The Springfield Community Players' summer production "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" directed by Ella Reischer, is an all-around triumph, and the first presentation of the 1982 Broadway show in Virginia area community theaters.
The musical chronicles the education of eight girls and boys, from the first day to high school graduation, in a Roman Catholic school. The priest (athletic coach as well as confessor) and the nuns who care for them play pivotal roles in the event.
No song from this musical made the charts -- not that they are not pleasing, and even hilarious -- but it is a different top 20 than the one we know, that might include "It's the Nuns!" or "Patron Saints."
There is much spoofing of Roman Catholic education as might be expected. Children are snapped on the hands with rulers and across the head with prayer books. They respond to "clickers," and sit and move in a militaristic manner.
In a scene from the second grade, Sister Helen (Karen Beasley) leads the children in prayer. She speaks the first few words, then there is an astonishing babble as the children go at their own pace, and then everyone waits for Mary (Janice B. Creneti), a good-as-gold child who says each word with particular fervor, to finish before the baffling chorus can resume.
There are several confessional scenes. The children have been instructed to remember what sins they have committed, how many times exactly, and to record them on paper. Eddie (Jeff Obermiller) confesses he lied four times, realizes it should have been five, which means he has lied to a priest, and believes he must be damned to hell. Felix (Chuck Dluhy), an astonishing hotbed of emerging hormonal impulses, begins the show with a few slips of paper, and ends with something resembling the One Book telephone directory. Mike (Todd Paul) tells him at one point that a teenage boy has an improper thought every 17 seconds. "What do they do with the other 16!" Felix exclaims.
Sister Lee (Shirley E. Watson) is the nun who informs the girls in fifth grade that black patent leather shoes reflect up, and pearls reflect down. Watson sings wonderfully, and her "Cookie Cutters" is a joy.
The hero of this musical, Eddie, is not particularly good at school, nor outstanding in any way. (We must take this on faith, confronted with the charm, lovely singing and attractive looks of Obermiller.) He does bravely fall for Becky, a little girl who is somewhat overweight. Becky (Suzanne de Planque), whose acting is sparse overall, and who is a little too fond of the power in some of her notes, which overwhelm others' singing, enters a nunnery before she, much slimmed, and Eddie are reunited in the finale, "Thank God."
Among "The Kids" -- and all these performances are good ones -- Marilyn Roberson is outstanding as Virginia: Her singing, acting and dancing all delight. Lori P. Collins makes Nancy Ralansky seem richer than she is written.
Christopher J. Henderson as Louis, is splendid on all fronts. His "Doo-Waa, Doo-Wee," a delicious spoof of rock stars, is a show stopper.
Two departments that are particular to musical entertainment deserve great praise in this show. I do not know what goes into the making up and the rehearsing of an orchestra, let alone its logistical setting. Whatever that is, Chris Tomasino has got it. In a space the size of a Pullman kitchen, I thought I saw some eight musicians, but the program gives credit to 13! This orchestra is bright, tuneful and absolutely to the point -- by far the best yet gathered in a community theater.
The choreography by Laurel Milcoff Hart is stunning. Clever, touching, even tricky, Hart helps this company show off fine and very hard work. "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" Springfield Community Players St. Christopher Episcopal Church, Springfield 8:30 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, and Aug. 10 and 11. For tickets and other information, call (703) 866-6238.