City Theater’s ‘The Light In The Piazza’ is Magnifico Splendore!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on March 9, 2019 by Ringer

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March 2019

One of the most beautiful, refreshing and enjoyable pieces of musical theater is now running at City Theater in Biddeford.

“The Light In The Piazza” is a gorgeous romance musical that departs from the traditional contemporary Broadway genre and takes the viewer to 1950s Florence, Italy, for a powerful and inspiring fable of love about taking risks, letting go, and reaching dreams.

Directed by Linda Sturdivant, with a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, “The Light In The Piazza” showcases a brilliant cast of singers, actors and musicians who successfully create a live two-hour tableau mixing American humor and Italian culture with amazing neoclassical music, light operatic vocals, and the challenging dynamics of two very different families, all presented with a backdrop of vibrant Italian history, architecture and art.  While much of the conversations and songs are in superbly-executed Italian, one need not be fluent to understand this romance language.

On the first morning of their visit to Florence in the summer of 1953, Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Rinaldi) and her daughter Clara (Jacklyn Grigg) are exploring the piazza when Clara’s hat is taken by the wind and is captured by Fabrizio Naccarelli (Miles Obrey).  It is love at first sight, and the beginning of the classic mother-daughter conflicts, and the clash between the Naccarelli’s, who support Fabrizio’s new-found love, and Mrs. Johnson, who eventually reveals a childhood accident left Clara with an emotional abnormality that could potentially impact her future.

Mom is determined to keep the accident a secret but despite her efforts to protect her daughter from being hurt (or is it perhaps to keep Clara from reliving her own unhappy journey with her husband Ron that began in the same piazza during the war days a couple of decades prior?), the magnetism between the young couple is too powerful.  Marriage is now proposed.

To distract Clara from thinking about a wedding, Margaret takes her to Rome, where tensions reach a turning point when Margaret slaps Clara across the face in a painful confrontation that causes Mom to realize she must let go of her fears and doubts and let her daughter follow her own dreams.

The wedding is on…until the rehearsal when Signor Naccarelli (Brian McAloon) suddenly calls off the wedding and takes his family away.  Clara is devastated.

Margaret feels responsible for her daughter’s suffering and meets with Signor Naccarelli who explains he saw Clara write her age—26—on her marriage form and his son is only 20, making the marriage unsuitable.  Relieved it was not Clara’s secret that was the problem, Mom reasons with Signor Naccarelli to successfully put the wedding back on track.

But Clara, thinking she is unworthy of love, runs to Fabrizio to tell him she doesn’t want to cause him any pain and cannot marry him.  But he convinces her that since that moment in the piazza when her hat was carried off by the wind, that she will never be alone and that he now sees what love is.  The wedding goes off without a hitch and the fable comes to an end.

What make “The Light In The Piazza” so unique and astounding are the rich orchestral arrangements and the glorious, lush vocals that permeate the theater with majestic command.  The slow deliveries of well-crafted lyrics—and even the sustained oohs, ahhs and simple vocalizations—are loaded with oozing romance, tension, curiosity, suspicions, etc.  The unpredictable dissonant melodies are delightful and alluring.

The principles are all powerhouse masterful singers:  Rebecca Rinaldi (Margaret Johnson), Jacklyn Grigg (Clara Johnson), Miles Obrey (Fabrizio Naccarelli), Brian McAloon (Signor Naccarelli), Mary Lettelier (Franca Naccarelli), Owen White (Guiseppe Naccarelli), Shaunna Lucas (Signora Naccarelli), Tim Steiner (Roy Johnson) and Adam Normand (The Priest).

The entire cast delivers their A-game performances. Special mention is given to Miles Obrey for his extraordinary work as Fabrizio—his inate animation, scene-driving passion, outstanding vocals, perfect Italian characterization from dialogue inflections to hand gestures…a natural tour de force role for his resume.

The Ensemble proved (as always) to be a trademark asset to this show’s success, tastefully choreographing effortless set-changes and completing tableaus as various and sundry characters.  Bravi Emily Butson, Cecilia Guerra, Brian Harris, Andrew Lamb, Leslie Lampert, Addison Littlefield, Sally McGrath, Mark Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Danielle Robichaud and Lynne White.

The beautiful orchestration was perfectly executed by Sara Sturdivant, Music Director, on piano, Mo Nichols on harp, Sue LaVerriere on violin, Alex Wong on cello and Jimmy McGirr on bass.

Brava to Choreographer Mariel Roy and Bravo to Technical Director Karl Carrigan for the simply stunning sets.

“The Light In The Piazza” runs through March 24th (no performance on March 10th).  Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  FMI: 207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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SACRED HEART CHURCH ANNOUNCES 3rd ANNUAL CABARET NIGHT

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on February 9, 2019 by Ringer

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February 2019

Sacred Heart Church in Auburn is announcing its 3rd Annual Cabaret will take place on Saturday, February 23, 2019 at 7 pm.  The popular variety show for all ages will once again be hosted by guest entertainer Louis Philippe.

“Cabaret Night” is just one of many events the parish has undertaken as part of the overall fundraising drive launched in 2015 to help purchase, refurbish and install a 1954 Casavant Opus 2277 Pipe Organ, which, through a donation to the parish, was acquired from the Sisters of Notre Dame in Toledo, Ohio.

The secondary goal of the Sister Elizabeth Platt Pipe Organ Fund for Sacred Heart Church is to provide education and training programs to parish organists, choirs and cantors, as well as subsidized organ lessons for deserving and talented young people.

Sister Elizabeth Platt, C.O.C., who recently passed away, had dedicated more than 30 years of service to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in religious education and the RCIA program. A period of her life she often spoke about with great fondness was her years of ministry teaching children to sing the parts of the Mass. She also worked with the Boys’ Choir in Boston before coming to Maine.

Pam Vaillancourt, a familiar talent from the L-A area, began singing in the church choir in her elementary school days. She served as music director for Sacred Heart Church for many years, is a well-known advocate of music and ministry, and will once again serve as stage/sound manager for this year’s event in addition to performing.

 “Our first two Cabaret Nights were a great success, with people asking if we were going to continue having these shows” Vaillancourt noted. “The amount of talent we have in our parish is amazing.  From singers, guitarists, magicians, and comedians, we are very lucky to have so many willing to come together and put a show like this on for the benefit of our community.”

This year’s line-up of diverse acts includes Roland Bergeron, The Daigneault Family, Cassi Griesbach, George Harris, Tony & Vinnie La Judice, “Mr. Ray” (Ray Marchessault), Magician Mark Vaillancourt, Pam Vaillancourt, and a surprise comedy lineup.

Sacred Heart Church Parish Hall is in the basement of the church, located at the corner of Minot and Western avenues in Auburn. Tickets are $15. For more information, contact the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish office at 207-782-8096.

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REINDEER’S CONNIE FRANCIS TRIBUTE COMING TO NEW ELKS LODGE IN PORTLAND

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on January 30, 2019 by Ringer

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April 2019

“The Connie Francis Show,” is coming back to Portland on Sunday, April 28th, 2 PM, at the new performance venue of the Portland Elks Lodge #188, 1945 Congress Street.

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS is a tribute to legendary singer Connie Francis and features the popular, infectious trademark hits made famous by America’s Sweetheart of Song.  The multi-media presentation was created in 1994 by Louis Philippe’s Reindeer Theatre Company in Westbrook and has been enjoying high acclaim since it was relaunched for touring in 2013.

Krista LeBeau Johnson of Westbrook is the star of the show.  “Krista has a remarkably appealing stage persona, much like Connie’s, and she easily captures the hallmark traits of the iconic singer—her powerful and mesmerizing vocals, the perfect delivery of catchy, compelling pop melodies and schmaltzy lyrics that all combine for a supreme night of riveting entertainment,” Philippe stated.

The songs are performed live by “The Connie Combo” (singing along is encouraged), while nostalgic images are projected on big-screen, and an informative narration of the star’s life, career and personal struggles provides more sentimental trivia and interesting biographical history.

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS features Connie’s greatest hits–the bouncy, dreamy, country-pop-rockabilly tunes that are embedded in the hearts of America’s teen culture from the 50s and 60s:  “Who’s Sorry Now, Where The Boys Are, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, Lipstick On Your Collar, I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter, Stupid Cupid, Follow The Boys, Among My Souvenirs” and more.

“This show is truly one of the most moving and fun shows Reindeer Theatre Company ever staged,” said Philippe.  “It’s a chance for audiences to reminisce and re-connect with friends and re-live some powerful memories of a great generation…and everybody has a ‘Connie’ story.’”

In addition to Music Director Philippe on piano, the “Connie Combo” features Jimmy McGirr on upright bass, Joe Napoleone on drums, and Tom O’Donnell on guitar (the original guitarist from the 1994 revue).  Narration is handled by Maureen Knott LeBeau of Westbrook.

Over the past few years, AMONG MY SOUVENIRS has been hosted by several public venues, service organizations, non-profit groups, and church and hospital fundraisers.  Anyone interested in presenting the show can call 207-857-9002.

General admission for the Elks event is $20 per person, with cabaret seating, cash bar and appetizers, and is expected to sell out. Tickets can be purchased through any Lodge member, or by calling Martha Binette at 207-671-3133.  Non-members are invited to stop by the Lodge or call 207-773-7396 x #301.

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City Theater’s “A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL” Is Must-See Season Sensation

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on December 1, 2018 by Ringer

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Christmas 2018

Tis the season to be WOW’d and City Theater has the hottest ticket in town with their enchanting presentation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL running now through December 16 (no show December 2).  All the fantastic characters in this classic Christmas tale come to life in glorious Victorian splendor with a show that grabs the audience from the start and doesn’t let go until the curtain call.

Once again, the creative and technical mavens of the Opera House spared nothing to deliver eye-appealing effects and musical perfection in a staging marvel to satisfy anyone with a bah humbug spirit.

Linda Sturdivant, Director and Caleb Lacy, Assistant Director, make sure the show runs like a well-oiled machine, like clockwork—literally.  The steampunk-infused set is adorned with clocks and gears that beautifully underscore Sturdivant’s theme, “Time is precious, don’t waste it.”  Bravo to Karl Carrigan for his magnificent set design and special effects.

The huge cast of 52 moves in purposeful motion, filling the entire stage and multi performance levels that also houses the 8-piece pit.  It is artistic pageantry when such a delightful beast moves in a subliminally slower-pace that allows the audience to take in everything there is to experience.

Bold colorful lighting design by Florence Cooley provided even more focus to the extraordinary original Dicken-esque costumes donned by the entire cast and the beautiful scenic painting by Jessica Chaples-Graffam.  Victorian opulence designed by a magnificent costuming crew—Alysa Avery, Hannah Brown, Wendy Brown, Barbara Kelly, Carol Jones and Brian McAloon.

Based on the story by Charles Dickens, with book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless, miserly money lender from London, England, who hates people and despises Christmas. He dismisses the poor, the needy and the hungry, refuses a dinner invitation from his nephew Fred (son of Fan, his dead sister), and reluctantly gives Bob Cratchit, his overworked and underpaid clerk, time off to be with his family.

It is Christmas Eve, 1843, seven years after the death of his business partner Jacob Marley, whose ghost appears, ensnarled by heavy burdensome chains forged by a lifetime of greed and selfishness.  Marley warns Scrooge that he has one chance to avoid the same fate and that he will be visited by three more ghosts.

The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals scenes from Scrooge’s boyhood—his lonely childhood at boarding school, his close relationship with his sister Fan, his engagement being called off because of his love for money, and a Christmas ball hosted by his first employer, Mr. Fezziwig, who treated him like a son.

The Ghost of Christmas Present guides Scrooge through a festive marketplace and scenes of holiday preparations, and then on to the humble Cratchit home where Scrooge learns that Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim is ill and will soon die unless things change.

The Ghost of Christmas Future brings Scrooge to the funeral of a disliked man.   Locals steal his possessions to sell them and are grateful the man is dead.  The ghost then reveals the Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim, and finally shows Scrooge his own decrepit gravestone, at which point Scrooge sees the errors of his ways and experiences a change of heart.

From then on, Scrooge becomes a changed man, embraces the spirit of Christmas and treats everyone with generosity and compassion.

Bob Gauthier is outstanding as Ebenezer Scrooge, perfectly paced and emotionally metered.

Mary Johnston Letellier as Christmas Past, Sara Sturdivant as Christmas Present and Cecilia Guerra as Christmas Future are solid and stellar—individually and collectively—and provide a surprisingly refreshing attitude…upbeat, a bit of comic relief but unrelenting in purpose.   The three are fabulous singers, righteous for this operetta.

Schuyler White, a diversely-talented singer and actor, convincingly plays Jacob Marley.  Tad Williams is a very believable Bob Cratchit and bravo to Keira Bailey for her wonderful Tiny Tim persona.

The cast is stacked with notable performances by veteran favorites to first-timers, including:  Brett Balfour and Lynn Boren-McKellar as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig, Andrew Lamb and Kelsey Seavey as Fred & Sally Anderson, Elisha Cicio as Mrs. Cratchit, Liam Dolan as Peter Cratchit.

Also: Cecilia Guerra as Old Hag, Valerie Nahorney as Mrs. Scrooge, Crystal Arsenault as Mrs. Mops, Anthony Farides as Old Joe, Jared Williams as Fishmonger, Ann Williams as Poulterer, Stephanie Williams as Apple Seller, Mark Nahorney as Mr. Hawkins and Greg Brackett as The Beadle.

Toby Fidalgo plays Scrooge at age 10, Cameron Turgeon plays Scrooge at age 12, and James Muller plays Young Scrooge.  Phoebe Fidalgo plays Fan at age 6, Abigail Frank plays Fan at age 8 and Cecilia Guerra plays Emily.

The Adult Ensemble is quite busy portraying Townspeople, Businessmen, Ghosts, Monks and Party members and (in addition to previously named characters) also includes Alyssa Landry and MacKenzie Mayes.

The Youth Ensemble (Carolers, Acolytes and Party members) consists of Aberdeen Brickett, Devenny Brickett, Caroline Fallona, Theodore Gluck, Elaina Hammond, Sally McGrath, Charley Norton and Alexandra Spiegel.

The Children’s Ensemble & Angel Choir includes: Lauren Arsenault, Adeline Burman, Maddison Collin, Alannah Collin, Olivia Dube, Peter Graffam, Andrew LeBlond-Sturdivant and Lily Tarbox.

The orchestra is superb, led by Music Director Nell Britton on keyboard, and included Kevin Smith on keyboard 2, Susan LaVerrier on violin, Sarah Hashem and Josh Witham on reeds, Chris Bevan on bass, Steve Gagel on trumpet and Josh Adams on drums.

Choreographer Mariel Roy works some dance magic with appealing simplicity.  She allows the showcasing by stronger dancers in well-appointed moments, in particular an amazing contemporary ballet performed by Amber Arsenault (doubling as Christmas Future), and also some fine tap dancing by Amber Arsenault, Hannah Batman, Hailey Fardon, Nadia McElroy, Lily Rowe and Marissa Wilson.

While Keira Bailey’s Tiny Tim rightfully succeeds in pulling the audience’s heartstrings, she does get some cute-factor competition from 6-year-old Andrew LeBlond-Sturdivant, making his stage debut with scene-stealing bewilderment, looking like one of Fagin’s orphans and totally oblivious to his own magnificent innocence. You’ll spot him.  (I’m guessing Grandma Linda and Mama Sara are quite proud).

