Archive for Maine theater

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

SCHOOLHOUSE ARTS PRESENTS CLASSIC COMEDY “PLAZA SUITE”

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

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April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAZA SUITE runs April 21-May 7, Friday & Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm.  Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Rd., Standish.  FMI: 207/642-3743 or www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe

Footlights Stages Hilarious Sex Romp, THE NAKED TRUTH

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

The Naked TruthMarch 2017

Isn’t it funny what people can get in an inheritance?  In this case, very funny.

In The Naked Truth, an adult sex comedy by Rich Orloff, George and Liz (Jeffrey Gillenwater and Cindy O’Neil), a retired couple from Dayton, Ohio, inherit a resort in Key West from George’s estranged brother.

The new owners face some jarring challenges upon their arrival when they discover the Godiva Inn is a floundering clothing-optional resort and with the inheritance comes Clark (Justin Gifford), front-desk clerk and aspiring drag queen, and Jane (Leslie Chadbourne), a lesbian maintenance worker who moonlights as a Dominatrix.

Conflicts abound as Liz (“aghast but slightly intrigued”) quickly embraces the freedom and perks of her new surroundings (Disneyworld with a libido) while George clings to his normal, traditional values, setting up the classic battle between “the scenic route” and “the very same road.”  George decides to turn the place into a family-friendly property called Snow White Inn but after the personal and financial struggles continue to mount, he puts the property up for sale.

Enter Fred (Michael J. Tobin/Director) who is immediately smitten by “Strawberry Fields,” Clark’s diva queen persona (RuPaul of Key West).  Desperate to sell, George uncomfortably asks “Strawberry Fields” to seduce Fred to get him to buy the Inn.  Clark agrees, and mayhem ensues but the plot backfires.  When Clark is sufficiently insulted and dissed by Fred the morning after, George uncharacteristically steps up in Clark’s defense, calls off the sale and dismisses Fred.  The unsuspecting hero then announces that The Godiva Inn (where Jesus and Liberace co-exist and where Happy Hours start at sunrise) will live on.

The Naked Truth is a ROFLMAO marathon laughfest overloaded with unrelenting sight gags.  It’s light on substance, heavy on schtick, and feels like an ‘80s cable comedy that broke new ground when it first came out but isn’t as controversial today— but still fun to watch with lots of buttered, salted jiffypop.

The trademark ensemble easily upholds the Footlights’ reputation of working with the very best talent.  Chadbourne, Gifford, Gillenwater, O’Neil and Tobin are each capable, professional players that theater-goers have enjoyed for decades, in hundreds of productions in Southern Maine venues.

The characters portrayed by Chadbourne, Gifford and O’Neil are edgy, over-the-top, and effectively played with high energy, precision and maximum strength.  By contrast, Gillenwater’s rendering of George is at times more comical because of his subtle treatment of the introverted, defeated, withdrawn personality.

The pièce-de-résistance was Tobin’s transformation into Fred, a superb comedy performance reminiscent of Jerry Lewis and other great vintage television comics.  With zany expressions, kooky movements and quirky speech, Fred is dazzling and mesmerizing, worth the price of admission…and will hopefully host his own musical variety show at Footlights in the future.

So as I contemplated this review, there was something about the show that was unresolved and after reviewing the playback in my brain, I concluded that it is Orloff’s very own script that at times creates a glitch for the fine characters he’s created, like a puzzle piece that’s slightly off.  He clearly knows how to get the laugh, but I felt a disconnect in the flow with exaggerated pauses and uneven animation—none of which seemed to be noticed by the audience judging by the boisterous screams and roaring guffaws.

Honestly, The Naked Truth is hysterical…especially for those who go for that sort of adventuresome, no-holds-barred, risqué, free-spirited lifestyle.  And those who don’t should beware that they will likely find themselves ready to book the next flight to Key West.

The Naked Truth runs thru March 25th, Thursdays at 7 PM, Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, with a 2 PM Matinee on Saturday, March 18th.  Footlights Theatre is located at 190 US Rte 1 in Falmouth.  FMI & Tix: Call 747-5434 or visit www.thefootlightsinfalmouth.com.

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater + PUMPBOYS AND DINETTES = Hot Hoedown

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

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March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe

City Theater’s WEST SIDE STORY is Grand Theatrical Splendor

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

West Side Story1

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

West Side Story3

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

West Side Story4

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

July 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Louis Philippe