Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hello, Dolly

Well, hello, Dolly.  It’s so nice to have you back in town!

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi (Lisa Quoresimo), the lady who “arranges things” (like furniture and daffodils...and lives) has marched onto the stage of the Woodland Opera House and taken possession.

This production of the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart musical based on the book by Thornton Wilder was directed by Cheryl Watson, with choreography by Staci Arriaga. Quoresimo gives Dolly energy and heart as she sets her cap for the curmudgeonly “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Steve Mackay) and in the process manages to pair up a few other couples as well.

Dolly is coming back to life after a period of widowhood and is searching for a “sign” from her previous husband Ephram that it’s OK to marry again.

Mackay is a low key misogynist who appears to want a replacement for his deceased wife only as someone who can clean the house. (“It takes a woman all powdered and pink / To joyously clean out the drain in the sink”)

At the same time he is determined to prevent his niece Ermengarde (Devon Hayakawa) from marrying the love of her life, Ambrose Kemper (Cameron Turner) because he feels the young artist will not be able to provide a steady living and that Ermengarde is too immature to be married.

Hayakawa’s character has very little to actually speak, but she whines beautifully.  I have been impressed with Hayakawa whenever I’ve seen her on stage and she does not disappoint in this role which is perfect for her.

Vandergelder owns a hay and feed store and his two employees are chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Eddie Voyce) and Barnaby Tucker (J. Hunter LaMar). Both are excellent, especially Voyce, who commands the stage whenever he is on it. 

The two men, who have never left Yonkers, decide to blow up some tomato cans in the basement of Vandergelder’s store to make it uninhabitable for a day, and go off on an adventure in New York, while their boss is marching in the Fourteenth Street Association Parade.  The thirty-three year old Cornelius vows not to come home again until he’s kissed a girl.

“The girl” turns out to be Miss Irene Molloy (Dani Barnett) who runs a millenary shop with her clerk, Minnie Fay (Emily O’Flaherty).  The women, convinced Cornelius and Barnaby are eccentric millionaires, spend the day with them. O’Flaherty, a 9th grader at Emerson Junior High, nicely balances a giggily young girl with a more mature woman in her performance.  I would not have guessed that she was so young.

Mollie Smith is perfectly cast as Ernestina Money, the girl in the bizarre outfit, hired by Dolly to annoy Vandergelder and set him up for her own eventual conquest.

Most of Act 2 takes place at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, “the fanciest place in New York.”  The choreography for the waiters has always been one of the most memorable parts of “Hello Dolly” and this production is no exception. Head waiter Rudolph (Spencer Alexander) prepares his service crew for Dolly Levi's return: their usual lightning service, he tells them, must be "twice as lightning". The waiters in this production are up to the challenge and the “Waiters’ Gallop” is something to behold.

Dolly makes her entrance to the title song resplendent in a gorgeous sequined red gown.  Kudos to costume designer Denise Miles.

The orchestra does well, under the capable hand of James Glica-Hernandez, and congratulations to the program people for getting (almost) all of their names in the program.  (Sorry, strings!)

By now, “Hello, Dolly” is a beloved old war horse that is a sure fire audience pleaser, and the Woodland Opera House gives her all the respect that she deserves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shrek

 The Davis Musical Theater Company has opened a lively, splashy, thoroughly enjoyable production of “Shrek, The Musical,” directed by Steve Isaacson and with choreography by Ron Cisneros. This is a show that is sure to be a hit with audiences of all ages. In fact, the full house on opening night was a nice mixture of children, parents and older adults, all laughing and applauding enthusiastically.

Based on William Steig’s book “Shrek!” and the DreamWorks animated film, this is the story of everybody’s favorite ogre, with the message that everyone is worthy of true love. It is filled with familiar nursery-rhyme characters, double entendres, great costumes, fun dance numbers, and more belch and fart jokes than I’ve ever seen in one show before.

This is not an instant stage classic that we will be seeing again for decades, nor does it have memorable music (except for the closing number, Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”). But for what it is, it delivers.

