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Written by J.P. Devine
Morning Sentinel, Kennebec

About those of us who pioneered in improvisational theater in the '50s, writer Jeffrey Sweet wrote a book called "Something Wonderful Right Away."

When I went looking for something to say about the new show "Fame Forever -- Reunion and Rebirth," that opened Friday night at the Waterville Opera House, I couldn't think of a better phrase. Legendary producer David DeSilva, Waterville Opera House impresario Diane Bryant and killer director Debra Susi have given us "something wonderful, right away." Grab your hat and call a cab, the tickets are looking like ice cream in July.

When Bryant and Susi opened the great "Chicago," in October 2006, the Waterville Opera House went from community theater to primetime regional theater overnight. On Sept. 21, with "Fame Forever -- Reunion and Rebirth," this small town's theater went big time, first chair, ready for out-of-town Broadway tryout house.

David DeSilva, composer Steve Margoshes and Ben Winters love song to dream children opened to standing room only, and that's the way it will close on Sept 30. Regrettably, I'm not given enough room here to throw a light on every star in the cast. The main lights, Nikki Hunt, Bradley Thomas, Arielle Costello, Natasha Knight, Greer Vashon, and Dan Kennedy, are power blow-out performers, all in the early years of their careers. But Kim Gordon stands out, and Lauren Sterling (Velma, in "Chicago,") a seasoned professional, gives us knockout vocals and a show-stopping hilarious comedy tango with terpsichorean Mike Gilbert and yummy Elizabeth Rancourt.

Daniel Eccher, resplendent with yarmulke on Yom Kippur, made us cry as Schlomo Metzenbaum. If he's not Jewish, he is now. Mazeltov, Daniel.

A great producer once said, "When the stars are great, it's the stars. When the little people in the last row stand out, it's the director." And so it was with Susi's stage full of "little people," the throb behind every musical -- the chorus, singers and dancers. And even in a basket of diamonds, there's always one chorus hoofer who keeps you looking her way, one, who sore of foot and throat, never drops out, never loses the smile. Augusta's Rachael Stetson continues that tradition.

Rachel is only one of what appears to be a hundred hoofers all bringing to life Keltie and Holly Collins choreo-magic with Natalya Getman and the Zakowski dancers. Where did she find these people?

And how does she make them look so good? By putting them on Chad Lefebvre's drop dead futuristic set, and plugging in his brilliant lighting. The Waterville Opera House has never seen one like it. Lefebvre is a design student at the University of Connecticut. That close to Broadway will save him cab fare. And who built this beauty? Master builder Evan Sposato. Orchids to them.

Musical director Michael Peterson's orchestra is sadly hidden backstage, but the power is up front. And Gerry Wright's twinkling piano fingers don't need to be seen to be recognized. The theme of reincarnation runs through this show with the amazing Bradley Thomas and Nikki Hunt as two deceased chorus vets literally knocking on heaven's door.

As the cast of this performing arts school prepares to do "West Side Story," we feel the throb of life and death under the lights, the obsession with fame that runs through each generation like spiritual DNA. We get it all here, with the ghosts of Bizet's Carmen, Michael Bennett's "Chorus Line," and Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," floating overhead.

DeSilva's dream boat, beautifully built and floated from Hollywood to the Kennebec, caps his career with roses. He can be proud of his central Maine American debut.

Full disclosure: It's a small town and I've known many of these performers since they were grade school dreamers. I came as a critic, a retired showman, an aging skeptic, weary of dreams, burned out on musicals. I went like a home buyer to look for the cracks, the mold and the painted over plaster. Instead I found a stage full of happy dreamers, covered with sweat and full of hope giving us all "something wonderful, right away."


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