Month: November 2020

It’s Only Intermission Presented by Haddonfield Plays and Players

Haddonfield Plays and Players put the “fun” in fundraising this November 21st. HPP presented a telethon to ease the financial strain imposed by the COVID-19 lockdown. They did so by doing what they do best: showcasing top talent in the South Jersey area. The program took place via YouTube.

The organizers began by reminding the audience of what they’ve been missing over the last several months. The show opened with a montage of brief clips from Haddonfield Plays and Players’ past productions. They ranged from last season’s performances all the way back to 1996’s production of Frankenstein.

Dave Staveski, HPP’s President, introduced the program. He gave the audience an overview of Haddonfield Plays and Players’ 87-year history. Several well-known performers began their careers on its stage. Michael Landon performed there during the 1940s. Theatrical and television performer Julia Udine took its stage for 2010’s West Side Story. Before performing on Broadway in Disney’s The Lion King, Ben Lipitz joined the cast of HPP’s Robin Hood in 1980. Mr. Lipitz made his return to Haddonfield Plays and Players for this performance. He entertained the audience with a wonderful rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man.”  

Director Gary Werner ensured that the show featured material that would appeal to a diverse audience. The song selection encompassed a variety of musical styles. It included myriad sentimental ballads, more soulful material and even some comedy. Solo numbers as well as duets populated the set list.

Dana Weiss’ song choice provided the choice adjective to describe her performance. Ms. Weiss sang “Astonishing” from the musical version of Little Women. Ms. Weiss’ expressive face and strong vocals allowed the audience to experience the same emotions as her character. She did so while smoothly singing the melody’s quick phrasing and executing the vibrato that concluded the phrases.

Annie Raczko adorned a wig and cape for her number as King George III from Hamilton. Ms. Raczko added comical shoulder movements and an English accent to her interpretation of “You’ll Be Back.” Her sinister smile as she sang the lyrics, “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love” enhanced Lin Manuel-Miranda’s dark humor.

Darryl Thompson, Jr. showed his own flair for style by taking the stage in a vest, shirt and tie. He performed with a unique musical by style, too. Mr. Thompson crooned like a rhythm and bluesy Nat King Cole. He added a bit of Stevie Wonder’s influence to his rendition of “That’s All.”

Nick French accompanied himself on guitar for the folk song “The Mary Ellen Carter.” It’s theme of triumph over adversity was a solid addition to the program. Sound engineer Kalman Dunne added good reverb to the vocals for this track. Always a talented singer, Mr. French showed himself just as adept at finger picking a six string.

 Life during the pandemic made a selection from Songs for a New World eerily appropriate. DJ Hedgepath showed that he is living his given destiny with this rendition. He delivered an upbeat and soulful performance of “King of the World.”   

Trisha Dennis’ choice of “Back to Before” from Ragtime seemed chillingly suitable for the same reason. One could interpret the song as a lament from an actor to her audience. Ms. Dennis delivered impassioned vocals on the lines:

There was a time

Our happiness seemed never-ending…

We can never go back to before.

Tami Funkhouser performed another song that conjured images of a performer speaking to her audience during the lockdown. Ms. Funkhouser delivered a beautiful, heartfelt performance of “You’ll Never Know.”

            You’ll never know how much I miss you

            You’ll never know how much I care

            And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you…

            You went away and my heart went with you.

Following the family tradition, Ms. Funkhouser’s two sons contributed their immense talents to the production.

Evan Brody sang “Shiksa Goddess” from The Last Five Years. It contained the line, “I’m breaking my mother’s heart.” Not with this performance he didn’t. A mambo/boogie beat drove the song. Mr. Brody sang over this unusual rhythm with terrific skill.

Taylor Brody joined DJ Hedgepath for the duet, “The Proposal/The Night Was Alive” from Titanic: The Musical. Both Mr. Body and Mr. Hedgepath delivered moving interpretations of this emotional track. They included the appropriate facial expressions and mannerisms to suit the lyrics.

It’s Only Intermission contained a host of sentimental favorites for theatre fans. They included: “Maria” by Andy Boettcher, “Waiting for Life to Begin” by Tess Smith, “Written in the Stars” by duo Jasmine Roosa and Chris McGinnis, “Being Alive” by Amanda Frederick, “Whose to Say” by Emma Scherz and Ava Kapelus, “Say It to Me Now” by Justin Walsh, “My Man” by Faith McCleery, “I Don’t Need a Roof” by Allison Korn, “Alone in the Universe” by Cassie Scherz and John Sayles, the duet “All the Wasted Time” by Arielle Egan and Andrew Jaremea, “Giants in the Sky” by Jake Gillman and “Home” by Nicki Intereri.

Other performers varied the musical catalog by performing in different genres. Abby Brown turned in a soulful rendition of “What It Means to Be a Friend” from 13. Matt Goodrich selected “Being a Geek” from the same musical. This song contained a rhythm and bluesy beat that at times included elements of early rock and roll. Joe Grasso sang a tribute to fatherhood with “The World’s Greatest Dad.” The latter appeared in Elf: The Musical.  

