Saturday, November 23, 2002


Christmas is coming and the holiday productions are beginning roll out. The Winters Theatre Company may be the first to log in with its production of Dan Goggin's "Nuncrackers," (directed by Howard Hupe) running through December 7 for the general public, at the Winters Community Center, with a special production on December 8 as a fund raiser for Soroptomists.

It would be pointless to review the script for this silly pastiche, or to complain that the jokes are familiar and the bits predictable, or that the performances were not polished, nor the voices trained. All that may be true, but the fact is that despite everything, the show is a hoot. It's a wonderful piece for a small amateur theatre and it mixes script with ad lib so well that the line flubs are hardly noticeable--or are they scripted? Who can tell?

The premise is that the Little Sisters of Hoboken, first introduced to the theatre-going public in Goggins' hit, "Nunsense," have come into some money (Sister Mary Paul--"Amnesia"--won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstake) and the sisters are going to have their annual Christmas pageant filmed for television. The idea of the cameras rolling and the actions being filmed seems to be forgotten about a quarter of the way into the first act, but who cared?

As the production begins, the nuns walk through the seating area, interacting with the patrons. If you have a Catholic school background, you want to sit up straight and say "yes, sister!"

The action moves to the stage and we meet The Little Sisters of Hoboken--Mother Superior (Sister Mary Regina), known in a previous life as Gloria Marion is the epitome of a mother superior--she's stern, but has a heart of gold, she's strict, but loose enough to don a pink tutu over her habit and dance the Sugarplum Fairy. She tries to keep things all together, but watches things unravel, bit by funny bit.

Sister Mary Hubert (Laurie Brown in secular life) is her second in command, comfortable whether supporting Mary Regina or singing the hysterical "In the Convent" with the rest of the cast a la The Village People.

The Brooklyn Born Sister Robert Anne (Diane Taylor to her family) is a wisecracking, tough exterior nun who shows her softer side when singing "When Jesus was born in Brooklyn," describing an emotional childhood Christmas.

And then there is dear, ditzy Sister Mary Paul, who used to be Gina Wingard, who seems to be in a perpetual daze and who can't quite get things right, but who is so loveable that everyone puts up with her, fondly.

Sister Mary Annette is not identified by former name in the program, but let's just say that she is the nun who is the most easily manipulated.

Sister Mary Ignatius, the convent musician, is only briefly seen peeking out from behind the piano, perhaps remembering her days when she was known as Lynne Secrist.

Every convent has a liaison with the local parish priest and Father Virgil Trott (Trent Beeby) fills the bill nicely, even when he needs to substitute for absent Sister Julia (Child of God), doing a demonstration of how to make a fruitcake. One of the funnier bits of the show.

What would a convent Christmas pageant be without the participation of some of the school kids? Austen Dahn, Olivia Wingard, Alec Bouwens, Catherine Wennig and irresistable Brandon Emery are perfectly cast. Professional enough to be disciplined performers, but still the stereotypical grammar school kids bumbling through musical numbers. Dahn does a lovely solo on "O Holy Night."

Set design is by Ken Grubaugh, Bob Taylor, Mark Dahn and Howard Hupe. It's the perfect Christmas setting which not only decorates the whole stage in holiday fashion, but makes clever use of turntables to make a Christmas tree become a nativity scene and a partition become a cooking demonstration table. The additional pieces for the children's "teapot" number are very clever.

Laura Bouwens, Heather Collins and Germaine Hupe have created the costumes. Not only are the nuns' habits authentic looking, but the additions, such antlers, halos, aprons, and the aforementioned tutus add to the fun.

This production of "Nuncrackers" is very definitely worth the drive to Winters. You'll leave with a big smile on your face and holly in your heart.

(And don't forget to read the whole program--it's almost as much fun as the show itself.)

Saturday, November 09, 2002


A cast of hundreds! Well...dozens. But when the curtain opened on the Davis Musical Theatre production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel," it seemed like hundreds. Director Jan Isaacson and set designer George Soffos put together a carnival atmosphere, complete with belly dancers and a real carousel. Combined with a lovely mix of costumes by Jean Henderson, and the beautiful Carousel Waltz played by the 9-piece backstage orchestra it was a visual delight.

"Carousel," first seen on Broadway in 1945, was the second collaboration of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein who had, two years before, given the world "Oaklahoma!" It was "Carousel" which solidified the colaboration and established the duo as an institution of American theatre.

With such familiar songs as "You'll Never Walk Alone," "If I loved you" and "June is bustin' out all over," the show is a sure-fire audience pleaser.

The DMTC production is filled with strong voices and marks the debut of some wonderful new performers to the DMTC family.

Heading the list is Frank Salamone as Billy Bigelow, the ne'er do well carnival barker who falls in love with Julie Jordan, a local factory worker. Salamone is a powerful presence on stage, though the apparent age disparity between himself and Amy Schoedel (Julie) affected the chemestry between them. He also had some difficulties staying on pitch in spots, which may have been a case of opening night jitters.

Schoedel, in her sixth season with DMTC, has a lovely clear soprano and was an endearing Julie, innocent in her infatulation with Billy, devoted even in the face of his abusive treatment of her, and steadfast in the raising of their daughter as a single mother, after Billy's death.

Andrea St. Clair as Julie's friend Carrie Pipperidge is a real DMTC find. She is making her debut with the company and was a delight to watch on stage, both as the love-struck young girl preparing to marry her Mr. Snow and, with the passage of time, as the older mother of 10.

Matt Dunn, as Mr. Snow, is returning to DMTC after a 3 year absence and was a welcome addition to the cast. He was also choreographer for "Carousel" and has created a number of complex dance numbers so skillfully, that it is difficult to distinguish the non-dancers from the trained dancers.

The ever dependable Ben Bruening played Jigger, who convinces Billy to rob the mill owner to get some money for his expected baby. Bruening was effective as the villain and deserved the good natured hisses he received at the curtain call.

Catherine Hagan returns to DMTC to play the maternal Nettie Fowler, who takes Julie under her wing after Billy's death. She handles her big moment, the emotional "You'll Never Walk Alone" quite nicely.

Julie & Billy's young daughter, Louise was competently played by Stephanie Skewes.

Sets for this production were minimal--sometimes almost non-existent (a very long scene with only a bench on stage), but one forgives such lapses in a company which is saving its pennies to build it's very own new theatre (set to open in time for next season).

At nearly three hours, this is a long show, somewhat extended by a fairly slow pace, which may pick up as the show contiues its run and the actors become more comfortable in their roles. But DMTC fans will not be disappointed. The faces of the small children singing out "You'll Never Walk Alone" with the adults in the final scene is a wonderful indication of how much love has gone into this production and how much effort everyone has put into it.