Sunday, November 16, 2014

Millbrook: "The Seven Little Foys"

The opening night's performance of The Seven Little Foys by the Millbrook Community Players was fraught with actors' illnesses, yet in the grand tradition of theatre everywhere, "the show went on".

Audiences of a certain age might remember the 1955 film starring Bob Hope, with an exuberant cameo by James Cagney reprising his role as George M. Cohan from "Yankee Doodle Dandy". -- Later turned into a play (2007) by Chip Deffaa, it tells the fictionalized account of Eddie Foy [Steve A. Shuemake], one of America's great vaudevillians, as he confronts his many inner demons after the death of his long-suffering wife, in bringing up their seven children and ultimately realizing the importance of family over career.

Set in the early days of the 20th Century, this family-friendly entertainment as directed by Pamela Trammell adds a bit of warmth to these chilly nights as it showcases numerous nostalgic songs of the period. -- Yet, at 2-hours and 45-minutes playing time (slow pace, over-long scene changes, lagging energy from sick actors, and tentative dancing in what ought to be show-stopping numbers), the production drags for much of the time.

Kudos to Mr. Shuemake for making it through what must have been a grueling evening for him due to his illness. He is in virtually every scene, and the struggle was evident; he was even "miked" in Act II to help with vocal projection. -- And he does share a lovely moment with Tracey Quates as Mrs. Foy in their sensitive rendition of "On Moonlight Bay."

As narrated by eldest daughter Mary [Kaitlin LeMaster is strong and confident], the ups and downs of Foy's career and family are interspersed with songs, many by the children who each has a showcase moment that highlights personality over talent [according to the script, the kids are a mixed bag of precocious mischief-makers with little performing ability who are reluctantly conscripted to go on the road with their father to help pay the bills and restore the family unit that Foy neglected while he pursued his various addictions]. Abetted by George M. Cohan [Brandon Gonzalez], Foy and his clan avoid the existing Child Labor Laws for a time before the law catches up with them.

The rest of the children -- Andre Bordlee, Seth Bordlee, Caleb Campbell, Gavin Campbell, Braden Fine, and M. Eizabeth Grace Shuemake -- hoof-it through the two acts with varying degrees of success. -- At 5-years-of-age, Gavin Campbell plays youngest son Irving with such stage presence for one so young, and could melt your heart by his genuine smile alone.

But it is Miss Shuemake's Madeline , a no-nonsense rebel who threatens to quit the family, and who belts out two memorable songs with the best of them: Sophie Tucker's signature 1910 "Some of These Days" and Fanny Brice's "Second Hand Rose" from the Zeigfeld Follies of 1921. -- Her credible performance, confident stage presence, and strong singing voice make her the standout in this production.

Katy Gerlach provided excellent piano accompaniment throughout, and Daniel Harms' choreography was kept simple and period specific.

Let's hope the actors' health improved for the very few performances in the run this weekend only.