Some Haddonfield Plays and Players alumni reprised songs they performed there in recent seasons. Husband and wife duo Megan and Tommy Balne revisited “Everything is Rosie” from 2016’s Bye, Bye Birdie. The enthusiasm they showed performing this song again made one wonder if they were really acting. Gabrielle Werner followed-up her performance in 2019’s Fun Home with another strong rendition of “Ring of Keys.”

The show concluded with Jasmine Roosa delivering an extraordinary combination of gospel and soul. Ms. Roosa performed a monumental version of “I Know Where You’ve Been” from Hairspray.

Since the show was broadcast virtually, the production team utilized three cameras to capture the singers. Watching the program from multiple angles helped create the illusion of seeing people perform on a stage.

The following individuals served on the production team.

Producer – Tami Funkhouser

Director – Gary Werner

Musical Director – Pat DeFusco

Sound – Kalman Dunne

Lighting – Omaria Parilla-Dunne

Camera Operator # 1 – Gary Werner

Camera Operator # 2 – Emmett Turco

Camera Operator # 3 – Bobby Werner

The suspension of live community theatre has challenged audiences, performers and community theatre organizations. The losses described in the show’s ballads took on a different meaning because of current circumstances. But, as Mr. Staveski noted, “It’s only intermission.”   

Those interesting in experiencing this entertaining evening still have the opportunity. A link to Haddonfield Plays and Players’ fundraiser is available here: It’s Only Intermission – YouTube.

What’s in a Name? Presented by the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

A librarian by trade, playwright A. P. Scobolete crafted an unforgettable take on the seamy side of the stacks. The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center presented an online reading of the unsettling, yet comical What’s in a Name? on November 18th

Alene (played by Molly Barber), Amy (Susan Holtz) and Eileen (Anne Grippo) worked in a library funded in part by an unsettling benefactor. Mr. Smark (Barry Leonard) used both his financial influence and interest in erotic tomes to harass the librarians. They complained about his behavior to their manager, Antoine (Nathaniel Tomb). He responded that, “Patrons have a right to request any book they want.” He also reminded them of Mr. Smark’s financial generosity. After new hire Elaine (Ashley Biel) joined the team, the women decided to address Mr. Smark’s behavior themselves.  

The library’s issues exceeded those presented by their prurient patron. The staff also dealt with a micturating mutt, a malfunctioning copy machines and, in Queens at least, onanistic bibliomaniacs prowling the aisles.

This set-up certainly hooked the audience. The memorable performances the actors delivered kept those watching engaged for the entire show.           

Barry Leonard met the challenges of portraying Mr. Smark. Ms. Scobolete’s text depicted the character as a deviant. Mr. Leonard found the latent humor in this despicable figure. He found creative ways to bring it to the Zoom screen.

Mr. Leonard’s delivery made Mr. Smark into an embarrassing more than a threatening figure. The artistic choice allowed the audience to laugh at the character’s offensive dialog.  

Mr. Leonard ensured those watching could also chuckle at the person delivering it. The Zoom format limited the actor’s ability to perform the character’s extreme mannerisms. Mr. Leonard compensated through his use of exaggerated facial expressions. They made Mr. Smark’s inappropriate comments seem more like immature attempts at flirting.

Mr. Leonard’s chose appropriate attire for the character. The beige jacket, dark tie and white shirt suited someone with a fondness for twirling a cane.

One would struggle to think of any theatrical works featuring heroic librarians. Enter Molly Barber. Ms. Barber showed great imagination in her development of Alene. The performer displayed the character’s toughness when subjected to Mr. Smark’s unwanted advances. She showed the character’s professionalism and frustration when bringing the issue to her boss. Ms. Barber performed a memorable scene that introduced the audience to the mischievous and clever sides of Alene’s personality.

The four performers who played the librarians worked well opposite one another. Each captured her character’s unique personality. Ms. Barber portrayed Alene’s inner strength. Through her expressive reactions, Ms. Holtz played Amy as the emotional member of the quartet. Ann Grippo portrayed Eileen as the serious one. Ashley Biel played Elaine as the comedian. Her deadpan delivery made the one-liners sound even funnier.

 Susan Roberts’ dry wit enhanced the characters she portrayed. Nathaniel Tomb’s deep voice and slow speaking suited someone running a library. Anna Paone read the stage directions without flaw; quite an achievement since most of the characters’ names sounded alike.  Performers Catherine LaMoreau, Nimisha Patel and Monica Shah completed the cast. 

 In addition to the creativity of the overall story, the playwright showed imagination by working in the Shakespeare references. The show contained both serious and comical references to the Bard’s question: “What’s in a name?”

Ms. Scobolete’s play showed that books aren’t always the most interesting things in a library. During the talk back session, Ms. Scobolete told the audience that some real events inspired her to write this piece. Fans of What’s in a Name?  can hope the playwright has more experiences that may provide material for a sequel.  

