Wednesday, September 30, 2015

AUM: "Celebrating 40 Years -- Gala"

For the past 40 years, Theatre AUM has been a model for educational theatre, balancing its academic programs with a commitment to producing plays from the breadth of world drama -- classical and modern, tragedies and comedies, straight plays and musicals, old standards and new scripts -- challenging its students and local audiences with its sometimes risky choices and a variety of theatrical styles.

So, its Gala celebration on Saturday night -- Celebrating 40 Years, co-directed by Neil David Seibel, LaBrandon Tyre, Mike Winkelman, and Val Winkelman -- was unsurprising in showcasing its educational theatre mission, while affording the audience a capsule of scenes, monologues, and songs from its 40-year repertoire, and featuring an ensemble of 20+ current students, alumni, faculty, and guest artists, some of whom reprised roles they had appeared in decades earlier.

Celebrating with them in the audience were Guin Nance, former AUM Chancellor who started the theatre program, Bob Gaines, who was Department Chair from 1977-2007, Mary-Lynn Izzo, a former AUM costume designer, Randy Foster, who directed several productions, and Mike Cunliffe, an alumnus whose play Movie Night was excerpted in one of the evening's most memorable performances by Sophomore Kodi Robertson.

In a kind of love-fest between actors and audience, all some of these veterans had to do was take the stage for the audience to enthusiastically welcome them home; and Eleanor Davis [triumphant in a rendering of "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch" from Company], Layne Holley [powerhouse samplings from Godspell and Noises Off], Scott Page [passionate in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat], and Sam Wallace [restrained in singing "Try to Remember" from The Fantasticks], did not disappoint.

Each of the selections was done as an "audition piece", with actors introducing themselves and the titles to be performed. And while it is hard to pin down the best of the best, the talents showed a wide variety of offerings. -- It was a treat to see AUM's managing director Katie Pearson share the stage with her daughter Rita Pearson-Daley (a last-minute replacement) as mother and daughter in Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession. And selections from All in the Timing, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Brigadoon, and Coastal Disturbances demonstrated the range that AUM is noted for.

Even a few theatrical in-jokes punctuated the evening's two acts. Waiting for Godot, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and yelling a single word -- "S-T-E-L-L-A" -- from A Streetcar Named Desire, among them, received appreciative laughs and applause.

It was truly an upbeat celebration, with Theatre AUM proclaiming "this is who we are...this is what we do", with the promise of continuing their traditions. Congratulations.