Archive for Community Theater

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

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

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

May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS PRESENTS CLASSIC COMEDY “PLAZA SUITE”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2017 by Ringer

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April 2017

Ever check into a hotel and wonder who stayed there last night?  Last month?  Last year?  Was it a single person?  Married couple?  Family? And just what occurred in that very same space you’re now occupying?

Playwright Neil Simon provides some answers in his classic comedy PLAZA SUITE, now playing at Schoolhouse Arts in StandishWith Simon’s unique trademark style of situation humor, PLAZA SUITE offers an inside look at three parties who at one time or another stayed at NYC’s Plaza Hotel for very different reasons.  It’s a snapshot in time of quirky characters with idiosyncratic personalities on zany, fragmented journeys that all intersect in Suite 719.

Act One.  Sam and Karen Nash are celebrating their “23rd or 24th” anniversary “today or tomorrow.”  Despite Karen’s desire to rekindle the romance by revisiting their honeymoon suite, Sam’s desire is focused on work, work, work.  Just when tensions are boiling, Jean McCormack, Nash’s young, skinny and attractive secretary, drops by with more work that compels Sam back to the office.   Karen’s joking reference to an affair between Sam and Jean turns out to be true.

Terri Plummer’s Karen and Chris Roberts’ Sam are wonderful to watch as they navigate all the emotional landmines through incessant roller-coaster rides of nice-talk and heated arguments.  The strengths and weaknesses of their characters are manipulated perfectly by Plummer and Roberts, never letting up on the push-and-pull, up-and-down, ying-yang, internal conflicts.  Crickett Cote’s brief portrayal of Jean McCormack is subtly well-played.

Act Two.  Hollywood Producer (and legendary ladies man) Jesse Kiplinger is in town and hopes to hook up with his old high school flame Muriel Tate after 17 years.  Muriel, now married with children, is guilt-ridden but reluctantly accepts Jesse’s invitation to visit and promises she will not stay long.  After a drink or two or 10, Jesse reveals his inner feelings about his work, fame, past relationships and his love for Muriel, who admits to her unhappy marriage and by now has poured out her heart and soul on her way to passing out in bed.

Gerald Davis, though perhaps a tad young for the role, is ultimately convincing as Jesse Kiplinger.  He is strong as the self-absorbed purveyor of fame and fortune, knows how to display the precise amount of inner anger, and gently reveals his character’s vulnerability.  Mia Perron is both fun and funny as Muriel Tate, aptly handling a wide range of emotion as she successfully transforms Muriel from a shy, demure, proper young lady into a wilder and willing partner.  Together, the facial expressions and comedic timing are entertaining.

Act Three.  Sixty-eight guests and a bridegroom are anxiously waiting downstairs for Roy and Norma Hubley to escort Mimsey, their daughter and bride-to-be.  Only problem is Mimsey has locked herself in the bathroom.  Hilarity ensues as the frantic parents, desperate and under pressure with each passing moment, try everything under the sun to get their daughter out.  But out of blame, excuses and time, Mom and Dad, bruised and defeated, torn and tattered, have no choice but to tell the groom, Borden Eisler, the wedding is off.  Borden  comes to the room and immediately and effortlessly gets Mimsey to come out.  The wedding is back on.

This is the mad-cap pièce de résistance of all three acts, with more outward slapstick and farce, and Teresa Dyer (Norma) and Tom Ferrent (Roy) capably and comfortably achieving their creative tasks.  They work well with each other, and against each other, and instinctively flow from moments of comic hysteria to moments of subtle silence.  Rachel Scala plays Mimsey.

Honorable mention is due for Jon Bolduc’s dual-role as the waiter in Act One and Borden Eisler in Act Three.

Overall, PLAZA SUITE is comfort food for theater goers.  It’s nothing fancy, high-tech, psycho-analytical, political or dramatically intense.  It’s just a fun time with a good comedy courtesy of Neil Simon, Director Jerry Walker, and a nice bunch of Maine talent.

PLAZA SUITE runs April 21-May 7, 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.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater + PUMPBOYS AND DINETTES = Hot Hoedown

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

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March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater’s WEST SIDE STORY is Grand Theatrical Splendor

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

West Side Story1

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

West Side Story3

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

West Side Story4

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

July 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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

May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-Louis Philippe

Footlights’ THE TIN WOMAN Compelling Comedy-Drama About Death And Survival

Posted in Recent Press Releases with tags , , , , on March 15, 2016 by Ringer

March 2016

Fans of Days Of Our Lives will recall a recent tragic car accident that claimed the life of the popular Doctor Daniel Jonas, an organ donor whose heart was transplanted in his good buddy Brady Black, also a victim of the same car crash.  As his physical healing progresses, Black experiences some startling memories and emotions that strangely continue to live on in Jonas’ heart and impel Black on a far-fetched journey to “find the girl in his (i.e. Daniel’s) dreams.”  The miracle of soap opera editing aside, the storyline comes to a surprising yet fate-filled full circle.  Weird, huh?

