Friday, January 24, 2014

Millbrook: "Frankly Scarlett, You're Dead"

Gone With the Wind meets Clue...the Millbrook Community Theatre is currently showing a spoof murder-mystery dinner theatre presentation of James Daab's Frankly Scarlett, You're Dead.

Coming off a successful run on the Harriott II riverboat last Fall, director Pamela Trammell's production has a rotating cast of actors who interact with the audience, help serve dinner catered by Wagon Wheel II restaurant, and encourage our participation in the on-stage antics, even offering prizes to those who solve the murder by answering the questions: "Who Dun It?", "Where?", and "With What?"

Col. Simpson [Roger Humber] has invited "us" to a cotillion at his Sassafras Plantation to find eligible bachelors so he can marry off his daughters: Scarlett [April Sexton], the avowed beauty and true Southern belle, and Melody [Tracey Quates], a wily and impish coquette.

It is 1861 [despite several anachronistic bits of dialogue], as the Civil War encroaches, and most able-bodied young men have dutifully signed up to fight in the War; so the only ones left in town are the dim-witted Pinkney brothers -- Montgomery (called Mojo) [Sean Wallace] and Montague (called Buddy) [Ryan Dow] -- neither of whom is a suitable beau. -- Along comes dapper Brett Rutgers [Jody Dow], a self-described "businessman" whose reputation as a gambler precedes him, and who may or may not be the dreaded Yankee spy who is feared to be nearby.

The Pinkneys will do most anything to marry the girls and secure a dowry, and the Colonel doesn't appear too particular about potential husbands for his daughters; and while the girls vie for the affections of Brett, the mad-cap goings-on build to convoluted discoveries, sexual innuendo, red-herrings galore, and lots of circumstantial evidence -- as they say, "the plot thickens" in unabashed melodramatic manner.

Audiences are tickled by the intentionally unsubtle references to Gone With the Wind and the tongue-in-cheek performances by the ensemble cast who occasionally ad lib their remarks directly to audience members.

The entire play -- with strategic breaks for a three-course dinner -- takes only 90 minutes, but needs a faster pace and commitment to broader characterizations in order to make the most of the play's comic possibilities. But, on a cold winter's weekend, Frankly Scarlett, You're Dead warms us up with laughter and good-humored fun.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ASF Interns: "Goodnight Moon: the Musical"

This season's Alabama Shakespeare Festival Intern Company are captivating audiences both young and old in their rendering of Goodnight Moon: the Musical directed by Nancy Rominger.

That Margaret Wise Brown's popular 1947 story -- all 130 words of it -- could be transformed into a two-act seventy-five minute musical by Chad Henry is remarkable, and while the text struggles to develop a plot out of Brown's simple evocation of childhood bedtime rituals, ASF's Octagon Theatre captures the charm of the book and Clement Hurd's illustrations in such vivid detail that one child exclaimed on entering the theatre: "It's so realistic!"

Scenic Designer Peter Hicks and Costume Designer Jennifer Ables have created stunning visual elements in bold colors and simple shapes that immediately and irrestistably pull us into the world of imagination and fantasy. Here we find the Three Bears and the Cow jumping over the moon in pictures that come to life through the imagination of Bunny [Joshua Marx] who resists bedtime with familiar ploys like asking for a drink of water and wanting his favorite stuffed animal toys in bed with him. Under the watchful eye of the Old Lady [Lea McKenna-Garcia], Bunny and his friend Mouse [Christian Castro] prolong their bedtime with continual questions and delay tactics.

The rest of the talented ensemble -- Morgan Auld, Rivka Borek, Brennan Gallagher, Christina King, and Daniel Solomon -- portray several roles each as well as acting as puppeteers for the numerous hand puppets and magical moving parts of the stage.

Although Mr. Hurd's score is unremarkable, and there were a number of pitch issues from the acting company, there are a few diverting musical numbers here: Act One's boogie-woogie ensemble with the Spoon, Dish, Cat, and Dog; Act Two's soft-show turn with the Tooth Fairy; and even the Moon's rendition of "What a Wonderful World".

Performances were uniformly engaging, and demonstrated the emerging talents of this young company. They clearly connected with even the youngest of the attendees, who slowly but surely became more involved in the story, the on-stage physical antics, and the messages of the play.

And there are some important lessons to be learned through the performance, in terms even the youngest audience members understand: "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again"; the value of friendship; a positive attitude enables almost anything. -- Children of all ages take note.