George Gershwin. Irving Berlin. Johnny Mercer. Harold Arlen. Sheldon Harnick. Jerry Herman.
These composers and others like them crafted the great Hollywood musicals we still enjoy today.
Their contributions to this great body of entertainment will be highlighted in To Life 3: Stories & Music Celebrating the Contributions of Jewish Composers to the Great Hollywood Musicals.
The production, set to run from Jan. 20 through Feb. 5 at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park, is a follow-up to two previous To Life shows – both of which sold out at the Willow Theatre in 2019 and 2020.
To Life 3 might have been presented in 2021 were it not for the COVID pandemic, which delayed the performance for two years, said Shari Upbin, the popular Boca Raton actress, singer, producer and director who was tapped to write the latest edition in the To Life saga.
Upbin, who directed and choreographed the 2019 and 2020 entries, will also be the on-stage narrator for the upcoming performance.
Calling upon her extensive experience in the fields of acting, singing, musical comedy and television, Upbin used the two-year COVID break to “continue refining the script.”
In the process, she switched the focus from the East Coast to the West Coast. “To Life 1 and 2 featured the Jewish composers of Broadway. But what most people don’t realize is, first of all, how many of them transitioned to Hollywood, and secondly, that there were numerous Jewish composers who wrote primarily for ‘the movies.’”
Featuring amusing anecdotes and fascinating historical facts, along with accolades for popular Jewish performers such as Eddie Cantor, Danny Kaye and Barbara Streisand, To Life 3 will be performed by five of South Florida’s award-winning musical theatre artists: Julie Kleiner, Bruno Faria, Michael Materdomini and Amy Tanner, along with Upbin.
Efforts were made, she said, to bring back the cast from To Life 2, but only one of those performers – Amy Tanner – was available for this year’s show. “She’s a wonderful singer with a voice much like those of Hollywood stars.”
The show writer also wanted the performance to emphasize tap dancing, which was popular in Hollywood productions of that period. “There’s no better tapper than Julie Kleiner,” Upbin noted. Kleiner has also sung in many local and regional productions, including Music Man, Crazy for You, She Loves Me and 42nd Street at the Wick as well as productions at Slow Burn Theatre, the Maltz and Actors’ Playhouse.
Materdomini, recently seen in Guys & Dolls and in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, grasped the styles of Cantor and Kaye, and even mastered the latter’s rapid-fire novelty tune, “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” from Kaye’s Broadway musical, Lady in the Dark.
Bruno, who rounds out the cast, “has a beautiful voice,” Upbin added.
“We’re extremely excited about this iteration of our To Life series,” said the producer, Hy Juter of the Jupiter Theater Company, LLC. “This time we’re focusing on Hollywood and the outstanding talents that contributed to those great musicals we all remember.”
“We have an amazing cast – their talent is extraordinary,” he added. “Our director, Shari Upbin, has a wide-ranging background in theatre and her extensive knowledge of the Hollywood musical made her a natural choice to continue our tradition of presenting audiences with a unique combination of history, music, and fun!”
Upbin said she’s delighted to work again with Bobby Peaco as music director and pianist. “We know each other from my days in cabaret in New York. His first love is cabaret style,” which she said should translate nicely in the upcoming show.
“I had an amazing time writing the script for the show,” she explained. “I learned so much – there are so many fascinating stories involving these amazingly talented individuals I can’t wait to share with our audiences.”
Tickets for To Life3 at the Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park, 300 South Military Trail, Boca Raton, are $43. The group rate (6 or more tickets purchased in one transaction) is $38. Tickets can be purchased online at www.sugarsandpark.org/life-3 or by phone at 561-347-3948.
Jessie Dez is a graduate from Palm Beach Atlantic University where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts Degree, with concentrations in Musical Theater and Broadcast Journalism. As an actress, she has performed all over South Florida with well-known companies, such as Delray Beach Playhouse, MNM Theatre Company, Warner Bros Entertainment Inc, Lake Worth Playhouse, etc. Not only have you seen her on stage, but on television as well. As a television host for Living Local FL TV, Jessie has been on FOX 29 highlighting all the best places to eat, shop and play in South Florida. Jessie is thrilled to mix her passion of theater and journalism into her writing and content creation for The South Florida Theater Magazine.