Archive for Maine theater

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

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“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

WHEN TALENT CROSSES THE LINE: Et tu Community Theater?

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , on October 6, 2017 by Ringer
Lyric Cast Taking a Knee

TAKING A KNEE FOR EQUALITY

October, 2017

Recently, I spotted this photo on Facebook of Lyric Music Theater’s Nice Work If You Can Get It cast posted by its Music Director who titled her post: “Taking a knee for equality.” I was shocked that the political poison of emotionally-charged protests from the NFL and MLB to 8th grade sports teams had seeped into the hearts of community theater actors.

I was never more disgusted by the arrogance, ignorance and ego of some local “stars” who think their talents can outshine their detrimental behavior, who decided their opinion was so important for the world to know that it was worth the risk of tearing the veil to the inner sanctum and desecrating the sacred space of the stage.  And the injury doesn’t end there.

My curiosity was piqued. Equality? For what, I asked myself.  Racial equality?…there are no black people in the cast.  Did Lyric ban blacks from seeing the show?  Or maybe this was about pay inequality?  Nope, it’s Community Theater and nobody gets paid except the Music Director and Director.  Oh I know–this was a GBLT statement?  Or perhaps a “Free Marijuana for all Pro-Choicers” movement?  What?  With no clue what this cast was “taking a knee for,” I pursued.

Turns out the photo I saw was “shared” and as a FB “friend” of the Music Director (a status that has since been remedied), I happened to see it in my stream.  The pic was originally posted by a Joe Swenson to whom I commented (paraphrase) “I don’t know who you are but you should know that 80% of Americans polled do not want to be confronted with any sort of politically-motivated crap when they go to games, and I would suggest the same applies to theater. Your self-serving publicity stunt may have alienated a good portion of Lyric audiences because they might not appreciate such indiscretions by the liberal left.  Patrons pay good money to see good theater and you should not be tainting Lyric’s reputation and integrity in public with your personal and/or political opinions.”

Mr. Swenson responded (paraphrased):  “I’m the Director of the show and when the cast approached me with this idea, I immediately said yes, to show our support for Racial Equality and Inclusion.  You shouldn’t have even seen the pic because it was meant for our closed group only, this has nothing to do with Lyric Theater.  I don’t know who you are or how far you’ll take this, but since you don’t approve of this, it’s clear that you, sir, are the problem…You’re just a grumpy old man.”

I replied (paraphrased):  “I am really new to theater, so I really don’t know much.  But I think this has EVERYTHING to do with Lyric and how you’re trashing your rave reviews and the otherwise fabulous opportunity LYRIC has given you and every cast member who is pictured shamelessly on their knee.  You are in a show produced by LYRIC, in costumes provided by LYRIC, AND ON THE LYRIC STAGE, HELLO???”

At about this point, Mr. Swenson blocked me from further access to his closed group (so much for “Inclusion?”), possibly to avoid any negative publicity for his book he’s promoting, Letter#3. 

As a long-time friend/actor/board member of Lyric Theater, I credit people like Linwood Dyer, Ceddy & Marie Thomas, Roe Holmes, Nancy Warnock, Nancy Daniels, Don Drew and Ellen Lefevre (among so many others) for their hard work, sweat and passion, for making Lyric Theater what it will always be in my heart.  So it saddens me when younger individuals who know nothing of Lyric’s history (and likely have no clue who the above-named people are) are allowed to hijack and victimize a theater’s reputation by promoting an irreverent and irrelevant politically-charged public message.

I get it.  You hate Trump and everyone that voted for him.  You shout that as you preach for love and unity, at levels that drown out your own hypocrisy.  You preach for Inclusion as you tell me I am not part of your closed group.  You claim you are not being judgmental as you admit you don’t know me but immediately label me as “the problem.”

(It reminds me of a cast party I attended once.  I was chatting with the boyfriend of a female cast member who whispered in his ear: “Don’t talk to him, he’s Republican.”)

MEMO TO THE CAST:  YOU GOT CAST BECAUSE OF YOUR UNIQUE, INCREDIBLE TALENT, NOT YOUR POLITICAL PROWESS!  STOP INSULTING YOUR AUDIENCE!  STOP DISRESPECTING THE THEATER COMPANY THAT HAS BESTOWED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE ON STAGE!   THE STAGE IS SACRED GROUND!  YES, IT IS NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, SO DON’T ABUSE THE PRIVILEGE.  SAVE YOUR BULLSHIT FOR THE CAST PARTY!

Of course, the irony will no doubt be the backlash that my freedom of speech will spark by giving a power to truth that will melt snowflakes.  Some might see my point.  Some might be experiencing oppression by their Liberal peers first-hand. Those individuals should know they are in the righteous majority.  Others will fight and spew like salt on a slug, laser-focused on excluding, chastising and hating everyone who disagrees with their ideology of equality, inclusion and tolerance.

In conclusion, I must thank Mr. Swenson for his ultimate misjudgment.  I suppose I am an old man, but anyone who truly knows the real me knows that at age 62, I am giddy with abundant joy and blessings each day.  With endless grace by returning the gifts He gave me, there is nothing I need in life to make me any happier and fulfilled besides my continued walk with God, and my relationship with his son, Jesus.  Grumpy?  That’s just laughable.

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–Louis Philippe

Nostalgia, History, Talent Explode in World Premiere of HEARTBREAK HOTEL at Ogunquit Playhouse

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , , , on September 3, 2017 by Ringer

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September 2017

Floyd Mutrux is one of the busiest and most brilliant writers, directors and producers, with a wonderfully cluttered and creative mind that spills into every facet of his stage productions, intent on providing his targeted audience with the ultimate entertainment experience.

Mutrux is the co-author of the Tony award-winning, record-setting, smash hit Million Dollar Quartet which graced the Ogunquit Playhouse stage in 2015 and 2016 and became the greatest selling show in Ogunquit Playhouse history—the perfect storm of creative development, artistic vision, superb talent and great minds.

So when it was time to unleash his next musical feat—the prequel to Million Dollar Quartet—it was no surprise that he chose Oqunquit Playhouse for the world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel.  It was also no surprise to see him in the audience as he continues to shepherd and tweak his creation.  And it’ll be no surprise when Heartbreak Hotel hits Broadway with a bullet.

Heartbreak Hotel provides a window into the early life of a teenage musician named Elvis Presley who “knew all the songs” but didn’t have his own style.  In 1953, coaxed by his girlfriend, Dixie Locke, Elvis cut a record at Sun Recording Studio as a birthday gift for his mother. Sun Studio Owner Sam Phillips then introduced Elvis to guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black and The Blue Moon Boys was born.

A year later, the trio was back in the studio, still with no unique sound—until an impromptu version of “That’s All Right” immediately impressed Phillips—enough to sign Elvis and The Blue Moon Boys to a record contract.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

With the addition of drummer DJ Fontana, Elvis and his band didn’t take long to inject their newly-created style of music—rockabilly—into the world of clubs, radio and television appearances in Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. With a backdrop of racial inequality and civil unrest, the fusion of rhythm & blues and rockabilly created a toxic new style of rock ‘n roll (“race music”) that appealed to blacks and whites, girls and boys alike—which instantly made Elvis popular and controversial.

In 1955, Colonel Tom Parker, a former carnival barker from the Netherlands who came to America to make his fortune, became Elvis’ official manager.  Soon after, in January of 1956, Elvis signed a contract with RCA Records whose first label release was Mae Axton’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Next up: His buddy Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Elvis was in the fast lane on a rapid journey toward his unsuspecting destiny.  Milestones from the ’54 – ’58 years:  The Blue Moon Boys were no longer part of his deal but continued their own careers, he catapulted into Hollywood fame, his girlfriend left him, he bought a more suitable home called Graceland, and he would soon join the Army where he would meet Priscilla Beaulieu, his future wife.

This was the point in the show, minutes shy of the end, that felt like a natural culmination to a wonderful musical “rockabillyumentary” and a perfect cliffhanger for Part III of the trilogy (read on). A few hasty (and questionably relevant) scenes followed while a heavier dose of projections evoked images of the looming racial divide, followed by an almost out-of-place mini-set of patriotic hymns…which eventually led to a tentative ending.

But the cast put an exciting flashmob-like button on the show with an all-out dance party/concert that had the audience instantly on their feet for a tasty encore.  Suddenly, The Ogunquit Playhouse became John Lane’s Starlight Dance Hall filled with swooning patrons and adoring “young” Elvis fans.

The entire cast was phenomenal.  Eddie Clendening, who originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, shines anew in Heartbreak Hotel.  It doesn’t get any better.  Clendening captured the naiveté of a carefree young man who grew in confidence and humanity with each new experience, and with perfect balance of emotions to disguise his happiness.

The Blue Moon Boys are expertly played by Matt Codina as Guitarist Scotty Moore, Nathan Yates Douglass as Bassist Bill Black and Jamie Pittle as Drummer DJ Fontana…the perfect rockabilly combo.

As is often the case with musicals, the Ensemble is superbly versatile, entertaining, masters of their stage craft with vocal talent beyond belief.  Case in point:  Berlando Drake, Terita Redd and Geno Henderson—a dynamic show-within-the-show with powerhouse interpretations of numerous recording artists; Brenna Bloom is Marion, Erin Burniston is Dixie Locke and Fallon Goodson is Alice from Dallas.

Matt McKenzie and Jerry Kernion are well-suited for their roles as Sam Phillips and Colonel Tom Parker (respectively), and Christopher Sutton easily handles the role of Dewey Phillips, amusingly weaving narration in-between radio announcements.

The music is predictably sensational.  Heartbreak Hotel features a buffet of classic hits made famous by the King of Rock ‘n Roll and many legends who influenced his music…the soundtrack of life for many.

Aesthetically, the set design is striking, and even more stunning to watch the multi-function, fast-moving backdrops effectively frame scenes and change performing venues, with crisp lighting effects and projections of nostalgic video and graphics.  Bravo to Scenic Designer Adam Koch, Lighting Designer Richard Latta and Projection Designer Brad Peterson.

And the inside scoop is Floyd Mutrux’s announcement in the program that the third part of the Sun Records Trilogy is called Blue Suede Shoes and “will be coming your way in the not too distance future.”

Heartbreak Hotel runs through September 30th.  Ogunquit Playhouse is located at 10 Main Street in Ogunquit, ME 03907.  FMI:   http://www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or 207.646.5511.

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–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune

City Theater’s WIZARD OF OZ is Phenomenal Entertainment!

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 23, 2017 by Ringer
Wizard of OZ

Biddeford City Theater’s cast of THE WIZARD OF OZ: Brie Roche as Dorothy, Justin Stebbins as Scarecrow, Brian McAloon as Tin Man and Schuyler White as The Lion. photo credit: http://www.audrahatch.com

July 2017

Biddeford City Theater pulls out all the stops for a sensational season closer, The Wizard of Oz, running now through August 6thIt doesn’t get any better than this.

Yes, this is the same classic tale by L. Frank Baum, with Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made into the best known commercially successful movie adaptation in 1939. It’s the same iconic musical fantasy that became a television tradition broadcast annually from 1959-1991.

But as rich in cultural history, sentimental value and tradition The Wizard of Oz is, City Theater’s live presentation is unique with refreshing updates and lots of “wow” factors.

With its wide extended stage, three performing levels and double video screens that add up to a LOT of action, La Salle de l’Opéra channels a major performance venue hosting an impeccable, high-energy national tour.  The live concert extravaganza unfolds at perfect speed, with just enough suggestive set pieces for seamless scene changes, high doses of animation and sensory excitement, special effects, characters that “fly” and multi-media graphics that provide a new dimension to an already huge show.

Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant has amassed the largest cast in City Theater history—62 strong—who take the audience on a journey with Dorothy and her dog, Toto, who are swept up in a tornado from their Kansas farm to a place behind the sun, the magical land of Oz.  She befriends three characters—Scarecrow, Tin Man and The Lion—who join her on the yellow brick road to find the great Wizard of Oz who can grant their wishes for a brain, a heart, courage, and the way home.

The journey is robust and daring, magical and scary, filled with characters, challenges and special effects  that fill the senses and delight audience members of all ages.  Witches, Munchkins, Crows, Apple Trees, Poppies, Snowmen, Jitterbugs, Flying Monkeys, Tornado Dancers and The Winkie Guard.  Familiar favorites peppered with new personalities, some with flavorful attitude.

From beginning to end, there is not one environmental, theatrical or logistical element that detracts or distracts the audience from enjoying the ultimate Maine summer community theater experience.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

The acting, singing and dancing—all flawless.  The only possible hints of upstaging come from an assortment of adorable young actors from Munchkin Land whose cuteness factor leaves the audience defenseless.  Then there’s a humble-but-stellar performance turned in by Moe McGirr, the Yorkshire Terrier/Chekhov Canine that plays the role of Toto with Tony-Award-Winning flair.

Standing ovations to Brie Roche (Dorothy), Justin Stebbins (Scarecrow/Hunk), Brian McAloon (Tin Man/Hickory) and to Schuyler White (Lion/Zeke).  Also to Jessica Chaples-Graffam (Auntie Em), Peter Salsbury (Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard), Alyssa Rojecki (Wicked Witch of the West/Elmira Gultch), Lynn Boren McKellar (Glinda the Good Witch) and Brett Balfour (Professor Marvel)…all consummate professionals.

