City Theater Presents “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS” + Bonus Concert!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on December 2, 2017 by Ringer

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December 2017

The true meaning of Christmas can be found on the stage of Biddeford City Theater, served up by talented actors, singers and dancers in a back-to-back two-for-one double-dose of holiday cheer: “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS” plus a Bonus All-Star Christmas Concert.  Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant wraps plenty of magic and music in a wonderful family-friendly presentation that runs through December 17th.

PART ONE:  “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS”

The classic 1965 animated television special comes to life with glorious splendor, in lots of living color.  The delightful cast of cartoon characters makes their grand entrance bedecked with the impressive costume handiwork of Barbara Kelly, Wendy Brown and Tehya Brown.  Each player is adoringly animated and clearly captivating as witnessed by the faces of young and old alike in the audience.

Charlie Brown (Schuyler White) is not happy about the commercialism of Christmas and brings his case of the blues to “Dr. Psychiatrist” Lucy (Rebecca Rinaldi) who prescribes some involvement in the season, specifically directing the neighborhood Christmas play.  But the kids don’t listen to him and mock him, leaving Charlie once again disappointed.

Lucy sends Charlie off to find the perfect tree.  When he returns with the scrawniest, smallest tree, he is once again laughed at and rejected.  But Linus (Miles Obrey) then delivers his inspiring childlike soliloquy   of what Christmas is all about which rallies the cast to turn Charlie Brown’s Christmas into the perfect tree after all…and everyone is happy.

The cast also includes Brian McAloon as Snoopy, Lindsay Armstrong as Sally, Caleb Streadwick as Pig Pen, Hannah Brown as Frieda, Andrew Lamb as Schroeder, Briana Chu as Violet, Kelsey Seavey as Patty, Gerald Davis as Shermy and Gina Lewis and Ashley Shevenell as Twins #3 and #4.

Based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, the words are by Lee Mendelson (who produced the television special) but the lingering iconic jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi takes a front-and-center spot in the curtain call.  The music is righteously rendered by Music Director Kevin Smith on piano, Jimmy McGirr on bass and Joshua Adams on percussion.

Add some clever group movements by Choreographer Mariel Roy, fun oversized set pieces by Master Carpenter Ed Wood, imaginative colorful trees courtesy of Jessica Chaples-Graffam and you get a complete fool-proof recipe for a heaping serving of holiday comfort food for the entire family…but wait, there’s more…

PART TWO:  THE BONUS CHRISTMAS CONCERT

When the lights go up on Act Two, many Charlie Brown cast members are joined by other City Theater luminaries who have been featured in leading roles during the previous season for more wholesome holiday cheer—an All-Star musical program.  (It’s kinda like keeping the television on after the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is over and watching the holiday musical variety show that comes on right after).

The concert features a wide range of Christmas songs—traditional favorites, contemporary, humorous, serious, classical and sing-alongs, all performed by gifted individuals who are well known in the City Theater stable and familiar to City Theater audiences.

Jennine Cannizzo does a fine job as Mistress of Ceremonies, shepherding the line-up of acts while comfortably handling her own brand of “We Need A Little Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (with the ensemble).  The same wonderful pit from Act One provides the musical power for Act Two—a different genre but equally righteous.

Among the highlights:  Brie Roche’s rendition of “Never Fall In Love (With An Elf)” from the 2011 Broadway production of Elf The Musical; a powerful and immaculate version of the famed Celine Dion-Andrea Boccelli duet “The Prayer” offered by Rebecca Rinaldi and Brian McAloon; a divine delivery of “Gesu Bambino” by Miles Obrey;  and a refreshingly upbeat “Mary, Did You Know” by McAloon.

The Atlantic Dance Arts Dancers (Choreographer Mariel Roy’s new dance studio in Gorham) is represented with their lively rendition of the 1994 Maria Carey hit “All I Want For Christmas.”  Congratulations Mariel and thank you ADA Dancers Amber Arsenault, Hannah Batman, Hailey Fardon, Lily Rowe, Janessa Wilson and Marissa Wilson.

The All-Star Quartet (McAloon, Obrey, Rinaldi & Roche) takes the Trisha Yearwood/B.J. Thomas hit “Take A Walk Through Bethlehem” to new heights with a beautiful gospel arrangement by John Glaudini that majestically layers the contemporary creation of Ashley Cleveland, John Jarvis and Wally Wilson with the traditional carol “Joy To The World.”

 “O Holy Night” closes the concert, featuring soloists McAloon, Rinaldi and Schuyler White and the entire ensemble, accompanied by a lovely modern dance treatment by Amber Arsenault.

As Schuyler White sings: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and City Theater’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas/Christmas Concert” defines the true meaning of Christmas.  Great fun for all ages!

The show runs through December 17th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (no performance December 3rd).  The theater—Biddeford’s Historic Opera House—is located at 205 Main St., Downtown Biddeford.  FMI: 207/282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune

 

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JUST ANOTHER DAY IN CLOWN TOWN – And How Was Your Day?

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on November 18, 2017 by Ringer

November 2017

I went to the Mall this morning.  I opened a door for a lady who accused me of sexual harassment and abuse for forcing my power as a man over her will and infringing on her rights.  Another woman was right behind her but so as not to offend her, I purposefully did not open the door for her.  She quipped, “Asshole, I guess chivalry is dead, what are you too weak to be nice to females twice in a row?”

I saw this very cute baby in a stroller while on line at the food court. I told the mother “what an adorable child.”  She told me “You best be mindin’ your own business, you pedophile, or you get me screamin’ for a cop.”

I saw a display in a restaurant window offering complete homemade Thanksgiving dinners-to-go for $89, heated, packaged and ready to serve.  I popped in and told the cashier, “What a great idea!” One short, shabby-clad obese lady on her way out interrupted, “You think it’s a great idea to glorify them damn pilgrims killing all them Indians and stealing their land?”  “No,” I replied, “I think it’s a great idea if short people stay away from the buffet.”  At least the cashier enjoyed it.

I decide to support the establishment and have breakfast there and read the newspaper:  “Sex Crimes By Moore, Trump Punishable By Death; Franken Forgiven” headed the story of the U.S. Senate introducing a bill to make any sexual indiscretions—true, alleged or imagined—a capital crime if committed by Republicans.  Experts stated “After all, they have a higher moral standard and should know better.  Democrats don’t know better due to decades of environmental conditioning but will face investigation by the Ethics Commission.”

More Headlines:  “Referendum Effort Underway To Allow Marijuana Vending Sales In Public Schools;”  “Illegal Immigrants Sue State For Ending Food Benefits”—claiming they are still entitled to free money even though the State ended the program because it ran out of funding; “Local High Schooler Suspended For Asking Fellow Asian Student His Nationality;” “Gorham Car Dealer Faces No Consequences For Stealing Customer’s Money And Not Delivering Car”—Dealer Owner David McGovern II evades authorities for years, leaving customers, Maine District Court, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Maine’s Attorney General powerless victims; “Non-Profits Requesting Audit of CYLNK Redemption Service”—after realizing their bottle refunds from fundraising efforts are lower than anticipated, possible skimming suspected;  “South Portland City Council To Consider Sharia Law.”

I decided to go to church.  I prayed that young black men find mercy, discernment and positive opportunities.  The priest told me I was being racist.  The 3rd collection was for Planned Parenthood; I didn’t give any money. The 4th collection was for a LGBTQ mission group; I didn’t give any money.  The 5th collection was for a gubernatorial candidate’s campaign; I didn’t give any money.  On my way out, the usher pulled me aside and said, “You’re either a bad Catholic or one cheap bastard.”  “And with your spirit,” I retorted.

 “Clown Town,” I thought to myself while driving home, reflecting on the lyrics of a song by a great award-winning songwriter named Gladys Shelley.  What were the chances that I would get an incredible opportunity to meet her when I moved to NYC in 1979, and that she would become my friend and mentor?  She often invited me to Sunday dinner at her Fifth Avenue apartment that she shared with her five chihauhaus.  As fate would have it, because I was thin and quick to cross through Central Park, she nicknamed me “Reindeer,” which I later adopted as the name of my company.

This amazing lady, who owned Palisades Park, was almost 70 years old then, but so full of life and creative energy.  Sometimes she’d call me with short notice and tell me her limo driver was going to pick me up and that we were going to some popular cabaret to listen to some singer who was showcasing some of her material.  Over the years she’d give me sheet music for me to learn and would put me in a studio to do demos of her songs…what a thrill!  And of course she was in the audience when I proudly presented some of her songs in my very own showcase at Palsson’s.  But my most special Gladys Shelley milestone is a single release of her song “My World Is You” translated in French by my mother for the dual-language release “Ma Vie C’est Toi.”  We were all so proud.

When I got home, I was welcomed with unconditional love by my energetic little girl patiently waiting for Daddy to take her for a w-a-l-k.  While we walked, I reflected on my crazy day and an ever-deteriorating crazy world—as Gladys would say, “Clown Town.”

 “Thank you, Heavenly Father,” I profoundly adulated, “for this crazy day, for the plate I was given, for making me who I am, for your countless miracles and gifts.”  “You’re welcome, my Son,” He said, “Keep up the good work and know that I am always with you.”

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–Louis Philippe

 

Windham High School Stages “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” in Glorious, Youthful Splendor

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on November 10, 2017 by Ringer

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November 2017

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is arguably one of the best musical productions of all time.  With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, it is a powerful and chilling account of The von Trapp Family whose unique journey of love and survival continues to satisfy and inspire audiences today.

With an outstanding bumper crop of potential award-winning thespians, Windham High School’s theater department effectively tackles the many challenges to bringing such a massive performing arts project to splendid life.  Director Rob Jeurgens, Music Director Dr. Richard Nickerson and Choreographer Vanessa Beyland head up a very dedicated Production Staff and capably coordinate the talents of over 60 actors, singers, dancers, musicians, stage and tech crew.

The curtain opens on the Nonnberg Abbey with stunning picturesque Alps (thank you Sara Barrett, Marie Bailey, Breanna James and Samantha Wheaton), setting a beautiful pattern of sleek, bold, vivid and clean set and light changes made possible by CJ Payne, Tech Director and Set Designer, and the facility’s addition of a “secret weapon,” clearly a nice wow factor.

Maria (Elizabeth McBride) is a postulant at the Abbey, whose love for mountains and music leads Mother Abbess (Danielle Dyer) to recommend time away from the Abbey before making a commitment to become a nun.  Maria is assigned the job of governess to the seven children of widower Captain Georg von Trapp (Isaac Foss), soon to be married to Baroness Elsa Schräder (Hanna Griffin).

The children embrace Maria whose style of caring—including teaching the children to sing—conflict with the Captain’s more militant approach.  So he asks Maria to leave, but upon hearing the children sing, he is reminded of times he enjoyed with his wife, and has a change of heart.

At a party given in Elsa’s honor, it becomes evident that Germany’s territorial takeover of Austria, the Anschluss, has begun, creating political discord and personal animosity. (Elsa: “Can’t you see things my way?”  Captain: “No, not if you’re willing to see things their way.”).  At Elsa’s request, the children perform for the guests.  Max Detweiller (Travis Burt), a music agent and producer, is so impressed by the children’s singing he wants them to perform in the Kaltzberg Festival, a competition he is organizing.

Elsa and the Captain break off their engagement, and the Captain and Maria admit their love for one another and are married (by a celebrity Bishop).  With the Third Reich infiltrating Austria, the Captain decides the family is no longer safe and must flee Austria.

With storm troops in the wings, The von Trapp Family Singers (including Maria and Dad), perform at the Festival but escape before judges announce their win of first prize.  The Nazis search for the family, but they are safely hidden at the Abbey until they flee over the Alps to Switzerland.

Such is the backdrop for the Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration that has spawned iconic songs that have all become memorable standards—The Sound of Music, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, The Lonely Goatherd, So Long Farewell, Climb Ev’ry Mountain and Edelweiss.

But what makes this particular cast unique is the majority of underclassmen taking part, some for the very first time.  It is pure, delightful entertainment to experience these young performers process what is clearly a new dimension of accomplishment and growth in themselves.  The signs are in their facial expressions, physical stances, hand gestures and voice placements.  The poise and confidence grow by the scene, as young individuals become empowered by their own gifts.

Remarkably, many of these theater newbees have diverse, interesting singing voices that they are still exploring within, that will undoubtedly develop into trademark talents when these individuals can attain that amazing level of self-assurance in taking risks and unleashing their potential.  But for now, and for some, working on projection, diction and body microphones are immediate prerequisites.

The Nuns chorus is divine with beautifully-blended reflective Latin hymns and reprises.  Kudos to Maggi Bradford, Molly Cochrane, Denali Dieumegard, Olivia Elder, Angelyn Gentile, Trinity Hamlin, Leah Lawler, Aisha Nelson, Emily Pattle, Abbee Searles and Demara Stratis.

Nominees for Outstanding performances are Travis Burt (Max Detweiller), Danielle Dyer (Mother Abbess), Scott Fontes (Franz, the butler), Isaac Foss (Captain von Trapp), Hanna Griffin (The Baroness), Trinity Hamlin (Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper), Elizabeth McBride (Maria) and Annie Stevens (Liesl).

In addition to Stevens, the von Trapp children are played by Matthew Chasse (Friedrich), Angel Spiller (Louisa), Cameron Wescott (Kurt), Corrine Ulmer (Brigita), Sophey Potter (Marta) and Lucille Karen Payne (Gretl).

Standing Ovation to the Pit Band, directed by Dr. Richard Nickerson, whose proficient members include Tyler Briggs on drum/percussion, Hanna Flewelling on violin, Scott Gordan on trumpet, Daniel Kaschub on trumpet, Betty McIntyre on piano, Isabella Rosborough on flute, Stephen Sepulveda on cello, Rose Underfofler on violin and Owen Wert on bass.

Honorable Mentions go to Costumer Weslie Evans, Hair & Make-up Designer Marissa Morrisette, Lighting Designer/Stage Manager Caleb Schrock, Sound Designer Sam Nemeroff and all their crew members.

The story of the von Trapps is fascinating and heartwarming, loaded with historical nostalgia and entertainment sentimentality. Windham High School’s production is comfort food for the creative soul and well worth bringing the entire family to see.  Today’s admirable and solid job by a worthy young cast is tomorrow’s tour de force.

The Sound of Music runs through November 19th—Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Sundays at 3 PM.  Tix: $14/reserved, $12/door, $10/students/seniors/children.  For reservations, call 207/893-1742.  The Windham Performing Arts Center at Windham High School is located at 406 Gray Rd., Windham.

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–Louis Philippe

Footlights’ FALLING LEAVES is Powerful, Heartwarming, Hilarious Original

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Ringer

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October 2018

“‘Come, little leaves,’ said the wind one day, ‘Come to the meadows with me and play…put on your dresses of red and gold; for summer is past and the days grow…old.’”

With that pithy picture of fall by George Cooper, Playwright Michael J. Tobin begins his new theatrical accomplishment FALLING LEAVES, a romantic dramedy which enjoyed sell-out audiences and standing ovations at its world premiere this weekend at Footlights Theater, 190 US Route 1 in Falmouth.

The feeling of seasonal transition—in the air and on the lovely set—forebodes winds of change, even storms in store for the Warner clan which is gathering at Mom’s Maine homestead, Autumn Inn, for the annual reunion to honor their departed Dad.  We are told to “embrace the craziness, the rest will just surprise us.”

Autumn (Leslie Chadbourne) is very much the doting matriarch, a traditional Mom with old-fashioned values, locked in the day her husband left 10 years ago.  She has a new man in her life, a handyman named Hank (Rick Kusturin), who she hired to help out around the place after her husband died, and she enjoys the camaraderie of dear friend, Sam (Gretchen G. Wood), who also helps run the Inn.

One by one, her three adult children converge on the scene for the big day—Lizzy (Victoria Machado) with husband Paul (Mark Calkins), Michael (Ryan Lane) with boyfriend Peter (Andrew Hanscom) and Katie (Autumn Carey).  Within minutes, it’s clear that each have brought “excess baggage” they are wanting to unload on Mom:  Lizzy and Paul are anything-but-happily married and planning to divorce; Michael and Peter are planning to be married—at the Inn; and Katie is pregnant and considering abortion.

With the help of Sam, Hank, and Ruthie (Jaymie Chamberlin), another friend of Autumn’s, everyone’s secrets are cleverly and comically maneuvered to keep Mom in the dark—that is, until a slight trickle at the cocktail party leads the dam to bust.  Sibling rivalry breaks out, Mom is devastated, while her friends try to maintain calm.

This is the storm Tobin created:  Family conflicts that sometimes result in harsh, cruel treatment;  Strong differences of opinion over love, relationships, marriage, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage;  Clashing cultural and moral philosophies that can create division and dysfunction within a family unit; Human mistakes that seem insurmountable to forgive.

But thankfully, Autumn’s love for her children is unconditional.  So, with a little help from her friends—and a couple of months to process things—Michael and Peter’s wedding is a success, Paul returns to work things out with Lizzy, and Katie decides to keep, and love, her baby.  After the roller-coaster ride of emotions, Hank and Autumn admit their love for one another and a surprise double-wedding-on-the-spot brings on a double dose of happy endings.

In addition to directing, handling all things tech, and running the theater, Tobin is a remarkably gifted playwright, reminiscent of Alan Ayckbourn with a touch of Hallmark.  His story-lines are topical, emotional and universal, edgy enough to make audiences think but inclusive enough to maintain engagement.  His characters are relatable and realistic, with perfect personalities and quirks to sell every purpose-driven line, juicy conversation and appointed message.   His busy brain is superb at multi-tasking relationships and churning out layers of plot rife with a range of emotions that can all change on a…single word…usually a comic zinger, Tobin’s trademark.

But as is typical with productions at the Footlights barn, the success of the show is reliant on the strength of the cast, and all nine members of this ensemble turn out impeccable, well-defined, well-interpreted performances.

Chadbourne’s Autumn is a testimony to her stage skills, life experiences and humanity.  Mom is a small word but Chadbourne effectively fills her role with major life-giving, life-changing, even tormenting moments that every Mom embraces.  Gretchen’s Sam is another character for her long resume of roles that she nails with campy confidence and perfect delivery.  Kusturin’s Hank, a warm-and-fuzzy departure from his more classic roles, is nonetheless a charming Prince Charming of the Handyman Society.

The Warner kids hit a home run.  With quick timing and sharp focus, Machado’s Lizzy and Calkins’ Paul are a perfectly unbalanced yin-yang couple facing realistic challenges that every modern married couple faces.  Carey’s Katie as a young Manhattan career woman forced to face her pregnancy is well portrayed with the right blend of millennial attitude and traditional sensitivity.

Lane’s Michael is emotional and powerful in his dual quest for his own acceptance by Mom and her acceptance of his boyfriend.  Andrew Hanscom is gently persuasive in the precarious role of Peter, poised with awkward diplomacy but blessed with some good one-liners.  And Jaymie Chamberlin, a Footlights original, returns with another solid performance as Ruthie.

FALLING LEAVES is about family.  While contemplating how to begin this review, I thought to myself, “Wow, pity the family that has to deal with crazy issues like divorce, abortion and gay marriage.”  Then it hit me—wait, this was about MY family.  And an intense wave of gratitude filled my heart for my Mom’s unconditional love and my family’s happy endings (well, maybe not in 90 minutes).

FALLING LEAVES runs through October 28th, Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Matinee on Sunday, October 21st at 2 PM.  FMI: 207-747-5434 or visit www.thefootlightsinfalmouth.com.   You might just see your own family on stage.

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–Louis Philippe

“DISENCHANTED” Princesses Give the Royal Treatment in City Theater’s Season Opener

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2017 by Ringer

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October 2017

Chances are good that Southern Maine theater audiences haven’t seen DISENCHANTED, an adult musical comedy by Dennis T. Giacino, because it hasn’t been around very long and it’s not a typical blockbuster selection for a season opener. Chances are even better that once you experience City Theater’s production of DISENCHANTED, you’ll want to come back for more.

DISENCHANTED IS a blockbuster, loaded with creative comedy, outrageous hilarity,  tasteful lyrical parodies embedded in plush Broadway-pop style tunes expertly delivered by a bevy of famous princesses who  know how to work a crowd:  “A royal vaudeville, if you will;  A spellbinding variety show; A musical extravaganza;  An all-star revue.”

Think of it as Real Housewives of Disney World meets Burlesque…or Menopause: The Musical on steroids…or The View meets Girls Gone Wild.  Wonderful, unsuspecting, out-of-the-box, over-the-top entertainment with just the right touch of elegant naughty to keep the kiddos away for 100 uninterrupted minutes of rollicking fun and OM#G guffaws.

Directed by Linda Sturdivant, the fast-paced musical pageant features an all-star line-up of legendary fairy-tale characters whose lives are anything but happily-ever-after.  In a format reminiscent of a Vegas Strip comedy nightclub act, the Disney Divas (who are now public domain) each spill their individual beans about the challenges and struggles behind their Princessdom, and in sisterhood solidarity, reveal taboo, tiara-tainting tabloid truths behind their iconic facades.

Comedy reigns supreme but these ladies are serious and divinely talented performers. Kelly Caufield is incomparable as the magical, a little testy at times, Snow White (“One More Happ’ly Ever After”) who is the unspoken leader of the gang and Mistress of Ceremonies.  She introduces Joanna Clarke (whose yen for princess perfection—with a side of ditz—is glamorously conveyed) as Cinderella, and Sarah Thurston (with impeccable comic timing and engaging expressions) as a narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty.

Brie Roche (“Insane”) is appropriately restrained as Belle post-Beast; Briana Chu (“Without The Guy”) plays Hua Mulan who has since come out as a lesbian; Elisha Cicio (“Two Legs”) is whimsical as the still-slippery- now-drunk Little Mermaid; and Elizabeth Lester (“Honestly”), brandishes her strong dance skills as Pocahontas; and Andrea Rogers (“Secondary Princess”) is delightful as Princess Baldoulbadour, riding a cleverly designed magic carpet.

Enter Jessica Libby, whose portrayal of Rapunzel brings the house down.  With thick German accent and unflinching control, Libby is in her element as she leads the audience in a sing-along (“Not V’one Red Cent”)…und you vill like it.  Megan Guynes (“Finally”) whose commanding vocals as The Princess Who Kissed The Frog is  another scene stealer—“why’d it take ‘em so long to give a sistah a song?”

DISENCHANTED is sassy and uproarious, but behind the tears of laughter are messages of empowerment, i.e being a princess ain’t easy and requires a lot of work and sacrifice that people don’t realize.  Also, it can be liberating for women to make their own destiny and not necessarily rely on handsome princes on horseback to bring them happy endings.

Perhaps the most poignant example of Playwright Giacino’s message is personalized by Sarah Thurston in Sleeping Beauty’s song “Perfect,” a touching introspective moral of knowing who you are and who you aren’t and learning to be comfortable, confident and happy just the way you are.

Giacino, a former Disney World cast member and former history teacher, wrote the book, music and lyrics for DISENCHANTED which won the New Jersey Playwrights Contest in 2010 and was produced at the Hunziker Black Box Theater at William Paterson University as a result.  The anything-but-typical revue has since enjoyed sold-out performances in several major US cities, including two runs off-Broadway, worldwide productions and a U.S. national tour launched in 2016.

In addition to Director Sturdivant, credits for working magic go to Music Director Kevin Smith on piano (whose pit included Jimmy McGirr on bass and Joshua Adams on drums) and Choreographer Mariel Roy, with a special nod to Alysa Avery, Wendy Brown and Sharon Roberts for their fine costume work.

DISENCHANTED runs through October 29th at Biddeford historic Opera House, 205 Main Street.  Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (no show on October 15th).  FMI:  207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

WHEN TALENT CROSSES THE LINE: Et tu Community Theater?

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on October 6, 2017 by Ringer
Lyric Cast Taking a Knee

TAKING A KNEE FOR EQUALITY

October, 2017

Recently, I spotted this photo on Facebook of Lyric Music Theater’s Nice Work If You Can Get It cast posted by its Music Director who titled her post: “Taking a knee for equality.” I was shocked that the political poison of emotionally-charged protests from the NFL and MLB to 8th grade sports teams had seeped into the hearts of community theater actors.

I was never more disgusted by the arrogance, ignorance and ego of some local “stars” who think their talents can outshine their detrimental behavior, who decided their opinion was so important for the world to know that it was worth the risk of tearing the veil to the inner sanctum and desecrating the sacred space of the stage.  And the injury doesn’t end there.

My curiosity was piqued. Equality? For what, I asked myself.  Racial equality?…there are no black people in the cast.  Did Lyric ban blacks from seeing the show?  Or maybe this was about pay inequality?  Nope, it’s Community Theater and nobody gets paid except the Music Director and Director.  Oh I know–this was a GBLT statement?  Or perhaps a “Free Marijuana for all Pro-Choicers” movement?  What?  With no clue what this cast was “taking a knee for,” I pursued.

Turns out the photo I saw was “shared” and as a FB “friend” of the Music Director (a status that has since been remedied), I happened to see it in my stream.  The pic was originally posted by a Joe Swenson to whom I commented (paraphrase) “I don’t know who you are but you should know that 80% of Americans polled do not want to be confronted with any sort of politically-motivated crap when they go to games, and I would suggest the same applies to theater. Your self-serving publicity stunt may have alienated a good portion of Lyric audiences because they might not appreciate such indiscretions by the liberal left.  Patrons pay good money to see good theater and you should not be tainting Lyric’s reputation and integrity in public with your personal and/or political opinions.”

Mr. Swenson responded (paraphrased):  “I’m the Director of the show and when the cast approached me with this idea, I immediately said yes, to show our support for Racial Equality and Inclusion.  You shouldn’t have even seen the pic because it was meant for our closed group only, this has nothing to do with Lyric Theater.  I don’t know who you are or how far you’ll take this, but since you don’t approve of this, it’s clear that you, sir, are the problem…You’re just a grumpy old man.”

I replied (paraphrased):  “I am really new to theater, so I really don’t know much.  But I think this has EVERYTHING to do with Lyric and how you’re trashing your rave reviews and the otherwise fabulous opportunity LYRIC has given you and every cast member who is pictured shamelessly on their knee.  You are in a show produced by LYRIC, in costumes provided by LYRIC, AND ON THE LYRIC STAGE, HELLO???”

At about this point, Mr. Swenson blocked me from further access to his closed group (so much for “Inclusion?”), possibly to avoid any negative publicity for his book he’s promoting, Letter#3. 

As a long-time friend/actor/board member of Lyric Theater, I credit people like Linwood Dyer, Ceddy & Marie Thomas, Roe Holmes, Nancy Warnock, Nancy Daniels, Don Drew and Ellen Lefevre (among so many others) for their hard work, sweat and passion, for making Lyric Theater what it will always be in my heart.  So it saddens me when younger individuals who know nothing of Lyric’s history (and likely have no clue who the above-named people are) are allowed to hijack and victimize a theater’s reputation by promoting an irreverent and irrelevant politically-charged public message.

I get it.  You hate Trump and everyone that voted for him.  You shout that as you preach for love and unity, at levels that drown out your own hypocrisy.  You preach for Inclusion as you tell me I am not part of your closed group.  You claim you are not being judgmental as you admit you don’t know me but immediately label me as “the problem.”

(It reminds me of a cast party I attended once.  I was chatting with the boyfriend of a female cast member who whispered in his ear: “Don’t talk to him, he’s Republican.”)

MEMO TO THE CAST:  YOU GOT CAST BECAUSE OF YOUR UNIQUE, INCREDIBLE TALENT, NOT YOUR POLITICAL PROWESS!  STOP INSULTING YOUR AUDIENCE!  STOP DISRESPECTING THE THEATER COMPANY THAT HAS BESTOWED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE ON STAGE!   THE STAGE IS SACRED GROUND!  YES, IT IS NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, SO DON’T ABUSE THE PRIVILEGE.  SAVE YOUR BULLSHIT FOR THE CAST PARTY!

Of course, the irony will no doubt be the backlash that my freedom of speech will spark by giving a power to truth that will melt snowflakes.  Some might see my point.  Some might be experiencing oppression by their Liberal peers first-hand. Those individuals should know they are in the righteous majority.  Others will fight and spew like salt on a slug, laser-focused on excluding, chastising and hating everyone who disagrees with their ideology of equality, inclusion and tolerance.

In conclusion, I must thank Mr. Swenson for his ultimate misjudgment.  I suppose I am an old man, but anyone who truly knows the real me knows that at age 62, I am giddy with abundant joy and blessings each day.  With endless grace by returning the gifts He gave me, there is nothing I need in life to make me any happier and fulfilled besides my continued walk with God, and my relationship with his son, Jesus.  Grumpy?  That’s just laughable.

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–Louis Philippe

Nostalgia, History, Talent Explode in World Premiere of HEARTBREAK HOTEL at Ogunquit Playhouse

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on September 3, 2017 by Ringer

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September 2017

Floyd Mutrux is one of the busiest and most brilliant writers, directors and producers, with a wonderfully cluttered and creative mind that spills into every facet of his stage productions, intent on providing his targeted audience with the ultimate entertainment experience.

Mutrux is the co-author of the Tony award-winning, record-setting, smash hit Million Dollar Quartet which graced the Ogunquit Playhouse stage in 2015 and 2016 and became the greatest selling show in Ogunquit Playhouse history—the perfect storm of creative development, artistic vision, superb talent and great minds.

So when it was time to unleash his next musical feat—the prequel to Million Dollar Quartet—it was no surprise that he chose Oqunquit Playhouse for the world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel.  It was also no surprise to see him in the audience as he continues to shepherd and tweak his creation.  And it’ll be no surprise when Heartbreak Hotel hits Broadway with a bullet.

Heartbreak Hotel provides a window into the early life of a teenage musician named Elvis Presley who “knew all the songs” but didn’t have his own style.  In 1953, coaxed by his girlfriend, Dixie Locke, Elvis cut a record at Sun Recording Studio as a birthday gift for his mother. Sun Studio Owner Sam Phillips then introduced Elvis to guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black and The Blue Moon Boys was born.

A year later, the trio was back in the studio, still with no unique sound—until an impromptu version of “That’s All Right” immediately impressed Phillips—enough to sign Elvis and The Blue Moon Boys to a record contract.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

With the addition of drummer DJ Fontana, Elvis and his band didn’t take long to inject their newly-created style of music—rockabilly—into the world of clubs, radio and television appearances in Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. With a backdrop of racial inequality and civil unrest, the fusion of rhythm & blues and rockabilly created a toxic new style of rock ‘n roll (“race music”) that appealed to blacks and whites, girls and boys alike—which instantly made Elvis popular and controversial.

In 1955, Colonel Tom Parker, a former carnival barker from the Netherlands who came to America to make his fortune, became Elvis’ official manager.  Soon after, in January of 1956, Elvis signed a contract with RCA Records whose first label release was Mae Axton’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Next up: His buddy Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Elvis was in the fast lane on a rapid journey toward his unsuspecting destiny.  Milestones from the ’54 – ’58 years:  The Blue Moon Boys were no longer part of his deal but continued their own careers, he catapulted into Hollywood fame, his girlfriend left him, he bought a more suitable home called Graceland, and he would soon join the Army where he would meet Priscilla Beaulieu, his future wife.

This was the point in the show, minutes shy of the end, that felt like a natural culmination to a wonderful musical “rockabillyumentary” and a perfect cliffhanger for Part III of the trilogy (read on). A few hasty (and questionably relevant) scenes followed while a heavier dose of projections evoked images of the looming racial divide, followed by an almost out-of-place mini-set of patriotic hymns…which eventually led to a tentative ending.

But the cast put an exciting flashmob-like button on the show with an all-out dance party/concert that had the audience instantly on their feet for a tasty encore.  Suddenly, The Ogunquit Playhouse became John Lane’s Starlight Dance Hall filled with swooning patrons and adoring “young” Elvis fans.

The entire cast was phenomenal.  Eddie Clendening, who originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, shines anew in Heartbreak Hotel.  It doesn’t get any better.  Clendening captured the naiveté of a carefree young man who grew in confidence and humanity with each new experience, and with perfect balance of emotions to disguise his happiness.

The Blue Moon Boys are expertly played by Matt Codina as Guitarist Scotty Moore, Nathan Yates Douglass as Bassist Bill Black and Jamie Pittle as Drummer DJ Fontana…the perfect rockabilly combo.

As is often the case with musicals, the Ensemble is superbly versatile, entertaining, masters of their stage craft with vocal talent beyond belief.  Case in point:  Berlando Drake, Terita Redd and Geno Henderson—a dynamic show-within-the-show with powerhouse interpretations of numerous recording artists; Brenna Bloom is Marion, Erin Burniston is Dixie Locke and Fallon Goodson is Alice from Dallas.

Matt McKenzie and Jerry Kernion are well-suited for their roles as Sam Phillips and Colonel Tom Parker (respectively), and Christopher Sutton easily handles the role of Dewey Phillips, amusingly weaving narration in-between radio announcements.

The music is predictably sensational.  Heartbreak Hotel features a buffet of classic hits made famous by the King of Rock ‘n Roll and many legends who influenced his music…the soundtrack of life for many.

Aesthetically, the set design is striking, and even more stunning to watch the multi-function, fast-moving backdrops effectively frame scenes and change performing venues, with crisp lighting effects and projections of nostalgic video and graphics.  Bravo to Scenic Designer Adam Koch, Lighting Designer Richard Latta and Projection Designer Brad Peterson.

And the inside scoop is Floyd Mutrux’s announcement in the program that the third part of the Sun Records Trilogy is called Blue Suede Shoes and “will be coming your way in the not too distance future.”

Heartbreak Hotel runs through September 30th.  Ogunquit Playhouse is located at 10 Main Street in Ogunquit, ME 03907.  FMI:   http://www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or 207.646.5511.

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–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune