Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

A Jewel in the Crown City
Lamb's Players Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Familiar

Brian Mackey and Bryan Barbarin
Photo by Ken Jacques
Lamb's Players Theatre is celebrating 25 years of its Coronado residency in style. A Jewel in the Crown City, largely made up of songs from Broadway shows, is a tribute to the organization and its history. While there are scenes dedicated to the company and the people involved with it, the show is largely about the music, featuring songs from hit shows such as Once, The Music Man and Les Misérables. Co-creators and directors Robert Smyth (Producing Artistic Director), Deborah Gilmour Smyth (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Patron Services), Kerry Meads (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Educational Outreach), and G. Scott Lacy work with Mike Buckley's cabaret-themed set to recreate the style of a traditional lounge club. They get strong performances from their ensemble (which includes Robert Smyth and the other two associate artistic directors); tying the different scenes together is some narration from Robert Smyth and two funny hosts, Jim Chovick and Cynthia Gerber.

All the performers, particularly Brian Mackey and Catie Grady, show both vocal and acting versatility in sequences that range from comical to romantic. Other vocal standouts in the 15-person ensemble are Bryan Barbarin, John Rosen, Eileen Bowman, Cashae Monya, Michael Louis Cusimano, and Joy Yandell. Some of the most vocally powerful moments in the show are group numbers "Trouble" from The Music Man, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from Guys and Dolls, and the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah," which was featured in the Lamb's original show, Joyful Noise. This last selection is effectively used as both a way to help end the night on a high note and to remind us that Lamb's "is grounded in a historic Judeo-Christian worldview."

Just as important to the revue is the band, led by keyboardist and occasional vocalist Cris O'Bryon (Scott Lacy will take over as band leader starting on the 10th). O'Bryon, Rik Ogden on guitar and reeds, percussionist Dave Rumley, and bassist Oliver Shirley play music that ranges from jazz, rock and roll and gospel to the melodies from the golden age of musical theatre.

The direction has the audience feeling like it's being transported into Lamb's distant past, with choreography consultant Javier Velasco staging the songs as re-creations of earlier productions, and Michael McKeon's projections featuring photos from various musicals, comedies and dramas. Personally, I would have liked to have also seen some dialogue scenes from plays such as The Foreigner, Uncle Vanya, Metamorphoses, and Twelfth Night—as the evening is focused on music, theatregoers don't always get a sense of how multi-talented some of the performers can be as dramatic and comedy actors. However, that is a minor criticism, as the evening is much too entertaining on a musical and visual level.

Perhaps the most visually beautiful scene is the act one finale set of "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly!, which pays tribute to costume designer Jeanne Reith. As the performers sing the number, they wear Reith's clothing from earlier shows, such as Hello, Dolly!, the original musical Oz, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

What's unique about this Lamb's musical is that it's rare for a San Diego County venue to put on such a large-scale tribute to a theatrical company. There's a sense of gratitude, especially whenever Robert Smyth, Chovick and Gerber reference people with connections to the company, such as photographer Ken Jacques and David Cochran Heath, an artist who worked with Lamb's for 31 years. Given Lamb's large population of loyal followers, and the fact that new audiences continue to be blown away by the quality on display, the company continues to thrive after more than two decades in Coronado. Full of popular songs, the event is a reminder of why Lamb's continues to connect with both critics and audiences. I dare you not to tap your foot at least once during your time at the Coronado theatre.

A Jewel in the Crown City, through February 24, 2019, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado CA. Performances are Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $28.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-437-6000.