Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review of "The Drowsy Chaperone"


Flirtatious fun, an apt description for The Drowsy Chaperone, the delectable diversion playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 25th.  The production, a spoof of 1920’s giddy, harebrained musicals, is effervescently entertaining and will put a smile on your face.
 
John Scherer as Man in Chair in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The featherbrained plot centers around the upcoming nupitals of a glitzy, famous actress to a handsome son of an oil magnet.  Complications, of course, ensue as competing forces vie for the wedding to proceed and be called off.  The stylized characterizations include a fretting best man; a bumbling, Latin Lothario; a flustered producer and his ditzy girlfriend; two disguised gangsters; the liquored-up bride’s chaperone; and a jolly, self-depracating narrator, who anchors the production. 

The role of the narrator, known as the Man in Chair, elevates the musical from a breezy send-up to splendiferous entertainment as he lobs bon mots and keeps up a steady stream of wisecracking banter.  He begins the musical, alone on stage in his comfy easy chair, explaining to the audience that when he is blue he enjoys listening to Broadway cast recordings on his record player.  His favorite?  The Drowsy Chaperone, which he then proceeds to play while chronicling the action and backstory of the scenes and performers as they come to life in his small, nondescript apartment. 
 
“I Don’t Wanna Show Off” Stephanie Rothenberg (Janet Van de Graaf) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, which won the 2006 Tony Award, is cleverly structured, saucy, and high-spirited. There is a loving and knowing nod to Broadway musical aficionados that is good-natured and quite humorous.

The score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is exuberant, frothy, and full of opportunities for individual cast members to shine.   
 
“Toledo Surprise!” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The performers attack their roles with gusto and a genuineness that adds to the hilarity and vivaciousness of the production.  They are led by John Scherer in the pivotal role of Man in Chair.  He is assured, charming and amusing from the onset, setting a mirth-filled tone to the show.  The actor’s antics and droll repartee has the audience in stitches almost immediately. 

Other notable cast members include Stephanie Rothenberg as Janet Van de Graaff, the radiant and attractive starlet.  She nimbly skates through a range of emotions from teary-eyed bride-to-be to bubbly luminary.  While delightful, the performance could have been strengthened with a bit more panache.
 
John Scherer (Man in Chair) with Parker Slaybaugh (Gangster 2) and Blakely Slaybaugh (Gangster 1) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Clyde Alves, as the groom Robert Martin, is a handsome bon vivant.  There’s not much depth in the role but he, nonetheless. Is a good sport dashing on and off stage handling each predicament with a playful exasperation.  Jennifer Allen is flippant and brash as The Drowsy Chaperone, but she could have been even more audacious and impertinent.  John Rapson is suitably over-the-top as the Latin lover Aldolph.  The Slaybaugh brothers, Blakely and Parker, just about steal the show as the two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs.  They are outrageously funny and are talented hoofers.  Let’s hope they continue to grace Connecticut productions.

Choreographer Chris Bailey delivers a handful of high-stepping dance routines and tap dancing extravaganzas.  His work is used sparingly within the musical, but each time produces crowd-pleasing enthusiasm.
 
“Rhythm make dem cold feets hot!” Tim Falter (George) and Clyde Alves (Robert) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Director Hunter Foster has a light touch as he guides the large cast on and off the small Goodspeed stage.  He seamlessly integrates the Man in Chair with the other elements and scenes from the show.  Each segment of the musical is skillfully presented as a miniature vignette focusing on the individual characters and their distinctive plights.

The scenic design by Howard Jones deftly interweaves a meager apartment layout with more lavish sets associated with the rich and whacky.  He even manages to land an airplane on stage.
 
Escape the everyday with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Gregg Barnes’ costume designs are elaborate creations, gorgeous to gaze upon.  He truly captures the sumptuousness and grandeur of the high-flying upper class.

The Drowsy Chaperone, a sparkling, lighthearted musical, playing through November 25th.

Monday, October 8, 2018

October 7, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - October 2018 Requests
All request program with cast albums M - Z.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Bikini Bottom Day
SpongeBob - the Musical
Aldonza
Man of La Mancha
Working on the Land
Martin Guerre
I Ain't Down Yet
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
The Lambeth Walk
Me and My Girl
Perfect Strangers
Mystery of Edwin Drood
Revolution
Oh, Brother!
Das Chicago Song
New Faces of '68
My American Moment
War Paint
Engine of Love
Starlight Express
Man Say
Raisin
Tangled
Women on the Verge...
Lullaby From Baby to Baby
Runaways
The Mad Hatter
Wonderland
I Hate Musicals
Ruthless!
I'm Alive
Xandadu
Light on Your Feet
Yank!
Puttin' on the Ritz
Young Frankenstein

Review of "Jekyll & Hyde"


The musical Jekyll and Hyde is usually staged as a large-scale, lavish production where bombast and over-the-top vocal performances and poignant ballads are the norm.  The show, now playing at the very intimate Music Theatre of Connecticut playhouse, deemphasizes the grandiloquence and focuses on the characters as they are swept up in the unholy research of Henry Jekyll.  For audience member familiar with, and who enjoy, the over-the-top Frank Wildhorn songs, rest assured.  They are still intact in all their blazing glory.

Set in 19th century London, the show loosely follows the Robert Louis Stevenson novella of a respected doctor, Henry Jekyll, looking to separate a person’s good side from their bad, thus creating a better world where evil is eradicated.  Using himself as the test subject for his unproven formula, Dr. Jekyll is intermittently transformed into the malevolent and violent Edward Hyde and back to his rational and lucid self.  In his new persona, he seeks revenge on those he feels shunned and mocked the experiments of his alter-ego, while also terrorizing the city’s populace.  In the end, all who come in contact with the well-meaning scientist—his fiancé, best friend, and the lady of the night he befriends—are irreparably harmed.

Leslie Bricusse’s adaptation of the iconic story plows forcefully, if somewhat repetitiously, towards the inevitable Act I transformation.  The second act speedily advances, coming at a somewhat rapid rate, as corpses pile high and the tragic and heartrending finale comes to its conclusion.

Andrew Foote gives a penetrating performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.  The actor, who has played the role numerous times, brings an intense passion to the character of Dr. Jekyll, but also imbues him with a brooding detachment.  As Edward Hyde he is a semi-controlled madman—cruel and vicious.  Elissa DeMaria’s Lucy Harris, a prostitute that befriends the good/bad doctor, is spirited and feisty, but also vulnerable.  She has a powerful voice that beautifully delivers the Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse songs.  The supporting cast, including Carissa Massaro as Emma, the love interest of Dr. Jekyll, is first-rate.  Their performances add a richness to the production.

The Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse score includes a number of dynamic, powerhouse songs that show off the vocal capability of the performers.  These include “Façade,” “This is the Moment,” “Someone Like You,” and “Dangerous Game.”  They vary from the overwrought to the emotionally intense.  In a musical like Jekyll and Hyde they are appropriate and affectingly rendered, helping to heighten the drama of the show and passion of the characters.  They are accompanied by a talented group of musicians under the direction of David Wolfson.

Director Kevin Connors skillfully guides the good-sized cast within the small performance space, utilizing the various entranceways and exits with precision.  He handles the murderous rages with a savvy restraint, while still effectively mining their chilling frightfulness.  Some of the scenes come across as overwrought but, thankfully, the director keeps them to a minimum.


Lighting Designer Michael Blagys has incorporated some straightforward lighting effects, which provide a simple remedy for unnecessary blood-letting and, working in conjunction with Director Connor, aids in Jekyll and Hyde’s back and forth transformation during the “Confrontation” sequence.

Jekyll and Hyde, a well-crafted production, at the Music Theatre of Connecticut through October 14th.
-->

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review of "Peter and the Star Catcher"


 Almost all the elements of Playhouse on Park’s production of Peter and the Star Catcher work marvelously.  The acting is glorious, the productions values superb, and the direction is inspired and inventive.  The problem is playwright Rick Elice’s adaptation of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson novel, which burdens the show with too much exposition, robbing the play of its fluidity and straightforward narrative.
 
Miss Sandra Molongo as Smee, Thomas Daniels as Bill Slank, James Patrick Nelson as Lord Leonard Aster, Colleen Welsh as Mrs. Bumbrake, Matthew Quinn as Black Stache, Nicholas Dana Rylands as Cpt Robert Falcon Scott, James Fairchild as Alf.  Photo by Curt Henderson.
The specifics of the story can be somewhat confusing.  Therefore, instead of providing a comprehensive overview of the plot with its various twists and turns, it’s best to share a broader outline of the adventures, giving audience members a dollop of understanding instead of a whole scoop of comprehension.

The story is devised as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s iconic Peter Pan where we learn the origins of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, Captain Hook, Neverland, and more.  The set-up of the play is imaginative.  We are presented with a group of actors putting on a show for our entertainment.  Props and sets are kept to a minimum and have a more thrown together feel, which is perfectly in line with the intent of the show.  The action shifts from a pirate ship and its rowdy crew to an English royal vessel to a secretive island where hostile natives rule and the mysterious starstuff, a transformative substance, is centered.  At its conclusion, loose ends come together and we are brought, in essence, to the beginning of the timeless story.
 
Elena Levenson, Natalie Sannes as Molly, Brianna Bagley as Prentiss, Nick Palazzo as Ted, Jared Starkey as Boy/Peter. Photo by Curt Henderson.
The actors work well as an ensemble, taking the guise of numerous characters, while also shining in their singular roles.  Standouts include Matthew Quinn as the self-aggrandizing, mustached pirate, Black Stache.  Quinn is appropriately over-the-top and adds a silly zest to the production.  Natalie Sannes’ Molly is brimming with curiosity and is full of adventure and gusto as she leads Peter and the Lost Boys on their mission. The actress, small in stature, nonetheless, exudes a confidence and zeal, which anchors the show.  Jared Starkey, initially, is quite underwhelming as Boy (Peter Pan), but the character is meant to be unnoteworthy until he finds his purpose and mojo near the play’s conclusion.  The actor convincingly evolves from scared follower to self-confident protector.  Colleen Welsh is gregarious and full of spunk as the nanny Mrs. Brumbake.  She provides a consistent comic touch to the production.

The songs by Wayne Barker provide an extra element of fun.  They are jauntily sung by the cast and, as with the mermaid number at the top of Act II, deliver a dash of merriment for the performers and audience.

Shawn Harris pulls out all the stops coming up with a creative and resourceful vortex of directorial flourishes.  His artistic decisions make the small Playhouse stage come alive as actors frolic with giddiness and enthusiastic purpose as they set sail for adventure.  What he has not been able to negotiate is making the unwieldy script more digestible and attention-grabbing.

Scenic Designer David Lewis, who received the 2018 Connecticut Critics Circle award for The Diary of Anne Frank, has once again fabricated a set that completely meets the needs of the production.  In this instance, whimsy and functionality are melded into a wholly satisfying assemblage.

Peter and the Star Catcher, a show that can be entertaining and exasperating at once.  Playing at Playhouse on Park through October 14th.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

September 23, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Orchestra Selections
Orchestral selections from Broadway shows and other artists.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Too Many Rings Around Rosie
No, No, Nanette
Seventy-Six Trombones
The Music Man
Picnic Waltz
The Beast in the Jungle
The Cotswolds Waltz
The Beast in the Jungle
The Carousel Waltz
Carousel
Medley
Annie Get Your Gun
Call of the Sea
No, No, Nanette
I Want to Be Happy
No, No, Nanette
Soraya
The Band’s Visit
Concerto in F
An American in Paris
Medley
Fiddler on the Roof
Overture
Sweet Charity (Movie)
Medley
The Most Happy Fella
Overture
Milk and Honey

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review of "Make Believe"


How do the traumas and events of our childhood shape our adult lives?  This is the central question in the disappointing world premiere of playwright Bess Wohl’s Make Believe, playing at Hartford Stage through September 30th.
 

L-R: Sloane Wolf, Roman Malenda (background), RJ Vercellone, Alexa Skye Swinton

The show begins with an interesting set-up.  Four pre-teen children, waiting for the arrival of their mother, are entertaining themselves in their spacious rec room, effectively and meticulously conceived by Scenic Designer Antje Ellermann.  But we soon realize that play time is not all innocent fun, filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.  These are kids that have been brought up in an unloving profanity-laced environment and it shows in their interactions and foolery.  We learn some of the backstory from a serious of voice mails left on the telephone (this is the pre-cell phone era of the mid-1980’s) during their wait.
 

L-R: Molly Ward, Megan Byrne, Brad Heberlee

Almost a third of the way through the production the cast of children seamlessly changes over, with three of them morphing into their adult selves.  They have reunited, some 30 years later, for a funeral.  Gathered in the old playroom, their splintered and distressing struggles come into full view as they reminisce, pontificate, and contemplate their present lives.

While the premise of the show has potential, it is not fully realized and leads to unfulfilling characters who invite little sympathy and compassion.  The problems and the ordeals of the adults read like a laundry list of hardships and quandaries—divorce, alcoholism, gay relationships, pill popping, infidelity, dysfunctional relationships and even autism is thrown in to the mix.  We obtain a cursory understanding of each role, nothing more.  Delving further into the psyche of the characters would have produced a more satisfying result.
 

Chris Ghaffari in "Make Believe."

The cast is uniformly fine.  The four child actors—Alexa Skye Swinton (Addie), Sloane Wolfe (Kate), Roman Malenda (Chris), and RJ Vercellone (Carl)—deserve praise for, on the whole, holding the audience’s attention as they lay down the foundation of the play. The adult performers portraying their childhood counterparts--Megan Byrne (Kate), Brad Heverlee (Carl), and Molly Ward (Addie)—aptly demonstrate angst, regret, and a dollop of self-loathing, but their portrayals lack a substantive core, which hampers a more well-rounded performance. Chris Ghaffari, adds a touch of comic relief (or is that numbskull relief) as Chris’ friend Chris.
 

RJ Vercellone in "Make Believe."

Director Jackson Gay is more successful guiding her small charges through their paces.  She has the freedom and flexibility of composing playful games and routines for them while also bringing forth the darker side of their lives.  The adult segment is less compelling except during the moments that are punctuated by silence and lack of intimacy.  By having the siblings be more distant to each other, even though close in proximity, Gay effectively illustrates their non-relationships and damaged persona.  The most telling part of the entire production occurs when the grown-up Carl begins to cry and neither sister reaches out to comfort him.

Make Believe, a work that could use some further refining, playing at Hartford Stage through September 30th.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

September 16, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Remembrances
We remember recently departed Neil Simon and Marin Mazzie and celebrate the legacy of Leonard Bernstein. The first Sunday of the month is an all-request program. Tonight, cast albums A - L.

Name of Song
Name of Show

There's Gotta Be Something Better Than
Sweet Charity
Here's to Us
Little Me
A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing
Promises, Promises
My Rules/Elliot Garfield Grant
The Goodbye Girl
When You're in My Arms
They're Playing Our Song
Back to Before
Ragtime
Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me
Bullets Over Broadway
I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance
Carrie
Third Letter
Passion
I Hate Men
Kiss Me, Kate
Build My House
Peter Pan
One Hundred Easy Ways
Wonderful Town
America
West Side Story
I Can Cook Too
On the Town
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Candide