Archive for Community Theater

City Theater’s ‘The Light In The Piazza’ is Magnifico Splendore!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on March 9, 2019 by Ringer

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March 2019

One of the most beautiful, refreshing and enjoyable pieces of musical theater is now running at City Theater in Biddeford.

“The Light In The Piazza” is a gorgeous romance musical that departs from the traditional contemporary Broadway genre and takes the viewer to 1950s Florence, Italy, for a powerful and inspiring fable of love about taking risks, letting go, and reaching dreams.

Directed by Linda Sturdivant, with a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, “The Light In The Piazza” showcases a brilliant cast of singers, actors and musicians who successfully create a live two-hour tableau mixing American humor and Italian culture with amazing neoclassical music, light operatic vocals, and the challenging dynamics of two very different families, all presented with a backdrop of vibrant Italian history, architecture and art.  While much of the conversations and songs are in superbly-executed Italian, one need not be fluent to understand this romance language.

On the first morning of their visit to Florence in the summer of 1953, Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Rinaldi) and her daughter Clara (Jacklyn Grigg) are exploring the piazza when Clara’s hat is taken by the wind and is captured by Fabrizio Naccarelli (Miles Obrey).  It is love at first sight, and the beginning of the classic mother-daughter conflicts, and the clash between the Naccarelli’s, who support Fabrizio’s new-found love, and Mrs. Johnson, who eventually reveals a childhood accident left Clara with an emotional abnormality that could potentially impact her future.

Mom is determined to keep the accident a secret but despite her efforts to protect her daughter from being hurt (or is it perhaps to keep Clara from reliving her own unhappy journey with her husband Ron that began in the same piazza during the war days a couple of decades prior?), the magnetism between the young couple is too powerful.  Marriage is now proposed.

To distract Clara from thinking about a wedding, Margaret takes her to Rome, where tensions reach a turning point when Margaret slaps Clara across the face in a painful confrontation that causes Mom to realize she must let go of her fears and doubts and let her daughter follow her own dreams.

The wedding is on…until the rehearsal when Signor Naccarelli (Brian McAloon) suddenly calls off the wedding and takes his family away.  Clara is devastated.

Margaret feels responsible for her daughter’s suffering and meets with Signor Naccarelli who explains he saw Clara write her age—26—on her marriage form and his son is only 20, making the marriage unsuitable.  Relieved it was not Clara’s secret that was the problem, Mom reasons with Signor Naccarelli to successfully put the wedding back on track.

But Clara, thinking she is unworthy of love, runs to Fabrizio to tell him she doesn’t want to cause him any pain and cannot marry him.  But he convinces her that since that moment in the piazza when her hat was carried off by the wind, that she will never be alone and that he now sees what love is.  The wedding goes off without a hitch and the fable comes to an end.

What make “The Light In The Piazza” so unique and astounding are the rich orchestral arrangements and the glorious, lush vocals that permeate the theater with majestic command.  The slow deliveries of well-crafted lyrics—and even the sustained oohs, ahhs and simple vocalizations—are loaded with oozing romance, tension, curiosity, suspicions, etc.  The unpredictable dissonant melodies are delightful and alluring.

The principles are all powerhouse masterful singers:  Rebecca Rinaldi (Margaret Johnson), Jacklyn Grigg (Clara Johnson), Miles Obrey (Fabrizio Naccarelli), Brian McAloon (Signor Naccarelli), Mary Lettelier (Franca Naccarelli), Owen White (Guiseppe Naccarelli), Shaunna Lucas (Signora Naccarelli), Tim Steiner (Roy Johnson) and Adam Normand (The Priest).

The entire cast delivers their A-game performances. Special mention is given to Miles Obrey for his extraordinary work as Fabrizio—his inate animation, scene-driving passion, outstanding vocals, perfect Italian characterization from dialogue inflections to hand gestures…a natural tour de force role for his resume.

The Ensemble proved (as always) to be a trademark asset to this show’s success, tastefully choreographing effortless set-changes and completing tableaus as various and sundry characters.  Bravi Emily Butson, Cecilia Guerra, Brian Harris, Andrew Lamb, Leslie Lampert, Addison Littlefield, Sally McGrath, Mark Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Danielle Robichaud and Lynne White.

The beautiful orchestration was perfectly executed by Sara Sturdivant, Music Director, on piano, Mo Nichols on harp, Sue LaVerriere on violin, Alex Wong on cello and Jimmy McGirr on bass.

Brava to Choreographer Mariel Roy and Bravo to Technical Director Karl Carrigan for the simply stunning sets.

“The Light In The Piazza” runs through March 24th (no performance on March 10th).  Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  FMI: 207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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City Theater’s “A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL” Is Must-See Season Sensation

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on December 1, 2018 by Ringer

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Christmas 2018

Tis the season to be WOW’d and City Theater has the hottest ticket in town with their enchanting presentation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL running now through December 16 (no show December 2).  All the fantastic characters in this classic Christmas tale come to life in glorious Victorian splendor with a show that grabs the audience from the start and doesn’t let go until the curtain call.

Once again, the creative and technical mavens of the Opera House spared nothing to deliver eye-appealing effects and musical perfection in a staging marvel to satisfy anyone with a bah humbug spirit.

Linda Sturdivant, Director and Caleb Lacy, Assistant Director, make sure the show runs like a well-oiled machine, like clockwork—literally.  The steampunk-infused set is adorned with clocks and gears that beautifully underscore Sturdivant’s theme, “Time is precious, don’t waste it.”  Bravo to Karl Carrigan for his magnificent set design and special effects.

The huge cast of 52 moves in purposeful motion, filling the entire stage and multi performance levels that also houses the 8-piece pit.  It is artistic pageantry when such a delightful beast moves in a subliminally slower-pace that allows the audience to take in everything there is to experience.

Bold colorful lighting design by Florence Cooley provided even more focus to the extraordinary original Dicken-esque costumes donned by the entire cast and the beautiful scenic painting by Jessica Chaples-Graffam.  Victorian opulence designed by a magnificent costuming crew—Alysa Avery, Hannah Brown, Wendy Brown, Barbara Kelly, Carol Jones and Brian McAloon.

Based on the story by Charles Dickens, with book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE MUSICAL tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless, miserly money lender from London, England, who hates people and despises Christmas. He dismisses the poor, the needy and the hungry, refuses a dinner invitation from his nephew Fred (son of Fan, his dead sister), and reluctantly gives Bob Cratchit, his overworked and underpaid clerk, time off to be with his family.

It is Christmas Eve, 1843, seven years after the death of his business partner Jacob Marley, whose ghost appears, ensnarled by heavy burdensome chains forged by a lifetime of greed and selfishness.  Marley warns Scrooge that he has one chance to avoid the same fate and that he will be visited by three more ghosts.

The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals scenes from Scrooge’s boyhood—his lonely childhood at boarding school, his close relationship with his sister Fan, his engagement being called off because of his love for money, and a Christmas ball hosted by his first employer, Mr. Fezziwig, who treated him like a son.

The Ghost of Christmas Present guides Scrooge through a festive marketplace and scenes of holiday preparations, and then on to the humble Cratchit home where Scrooge learns that Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim is ill and will soon die unless things change.

The Ghost of Christmas Future brings Scrooge to the funeral of a disliked man.   Locals steal his possessions to sell them and are grateful the man is dead.  The ghost then reveals the Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim, and finally shows Scrooge his own decrepit gravestone, at which point Scrooge sees the errors of his ways and experiences a change of heart.

From then on, Scrooge becomes a changed man, embraces the spirit of Christmas and treats everyone with generosity and compassion.

Bob Gauthier is outstanding as Ebenezer Scrooge, perfectly paced and emotionally metered.

Mary Johnston Letellier as Christmas Past, Sara Sturdivant as Christmas Present and Cecilia Guerra as Christmas Future are solid and stellar—individually and collectively—and provide a surprisingly refreshing attitude…upbeat, a bit of comic relief but unrelenting in purpose.   The three are fabulous singers, righteous for this operetta.

Schuyler White, a diversely-talented singer and actor, convincingly plays Jacob Marley.  Tad Williams is a very believable Bob Cratchit and bravo to Keira Bailey for her wonderful Tiny Tim persona.

The cast is stacked with notable performances by veteran favorites to first-timers, including:  Brett Balfour and Lynn Boren-McKellar as Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig, Andrew Lamb and Kelsey Seavey as Fred & Sally Anderson, Elisha Cicio as Mrs. Cratchit, Liam Dolan as Peter Cratchit.

Also: Cecilia Guerra as Old Hag, Valerie Nahorney as Mrs. Scrooge, Crystal Arsenault as Mrs. Mops, Anthony Farides as Old Joe, Jared Williams as Fishmonger, Ann Williams as Poulterer, Stephanie Williams as Apple Seller, Mark Nahorney as Mr. Hawkins and Greg Brackett as The Beadle.

Toby Fidalgo plays Scrooge at age 10, Cameron Turgeon plays Scrooge at age 12, and James Muller plays Young Scrooge.  Phoebe Fidalgo plays Fan at age 6, Abigail Frank plays Fan at age 8 and Cecilia Guerra plays Emily.

The Adult Ensemble is quite busy portraying Townspeople, Businessmen, Ghosts, Monks and Party members and (in addition to previously named characters) also includes Alyssa Landry and MacKenzie Mayes.

The Youth Ensemble (Carolers, Acolytes and Party members) consists of Aberdeen Brickett, Devenny Brickett, Caroline Fallona, Theodore Gluck, Elaina Hammond, Sally McGrath, Charley Norton and Alexandra Spiegel.

The Children’s Ensemble & Angel Choir includes: Lauren Arsenault, Adeline Burman, Maddison Collin, Alannah Collin, Olivia Dube, Peter Graffam, Andrew LeBlond-Sturdivant and Lily Tarbox.

The orchestra is superb, led by Music Director Nell Britton on keyboard, and included Kevin Smith on keyboard 2, Susan LaVerrier on violin, Sarah Hashem and Josh Witham on reeds, Chris Bevan on bass, Steve Gagel on trumpet and Josh Adams on drums.

Choreographer Mariel Roy works some dance magic with appealing simplicity.  She allows the showcasing by stronger dancers in well-appointed moments, in particular an amazing contemporary ballet performed by Amber Arsenault (doubling as Christmas Future), and also some fine tap dancing by Amber Arsenault, Hannah Batman, Hailey Fardon, Nadia McElroy, Lily Rowe and Marissa Wilson.

While Keira Bailey’s Tiny Tim rightfully succeeds in pulling the audience’s heartstrings, she does get some cute-factor competition from 6-year-old Andrew LeBlond-Sturdivant, making his stage debut with scene-stealing bewilderment, looking like one of Fagin’s orphans and totally oblivious to his own magnificent innocence. You’ll spot him.  (I’m guessing Grandma Linda and Mama Sara are quite proud).

Whether you believe Dickens’ story is based on the Christian concept of redemption or a more secular interpretation of charity and altruism, the benefits of such a transformation is well worth the investment of buying a ticket. “God bless us, every one!”

City Theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  Tix and FMI, call (207) 282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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— Louis Philippe

Windham Center Stage Hits Heavenly Mark with “SISTER ACT – The Musical”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , on October 19, 2018 by Ringer

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October 2018

Windham Center Stage Theater unleashes the heavenly power of the sisterhood with its fall production of SISTER ACT – The Musical, now running through October 28th.

Based on the popular 1992 film of the same name, SISTER ACT is a feel-good, spirited musical comedy featuring a bevy of local talent, from seasoned performers to first-timers.  Director Darnell Stuart, a local theater stalwart and avid supporter of performing arts, shepherds a large cast in creating a memorable experience that defines the essence—and success—of community theater.

With music by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc), lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane, SISTER ACT unveils the story of Disco Diva Deloris Van Cartier whose lounge act got nixed by boyfriend/club owner/gangster Curtis Jackson.  Determined to break up with the guy, Deloris witnesses Curtis murdering a cronie.  Curtis and his band of thugs are on the hunt to kill the witness, but the police offer to shield Deloris in an unsuspecting convent.

In exchange for her protection, Deloris is forced to live by Mother Superior’s rules and change her habits until it is safe.  Assimilating into her new lifestyle makes for many hilarious challenges as well as many new friendships.  Because of her obvious musical abilities, Deloris is reluctantly appointed director for a withering, lifeless, atonal choir that needs a life-line.

Deloris’ talent and creative vision turn the choir into a wildly successful missionary act that not only raises enough money to save the church from the auction block, but revitalizes the pews with new congregants.  Word eventually gets out to the Pope, who requests a papal concert.  In all the hoopla, Deloris’ cover as Sister Mary Clarence is revealed, creating a dilemma for Deloris and the entire convent.  A final showdown between Deloris and Curtis is imminent…but God provides and the good sisters prove to have the saving grace to bring about a happy ending.  Amen!

Rachel Scala-Bolduc is well cast as Deloris, easily convincing as a singing diva with powerhouse bluesy Broadway vocals, an Italian attitude and wonderful animated facial expressions (“Fabulous, Baby”).  Ginny Pomeroy’s stage debut as Mother Superior is indeed superior with clear delivery, nice interpretation and gentle presence (“Here Within These Walls”).

The flap of nuns were…well…divine!  Stand-outs included Peyton White as Sister Mary Robert, Bryanne Green as Sister Mary Patrick, Jennifer Joseph as Sister Mary Lazarus, Michele Reagan as Sister Mary Theresa and Sheila Payne as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours (also Dance Captain).  Rounding out the murmur were Amy Fryda, Jeannine Lessard, Dawn Sample, Katie Schools, Renee Seavey, Laurie Shepard, Cindy Smith, Meghan Reidy and Gail White.

Notable performances were turned in by John Mosey as Monsignor, Jon Bolduc as Curtis, Zach Pierce as Pablo, Mylo Brann as TJ, Giovan Corsetti as Joey and Brad Van Damm as Ernie. “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” was uniquely entertaining.

Ryan Eling was superb as Eddie, the police desk chief who once had a crush on Deloris (and maybe still does?).  Eling’s smooth jazz voice was remarkable on his solo, “I Could Be That Guy,” but it was his smooth moves that stole the show.

The ensemble—always a hard-working bunch—included Briella Krog, Kaitlyn Farrin, Meredith Eldridge, Rosie Haibon, Joanne Haibon, Sedona Narvaez, Annie Stuchbury and Heidi Doucette.

About 15 nuns graced the stage in various scenes and production numbers.  These ladies were perfect in their portrayal of nuns of various ages, shapes and sizes, motions and movements…a tableau of dancers that was 100% realistic, endearing, appealing—and fun to watch.

Bravo to Music Director/Keyboardist Patrick Martin who confidently and competently drives a fine pit made up of Josh Adams on drums, Scott Gordan on trumpet, Jimmy McGirr on bass, Matt Murray on guitar, and Tegan Raymond on reeds. And kudos to Choreographer April Monte for some fine production numbers:  “Take Me To Heaven, Raise Your Voice, Sunday Morning Fever,” and “Spread The Love Around.”

SISTER ACT runs through October 28th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 8 School Rd., Windham.  Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students.  FMI: windhamtheater.org or 207 893-2098.

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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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.

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–Louis Philippe

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

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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.

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–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

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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.

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–Louis Philippe

 

SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS SCORES WITH “SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL”

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

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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.

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–Louis Philippe