Morning’s at Seven Presented by Virtual Studio Players

With the Thanksgiving Holiday upon us, the Virtual Studio Players served up a delicious family drama. Peter Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven passed around the love and tension among four sisters and their families. The playwright stuffed the plot with dramatis personae on a quest for “home.” The play also dished out a helping of characters coping with unfulfillment. Your correspondent made a pilgrimage to Zoom for this full course of drama on Sunday, November 15th.

The production team of Peter Artale and Greg Northam cooked up a savory opening that made the audience hungry for more. As the story took place during the 1930s, they introduced the play using an old-time radio show set-up. Following the voice over’s brief summary, a musical arrangement with piano and strings performed a piece both lugubrious and sentimental. It set the story’s mood. The visual of a leaf covered lawn as fall foliage gently rained down in front of a farm house established the setting.

Both writers and theatrical fans can benefit from experiencing Morning’s at Seven. Mr. Osborn’s drama contained a lot of conflict. The playwright ensured that all of the characters played significant roles in leading to the play’s outcome. Mr. Osborn also included the sine qua non of any written piece: an engaging story.    

The play explored the lives of four sisters living in the same community. Cora Swanson (played by Phyllis Josephson) wanted a home for she and her husband Thor (Michael Hicks). Her sister Arry (Jeanne Haynes) complicated Cora’s dream as she had been living with the couple for decades. Ida Bolton (Annette Devitt) endured her husband Carl’s (Chuck Klotz) “spells.” Esther Crampton (Terry Bliss) struggled through a difficult marriage with the condescending David (Greg Northam).

The show began as everyone prepared for Homer Bolton’s (Jeff Parsons) return to town. Forty years old and still living with his parents, he’d decided to introduce his fiancée Myrtle (Susan Fowler) to the family. An interesting development since he and his betrothed had been engaged for seven years. They’d dated for five years prior.

Carl planned on giving Homer a new home so he and Myrtle could begin their married lives together. Jeff Parsons and Susan Fowler made their pending nuptial seem uncertain.

Mr. Parsons displayed his character’s discomfort when left alone with Ms. Fowler’s. He kept looking around, he rocked back and forth and tugged at his collar. Mr. Parsons drew out his words when he spoke. His face contorted as though every syllable agonized his character. To the performer’s credit, Mr. Parsons made Homer a comical figure instead of a difficult one to watch.  

Ms. Fowler’s performance made Mr. Parsons’ anxiety more pronounced. She portrayed Myrtle as a calm, easy-going character. She even expressed her admiration for Homer’s family. Her attempts to ease the tension were both funny and awkward. Ms. Fowler tried to engage Mr. Parsons in conversation by discussing the “heavenly” backyard. She observed that “sometimes there are a lot of caterpillars and mosquitos, other times, not.” Her uncomfortable laugh when Mr. Parsons said that Arry’s men were hiding in the bushes added to the scene’s uneasiness.

Mr. Parsons and Ms. Fowler kept the strained backyard discussion light and easy to watch. Other scenes contained edgy exchanges.

Sisters Esther and Ida accused Arry of having an extramarital affair with Thor. They did so without using those precise words. Terry Bliss and Annette Devitt engaged in a realistic confrontation with Jeanne Haynes. They implied to Arry what they believed Arry had been implying to them.

Jeanne Haynes first showed that her character didn’t understand them. When she realized what they accused her of doing with her brother-in-law, Ms. Haynes demonstrated Arry’s devastation. Ms. Haynes became lachrymose and staggered her words. Through a skillful use of sadness, she brought a distressing denial to the Zoom square stage.

Phyllis Josephson and Michael Hicks played a solid scene that displayed another one of the show’s themes: the importance of “home.” Ms. Josephson delivered a passionate expression of Cora’s desire to have a “real home of our own” with just her and her husband. Thinking of Cora’s live-in sister, Mr. Hicks said, “Arry is all alone in the world.” Ms. Josephson replied with somberness: “So am I.”  

The playwright added comedy to serve as a catharsis. Annette Devitt cried while reflecting upon how Myrtle would be purchasing Homer’s underwear after their marriage. Chuck Klotz animated Carl’s “spells” over his unfulfilled ambition to become a dentist. Michael Hicks’ not so subtle ribbing of Mr. Parsons increased the latter’s anxiety. Greg Northam addressed the family with a deadpan, “Be quiet when you visit Esther. You people depress me.”

The production team worked a clever Thanksgiving tribute into the show. The second intermission began with Mr. Artale reading a poem that celebrated the importance of family. A montage followed that showed photos of the cast members and their relatives.

The Virtual Studio Players set the stage and cooked up an excellent helping of drama for this Thanksgiving. Then they seasoned it with a dash of comedy. The actors delivered it with grace. This cast made the rest of the performance just gravy. The team then gobbled up the audience’s gratitude.

Morning’s at Seven will serve as a wonderful centerpiece to the Virtual Studio Players’ catalog. The company will baste in its success for the rest of this Holiday Season. They will desert the stage until their next show in January of 2021.