Sunday, June 24, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Thoroughly Marvelous MILLIE By Beverly Creasey

Turtle Lane Playhouse triumphed last season with their stunning DROWSY CHAPERONE. Now they’re reuniting the DROWSY leads for a high energy THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (playing through July 1st). This MILLIE grabs your attention from the get-go. The overture sets the bar for what’s to come. First rate musicianship right down to the crisp, sassy brass (under the music direction of Chris Holownia) made me sit up and take notice.

Director Kristin Hughes’ remarkable production sparkles with stellar performances, from Tim McShea’s sardonic hero to Jackie Theoharis’ spunky Millie to Gillian Gordon’s hilarious turn as the ingénue ever so “delighted to be on the way down.” But the real star of the show is Annita Brockney’s choreography.

The roaring twenties have never looked so glamorous. Brockney’s hip, Charleston inspired dances wow, keep up the energy of the story and get laughs galore. Wait ‘til you see her drinking choreography, her wild infatuation moves, even some wonderful, tongue in cheek ledge choreography. Kudos, too, to assistant choreographer Carly Jurman. Her work on the “Thoroughly Modern Millie” number starts the show with a bang.

The plot is unbelievably silly. In between the colliding love stories, an evil “laundry cartist” (Andrea Giangreco) blackmails two hapless Chinese laundry workers (who miss their mother) into helping her kidnap victims for the white slave trade. (Note: Morris and Scanlan’s book was written for comic effect way before we all became aware of actual human trafficking. Leave your political correctness at the door. This is a spoof.)

Did I mention there’s a spectacular Gilbert & Sullivan parody (executed to perfection by Kyle W. Carlson)? Not to mention two laundrymen who speak and sing in Chinese. It’s so silly that it’s divine. Jason Dick and David Gerrie sound mighty authentic (although I don’t speak Chinese so how would I know?). Olivia Buckley has a nifty cameo as an uptight office manager and Abigail Clarke adds class to the role of the queen of café society.

The only way you’ll have more fun is if you put on your flapper duds and dance the black bottom in the aisles. And you could, come to think of it, during intermission. Just not during the show.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Garden of Earthly Delights By Beverly Creasey

If you see only one comedy this summer, take the trip north for Gloucester Stage’s hilarious ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN (playing through July 1st). If you’re an Alan Ayckbourn fan, you simply can’t miss it. GARDEN is the third play in Ayckbourn’s THE NORMAN CONQUESTS trilogy to be mounted by Gloucester Stage. (If you have access to a time machine, use it to see last summer’s production and use it again to see the previous summer’s installation.)

Here’s the vitally important bit. You need not experience the other two for the third to work its magic. Ayckbourn has fashioned each play to stand alone. THE NORMAN CONQUESTS all center about Norman, an infuriating sadsack with an innate ability to charm even his severest critic. Until I saw the Gloucester productions, I thought no Norman could surpass Tom Conti’s performance (at the Old Vic). Steven Barkhimer has. He is wildly, “strangely engaging” as the incorrigible Norman, the rumpled librarian whose comeuppance is overdue. You almost can’t believe his luck as he worms his way into every female’s good graces.

Here’s Eric C. Engel’s genius. He’s brought the same cast back each year (with one small change this summer). The ensemble is incomparable. Their timing is exquisite. The comedy is sublime. Barlow Adamson makes Tom a delightful dolt. One thing you can bank on. When he says he’s gotten the drift of the situation, he hasn’t. Sarah Newhouse gives a touching performance as the daughter who has sacrificed to care for her difficult mother. (We hear how difficult when Newhouse deliciously mimics the old gal!)

Richard Snee is wonderfully droll as her distracted brother, come to take on mother duty for a weekend. It’s no wonder he tries not to pay attention when his formidable wife (Lindsay Crouse at her kid glove, ferocious best) takes over the house. He’s resigned himself to his lot. Of course the action spills over into the garden in this play, reaching fever pitch when Norman’s wife arrives. The part of Ruth has been played expertly by Jenny Israel but this summer Adrianne Krstransky takes over seamlessly, giving Norman’s nearsighted, long-suffering wife just the right edge of been-there-done-that. Her attempts to engage Adamson’s plodding Tom are delectable.

How can I pick my favorite moments? I’ll choose a directorial surprise to lure you, as it were, to Gloucester. When a drunken Norman is hauled out into the garden to sleep it off, he flips over like a dead fish. Just when you think you can’t laugh any more, he flips again. Engel and company find every opportunity for optimum pleasure and deft physical comedy.

The set itself is one of my favorite elements in this production. Jenna McFarland Lord’s sagging, pealing country house is perfection, right down to the brambles, moss and trellises. When Russ Swift lights it in sunshine, we all want to move there. Gail A. Buckley’s costumes beautifully match each personality, right down to Reg’s argyles. You just know from the socks that his wife dresses him and he’s long since ceased to object.

Oh, Ayckbourn would be so pleased.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Here’s why A CHORUS LINE at Reagle Musical Theatre of Greater Boston (playing through June 24th) is worth a visit: The iconic musical which won ten Tony Awards is getting a truly democratic production under Broadway veteran Leslie Woodies of the original national and international tour. There are no star turns in this production, just a solid cast of talented individuals, most of whom are local!

Reagle always lines up a Broadway name for each of its summer shows and Lorenzo Lamas is the ringer for A CHORUS LINE. He plays Zach, the director who has to choose from the auditioning throng of dancers and he’s mostly back stage. We hear only his voice, eliciting the dancers’ personal stories. To his credit, he blends seamlessly into Woodies’ inclusive design for the show, giving each character his/her due.

From the get-go, Woodies’ direction makes you care about each dancer, even the ones cut in the first scene. (You notice a hilarious “headband boy” and you even miss him!) What sets this production apart from other, maybe slicker ones is the heart and spirit in characters like Scott Abreu’s vulnerable Paul. The self-doubt (and growing self confidence) of the dancers is palpable. This is a very young cast. Maybe that’s why it works so well.

Aimee Doherty is a deft comedienne and she nails the haughty, naughty jaded veteran of many an audition. Danielle Goldstein, too gets lots of laughs as the plain Jane transformed by plastic surgery. Kerri Wilson delivers a saucy “Nothing” and Bradley Jensen wins you over with his enthusiastic “I Can Do That.”

Amos L. Oliver III soars as Ritchie (“Gimme the ball. Gimme the ball…”). Katie Clark clearly communicates the downside of fame as Cassie, the dancer who is willing to rejoin the corps just so she can dance again. Everyone executes Michael Bennett’s elegant choreography (recreated by Woodies) as if it were easy (which isn’t easy to do). My only disappointment is that Reagle was unable to find an Asian-American dancer to play Connie. That said, Rachel Bertone makes the role pop with spunky assertiveness. Come the last number, the dancers show without a doubt why A CHORUS LINE has become a “Singular Sensation.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Best Laid Plans By Beverly Creasey

You have to give the Happy Medium Theatre Company credit for tackling a difficult script like Richard Greenberg’s THE AMERICAN PLAN. Greenberg revisits the repressive fifties when being black, gay or Jewish meant an extremely hard row to hoe. Lili Adler (Robyn Linden) and her mother (Audrey Lynn Silvia) are summering in the Catskills with their maid (Lauren Foster) but they don’t mix with the borscht belt crowd across the lake. Mother considers them beneath her. Not so Lili---who has set her cap on a handsome young man (Nick Miller) who has been flirting with all the vacationing “carpet heiresses.”

Director Melanie Garber’s actors play so close to the vest in Act I that you’re compelled to take what they say on face value. If there’s no foreshadowing or subtext, you might believe that mother has her daughter’s best interests at heart, for one. When intermission arrives, it’s all been sewn up, you think, where you ought to be anticipating and even dreading what could go wrong in Act II.

Thankfully, Happy Medium’s THE AMERICAN PLAN comes alive with intrigue (and Greenberg’s best writing) in ACT II. The minute Mikey DiLoreto steps on stage, you’re pulled in to the story. That’s when secrets, lies and sabotage have their consequences. DiLoreto brilliantly delivers Greenberg’s credo (accepted practice at the time) about marrying and prospering and being “us our whole lives.” You’re quite afraid he will ruin everything for Nick and Lili but you sympathize with him nonetheless. If only Act II had started the play!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


AND A NIGHTINGALE SANG, C. P. Taylor’s exquisite WWII dramedy (about life beneath the bombs), is getting a first rate production at the Wellesley Summer Theatre (through June 24th). Britain’s ordeal is almost eclipsed by the family crises unfolding in Newcastle. Grandpa’s beloved dog has died. A marriage proposal looms. The would-be groom could be sent to the front. And mother frets, prays and brews tempests in their teapot.

The voice of reason is daughter Helen whose charming narration forms the backbone of the story. Margaret Dunn gives a luminous performance as the plain sister, the one with the limp, the solid one everybody looks to for advice. To their astonishment she falls in love with a handsome soldier (Will Bouvier gives a deftly nuanced performance in a difficult role.). Dunn transforms herself, with a light, it seems, from within. Their romance is the stuff of Masterpiece Theatre. When they dance, your heart rejoices. Director Nora Hussey captures that era brilliantly, aided in large part by Derek Stone Nelson at the piano, as father, singing the songs of the day, happily escaping any way he can, from mother’s gaze.

Lisa Foley is marvelous as the frenetic mother who won’t let father, or anyone else, get a word in edgewise. You can imagine the hysteria when the bombs are directly overhead. Ashley Gramolini is her mother’s daughter, frantically trying to decide about marriage while Will Keary, a delight as her foolish beau, mucks about waiting for her decision. It’s granddad who steals the show, toting various animals about (both alive and dead) much to mother’s consternation. John Davin as the old soldier/philosopher offers hilarious advice, gets in everyone’s hair and provides some of the best comic moments in the show.

A topnotch ensemble, David Towlin’s no nonsense, multi-purpose set (with scrim of gorgeous war drawings and posters), George Cooke’s singular sound design (lovely period recordings and genuinely frightening percussive noise), Nancy Stevenson’s authentic forties costumes, especially for Helen who becomes more and more beautiful as she learns to love …and dance (choreography by Colleen Royal) and Ken Loewit’s muted, evocative lighting, especially for the Elton Square rendezvous scenes -- all conspire to make this NIGHTINGALE soar.