Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The end

I'm retired!

I have given up being a critic, after 22 years, and my replacement is Jennifer Goldman.
My hearing was just getting too bad and it was time to turn the job over to someone else. 


Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Our Town

 Think back to a time before computers, a time before cell phones, a time before television. Think of a time when a date with your best girl was a soda at the drug store, and when the first kiss was a very big deal.

Think of Grover’s Corners.

Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire is the setting for Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town,” presented by the Woodland Opera House, under the direction of Anna Miles.  Miles has a strong cast of fine actors.

As Wilder has written his play, none of the characters is particularly exciting, though it is the story of Emily (Grace Leekley) and George (Jasson Blanco), who meet in Act 1, marry in Act 2 and deal with the sadness of death in Act 3.

The Stage Manager, Ania Mieszkowska is the “star” who doesn’t act like one, but who keeps the story clear to the audience, explaining how the set pieces that are moved on throughout the story, and the interactions among the actors.

The first act concerns itself with the everyday stuff of life — getting the kids off to school for mom, getting to work on time for dad, spats between brother and sister, the milkman making his rounds, etc. . George and Emily  are young adults, living next door to each other, best friends, going to school together, and sharing secrets, dreams, and homework tips, leaning out their respective bedroom windows.

George’s mother is Emily Delk, while Emily’s is Hannah Adamy.  They spend a lot of time doing kitchen duty--preparing meals, stringing beans for supper, and making a home for their husbands and children, including George’s sister Rebecca (Frances Thayer) and Emily’s brother Wally (Theo Thayer).

"Both of those ladies cooked three meals a day - one of 'em for twenty years and the other for forty - and no summer vacation. They brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house ... and never a nervous breakdown. It's like what one of those Middle West poets said: You've got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life... It's what they call a vicious circle,” says the Stage Manager.

The fathers, newspaper editor Mr. Webb (Victor Libet) and Doctor Gibbs (Steve Mackay) talk about the goings on in the town. We meet other citizens of Grover’s Corners--Howie, the Milkman (Sonny Alforque, who plays several roles, including Constable Warren) and Joe Crowell, the newsboy (Jupiter Fischer).

Mr. Webb’s in depth conversation with George, before the Act 2 wedding, is particularly strong.

Act three takes place in the town cemetery. Emily has died in childbirth and is buried on a rainy, dreary day. There she is reunited with those friends and neighbors who have died before her, and who help her adjust to her new existence. Though Emily is granted one day to return to her old life, we watch her accept death as a natural extension of life and begin to disengage from life, as she finds peace in death.

This is a polished, professional production. In the end, its simple message teaches us the true value of life. As the Stage Manager says, "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense .... We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names ... that something has to do with human beings."

Our Town is a play that shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. Once we die, and are able to see what we had, it is really too late.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Producers

 Director Steve Isaacson lied.

In his opening comments to the audience, opening night of Davis Musical Theater’s production of “The Producers,” he promised that the show was funny and wouldn’t offend anyone.  It is very funny and offends just about everyone–  Jews, Nazis, old ladies, dumb blondes, CPAs, corporate drones and just about anyone in between. And yet when it’s a script by Mel Brooks,  it's all done with such a sense of fun that you're amazed at the things that make you laugh.

“The Producers” is the show that Mel Brooks wanted to write all of his life, the musical that we saw glimmers of in several of his movies, especially, of course, the 1968  movie from which the plot of this show was taken.

The first film starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.  The original Broadway production opened on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. It spawned a successful London production running for just over two years, national tours in the US and UK, many productions worldwide.  In 2005, the Broadway version was made into another film, with Lane and Broderick playing their Broadway roles.

Brooks says he was inspired by his real life adventures, romancing elderly women for investments, and knowing producers who producing flops that made them rich.

The story centers around Max Bialystock (Eddie Voyce), a formerly successful producer who now can’t get a hit to save his soul and who has become famous for his flops. Into Max’s office walks mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Danny Beldi), who carries a strip of his baby blanket around in his pocket to soothe himself in times of stress.  Bloom discovers that it’s possible for a producer to make more money with a flop show than with a hit, if they play it right.  
They need the worst play in the world, the worst director in the world, a bunch of gullible horny old ladies as backers, and when the show fails, as it is destined to do, Bialystock and Bloom will be off with their millions to sun themselves on the beach in Rio de Janeiro.

The first thing to do is to find the worst show every written and in Franz Leibkind’s “Springtime for Hitler,” they feel they have found a real loser. certain to offend everyone.  A visit to Leibkind (Andy Hyun, who played Bloom in DMTC’s 2016 production) involves the dance “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop,” and eventually the contract is signed.

Once the world’s worst play is chosen, the next step is to find the worst director, Roger DeBris (Richard Spierto).  The flamboyant DeBris makes his entrance in a stunning silver and black gown, which he says makes him look like the Chrysler building. Spierto is perfectly campy, as is his “associate,” Carmen Ghia (Michael Tandy), who can drag out an exit better than most.

DeBris has to be convinced to take on the directing job, but once allowed to make the whole Hitler story less depressing by adding cute song and dance numbers, and maybe letting Germany win for a change, because it’s less of a downer,  he’s all for it.  When you see him goose step into “Springtime for Hitler” after Leibkind suffers an injury on opening night, well there just was never such a cute Hitler before.

Max’s rather unorthodox way of raising funds is to jolly little old ladies into giving him checks. Danette Vassar plays the aggressive “Hold-me, Touch-me” and is hilarious.  And perhaps my favorite number of the whole show is “Along Came Bialy,” a dance number performed by a host of little old ladies with walkers. Kudos to choreographer Andi Bourquin.

The Swedish bombshell who wants to audition for the show, and who ends up working in the office for Max and Leo is Ulla (Sabrina Fernandez), the tallest, blondest, sex-goddess you’re ever likely to meet. She can run an office, paint a room during intermission, and star in a musical all without mussing a blonde curl.

Isaacson’s set design works well for this production, with Bialystock’s office two-sided, so that in the second act it can look as if it has been painted

Costume design by Jean Henderson is, of course, wonderful, particularly the dress and crown for DeBris and the dresses for the elderly investors.

All actors, and all audience are masked.  If there is any downside of this funny show it’s just that it’s sad not to be able to see the actors’ faces, though they are able to project perfectly with the masks.  

It was a small opening night audience.  People are still reluctant to go out in groups, but I hope that more people check out this show, which is very funny – something we all need these days!