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Best of Broadway 

& & by Ann M. Colford & & & &

Visions of Broadway theaters past will fill the Opera House stage on Saturday night when Sandy Duncan and her creative partners, Don Correia and Guy Stroman, join the Spokane Symphony for an evening of favorites from the world of musical theater. The trio of Broadway headliners presents a cabaret-style revue of show-tunes called Together, featuring some of the best-loved stage and screen numbers from the past 50 years. Although the show pays tribute to some of the classics of musical theater, its creation came about in part because of the dearth of new original shows coming out of Broadway these days.

"We had just moved back to New York -- this was five years ago -- and there was not a lot of material out there," Duncan says, explaining the show's genesis. Along with Correia -- her husband -- and Stroman, Duncan created the revue of musical theater numbers so they would all have the opportunity to perform together. The three stage veterans had three reasons in common for creating the show, she says. "We like to work together, there wasn't much else to do and it's a way to subsidize a career in New York."

Although the selections are drawn from several different musicals -- Singing In The Rain, The Music Man, Peter Pan (naturally, as it's her best-known role) and Gypsy, to name a few -- they are woven together to tell a new story, Duncan says. "The songs tell the story of how we met and how we each got started in the business. It's told from the actors' perspective. We picked songs that further the story we're trying to tell."

The show was originally conceived as a one-time performance, but when those plans fell through, the team decided to polish the show up to its final form anyway and take it out on the road. They have been presenting Together since 1997, and they perform with about 15 different symphony orchestras each year, meaning they get to spend much of their time back home in New York. Duncan and Correia have two teenage sons, ages 18 and 16, and spending time together as a family has been a priority.

"With the kids, I won't go out on a long, extended tour," she says. That desire to stay close to her home base has limited which theater roles she can accept. With Together, Duncan and Correia have more control over when they work and when they don't, she says. "The show affords our lifestyle here [in New York] and keeps us performing."

Both Correia and Stroman have plenty of theater credentials of their own, even if they don't have Duncan's name recognition outside of New York. Correia received a Tony nomination for his performance as Don Lockwood in Singing In The Rain, and he won the Astaire Award for his dancing in Little Me. Stroman appeared as the pirate, Noodler, in Peter Pan, alongside Duncan, and he originated the role of Frankie in Forever Plaid.

Although they're in New York most of the time, the trio doesn't plan to bring Together to their hometown audience, despite some urging. "It wasn't created for the cynical, sophisticated theater scene in New York," she insists. "I don't want some critic telling me I'm not having a good time, because I am!"

Last year, Duncan spent several months in the lead role of Roxie Hart in a revival of the Kander & amp; Ebb musical Chicago, first with the touring company and then on Broadway. The role -- as a woman on trial for murdering her boyfriend in 1920s Chicago -- is a departure from the usually sunny and cheery roles that audiences associate with her, but the opportunity to display her versatility tickled Duncan. "I loved it," she says of the role. "It was a real win for me here. I was able to change people's perceptions of me and what I could do."

Less thrilling were the demands placed on actors now by today's producers in the commercial theater. "We were on that hideous schedule of five shows in a weekend," she explains. "The producers love it, but the actors get exhausted because you have no chance to recover between shows."

The current state of theater on Broadway is a source of both sorrow and anger for Duncan. "The form is not in its healthiest state," she laments. "The producers all used to be creative people. They were showmen. Now, they're just in it for the money."

A cursory review of the productions on Broadway now uncovers mostly revivals, adaptations from film or old standbys. New, original musicals are a rarity. "I resent how theater is handled now by people who don't do it," she says. "It's all 'theme park' scheduling. Everything's on the quick track. New York is such a tourist place now, it's all geared toward that. People from out of town come in, and they go to see these theme park shows, but somehow I think they're coming away vaguely disappointed."

Despite her differences with producers, Duncan still has faith in theater audiences to sort out the good from the bad. "Even if they don't go to the theater all the time, people know when they've been touched."

She's also enjoying performing more now than she has for a long time. "There was not as much joy in it for a period," she admits. "It's only been recently that I started getting back to really loving what I'm doing." She wrote a play called Free Fall that was produced in 1996 at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Massachusetts and directed by Stroman, and she has been stretching herself in other creative directions as well.

"I'm considering joining one of the low-profile theater groups here in New York, just to get the chance to do some new material," she says. "I want to be someplace where people are doing it for the love of it."

& & & lt;i & Sandy Duncan joins the Spokane Symphony for its first Superpops concert of the season, with Don Correia and Guy Stroman, on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 pm. Tickets: $16-$35. Call: 624-1200. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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