That same kind of weird full-circle is manifested in Sean Grennan’s THE TIN WOMAN which is running now until March 26th at The Footlights Theater in Falmouth.  Since its premier in the summer of 2014, THE TIN WOMAN is rapidly gaining national recognition as a powerhouse artistic property that deals with death in one of the most creative and compelling ways.

In the playwright’s own words: “It’s a play about a heart transplant recipient and her eventual meeting with the family of the donor.  The themes of the show were loss, family, grief, a willingness to live on, and healing relationships. Oh and it’s funny.”

Funny indeed!  THE TIN WOMAN is a therapeutic goldmine that combines intense grief, anger, guilt and denial with assuaging moments of guffaws and healing hilarity.  The result is a dynamic and emotional piece of entertainment that gently and generously deals with dying—and living.

Joy receives the heart of Jack Borden who died in a car accident.  Still unhappy and questioning her own guilt and survival, Joy tracks down Jack’s family to get answers and closure.  For the Bordens—Jack’s Mom Alice, Dad Hank and Sister Sammy, the loss of Jack impacts them all uniquely so they grieve the only way they know.   The pain is ever-present and the path to healing and closure seems insurmountable.  But the story-line tackles the harsh and awkward emotional moments that erupt and graciously leads everyone—audience included—to a surprising and gratifying resolve.

Victoria Machado brings Joy to life—twice—with precision and realism, exuding all of Joy’s veracity and struggles, from her introverted fears to her strong defensive reactions.  And although Jack is dead, Mark Calkins is very much alive, never leaving the stage as a virtual silent emcee, effectively threading the tale from the spirit world.

Cindy O’Neil plays the dual role of Joy’s Nurse and Joy’s friend, Darla.  To say she is a theater patron favorite would be an understatement.  A veteran of stage and film, and another example of the consistently high quality of ensemble talent that The Footlights Theater is known for, O’Neil easily weaves in and out of two distinctively fun characters without a beat.

Leslie Chadbourne and Michael Tobin are hybrids of every Mother and Father that face such a crisis.  The chaotic emotional duels that result from  trying to communicate are poignant and savory.  Both try desperately to tame their own inner madness—Chadbourne’s character wanting to embrace reality and return the household to some level of normalcy, her counterpart wanting to escape reality and move on—even with questionable guilt.  The result is a ferocious yet love-filled family fracas, an extraordinary psycho-dramatic ballet that both actors know how to dance.

Jessica Libby brings to her role as Sammy Borden the same exquisite talent and timing she’s brought to numerous characters recently in Portland’s community theater scene.  She has an innate ability to know when to hold back and deal with “heavy things” and then, on a theatrical dime, take command with rip-roaring comic precision and fill the space with shine  (Tell me if her interpretation of Sammy doesn’t channel Jennifer Coolidge or Molly Shannon).

Oh, just in case one may be wondering, The Tin Woman has no creative inspiration in the famous Tin Man of Oz fame (my first thought), although one could argue otherwise.   In one story, one loses only her heart.  In the other, one is cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East and slowly-but-surely loses every bit of flesh except his heart.  In both cases, the characters receive replacement hearts as gifts, allowing them to once again love and feel loved.

THE TIN WOMAN runs Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 PM.  The Footlights Theater is located at 190 US Route 1 in Falmouth.  Tickets are $18/Adults, $15/Seniors 62 and older.  Call 207 747-5434 for reservations or visit http://www.footlightsinfalmouth.com

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–Louis Philippe

(Writer’s Note:  In January, my Dad died.  It was not a surprise, but before truly being able to grieve, my Mom passed away in her nap on Ash Wednesday, just after getting marked with ashes.  It was 40 days, funeral-to-funeral.  There are no coincidences in the spirit world.  I was numb and unable to grieve, but praying for the day that the logjam in my head would break the dam open and release a flood of emotions that could carry me to shores I needed to explore.  Then I took on the assignments of reviewing NEXT TO NORMAL at Biddeford City Theater and THE TIN WOMAN at The Footlights in Falmouth.  Both superior productions dealing with the death of a child (in N2N, an 18-month-old baby, in TW, a 36-year-old son) and the rippling impact that the death of a loved one has on those left behind.  I am happy to say (you know what I mean) that having the opportunity to experience these two shows has been the answer to my prayers.  My grieving/healing process is well underway and I am once-again hopeful for the blessings and opportunities God has planned for me.  But honestly, I offer this as a testament to the amazing cast members of both productions who regularly touch and inspire people with their God-given talents.  Thanks to all of you for who you are and all you do!)

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

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

March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe