Archive for Biddeford City Theater

CITY THEATER BRINGS OUT LAUGHTER, TEARS WITH “STEEL MAGNOLIAS”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on May 13, 2017 by Ringer
Steel Magnolias

Biddeford City Theater’s cast of STEEL MAGNOLIAS (l-r): Mary Boucher, Candy Jamerson, Rebecca Cole, Maddy Jarvis, Elizabeth Lester, Jessica Fidalgo.

May 2017

City Theater presents Robert Harling’s dynamic comedy-drama STEEL MAGNOLIAS, a touching play that unravels the layers of tangent relationships among a group of very different Southern women whose lives are presented through the prism of their one common social setting, Truvy Jones’ in-home beauty salon.

It’s Spring of 1987 and in the northwestern Louisiana parish of Chinquapin there’s excitement and anticipation in the air, particularly at Truvy’s Beauty Spot where the ladies are prepping for Shelby’s wedding.  The salon chat is quick, upbeat and funny, revealing diverse personalities and a colorful picture of the quirky locale.

Suddenly, Shelby has a diabetic episode that confronts the eternal hope of spring with the reality of serious medical challenges that could—and does—impact her life.  Shelby’s journey is the backdrop of the story— from her wedding day to the birth of her child, through her diabetic episodes, dialysis, kidney transplant and untimely passing.

Based on Harling’s real-life experience with his sister’s death, the play is a testament to the love, friendship and support of the female characters who, as the title suggests, “are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel.”

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a tender, heart-warming piece that requires a strongly-connected ensemble cast of women who can pour out their stage craft, turn on a dime and effectively sell all the range of emotions that the playwright has embedded in his work, from laugh-out-loud hilarity to intense despair.  The 1989 award-winning film adapation is arguably the highest recognized version of STEEL MAGNOLIAS which starred Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley Maclaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah.

For City Theater’s production, Director Linda Sturdivant has managed to muster a divergent troupe of lovely, talented, women who competently and confidently succeed in reaching Harling’s creative criteria—to the delight and enthrallment of a very engaging audience.

Maddy Jarvis, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School, skillfully handles the role of Shelby with clarity, charm and just the right amount of naivety and optimism.  Rebecca Cole plays M’Lynn, Shelby’s Mom, subtly balancing M’Lynn’s assertive, self-reliant motherly instincts to protect her child at all costs with her own inner fears of losing her daughter.  Cole’s impassioned climax in the final scene is an emotional feat, a Kleenex moment not one eye in the audience escapes.

The role of Truvy is aptly handled by Jessica Fidalgo, who instinctively multi-tasks her way around the salon, wearing many hats as business owner, employer, social host, caring friend, etc., making sure everyone is taken care of.  Elizabeth Lester is quite amusing in her portrayal of Annelle, the meek new girl at the salon who slowly becomes an integral part of the ladies’ circle.

Keeping the comedy front-and-center—at any given moment—are Mary Boucher and Candy Jamerson whose character interpretations of Clairee and Ouiser, respectively, guarantee the guffaws don’t outweigh the tears.  Both ladies are “seasoned” actresses who know precisely how to deliver the zingers and one-liners they’ve been commissioned with (think Elaine Stritch).

STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs through May 27th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.  City Theater is located at 204 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  FMI: 207-282-0849 or http://www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater + PUMPBOYS AND DINETTES = Hot Hoedown

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on March 8, 2017 by Ringer

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March 2017

It’s not surprising these days that Pump Boys and Dinettes seems to be enjoying a rowdy revival with theater-goers across the country.  It’s a simple Americana-themed country musical about the simple life of simple small-town characters…nothing pretentious, no drama, no frills, no elaboarate set changes or fancy costumes, no challenging messages, not even a plot.  What City Theater’s production of Pump Boys and Dinettes is is one mighty delicious serving of high octane fun.

Part musical, part concert, part music revue, Pump Boys and Dinettes weaves the stories of five guys who work at a gas station (L.M., Jim, Jackson, Eddie and Buck) on Highway 57, somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina, and two waitresses (sisters Rhetta and Prudie Cupp) who work at the Double Cupp Diner next door.

Pump Boys and Dinettes, a Tony Award nominee in 1982 for Best Musical, was written by members of a performance group of the same name who starred in the Broadway production—John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann.

The show begins seamlessly as cast members randomly show up to begin their work day.  Then Jim (Joel Crowley, rhythm guitar) brings the audience into their world and kicks off 100 minutes of 100% satisfying toe-tapping home-town-lovin’ entertainment.

The music is generically classic country-pop with touches of rockabilly, blues and folk.  The songs are colorful snapshots into the warm and affable life-loving characters that reveal what’s important to those on the Highway 57 journey— fishing, dating, men, grandma’s cooking, growing up, tips, vacations, drinking, etc.

All the Pump Boys play instruments:  L.M. (Kevin Smith, Music Director, piano), Jackson (Jason Phillips, bass), Eddie (Josh Adams, drums) and Buck (Brian Callaghan, lead guitar).  The Dinettes—Rhetta (Kelsey Franklin) and Prudie (Sara Sturdivant)—provide percussion on kitchen utensils.

Don’t expect a Broadway pit, but don’t be surprised that you’ll be movin’ and groovin’ to top-notch country guitar licks (thank you Brian) and high energy honky-tonk piano playing (thank you Kevin)…one one of the best countrified cabarets this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

And if you think the music is good, wait til you hear the voices—the best in town.  Crowley, Franklin, Phillips, Smith and Sturdivant each make the most of their opportunities to showcase their individual vignettes.  They know how to sing and they know how to sell a song.  But collectively, these singers become a powerhouse strong enough to melt the heart of any aficionado with beautiful, intense, clean, tasty harmonies reminiscent of the Gaithers or the Jordanaires (thank you Todd Hutchisen, sound design, and Matt Eaton, sound board operator, for the rich transparent sound and wonderful blend).

Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant and Co-Director Brian McAloon have assembled a cast of strong performers—City Theater veterans and familiar favorites—who are not only superbly talented on script but whose inate creative instincts can be relied upon to deliver remarkable performances at any given moment.  This, combined with the cast’s easy-going welcoming appeal, provides a refreshing, relaxing diversion from the headlines du-jour, a therapeutic benefit that far exceeds the cost of admission.

While Main Street in Biddeford may be a slight distance from Highway 57, Pump Boys and Dinettes, without question embodies a unique theatrical flavor yet easily meets the criteria of one of City Theater’s best musical offerings.

 A well-deserved standing ovation goes to Daniel Brodhead of Portland Stage Company who oversaw the duties of Technical Director.

Pump Boys and Dinettes run thru March 26th, Fridays and Saturday at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, at 205 Main Street, downtown Biddeford.   Tix and FMI: 207/282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater’s WEST SIDE STORY is Grand Theatrical Splendor

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 23, 2016 by Ringer

West Side Story1

Schuyler White as Tony and Maddy Jarvais as Maria. Photo: AudraHatch.com

West Side Story3

Miles Obrey (left) as Chino and Adam Gallant as Diesel stand at arms while Owen White (left, Bernardo, leader of The Sharks) and Joel Crowley (Riff, leader of The Jets) strategize The Rumble. Photo: AudraHatch.com

West Side Story4

James Muller (Snow Boy), Seth Crockett (Big Deal), Adam Gallant (Diesel), David Moses (Action) and Caleb Streadwick (Baby John) have fun in “Gee, Officer Krupke” Photo: AudraHatch.com

July 2016

WEST SIDE STORY debuted on Broadway almost 60 years ago, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, conceptually inspired by Jerome Robbins as a contemporary musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the classic tragic tale of young lovers crossing into forbidden territory, naively hoping their love for each other would eradicate the familial conflicts, racial discrimination and cultural barriers that challenged their relationship.

For Robbins’ updated version (which he directed and choreographed), Tony and Maria replace Romeo and Juliet; 13th Century Verona, Italy is now the Upper West Side of New York City, 1957; and the clash of the Montague and Capulet families are now embodied by two rival teen gangs—the Jets (White, Irish-Catholic) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican).   Changes aside (and one can only wonder what the next revised script might look like), WEST SIDE STORY is still the magnificent and universal story of young love, teen angst and the hope of overcoming social and ethnic divisions.

