. We pick right up on the playful energy of Giancarlo and Stadelman as two song-and-dance guys doing their schtick with "Everybody Loves My Baby."

The Cabaret has in its previous 23 years produced many nights of delightful entertainment. But to its credit, the theater also has explored some more serious themes, as in "Full Circle" in 1999, "The Last Five Years" in 2003 and "Parcel From America" in 2003. In the same vein, "Kickin' the Clouds Away" skillfully manages to convey an upbeat, energetic, even lighthearted tone without losing sight of the very real struggles back then, and now. A moving example is Stadelman's poignant rendition of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" following on the heels — literally — of Giancarlo's fun dance number, "I Can't Be Bothered Now."

Songs such as "Ten Cents a Dance" and "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues" captured the tough times, while "Pennies From Heaven," "Ain't We Got Fun" and "Side By Side" helped people face the tough times with a smile and a strong belief in a better tomorrow.

And talk about smiles, there are plenty when Stadelman and Marston do their take on "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and later, "Disgustingly Rich."

Giancarlo and Seiber perform a brilliant old-style slow tap dance to a drawn-out, down-and-out version of "Birth of the Blues." Seiber steps out, dancing beautifully on her own to "Why Don't You Do Right," and Giancarlo's solo "Viper's Drag" is sheer joy.

What a treat: great friends, great dancing, great singing, great guitar and piano playing and 29 great songs, all designed to make us happy, too.

Gourmet dinner and brunch are available with advance reservations. Appetizers, desserts and beverages also are available without reservations. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays and 1 p.m. Sundays. The show closes March 29. Call 488-2902.

Reach Arts and Entertainment Editor Richard Moeschl at 776-4486, or e-mail rmoeschl@mailtribune.com.

From left, Jim Giancarlo, Tamara Marston, John Stadelman and Suzanne Seiber star in “Kickin’ the Clouds Away” at Oregon Cabaret Theatre.