American Idol alumni and real-life married couple Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young take the stage in SKATES: A New Musical. While Christine Rea and Rick Briskin’s musical bills itself on the whole as an exercise in nostalgia, the most nostalgic part of SKATES for me was seeing DeGarmo and Young perform; I rooted hard core for DeGarmo back in her AMERICAN IDOL days. Here, she shows why— she has a tremendous powerhouse voice and an appealing stage presence that make her a consummate performer. Director Brenda Didier and choreographer Christopher Chase Carter work with a cast of Chicago musical theater veterans who perform alongside DeGarmo and Young.
SKATES is light on plot and the score has a generic pop rock sound that’s not too memorable, but the talent here abounds. DeGarmo takes the lead as Jacqueline Miller, a chart-topping pop singer with a number one hit in 1994. After endless concert tour dates, dealing with a lousy manager, and contending with her slimy saxophonist boyfriend (Young), Jacqueline has lost her joie de vivre. On the eve of her performance at the reopening of Windy City Skates, Jacqueline encounters her 12-year-old self Jackie (Emma Lord) at that very roller rink that used to bring her so much joy back in 1977. The show then alternates between both time periods, as Jacqueline and Jackie connect in a parallel universe. It’s a flimsy plot, but it’s also endearing. DeGarmo and Lord have a terrific rapport on stage that also underscores their connection, and Lord has a belt that can match DeGarmo’s powerful voice note for note.
Didier’s staging and Carter’s choreography are designed for maximum fun. Didier keeps the show moving at a nice pace, even though I think Rea and Briskin could have cut about thirty or so minutes of the material and still arrived at their final message about staying true to yourself. Carter’s choreography is charming and upbeat, though SKATES isn’t a real dance-heavy production. Likewise, I was disappointed that there was no actual roller skating in the show. Jacqueline/Jackie’s connection to Windy City Skates is such a core part of the narrative so I was hoping that we’d see some skating for at least the finale. Instead, the actors don shoes meant to resemble roller skates (costume designs by Lindsay McWilliams).
While SKATES on paper isn’t a revelation, the cast is stellar across the board. DeGarmo gives a magnificent anchoring performance; she’s immensely likable, she can belt for days, and she knows how to own the stage. Lord is a great counterpart to DeGarmo. Young hams it up in all of his roles, primarily as Jacqueline’s sleazy boyfriend Blake and roller rink bully Russ Reiner. Young’s performances are outsized and outrageous, but that’s exactly the level of ridiculousness that the material demands; he really commits to the bit. Kelly Felthous is a regular Energizer Bunny as Jackie’s best friend Meghan; Felthous spends all of her stage time at a ten and that high energy sells the role. Zach Sorrow is sweet as Jacqueline’s older brother Brad, who has a crush on Russ’s sidekick Tonya Carson (Adia Bell, another formidable vocalist). Adam Fane is endearing as Jackie’s teenage crush Scotty Watkins. Together, Fane and Lord terrifically capture the joy and awkwardness of first crushes. Cory Goodrich and Jason Richards charm as Jacqueline Miller’s parents. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Kelvin Roston Jr. as Jack, Windy City Skates’s emcee; Roston is always fun to watch onstage, and this role is a great vehicle for him.
While SKATES is enjoyable and I couldn’t get enough of the cast, the material itself isn’t particularly inspired. Some of the transitions between song and scene are clunky, and many of the songs sound derivative of other contemporary musicals. For example, one of Jacqueline’s early solos is called “Simpler Times,” a run-of-the-mill “I Want” song in which she reminisces about her days at the roller rink. Other songs simply don’t have dramaturgical justification in the show, which is why I think SKATES could do with some cuts. For example, Goodrich and Richards’s second act duet “You’re The One” is unnecessary filler. Sure, it’s a joy to hear Goodrich sing, but it’s an easy cut.
When the numbers work though, they really work. For example, Jackie and Scotty’s duet “Crushin’ On You” is a delight that captures the ecstasy and the agony of a first crush. Fane and Lord deliver it with pure emotion, which makes it all the more successful. Jacqueline’s 11 o’clock number “You Say You’re Sorry” also lands exactly as it should, and gives DeGarmo one final opportunity to really bring down the house.
SKATES feels like a fleeting and light-hearted loop around the roller rink, but the cast makes the most of the material. This is a real ensemble show, and DeGarmo shines alongside all of her fellow cast members. If you’re looking for light, fluffy musical fun combined with powerhouse vocals and tons of belting, SKATES is worth a spin.
SKATES: A New Musical plays at the Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, 410 South Michigan, through June 26, 2022. Visit fineartsbuilding.com/events/skates/ for tickets.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Originally posted on BroadwayWorld.com