The parade of matchless talent includes:  Tad Willaims (General of the Winkies), Cameron Turgeon (The Mayor); Miles Sims-Kastelein (Barrister); Sally McGrath (Coroner); Braden Suey and Jared Wiliams (City Fathers); Amelie Lourdeau, Nola Lourdeau and Laila Suey (The Lullabye League; Abigail Frank, Lucy Gellis and Lily Tarbox (Lollipop Guild); and The Folk of Munchkin Land—Ysabel Arsenault, Ella Cabana-Flick, Madison Collin, Michaela Davis, Peter Graffam and Blake Lewis.

A group of featured dancers wonderfully augment various scenes with imaginative tableaus of motion—Gaia Ayres (who also plays Nikko, The Leader of the Monkeys), Briana Chu, Callie J. Cox, Nina Finocchiaro, Paul Jesus McIntosh, Caleb Streadwick, Logan A. Merrithew, Molly Scott and Jason Spivey.

The cast also includes Katy Albert, Lindsay Armstrong, Barbara A. Blais, Cindy Blais, Aberdeen Brickett, Devenny Brickett, Tega Bourgeois-Lang, Maggie Carlock, Elisha Cicio, Meg Davis, Ryleigh Dyer, Caroline Fallona, Jay W. Jones, Alyssa Landry, Gina Lewis, Kaitlin McGinley, Evelyn McGirr, Laina MeKonis, Mark J. Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Dustin Niehoff, Meg Reynolds, Kelsey Seavey, Ashley Shevenell, Izaiah Stackpole and Victoria Stackpole.

Perhaps the hardest-working person on stage is Kevin Smith, Music Director, who harnesses a magnificent 10-piece orchestra while tediously and immaculately playing gate keeper to some stunning pieces of background music by Herbert Stothart, lush orchestration written by Larry Wilcox, and vibrant dance and vocal arrangements by Peter Howard.  For his non-stop focus, precision timing and his uncanny ability to juggle incessant musical cues without missing a beat, Smith is masterful.

The amazing pit includes Smith on Keyboard; Will Silvers on Keyboard II and Tenor Sax; Joshua Adams on Percussion Kit;  Blaise Spath, Flute and Baritone Sax; Ray Libby, Clarinet, Flute and Sax; Victoria Hurlburt, Violin; Mathew Nichols, Cello; Jimmy McGirr, Bass; Don Lauzier, Trumpet; and Owen Doane, Trombone.

In addition to the 50 people who contribute their time and talents on the production and tech staff, a volunteer crew of 215 people also helped Director Sturdivant mount this majestic event.  Some of those luminaries include:  Choreographer Mariel Roy, Set Designer and Technical Director CJ Payne, Stage Manager Greg Brackett, Scenic Painter Jessica Chaples-Graffam, Master Carpenter Ed Wood, Projections by Richard McIntosh and stupendous costume designs by Barbara Kelly and Alysa Avery.

The Wizard of Oz is arguably one of Sturdivant’s most creative and lavish family-friendly feats (“Oh, I’ve had these ideas living in my head rent-free for years, I finally put them on stage.”).  The problem with making such a bold claim is that Sturdivant is always raising the bar at City Theater…and the next opportunity is right around the corner.

Five-star, family-friendly entertainment, not to be missed!  “There’s no place like Biddeford, there’s no place like Biddeford, there’s no place like Biddeford.”

The Wizard of Oz is running now through August 6th—Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main St., downtown Biddeford.  FMI:  207-282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Schoolhouse Arts Center Soars With PETER PAN

Posted in Hot Off The Press with tags , , , , on July 14, 2017 by Ringer

 

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July 2017

One of my favorite songs of all time is Liza Minnelli’s magical trademark rendition of “Never Never Land” from her Liza’s Back Live Concert CD released in 2002.  But for bits and pieces, I had never seen PETER PAN, the musical from which the song was born…that is, until now.  I’m glad to report that my first journey to Never Land was a wonderful experience.

Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lake presents PETER PAN in its full splendor through July 30th.  This is the classic tale by Sir James M. Barrie that spawned the 1954 Broadway musical that starred Mary Martin in the iconic lead role.  With music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, this timeless tale marks the directorial debut by Zachariah Stearn, himself a Schoolhouse icon, who effectively creates a fun, exciting adventure for audience members of all ages.

The journey to Never Land begins in the nursery of the Darling home (Scene 1).  While Mr. and Mrs. Darling (Steven Koskinen and Cindy Smith) are out for the evening and the children Wendy (Ashley McBreairty), John (Reese Madarasz) and Michael (Ella Tedeschi) are asleep, Peter Pan (Kaylin Brown) makes his grand entrance in search of his shadow, with the help of his fairy, Tinkerbell.  The children are enthralled by Peter Pan who teaches them to fly and invites them to come to his home, Never Land, where he lives with the Lost Boys…and off they go.

Like Oz and Narnia, Never Land (Scene 2) is enchanting, blithe, ever-imaginative, forever young, with forests abundant in adventures.  But the Lost Boys face challenges from Tiger Lily (Emily Thompson) and her tribe of Indian Braves and Captain Hook (Steven Koskinen) and his band of Pirates.  As amazing as Never Land is, before long, the children wish to return to their home but they and the Boys are captured by Hook’s Pirates and trapped aboard the Jolly Roger (Scene 3).  With some fateful twists and climatic surprises, thanks to Peter Pan, all ends well.

The large mixed cast of 34 actors, singers and dancers is a nice representation of the Schoolhouse community talent pool that includes all ages, cross-genre roles, and all levels of experience from the newbies to seasoned pros.

Despite some tentative moments early on, the cast quickly found a creative flow that was infectious and delightful.  Clearly, Director Stearn’s vision “to create a production filled with childlike wonder and innocence, with big colorful characters,” was a message heard loud and clear.

The best moments are the larger group scenes which provide entertaining animation by actors confident in their characters.  The Pirates are visually vibrant, each with unique eccentricities that bring comic relief and joy to their scenes.  Steven Koskinen (Captain Hook) is outstanding with his expression and timing and Schoolhouse favorites Jeffrey McNally (Smee) and Jacob Clowes (Noodler) do not fail to deliver their usual high-energy top-notch game.

Other Pirates include Janet Littlefield (Cecco), Jack Lamont (Jukes), Cindy Smith (Smitty), John Littlefield (Starkey), Timothy Dwyer (Timbo) and Airin Wolf (Mullins)—all worthy players.

Emily Thompson owns the stage in her role as Tiger Lily, displaying grace and competence with her dancing skills and leading a highly-qualified tribe of Indian Braves that include Gabrielle Bouthot, Sophia Cartonio, Alexis Clement, Cara Kennedy, Pauline Kennedy, Annikka Mocciola, Meghan Reidy and Melissa Spicer.

Kaylin Brown (Peter Pan) and Ashley McBreairty (Wendy) soar in their leading roles (pardon the pun).  Both possess nicely controlled, pristine singing voices and clear diction (though a tad more projection couldn’t hurt).  They’re capable of driving their scenes with their instinctive blend of magical innocence and naïve wisdom.

The songs are stellar and well delivered by leads and chorus alike and will certainly be on the lips of audience members for days after the curtain call.  “I’ve Gotta Grow,” “I’m Flying,” “Never Never Land,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” are just a few favorites.  The music is under the capable direction of Allen Thomas.

Schoolhouse Arts Center is “old school”—literally.  It’s a charming venue with creaky wooden floors, old-fashioned bathrooms, classrooms that are now lobby space.  It is the very essence of Maine community theater with a bonus rustic feel in the heat of summer.  It might not be state-of-the-art but Schoolhouse is the ultimate “state of the heart” theater group that specializes in the process of performing arts versus the slickness of the product.

At Schoolhouse, there’s a noticeable casualness before the show begins, perhaps bursts of controlled chaos (cast members frantically searching for their props, or scooting across the stage to deliver a message, or simply appearing in full costume to say hi to their family).

Process-vs-Product— it’s a beautiful thing.   Director Stearn gets it.  Those few tentative moments in the action when actors are faced with a momentary crisis (“Am I waiting for the band or are they waiting for me?” “What should I do for these four measures?” “Oops, was I supposed to come out yet?” “Is that crocodile stuck?”) are precious and scary moments that lead to personal victory and empowerment.  Schoolhouse founders Hank and Nancy Beebe understood that philosophy and would be very proud of the PETER PAN cast and crew.

Schoolhouse’s choice to stage PETER PAN was a bold one that falls between two factors, i.e, the (left brain) funding required for aesthetic changes to the stage, liability, safety issues and equipment installation to “fly” castmembers versus the (right brain) potential payoff for having that creative wow factor of castmembers “flying.”  Cudos to the Board for the decision to “fly.”

PETER PAN runs through July 30th, Thursdays – Saturdays at 7 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM.  Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Rd., Standish (near the intersection of Routes 35 and 114).  For reservations, call 207/642-3743 or visit www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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

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

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

May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe