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Leader of the Pack

a Musical
by Book by Anne Beatts, Music & Lyrics by Ellie Greenwich & Friends

COMPANY : Atlanta Lyric Theatre
VENUE : The Strand
ID# 3958

SHOWING : February 18, 2011 - March 06, 2011



This hit Broadway musical revue celebrates the life and times of Ellie Greenwich, whose doo wop sounds skyrocketed to the top of the sixties charts. The story of Ellie’s rise to fame and fortune is punctuated with the virtual Hit Parade of her music: “Chapel of Love,” “Da Do Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby,” “Hanky Panky,” Do Wah Diddy,” “And Then He Kissed Me,” “River Deep. Mountain High” and, of course, the title song. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time included six by Ellie and her husband and writing partner, Jeff Barry – more than by any other songwriting team. A member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Ellie Greenwich’s songs have earned more than 25 gold and platinum records, sales in the tens of millions, and 33 BMI Awards/

Stage & Music Director Brandt Blocker
Costumer Clint Horne
Choreographer Elizabeth Neidel
Costumer Lindsey Paris
Rosie Greenwich/Soloist Mary Nye Bennett
Ensemble Courtney Bowers
Jeff Barry Larry Cox, Jr.
Ensemble Joey Ellington
Mickey/Ensemble Caroline Freedlund
Shelley/Ensemble Courtney Godwin
Soloist Kayce Grogan-Wallace
Ensemble Bernard Jones
Soloist Dustin Lewis
Soloist Shawn Megordan
Ensemble Brett Parker
Ensemble Bradley Renner
Ensemble Krystle Simmons
Ellie Greenwich Caitlin Smith
Gus Sharkey Geoff Uterhardt
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by Dedalus
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I am truly a pop music ignoramus. I had never heard the name of songwriter “Ellie Greenwich” before walking into Atlanta Lyric’s production of “Leader of the Pack,” though many of her songs “defined” my “tween” years in the early sixties. I suppose I could make the excuse that before Dylan and Lennon/McCartney, the world of pop was defined by songs and performers. Songwriters were unknown or (witness my own ignorance) ignored.

“Leader of the Pack” is basically a revue of the songs of Ellie Greenwich, which included “Be my Baby,” “Do Wah Diddy,” “Chapel of Love,” “And then He Kissed Me,” “Hanky Panky,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Da Doo Run Run,” and, of course, “Leader of the Pack.” She was one of the key talents behind the “Brill Building Sound,” and, eventually, went on to discover Neil Diamond. This show, features all of these and a boatload of lesser known (“B Side”) hits (24 songs in 90 minutes), but, to my ears, outside of the “big hits,” they sound remarkably alike – a sort of “Do-Wop-onotony” that wears a little thin before the end.

There is a plot (of sorts) that tells of Ellie’s marriage and partnership with songwriter Jeff Barry, but it’s thin, mostly fictional (as even the quickest on-line research would tell you), and filled with every “behind the scenes” musical biography cliché in the book (they even managed to steal “Little Shop’s” Levittown joke). Still and all, the “book parts” of the show do not really detract from its focus, which is the catalogue of Ellie Greenwich songs, most of which are about the giddy rush of first love first date first gush romance.

Staged like a sixties-era variety show, complete with slide shows and videos of the soloists, the show is energetically choreographed and performed, and it was very easy to fall into the songs’ infectious beat and even more infectious evocation of younger, more innocent times. Caitlin Smith brings a warm charm to Ellie, belting her solos like a pro (Ellie herself was a back-up singer on many of her compositions, and even released two solo albums). Larry Cox Jr. makes Jeff Barry equally charming, and they had the right chemistry to make the sketchy story work. Featured soloists Shawn Megorden, Kayce Grogan-Wallace, Mary Nye Bennett, and Dustin Lewis sell the songs, and convincingly suggest 60’s pop stars. A supporting nine-person ensemble fills the sound and the story (with Googie Uterhardt doing his usual wonderful job as a sorta warm sorta slimy sorta intense producer).

I have to admit to finding some of Elizabeth Neidel’s choreography a bit crude, suggesting more Madonna than “Shindig” (especially that difficult-to-watch “Hanky Panky” number) But, for the most part, the staging works and the cast goes through their paces with a sense of style and grace.

So, although I have to confess a slight disappointment in the show as a whole – I can’t recall any of the tunes I didn’t know going in – I also have to confess finding some parts exciting and other parts moving, particularly the final photo collage of the real Ellie and Jeff. I have to confess to enjoying the familiar songs, and not being too terribly distracted by the unfamiliar.

And, of course, any show that sends us home on the contagious rhythm of “Da Doo Ron Ron” has something going for it!

-- Brad Rudy (BK

Fun Night
by Stages4me
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Had a good time tonight at Lyric. Once again they have provided a high energy production with great choreography and music. I was not all that invested in the actual story, but the fun of the numbers made the evening worth the ticket. Cheers to the ensemble! They were great. I agree with previous reviewer that the lighting could have been better. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Pick of the Lieder
by playgoer
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Ellie Greenwich (1940-2009) had a hand in creating many of the most popular songs of the 1960's. In 1985, a jukebox musical of her life and works was created, starring Dinah Manoff and featuring Darlene Love. "Leader of the Pack" is that musical. The life story is given an outline treatment, with the focus primarily on the songs.

To perform "Leader of the Pack," Atlanta Lyric Theatre has picked a cast packed through and through with talent and energy. Caitlin Smith embodies Ellie Greenwich with verve and limitless optimism, while Larry Cox, Jr. plays her husband Jeff Barry with charm and charisma. Mary Nye Bennett makes Ellie's mother a delight in her limited appearances (and also shines as a soloist), while Googie Uterhardt provides a brash, scene-stealing performance as record producer Gus Sharkey (although his endless boogie during the exit music immobilizes the audience with uncertainty -- is the show over, or isn't it?).

Aside from those characters, the cast is populated by an ensemble that fill in with a few lines here and there, but mostly sing and dance their hearts out. The soloists all have powerful voices, but so does each member of the ensemble. Caroline Freedlund impressed me the most, practically sparkling with each word and movement, but no one was slacking off onstage. The energetic choreography by Elizabeth Neidel kept them moving!

The set and lighting are by Bradley Bergeron and sound is by Bobby Johnston. While the two-level set with movable stairs works well, both the lighting and sound can be muddy at times. Only a soloist is illuminated in many numbers, leaving the hard-working ensemble in the shadows. Amplification is set up so high that Shawn Megorden's diction sometimes seems to turn to mush. The talented band is visible on the second level of the set, hidden much of the time behind gauzy curtains.

If you like 1960's music like "Do Wah Diddy," "Chapel of Love," and "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Leader of the Pack" is the musical for you. Atlanta Lyric Theatre is giving it a spirited production that appears to be delighting audiences in its 90 intermissionless minutes. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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