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

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

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Christmas 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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— Louis Philippe

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

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

 

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November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

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