Essential to the success of any production of “Shrek” is an actor who can convincingly become the title character. DMTC is blessed with the talented Kevin Caravalho, who is so convincing you’re surprised to discover there is a real man under all that padding and green make up. I would be hard-pressed to think of any actor who could do better with this role. This production is worth seeing if only for Caravalho’s performance.

Fortunately, Caravalho is backed up by a host of equally talented performers. There is hardly a weak link in the massive cast. Shrek’s sidekick is Donkey, played for all the broad comedy the role requires by David Ewey, despite some costume problems opening night (it’s hard to hold your ears on straight when you have hooves, not hands, to work with!) Despite the costume malfunction, Ewey was consistently funny, worming his way into curmudgeonly Shrek’s heart, whether the ogre thinks he wants a friend or not.

Travis Nagler is the diminutive Lord Farquaad, scheming to make Princess Fiona his bride so he can become king and steal her kingdom. The actor does well playing the role on his knees, with fake legs dangling in front of him. He is even able to dance.

Jessica McKillican plays an enthusiastic Fiona, thrilled to be released from the prison where she has spent her entire childhood, confused about who Shrek really is, but eager to meet her intended husband to be … and also hoping to keep her own secret hidden. No shrinking violet, this heroine is equal to Shrek in every way.
Lizzie Carey and Mia Piazza play Fiona at young and teen ages and the transition from one age to the next is done flawlessly.

Jonathan Kalinen is very funny as Pinocchio and his growing nose was hilarious. My only problem with him is that his high pitched voice sometimes made it difficult to understand him.

This is also a three-generation production, with Mary Young playing several roles, including Mama Shrek, who sends her young son off to live on his own. Daughter Wendy Carey Young is Gingy, the Gingerbread man, and Lizzie Carey is Wendy’s daughter and Mary’s granddaughter

There are some outstanding dance numbers in this production, particularly by the Duloc Dancers in incredible costumes rented from the Theatre Companyof Upland. 



Fiona also does a wonderful dance number with the Pied Piper, played by Tomas Eredia, and his rats.

The marvelous dragon (her name is Donisha, Director Isaacson tells me), was designed and built by River City Theatre Company and lent to DMTC by Granite Bay High School. She swoops and flies and turns in circles on stage and is amazingly believable.

This is another winner from DMTC and should be popular with everyone. Kids in particular will love the bright costumes and the chance to see a “real” dragon. By the end of the show, everyone will want to give the lovable ogre a big hug.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tribes

What does it mean to “hear”?

Can you hear if you are deaf, by understanding the world around you through lip-reading or sign language? Can you be deaf to those loudly speaking around you, though your hearing is just fine? Can you hear with your eyes, reading what others are signing?

These are some of the questions explored by playwright Nina Raine in her powerful play, “Tribes,” now at Capital Stage in Sacramento, under the direction of Jonathan Williams.

It is the story of a dysfunctional Jewish British family, headed by parents Christopher (Lol Levy), a retired academic, and Beth (Jamie Jones), a wannabe writer. Their grown children are , Daniel (Benjamin T. Ismail), who is writing a thesis arguing that language doesn’t determine meaning; Ruth (Elizabeth Holzman), an aspiring opera singer; and Billy (Stephen Drabicki), just home from university.

Sylvia (Brittni Barger) is the woman who enters their lives and turns long-held perceptions on their head.

As the play begins, the family is seated at the table, engaged in an argument. There are actually several arguments going on, each seemingly nastier than the next.r whines continually that he can’t find any good nuts in the nut dish, while Daniel is upset because Ruth is dating a man nearly her father’s age. Daniel is also upset that all of his grown children are still living at home with their parents and repeatedly asks when they are going to move out.

Daniel whines continually that he can’t find any good nuts in the nut dish, while Christopher is upset because Ruth is dating a man nearly her father’s age. Christopher is also upset that all of his grown children are still living at home with their parents and repeatedly asks when they are going to move out.

The F-word is sprinkled liberally throughout the play.

Through all the cacophony of the arguments, Billy sits calmly, reading, his back to the audience. Through dialog of the others, we learn that Billy is deaf, but he is proficient at lip-reading. In fact, we learn later, he knows nothing of sign language, because his parents didn’t want to raise him to be handicapped.

This becomes a major theme of the play when Sylvia, who is losing her hearing, enters the picture and attempts to teach him how to sign. Billy begins to realize that life can be lonely and frustrating when he has to rely on lip-reading, but that his social life opens up significantly when he becomes part of the signing community.

The actor playing Billy is crucial to the emotional arc of this play and Drabicki, who played the role in the Canadian premiere of the play, is perfect. A hearing-impaired actor himself, and member of the New York Deaf Theater and the Association of Musicians with Hearing Loss, he embraces the conflicting emotions of a deaf man living in a hearing world and the complicated relationships within his own family.

I found that I wondered how difficult it must be to learn to speak with a British accent when one is hearing-impaired.

Barger, as Sylvia, beautifully conveys the strain she is under, as the child of deaf parents who is now, in her adulthood, losing her own hearing. She becomes the translator for both the hearing and deaf members of the family.

As Billy moves deeper and deeper into the signing world, this production adopts a beautiful artistic quality, as the words that are projected on the wall to translate for non-signers in the audience have an almost choreographed quality to them.

Other members of the cast are equally strong, with Ismael’s Daniel outstanding as he fights the voices in his own head and displays his own mental problems, though his love for his brother is painfully apparent.

One scene particularly displays the worlds in which each brother is living, when Christopher turns on the radio to help drown out the voices in his head and Billy begs him to turn it off because it causes buzzing in his ear through his hearing aids.

Director Williams has molded a complex family whose emotions, whether they are loving or angry, are over the top and which shows each member in his or her own little tribe, keeping the others out.

By the end of the play, we might all be questioning how we relate to others, and whether we are really communicating as clearly as we think we are.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Ladies Foursome



Everyone has secrets. That seems to be the takeaway message from the very funny Norm Foster play “The Ladies Foursome,” now making its American premiere at the B Street Theatre, under the direction of David Pierini.

Foster is Canada’s most-produced playwright, with B Street staging several of his plays for American audiences. He has had more than 40 plays produced on professional stages and has been compared to American playwright Neil Simon. He is a master of writing everyday dialog and finding the meat of very simple situations, like friends meeting for a round of golf.

The current production is not a female version of Foster’s “The Foursome” — which also premiered at B Street — but it did inspire the current comedy, following four women as they navigate the ups and downs of life on the links.

Three friends meet for a memorial 18-hole round of golf in honor of their friend, from whose funeral they have just come. Catherine died suddenly of a freak accident. The four women have played golf together every week for the past 14 years and believe this is the perfect way to honor her memory.

Margot (Amy Kelly) is a successful businesswoman, a workaholic whose dedication to her business has lost her both her husband and her daughter. She’s the down-to-earth, practical one who tells it like it is. She really hates golf, “but where else can you drink this early in the morning and people think it’s normal?”

Tate (Tara Sissom) is a stay-at-home mom of three, locked in an unhappy marriage to a physician. Her hormones are raging, but her sex life leaves a lot to be desired. Tate has unfulfilled dreams and fears she may have “frittered away her life.” She is the most empathetic of the group. It is she who thinks that “something” should be said before they tee off, and then wonders if it’s going to be religious and if that means she should remove her visor.

Connie (Melinda Parrett) is a popular local news anchorwoman who has no lack of sex in her life. She’s tall and beautiful and knows it. She’ll flirt with anyone, anywhere, and throughout the game we learn a lot about her sexploits, yet she never discusses her big secret.

For this memorial round they are joined by Dory (Shannon Mahoney), another of Catherine’s friends, a stranger to the other three, but someone who apparently has known the deceased quite well, as Catherine spent two weeks each year in the wilderness at the Lake Arrowhead Inn run by Dory and her husband.

As they play through each hole (great kudos to the sound effects person!) they discuss life, love, men, sex and careers. They even discuss religion “God’s a man. The Bible says He rested on the seventh day. A woman wouldn’t rest on the seventh day. She’d say ‘I need to reorganize that closet.’ ”

Dory’s relationship with Catherine (whom she calls Cathy, though the other women thought their friend hated to be called Cathy) was quite different from the other three and she seems to know a lot about her that the others never realized.

There are a lot of laughs in this tightly written, fast-paced comedy, and tucked among the laughs are secrets that will be revealed before the end of the play. There is a dark side to the comedy, which gives the play its depth.

The strongest character in the play is Catherine herself, the relationship each of the women had with her, and the effect she had on their lives.

This is a delightful play that will have audiences laughing heartily and perhaps fighting back a tear or two as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

DMTC at 30

Things are busy at the Jean Henderson Performing Arts Center as the Davis Musical Theater company prepares for its 30th Anniversary Gala, to be held on Saturday, August 23 at 6:30 p.m.

“Last night we had a Young Performer’s Theater committee meeting in the women’s dressing room, the cast of “Shrek” was rehearsing the big tap number on stage, and in the lobby, singers were rehearsing for the Gala,” laughed Jan Isaacson, who added that set building and painting for the upcoming production of “Shrek” were also taking place on the dock in the afternoon.

The gala anniversary evening, at only $15 per ticket, will include hors d’oeuvres and a light dinner catered by Symposium Restaurant, followed by an evening of musical theater songs and highlights from dozens of productions that have been offered by DMTC over the years.

“I found people who performed from the beginning of the company,” says Jan, “so it will start off with ‘Oklahoma’ in 1987. Joe Anthony is coming back to perform ‘Oh what a Beautiful Morning.’ I picked selected songs from different decades. Mary Young is going to do ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ from ‘Gypsy.’ Jay Joseph lives in Las Vegas and he’s coming back to sing ‘Buddy’s Blues’ from ‘Follies.’ The pièce de resistance of the evening is going to be Ben Bruening’s half hour movie tracing our history from the very beginning to now.”

Mayor Dan Wolk, a long time supporter of DMTC will present a proclamation congratulating DMTC on its 30th anniversary and thanking the company for its commitment in making performing arts accessible for all in the Davis, California region.

"I am so delighted about presenting this proclamation to Jan and Steve Isaacson and DMTC. As someone who is an alum of DMTC, has been a performer in a number of musicals, and who recognizes the importance and joy of community theater, this celebration has particular meaning to me,” Mayor Wolk said.

Bob Bowen, Promotions Manger for the City of Davis. laughs ''If someone had told me, back in 1984, that DMTC would be around for 30 years, I'd have thought their gaffer's tape was wound too tightly, Having produced my fair share of theater, I know how demanding and stressful it is to raise money and produce theater in Davis. For DMTC to produce a series of adult and children's shows - every year, and for more than a quarter of a century - is a testament to the their passion and energy for theater."

Statistics show that many community theaters which get off the ground and achieve some sort of success generally begin to peter out around 30. The founding members start to get older and can’t do what they did 30 years before, the younger members don’t have the dedication. Ultimately they call it quits, throw a big party to celebrate a long and productive life.

At 30, the Davis Musical Theater is just hitting its stride. Last year their house was amazingly 91% full and they expect to equal or surpass that this year. The company appears to be healthier than ever with exciting plans for the future.

DMTC produces six Main Stage musicals and five Young Performers Theater musicals annually. That’s more than one hundred performances on the DMTC stage each year. What keeps things so vibrant and alive?

“There’s a real sense of family about the group,” says actress Dannette Vasser, who joined in 1997. “There’s not the backstage drama that you sometimes find in other theater groups. It’s a very comfortable place to be. Everybody gets along and a lot of that is due to the atmosphere Jan and Steve foster. They’ve created this to be a family place, where all different members of the community can work together to put on a show.”

“I consider DMTC my musical theater home,” says Mary Young, who has been with the company since she followed choreographer Ron Cisneros to Davis and performed Lady Thiang in the company’s second show, “The King and I.”.

Mary, who lives in Roseville, never thought she would ever drive to Davis to perform but once she started she “just never stopped.” “It has a lot to do with Jan and Steve. They are such good human beings,” she said. “I had a really bad car accident a few years ago and Steve just put me in the next show. Didn’t make me audition. It was my road to recovery. Physical therapy, mental therapy. What better place to go and just play.” Young will be performing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from "Gypsy" at the anniversary show.

Young’s daughter Wendy was in the fourth grade when her mother joined the company, and she literally grew up with DMTC. “She was one of the children in 'King and I,'” Young said, “and I remember washing black hair dye out of her blond hair.”

Young has had an opportunity to perform with not only her daughter but also her grandchildren on the DMTC stage. In fact, the upcoming “Shrek” will feature 3 generations of Youngs. “I haven’t been able to perform with all three of my grandchildren,” she says, “But it’s on my bucket list.”

She remembers when DMTC moved from the Veterans' Memorial Theater into a small theater they built in the Davis Commerce Park on Second Street, near Sudwerk ... and being escorted out to the Port A Potties during evening rehearsals.

People who started at the Second Street theater were like “the survivors, ” laughed Marguerite Morris, who joined DMTC out of high school in 1985 at age 19 to play Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

That was the show, Steve remembers, where Pat Piper bought the very first DMTC season ticket (she would later become DMTC’s first lifetime season ticket holder.)

Morrison remembers the difficulties working in that small theater and the company’s eventual move downtown to the Varsity theater.

The landlord of the Second Street facility eventually raised the rent so high that DMTC had to think about finding a new place to perform. Bob Bowen, who met Jan and Steve while all were in the Davis Players, proved a valuable friend.

'When they built their first theater in rented space over on Second Street, I got involved. I also got involved when they approached the city for a loan.

'Since DMTC still owed money on that loan, we negotiated a deal for them to use the newly renovated Varsity Theater, beginning in January 1993, so they would remain viable. I acted as their Varsity landlord until the Davis City Council changed the Varsity back into an art film theater.'

“One of the things that makes me want to do shows there is the people,” said Morris. “ I’ve made excellent long term friendships there. It’s a family.” Morris herself will be singing the Mother Abbess' "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music" at the gala performance, one of her favorite roles.

Morris’ daughter Rachel performed in 8 shows, when she was 9-11. “There is always a tight knit group of kids as well as adults. There’s no real age barrier. A lot of the older kids take younger kids under their wing and show them the ropes.”

John Ewing, who joined as an actor in the late 1980 and moved on to become a designer and director and member of the Board of Directors, has a slightly different take on why he has stuck around. “One thing I like about DMTC is they’ve always been really great about being open to anybody, they always had open auditions. I get a real thrill out of taking something from nothing and creating a show for an audience. The great thing about the way DMTC does their shows is that so many ordinary people, not necessarily pursuing theater as a career, have the opportunity to experience it. You can’t get that anywhere else.”

Ewing points out that people come and people go, but he most values the ones who have stuck around, people like Lenore and Gil Sebastian, who were in the very first show Ewing did and are still around.

“I’m excited about Saturday’s Gala, that people who performed years and years ago have been invited back to perform again.”

As the company has grown, the expertise of the Young Performer’s Theater (started as “DMTC’s Children’s Theater” in 1987) both in its performers and its parents has grown and become an essential part of the DMTC family.

Jen Nachmanoff is a mom who came to DMTC because her daughter Sophia wanted to perform.”I’m a ceramic artist and have learned how to paint here at the theater, so I’m now a painter too. I didn’t know how to paint before I came here, but I’ve learned on the job. So I help with the scenic artistry. We find out we can do things we never knew we could do.”

Jen oversees the decorative tiles on the wall (continuing the work begun by Jeni Price). She helps families create tiles and has been overseeing the design and firing. I’ve only been here three years, but it feels like forever. It’s the volunteers who make DMTC.”

Children in the Young Performer’s Theater learn all aspects of theater, not just performing, and kids as young as 10 now run the light board for main stage shows. “They’re focused, they’re mature, they know what they’re doing. The kids who run the light board are phenomenal,” said Steve proudly.

Lighting is a big part of every production, and an aspect which the audience, for the most part, is unaware. Someone told me once that if the audience doesn’t notice the lights, the lighting designer has done her work well.

On October 18, 1985, when DMTC opened its first show at the “Old Theater,” which had no walls, insulation, heating or air, Steve remembers chaos on opening night, when Diane Wershing was running the lights. There had been no time for lighting rehearsal.

“I remember going to the theater for opening night and HOPING that they had hung lights,” Wershing said, “Luckily, it was a show that I knew inside and out, so as long as someone was going to hang the lights and hook up something for me to control them with, I figured I could wing it. I was hoping beyond hope that there was something for me to work with, and lo and behold there was. A little 6-dimmer board that I could hold in my lap in the back row of the audience. I ran the lights from there.”

More recently, in the final performance of “South Pacific,” the 10 year old light board just died. Light board operator Mia Piazza turned on the board and there was no response. They were faced with having to cancel a show that was sold out. But they were able to turn on the house lights and the work lights, and Steve went out to face the audience. “This was going to test how good a salesman I am. I explained that our light board died and someone in the audience cried out ‘the show must go on!’ We did the whole show with just the work lights on and the house lights on. When we finished a scene and we’d cry out ‘scene!” It was like a recital. The audience loved it!”

One thing that separates DMTC from many theater companies is it has been and remains an all-volunteer organization, and everyone works on everything. Actors know when they audition that they will be expected to help build sets or help in some other way.

“Except for the piano player we’re still all volunteer,” said Jan proudly. “We have the best volunteers around. People love it here. They’re here because they want to be here. It’s not a paid job. I always say we must be doing something right.”

They even have a complete all-volunteer orchestra. Nikki Nicola and Pam Thompson both get all the musicians. “We had 26 for ‘Les Miserables,’” Jan pointed out proudly. “We never have to worry about the orchestra. Ever. People ask ‘how do you get your musicians to volunteer.’ I tell them they all get a free cookie and a drink at intermission. The ushers go down, take the orchestra order before the show gets started, at intermission they bring it down there. They love not having to get dressed up.”

Steve adds, “Other music directors ask ‘how do you get them to volunteer?’ I say....uh...ask them?”

Costumer Jean Henderson has been with the company for 17 years and for her recent 70th birthday, a surprise party was held and she was told the theater had been renamed for her. “It came as a complete surprise,” she said. “I was so shocked.”

Henderson loves the DMTC family. “I don’t like to be with just old people. I like the diversity of age, I get to know what’s going on in the world. I’m not the retirement home kind of person.”

One of her new roles, since DMTC got a liquor license, is to handle the bar before the shows and at intermission. “People like being able to take the drinks into the theater. I try to find something that will represent the show.” For “Peter Pan” she found a drink that used Cpt Morgan rum. “We had ‘Barricade lemonade’ with vodka and sparkling water for ‘Les Miserables,’ a Spamarita for ‘Spamalot,’ and a Fa-Gin for ‘Oliver!’.

As the company has aged, the shows have gotten bigger. On April 14, 2012 DMTC’s second performance of “Titanic, the Musical” opened exactly 100 years to the minute of the sinking of the great ship. Ludy’s Main Street BBQ recreated the last 11-course meal served on the great ship, as a fundraiser for over 50 patrons.

Thanks to donations by many patrons, the company was able to buy mirrors for a spectacular production of “A Chorus Line” in April of this year

In June, Steve directed “Les Miserables,” the show he had dreamed of directing since he first saw it in 1988. The production was described by one patron as “the best night I’ve had in this theater.”

Though the Davis Musical Theater Company does not always get the respect or the attention it has earned, the fact is that they have outlasted every single theater company in Davis, that they are the longest-running, year-round, non-professional musical theater company in California, and that the quality of productions has continued to improve every year over the past 30 years, as evidenced by their loyal audience (40% of which comes from Davis and 60% of which comes from other areas). The company has proved that they are indeed doing something right.

As DMTC start its new season, the company is deserving of a hearty bravo! for a job well done

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

La Cage aux Folles



The Music Circus is closing out its 2014 season with a sparkling production of Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman’s musical, “La Cage aux Folles,” directed by Tony Spinosa and choreographed by Dana Solimando.
“La Cage” was a big hit in 1984, when it won six Tony awards (it had been nominated for nine). Revivals in 2004 and 2010 both won Tonys for Best Revival; it’s the only musical that has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice and the only show that has won a Best Production Tony Award (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) for each of its Broadway productions.

A scaled-down London production was produced in 2008 and it was this scaled-down show that opened on Broadway in 2010 and is what is being presented on the Music Circus stage.

The story is based on a 1974 French film of the same name and focuses on St. Tropez drag club owner Georges (Brent Barrett) and his longtime partner Albin (Alan Mingo Jr.), who stars as “Zaza” in the club.

The two have raised a son, Jean-Michel (Michael Lowney), now 24, who is Georges’ biological child whose mother abandoned him at birth. It is Jean-Michel’s announcement that he is engaged to be married — to a girl (“where have we gone wrong?”) — that sets the action of this comedy in motion.

It seems Jean-Michel’s fiancée Anne (Julie Kavanagh) is the daughter of the head of the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party,” whose stated goal is to close the local drag clubs.

Jean-Michel wants to bring Anne’s parents home to meet his own parents, but he wants to bring his real mother into the house and relegate Albin, whom he finds an embarrassment, to anywhere other than the family home.
The stage is set for comedy, tragedy and emotion.

This revised version of the show has some noticeable differences from the original, specifically in the tempo and genre of some of the familiar songs. “A Little More Mascara,” for example, was written as an up-tempo Broadway musical-sounding song, but in this version it is more a bluesy number. Likewise, there are dialog changes and plot points that make no sense (why are Anne’s parents spending the night, when in the original they were only coming for dinner?).

But these are minor complaints from someone familiar with the original version, which won’t be noticed by newcomers to the show.

There are wonderful performances in this production. Barrett is very strong as Georges. The actor has a very long theatrical history and he is the glue that holds the show together.

Mingo seemed to take a while to get his engine revving. He was perfectly fine as Albin, but there was initially little chemistry with Georges and he didn’t hit his stride until Albin’s signature “I Am What I Am,” a very powerful song of pride and defiance that closes Act 1 and brought cheers from the audience. Act 2 was his. From the moment he stepped onto the stage dressed as a woman, and introducing himself to Anne’s parents as Jean-Michel’s mother, his performance was golden.

Lowny is an uptight spoiled brat as he heartlessly tosses aside the only “mother” he’s ever known in order to impress his future in-laws, but he’s head over heels in love and has lost his head. Thank goodness he finds it before the end of the show.

Reggie DeLeon is the “butler/maid” (there seems to be some confusion about which he/she is), and plays the part in a much more subdued fashion than most actors I’ve seen in this role, but he is very funny anyway.
Kevin Cooney is M. Dindon, the uptight one-man moral majority. Watching him loosen up a little was a delight.
Mme. Dindon (Heather Lee) is a repressed political wife who seems only too happy to learn of the relationship between Georges and Albin and seems thrilled to be able to let down her hair for once. Literally.

Barbara McCulloh is Jacqueline, owner of a famous restaurant by the same name. One is never sure if she’s a good guy or a bad guy, but McCulloh plays her to the fullest and has a nice duet with Albin.

“Les Cagelles,” the dancers at the club (Brian Steven Shaw, Steven Wenslawski, Adam Lendermon, Steve Schepis, Thay Floyd and Christopher Shin), nearly steal the show in every one of their dance routines. However, I miss the days when there were more dancers and there used to be one or two girls mixed in with the guys, and the audience didn’t know who until the big reveal at the end.

This nicest thing about this musical has always been that it is a simple love story where the lovers happen to be of the same gender, and watching the Music Circus audience leap to their feet to applaud that is very refreshing.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Brigadoon


What is set in 18th-century Scotland, is filled with Highlanders in kilts with sporrans and swords, has lads and lassies in love with one another, bagpipes, hills of heather, good Scottish whisky … and was not written by Diana Gabaldon, author of the historical science-fiction adventure-romance “Outlander” series?

It’s Lerner and Loewe’s beloved “Brigadoon,” this week’s Music Circus offering, directed by Glenn Casale and featuring lively choreography by Bob Richard.

Brigadoon is a magical 18th-century Scottish village which, thanks to a 200-year-old miracle, rises out of the mist for one day every 100 years. Americans Tommy Albright (Robert J. Townsend) and Jeff Douglas (Jason Graae), lost on a hunting expedition in the Highlands, stumble across the village and, unaware of anything unusual, get caught up in the lives of the citizens.

Tommy is engaged to Jane back in New York but something is missing. He’s been looking for that elusive something that will make his life complete.

In Brigadoon, Fiona MacLaren (Jennifer Hope Wills) is “waiting for her dearie,” a man to complete her, who doesn’t seem to be among the local populace.

It’s almost, but not, quite love at first sight for these two as they gather heather on the hill for the wedding of Fiona’s sister.

Townsend’s Tommy is reminiscent of “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, tall and somewhat distracted, with his reserve melting as he finds himself attracted to this lovely lass he has just met.

Wills is a lovely Fiona. Her red hair gives a roundness to her face and you just know she must have freckles. She believably falls head over heels for this stranger and they have some beautiful moments together.

As Tommy’s sardonic friend Jeff Douglas, Graae has no depth of character, is bored with life and can’t understand Tommy’s attraction to Fiona. However, he has caught the eye of Meg Brockie (Tory Ross) and they have some funny moments together.

Ross is a lusty, larger-than-life Meg. She is very funny whether describing her mother’s wedding day or determined to woo and win some sexual favors from Jeff by describing to him “the real love of her life.”
Fiona’s sister, Jean, is beautifully played by Courtney Iventosch. As the story opens, it is Jean’s wedding day and the whole village is preparing for that evening’s wedding. Iventosch is positively ethereal as she dances with the other women and with fiancé Charlie Dalrymple (Brandon Springman)

Charlie is head over heels in love and can’t wait for his wedding (“I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean”).

Harry Beaton (Luke Hawkins) is the only person in the village unhappy about the wedding because he is in love with Jean himself and, because of “the miracle” he can’t leave Brigadoon without destroying everyone, so he’s stuck watching the woman he loves be so happy with the man she loves. Hawkins is dark and brooding, as befits his character.

Harry’s dad Archie (Ron Wisniski) is the village tailor, trying to unsuccessfully draw Harry into the business, while Rich Herbert is Andrew MacLaren, the father of the bride, thrilled to be hosting her wedding.

Gordon Goodman is Mr. Lundie, the village schoolmaster to whom Fiona brings Tommy and Jeff so he can explain “the miracle” to the two men.

Amanda Peet plays Maggie Anderson, who loves Harry and who performs an achingly painful funeral dance after Harry’s death.

There are wonderful moments in this show, such as the dance of the sword dancers (Eric Anthony Johnson, Adam Lendermon, Steve Schepis, Brian Steven Shaw and John B. Williford), performed at Jean’s wedding. It is amazing that they can dance in such tight spaces with such precision, and without glancing down at their feet in relation to the swords.

Special mention also needs to be made to bagpiper Josh Brown, who accompanies the body of Harry back to the village. If you love a good bagpipe (as I do), it was wonderful to hear.

Back in New York, Karen Hyland is Tommy’s fiancée Jane Ashton. Having seen Tommy fall in love with Jean, it’s difficult to see what he found appealing in this social-climbing ice cube and very easy to understand what “something” was missing for him in their relationship and why he is willing to risk everything to try and find it again.

Brigadoon presents a contrast between empty city life and the warmth and simplicity of the country, with the message that love is love even when there are centuries separating the lovers, which brings this review full circle and back to Diana Gabaldon!