Monday, September 25, 2023

The Play That Goes Wrong - Legacy Theatre

The star of The Play That Goes Wrong needs to be the set of a creaky old mansion where murder is afoot.  It is essential that, by the show’s end, the set literally implodes. Fortunately, for the Legacy Theatre’s production of this silly, yet satisfying comedy, Jamie Burnett’s Scenic Designer fractures and collapses with precision.  While not party to the structure’s demise, his Lighting Design and Adam Jackson’s Sound Engineering add to the gaiety of the show.


The production, running through October 1, has its strengths, but suffers from consistent pacing issues.  The play requires both a steady, quick-paced tempo and deftly handled pauses to succeed, which Director Keely Basiden Knudsen does not always deliver.  The outcome can, at times, deflate the show’s momentum and hijinks. 


The plot centers on opening night for the Cornly University Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor.  From the onset, the members of the school’s decidedly amateur cast is undermined in their efforts to entertain by uncooperative scenery, misplaced props, and a corpse that won’t stay dead.  As the play progresses all manner of mayhem erupts.  Just as you think the turmoil couldn’t get worse it does, again and again.


The playwrights Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sawyer, and Henry Shields must have had a grand time coming up with the situations and anarchy portrayed on stage.  They have written a stage comedy in the tradition of such other British shows like Noises Off and One Man, Two Guvnors.  This show is full of vaudevillian antics, slapstick and a great deal of physical humor.


The engaging cast successfully portrays a troupe of bumbling, provincial actors and actresses.  I thought Chris Lemieux, as the victim’s best friend Robert; and Mary Mannix as his now ex-fiancee Florence, were the two standouts among the admirable troupe.  Their portrayals were spot-on and their timing impeccable.  Isaac Kueber, who played Cecil, the brother of the deceased, was a crowd favorite.  However, I thought he could have done more with his character, who is self-important and smug within his role.  There needed to be even broader gestures and more generous facial expressions to truly capture his cheeky character.  I could have also done without the occasional crotch grabs.


Even with the flaws in the production - the fight scenes, choreographed by Emmett Cassidy, could have been a trifle more convincing - Ms. Knudsen is able to weave into the show the recalcitrant set, flinging bodies and even an invisible dog.   It can’t be easy guiding the actors and actresses to be…awful.


The Play That Goes Wrong, playing at the Legacy Theatre through October 1.  The remainder of the performances are sold out, but to inquire about possible availability, click here.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Shark is Broken - Broadway

I am a huge fan of Jaws.  I devoured the 1974 novel (which spent 44 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list).  In the summer of 1975 I was one of hundreds of screaming movie goers that jammed a theater in East Brunswick, NJ to watch the movie (to this day, almost 50 years later, I am still leery of swimming in the ocean).

All of this is to say I was excited and intrigued about the three-person play, The Shark is Broken, written and starring Ian Shaw (along with Joseph Nixon), son of Jaws star Robert Shaw, who so memorably portrayed Quint in the film.  The show imagines the interactions, tensions and musings of the movie’s three stars - Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman), Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell) and Robert Shaw.  They emote, yell and reflect on a number of topics but, primarily, how much they hate the constant waiting and boredom for either favorable weather conditions or repairs to the constantly malfunctioning mechanical shark.

The 90 minute, intermission-less, production is basically a constant gabfest – three characters aboard a cramped, floating fishing boat, meticulously rendered by Scenic Designer Duncan Henderson and aided by John Clark’s muted Lighting Design and Nina Dunn’s reflective projections.  Director Guy Masterson varies the action on stage to keep the encounters and skirmishes fresh and varied.  He has the three clambering onto the board to start scenes, which are staged in partial blackout.  At one point the hard-drinking Shaw climbs atop the Orca (the vessel’s name), face to the wind, almost challenging the elements to a fight.  In another scene, a very buff Colin Donnell strips down to his skivvies for a quick bit of sunbathing.  All these maneuverings are diverting, at best, but still don’t mask the fact that The Shark is Broken, even for diehard fans like myself, can feel tedious and strained.

Each of the three cast members has brought their true-life characters to believable life.  Alex Brightman, known more for his off-beat musical theater roles (School of Rock, Beetlejuice), truly embodies the actor Richard Dreyfuss with his nervous energy, self-doubts and vainness.  Playwright Ian Shaw is the spitting image of his father and delivers a crusty, hardscrabble performance.  Colin Donnell’s Roy Scheider rests somewhere between the other two performers.  He brings a mellowness and low key portrayal that helps balance the production.

The Shark is Broken, a beguiling idea that, in the end, is rather long in the [shark] tooth.

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Da Vinci Code - Ogunquit Playhouse

You have to give playwrights Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel a tip of the hat for taking author Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller, The Da Vinci Code, and crafting a streamlined, mostly fast-paced stage adaptation.  Obviously, taking a 680 page, all-time classic and paring it down to a satisfying 2.5 hour play requires sacrifices to the plot and fleshing out of characters.  Lengthy descriptive passages and inner monologues also need to be removed.


Hannah Cruz and Michael Urie in The Da Vinci Code.

From the very beginning, Director Leigh Toney has the show at breakneck speed.  She is more successful with the ramped up action than in the few meditative moments of the play.  Her collaboration with the creative team, most notably Andrzej Goulding’s stunning visual projections, David Woodhead’s striking Scenic Design, and Kevin Heard’s accomplished Sound Design, provides a polished and technically adroit production that is highly effective.  They allow for a tremendous amount of information to be quickly conveyed visually as opposed to through oral exposition.  Their creativity and imagination gives the production a rapid, but not hurried, tempo.  There is still a lot of material that is presented to the audience, which requires attentiveness and focus.  Having read the book may make the plot easier to follow, but is not a necessary prerequisite to enjoy the play.


The cast of The Da Vinci Code.

A summary of the storyline would take up too much space and possibly spoil some of the twists and turns of the show.  Suffice it to say there is a murder in the Louvre.  Robert Langdon, a Harvard University professor of the history of art and religious symbology, is giving a lecture in Paris.  He is urgently called in by the Paris police to assist with the investigation due the nature of the crime and writings discovered in one of the galleries.  Also on the scene is Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist with the police force. Langdon and Neveu quickly realize the writings are clues to a possibly cataclysmic discovery that could alter long held beliefs.  With ominous religious forces on their tale, as well as the police, the two head from Paris to Versailles and finally London to solve the murder mystery and prevent a reckoning that would shock the world.


Hannah Cruz, Michael Urie and Charles Shaughnessy in The Da Vinci Code.

The principle cast members - all veterans of the New York stage, bring a high level of professionalism and nuance to their roles.  Michael Urie, known more for his comedic roles, demonstrates his acting prowess with an intense, credible portrayal of the Ivy League professor.  He is able to impart a dizzying array of exposition without sounding contrived or dry.  Mr. Urie gesticulates a bit too much but, overall, makes a convincing Robert Langdon.  Hannah Cruz brings fervor and emotion to the role of Sophie Neveu.  Together with Mr. Urie, they make a winning pair.  Charles Shaughnessy, a skilled and talented actor, brings a gung-ho spirit to the role of Sir Leigh Teabing, a Holy Grail expert.  He is fun to watch as he clashes with his dear friend, Robert Langdon, pontificates about the Grail, and takes charge in the hunt.  He brings a playfulness to the role, providing a balance with the intensity of the other two stars.   David T. Patterson’s portrayal of the brooding, and self-flagellating character Silas is menacing and sorrowful.  His musclebound frame accentuates his inner strength and struggles.

David T. Patterson in The Da Vinci Code.


The Da Vinci Code, a spirited, entertaining theatrical experience.  Playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse through September 23.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.





Jersey Boys - Ivoryton Playhouse

Jersey Boys is the gold standard for jukebox musicals.  A critical and commercial success when it opened on Broadway on November 6, 2005, the show ran for 4,093 performances, making it the 11th-longest-running musical in Broadway history. It also won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical.

It’s no wonder that once the rights became available for regional theaters they would pounce on staging a production.  The Ivoryton Playhouse is the first non-touring theater to offer the show.  As with the Broadway production, it has proven to be a critical success and crowd favorite.  Originally slated to close on September 10, the run has been extended to the 17th of the month.


The two strengths of Jersey Boys are, first, the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.  The show is littered with their chart topping hits such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Sherry," "My Eyes Adored You," “Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Walk Like A Man," and many others.  They are performed by a talented group of actors, especially Sean Burns as Frankie Valli.  He possesses a powerful falsetto voice that resonates throughout the theater.  The second notable aspect of the show is the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.  They have crafted an interesting, fact-based story, that nimbly lays out the story of the band - from their formation as hungry musicians in the 1960’s, to their rise to fame, and their eventual breakup.  The libretto shows the highs and lows of their careers, warts and all.


Director/Choreographer Todd L. Underwood guides the musical with a steady hand, keeping it breezy and fast-paced on Scenic Designer Cully Long’s conventional, platformed set.  He elicits real emotions from the cast that gives the production a weightier quality.  The musical segments, with a Sound Design by Jacob Fisch, are crisp and crackling.  They are the high point of the show and Mr. Underwood stages them with vigor and assurance.  As choreographer, he has devised some well-syncopated dance moves while the group performs their hits.


The other cast members fit together flawlessly to form a highly satisfying unit.  Michael Notardonato brings a smooth level of professionalism to the role of Bob Gaudio.  It is one of the marquee roles and Mr. Notardonato carries off the portrayal with skillfulness and aplomb. Evan Ross Brody’s Tommy DeVito is the ying to Bob Gaudio’s yang.  The actor might come across as a tad too crude, but he effectively presents a musician mired in his self-importance, weaknesses and failings. Brendan McGrady’s portrayal of Nick Massi is understated with a humorous self-deprecating attitude.  Ryan Knowles’ depiction of songwriter/producer Bob Crewe is, at first, a bit too effeminate, but effectively evolves to a more fully-realized character as the show progresses.


Jersey Boys, a rollicking, crowd-pleasing favorite, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through September 17.  Click here for dates, times and ticket information.