Whether you believe Dickens’ story is based on the Christian concept of redemption or a more secular interpretation of charity and altruism, the benefits of such a transformation is well worth the investment of buying a ticket. “God bless us, every one!”

City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  Tix and FMI, call (207) 282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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— Louis Philippe

“The Connie Francis Show” Returns To The Franco Center for 4th Year

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2018 by Ringer

 

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November 2018

It was September of 1994 when Reindeer Theatre Company presented its debut performance of AMONG MY SOUVENIRS, a tribute to legendary princess of pop, Connie Francis, in the upstairs auditorium of the Warren Memorial Library in Westbrook.

It was a show that was a long-time in the making, a jukebox musical created by Louis Philippe, RTC Artistic Director, that heralded the journey, accomplishments and challenges of “America’s Sweetheart.” Tidbits of her childhood and career were narrated, while the audience strolled down memory lane watching nostalgic images and listening—and singing along—to some of her timeless hits.

“My most vivid memory of AMONG MY SOUVENIRS was that at the end of the show, nobody wanted to move,” recalled Philippe.  “It’s as if the audience—some teary-eyed and overwhelmed with sentiment— had been transported to a period of time when life was simple, easy, carefree…and they did not want the show to end.”

The show was a remarkable success for its limited, grassroots, run, Philippe said, but it wasn’t until 2015 when “The Connie Francis Show”—as many affectionately refer to it as—was resurrected.

Philippe had been wanting to bring AMONG MY SOUVENIRS back to life and was inspired to do so when he heard the voice of Krista Lebeau Johnson singing in the choir he had been directing at St. Anthony of Padua in Westbrook. “I recall Krista’s voice reminding me of someone and during Communion one Sunday I got a big-time revelation.  While she had no clue who Connie Francis was, she jumped at the chance to sing in a show and within days rehearsals had commenced.”

After 21 years, AMONG MY SOUVENIRS 2.0  was rolled out at the Westbrook Eagles on August 21, 2015, before a full house of family, friends and Connie Francis fans.  “A power point presentation replaced the slide carousel and the script was revised, but Krista and the 4-piece ‘Connie Combo’ successfully recreated some powerful, emotional musical memories of the late 50s and 60s.”

The Franco Center in Lewiston took a chance and booked the show in November of 2015, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Ticket sales were higher than anticipated and the show was moved to the main performance hall upstairs.  That event sold out with 426 attendees, so by popular demand, the Center brought back the show in November of 2016…and 2017…and now 2018.

“It’s almost like one of those cult musicals like Rocky Horror or Mama Mia where everybody goes and sings along, reminisces, reconnects and has a predictably very fun time,” Philippe said.

Among the songs one can expect to enjoy: “Among My Souvenirs, Where The Boys Are, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, Frankie, Lipstick On Your Collar, Guess My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own, Who’s Sorry Now, I’ll Follow The Boys, Stupid Cupid” and more.  Plus for this performance only, the audience will be treated to a special “Connie Christmas Sing-along.”

In addition to Miss Johnson as the featured singer, the “Connie Combo” includes Philippe as Music Director on piano, Tom O’Donnell on guitar (a member of the original 1994 cast), Jimmy McGirr on bass and Joe Napoleone on drums.

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS (The Connie Francis Show) will be at the Gendron Franco Center, 46 Cedar St., Lewiston, for one show only on Sunday, November 18th at 2 PM.  Doors will open at 1 PM with a cash bar. For tix and info, call the Box Office at (207) 689-2000 or visit  www.francocenter.org.

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Windham Center Stage Hits Heavenly Mark with “SISTER ACT – The Musical”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on October 19, 2018 by Ringer

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October 2018

Windham Center Stage Theater unleashes the heavenly power of the sisterhood with its fall production of SISTER ACT – The Musical, now running through October 28th.

Based on the popular 1992 film of the same name, SISTER ACT is a feel-good, spirited musical comedy featuring a bevy of local talent, from seasoned performers to first-timers.  Director Darnell Stuart, a local theater stalwart and avid supporter of performing arts, shepherds a large cast in creating a memorable experience that defines the essence—and success—of community theater.

With music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc), lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, SISTER ACT unveils the story of Disco Diva Deloris Van Cartier whose lounge act got nixed by boyfriend/club owner/gangster Curtis Jackson.  Determined to break up with the guy, Deloris witnesses Curtis murdering a cronie.  Curtis and his band of thugs are on the hunt to kill the witness, but the police offer to shield Deloris in an unsuspecting convent.

In exchange for her protection, Deloris is forced to live by Mother Superior’s rules and change her habits until it is safe.  Assimilating into her new lifestyle makes for many hilarious challenges as well as many new friendships.  Because of her obvious musical abilities, Deloris is reluctantly appointed director for a withering, lifeless, atonal choir that needs a life-line.

Deloris’ talent and creative vision turn the choir into a wildly successful missionary act that not only raises enough money to save the church from the auction block, but revitalizes the pews with new congregants.  Word eventually gets out to the Pope, who requests a papal concert.  In all the hoopla, Deloris’ cover as Sister Mary Clarence is revealed, creating a dilemma for Deloris and the entire convent.  A final showdown between Deloris and Curtis is imminent…but God provides and the good sisters prove to have the saving grace to bring about a happy ending.  Amen!

Rachel Scala-Bolduc is well cast as Deloris, easily convincing as a singing diva with powerhouse bluesy Broadway vocals, an Italian attitude and wonderful animated facial expressions (“Fabulous, Baby”).  Ginny Pomeroy’s stage debut as Mother Superior is indeed superior with clear delivery, nice interpretation and gentle presence (“Here Within These Walls”).

The flap of nuns were…well…divine!  Stand-outs included Peyton White as Sister Mary Robert, Bryanne Green as Sister Mary Patrick, Jennifer Joseph as Sister Mary Lazarus, Michele Reagan as Sister Mary Theresa and Sheila Payne as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (also Dance Captain).  Rounding out the murmur were Amy Fryda, Jeannine Lessard, Dawn Sample, Katie Schools, Renee Seavey, Laurie Shepard, Cindy Smith, Meghan Reidy and Gail White.

Notable performances were turned in by John Mosey as Monsignor, Jon Bolduc as Curtis, Zach Pierce as Pablo, Mylo Brann as TJ, Giovan Corsetti as Joey and Brad Van Damm as Ernie. “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” was uniquely entertaining.

Ryan Eling was superb as Eddie, the police desk chief who once had a crush on Deloris (and maybe still does?).  Eling’s smooth jazz voice was remarkable on his solo, “I Could Be That Guy,” but it was his smooth moves that stole the show.

The ensemble—always a hard-working bunch—included Briella Krog, Kaitlyn Farrin, Meredith Eldridge, Rosie Haibon, Joanne Haibon, Sedona Narvaez, Annie Stuchbury and Heidi Doucette.

About 15 nuns graced the stage in various scenes and production numbers.  These ladies were perfect in their portrayal of nuns of various ages, shapes and sizes, motions and movements…a tableau of dancers that was 100% realistic, endearing, appealing—and fun to watch.

Bravo to Music Director/Keyboardist Patrick Martin who confidently and competently drives a fine pit made up of Josh Adams on drums, Scott Gordan on trumpet, Jimmy McGirr on bass, Matt Murray on guitar, and Tegan Raymond on reeds. And kudos to Choreographer April Monte for some fine production numbers:  “Take Me To Heaven, Raise Your Voice, Sunday Morning Fever,” and “Spread The Love Around.”

SISTER ACT runs through October 28th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 8 School Rd., Windham.  Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students.  FMI: windhamtheater.org or 207 893-2098.

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–Louis Philippe

Schoolhouse Arts Presents Chilling Mystery “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2018 by Ringer

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September 2018

In the 1930s, it was the basement of the Old Standish High School.  In a parallel universe, also 1930s, it is an eerie isolated island estate off the coast of England where a group of unsuspecting guests are about to experience a daunting killing spree.

Schoolhouse Arts Center presents Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE—her best-selling novel and the world’s best-selling mystery—at its ever-improving multi-purpose performing arts campus in Standish.

Director Harlan Baker has assembled a fine cast and crew, highly effective in transforming the main theater space into a remote private domain built on rock, surrounded by cliffs and ocean waves, and far enough from the mainland where brutal murders and mayhem won’t be suspected, let alone prevented.

Eight guests are invited for different reasons to a gathering by Ulick Norman Owen and his wife, Una Nancy Owen.  They are welcomed by Thomas and Ethel Rogers (John Littlefield and Laura Ketchum), newly-hired butler and cook-housekeeper who have not met the hosts but have been asked to announce their late arrival.  As the guests become aquainted, they realize that none of them actually knows the Owens.

After supper, a mysterious gramophone recording describes individual murders perpetrated by each visitor who is also charged with escaping justice.  Fear runs high and suspicion abounds as Justice Wargrave figures out that “U.N. Owen” is shorthand for “Unknown,” at which point the first victim suddenly dies of cyanide poisoning.  One by one, guests are methodically killed off in accordance with the lines of a sinister nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers” that is prominently displayed as a wall hanging in the gathering room.  It becomes a race against time for the survivors to figure out “whodunit.”

Naturally, there’s a storm that wipes out the power, cutting off communication to the mainland and preventing any boats from reaching the island.  The droning sound of the ocean waves and candle-lit setting provide a nice atmosphere for chills and goosebumps to surface.

The characters are wonderfully quirky, well cast and well played:  Sophia Sturdee is Vera Claythorne, the efficient young secretary/ingenue; Zachariah Stearn brings righteous blend of animation, cockiness and nervous comic timing to his portrayal of Captain Phillip Lombard; Jerry Walker is fun as the aloof and reckless driver Anthony Marston; Barbara Levault is very believable as an elderly, religiously rigid spinster.

Tom Ferent is intense and impeccably commanding as retired Justice Lawrence Wargrave; Randy Hunt confidently handles the role of William Blore, a former police inspector and now a private investigator, a character who arouses skepticism after his initial introduction as “Davis” is unmasked; Ricky Brewster brings much emotion and animation to his role as a young Dr. William Armstrong.

Chalmers Hardenbergh is exquisite as General John MacArthur, a retired World War I war hero, now challenged with memory loss as he continues to search for his dead wife.  Hardenbergh is a consummate actor,  never out of character, whose finesse is especially noteworthy to observe when he’s not directly involved in a scene.

Within each well-crafted character is a deep-hidden secret.  What makes AND THEN THERE WERE NONE so engaging is the unescapable subliminal opportunity for the audience to play armchair detectives and put all the puzzle pieces together before it’s too late.

The set is awesome, well-dressed and appointed with period furniture and props, a collective effort by Colin Lemont, Zachariah Stearn, Francine Morin, Molly Lemont, Marissa Morissette, Ben Macri, Carol Morin, Jerry Walker and Neil Ruecker.

One would think—and hope—that even as the cast is significantly slashed (no pun intended), the remaining characters could figure out a way to stick together and avoid being plucked off by a mad killer.  Yet, one-by-one, the horrible deaths persist as the audience continues to guess who’s guilty…until, of course, the very end when they are proven wrong (at which point the audience is administered the Agatha Christie pledge to not reveal the culprit upon leaving the theater…sorry, you’ll have to see this spine-chilling thriller for yourself and make your own conclusions).

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE continues through October 6th –   Friday & Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.

Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Rd., Standish.  FMI: 207/642-3743 or www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe