Archive for Maine theater

Ogunquit’s All New SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE Is Smoking Hot Revue

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

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May 2018

Ogunquit Playhouse opened its 86th Season this week with a deliciously revamped production of SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE: THE SONGS OF LEIBER & STOLLER, breathing new life into Broadway’s longest-running musical revue and securing its legacy for generations to come. If you’ve seen Smokey Joe’s Cafe before, GO AGAIN because you haven’t seen this Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe has some original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, new orchestrations by Steve Margoshes and Music Supervisor Sonny Paladino, contemporary dance moves and new interpretations of old tunes, all performed by a young, energetic and effervescent cast of nine with new attitudes, fun shtick and engaging character development.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe is directed and choreographed by Emmy Award-winner and Tony Award-nominee Joshua Bergasse who wanted to build a new production specifically for a unique and astounding new cast.  With numerous Broadway and television credits, Bergasse easily succeeds in moving the ensemble with clean, fresh, modern moves.  Intoxicating and impressive!

The cast is an unsuspecting collection of diversely-talented Broadway and off-Broadway powerhouse performers who work exquisitely well together and who seem to recognize the stellar opportunities this show could yield:  Dwayne Cooper (Motown, Hairspray, Showboat, Seussical The Musical), Emma Degerstedt (Desperate Measures, TV credits), John Edwards (Jersey Boys, Hairspray), Dionne D. Figgins (Hot Feet, Memphis, Leap of Faith, Motown), Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (Spamilton), Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live), Jelani Remy (Simba in The Lion King), Max Sangerman (The Lightning Thief, Blue Man Group), and Alysha Umphress (On The Town, American Idiot, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert).  All are superb, but Cooper and Miss Ortiz (“it pays to wait on God”) organically attain unrivaled performance distinction.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe introduces a new character: The Café itself, at the junction of Memory Lane and Milestone Boulevard, where friends would come together to hang out, enjoy life and love, sing and dance, and share the emotions and tales embodied in the words of the sentimental songs that Leiber & Stoller wrote.  Thanks to a killer set designed by Beowulf Boritt, this Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a physical place you can enjoy visually and aesthetically, and feel like you’re hanging out with the rest of your friends.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe re-packages and re-launches the works of legendary Hall of Fame songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into a perfect template that easily establishes this property among similar successful musical-themed shows Million Dollar Quartet and Heartbreak Hotel (previously seen at the Playhouse) and Jersey Boys (coming this fall).

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe will likely catapult its gifted songwriters, stunning cast, and creative staff into a level of unprecedent career development and sentimental superiority for decades.  Make no mistake about it—the Leiber & Stoller catalogue is enviable—rich, endless, timeless, entertaining, universal and diverse.

The songs are 100% recognizable and revered:  “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog” (Big Mama Thornton style), “Love Potion #9,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Ruby Ruby,” “Young Blood,” “Poison Ivy,” “Don Juan,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “Searchin,’” “Kansas City,” “Falling,” “I Who Have Nothing,” “Pearl’s A Singer,” “I’m A Woman,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Stand By Me” and many more…35 hits packed into 90 sizzling minutes (no intermission).

These are the songs that played on radios everywhere, that defined daily living and boundless dreams.  These are the songs that helped frame and color the lives of young Americans growing up in the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s, the songs that brought levity, hope, healing, even distraction, to a society riddled with civil, political and cultural unrest.  These are the songs that shaped the music industry and helped change the world…a phenomenon that might never be repeated.

The Leiber-Stoller works reached across many genres—soul, rhythm & blues, rock ‘n roll, country, jazz, gospel.  Their songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the Comets, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Tom Jones, Edith Piaf, Bobby Darin, Chet Atkins, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, BB. King and Otis Redding, to name a few.

This Smokey Joe’s Cafe is a non-stop celebration of memories and milestones, a tribute to great talent and a party hosted by a fabulous cast.  Everyone of all ages and musical tastes is invited.