Biddeford City Theater’s production of WEST SIDE STORY has it all:  Copious multi-level performing spaces with pockets of built-in scenes that still comfortably give the ever-mobilized large cast room to run, jump, dance, climb, fly, roll, fight, meet, and rumble; An amazing cast of actors who can sing, dancers who can act; singers who can dance, dancers who can sing, actors who can dance; singers who can act; And an extraordinary crew who deserve highest recognition for their passion and attention to every element of production—seen and unseen.

With a reputation for top-notch local productions that rival the pros, City Theater’s presentation of WEST SIDE STORY is nothing short of phenomenal entertainment.  Director Linda Sturdivant has pulled out all the stops and has raised the bar of excellent theater to the highest level.  It’s no surprise that the cast of 36 mostly high school and young adult performers includes many favorites who are consistent, strong and bankable.

Schuyler White as Tony and Maddy Jarvais as Maria are a powerful team, blending impeccable vocal skills and emotions to their love-riddled roles.

Joel Crowley is Riff, leader of The Jets: Action (David Moses), Diesel (Adam Gallant), Big Deal (Seth Crockett), Snow Boy (James Muller), Baby John (Caleb Streadwick) and Anybody’s (Gaia Ayres).

Their Girls: Velma (Alyssa Rojecki), Graziella (Lizzie Hobbs), Clarice (Callie Cox), Minnie (Abby Randall), Pauline (Katy Albert), Connie (Katie Spagnolo), Donna (Ashley Marie) and Debbie (Hallie Scammell).

Owen White is Bernardo, Maria’s brother and leader of The Sharks: Chino (Miles Obrey), Pepe (Owen Carten), Indio (Logan Marrithew), Luis (Charlie Lees), Juano (Rodric Jones), Queso (Andrew Lamb) and Anxious (Zack LaChance).

Their Girls:  Anita (Liz Kershenbaum), Consuelo (Jessica Libby), Rosalia (Elizabeth Lester), Francisca (Autumn Rivas), Teresita (Bethany Perkins), Estella (Brianna Chu), Margarita (Nina Finocchiaro), Gianna (Kai Brown) and Camilla (Etain Brown).

The cast also included Tad Williams as Officer Shrank, Sarah Wells as Officer Krupke, Jay Jones as Doc and Kathy Demers as Glad Hand.

At the risk of sounding aloof, it’s difficult to credit individuals with outstanding performances because truly there was not one weak link on stage.  From the starring roles to the ensemble, every individual’s contribution to every character in every scene, song and dance was unmitigated creative success.

The Bernstein brand of lush, vibrant and enthralling orchestration is a huge factor to the longevity and popularity of WEST SIDE STORY.  Bernstein’s original intention was to present the material in operatic form, as “lyric theater,” but further collaboration with the Laurents-Sondheim-Robbins team led to adjustments but maintained the magnificent musical artistry.

The music controls the purpose-driven pace of the narrative, augmenting intense emotions, driving the impressive and mesmerizing dance pieces, and punctuating all the action with rich, ethereal, incidental and sometimes stunning transformations that command the performance.

To ensure the music would be righteously treated, Sturdivant recruited the talents of two of the area’s best music directors—Kevin Smith and Rebecca Rinaldi.  Both the music and singing are glorious.

The orchestra also featured Joshua Adams and Jason Phillips on percussion, Don Lauzier on trumpet, Timothy Burns on horn, Owen Doane on trombone, Blaise Spath and Ray Libby on Reed, Sam Schuth on violin and Jimmy McGirr on bass.

WEST SIDE STORY features trademark songs that define the great American music theater:  “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere” and more.

The Schuyler-Jarvais duet renditions of “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” were particularly strong.  The Shark Girls clearly had a lot of fun with “America.”   David Moses stole the show in the comic relief “Gee, Officer Krupke.” A musical high was achieved by Liz Kershenbaum and Jarvais in the powerful “I Have a Love.”

The dancing was bold and brilliant, choreographed by Mariel Roy with assistance by Adelyn Bell.  Among the highlights: The “Dance At The Gym” sequence was quite entertaining, all the dance moves by The Jets and The Sharks were exciting and riveting, especially “The Rumble” (credit to Mark Bedell for the fight choreography), and the Ballet Sequence was totally breath-taking and beautiful (special mention to Elizabeth Lester for her outstanding dance skills).

Technical salutes to Debbi Ketchum for Set Design, Jessica Chaples-Graffam for Scenic Painting, Technical Director Josh Adams, Todd Hutchisen for Sound Design and Sound Board Operator Matt Eaton, Heather Crocker for Light Design and Light Board Operator Shay Ayers, and Costume Designers Barbara Kelly and Brian McAloon…just to name a few of the dozens of crew members and over 200 volunteers who helped create beauty and grandeur on a large scale.

WEST SIDE STORY is sponsored by Biddeford Savings and runs through August 7th, on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford. Tickets are $20.  Call 207/282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater’s MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’s is deliciously silly romp

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2016 by Ringer
Murder at the Howard Johnson's 1

Rebecca Cole, Karl Carrigan and Ryan Lane star in City Theater’s MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’S. photo credit: http://www.audrahatch.com

May 2016

City Theater in Biddeford takes a break from its highly-reputed lineup of powerful, emotional blockbuster musicals to serve up the refreshing farce MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’s.

Sam Bobrick and his writing partner Ron Clark have concocted a deliciously silly romp about a ridiculous love triangle between Arlene Miller (Rebecca Cole), her husband Paul Miller (Ryan Lane) and her lover, the couple’s dentist, Mitchell Lovell DDS (Karl Carrigan).

It’s Christmas, 1978, and the iconic and colorful room at Howard Johnson’s is where Arlene and Mitch plot to murder Paul if he doesn’t agree to a divorce.  He doesn’t.  They don’t.  By the following July 4th, Arlene and Paul are again at Howard Johnson’s, this time celebrating their plan to murder Mitch for cheating on Arlene.  They don’t…but there are fireworks.  And by the end of 1979, the two men have joined forces to murder Arlene for moving on with another man.  They don’t.  Life goes on.

Directed and produced by Linda Sturdivant, MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’s is a zany comedy about a trio of dysfunctional characters brilliantly depicted by this top-notch cast that gives a nod to a cache of marriage and relationship issues and a wide-range of personality quirks.  Collectively, the Cole-Carrigan-Lane team drives every scene with lots of energy, great lines, and fast-moving twists and turns—some predictable à la television sitcoms or soap operas while others are a righteous sideswipe to one’s sense of humor.  As inept and clumsy as their unfiltered characters are, all three actors are quite commanding, changing courses of this love triangle on a penny, impressively aware of the fourth wall and instinctively knowing precisely how much schmaltz to give to make the shtick work.

Lane’s portrayal of Paul Miller provides the anchor for these actors to jump into the shallowest of waters.  He’s bland, realistic to a fault, always getting the shaft in life, and his introverted interpretation provides the perfect juxtaposition to Carrigan’s outrageously extroverted role of Mitchell Lovell, DDS. Unlike Miller, Lovell is a splashy-dressing over-the-top womanizer with the right looks, moves, and lines— and if you don’t believe him, ask him.

And perfectly balanced (or imbalanced as this case may be) between the polarizing personalities of the men in her life is Arlene.  Cole is masterfully in control of Arlene, bouncing between the extreme highs and lows of this everyday housewife searching for happiness, not ever staying in one emotional place. Her subtly over-exaggerated expressions were flawless.

This is a play that involves little thinking and abundant enjoyment.  There is no deep-rooted hidden social agenda, no hidden statements, no psychological  bombshells, no epiphanies of marriage and morality, no moral to the story.  In Arlene’s words:  “Life is so complicated for those of us who think.”

The collaboration of Bobrick and Clark’s eloquent creativity is undeniably successful in making an audience laugh.  In addition to writing over 40 plays, a sampling of Bobrick’s television credits include The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart, The Smothers Brothers Show, Bewitched, and numerous musical variety shows. Mr. Bobrick also created the teenage hit series Saved By The Bell.  Among Mr. Clark’s credits:  Monologues for Jack Carter, Alan King, Henny Youngman as well as dozens of other stand-ups of the period and writing for The Jackie Gleason Show, The Danny Kaye Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Kraft Music Hall, The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, The Van Dyke Show and Moonlighting.

MURDER AT THE HOWARD JOHNSON’s runs from Friday, May 13th to Sunday, May 22nd, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  For tickets and reservations, call 282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.  [And when you see the show, pay extra attention to the “Housekeeping” staff…a priceless touch of reality!]

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-Louis Philippe

City Theater’s “NEXT TO NORMAL” is Daring Risk, Critical Success!

Posted in Recent Press Releases with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2016 by Ringer
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Biddeford City Theater’s cast of NEXT TO NORMAL: (l-r) Seth Crockett, Joel Crowley, Maddy Jarvais, Rebecca Rinaldi, Brian McAloon, James Muller. Photo: http://www.audrahatch.com

March 2015

Meet the Goodmans: Dan, the successful, working class Dad; Diana, the ever-efficient housewife who loves her kids; Gabe, the popular, outgoing, 18 year-old son, and Natalie, the smart overachieving daughter. At first, the Goodmans seem like your typical normal family.  That is, until you realize that Mom is living with hallucinations from a worsening bipolar depressive disorder.

Admittedly, the many devastating ways that mental illness can impact a family isn’t your normal subject matter for a musical, but let’s face it, it’s a subject matter that is more prevalent in modern society than we perhaps care to admit.   It’s the powerful message of Next to Normal, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning rock musical being staged by City Theater for two weekends, March 11 – 20.

With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, Next to Normal features a strong, immensely talented ensemble that bravely and sensitively (and at times with a bit of humor) grapples with an endless unraveling of dark issues—the loss of a child, grieving, drug abuse, suicide, depression, anxieties, psychotherapy, hypnosis, Electroconvulsive Therapy, ethical choices, personal relationships.

Rebecca Rinaldi is riveting and mesmerizing as Diana, leading the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride through dark spaces that are not necessarily lacking in uncomfortable confrontations and familiarity—which renders this production many shades of relevant depending on one’s own unique life exposures to mental illness.

Joel Crowley plays the role of Gabe with precision and perfection, ever-present in his own dimension, slithering between Mommy’s little angel Gabriel and Mommy’s taunting demon of addiction.

Brian McAloon is solid as Dan, the doting family man with his own issues, introducing himself almost like a television sitcom Dad (the show does have oasis moments of humor) but taking on the emotional challenges that lead to his own epiphany in the end.

Maddy Jarvais, a junior at Bonny Eagle High School, makes her debut at City Theater, in a grand and memorable way as Natalie, a feisty and anxious teen on the verge of life, and in the midst of her own crisis she falls in love with Henry, a fun-loving nice guy easily played by James Muller.

Also making his City Theater debut is Seth Crockett who rounds out the ensemble in his dual roles of Dr. Fine and the inside-out personas of Dr. Madden.

The music of Next To Normal is much akin to many 80s-themed rock musicals, i.e. Broadway-pop melodies, intertwined with the token crazy notes, played over basic chord structures filled with repetitive layers of vocal loops—not as commercially viable as the music of Jonathan Larsen’s RENT but in the same vain (in fact, research will reveal many creative ties between n2n and the Larsen phenomenon).

While the audience might not leave the theater tapping and humming a familiar ditty, it is not to underestimate the skill level required of a cast to reach Tony Award-winning levels designed by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. This cast is unrelenting with their gifts and unmistakably hits the mark of ultimate delight as the musical pieces continue to flow—through intense individual narratives to multi-pronged group collages that emotionally dance with clear, concise, transparent aural traffic.

The singing team of Crockett-Crowley-Jarvais-McAloon-Muller-Rinaldi simply channeled some of their previous experiences (ala RENT, tick tick…BOOM!, Addams Family Musical, Jekyll & Hyde, Chess, Gunmetal Blues, just to name a few) and nailed it! At times, they accomplished the rare secret musical formula: 1+1+1+1+1+1 = 32.

Music Director Denise Calkins is in clear command of a wonderful pit: Ms Calkins on piano, Brian Callaghan on guitar, John Blake on Bass, Bill Manning on Drums/Percussion and the Violin position shared by Madeline McDonald and Evan Cuddy.

As in previous rock musicals, Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant maximizes the square footage of the stage with an interesting, stark and effective, two-story set designed by Karl Carrigan. Set changes were easily handled by stagehands Gaia Ayres, Amy Payne and Abby Randall, orchestrated by State Manager Greg Brackett.

Cudos to the remarkable crew: Daniel Brodhead for Light Design and Shay Ayers, light board operator; to Todd Hutchisen for Sound Design and Matt Eaton, sound board operator; Barbara Kelly for Costumes, Peter Salsbury for Props, Set Dresser Leslie Lampert and Graphic Designer Jessica Thibodeau.

Because Next To Normal may not carry the same name recognition as a proven Broadway musical blockbuster, it represents a daring creative risk—one that has reaped the reward of reaching critical success. “I picked this show because I love the music, I love the message, and because mental illness impacts more families than we know of, and awareness of the problems is part of the coping and healing, so why not bring the darkness to light,” said Director Sturdivant.

Next To Normal runs March 11-20, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, at Biddeford’s Historic Opera House, 205 Main St., Biddeford. FMI call 207-282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater Packs Double Punch With BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, Bonus Concert

Posted in Recent Press Releases with tags , , , on December 3, 2015 by Ringer

PAGEANTDecember 2015

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”and what can capture the reason for the season better than a Christmas Pageant?

Once again, churches of all denominations will offer the seasonal sensation of the real Christmas story brought to life by their darling stars—angels and shepherds clad in bed sheets and bathrobes, haloes hanging, angel wings slightly askew; The Wise Men and The Three Kings all richly adorned, out of step, itching, shoving, smirking through the fourth wall; And of course Mary and Joseph, who slowly, steadily and ever-so-seriously seek their Oscars on their way to the manger—all corralled by a bevy of appointed stage Moms and Dads in tow with props, crooks, wings, safety pins and duct tape.

City Theater brings the experience to the stage in Barbara Robinson’s can’t-miss family-friendly Christmas comedy, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Filled with divinely-scripted (and unscripted) imperfections that are so unique to kids on stage and so adorable to watch, it’s a perfect show to get everyone in the Christmas spirit. Indeed, this Pageant proves that a child does lead the way. “Shazam! He’s in the barn! Come See!”

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the Christmas story behind the Christmas story that almost never happened. When Mrs. Armstrong, who always directs the Pageant, lands herself in the hospital, the Church Ladies convince Grace Bradley to take the reins. It’s the same every year, she figures, so what could possibly go wrong?

Enter: The Herdmans, a brood of unkempt, unfiltered, unchurched siblings that heard that some rich Minister was giving out free snacks and so they crashed the auditions, ending up with refreshments—and leading roles in the Pageant. But—as miracles go—what seemed to be doomed turned out to be an inspiring success and somehow all the challenges and conflicts resolve in glorious fashion.

There will be as many delightful Christmas messages to be had as there will be theater-goers. The old adage “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” comes to mind, along with several morals to the story—Don’t judge people by their appearances, When given a chance kids can shine, None of us are perfect, etc. But my favorite take-away theme is that some of us at times might be hard to love, but despite our faults and shortcomings God can change hearts, bring out the best in us, and use even the least of us to do the greatest things.

I would have to say The Herdmans are the heroes: Ralph (West Bourgeois-Lang), Imogene (Teyha Brown), Leroy (Jared Williams), Claudia (Olivia Hand), Olivia (Addison Macavian) and Gladys (Chamille Ramirez). All portrayed their characters with perfect vim and vinegar and kept the audience smiling with their priceless expressions and antics.

I’d have to say The Bradleys are also the heroes for their commitment as a family to the Pageant and for literally weaving everything together: Grace/Mother (Tara Golson), who directed The Pageant with controlled confusion and cool comedic frustration; Bob/Father (Tad Williams), always there and supportive because “Yes, he had to go”; Beth (Kiera Knuckles) who did a great job as narrator, big sister and friend; and Charlie (Ryan Phipps)—this little guy turned in a very strong performance, bravo!

But what every Pageant needs to really make it great are a lot of kids of all ages, shapes and sizes to help the story with their own style of acting and singing. So I’d have to say these Church Kids are heroes, too, for playing such crucial roles: Alice Wendleken (Laina Mekonis), Maxine (Alicia Fournier), Emily Hopkins (Anne Marie Templeton), Danielle (Evvy McGirr), Beverly (Tega Bourgeois-Lang), Alison (Alicia Thibeau), Shirley (Lauren Arsenault) and Hannah Clark (Allyson Hand).

And of course what Pageant doesn’t benefit from those unsung heroes who coordinate all the behind-the-scenes production details, those chatty Church Ladies who add a nice touch of comic relief: Mrs. Armstrong (Jessica Fidalgo), Mrs. Slocum (Wendy Brown), Mrs. Clark (Ashley Taylor), Mrs. Clausing (Crystal Arsenault), Mrs. McCarthy (Leslie Lampert) and Mrs. Early (Melissa Bourgeois-Lang).

Rounding out the cast is Eric Brown who plays Reverend Hopkins and Graves Bates and Joel Crowley who play the firemen (no need for alarm, it’s part of the script…I think).

And wait! There’s more! Producer Linda Sturdivant and Director Brian McAloon knew that this fast-paced one-act comedy would leave audiences wanting for more so they added a Bonus Act Two that includes a stellar concert and sing-along featuring some of City Theater’s finest talent (consider it a gift of gifts): James Muller, Brian McAloon, Joel Crowley, Alyssa Rojecki, Lynn Boren-McKellar, Leslie Lampert, Rebecca Rinaldi and the Centre of Movement Dancers with Choreographer Mariel Roy, Amber Arsenault, Haley Crosby, Hailey Fardon, Lily Rowe and Marissa Wilson. The pit includes Music Director Bethany Perkins on piano, Jimmy McGirr on bass and Josh Adams on Drums/Percussion.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is sponsored by the Journal Tribune and runs through December 13th—Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sunday Matinees at 2 PM. The theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford. For tickets, call 207 282-0849 or visit www.CityTheater.org.

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-Louis Philippe

CITY THEATER’S SMASH HIT “RENT” IS UNDAUNTING ARTISTIC SUCCESS

Posted in Archive Press Releases with tags , , , , , on July 20, 2015 by Ringer
Biddeford City Theater's cast of RENT. Photo credit: AudraHatch.com

Biddeford City Theater’s cast of RENT. Photo credit: AudraHatch.com

July, 2015

To say that Jonathan Larson was a musical theater genius would be an understatement. Steven Sondheim would be proud.

To say that City Theater’s production of RENT is spectacular and compelling would also be an understatement. Larson would be proud.

To conceptually photoshop Puccini’s “La Bohème” from 1930s Left Bank Paris on a band of struggling artists with AIDS in 1990s East Village Manhattan, and create a rock opera—script, music and lyrics—is visionary to say the least.

To take a rock musical like RENT and nail every song and perfectly emulate every Larson nuance of every character with unabashed skill and spirit is one of City Theater’s most amazing and glorious gifts to the community. The other, of course, is a superb creative team led by Artistic Director Linda Sturdivant whose reputation for setting high standards and exceeding expectations is well known.

RENT documents a year in the life—and death—of a group of friends/peers squatting in a loft, all struggling in some way—financially, creatively, artistically, sexually, romantically, emotionally. Many have AIDS and debilitating addictions; all have baggage. It was a good time to be alive, to party with friends (everyone was a friend) to follow one’s dream while binging on rampant sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and overindulging on unfiltered choices with no consequence in sight. “Forget regret, or life is yours to miss…”

For many, though, it was a horrible struggle filled with pain, loss, denial, death. And Larson has an uncanny way of painting the juxtaposition between life’s highs and lows. The audience has no choice but to experience the intense inner conflicts and outward battles that each of his bohemian family members grapple with. “…No other path, no other way, no day but today.”

Larson’s challenge to audiences is to look back on their own year of emotional milestones and challenges and “measure your life in love.” After all, there are only 525,600 minutes in a year…YOU decide how to spend those moments.

The story focuses on Roger Davis (Joel Crowley), a songwriter-musician who is HIV positive, and his roommate Mark Cohen (James Muller), a brainy video artist who escapes into his work. Their friend Tom Collins (Jason Phillips) arrives for a surprise visit and is mugged before entering, but is tended to by a stranger, a transgender percussionist named Angel Dumont Schunard (Justin Stebbins), and the two fall in love. An exotic dancer and neighbor, Mimi Marquez (Ashley Christy), asks Roger to light her candle and a romance is sparked. Mark’s former girlfriend, Maureen Johnson (Karleena Stoner), is a bisexual performance artist who left Mark for a new lover, Joanne Jefferson (Sarah Thurston). Meanwhile, Benjamin Coffin III (Brian McAloon), former roommate of Roger, Mark, Collins and Maureen, is now their landlord and demanding rent.

A fabulous ensemble portrays a parade of 19 beautiful, colorful and decadent characters that are vital to a narrative that develops…sometimes too fast. If you’re not paying attention you can easily miss some complex details (a note that even Sondheim shared with Larson).

To point out some highlights of this show is akin to winning an Oscar and remembering all the people to thank. To claim that every cast member was flawless in their art is NOT to be taken as some reviewer’s throw-away cliché, but an honest recognition of some formidable and inspiring individuals.

Joel Crowley’s “Roger” is precisely the raw, honest, vulnerable and complicated guy Larson created, complete with amazing vocal strength, control and range. Bravo!

What Justin Stebbins brings to his cross-dressing “Angel” is one of the most emotional and transforming pieces of theater that transcends boundaries and changes hearts. Bravo!

RENT is a non-stop concert/variety show of Larson hits that combine many influences—Sondheim (no surprise), Tim Rice, Galt MacDermot, and an array of generic 80s pop songsters. The music is magnificent, ripe with refreshing lyrics and interesting melodies.

Music Director and pianist Kevin Smith presents a magnificent handful of musicians whose collective output sound like a professional off-Broadway pit, once again proving that Smith is one of the most professional and capable Music Directors in Maine theater.

Larson’s trademark writing style (i.e. rounds of phrases interlaced with other rounds of phrases and integrated rhythms that all come together oftentimes in unison for a big finale) is evident in the show’s chart-topper “Seasons Of Love.” But his interesting treatment of duets is arguably his biggest creative asset: “Another Day” and “Without You” feature astounding vocals by Crowley and Ashley Christy. Bravo!

Totally impressive are the vocal triumphs of Rebecca Rinaldi and Brian McAloon in “Seasons Of Love” (it doesn’t get any better than this). Bravo! And to all who were mesmerizing in both versions of “La Vie Bohème”: BRAVO!

And leave it to Larson to create a crazy performance art piece called “Over The Moon.” But leave it to an amazingly talented Karleena Stoner to turn that piece into an unbelievable mind-boggling show-stopper. This superb singer and actress walked away with the bakery. Bravo!

RENT brings out the harsh realities of living a life with AIDS and the fear of losing one’s dignity. Larson’s depiction of his Life Support characters (and the powerful “Another Day”) was inspired by the real life meetings of the support group Friends In Deed which Larson attended. The names of those who are part of the Life Support meeting in the show carry the same names of Larson’s friends who died of AIDS.

RENT is an extension of Larson’s autobiographical musical tick…tick…Boom! which City Theater presented earlier this season. To know RENT is to know Larson, and the community is indebted to City Theater for bringing both of Larson’s creations to glorious life.

RENT is Larson’s divinely appointed legacy, as he would never enjoy the fruits of his labor. Tragically, in January, 1996, only hours before its off-Broadway opening, Larson collapsed in his apartment and died from an aortic aneurysm. Injustice? Mercy? Judgment?…Ironically, all themes the playwright espoused in his prophetic work—that in a matter of hours would change the face of American musical theater.

RENT runs until August 2 at City Theater, 205 Main St., Biddeford. Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets are $20. Call 282-0849 or visit http://www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe