Wednesday, July 26, 2017

9 to 5

Doralee Rhodes (Tricia Paoluccio) gives some payback to Franklin Hart Jr. (Paul Schoeffler),
with help from co-workers, in “9 to 5 The Musical,”
produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through July 30.
Kevin Graft/Courtesy photo

 Audiences are going to love the Music Circus’s new production of the Dolly Parton/Patricia Resnick musical, “9 to 5, the Musical.” Based on the popular 1980 movie, featuring Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the story involves sexual harassment in the workplace of the 1970s, and how three women manage to get revenge on their boss.

This is a splashy, wonderfully choreographed (by Mara Newbery Greer) bit of fluff, directed by Glenn Casale. All the plot points are there, the fun is there, but the intensity and heart of the movie are not. Except for the title song, there are no songs you will remember (and with the continuing ear-shattering level of Music Circus sound, you probably will miss a lot of the lyrics). But that’s all irrelevant to the fun the opening night audience was having.

Judy Bernly (Anne Brummel) is a newly divorced woman with no office skills and no self-esteem who joins the staff of the company. She is taken under the wing of Violet Newstead (Vicki Lewis), who has worked for the company for years and is hoping to be given a promotion.

Doralee Rhodes (Tricia Paoluccio, the Dolly Parton role) is accepted to be the office slut and everyone thinks she is having an affair with the boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Paul Schoeffler).

“We don’t like her,” Violet tells Judy, though Doralee is actually happily married and is constantly fighting the advances of her boss in order to keep her job.

The production makes wonderful use of the Music Circus movable stage and all those various platform levels and the tech crew does yeoman duty running sets in and out of the stage while many scenes take place in the aisles.

The show belongs to the women. Lewis is a force of nature, a bold, brassy, under-appreciated Violet who is trying to raise a teenager as a single mother and convinced that if she works hard enough, she can break through the glass ceiling. When the coveted position is given, instead, to a young man she herself trained, hell hath no fury like this woman scorned.

Paoluccio is a wonderful Doralee, making the role her own, while still echoing Parton. Her “Backwoods Barbie” was wonderful.

Brummel, in the least notable role of Bernly, has the show-stopping number “Get Out and Stay Out,” which is reminiscent of a song Elphaba sings in “Wicked.” That’s interesting because the actress has played that role all over the country in touring shows.

Kristine Zbornik has the small role of frumpy Roz, Hart’s sycophantic assistant, who has a secret crush on her boss and whose song “Heart to Hart” brings down the house.

When Violet accidentally puts rat poison in Hart’s coffee, the girls get the idea of kidnapping him and holding him hostage in his own home while his wife is on vacation to prevent him from reporting Violet to the police.

While Hart is tied up, the girls take over running the office, reversing his cruel policies, and turning the office into a pleasant place to work. At the same time, a little research uncovers a double set of books showing Hart has been stealing from the company for years.

Parton herself makes an appearance. When this show played the Broadway series in the Community Center, a huge projection on the back of the stage gave Parton the opportunity to introduce and end the show. The same technique is used here, to lesser effect.

While the video shows Parton turning to her left or right to indicate a character, in the round, often she is turning to the opposite of where the character really is. Again, the enhanced audio made her comments difficult to understand.

“9 to 5″ had a disappointing run on Broadway, but it has more than made up for it in the popularity of productions around the country, and the Music Circus Production is no exception.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On the Town

After seeing Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s superb “Wonderful Town” and Music Circus’ sparkling “On the Town” — both by the team of Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein and both paens to the Big Apple — I have a strong craving for a slice of New York pizza.

The energetic “On the Town” burst onto the Music Circus stage this week, the 1944 musical as fresh as it was when it first opened on Broadway. The show opens with a lament (“I feel like I”m not out of bed yet”) by a workman (Joseph Torello) whose voice is clear and deep and wonderful. He appears as several other announcers throughout the show.

This is the story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York City. It is the first time each of them has visited the city and they are determined to see everything and maybe pick up a lady along the way.

Chip (Matt Loehr) has a tour book his father used many years ago … and he’s determined not to miss anything. Gabey (Sam Lips) falls in love with a picture of “Miss Turnstyle” that he sees on the subway and is determined to find her. Ozzie (Clyde Alves) just wants to find a date because Manhattan women are “the prettiest in the world.”

The trio decide to split up and see if they can find Miss Turnstyle (real name Ivy Smith, played by Courtney Iventosch). They agree to meet up back in Times Square at the end of the afternoon.
Gabey steals the poster off the subway and is pursued through the rest of the show by an umbrella-waving little old lady (Karen Hyland) and a growing posse of police and others.

Chip is accosted by taxi driver Hildy Esterhazy (Jennifer Cody), who has just been fired from her job. She is a real firecracker, oversexed and determined to get back to her apartment for a little canoodling. Cody is marvelous and brings a real spark to every scene in which she appears.

Ozzie heads to the Museum of Modern Art, because he believes beautiful women love art. There he finds anthropologist Claire de Loone (really) played by Holly Ann Butler, who mistakes Ozzie for a prehistoric man. She is engaged to a famous judge, Pitkin W. Bridgework (Donald Corren), who has encouraged her anthropological studies as a way to sublimate her sexual addiction. He is very understanding when he sees her with another man because he knows it is just scientific investigation.

Gabey goes to Carnegie Hall, where the subway poster says Ivy studies, and he actually finds her, but is hustled out by her teacher, the tipsy Madame Maude P. Dilly (Susan Cella), who wants Ivy to keep her job as a cootchie dancer because it pays her bills for vocal instruction.

Through a parade of increasingly sleazy nightclubs, the group ends up on Coney Island, where Gabey finds Ivy again and all end up back on the dock, where we began. As our three heroes say sad goodbyes to the girls before boarding their ship, three fresh new sailors descend for their own adventure in New York! New York!

Original costumes for this dazzling production were by Jess Goldstein, with Music Circus designer Marcy Froehlich. They are wonderfully, colorfully ’40s, down to the seams in the stockings.
Choreography is by Mark Esposito and includes a dream ballet, an effect that would be used even more effectively a year later by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their “Carousel.”

“On the Town” is a lively, flashy production, last seen on the Music Circus stage in 1961. It’s been a long time — and it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderful Town

Ruth (Gia Battista) gets a lift from the Brazilian cadets in
Davis Shakespeare Ensemble's “Wonderful Town” on stage through Aug. 6.
Yarcenia Garcia/Courtesy photo

 The Davis Shakespeare Festival has strong entries for its 2017 season. Opening with “The Three Musketeers” and “Wonderful Town,” the festival will close in October with “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Sisters Gia and Gabby Battista play the Sherwood sisters Ruth (Gia) and Eileen (Gabby), who have “escaped” their childhood home in Ohio and come to the Big Apple for all of the opportunities they believe it offers.

Ruth is an aspiring writer, while Eileen wants to break into show business. Along the way they feel like fish out of water and have to learn how to become part of that crazy world that is New York.
The musical is based on the stories of Ruth McKenney and was first produced as a play (“My Sister Eileen”) by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The festival director for this musical is Dennis Beasley, who made such an impression with “Bells are Ringing” last season.

“Bells are Ringing” has a “thin plot,” I said last summer, but the show was fabulous. If that plot is thin, “Wonderful Town’s” plot is even thinner. It is more a study of stereotypical New York types, and Beasley’s cast is so strong that it makes for an enjoyable production.

The girls first learn that lodging is much too expensive until they meet unscrupulous landlord Mr. Appopolous (Kevin Caravalho), who rents them a basement apartment recently vacated by Violet (Annie Dick), who was running a bordello. The apartment is below the street level within clear view of passersby who lean over and look through the windows, and is near periodic explosions from subway constructions.

The multi-talented Caravalho, who plays Cardinal Richelieu in the festival’s other production, “The Three Musketeers” also plays several other members of the ensemble (as do most of the actors). While Caravalho is wonderful in each of his roles, he has such a “unique” appearance, it is often not clear whether he is Appopolous or some other character.

Others in the apartment house include Helen (Andrea J. Love), living with her muscle-bound boyfriend Wreck (Brian Bohlender), who is not strong in the brains department but he sure could “pass that football” in his days as a player. The couple are trying to hide their relationship from Helen’s snooty mother (Jessica Woehler).

Eileen seems to be a dude magnet and all men who meet her fall for her. This includes Ian Hopps, as Frank, who works for Walgreens and sees that Eileen eats for free there every day. Hopps was the romantic lead in last summer’s “Bells are Ringing,” and while Frank is quite a different character, he still makes an impact.

Kyle Stoner is Chick Clark, a sleazy newspaper editor who has designs on Eileen, while J.R. Yancher is Bob Baker, reader for a magazine who lets Ruth know her stories have no chance of ever being published.

There are several beautiful songs, like the lush duet “Ohio,” sung by the sisters when they suffer homesickness. The Battista women have voices that blend together beautifully, like rich melted chocolate.

Gia has several moments to shine in her songs about “One Hundred Easy Ways” and the plaintive “Quiet Ruth.”

Choreography is by Katie Peters and includes everything from Irish jig to swing, to a lively “Conga” by Eileen and a bunch of Brazilian cadets. Music is provided by the on-stage seven-member orchestra, under the direction of David Taylor-Gomes.

From top to bottom, this is a fun production with a strong cast and it shows that the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble continues to grow and thrive.