On Opening Night, just when the last encore hit its final downbeat, the audience enjoyed a bonus treat when Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney escorted Mr. Mike Stoller to the stage for some heartfelt words of thanks and reflection.  The 85-year-old icon expressed his thanks to all those involved and wished that his creative partner, who passed away in 2011, could have experienced the wonderful show.  An emotional Stoller related how he still reaches for the phone to call his friend.  “Jerry,” he said looking up to the heavens, “I wish you could’ve seen the great show tonight. Lots of good things going on. ‘Stand By Me’ is going to be played at the Royal Wedding, we’re getting a national jazz award for ‘Kansas City’ and we had a great Opening Night here in Ogunquit.” <pause> “Ogunquit, Jerry.” <pause> “O-g-u-n-q-u-i-t…it’s somewhere in Maine, and they sure do love us.”  A genuine class act!

Next stop for this Smokey Joe’s Cafe is an off-Broadway run at Stage 42 in NYC, so be sure to catch it here in Maine before it closes on June 9th.  Tix and FMI: www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or 207-646-5511.

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–Louis Philippe

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City Theater Offers Glorious Getaway With Romantic Comedy “ENCHANTED APRIL.”

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2018 by Ringer

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May 2018

Did you ever feel like you needed to burst out of your daily surroundings and take a vacation to a magical getaway in search of inner peace and happiness? City Theater has the perfect getaway that offers laughter, hope and restoration: ENCHANTED APRIL, a delightful romantic comedy written by Matthew Barber, based on the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

It’s post-war London, 1922, and Lotty Wilton (played by Gusta Johnson), a bubbly, visionary, life-loving but unhappy housewife, spots a classified ad to rent a castle overlooking the Mediterrean in Mezzago, Italy.  The same ad catches the attention of an unlikely acquaintance, Rose Arnott (played by Rebecca Cole), a more reserved but equally unsatisfied housewife.  The two agree to a plan to rent out the villa for a much-needed all-girl holiday. But to afford it, they recruit two other unlikely candidates—Lady Caroline Bramble, a young aristocratic flapper (played by Stephanie Maloney), and Mrs. Graves, a cranky, domineering old widow (played by Doni Tamblyn).

They arrive at the San Salvatore Castle—with its boasted supply of wisteria and sunshine—and are overcome by the magical land of romance and enchantment.  The personality differences of the four ladies are well-attended to, if not piqued, by Antony Wilding, owner of the castle (played by Benjamin Keller), and Costanza, the Italian-speaking housekeeper (played by Jennine Cannizzo).  But the mayhem ensues when Lotty invites her husband, Melleresh Wilton, a stuffy, single-minded solicitor (played by Caleb Lacy), to join her and then Rose’s husband, Frederick Arnott, a noted author with a strayful eye (played by Charlie Cole), pulls a surprise visit.

No doubt ENCHANTED APRIL is as enjoyable a comedy as any Broadway blockbuster.  Without revealing the ending, what this production leaves the audience with is a warm sense of resolution, a feeling that everyone in the theater experienced the same transformations and relationship breakthroughs that were portrayed in Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel.

As Director Linda Sturdivant describes, “I feel it is more about the characters and their journey then the prose of their surroundings—the dreariness of Post WWI England, even the beauty of the Italian seaside.  They all want something and it is in this magical place.  Wilding has found it—that explains his peace. Lotty knows it is out there and is desperately trying to reach it and wants to take all of these people with her.  Everything was on the brink of change for women in the 1920s. Mrs. Graves is clinging to the past. Lady Caroline is being propelled into the future and Lotty and Rose are in the middle trying to figure it out.”

Von Arnim was a clever, intuitive, witty writer, a colorful personality known and liked by many, yet somehow relegated by definitions of society, feminism, family, marriage.  She was introspective enough to make stinging and profound observations yet outlandish enough to have faith in her satire and her unique light-hearted interpretations of love, life and liberty.  She escaped challenges of her own life by writing and gardening, enjoying country living and amenable destinations (even built her own castle where she entertained literary and society friends after her first husband died).

One can easily see the author in her semi-autobiographic scenes and characters, in search of her own sense of contentment and affirmation…a strong case of art-imitating-life.  It is said that the Italian seaside villa in Portofino where she penned The Enchanted April, and her book’s romantic destination of Castle San Salvatore in Mezzago, are one in the same.

Barber’s script is rich with proverb-like maxims and advice of Biblical proportion.  And as is inherent with much British comedy, there’s a prerequisite period of listening adjustment before one gets unlocked to the level of superior humor that writers such as Von Arnim weave into their dialogues and idioms.  Once that moment occurs, the subtle guffaws begin to burst with more quality and quantity.

What makes this play so interesting is the divergent, unconventional grouping of characters.  What makes them so mesmerizing is the cast’s ability to hold steadfast to their disparities and quirks with unrelenting strength.  Each performer is righteous and rich in their portrayals.  Bravo!

For this period piece, the stage is perfectly appointed and appropriately admired, though perhaps only a tad less than the lovely costuming.  And while it is not a musical, of special note is some beautiful original underscoring and incidental music created specifically for this show by Kevin Smith, a familiar City Theater Music Director.

ENCHANTED APRIL is a charming get-away and the public is invited to experience the same metaphoric journey to San Salvatore…no train or passport needed, only a ticket to City Theater’s production of ENCHANTED APRIL.  Departures run through May 20, 7:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 PM on Sunday, May 13 & 20.

City Theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford.  FMI: 207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Laura Hurd Whited Stars in Comedy Cabaret LAUGHING MATTERS at Footlights in Falmouth

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by Ringer

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April 2018

Laura Hurd Whited takes laughing seriously.  After years in the making, the singer/actress/comic is proudly and confidently debuting her very own cabaret musical-comedy revue that proves her point: LAUGHING MATTERS (it really does).

LAUGHING MATTERS is a well-crafted anthology of comedy songs through the years weaved in rich carefully-selected stories of love and romance, abundantly loaded with humor and cleverly delivered in Laura’s trademark affable, personable, “I’m-breaking-the-4th-wall-and-taking-this-show-into-the-audience-and-nobody’s-gonna-stop-me” style.

The singer glows when she decribes her material.  “I love these songs.  Many are songs people don’t really know.  Some are obscure.  Three songs are from the ‘40s.”  But they all meet the performer’s strict criteria, i.e. “They have to be funny—TO ME!” And, she adds, the songs are all about her most endearing and interesting topic EVER—relationships!

Consider LAUGHING MATTERS as a universal love bomb that’s designed to hit anyone who can relate to any aspect of love…“finding it, losing it, being treated badly, trying too hard, trying too little, finally getting it just right and then wham.  I just wanna give these songs to everybody in the audience,” Laura imparts with a happy heart.

And the intimate setting of The Footlights Theater in Falmouth is the perfect venue for her creation.  “Again, it’s all about relationships, even with the audience…looking right at people, being present in every moment, when somebody sneezes, coughs, has to get up, interacting constantly, a show with a flow, a different show every time.  Being on stage at Merrill is thrilling in a way, but you’re really talking to God all the time blinded by lights.  I’d much rather be right here, right now…

Laura does admit that going to see a person singing a bunch of songs could be boring, so she’s taken many precautions to assure her audiences will enjoy a maximum cabaret experience.  “Let’s just say a lot of songs are not solos…there’ll be lots going on, lots of surprises, some planned, some not, maybe some conflict…we’ll just leave it at that,” she carefully offered so as not to reveal some built-in hidden laughter landmines.

The songlist reads like a manifesto for a very bizarre journey for which Laura channels various and sundry Broadway to very-off-Broadway gems, well-known to little-known to unexpected singers and comedy song-writers, and a delightfully unbalanced mix of “warm-and-fuzzy date” to “rogue cabaret act.”    The show gets “lots of help from” Music Director Bob Gauthier on piano.

The singer waits until the end of the show to present the title song, Laughing Matters, written by Mark Waldrop and Dick Gallagher and released by Bette Midler in 1998 that brings her message full circle:  “Laughing does matter, life is hard, times are hard, you need to laugh—to cope, to survive, to celebrate.  Love and relationships are the most important things to each of us, and laughing gets us through.”

Laura started singing at a young age—not professionally, just around the house.  “I used to sing on the plane, in the aisles, so I’m told…I earned lots of wings.”

She recalls the first time she sang in public, in her 10th grade when she belted out Send In The Clowns and got a standing ovation.  The next day, her neighbor, Arlene Winger, a well-known vocal trainer, told her, “That was wonderful, you can never sing like that again.”  Laura started lessons and ultimately went on to Boston Conservatory where she received a Bachelor of Arts Fine Arts degree in Musical Theater.

Upon graduating, she was excited to spend the next year gainfully employed as an actor with The New England Children’s Theater troupe, touring schools throughout New England.  Then it was time for some personal milestones—marriage, becoming a mother, and moving back to Maine.

When the time was right, Laura returned to the stage.  Her favorite roles include Fraulein Kost in Cabaret at Lyric Music Theater; Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls—among other shows—at Quisisana Resort in Lovell; a coveted slot in the popular annual Best Of Broadway revue for many years; and most recently Margaret, the mother, in Carrie: The Musical, also at Lyric.

Perhaps her most challenging role was Judy Garland in the tour-de-force The Property Known As Garland, written by Billy Van Zandt and produced at the Old Port Playhouse in Portland, a charming, busy, quaint performing space run by Artistic Director Michael Tobin.

“Judy was a huge role for me,” Laura confesses. “It was tough, it was emotional, and my voice has changed since that tribute.  I can still belt, but I found a place in my voice that I don’t feel I need to as much.  I’m comfortable doing whatever needs to be done, my approach and delivery is different for every song, I can go anywhere.”

“But I’ve never been a huge Broadway person,” quips Laura who enjoys stretching her voice, pushing the envelope and adding “tools for the toolbox.”  Rather, she is influenced by the likes of Diana Krall and has ultimate respect for stand-up comics.  “To walk out in front of an audience and tell stories is the bravest thing I know (other than going to battle).”

And so she seriously began developing LAUGHING MATTERS four or five years ago, though the concept had been born sooner. “I decided I was ready,” and contacted Tobin, now Artistic Director of The Footlights Theater in Falmouth.  The show was now a reality.

“Then it hit me—the show is fabulous in my head but will it be what I imagine?”  Some subtle motivation from her son (who was evaluating his own musical aspirations) calmed her creative consternation.  “I know the songs inside out, I know what I want to share with the audience, I’m not gonna die, I’m enjoying getting there and I know I’m gonna have fun,” she acclaims.

With all due respect, Laura truly has comic discernment, a visionary gift that perfectly combines comedy and humanity.  “I’ve always been jokey,” she divulged, “but people don’t really take me seriously.  They don’t take laughing seriously.” They will now.

LAUGHING MATTERS makes its world debut for one weekend only, April 26 – 28, 7:30 PM at the Footlights space located at 190 US Route 1 in Falmouth.  Tickets are $18, FMI 207/747-5434 or TheFootlightsInFalmouth.com.

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–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

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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.

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–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune

 

Windham High School Stages “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” in Glorious, Youthful Splendor

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on November 10, 2017 by Ringer

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November 2017

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is arguably one of the best musical productions of all time.  With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, it is a powerful and chilling account of The von Trapp Family whose unique journey of love and survival continues to satisfy and inspire audiences today.

With an outstanding bumper crop of potential award-winning thespians, Windham High School’s theater department effectively tackles the many challenges to bringing such a massive performing arts project to splendid life.  Director Rob Jeurgens, Music Director Dr. Richard Nickerson and Choreographer Vanessa Beyland head up a very dedicated Production Staff and capably coordinate the talents of over 60 actors, singers, dancers, musicians, stage and tech crew.

The curtain opens on the Nonnberg Abbey with stunning picturesque Alps (thank you Sara Barrett, Marie Bailey, Breanna James and Samantha Wheaton), setting a beautiful pattern of sleek, bold, vivid and clean set and light changes made possible by CJ Payne, Tech Director and Set Designer, and the facility’s addition of a “secret weapon,” clearly a nice wow factor.

Maria (Elizabeth McBride) is a postulant at the Abbey, whose love for mountains and music leads Mother Abbess (Danielle Dyer) to recommend time away from the Abbey before making a commitment to become a nun.  Maria is assigned the job of governess to the seven children of widower Captain Georg von Trapp (Isaac Foss), soon to be married to Baroness Elsa Schräder (Hanna Griffin).

The children embrace Maria whose style of caring—including teaching the children to sing—conflict with the Captain’s more militant approach.  So he asks Maria to leave, but upon hearing the children sing, he is reminded of times he enjoyed with his wife, and has a change of heart.

At a party given in Elsa’s honor, it becomes evident that Germany’s territorial takeover of Austria, the Anschluss, has begun, creating political discord and personal animosity. (Elsa: “Can’t you see things my way?”  Captain: “No, not if you’re willing to see things their way.”).  At Elsa’s request, the children perform for the guests.  Max Detweiller (Travis Burt), a music agent and producer, is so impressed by the children’s singing he wants them to perform in the Kaltzberg Festival, a competition he is organizing.

Elsa and the Captain break off their engagement, and the Captain and Maria admit their love for one another and are married (by a celebrity Bishop).  With the Third Reich infiltrating Austria, the Captain decides the family is no longer safe and must flee Austria.

With storm troops in the wings, The von Trapp Family Singers (including Maria and Dad), perform at the Festival but escape before judges announce their win of first prize.  The Nazis search for the family, but they are safely hidden at the Abbey until they flee over the Alps to Switzerland.

Such is the backdrop for the Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration that has spawned iconic songs that have all become memorable standards—The Sound of Music, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, The Lonely Goatherd, So Long Farewell, Climb Ev’ry Mountain and Edelweiss.

But what makes this particular cast unique is the majority of underclassmen taking part, some for the very first time.  It is pure, delightful entertainment to experience these young performers process what is clearly a new dimension of accomplishment and growth in themselves.  The signs are in their facial expressions, physical stances, hand gestures and voice placements.  The poise and confidence grow by the scene, as young individuals become empowered by their own gifts.

Remarkably, many of these theater newbees have diverse, interesting singing voices that they are still exploring within, that will undoubtedly develop into trademark talents when these individuals can attain that amazing level of self-assurance in taking risks and unleashing their potential.  But for now, and for some, working on projection, diction and body microphones are immediate prerequisites.

The Nuns chorus is divine with beautifully-blended reflective Latin hymns and reprises.  Kudos to Maggi Bradford, Molly Cochrane, Denali Dieumegard, Olivia Elder, Angelyn Gentile, Trinity Hamlin, Leah Lawler, Aisha Nelson, Emily Pattle, Abbee Searles and Demara Stratis.

Nominees for Outstanding performances are Travis Burt (Max Detweiller), Danielle Dyer (Mother Abbess), Scott Fontes (Franz, the butler), Isaac Foss (Captain von Trapp), Hanna Griffin (The Baroness), Trinity Hamlin (Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper), Elizabeth McBride (Maria) and Annie Stevens (Liesl).

In addition to Stevens, the von Trapp children are played by Matthew Chasse (Friedrich), Angel Spiller (Louisa), Cameron Wescott (Kurt), Corrine Ulmer (Brigita), Sophey Potter (Marta) and Lucille Karen Payne (Gretl).

Standing Ovation to the Pit Band, directed by Dr. Richard Nickerson, whose proficient members include Tyler Briggs on drum/percussion, Hanna Flewelling on violin, Scott Gordan on trumpet, Daniel Kaschub on trumpet, Betty McIntyre on piano, Isabella Rosborough on flute, Stephen Sepulveda on cello, Rose Underfofler on violin and Owen Wert on bass.

Honorable Mentions go to Costumer Weslie Evans, Hair & Make-up Designer Marissa Morrisette, Lighting Designer/Stage Manager Caleb Schrock, Sound Designer Sam Nemeroff and all their crew members.

The story of the von Trapps is fascinating and heartwarming, loaded with historical nostalgia and entertainment sentimentality. Windham High School’s production is comfort food for the creative soul and well worth bringing the entire family to see.  Today’s admirable and solid job by a worthy young cast is tomorrow’s tour de force.

The Sound of Music runs through November 19th—Fridays and Saturdays at 7 PM, Sundays at 3 PM.  Tix: $14/reserved, $12/door, $10/students/seniors/children.  For reservations, call 207/893-1742.  The Windham Performing Arts Center at Windham High School is located at 406 Gray Rd., Windham.

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–Louis Philippe

Footlights’ FALLING LEAVES is Powerful, Heartwarming, Hilarious Original

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

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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.

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe