Archive for Community Theater

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

–Louis Philippe

Advertisements

City Theater Opens Season With Jump Jive Jukebox Musical SWINGTIME CANTEEN

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on September 22, 2018 by Ringer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

September 2018

Biddeford’s City Theater opened its 2018-19 season this weekend with a USO musical salute starring MGM movie queen Marian Ames along with her niece Katie Gammersflugel and fellow performers Jo Sterling, Topeka Abotelli and Lilly McBain in a powerful, rip-roaring, toe-tapping and emotional tribute to the “soldiers in grease-paint.”

SWINGTIME CANTEEN, written by Linda Thorsen Bond, William Repicci and Charles Busch, is a re-creation of that real-life event presented on Christmas Day 1944 to the World War II troops based in London. Billed as “Uncle Sam’s Christmas Tree” the show was recorded as part of a Coca-Cola-sponsored international radio broadcast and celebrates the military with an array of unforgettable original hits of the 40s.

The City Theater cast—the very same cast that performed the show in 2009, and again directed by Linda Sturdivant—once again does a wonderful job of bringing this sentimental production—with all its period-specific nuances, attitudes, patriotism, relationships, costuming—back to glorious life.

Lynn Boren-McKellar of Saco reprises her role as Hollywood star Marian Ames, gracious, personable and ever-name-dropping (Frances Langford, Joan Crawford, Guy Lombardo, Cole Porter, Loretta Young, Jeannette MacDonald…) celebrity with a few movie flops who might be on her way out to pasture.  She rounds up some of her musical gal pals from the Hollywood Canteen to entertain the troops as their contribution to the war effort.

Rebecca Rinaldi of Falmouth plays Jo Sterling, band leader and long-time stand-in for Miss Ames. The well-seasoned Rinaldi is a master class of theater in action, with perfect delivery of the most intense to the cheesiest schtick.  Sara Sturdivant of Haverhill, MA, is equally a natural in her role of Topeka Abotelli, the rock-solid piano player/riveter (and Music Director for the show).

Nicole Rawding of Westbrook is Lilly McBain, the sultry pin-up girl whose musical versatility is smartly convincing.  During the show, Rawding humbly reveals her expertise with saxophone, clarinet, piccolo, bass flute, banjo and guitar.  Kelsey Franklin of Oxford completes the all-girl band in the role of Katie Gammersflugel, Miss Ames’ excitable and emotional niece.

Collectively, these gals do a bang-up job of entertaining “the troops” with lots of audience interaction and stage banter that prompts laughter and tears, hope and inspiration.

But the best part of this production is the trademark jazz and pop music from the greatest generation’s hit parade list:  “Bugle Call Rag, Ac-cen-tchu-ate The Positive, Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, Thank Your Lucky Stars And Stripes, Sentimental Journey, Sing Sing Sing, Don’t Fence Me In, I’ll Be Seeing You” and more.

Their solos are stupendous:  Boren-McKeller’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “You’ll Never Know”; Rinaldi’s “His Rocking Horse Ran Away” and “I’m Old Fashioned”; Sturdivant’s “Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made” and “My Shining Hour”; Rawding’s “Daddy” and Franklin’s “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You” and “How High The Moon.”

The “pièce de résistance” is when Boren-McKeller, Rinaldi, Sturdivant, Rawding and Franklin combine their vocal prowess for some unmatched showmanship—especially an Andrew Sisters Medley and a gorgeous sweeter-than-Adelines accapella version of “Apple Blossom Time.”

Hoppin’ and boppin’ in the stage band are Don Lauzier on trumpet, Dave Stebbins and Joshua Witham on woodwinds, Shannon Oliver on bass and Joshua Adams on percussion.  Briana Chu and Caleb Lacy shine while cutting the rug as swing dancers.

SWINGTIME CANTEEN is different than more recent jukebox musicals  that pay homage to a particular genre or artist, e.g. “Million Dollar Quartet, Heartbreak Hotel, Smokey Joe’s Café” and “Jersey Boys” which have all been presented in Maine, and all of which I had the opportunity to review.  So when the Canteen Company opened their show, I immediately sensed something different.

The energy was not in the high-tech mega-powered audio system with racks of outboard gear to enhance every frequency of music and vocals, or the computer-programmed light show with fancy effects and rapid-fire movements, or the mesmerizing projected graphics.  I was not feeling the bass drum changing my heart beat to 120 bpm.

It only took a few minutes to realize the energy of this show is in the raw transparent performances rendered by each singer and musician on stage, and presented in a most enjoyable—almost acoustically raw—setting that only the former Opera House could provide.  It was just the right amount of everything—talent, simple staging, tech reinforcement, comforting songs, sentimental music, razzle-dazzle, feel-good nostalgia and proud patriotism (“Dontcha just love the pageantry?”).

SWINGTIME CANTEEN runs through October 7th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (no show on September 23rd).  City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford. FMI:  www.citytheater.org or (207) 282-0849.

###

–Louis Philippe

Gaiety And Laughter Abound In Mel Brooks’ “THE PRODUCERS” At City Theater

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 21, 2018 by Ringer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

July 2018

Biddeford’s City Theater closes out its current season with the uproarious Mel Brooks musical comedy spoof THE PRODUCERS, proving once again that this organization is arguably the highest quality community theater in Maine, rivaling even the pros.

Director/Producer Linda Sturdivant has assembled another top-notch energetic cast that is clearly having way too much fun contributing to a silly, irreverent, rip-roaring musical romp.  They work incredibly well together and are individually confident, competent and comfortable with their missions.

The singing is dazzling and exciting, like in a big old fashioned MGM musical—and sometimes even more outlandish.  Music Director Rebekkah Willey succeeds in bringing Mel Brooks’ music and lyrics to glorious life with an 8-piece pit band interestingly placed on an upper level over the stage.  Musicians include:  Willey on piano; Sam Schuth on violin; Blaise Spath and Ray Libby on woodwinds; Don Lauzier, trumpet; Owen Doane, trombone, Jimmy McGirr, bass; and Joshua Adams, percussion.

The dancing is equally brilliant and appealing.  With the help of 500 wild and wacky costumes created by Barbara Kelly, Hannah Brown, Wendy Brown, Carol Jones, Brian McAloon, Karleena Stoner and Linda Sturdivant, Choreographer Mariel Roy cleverly moves a slate of 19 hard-working ensemble members in and out of scenes as usherettes, accountants, drag queens, tapping Nazi soldiers, Bavarian peasants, show girls, cops, prisoners, little old ladies, and of course Broadway stars.  It is all done with a farcical finesse that is whimsical and engaging.

The stellar ensemble includes Gaia Ayres, Andrew Bennington, Briana Chu, Nina Finocchiaro, Braden Foley, Kaleigh Hunter, Carol Jones, Jay W. Jones, Andrew Lamb, Alison Loughlin, Logan Merrithew, Mark Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Danielle Robichaud, Caleb Streadwick, Aislinn Travis, Schuyler White, Ann Williams and Tad Williams.

Brian McAloon plays famed producer Max Bialystock (Funny Boy, MAIM, When Cousins Marry, The Breaking Wind, A Streetcar Named Murray…).  His moves, expressions, voice, timing and instincts are side-splitting, a performance equal if not better to Nathan Lane’s legendary portrayal of Max in the Broadway production (2001-2007).

Miles Gervais makes his City Theater debut as Leopold Bloom, a young bored accountant who dreams of being a Broadway producer (“I Wanna Be a Producer”) and nonchalantly suggests it would be easy to make money with a Broadway flop.  He effectively applies the right amount of theatrical naiveté and curiosity to his character—a perfect Ying to Maxi’s Yang.

Max and Leo concoct a plan to oversell investments in a new production and split $2M in profits and go to Rio (“We Can Do It”) when it flops.  To guarantee a failure, they find the worst play ever written, hire the worst director in town and hire the worst actors.

After a script search, they settle on Springtime for Hitler written by Franz Liebkind (Caleb Lacy), an easily angered and emotionally unstable Nazi who lives in the Village (“In Old Bavaria”).  Franz signs over the rights to his play after Max and Leo promise never to dishonor the spirit and memory of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler and join him in singing Hitler’s favorite song, “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop.”

Then it’s off to the Upper East Side home of the worst director in New York, the flamboyantly gay Roger De Bris (Michael Donovan) and his equally sparkling assistant Carmen Ghia (Tommy Waltz).  The subject matter is too serious for De Bris who turns down the offer to direct the new show.  But with visions of a Tony award and rewriting Act II (“Keep It Gay”), the deal is made.

Enter Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, a tall and beautiful Swedish bombshell who auditions for the show and is hired as secretary/reception for the new Bialystock & Bloom.   Elizabeth Lester presents an impressive rendition of Ulla with poise, hilarity, and an expert command of her gift of dance (“When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”).

But “good luck” turns into “broken legs” (“You Never Say ‘Good Luck’ On Opening Night”) and thanks to a series of theatrical disasters, Springtime for Hitler morphs into an outrageously campy satire and  becomes an instant hit…bad news for Max and Leo (“Where Did We Go Right?”).  Suffice it to say the mayhem and misfortune continue until the mastermind, Mel Brooks, happily ends his creation.

The beautiful thing about community theater is the opportunities it provides to actors young and old to explore their desires to be part of a show, hone their stage skills and perhaps move up to greater industry experiences.  Local theater fans who pay attention to these things will agree that this cast is a   noteworthy example of recent and seasoned local players whose remarkable growth in their community theater journeys is significant, noticeable and much appreciated.

Some of these actors are veterans—and favorites—to the Southern Maine community theater audiences.  They propel this production to the highest levels of entertainment, with endless shtick and schmaltz, impeccable comedic timing, mercilessly leaving the audience gasping for air in between unrestrained bouts of laughter. They are all in and put themselves all out.

In addition to McAloon’s fine work, the powerhouse talents of Michael Donovan, Caleb Lacy and Tommy Waltz simply cannot be underestimated.  It’s always fun when actors who have become established directors return to play some juicy select roles—fun for the audience, their fellow actors and no doubt fun for themselves.  This particular quartet of exceptional artistry is stunning, proficient, fearless and more than worth the price of admission (not to mention—oops, too late—the exemplary Tony Award-worthy performance by Stage Manager Greg Brackett).

THE PRODUCERS is running now thru August 5th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  FMI and reservations: 207-282-0849 or order online at www.citytheater.org.

###

–Louis Philippe

 

SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS SCORES WITH “SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL”

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

–Louis Philippe

City Theater Presents “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS” + Bonus Concert!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on December 2, 2017 by Ringer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

December 2017

The true meaning of Christmas can be found on the stage of Biddeford City Theater, served up by talented actors, singers and dancers in a back-to-back two-for-one double-dose of holiday cheer: “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS” plus a Bonus All-Star Christmas Concert.  Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant wraps plenty of magic and music in a wonderful family-friendly presentation that runs through December 17th.

PART ONE:  “A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS”

The classic 1965 animated television special comes to life with glorious splendor, in lots of living color.  The delightful cast of cartoon characters makes their grand entrance bedecked with the impressive costume handiwork of Barbara Kelly, Wendy Brown and Tehya Brown.  Each player is adoringly animated and clearly captivating as witnessed by the faces of young and old alike in the audience.

Charlie Brown (Schuyler White) is not happy about the commercialism of Christmas and brings his case of the blues to “Dr. Psychiatrist” Lucy (Rebecca Rinaldi) who prescribes some involvement in the season, specifically directing the neighborhood Christmas play.  But the kids don’t listen to him and mock him, leaving Charlie once again disappointed.

Lucy sends Charlie off to find the perfect tree.  When he returns with the scrawniest, smallest tree, he is once again laughed at and rejected.  But Linus (Miles Obrey) then delivers his inspiring childlike soliloquy   of what Christmas is all about which rallies the cast to turn Charlie Brown’s Christmas into the perfect tree after all…and everyone is happy.

The cast also includes Brian McAloon as Snoopy, Lindsay Armstrong as Sally, Caleb Streadwick as Pig Pen, Hannah Brown as Frieda, Andrew Lamb as Schroeder, Briana Chu as Violet, Kelsey Seavey as Patty, Gerald Davis as Shermy and Gina Lewis and Ashley Shevenell as Twins #3 and #4.

Based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, the words are by Lee Mendelson (who produced the television special) but the lingering iconic jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi takes a front-and-center spot in the curtain call.  The music is righteously rendered by Music Director Kevin Smith on piano, Jimmy McGirr on bass and Joshua Adams on percussion.

Add some clever group movements by Choreographer Mariel Roy, fun oversized set pieces by Master Carpenter Ed Wood, imaginative colorful trees courtesy of Jessica Chaples-Graffam and you get a complete fool-proof recipe for a heaping serving of holiday comfort food for the entire family…but wait, there’s more…

PART TWO:  THE BONUS CHRISTMAS CONCERT

When the lights go up on Act Two, many Charlie Brown cast members are joined by other City Theater luminaries who have been featured in leading roles during the previous season for more wholesome holiday cheer—an All-Star musical program.  (It’s kinda like keeping the television on after the Charlie Brown Christmas Special is over and watching the holiday musical variety show that comes on right after).

The concert features a wide range of Christmas songs—traditional favorites, contemporary, humorous, serious, classical and sing-alongs, all performed by gifted individuals who are well known in the City Theater stable and familiar to City Theater audiences.

Jennine Cannizzo does a fine job as Mistress of Ceremonies, shepherding the line-up of acts while comfortably handling her own brand of “We Need A Little Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (with the ensemble).  The same wonderful pit from Act One provides the musical power for Act Two—a different genre but equally righteous.

Among the highlights:  Brie Roche’s rendition of “Never Fall In Love (With An Elf)” from the 2011 Broadway production of Elf The Musical; a powerful and immaculate version of the famed Celine Dion-Andrea Boccelli duet “The Prayer” offered by Rebecca Rinaldi and Brian McAloon; a divine delivery of “Gesu Bambino” by Miles Obrey;  and a refreshingly upbeat “Mary, Did You Know” by McAloon.

The Atlantic Dance Arts Dancers (Choreographer Mariel Roy’s new dance studio in Gorham) is represented with their lively rendition of the 1994 Maria Carey hit “All I Want For Christmas.”  Congratulations Mariel and thank you ADA Dancers Amber Arsenault, Hannah Batman, Hailey Fardon, Lily Rowe, Janessa Wilson and Marissa Wilson.

The All-Star Quartet (McAloon, Obrey, Rinaldi & Roche) takes the Trisha Yearwood/B.J. Thomas hit “Take A Walk Through Bethlehem” to new heights with a beautiful gospel arrangement by John Glaudini that majestically layers the contemporary creation of Ashley Cleveland, John Jarvis and Wally Wilson with the traditional carol “Joy To The World.”

 “O Holy Night” closes the concert, featuring soloists McAloon, Rinaldi and Schuyler White and the entire ensemble, accompanied by a lovely modern dance treatment by Amber Arsenault.

As Schuyler White sings: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” and City Theater’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas/Christmas Concert” defines the true meaning of Christmas.  Great fun for all ages!

The show runs through December 17th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (no performance December 3rd).  The theater—Biddeford’s Historic Opera House—is located at 205 Main St., Downtown Biddeford.  FMI: 207/282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

###

–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune

 

Footlights’ FALLING LEAVES is Powerful, Heartwarming, Hilarious Original

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on October 16, 2017 by Ringer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

October 2018

“‘Come, little leaves,’ said the wind one day, ‘Come to the meadows with me and play…put on your dresses of red and gold; for summer is past and the days grow…old.’”

With that pithy picture of fall by George Cooper, Playwright Michael J. Tobin begins his new theatrical accomplishment FALLING LEAVES, a romantic dramedy which enjoyed sell-out audiences and standing ovations at its world premiere this weekend at Footlights Theater, 190 US Route 1 in Falmouth.

The feeling of seasonal transition—in the air and on the lovely set—forebodes winds of change, even storms in store for the Warner clan which is gathering at Mom’s Maine homestead, Autumn Inn, for the annual reunion to honor their departed Dad.  We are told to “embrace the craziness, the rest will just surprise us.”

Autumn (Leslie Chadbourne) is very much the doting matriarch, a traditional Mom with old-fashioned values, locked in the day her husband left 10 years ago.  She has a new man in her life, a handyman named Hank (Rick Kusturin), who she hired to help out around the place after her husband died, and she enjoys the camaraderie of dear friend, Sam (Gretchen G. Wood), who also helps run the Inn.

One by one, her three adult children converge on the scene for the big day—Lizzy (Victoria Machado) with husband Paul (Mark Calkins), Michael (Ryan Lane) with boyfriend Peter (Andrew Hanscom) and Katie (Autumn Carey).  Within minutes, it’s clear that each have brought “excess baggage” they are wanting to unload on Mom:  Lizzy and Paul are anything-but-happily married and planning to divorce; Michael and Peter are planning to be married—at the Inn; and Katie is pregnant and considering abortion.

With the help of Sam, Hank, and Ruthie (Jaymie Chamberlin), another friend of Autumn’s, everyone’s secrets are cleverly and comically maneuvered to keep Mom in the dark—that is, until a slight trickle at the cocktail party leads the dam to bust.  Sibling rivalry breaks out, Mom is devastated, while her friends try to maintain calm.

This is the storm Tobin created:  Family conflicts that sometimes result in harsh, cruel treatment;  Strong differences of opinion over love, relationships, marriage, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage;  Clashing cultural and moral philosophies that can create division and dysfunction within a family unit; Human mistakes that seem insurmountable to forgive.

But thankfully, Autumn’s love for her children is unconditional.  So, with a little help from her friends—and a couple of months to process things—Michael and Peter’s wedding is a success, Paul returns to work things out with Lizzy, and Katie decides to keep, and love, her baby.  After the roller-coaster ride of emotions, Hank and Autumn admit their love for one another and a surprise double-wedding-on-the-spot brings on a double dose of happy endings.

In addition to directing, handling all things tech, and running the theater, Tobin is a remarkably gifted playwright, reminiscent of Alan Ayckbourn with a touch of Hallmark.  His story-lines are topical, emotional and universal, edgy enough to make audiences think but inclusive enough to maintain engagement.  His characters are relatable and realistic, with perfect personalities and quirks to sell every purpose-driven line, juicy conversation and appointed message.   His busy brain is superb at multi-tasking relationships and churning out layers of plot rife with a range of emotions that can all change on a…single word…usually a comic zinger, Tobin’s trademark.

But as is typical with productions at the Footlights barn, the success of the show is reliant on the strength of the cast, and all nine members of this ensemble turn out impeccable, well-defined, well-interpreted performances.

Chadbourne’s Autumn is a testimony to her stage skills, life experiences and humanity.  Mom is a small word but Chadbourne effectively fills her role with major life-giving, life-changing, even tormenting moments that every Mom embraces.  Gretchen’s Sam is another character for her long resume of roles that she nails with campy confidence and perfect delivery.  Kusturin’s Hank, a warm-and-fuzzy departure from his more classic roles, is nonetheless a charming Prince Charming of the Handyman Society.

The Warner kids hit a home run.  With quick timing and sharp focus, Machado’s Lizzy and Calkins’ Paul are a perfectly unbalanced yin-yang couple facing realistic challenges that every modern married couple faces.  Carey’s Katie as a young Manhattan career woman forced to face her pregnancy is well portrayed with the right blend of millennial attitude and traditional sensitivity.

Lane’s Michael is emotional and powerful in his dual quest for his own acceptance by Mom and her acceptance of his boyfriend.  Andrew Hanscom is gently persuasive in the precarious role of Peter, poised with awkward diplomacy but blessed with some good one-liners.  And Jaymie Chamberlin, a Footlights original, returns with another solid performance as Ruthie.

FALLING LEAVES is about family.  While contemplating how to begin this review, I thought to myself, “Wow, pity the family that has to deal with crazy issues like divorce, abortion and gay marriage.”  Then it hit me—wait, this was about MY family.  And an intense wave of gratitude filled my heart for my Mom’s unconditional love and my family’s happy endings (well, maybe not in 90 minutes).

FALLING LEAVES runs through October 28th, Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Matinee on Sunday, October 21st at 2 PM.  FMI: 207-747-5434 or visit www.thefootlightsinfalmouth.com.   You might just see your own family on stage.

###

–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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

###

–Louis Philippe