Sweet 'Leader of the Pack' has irresistible beat

The Super Summer Theatre/Neon Jungle production of "Leader of the Pack" - a 1985 somewhat-autobiographical look into the life and work of pop songwriter Ellie Greenwich - is one memorable number after another.

Yeah, the 1960s wunderkind is best known for cheesy oldies such as the title song (in which the teenage heroine goes against Daddy's wishes and dates a bad boy on a motorcycle who winds up getting killed). But the music has an irresistible beat and often a sweet, sincere naivete.

"Chapel of Love," for instance, has the feel of something a '60s rose-colored 20-something would think on her cherished wedding day, and there's a Christmas number about a woman who's just broken up with her husband that might be one of the saddest breakup songs you'll ever hear.

The patchwork script is dreadful, though. All one can say about it is it adequately sets up the songs. But no worries: The show often hits a bull's-eye whenever there's a production number, which is about 95 percent of the time.

There's a consistent, hit-the-roof energy, which is evidence of director Audrei-Kairen's strong hand. Anita Bean plays our heroine, who goes through childhood innocence, heartbreak and, finally, self-acceptance. Bean projects not only the large-scaled exuberance necessary for the huge Spring Mountain stage but also the quiet pain that plagues her character during the later chapters.

Janine Ayn Romano is stunning to watch and listen to as Darlene Love, Greenwich's favorite pop singer. When she moves, her lovely, lyrical hands often sway in pleasant contrast to her body. She knows how to sell magic. Dolly Coulter stops the show with a single number, "The Look of Love."

There's a major problem with Rishi Shukla as leading man Jeff, Greenwich's personal and professional partner. Shukla has a major, forceful voice but doesn't yet know the ABCs of acting.

The ensemble is a potpourri of talent. The technical values - Steve Huntsman's clever radio-box set and Ginny Adams' varied lighting - are first-rate. Rommel Pacson's choreography exalts what is already exemplary.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.