Theatre Review: ‘Hitmakers – The British Are Coming!’ at JCC CenterStage Theatre

The British are coming! The British are coming! Or at least they are in the JCC CenterStage cover band version. For the fifth year, CenterStage creates their take on a rockumentary, this time focusing on the British Invasion of the 1960s. The writing and directing team of Jack Garner, Esther Winter, Casey Filiaci and Ralph Meranto definitely hit this one out of the park.  Although I’m a bit young to have experienced this music in its original live form, this was the music of my formative years. The coming of age music for my parents, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Animals and The Rolling Stones were frequent background music to my early childhood, so I was excited to see this show. I was not disappointed when I looked at the lineup, knowing about 98% of the songs listed.

. . .go see this show, sing along, clap your hands and get up and dance!

Performing with a live band and screen projections of album covers of the era, the nine performers in “Hitmakers” do an excellent job entertaining the audience and singing covers of some of the most famous rock songs of this period. Although all of the performances were done well, there were some that really stood out. Janine Mercandetti’s performance of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” was phenomenal! Her powerful voice adding a depth of soul and grittiness that is necessary for this song to be a success.  Laura Jean Smillie Diekmann’s rendition of “Downtown” could have been mistaken for Petula Clark herself, and Jordan Bachmann and Marc Cataldi’s version of The Beatles “Blackbird” was spot on.

Interspersed throughout the production are historical tidbits which were nice breaks between songs and genres. The audience is told how the American 1950s Rock-n-Roll made its way across the pond to England in the form of bootleg albums and radio broadcasts picked up from passing ships by British teenagers. We learn how the Brits formulated their own version of Rock-n-Roll starting with The Beatles, who eventually made their way back across the pond to the United States in the 1960s. The back and forth, and evolution of this art form including the Blond Blue-eyed Soul Movement with Dusty Springfield, the “satirizing” groups like the Monkees and John Fred and His Playboy Band, and ending with the psychedelics of the late ‘60s helped to spread Rock-n-Roll worldwide.

This is a fun, upbeat performance and definitely one to check out for anyone who loves this music genre. A few of the renditions were a bit kitschy, “Wild Thing” by The Troggs and “My Generation” by The Who come to mind, but over all added to the show as a whole. My only complaint would be the lack of audience enthusiasm. I don’t know how you hear these songs and this music and not sing along, or get up and dance in the aisles! This, of course, was not due to any lack of trying on the performers parts. All of them frequently tried to get the audience clapping or singing along, with little success. (This has been a frequent observation of mine at many musical performances in Rochester, so I don’t think it’s unique to this show in particular.) My advice if you go see this show, sing along, clap your hands and get up and dance!

Run time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

“Hitmakers: The British are Coming”  is playing at the JCC CenterStage Theatre until February 17, 2019 in Rochester. For more information, click here.