Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Millbrook: "Grease"

The closing night's performance of the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical, Grease, by the Millbrook Community Players, Inc., was a sold-out success.

Much to the credit of director John Collier and his 21-member ensemble cast, and to a terrific 6-piece band, the 1950s era musical set in fictional Rydell High School kept its nostalgic focus intact, taking us back to more innocent days of slumber parties, hot rods, and high school dances.

The long running, award winning Broadway production has been a staple on high school and community theatre stages for decades; it is probably most familiar through the film version starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. So it is not surprising that many audience members were softly singing along to "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee", "Shake It/High School Hop", "Greased Lightning", and "Hand Jive" among others.

On the first day of school, newcomer Sandy Dumbrowski [Lauren Norris] tells the "Pink Ladies" about her summer romance, while Danny Zuko [Joe Taylor] recounts his romantic conquest to the guys. Of course, each is singing about the other in "Summer Lovin' " without knowing they are at the same school, and when they meet, Danny takes a "cool/tough" stance that bewilders Sandy -- and there is much to follow before they and several other couples can be reunited by the end.

Other key players are tough-girl Rizzo [Emily Grace Pose], matched with Kenickie [Myles Wolf], each of whom brings a confidence and strong singing voice to their roles. -- Kenzi Meyer is delightful in the role of Frenchie, the "Beauty School Drop-Out", and Joshua Cuevas as Doody, the guitar-playing roustabout has a laid-back comfort in the part.

As Marty, Kaitlin LeMaster uses her impressive singing voice well in "Freddy My Love", and Joshua Bullard as Sonny is easily the most comfortable and easy-to-watch member of the ensemble.

Taylor Trucks is utterly convincing as good-girl Patty, as is Corey Jackson playing the nerdy Eugene. -- And Jody Dow as Teen Angel brings down the house.

Pamela Trammell's schoolmistress Miss Lynch is as uptight as you can get; and Roger Humber as Vince Fontaine is a suitably "dirty old man" making a play for the young high school girls at the dance.

Though there was some occasionally clumsy staging and line delivery, the evening was entertaining and a good antidote to the Summer's heat.

Faulkner: "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

On last Friday night, the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre not only presented their pleasant production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but also paid tribute to its founder, Philip Sprayberry, who thirty years ago created what has become a Montgomery institution that has entertained thousands. Former Faulkner student actors, faculty, friends, and several from the local community helped celebrate Sprayberry's birthday on the night, his first visit to Faulkner's new performance space.

In Shakespeare's delightful romantic comedy, three worlds intertwine with sometimes hilarious results: the Athenian nobility and upper class, the Faerie Kingdom, and the "rude mechanicals" (a troupe of itinerant actors)...and director Angela Dickson invented a prologue without dialogue that introduced her audience to the various plot lines and complicated relationships.

Oberon [Matt Dickson] and Titania [Kari Kelly] -- the King and Queen of the Faeries -- have argued about which of them gets to keep a little changeling boy, and their magic impacts all the others. Oberon's assistant, the mischievous Puck [Daniel Harms who also choreographed the show] does his bidding but sometimes makes errors that must be fixed.

Athenian King Theseus [newcomer Trey Ousley] and bride-to-be Hippolyta [Courtney Curenton] -- an Amazon warrior princess he defeated and then wooed -- are planning their wedding celebrations when Egeus [Morgan Baker] asks the king to settle a dispute with his daughter Hermia [Emily Woodring]. Egeus has chosen Demetrius [Blake Williams] as Hermia's husband, but she loves Lysander [Brandtley McDonald], and the two young people elope, letting their friend Helena [Jesse Alston] in on thier plan to meet in the woods that night; Helena loves Demetrius, who also follows them, so many complications arise in the woods.

Meanwhile, the rustic actors meet in the woods to rehearse their play -- Pyramus and Thisbe -- to be performed at the king's wedding. Chief among them is Bottom [Chris Kelly is terrific in the role, especially as Pyramus who edits his lines as he speaks and demonstrates some fine acting skills along the way], whose overblown self-importance is soon thwarted by Oberon and Puck, who charm Titania to fall in love with the first person she sees on awakening, ensuring that it will be Bottom whose head is exchanged with an asses head. --- Also while sleeping, Lysander is similarly charmed by mistake and awakens to instantly fall in love with Helena.

Lots of hilarity as these various entanglements get unravelled. "The course of true love never did run smooth", after all.

Ms. Dickson keeps the action moving at a steady pace, and inserts a few modern songs into the mix.
The ensemble actors manage Shakespeare's verse pretty well, though there is a long learning curve before they will be proficient. They do better in the prose sections and the broader comedy. And the strong singing voices (a mainstay in many of Faulkner's musical productions) are given significant attention.

And on a hot Summer night, this A Midsummer Night's Dream is a most pleasant entertainment.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wetumpka Depot: "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"

Now playing to sold out audiences at the Wetumpka Depot, the 1978 musical by Carol Hall, Larry King, and Peter Masterson -- The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas -- is based on the real life Chicken Ranch bordello in La Grange, Texas that was closed after many years through the efforts of a crusading media reporter.

The play features Miss Mona [Kim Mason is effervescent here], the archetypal "prostitute with a heart of gold", who has managed to keep a flourishing business by placating the local authorities (Sheriff, Senator, Governor, et al.), paying heavy taxes, and supporting various community projects. Everyone, it seems, is willing to turn a blind eye to her "business" until Melvin Thorpe [Scott Page's over-the-top portrayal is exceptional] determines to rid the area of Mona's sinful Chicken Ranch, by harnessing the morally upright citizens to demonstrate against it via live-feed television.

Director Kristy Meanor and Musical Director Marilyn Swears guide their cast of some thirty-four veteran and neophyte actors through the two-and-a-half hour risque romp, that has the Depot's audiences laughing at the play's outrageousness and sympathizing with the sensitive depictions of any number of its characters. Jonathan Yarboro serves as the play's narrator and also is Edsel, the local newspaperman who keeps a solid footing throughout; and Cindy Veasey's role of Doatsey Mae, the cafe owner with several unfulfilled dreams is a sensitive depiction.

Mona runs a "nice country house" with very strict rules for her girls; and when new recruits Angel [Adrian Lee Borden] and Shy [Emma Colson] are hired on a trial run, Mona shows her concern for Angel's surface-tough demeanor and Shy's school-marm appearance. And Mona's business partner Jewel [Shaina Pierce] comes into her own with "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'".

Though it takes a while to get to the central conflict, we are treated to infectious production numbers like "A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" that sets Mona's welcoming tone that is then counterbalanced by Melvin's in-your-face "Texas Has a Whorehouse In It". Both numbers have an energetic verve that showcases the large ensemble in ever inventive staging and characterizations enhanced by Mary Katherine Moore's inventive choreography. -- Especially noteworthy are Madyson Greenwood as Ginger, Reese Lynch as the youngest Aggie with a couple of scene-stealing moments that he handles with aplomb, and Matthew Walter as the Aggie to watch, as Mr. Walter is fully committed to every on-stage moment.

Mona's love interest is in the person of Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd [a solid Stephen Dubberley] who ultimately and reluctantly has to close down the Chicken Ranch when "watchdog" Melvin has pressured the Governor [Patrick Hale's caricature depiction is close to perfection], influential businessman C. J. Scruggs [Michael DiLaura], and Senator [David Woodall] (who is literally caught with his pants down when Melvin brings the television crew on a raid while the Texas A&M "Aggies" are there celebrating a recent football win).

There is a bitter-sweet ending at the closing of the Chicken Ranch -- we have come to like Mona and her girls -- yet we leave the Depot theatre with smiles on our faces.