Archive for City Theater

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.

###

–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.

###

–Louis Philippe

City Theater + PUMPBOYS AND DINETTES = Hot Hoedown

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

###

–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.

###

–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!]

###

-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
N2N

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.

###

–Louis Philippe

CITY THEATER’S “JEKYLL AND HYDE” IS 5-STAR MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANZA

Posted in Recent Press Releases with tags , , , , on October 16, 2015 by Ringer
J&H2

Jason Phillips as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Alyssa Rojecki as Emma Carew. Photo: http://www.audrahatch.com

J&H3

Jason Phillips as Edward Hyde and Karleena Stoner as Lucy Harris. Photo: http://www.audrahatch.com

J&H1

A scene from Biddeford City Theater’s “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical. Photo: http://www.audrahatch.com

October 2015

Imagine a doctor so passionate about saving mentally-challenged patients that he concocts a potion that could separate the good from the evil that lurks inside one’s head. Imagine he pitches his theory to a hospital Board of Governors and is mocked and scorned for such a crazy idea. Imagine he then becomes his own self-monitoring patient but things go awry and the fine line between his inner good man and inner mad man becomes a battle line for his life, destroying lives and wreaking havoc in a small Victorian London town before everything comes to a horrific end.

Imagine no more. Biddeford City Theater brings it all to life with the frightful, chilling Jekyll & Hyde, the gothic musical thriller based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When the musical first came to Broadway in 1997, it was described as a 3-star show and did not receive favorable reviews from the standard critic outlets. It did, however, run for almost four years and in that time developed an ever-growing stall of “Jekkies,” loyal fans to the Frank Wildhorn (music) and Leslie Bricusse (books and lyrics) collaboration. Something must’ve changed because the Jekyll & Hyde that opened on Main Street in Biddeford in October of 2015 was nothing less than a flawless, spectacular 5-star entertainment extravaganza loaded with amazing “eat-your-heart-out-Broadway” talent.

Jason Phillips has waited 17 years to play the dual roles of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. “This Is The Moment” was his moment, but just one of many. Phillips nailed it all with laser-focused precision and powerful emotion. We know the “Jekyll and Hyde” expression is used to describe a personality disorder of someone alternating between good and evil behavior, but to witness one actor so skillfully weave in and out between Dr. Nice Guy and Psychopathic Monster is a tour-de-force not to be missed. “Streak Of Madness,” “The Way Back” and “Confrontation” were masterfully rendered.

The two female leads perfectly represented the diabolically opposing slices of 19th century London cultures: Alyssa Rojecki as Jekyll’s fiancé, Emma Carew, from the rich and pompous society, and Karleena Stoner as Hyde’s “love” interest, Lucy Harris, portraying the seedy side of Camden Town’s street scene.

Rojecki and Stoner are each powerhouse performers who absorb their characters and pour out their heart and soul in every scene. They both deserve highest acclamations for their innate stage skills and their impeccable and most impressive vocal gifts. Their performances could not have been outdone.

Rojecki’s “Once Upon A Dream” and Stoner’s “Someone Like You” and “A New Life” were prime solos, but the audience was doubly mesmerized with their duet, “In His Eyes.” “Take Me As I Am,” was another great moment between Jekyll and Emma.

The array of other characters were quite interesting, some eerie and sinister, some bizarre and comical—all so well portrayed. Joshua Adams as John Utterson and Peter Salsbury as Sir Danvers Carew were wonderful. The Board of Governors was a terrific menu of quirky behaviors: Lynn Boren-McKellar as Lady Beaconsfield, Tad Williams as Lord Savage, Kevin Reams as The Bishop of Basingstoke, Chris Roberts as Sir Archibald Proops, and Jonathan Carr as General Lord Glossop.

It was fascinating to watch the ever-vital “Ensemble” seamlessly play duel and very distinctive roles (and you KNOW the show is going to be great when you see such an impressive list of stalwart and seasoned performers in the “Ensemble”): Dustin Pazar as Simon Stride and the menacing Spider, Gretchen Wood as Nellie/Poole; Caleb Steadwick as The Newsboy, Adam Gallant as The Minister, Ryan Lane as Bisset, Greg Brackett as Jekyll’s Father, and Gaia Ayres, Rebecca Cole, Alex Pease and Bethany Perkins.

The production numbers were breath-taking, particularly the many “Facade” variations and “Alive.” Credit is given to Choreographer Mariel Roy. Her direction of The Rat Club Dancers (Adelyn Bell, Kaya Brown, Briana Chu, Cate DeMuele) for “Bring On The Men” was reminiscent of Fosse’s “Mein Herr.”

The music is delightful—from lyrical-to-dissonant conversations to melodic pop show tune fare—and addictive (warning: one may desire to go out and purchase the soundtrack after the show).

Music Director Rebecca Rinaldi works the magic with her top-notch pit: Jeffrey Coogins, Piano; Kevin Smith, Synthesizer; Ray Libby and Jean Quinn, Winds; Jimmy McGirr, Bass; and Bill Manning, Drums/Percussion.

For this show, Set Designer Karl Carrigan extended the front of the stage, creating even more stunning dimension to the already vast depth and height that Salle de l’Opéra boasts. Carrigan’s duel stairs with the second-level cross-over is most effective and allows Director Sturdivant to put people everywhere. The Victorian steam pump motif frames the entire stage adding a subliminal twisted/mechanical/sci-fi feel to the experience.

The authentic and rich period costuming was superb…thank you Costume Designer Barbara Kelly. And last but not least, a Bravo! to all those individuals who were part of the stage crew, set crew, technical crew, building and painting crew for contributing to such a massive successful endeavor.

City Theater’s reputation of casting the best local talent and nurturing every cast and crew member for the most professional and creative results is no secret. I’ve reviewed what I thought were some of City Theater’s “best” shows…but they keep raising the bar. So I would have to agree with many of the patrons who congratulated Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant last night for her “best show EVER!”

Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical runs through November 1st. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM. City Theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford. Tickets are available online at www.CityTheater.org, or by calling 207/282-0849.

###

–Louis Philippe