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“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

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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

SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS SCORES WITH “SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL”

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

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July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe