Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Millbrook: "Belles on Their Toes" -- Guest Reviewer: Todd Jeffries

For anyone needing a respite from the blazing summer heat and bleak headlines of the day, I strongly recommend a trip to see the Millbrook Community Players' production of "Belles on Their Toes".

Based on the 1950 follow-up to Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's 1948 book "Cheaper by the Dozen", William Roos' dramatization is brought to delightful life by a wonderfully talented ensemble of young and veteran actors under the vibrantly paced direction of Joe Nolin, Jr.

The Golden Age of Radio provides pre-show musical fare, setting the time and tone of the play as the curtain rises on a well-appointed parlour set, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell "Saturday Evening Post" cover. John Collier and John Chain, with an assist from the cast, have created a richly detailed and impressive set to be proud of.

At the top of Act I, Mrs. Gilbreth [Nichole Quinn] gives last-minute instructions and a warm farewell to her larger than average brood before departing for Europe on a lecture tour. It will be up to the three eldest daughters -- Anne [Katie Moore], Ernestine [Hannah Quates], and Martha [Ashley Joye] -- to hold down the fort and live up to their famous "efficiency expert" parents' reputations. Their father having passed away, the young women have a formidable challenge to keep things running smoothly while Mother is away. They have a bit of extra help in the person of Tom, a handy-man turned cook and home-remedy specialist with his castor oil and quinine concoctions, played with winsome verve by John Chain, current president of the Millbrook Community Players, Inc.

In addition to implementing austere budget policies that include wearing hilariously outdated swimsuits and a six-week moratorium on dating for Ann, Ernestine, and Martha, Martha decides to rent-out Mother's bedroom for extra cash. Mr. Hathaway [Michael Snead] is the kindly and quiet boarder who will play a pivotal role in the resolution of the plot.

Helping and hindering the sisters along the way are their younger siblings: Frank [Chase Adair], Bill [Austin Speigner], Lillian [Kristen Adair], Fred [Nolan Lamar], Dan [Brian Jones], Jack [Max Williams], and Bob [Noah Jones]. This is one talented and focussed group of young performers, running their paces and blocking so well that not once are we pulled away from the story. Well done and impressive work, with successful backstage coordination by Assistant Director, Gail Lombard.

Keeping the belles on their toes is a visit from their busybody Aunt Leora [Emily Barton] and an outbreak of chicken pox, prompting a house call by Dr. Bob [Jason Morgan]. Ernestine fudges a bit on her pledge to not date when she pays increasingly frustrated hostess to her beau, Corey Jackson's scene-stealing Al Lynch, an oily young braggart arriving decked out in a full-length fur coat and armed with ukulele-driven love songs and side-splitting Charleston dance moves.

While the second Act was sluggish at first, the pace quickly recovered with the arrival of David Loring [Daniel Harms], a potential student for the new school venture Mother has planned in order to solve the family's financial worries. Mistakenly believing the young man to be Martha's date, the younger siblings proceed to interrupt the interview with hilarious results.

With money going missing and Tom "ratcheting up" the stakes with a comically out-of-character swat that leads Aunt Leora to bring police officer Mr. Crawford [John Collier] to the house, we barely have time to stop laughing between humorous misunderstandings and gut-busting revelations.

Like homemade ice cream and pink lemonade, The Millbrook Players' production of "Belles on Their Toes" is a summertime treat that takes us to a simpler time, and refreshes us with the soul-soothing balm of laughter.