Archive for City Theater

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

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VINTAGE SONDHEIM + STRONG CITY THEATER CAST = PERFECT “COMPANY”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on March 11, 2018 by Ringer

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March 2018

Picture it. Manhattan. 1970. It’s Robert’s 35th birthday and his crazy married and engaged friends throw him a surprise party.  Though he’s content to be single (or is he?), his friends use the milestone event to shower him with unsolicited relationship advice so he can be as happy as they are.  The problem is they’re all in certifiably dysfunctional relationships of their own.

Picture it. Biddeford. 2018. It’s opening night of City Theater’s production of COMPANY, featuring book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  What’s really center-stage is a cacophony of personality differences, emotional failures and psychological challenges of five upper-middle class couples with upper-middle class problems…and three of Bobby’s girlfriends.

Thankfully, there are enough moments of levity and shtick to qualify COMPANY as a musical comedy because it’s mentally exhausting (if not disturbing) to endure the clamoring emotional clashes and incessant push-and-pull of all the crazy married people on stage.

…All of which, in no way, should be interpreted as a negative critique of the production.  Au contraire, it’s exactly what Furth and Sondheim, Director Linda Sturdivant and the entire 18-member cast carefully succeeded in delivering—a good solid show with intensity, precision, gutsy honesty and a few laughs to wash it all down with.

Caleb Lacy is quite effective in the lead role of Robert, in many ways still a kid at heart, not able to commit to a relationship, unable to blow out his candles, unsure about what he wants.  Through various vignettes, Robert’s quest for answers reveals the best and worst of his friends:

Sarah (Rebecca Rinaldi) and Harry (Brian McAloon)—with boundless bickering over their individual food and alcohol addictions, they endlessly taunt each other until grappling in a stifling karate competition.

Susan (Alyssa Rojecki) and Peter (Seth Crockett)—a seemingly perfect match-up between a Southern belle with fainting spells and an Ivy Leaguer who might be gay, who opt for divorce in order to maintain their happy relationship.

Jenny (Gusta Johnson), straight-laced and uptight and David (Tim Steiner), modish and contemporary but a tad controlling.

Amy (Mia Foley Perron), a manic Catholic girl who gets cold feet on her wedding day and Paul (Schuyler White), her easy-going ever-optimistic Jewish fiancé.

Joanne (Jennine Cannizzo), a snarky, sassy and abrasive older friend and Larry (Peter Salsbury), her well-to-do, sweet and doting third husband.

Also providing relationship research are Bobby’s three girlfriends:  April (Joanna Clarke), a dopey, naïve but beautiful flight attendant; Kathy (Adelyn Bell), a small-town on-off girlfriend who decides to leave New York to get married; and Marta (Elizabeth Lester), a hip New York fanatic whose unbridled babbling is stunning.

And speaking of stunning, the music and lyrics are amazing samples of Stephen Sondheim’s trademark talent—Lyrics that tell stories, looping stories over looping stories, and wonderful dissonance that, when all combined, create a mesmerizing polyphony that augments any given production number with vivid musical motion and emotion.

The show’s title song, Company, along with Getting Married Today, Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You, and the Finale are superb production numbers, righteously choreographed by Mariel Roy.

While the songs are recognizably dated, the collective vocals of the cast is stellar.  Several knock-out standouts include:  You Could Drive A Person Crazy (by Bell, Clarke and Lester), Getting Married Today (featuring Perron, Johnson, White and Company), and Being Alive (Lacy’s breakthough song that brings him to finally blow out his candles), all prime examples of solid solo work.

But my “Standing O” goes to Jennine Cannizzo for her impeccable interpretation of The Ladies Who Lunch that would make Elaine Stritch very proud.

Music Director/Pianist Sara Sturdivant effortlessly and instinctively knows how to make a cast shine, while driving a pit of competent players:  Victoria Hulburt, violin; Ray Libby, woodwinds; Don Lauzier, trumpet; Jimmy McGirr, bass; Joshua Adams and Karl Menard, percussion.

Certainly noteworthy is a quartet of singers/dancers/set movers cleverly called The Vocal Minority.  Hats off to Hannah Brown, Briana Chu, Anna Devoe and Andrew Lamb.

COMPANY opened on Broadway almost 50 years ago, on April 26, 1970 and ran for 705 performances.

City Theater’s production of COMPANY runs through March 25th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main Street, downtown Biddeford.  FMI, call 282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater’s WIZARD OF OZ is Phenomenal Entertainment!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 23, 2017 by Ringer
Wizard of OZ

Biddeford City Theater’s cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ: Brie Roche as Dorothy, Justin Stebbins as Scarecrow, Brian McAloon as Tin Man and Schuyler White as The Lion. photo credit: http://www.audrahatch.com

July 2017

Biddeford City Theater pulls out all the stops for a sensational season closer, The Wizard of Oz, running now through August 6thIt doesn’t get any better than this.

Yes, this is the same classic tale by L. Frank Baum, with Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made into the best known commercially successful movie adaptation in 1939. It’s the same iconic musical fantasy that became a television tradition broadcast annually from 1959-1991.

But as rich in cultural history, sentimental value and tradition The Wizard of Oz is, City Theater’s live presentation is unique with refreshing updates and lots of “wow” factors.

With its wide extended stage, three performing levels and double video screens that add up to a LOT of action, La Salle de l’Opéra channels a major performance venue hosting an impeccable, high-energy national tour.  The live concert extravaganza unfolds at perfect speed, with just enough suggestive set pieces for seamless scene changes, high doses of animation and sensory excitement, special effects, characters that “fly” and multi-media graphics that provide a new dimension to an already huge show.

Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant has amassed the largest cast in City Theater history—62 strong—who take the audience on a journey with Dorothy and her dog, Toto, who are swept up in a tornado from their Kansas farm to a place behind the sun, the magical land of Oz.  She befriends three characters—Scarecrow, Tin Man and The Lion—who join her on the yellow brick road to find the great Wizard of Oz who can grant their wishes for a brain, a heart, courage, and the way home.

The journey is robust and daring, magical and scary, filled with characters, challenges and special effects  that fill the senses and delight audience members of all ages.  Witches, Munchkins, Crows, Apple Trees, Poppies, Snowmen, Jitterbugs, Flying Monkeys, Tornado Dancers and The Winkie Guard.  Familiar favorites peppered with new personalities, some with flavorful attitude.

From beginning to end, there is not one environmental, theatrical or logistical element that detracts or distracts the audience from enjoying the ultimate Maine summer community theater experience.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

The acting, singing and dancing—all flawless.  The only possible hints of upstaging come from an assortment of adorable young actors from Munchkin Land whose cuteness factor leaves the audience defenseless.  Then there’s a humble-but-stellar performance turned in by Moe McGirr, the Yorkshire Terrier/Chekhov Canine that plays the role of Toto with Tony-Award-Winning flair.

Standing ovations to Brie Roche (Dorothy), Justin Stebbins (Scarecrow/Hunk), Brian McAloon (Tin Man/Hickory) and to Schuyler White (Lion/Zeke).  Also to Jessica Chaples-Graffam (Auntie Em), Peter Salsbury (Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard), Alyssa Rojecki (Wicked Witch of the West/Elmira Gultch), Lynn Boren McKellar (Glinda the Good Witch) and Brett Balfour (Professor Marvel)…all consummate professionals.

The parade of matchless talent includes:  Tad Willaims (General of the Winkies), Cameron Turgeon (The Mayor); Miles Sims-Kastelein (Barrister); Sally McGrath (Coroner); Braden Suey and Jared Wiliams (City Fathers); Amelie Lourdeau, Nola Lourdeau and Laila Suey (The Lullabye League; Abigail Frank, Lucy Gellis and Lily Tarbox (Lollipop Guild); and The Folk of Munchkin Land—Ysabel Arsenault, Ella Cabana-Flick, Madison Collin, Michaela Davis, Peter Graffam and Blake Lewis.

A group of featured dancers wonderfully augment various scenes with imaginative tableaus of motion—Gaia Ayres (who also plays Nikko, The Leader of the Monkeys), Briana Chu, Callie J. Cox, Nina Finocchiaro, Paul Jesus McIntosh, Caleb Streadwick, Logan A. Merrithew, Molly Scott and Jason Spivey.

The cast also includes Katy Albert, Lindsay Armstrong, Barbara A. Blais, Cindy Blais, Aberdeen Brickett, Devenny Brickett, Tega Bourgeois-Lang, Maggie Carlock, Elisha Cicio, Meg Davis, Ryleigh Dyer, Caroline Fallona, Jay W. Jones, Alyssa Landry, Gina Lewis, Kaitlin McGinley, Evelyn McGirr, Laina MeKonis, Mark J. Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Dustin Niehoff, Meg Reynolds, Kelsey Seavey, Ashley Shevenell, Izaiah Stackpole and Victoria Stackpole.

Perhaps the hardest-working person on stage is Kevin Smith, Music Director, who harnesses a magnificent 10-piece orchestra while tediously and immaculately playing gate keeper to some stunning pieces of background music by Herbert Stothart, lush orchestration written by Larry Wilcox, and vibrant dance and vocal arrangements by Peter Howard.  For his non-stop focus, precision timing and his uncanny ability to juggle incessant musical cues without missing a beat, Smith is masterful.

The amazing pit includes Smith on Keyboard; Will Silvers on Keyboard II and Tenor Sax; Joshua Adams on Percussion Kit;  Blaise Spath, Flute and Baritone Sax; Ray Libby, Clarinet, Flute and Sax; Victoria Hurlburt, Violin; Mathew Nichols, Cello; Jimmy McGirr, Bass; Don Lauzier, Trumpet; and Owen Doane, Trombone.

In addition to the 50 people who contribute their time and talents on the production and tech staff, a volunteer crew of 215 people also helped Director Sturdivant mount this majestic event.  Some of those luminaries include:  Choreographer Mariel Roy, Set Designer and Technical Director CJ Payne, Stage Manager Greg Brackett, Scenic Painter Jessica Chaples-Graffam, Master Carpenter Ed Wood, Projections by Richard McIntosh and stupendous costume designs by Barbara Kelly and Alysa Avery.

The Wizard of Oz is arguably one of Sturdivant’s most creative and lavish family-friendly feats (“Oh, I’ve had these ideas living in my head rent-free for years, I finally put them on stage.”).  The problem with making such a bold claim is that Sturdivant is always raising the bar at City Theater…and the next opportunity is right around the corner.

Five-star, family-friendly entertainment, not to be missed!  “There’s no place like Biddeford, there’s no place like Biddeford, there’s no place like Biddeford.”

The Wizard of Oz is running now through August 6th—Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  FMI:  207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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