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

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City Theater Opens Season With Jump Jive Jukebox Musical SWINGTIME CANTEEN

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on September 22, 2018 by Ringer

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September 2018

Biddeford’s City Theater opened its 2018-19 season this weekend with a USO musical salute starring MGM movie queen Marian Ames along with her niece Katie Gammersflugel and fellow performers Jo Sterling, Topeka Abotelli and Lilly McBain in a powerful, rip-roaring, toe-tapping and emotional tribute to the “soldiers in grease-paint.”

SWINGTIME CANTEEN, written by Linda Thorsen Bond, William Repicci and Charles Busch, is a re-creation of that real-life event presented on Christmas Day 1944 to the World War II troops based in London. Billed as “Uncle Sam’s Christmas Tree” the show was recorded as part of a Coca-Cola-sponsored international radio broadcast and celebrates the military with an array of unforgettable original hits of the 40s.

The City Theater cast—the very same cast that performed the show in 2009, and again directed by Linda Sturdivant—once again does a wonderful job of bringing this sentimental production—with all its period-specific nuances, attitudes, patriotism, relationships, costuming—back to glorious life.

Lynn Boren-McKellar of Saco reprises her role as Hollywood star Marian Ames, gracious, personable and ever-name-dropping (Frances Langford, Joan Crawford, Guy Lombardo, Cole Porter, Loretta Young, Jeannette MacDonald…) celebrity with a few movie flops who might be on her way out to pasture.  She rounds up some of her musical gal pals from the Hollywood Canteen to entertain the troops as their contribution to the war effort.

Rebecca Rinaldi of Falmouth plays Jo Sterling, band leader and long-time stand-in for Miss Ames. The well-seasoned Rinaldi is a master class of theater in action, with perfect delivery of the most intense to the cheesiest schtick.  Sara Sturdivant of Haverhill, MA, is equally a natural in her role of Topeka Abotelli, the rock-solid piano player/riveter (and Music Director for the show).

Nicole Rawding of Westbrook is Lilly McBain, the sultry pin-up girl whose musical versatility is smartly convincing.  During the show, Rawding humbly reveals her expertise with saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, bass flute, banjo and guitar.  Kelsey Franklin of Oxford completes the all-girl band in the role of Katie Gammersflugel, Miss Ames’ excitable and emotional niece.

Collectively, these gals do a bang-up job of entertaining “the troops” with lots of audience interaction and stage banter that prompts laughter and tears, hope and inspiration.

But the best part of this production is the trademark jazz and pop music from the greatest generation’s hit parade list:  “Bugle Call Rag, Ac-cen-tchu-ate The Positive, Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, Thank Your Lucky Stars And Stripes, Sentimental Journey, Sing Sing Sing, Don’t Fence Me In, I’ll Be Seeing You” and more.

Their solos are stupendous:  Boren-McKeller’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “You’ll Never Know”; Rinaldi’s “His Rocking Horse Ran Away” and “I’m Old Fashioned”; Sturdivant’s “Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made” and “My Shining Hour”; Rawding’s “Daddy” and Franklin’s “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You” and “How High The Moon.”

The “pièce de résistance” is when Boren-McKeller, Rinaldi, Sturdivant, Rawding and Franklin combine their vocal prowess for some unmatched showmanship—especially an Andrew Sisters Medley and a gorgeous sweeter-than-Adelines accapella version of “Apple Blossom Time.”

Hoppin’ and boppin’ in the stage band are Don Lauzier on trumpet, Dave Stebbins and Joshua Witham on woodwinds, Shannon Oliver on bass and Joshua Adams on percussion.  Briana Chu and Caleb Lacy shine while cutting the rug as swing dancers.

SWINGTIME CANTEEN is different than more recent jukebox musicals  that pay homage to a particular genre or artist, e.g. “Million Dollar Quartet, Heartbreak Hotel, Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Jersey Boys” which have all been presented in Maine, and all of which I had the opportunity to review.  So when the Canteen Company opened their show, I immediately sensed something different.

The energy was not in the high-tech mega-powered audio system with racks of outboard gear to enhance every frequency of music and vocals, or the computer-programmed light show with fancy effects and rapid-fire movements, or the mesmerizing projected graphics.  I was not feeling the bass drum changing my heart beat to 120 bpm.

It only took a few minutes to realize the energy of this show is in the raw transparent performances rendered by each singer and musician on stage, and presented in a most enjoyable—almost acoustically raw—setting that only the former Opera House could provide.  It was just the right amount of everything—talent, simple staging, tech reinforcement, comforting songs, sentimental music, razzle-dazzle, feel-good nostalgia and proud patriotism (“Dontcha just love the pageantry?”).

SWINGTIME CANTEEN runs through October 7th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (no show on September 23rd).  City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford. FMI:  www.citytheater.org or (207) 282-0849.

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–Louis Philippe

“JERSEY BOYS” TAKES OVER OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSE STAGE

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

 

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September 2018

Ogunquit Playhouse’s regional premiere of JERSEY BOYS, the multi-Tony Award-winning Broadway sensation and internationally-acclaimed tribute to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, unleashes a troth of musical gems and a floodgate of sentimental childhood memories upon a very receptive audience.  The show closes out the Playhouse’s 86th summer season and runs through October 28th.

Shepherded by Award-winning director, writer and producer Holly-Anne Palmer, JERSEY BOYS is presented as a live “rockumentary,” written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, about four young guys from the streets of Newark, New Jersey who eventually weave their sordid tangent paths into one journey to fame and fortune.

As a creative property, JERSEY BOYS is unique compared to similar-themed works of artistic homage that have enjoyed stupendous popularity at Ogunquit Playhouse–Million Dollar Quartet, Heartbreak Hotel, Smokey Joe’s Café, e.g.  In this production, the story is exposed by Frankie Valli, (born Francesco Castelluccio), Tommy DeVito, lead guitarist, Bob Gaudio, songwriter/keyboardist, and bassist Nick Massi—who alternately break the fourth wall and share their versions of The Four Seasons journey.

It’s a fascinating story that wouldn’t have happened if not for Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci). After 18 band name changes, The Four Seasons released their first hit (Sherry) in 1962 and immediately catapulted from lounge bar gigs to the big time.  Thirteen hits later (Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man, Candy Girl, Stay, Dawn, Rag Doll, Bye Bye Baby, Let’s Hang On, Workin’ My Way Back To You, Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, C’Mon Marianne, My Eyes Adored You, and O What A Night ), The Four Seasons were clean-cut, hard-working American heartthrobs and industry legends.

But trouble was brewing within the Frankie Valli dynasty.  Personalities flared.  Separate business dealings between Gaudio and Valli became a point of contention.  And when it was revealed that DeVito was in hock to loan sharks who by now were circling the band camp, Gaudio and Valli arranged to protect the band and pay off DeVito’s debt on the condition that he leave the band.  Soon after, Massi quit and Gaudio turned to producing Valli’s solo career.

The narratives are as entertaining as the music—intimate moments with the players before they’d jump back into an iconic hit…to the thrill of a very appreciative audience.  The fine vision of Scenic Designer Adam Koch is front-center in his clever array of linear apparatus that quickly and effectively moves the show like a live 3-D game of Chutes and Ladders.  Add some fun ‘60s choreography by Gerry McIntyre and a talented cast to drape the stage and the result is a well-oiled entertainment machine.

Jonathan Mousset has the honor of playing Frankie Valli.  Matt Magnusson’s commanding treatment of Tommy DeVito is convincingly crafty and foxy.  Andy Christopher’s Bob Gaudio is well-played from beginning to end, and Matthew Amira emulates the role of Nick Massi with perfect subtlety.

The ensemble features Andrew Aaron Berlin, Sean Burns, Kris Coleman, Nathan Yates Douglass, Craig Glen Foster, Maxel Garcia, Colin McAdoo, David McDonald, Hillary Porter, Bailey Purvis, Erin Riley, Connor Schulz, Doug Storm, and Stephanie Toups.  Bravo to a focused ensemble for all the savory characters!

The Four Seasons hits were created by Bob Gaudio (music) and Bob Crewe (lyrics).  For this production, Jonny Baird served as Music Director (Keys 1) with Jacob Yates as Associate Music Director (Keys 2).  Others included Jason May (Reeds), Christian Marrero (Trumpet/Flugelhorn) and Daniel Hartington (Guitar).

[A noteworthy local connection:  Maine Philanthropist Dan Crewe is Bob’s brother who worked with him during those early years producing records and writing hits.  Dan moved to Portland in 1991 and two years later bought a 33-acre plot of land in Cumberland which houses a Nature Preserve and a renovated farmhouse that became home to his family.  When Bob died in 2014, Dan built an art gallery on his property to lodge Bob’s art collection and memorabilia, including the piano on which Bob wrote many of his hits. FMI:  https://mainehomedesign.com/features/2512-music-in-the-making/]

While JERSEY BOYS succeeds in giving the audience an exhilarating nostalgic look back to a great period of American music and history, it fell shy of reaching that customary standard-bearing excellence the Playhouse has consistently mastered with previous tributes.  Three factors to consider:

Clearly there was an issue with the audio (late cues and drops), but the overall mix did not blend well.  The backup vocals were mixed hotter than the lead vocals and even the pit levels were low…almost as if the front mains were turned down and the audience was hearing monitor mixes.

Also, Mousset, while a fine singer in his own realm, was not able to  sustain the trademark nasally powerful Valli falsetto consistently.  Not sure if he was experiencing vocal issues, but hopefully it’ll resolve (and hopefully he’s okay).

Thirdly, the way the show is written only provides for very short samples—teases—of the hits…not any full versions to satisfy die-hard Four Seasons fans…not even in the encores.

Sadly, the performance overall seemed under-powered and under-energized…but that clearly did not stop the audience from re-living their glorious teenage days and showing their love for the cast with instant standing ovations and lots of hooting and hollering…and that’s what it’s all about!

FMI: (207) 646-5511 or http://www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

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–Louis Philippe

“GRUMPY OLD MEN: The Musical” at Ogunquit Playhouse Is Hit-Larious Hometown Hoot

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

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August 2018

Attention grumpy Mainers (including those from away):  Heat got you down? Neighbors acting out? Family’s aggravating you? Holding a grudge from high school years?  Lonely at love?  Feeling the need to move?  Ogunquit Playhouse has the antidote for all of the above with the U.S. premiere of their new show, GRUMPY OLD MEN: The Musical.

Welcome to Wabasha, Minnesota, where a bevy of homespun characters dole out a feast of relentless zingers, guffaws and inescapable insult comedy in a cracker-barrel book by Dan Remmes about two “Grumpies”—Max Goldman and John Gustafson—whose decades-long feud over a girl has finally come to an explosive emotional peak.  The story is based on the popular 1993 film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann Margaret.

Award winning composer Neil Berg and critically-acclaimed lyricist Nick Meglin are responsible for the music and lyrics.  The music is a generic contemporary Broadway pop style, with licks and hooks reminiscent of many popular shows. The lyrics are tailored to the storyline, almost spoofish—but what would you expect with lyrics crafted by a man who spent most of his career as Editor of MAD Magazine?

The musical numbers are creatively coiffed to fit the template of the fast-moving production, i.e. short and shticky, appealing songs—sometimes touching, sometimes raucous, all times enticing—that add a layer of fun and laughter to the mix while not detracting one iota from the spirit of the artistic comedy on display.

Director Matt Lenz is the good shepherd of a strong, relatively small cast (as musicals go).  Lenz successfully spotlights the charm and comfort of small town living while also examining some powerful emotional underlying issues that can cause grumpiness—“the concerns of aging, loss of vitality, whether or not romance can come again later in life, retirements, question relevance, life’s many responsibilities and who becomes a friend and who becomes family.”

Ed Dixon (Max) and Mark Jacoby (John) are the grumpy old men, a subtly different portrayal than the Lemmon-Matthau brand, but equally good.  Behind their cranky facades, Dixon and Jacoby ooze a love for the stage, an appreciation of their roles and a sense of pride that are heartfelt from the audience.

Raising the rivalry is Ariel, a beautiful and intriguing woman who is new to the neighborhood, but who turns out to not be an outsider after all.  Leslie Stevens is perfectly cast as Ariel.  Kevin Massey as Jacob Goldman and Laura Woyasz as Melanie Norton, John’s recently-separated daughter, bring some nice  moments of romance, song and playful mischief to life.  Doug Eskew does a fine job as Chuck Barrels, owner of the local bait shop, and Tony Award nominee Brenda Braxton knocks it out of the park as IRS antagonist Sandra Sydney.

But it’s hard to hide the luminaries who shine so bright and bring amazing legendary talent to the Ogunquit stage.  Hal Linden (TV’s Barney Miller) joins the cast as Grandpa Gustafson and Sally Struthers (TV’s All In The Family and a longtime Ogunquit audience favorite) is featured as Punky Olander, niece of Chuck Barrels.  Linden and Struthers are consummate pros who innately render brutally hysterical, outrageously funny bits.

The cast also includes John Battagliese, Blake Hammond, Eric Jon Mahlum, Kelly Methven, James Taylor Odom, Heather Jane Rolff, Brooke Singer and Christina Tompkins.

The hard-working, ever-present ensemble plays a myriad of colorful Wabasha townsfolk and seamlessly threads every set change with synchronized dance moves. Kelly Methven, Dance Captain from Atlanta via the University of Oklahoma’s Wietzenhoffer School for Musical Theater, gets the MVP Award for leading the fun.  Methven makes his mark as a focused team player with a youthful restrained energy that screams  “Anyone wanna see me break out of this tableau and bust some athletic moves?”

The production numbers are crisp and excellent and the collective vocals are superior, courtesy of Music Director Phil Reno and Choreographer Michele Lynch.

The eight-piece pit includes Reno, Jeffrey Campos, Jason May, Brent Beech, Ben Griffin, Christian Marrero, Steve Giunta and Brian Thacker.

Sadly, there was an empty seat in the house on Opening Night, in tribute to lyricist Nick Meglin who passed away two weeks prior.

GRUMPY OLD MEN: The Musical runs through September 1st.  The theater is located at 10 Main St (Rte 1), Ogunquit.  FMI: 207/646-5511 or OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Photo Credits:

Pic #1:  Tony nominee Brenda Braxton, Mark Jacoby, and Ed Dixon.  Photo by Gary Ng

Pic #2:  Eric Jon Mahlum, Blake Hammond, Tony and Emmy winner Hal Linden, Mark Jacoby, and Doug Eskew.  Photo by Gary Ng

Pic #3:  Sally Struthers

Pic #4:  Hal Linden

Politics Taints Catholic Homily at St. John Bangor

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on August 2, 2018 by Ringer

church-and-state

July 2018

I can certainly understand why Rev. John Mazzei is well-known for his personality and charisma.  He is a brilliant homilist with a compelling, almost theatrical, style that, for a recently retired priest, is refreshingly engaging and nourishing.  Online search results speak highly of his ministry and accomplishments since moving to Maine in 2008.  One former parishioner stated Father John “made going to church fun again.”

I met Father John for the first time on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time at the 10:30 AM Mass at St. Joseph Church in Bangor, my favorite place to worship whenever I’m visiting Maine’s Queen City.  The church is beautiful, clean and bright for a spacious old gothic building.  The music—though not very lively or spiritually stirring—is generally a blend of classical pieces and chant superbly performed by Music Director/Organist Kevin Birch and a well-represented choir.  The parish (St. Paul the Apostle) is quite active, the people are very welcoming and the homilies are consistently good.

In his homily, Father John rendered an animated interpretation of the miracle of the feeding of 5,000 (John 6:1-15) and what Jesus and His apostles had experienced just prior to that event.  I was so intently in tune with Father John’s every word and his many metaphoric lessons of compassion and providing for the needy and those deemed less worthy in society…that is, until he said (referring to how “we” judge people unworthy of God’s love and mercy): “That’s what we’re doing at the Texas border.  It’s terrible.”

I was spiritually jolted and became completely shielded from hearing another word of the homily until I could process what I was shocked to hear.  As a conservative Republican Catholic, I was once again being verbally and publicly berated from the pulpit because my political beliefs (apparently, in this case, border security and illegal immigration) were seemingly not consistent with being a good Catholic.

I’ve been in this position—several times.  I feel like standing up and interrupting the Mass and insisting on a debate about “what we’re doing at the Texas border” and how un-Catholic it is.  I don’t.  I want to simply walk out in protest.  I don’t.  I think about using my God-given creative writing skills to bring my inner conflict to light, hoping that it can lead to awareness and healing.  I do.

So, here are my questions for Father John, or Bishop Deeley, or Pope Francis:

  1. Who is “we”? Are “we” the patriots who believe in defending the country from violent criminals, drug traffickers, terrorists?  Are “we” the conservative Republicans who want the border wall built?  Are “we” the Catholics who voted for Trump and are somehow judged by the Catholic elite to be less worthy of heaven because “we” are “ripping children from the arms of their parents?”
  2. What exactly are “we” doing at the Texas border that is so awful? Upholding the laws of our nation?  Protecting our own citizens?  Methodically and effectively dealing with an immigration crisis?  Hearsay and talking points don’t count.
  3. Are you implying that a border wall and strict enforcement of immigration law are against Catholic dogma? What about that wall of security around the Vatican?  Why are churches locked 30 minutes after Mass ends?  What about the “walls” of Catholic practices that stifle spiritual growth? What about the “wall” that bans non-Catholics from receiving communion (unless they convert, study the sacrament, pass the test and are approved by the local Catholic hierarchy)?  How is that protocol of refusing the ultimate food and drink to those in need any different from the discrimination and rejection you are implying “we” are doing at the border?

I would submit that times sure have a-changed in 2000+ years, and even more since Bob Dylan wrote his famous song.  Bringing a modern twist to an old nugget can sometimes be effective but super-imposing a highly-emotional politically-charged modern-day moral and cultural crisis on top of a Gospel allegory doesn’t quite fit.

Held today, that very same miraculous event would be shut down in violation of man-made rules and regulations governing events, insurance, liquor liability, underage drinking, security, health codes (from porta-potties to food inspections), environmental and waste management, parking, etc.

At that “picnic” for 5,000, I doubt there were terrorists wanting to slice Jesus’ body into pieces, or torture and rape young girls, sell drugs or decapitate any class of people.  Jesus took divinely appropriate action and shepherded those in need—without fear of retribution or retaliation, without checking with His Father, without approval from the local town authorities and without any consideration to man-made religious rules.

What should be of grave concern to Catholic Church, Inc., is the impact of flirting with a collision at the intersection of Church and State, i.e. violating IRS rules for non-profits.  On the other hand, reasonable arguments can be made that recent developments (church closings, clustering, investment outreach) are previews of a revamped, competitive, tax-paying business model.  If the Diocese of Portland loses its tax-exempt status because of its political preaching, the need for damage control, product development, branding expertise, financing, executive talent and good customer service would be prodigal.

There is no doubt that when priests inject politics into their homilies, it comes with risk—mainly alienating half of the congregation.  I’m a Spirit-guided politically-minded Catholic Republican in search of God’s truth, not man’s idea of social justice.  So, consider the following facts:

  1. Republican faithful are more generous than Democrat faithful;
  2. Catholic Church Inc. is hurting financially because the offertory is down;
  3. The offertory is down because only 14% of Maine Catholics go to church;
  4. When conservative politics are challenged, GOP parishioners respond accordingly.

With all due respect, there is also no doubt in my mind that Father John intended no ill will by connecting his message to timely current events.  He is an amazing and gifted preacher whose unique insight to the Word truly does make “going to church fun again.”

My prayer is that Father John’s ministry continues to be a blessing to those who experience his passion and talent.  “Lead all souls into heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.”

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–Louis Philippe

Gaiety And Laughter Abound In Mel Brooks’ “THE PRODUCERS” At City Theater

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 21, 2018 by Ringer

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July 2018

Biddeford’s City Theater closes out its current season with the uproarious Mel Brooks musical comedy spoof THE PRODUCERS, proving once again that this organization is arguably the highest quality community theater in Maine, rivaling even the pros.

Director/Producer Linda Sturdivant has assembled another top-notch energetic cast that is clearly having way too much fun contributing to a silly, irreverent, rip-roaring musical romp.  They work incredibly well together and are individually confident, competent and comfortable with their missions.

The singing is dazzling and exciting, like in a big old fashioned MGM musical—and sometimes even more outlandish.  Music Director Rebekkah Willey succeeds in bringing Mel Brooks’ music and lyrics to glorious life with an 8-piece pit band interestingly placed on an upper level over the stage.  Musicians include:  Willey on piano; Sam Schuth on violin; Blaise Spath and Ray Libby on woodwinds; Don Lauzier, trumpet; Owen Doane, trombone, Jimmy McGirr, bass; and Joshua Adams, percussion.

The dancing is equally brilliant and appealing.  With the help of 500 wild and wacky costumes created by Barbara Kelly, Hannah Brown, Wendy Brown, Carol Jones, Brian McAloon, Karleena Stoner and Linda Sturdivant, Choreographer Mariel Roy cleverly moves a slate of 19 hard-working ensemble members in and out of scenes as usherettes, accountants, drag queens, tapping Nazi soldiers, Bavarian peasants, show girls, cops, prisoners, little old ladies, and of course Broadway stars.  It is all done with a farcical finesse that is whimsical and engaging.

The stellar ensemble includes Gaia Ayres, Andrew Bennington, Briana Chu, Nina Finocchiaro, Braden Foley, Kaleigh Hunter, Carol Jones, Jay W. Jones, Andrew Lamb, Alison Loughlin, Logan Merrithew, Mark Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Danielle Robichaud, Caleb Streadwick, Aislinn Travis, Schuyler White, Ann Williams and Tad Williams.

Brian McAloon plays famed producer Max Bialystock (Funny Boy, MAIM, When Cousins Marry, The Breaking Wind, A Streetcar Named Murray…).  His moves, expressions, voice, timing and instincts are side-splitting, a performance equal if not better to Nathan Lane’s legendary portrayal of Max in the Broadway production (2001-2007).

Miles Gervais makes his City Theater debut as Leopold Bloom, a young bored accountant who dreams of being a Broadway producer (“I Wanna Be a Producer”) and nonchalantly suggests it would be easy to make money with a Broadway flop.  He effectively applies the right amount of theatrical naiveté and curiosity to his character—a perfect Ying to Maxi’s Yang.

Max and Leo concoct a plan to oversell investments in a new production and split $2M in profits and go to Rio (“We Can Do It”) when it flops.  To guarantee a failure, they find the worst play ever written, hire the worst director in town and hire the worst actors.

After a script search, they settle on Springtime for Hitler written by Franz Liebkind (Caleb Lacy), an easily angered and emotionally unstable Nazi who lives in the Village (“In Old Bavaria”).  Franz signs over the rights to his play after Max and Leo promise never to dishonor the spirit and memory of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler and join him in singing Hitler’s favorite song, “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

Then it’s off to the Upper East Side home of the worst director in New York, the flamboyantly gay Roger De Bris (Michael Donovan) and his equally sparkling assistant Carmen Ghia (Tommy Waltz).  The subject matter is too serious for De Bris who turns down the offer to direct the new show.  But with visions of a Tony award and rewriting Act II (“Keep It Gay”), the deal is made.

Enter Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, a tall and beautiful Swedish bombshell who auditions for the show and is hired as secretary/reception for the new Bialystock & Bloom.   Elizabeth Lester presents an impressive rendition of Ulla with poise, hilarity, and an expert command of her gift of dance (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”).

But “good luck” turns into “broken legs” (“You Never Say ‘Good Luck’ On Opening Night”) and thanks to a series of theatrical disasters, Springtime for Hitler morphs into an outrageously campy satire and  becomes an instant hit…bad news for Max and Leo (“Where Did We Go Right?”).  Suffice it to say the mayhem and misfortune continue until the mastermind, Mel Brooks, happily ends his creation.

The beautiful thing about community theater is the opportunities it provides to actors young and old to explore their desires to be part of a show, hone their stage skills and perhaps move up to greater industry experiences.  Local theater fans who pay attention to these things will agree that this cast is a   noteworthy example of recent and seasoned local players whose remarkable growth in their community theater journeys is significant, noticeable and much appreciated.

Some of these actors are veterans—and favorites—to the Southern Maine community theater audiences.  They propel this production to the highest levels of entertainment, with endless shtick and schmaltz, impeccable comedic timing, mercilessly leaving the audience gasping for air in between unrestrained bouts of laughter. They are all in and put themselves all out.

In addition to McAloon’s fine work, the powerhouse talents of Michael Donovan, Caleb Lacy and Tommy Waltz simply cannot be underestimated.  It’s always fun when actors who have become established directors return to play some juicy select roles—fun for the audience, their fellow actors and no doubt fun for themselves.  This particular quartet of exceptional artistry is stunning, proficient, fearless and more than worth the price of admission (not to mention—oops, too late—the exemplary Tony Award-worthy performance by Stage Manager Greg Brackett).

THE PRODUCERS is running now thru August 5th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  FMI and reservations: 207-282-0849 or order online at www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

 

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