Bella da Ball (right) stars in Desert Rose Playhouse's Palm Springs the Musical: Born to Sparkle.

The latest production at the Desert Rose Playhouse, the brand-new Palm Springs the Musical: Born to Sparkle, reminds me of The Little Engine That Could. In the charming children’s story, a long train must be pulled over a mountain after its locomotive breaks down. Larger trains are asked to help with the task, but refuse. Only a small engine agrees to try, eventually succeeding while repeating the motto, “I-think-I-can.”

Born to Sparkle is entertaining and has a lot of potential, but it needs a push to get it all the way over the mountain.

The plot is loosely based on the life experiences of writers/producers Robbie Moss Manning and Alyce Haskell Berard. The best friends and business partners are fulfilling a deathbed promise they made to Robbie’s mother—to move to Palm Springs, and put on a show together.

The character based on Robbie—Jewel Robbins, or “J.R.”—is played by Kitty Murray. Yo Younger portrays El Tanner, the character based on Alyce. Their goal is to revive The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, which ran here in the desert for 23 seasons.

Jewel’s father, Will (Paul Mackey), resides in a senior citizen’s facility run by the unscrupulous Vic Richards (Dan Westfall)—who happens to be El’s stepfather. There are subplots involving trusts left by the mothers of Jewel and El that are being mishandled; money being stolen from the elderly by Vic; and a lusty, slightly deranged nurse at the facility (Denise Carey) who is apparently adding toxic substances to the old folks’ afternoon tea. El has a romance with Sonny Larson (Ben Reece), the chairman of a local Indian tribe, and at one point, the women’s theatrical dreams seem dashed. We are rooting for J.R. and El to succeed—but the story seems a bit hard to follow at times.

There are some strong performances here. Robbie Wayne (who also directs) is a hoot in drag as Jewel’s mom, Diane. Though Diane passes away early on, her character remains an other-worldly presence throughout the show.

Murray, as Jewel, is absolutely stunning to look at, and she has a lovely singing voice. She really shines on the touching “Diamond on a Park Bench” and the sexy, sassy “Boy Toys.” The always-reliable Younger does not disappoint; her stellar acting chops help ramp up the energy every time she’s onstage, and her singing voice is impressive in “Sonny My Honey.”

As Sonny Larson, Reece is also a standout. He’s a pro; a strong actor, he glides through his singing and dancing numbers with ease.

Westfall, who performed often in the real Palm Springs Follies, has some very funny moments as Vic Richards, including “Tee Time,” though the number was plagued with microphone issues. (More on that later.)

Mackey is effective as J.R.’s doddering father. His poignant “Ladies Man” is one of the show’s musical highlights. Carey is quite good as the crazed Nurse Parker; clad in a cleavage-revealing nurse’s outfit complete with vinyl boots, she’s clearly having a ball. As both the senior-facility receptionist and a blackjack dealer at the casino, Carol Kamenis holds her own.

Doing a yeoman’s job of tying everything together is valley favorite Bella da Ball. Dressed in her signature mini-skirt, high heels and big hair, she brings humor and fabulous energy to the show.

As one may expect at opening night of a musical making its world premiere, Born to Sparkle had some problems, but nothing that cannot be remedied. First: The sound was an issue. Microphone problems were plentiful; certain actors’ mics seemed stronger than others, and some didn’t seem to work at all. The background music often overwhelmed the singer.

Second: Some of the scene changes were way too long. I’m not sure what caused that, since most of the sets were fairly simple. Perhaps costume changes weren’t quick enough? If so, a few more “dressers” to assist backstage could help.

Some lines were dropped here and there—something that will improve as the show continues—and the pacing, especially in the beginning, was pretty slow. The adage “always leave them wanting more” is a great guideline, and with a running time of almost three hours, Born to Sparkle does not do that.

Toward the end, when J.R. and El finally mount their show, the energy really picks up. By then, the opening-night audience was dancing and clapping along.

Manning and Berard have written a nice story, and have assembled a cast of strong performers. There are some catchy songs—kudos to music composer/producer Jonathan Baer—and the costumes are terrific. With tightened-up scene changes, solidified lines and adjusted microphones, Palm Springs the Musical will indeed sparkle.

Palm Springs the Musical: Born to Sparkle will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, April 10, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 16. Tickets are $34 to $37; high-top tables (for four) or VIP couches (for two or three) are $175. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry. For tickets or more information, call 760-202-3000, or visit desertroseplayhouse.org.

Bonnie Gilgallon

Bonnie Gilgallon, a theater reviewer for the Independent since 2013, is an award-winning stage actress and singer who performs at many venues around the valley. She also hosts “The Culture Corner,”...

3 replies on “Diamond in the Rough: Desert Rose Playhouse’s ‘Palm Springs the Musical’ Is a Brand-New Show With a Ton of Potential”

  1. Hope this will be extended. I have several friends coming to the desert but not until4/20. Please let me know if it is extended. Thanks

  2. Clearly Ms. Gilgallon saw a different performance than I did. One the performers, Ben Reece quit the show after Thursdays performance. The show is a disaster from top to bottom. I was shocked that the theatre, that usually presents high quality shows, would present this embarrasment. They should be ashamed.

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