Ogunquit Playhouse’s “AN AMERICAN IN PARIS” Is One Sweet Summer Surprise

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on July 15, 2018 by Ringer

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July 2018

Ogunquit Playhouse is proudly re-introducing the legendary works of George Gershwin to the American public with the first regional production of a fresh new version of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS—90 years after he composed the stunning landmark musical.

Returning to Ogunquit Playhouse for his sixth production since 2007, Director/Choreographer Jeffry Denman spearheads a talented creative team that has successfully downloaded the trademark MGM big-screen quality of the 1951 movie and injected some logistical updates and technical surprises for a glorious stage version that has something for everyone.

The sights, sounds and energy of post-WWII Paris are embedded in high-tech stage elements created specifically for this Ogunquit presentation, providing an appealing sensory experience for the audience.   Broadway Scenic Designer David L. Arsenault’s virtual sets, constantly moving walls and circular moving floor, all become partners to the dance.

Projection Designer Elaine J. McCarthy’s award-winning talent transports the audience to mid-1940s Paris with visual graphics of French streets, architecture, and scenic imagery.  Also appreciated is the fine work of Costumer Designer Theresa Ham, Sound Designer Kevin Heard and Lighting Designer Richard Latta.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is really all about the music.  Gershwin’s trademark blend of ballet, jazz and pop brought instant fame and fortune to the young Brooklyn songwriter.  His older brother, Ira, crafted the lyrics and the rest is American musical history.  The infusion of modern dance, tap and a splash of gymnastics into the Gershwin rhythm gives younger audiences inspiration that ballet is as fun and accessible as krumping and popping, and older fans added excitement to the time-tested classical milieu.

The musical arrangements are lush and lively, presented by a magnificent 7-piece orchestra conducted by Music Director/drummer David Lamoureaux, that also includes:  Patrick Fanning, keys; Michael Witsberger, reeds; Irina Fainkichen, violin; Ben Griffin, trombone; Christian Marrero, trumpet/flugel horn; and Brian Thacker, bass).

The songs are the best of the Gershwin catalogue:  “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” “S’Wonderful,” “Shall We Dance?,” “Who Cares?,” “But Not For Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” in addition to several instrumental pieces—“Concerto in F,” “Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture,” and “An American in Paris.”

The classic love story remains the same—three gentlemen are in love with the same woman but they don’t realize it until it’s too late.  American World War II soldier and aspiring painter Jerry Mulligan (Clyde Alves) decides to make his home in Paris.  He falls in love with a local shop girl and aspiring ballerina.  Jerry meets another American, Adam Hochberg (Jeremy Greenbaum), an aspiring pianist who is also smitten with a new love interest after he’s hired to commission a new ballet.  Adam is also working with Henri Baurel (Stephen Brower), an aspiring singer secretly working on his debut jazz club act—and the strength to ask his fiancé to marry him.  As fate would have it, Jerry’s ballerina, Adam’s new girl and Henri’s fiancé are one in the same, Lise Dassin (Julie Eicher).

The plot thickens when many hands and hearts with good intentions—Henri’s parents, Madama Baurel (Joanna Glushak) and Monsieur Baurel (Neal Mayer) and a society heiress Milo Davenport (Laurie Wells) are added to the mix.  When the narrative peaks, Lise is left with the delicate decision to choose her man…but not before the new ballet that everyone has been involved with has it debut.  This is the show’s “wow factor,” an extravagant elegant 17-minute artistic feat that alone is worth the price of admission.

Let’s face it, being in a Gershwin show requires discipline, vitality, intense focus and perfect timing from a triple-talented cast in order to achieve those dreamy, airy, mesmerizing moves, laced with a confident array of vocals, all wrapped in a fun sitcom.  Dancers need to sing, singers need to act, actors need to dance, just ask Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire.  No worries, however. This cast succeeds in its mission.

The hard-working ensemble includes Brittany Bigelow, Rob Brinkmann (also Mr. Z), Kyle Dupree, Drew Fountain, Kory Geller, Sally Glaze, Sarah Gold, Hannah Jennens, Kourtney Keitt, Akina Kitazawa, Joshua LaMar, Chelsea Langevin, SarahGrace Mariani, Ashley Marinelli, Connor McRory, Brayden Newby and Spencer Ramirez.  April Leonhard plays Olga.

If you’re one of those individuals who hears Gershwin’s masterful work only when they fly United Airlines and might not be interested in attending an uppity classical ballet, here’s the perfect opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot of delicious low-hanging LOL comedy courtesy of Craig Lucas who wrote the book for the 2015 Broadway production, and some cast members who do musical-comedy right and organically connect with the audience (Jeremy Greenbaum’s Adam, Stephen Brower’s Henri, Laurie Wells’ Milo, and Joanna Glushak and Neal Mayer as the Baurels).

In the end, it’s all about relationships and choosing not what is wanted but what is right, a universal lessons that applies to friends, lovers, casual encounters, spouses, and kids, French and American.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is running now thru August 4th.  FMI:  207.646.5511 or www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS SCORES WITH “SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on July 12, 2018 by Ringer

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July 2018

Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lake in Standish, Maine, commemorates the legacy of Dr. Seuss with its colorful, dazzling, high-energy summer production of SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL, running now through July 29th.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, is undeniably one of the most famous authors of children’s literature whose works have influenced millions of children around the world.  With such a universal appeal, SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL is a perfect summer blockbuster the entire family will enjoy

Once again, Director Zachariah Stearn puts his trademark production touches on a quintessential community theater formula:  Take a bunch of local actors, singers and dancers—newcomers and seasoned players alike—spanning six decades in age range with varying levels of stage skills.  Put your heart and soul into it and give the performers an amazing empowering experience and the audience a show they’ll never forget.

Contributing to the magic is Stearn’s hard-working creative team—Choreographer April Monte, Music Director Rachel Scala, Production Manager Sarah Reidy, Stage Manager Molly Lemont, Costumes by Chris Roberts and the tech crew.

Written by Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL brings to life the favorite Seuss characters and weaves them through a story-line that incorporates over a dozen famous Seuss tales.  One thing this show is not is logical…but perhaps that’s the point.

Joy Lemont is a purrfect Cat in The Hat, the ever-present effervescent emcee who unravels the journey with a strong, playful presence mixed with mischief, razzle-dazzle and imagination.  She leads Jojo (well performed by Emily Paruk) and the cast on the journey to the Jungle of Nool, where we find Horton the Elephant (cleverly played by a subtly-nuanced TJ Scannell).

The jungle creatures are delightful and wonderfully animated:  Gertrude McFuzz (Meghan Reidy), Mayzie LaBird (Katherine Lind), Sour Kangaroo (Emily Libby), Young Kangaroo (Lucy Ayn Stretch), A chorus of Bird Girls (Emily Thompson, Anika Malia, Hannah Macri, Maddie Hancock, Cailyn Wheeler and Meghan Reidy) and a band of delinquent monkeys known as the Wickersham Brothers (Jake Clowes, Sam D’Amico, Zach Pierce, Will Searway, Alex Tukey and Jeff McNally).

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe is the land of Whoville, a world of little people which Horton imagined after hearing voices from a speck of dust he discovered.  This is the story Cat in the Hat pushed Jojo in, to be the son of the Mayor and Mrs. Mayor of Whoville (a seriously funny couple of loving parents played by Colin and Joellen Lemont).  Because Jojo gets in trouble with her “thinks,” he has been sent off to a military school run by General Genghis Khan Schmitz (played righteously over-the-top by Jake Clowes).

The Whos also include Cindy Smith, Christine Wolf, John Littlefield, Emily Lemont, Annikka Moccioloa, Liam Doran and Mylo Brann.  Little Whos/Cadets are played by Lucy Ayn Stretch, Elizabeth Hancock, Joshua Lemont, Sephine Seal, Jayson Seal and Becca Macri.

Oodles of rapidly-developing conflicts and challenges abound between the Jungle of Nool and Whoville, and “thinks” don’t get resolved before Horton is sold to the traveling Circus McGurkus, then freed by Gertrude, returned to the Jungle where he is put on trial for talking to a speck, disturbing the peace and loitering on an egg, and sentenced to the Nool Asylum for the Criminally Insane (I told you it wasn’t logical). The dust speck, home of Whoville, is ordered destroyed but Jojo uses his “thinks” and saves the planet, and a happy ending is enjoyed by all.

SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL is exciting and engaging, loaded with creative movement and lots of visual and audio surprises.  But above all it’s a musical—an operetta at that—which makes this production even more significant of an accomplishment.

Music Director Rachel Scala cultivated some excellent individual and choral voices with nicely defined harmonies and a good overall presentation that’ll proliferate with each show.

The songs are wonderful, with the Seuss brand of catchy lyrics, memorable phrases and rhythmic patterns:  “Horton Hears A Who (A person is a person no matter how small),” “It’s Possible,” “How Lucky You Are,” “Oh The Thinks You Can Think” and so many more.  The group production numbers are quite appealing.  Most compelling was the beautiful mesmerizing lullaby about a magical place called “Solla Sollew.”

In addition to Scala on keyboard, the pit includes Gabrielle Valle on piano, Eric Landeau on drums, Rosalind Goodrich and Noah Hall on trumpet, and Christopher Petersen, Brenna Ryder, Kim Mathieu and Sam D’Amico on reeds.

What might be ambiguous in the product is abundantly clear in the process.  It’s a Schoolhouse thing, a magnificent thing, a Beebe legacy.  As espoused by Dr. Seuss, the goal was to engage young people, help them unlock their imaginations, giving them many perspectives to “thinks” they experience every day, making it enjoyable to learn and teaching valuable lessons along the way.  Mission accomplished!

Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Rd., Standish.  Show times are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM and Sundays at 5 PM.  FMI:  (207) 642-3743 or www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Ogunquit’s All New SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE Is Smoking Hot Revue

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

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May 2018

Ogunquit Playhouse opened its 86th Season this week with a deliciously revamped production of SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE: THE SONGS OF LEIBER & STOLLER, breathing new life into Broadway’s longest-running musical revue and securing its legacy for generations to come. If you’ve seen Smokey Joe’s Cafe before, GO AGAIN because you haven’t seen this Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe has some original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, new orchestrations by Steve Margoshes and Music Supervisor Sonny Paladino, contemporary dance moves and new interpretations of old tunes, all performed by a young, energetic and effervescent cast of nine with new attitudes, fun shtick and engaging character development.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe is directed and choreographed by Emmy Award-winner and Tony Award-nominee Joshua Bergasse who wanted to build a new production specifically for a unique and astounding new cast.  With numerous Broadway and television credits, Bergasse easily succeeds in moving the ensemble with clean, fresh, modern moves.  Intoxicating and impressive!

The cast is an unsuspecting collection of diversely-talented Broadway and off-Broadway powerhouse performers who work exquisitely well together and who seem to recognize the stellar opportunities this show could yield:  Dwayne Cooper (Motown, Hairspray, Showboat, Seussical The Musical), Emma Degerstedt (Desperate Measures, TV credits), John Edwards (Jersey Boys, Hairspray), Dionne D. Figgins (Hot Feet, Memphis, Leap of Faith, Motown), Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (Spamilton), Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live), Jelani Remy (Simba in The Lion King), Max Sangerman (The Lightning Thief, Blue Man Group), and Alysha Umphress (On The Town, American Idiot, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert).  All are superb, but Cooper and Miss Ortiz (“it pays to wait on God”) organically attain unrivaled performance distinction.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe introduces a new character: The Café itself, at the junction of Memory Lane and Milestone Boulevard, where friends would come together to hang out, enjoy life and love, sing and dance, and share the emotions and tales embodied in the words of the sentimental songs that Leiber & Stoller wrote.  Thanks to a killer set designed by Beowulf Boritt, this Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a physical place you can enjoy visually and aesthetically, and feel like you’re hanging out with the rest of your friends.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe re-packages and re-launches the works of legendary Hall of Fame songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into a perfect template that easily establishes this property among similar successful musical-themed shows Million Dollar Quartet and Heartbreak Hotel (previously seen at the Playhouse) and Jersey Boys (coming this fall).

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe will likely catapult its gifted songwriters, stunning cast, and creative staff into a level of unprecedent career development and sentimental superiority for decades.  Make no mistake about it—the Leiber & Stoller catalogue is enviable—rich, endless, timeless, entertaining, universal and diverse.

The songs are 100% recognizable and revered:  “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog” (Big Mama Thornton style), “Love Potion #9,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Ruby Ruby,” “Young Blood,” “Poison Ivy,” “Don Juan,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “Searchin,’” “Kansas City,” “Falling,” “I Who Have Nothing,” “Pearl’s A Singer,” “I’m A Woman,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Stand By Me” and many more…35 hits packed into 90 sizzling minutes (no intermission).

These are the songs that played on radios everywhere, that defined daily living and boundless dreams.  These are the songs that helped frame and color the lives of young Americans growing up in the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s, the songs that brought levity, hope, healing, even distraction, to a society riddled with civil, political and cultural unrest.  These are the songs that shaped the music industry and helped change the world…a phenomenon that might never be repeated.

The Leiber-Stoller works reached across many genres—soul, rhythm & blues, rock ‘n roll, country, jazz, gospel.  Their songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the Comets, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Tom Jones, Edith Piaf, Bobby Darin, Chet Atkins, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, BB. King and Otis Redding, to name a few.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a non-stop celebration of memories and milestones, a tribute to great talent and a party hosted by a fabulous cast.  Everyone of all ages and musical tastes is invited.

On Opening Night, just when the last encore hit its final downbeat, the audience enjoyed a bonus treat when Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney escorted Mr. Mike Stoller to the stage for some heartfelt words of thanks and reflection.  The 85-year-old icon expressed his thanks to all those involved and wished that his creative partner, who passed away in 2011, could have experienced the wonderful show.  An emotional Stoller related how he still reaches for the phone to call his friend.  “Jerry,” he said looking up to the heavens, “I wish you could’ve seen the great show tonight. Lots of good things going on. ‘Stand By Me’ is going to be played at the Royal Wedding, we’re getting a national jazz award for ‘Kansas City’ and we had a great Opening Night here in Ogunquit.” <pause> “Ogunquit, Jerry.” <pause> “O-g-u-n-q-u-i-t…it’s somewhere in Maine, and they sure do love us.”  A genuine class act!

Next stop for this Smokey Joe’s Cafe is an off-Broadway run at Stage 42 in NYC, so be sure to catch it here in Maine before it closes on June 9th.  Tix and FMI: www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or 207-646-5511.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater Offers Glorious Getaway With Romantic Comedy “ENCHANTED APRIL.”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2018 by Ringer

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May 2018

Did you ever feel like you needed to burst out of your daily surroundings and take a vacation to a magical getaway in search of inner peace and happiness? City Theater has the perfect getaway that offers laughter, hope and restoration: ENCHANTED APRIL, a delightful romantic comedy written by Matthew Barber, based on the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

It’s post-war London, 1922, and Lotty Wilton (played by Gusta Johnson), a bubbly, visionary, life-loving but unhappy housewife, spots a classified ad to rent a castle overlooking the Mediterrean in Mezzago, Italy.  The same ad catches the attention of an unlikely acquaintance, Rose Arnott (played by Rebecca Cole), a more reserved but equally unsatisfied housewife.  The two agree to a plan to rent out the villa for a much-needed all-girl holiday. But to afford it, they recruit two other unlikely candidates—Lady Caroline Bramble, a young aristocratic flapper (played by Stephanie Maloney), and Mrs. Graves, a cranky, domineering old widow (played by Doni Tamblyn).

They arrive at the San Salvatore Castle—with its boasted supply of wisteria and sunshine—and are overcome by the magical land of romance and enchantment.  The personality differences of the four ladies are well-attended to, if not piqued, by Antony Wilding, owner of the castle (played by Benjamin Keller), and Costanza, the Italian-speaking housekeeper (played by Jennine Cannizzo).  But the mayhem ensues when Lotty invites her husband, Melleresh Wilton, a stuffy, single-minded solicitor (played by Caleb Lacy), to join her and then Rose’s husband, Frederick Arnott, a noted author with a strayful eye (played by Charlie Cole), pulls a surprise visit.

No doubt ENCHANTED APRIL is as enjoyable a comedy as any Broadway blockbuster.  Without revealing the ending, what this production leaves the audience with is a warm sense of resolution, a feeling that everyone in the theater experienced the same transformations and relationship breakthroughs that were portrayed in Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel.

As Director Linda Sturdivant describes, “I feel it is more about the characters and their journey then the prose of their surroundings—the dreariness of Post WWI England, even the beauty of the Italian seaside.  They all want something and it is in this magical place.  Wilding has found it—that explains his peace. Lotty knows it is out there and is desperately trying to reach it and wants to take all of these people with her.  Everything was on the brink of change for women in the 1920s. Mrs. Graves is clinging to the past. Lady Caroline is being propelled into the future and Lotty and Rose are in the middle trying to figure it out.”

Von Arnim was a clever, intuitive, witty writer, a colorful personality known and liked by many, yet somehow relegated by definitions of society, feminism, family, marriage.  She was introspective enough to make stinging and profound observations yet outlandish enough to have faith in her satire and her unique light-hearted interpretations of love, life and liberty.  She escaped challenges of her own life by writing and gardening, enjoying country living and amenable destinations (even built her own castle where she entertained literary and society friends after her first husband died).

One can easily see the author in her semi-autobiographic scenes and characters, in search of her own sense of contentment and affirmation…a strong case of art-imitating-life.  It is said that the Italian seaside villa in Portofino where she penned The Enchanted April, and her book’s romantic destination of Castle San Salvatore in Mezzago, are one in the same.

Barber’s script is rich with proverb-like maxims and advice of Biblical proportion.  And as is inherent with much British comedy, there’s a prerequisite period of listening adjustment before one gets unlocked to the level of superior humor that writers such as Von Arnim weave into their dialogues and idioms.  Once that moment occurs, the subtle guffaws begin to burst with more quality and quantity.

What makes this play so interesting is the divergent, unconventional grouping of characters.  What makes them so mesmerizing is the cast’s ability to hold steadfast to their disparities and quirks with unrelenting strength.  Each performer is righteous and rich in their portrayals.  Bravo!

For this period piece, the stage is perfectly appointed and appropriately admired, though perhaps only a tad less than the lovely costuming.  And while it is not a musical, of special note is some beautiful original underscoring and incidental music created specifically for this show by Kevin Smith, a familiar City Theater Music Director.

ENCHANTED APRIL is a charming get-away and the public is invited to experience the same metaphoric journey to San Salvatore…no train or passport needed, only a ticket to City Theater’s production of ENCHANTED APRIL.  Departures run through May 20, 7:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 PM on Sunday, May 13 & 20.

City Theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford.  FMI: 207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Laura Hurd Whited Stars in Comedy Cabaret LAUGHING MATTERS at Footlights in Falmouth

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by Ringer

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April 2018

Laura Hurd Whited takes laughing seriously.  After years in the making, the singer/actress/comic is proudly and confidently debuting her very own cabaret musical-comedy revue that proves her point: LAUGHING MATTERS (it really does).

LAUGHING MATTERS is a well-crafted anthology of comedy songs through the years weaved in rich carefully-selected stories of love and romance, abundantly loaded with humor and cleverly delivered in Laura’s trademark affable, personable, “I’m-breaking-the-4th-wall-and-taking-this-show-into-the-audience-and-nobody’s-gonna-stop-me” style.

The singer glows when she decribes her material.  “I love these songs.  Many are songs people don’t really know.  Some are obscure.  Three songs are from the ‘40s.”  But they all meet the performer’s strict criteria, i.e. “They have to be funny—TO ME!” And, she adds, the songs are all about her most endearing and interesting topic EVER—relationships!

Consider LAUGHING MATTERS as a universal love bomb that’s designed to hit anyone who can relate to any aspect of love…“finding it, losing it, being treated badly, trying too hard, trying too little, finally getting it just right and then wham.  I just wanna give these songs to everybody in the audience,” Laura imparts with a happy heart.

And the intimate setting of The Footlights Theater in Falmouth is the perfect venue for her creation.  “Again, it’s all about relationships, even with the audience…looking right at people, being present in every moment, when somebody sneezes, coughs, has to get up, interacting constantly, a show with a flow, a different show every time.  Being on stage at Merrill is thrilling in a way, but you’re really talking to God all the time blinded by lights.  I’d much rather be right here, right now…

Laura does admit that going to see a person singing a bunch of songs could be boring, so she’s taken many precautions to assure her audiences will enjoy a maximum cabaret experience.  “Let’s just say a lot of songs are not solos…there’ll be lots going on, lots of surprises, some planned, some not, maybe some conflict…we’ll just leave it at that,” she carefully offered so as not to reveal some built-in hidden laughter landmines.

The songlist reads like a manifesto for a very bizarre journey for which Laura channels various and sundry Broadway to very-off-Broadway gems, well-known to little-known to unexpected singers and comedy song-writers, and a delightfully unbalanced mix of “warm-and-fuzzy date” to “rogue cabaret act.”    The show gets “lots of help from” Music Director Bob Gauthier on piano.

The singer waits until the end of the show to present the title song, Laughing Matters, written by Mark Waldrop and Dick Gallagher and released by Bette Midler in 1998 that brings her message full circle:  “Laughing does matter, life is hard, times are hard, you need to laugh—to cope, to survive, to celebrate.  Love and relationships are the most important things to each of us, and laughing gets us through.”

Laura started singing at a young age—not professionally, just around the house.  “I used to sing on the plane, in the aisles, so I’m told…I earned lots of wings.”

She recalls the first time she sang in public, in her 10th grade when she belted out Send In The Clowns and got a standing ovation.  The next day, her neighbor, Arlene Winger, a well-known vocal trainer, told her, “That was wonderful, you can never sing like that again.”  Laura started lessons and ultimately went on to Boston Conservatory where she received a Bachelor of Arts Fine Arts degree in Musical Theater.

Upon graduating, she was excited to spend the next year gainfully employed as an actor with The New England Children’s Theater troupe, touring schools throughout New England.  Then it was time for some personal milestones—marriage, becoming a mother, and moving back to Maine.

When the time was right, Laura returned to the stage.  Her favorite roles include Fraulein Kost in Cabaret at Lyric Music Theater; Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls—among other shows—at Quisisana Resort in Lovell; a coveted slot in the popular annual Best Of Broadway revue for many years; and most recently Margaret, the mother, in Carrie: The Musical, also at Lyric.

Perhaps her most challenging role was Judy Garland in the tour-de-force The Property Known As Garland, written by Billy Van Zandt and produced at the Old Port Playhouse in Portland, a charming, busy, quaint performing space run by Artistic Director Michael Tobin.

“Judy was a huge role for me,” Laura confesses. “It was tough, it was emotional, and my voice has changed since that tribute.  I can still belt, but I found a place in my voice that I don’t feel I need to as much.  I’m comfortable doing whatever needs to be done, my approach and delivery is different for every song, I can go anywhere.”

“But I’ve never been a huge Broadway person,” quips Laura who enjoys stretching her voice, pushing the envelope and adding “tools for the toolbox.”  Rather, she is influenced by the likes of Diana Krall and has ultimate respect for stand-up comics.  “To walk out in front of an audience and tell stories is the bravest thing I know (other than going to battle).”

And so she seriously began developing LAUGHING MATTERS four or five years ago, though the concept had been born sooner. “I decided I was ready,” and contacted Tobin, now Artistic Director of The Footlights Theater in Falmouth.  The show was now a reality.

“Then it hit me—the show is fabulous in my head but will it be what I imagine?”  Some subtle motivation from her son (who was evaluating his own musical aspirations) calmed her creative consternation.  “I know the songs inside out, I know what I want to share with the audience, I’m not gonna die, I’m enjoying getting there and I know I’m gonna have fun,” she acclaims.

With all due respect, Laura truly has comic discernment, a visionary gift that perfectly combines comedy and humanity.  “I’ve always been jokey,” she divulged, “but people don’t really take me seriously.  They don’t take laughing seriously.” They will now.

LAUGHING MATTERS makes its world debut for one weekend only, April 26 – 28, 7:30 PM at the Footlights space located at 190 US Route 1 in Falmouth.  Tickets are $18, FMI 207/747-5434 or TheFootlightsInFalmouth.com.

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–Louis Philippe

VINTAGE SONDHEIM + STRONG CITY THEATER CAST = PERFECT “COMPANY”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on March 11, 2018 by Ringer

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March 2018

Picture it. Manhattan. 1970. It’s Robert’s 35th birthday and his crazy married and engaged friends throw him a surprise party.  Though he’s content to be single (or is he?), his friends use the milestone event to shower him with unsolicited relationship advice so he can be as happy as they are.  The problem is they’re all in certifiably dysfunctional relationships of their own.

Picture it. Biddeford. 2018. It’s opening night of City Theater’s production of COMPANY, featuring book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  What’s really center-stage is a cacophony of personality differences, emotional failures and psychological challenges of five upper-middle class couples with upper-middle class problems…and three of Bobby’s girlfriends.

Thankfully, there are enough moments of levity and shtick to qualify COMPANY as a musical comedy because it’s mentally exhausting (if not disturbing) to endure the clamoring emotional clashes and incessant push-and-pull of all the crazy married people on stage.

…All of which, in no way, should be interpreted as a negative critique of the production.  Au contraire, it’s exactly what Furth and Sondheim, Director Linda Sturdivant and the entire 18-member cast carefully succeeded in delivering—a good solid show with intensity, precision, gutsy honesty and a few laughs to wash it all down with.

Caleb Lacy is quite effective in the lead role of Robert, in many ways still a kid at heart, not able to commit to a relationship, unable to blow out his candles, unsure about what he wants.  Through various vignettes, Robert’s quest for answers reveals the best and worst of his friends:

Sarah (Rebecca Rinaldi) and Harry (Brian McAloon)—with boundless bickering over their individual food and alcohol addictions, they endlessly taunt each other until grappling in a stifling karate competition.

Susan (Alyssa Rojecki) and Peter (Seth Crockett)—a seemingly perfect match-up between a Southern belle with fainting spells and an Ivy Leaguer who might be gay, who opt for divorce in order to maintain their happy relationship.

Jenny (Gusta Johnson), straight-laced and uptight and David (Tim Steiner), modish and contemporary but a tad controlling.

Amy (Mia Foley Perron), a manic Catholic girl who gets cold feet on her wedding day and Paul (Schuyler White), her easy-going ever-optimistic Jewish fiancé.

Joanne (Jennine Cannizzo), a snarky, sassy and abrasive older friend and Larry (Peter Salsbury), her well-to-do, sweet and doting third husband.

Also providing relationship research are Bobby’s three girlfriends:  April (Joanna Clarke), a dopey, naïve but beautiful flight attendant; Kathy (Adelyn Bell), a small-town on-off girlfriend who decides to leave New York to get married; and Marta (Elizabeth Lester), a hip New York fanatic whose unbridled babbling is stunning.

And speaking of stunning, the music and lyrics are amazing samples of Stephen Sondheim’s trademark talent—Lyrics that tell stories, looping stories over looping stories, and wonderful dissonance that, when all combined, create a mesmerizing polyphony that augments any given production number with vivid musical motion and emotion.

The show’s title song, Company, along with Getting Married Today, Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You, and the Finale are superb production numbers, righteously choreographed by Mariel Roy.

While the songs are recognizably dated, the collective vocals of the cast is stellar.  Several knock-out standouts include:  You Could Drive A Person Crazy (by Bell, Clarke and Lester), Getting Married Today (featuring Perron, Johnson, White and Company), and Being Alive (Lacy’s breakthough song that brings him to finally blow out his candles), all prime examples of solid solo work.

But my “Standing O” goes to Jennine Cannizzo for her impeccable interpretation of The Ladies Who Lunch that would make Elaine Stritch very proud.

Music Director/Pianist Sara Sturdivant effortlessly and instinctively knows how to make a cast shine, while driving a pit of competent players:  Victoria Hulburt, violin; Ray Libby, woodwinds; Don Lauzier, trumpet; Jimmy McGirr, bass; Joshua Adams and Karl Menard, percussion.

Certainly noteworthy is a quartet of singers/dancers/set movers cleverly called The Vocal Minority.  Hats off to Hannah Brown, Briana Chu, Anna Devoe and Andrew Lamb.

COMPANY opened on Broadway almost 50 years ago, on April 26, 1970 and ran for 705 performances.

City Theater’s production of COMPANY runs through March 25th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main Street, downtown Biddeford.  FMI, call 282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Seeking Acts for St. Anthony’s KC Variety Show

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on March 9, 2018 by Ringer

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May 2018

The Knights of Columbus of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Westbrook announced plans for a variety/talent show to be held in the church hall on Saturday, May 12th at 6:30 PM, and are seeking interested acts.

“AN EVENING WITH EMELIA & FRIENDS” will feature an array of performers of all ages and experience levels in a family-friendly cabaret setting.  The show continues a string of annual KC-sponsored musical variety extravaganzas held in prior years that enjoyed much success as community-building events and fun showcases for local talent.

This year’s host is 13-year-old Emelia Bailey, a dedicated young member of the St. Anthony’s music ministry team, an up-and-coming opera singer and an all-around musical-theater enthusiast.

Emelia is a 7th grader at Gorham Middle School who, at her young age, has already performed in numerous musicals in southern Maine and in operas with Opera Maine at Merrill Auditorium.  She is a past winner of the NATS musical theatre singing competition and Gorham’s Got Talent.  She currently sings with the University of Southern Maine Youth Chorale and has worked in conjunction with the college and Opera Maine to help write the upcoming chamber opera Girl in Six Beats that will be performed this spring at USM.  She enjoys liturgical singing and is a cantor at St. Anthony’s Church in Westbrook.

Participation is open to children, teens, adults and seniors from the pews and from the community at large.  Interested acts are invited to obtain a sign-up sheet by contacting Louis Philippe, who is coordinating the acts:  857-9002 or reindeer@maine.rr.com.   Deadline to sign up is April 1st. Acts will be limited to five minutes and confirmed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Self-contained acts preferred, but piano accompaniment and/or soundtracks may be available.

Proceeds of the evening will benefit Greater Portland Family Promise, an affiliate of the national Family Promise program, dedicated to addressing the needs of families facing homelessness in the Greater Portland, Maine area.  Through an interfaith network and connections with existing community resources—which includes St. Anthony’s parish, Family Promise provides housing, meals, case management and community for children and their families experiencing homelessness.

Tickets for the show will be $10 (with age discounts) and will be available after all Masses beginning the weekend of April 14 & 15.

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