Author: kevsteph

The Lion in Winter at the Ritz Theatre Company

The Ritz Theatre Company selected an appropriate play for the second show of its 35th season. The production combined the viciousness and devious nature of COVID-19, the blood sport of the Democratic Presidential primaries and the perils associated with the Ides of March. That’s quite a trifecta for a story that took place in 1183. Dr. Elisabeth Hostetter directed James Goldman’s take on courtly manipulations and machinations: The Lion in Winter. Your correspondent attended the Saturday, March 7th performance.

While approaching the Ritz Theatre, your correspondent became nostalgic for the elaborate Holiday display that decorated the building in December. The company managed to keep the spirit of the season alive with the set. As the action in Lion in Winter occurred between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the trappings of a Medieval Holiday celebration filled the stage. The festivities during this Yuletide celebration, however, would not be merry ones, however.

Fifty-year old King Henry II (played by John Jackowski) Plantagenet realized he no longer possessed the energy of a young man: as he explained to his 23-year old mistress Alais Capet (played by Elizabeth Darrell). He needed to select a successor from among his three surviving sons to maintain his kingdom. The oldest, Richard (Michael J. Pliskin) had a strong disposition. Geoffrey (Jack Sharkey) possessed keen intelligence. John was a fatuous lad of 16 with a fondness for drink.

To add to the complications, Henry’s wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Judy Morris) sought vengeance against her husband. Their marriage had suffered since he imprisoned her for the previous decade. Showing that he had some heart, the king allowed his estranged queen to visit the family for Christmas. Through a series of reindeer games involving each of her sons, she conspired to destroy Henry’s aspirations.

The Plantagenet family’s Holiday guest, King Phillip II (Robert Repici) compounded the intrigue. In a bit of a twist on Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxim that, “When your enemy is destroying himself, don’t do anything to distract him,” this monarch created many more diversions.

The Lion in Winter would show Machiavelli that even his ideas could get taken to extremes. Every character had his/her own personal agenda that he/she pursued without impunity. All of them showed an uncanny ability to agree with the last person with whom he/she spoke. With all these similar personalities, the performers still gave their characters their own unique personalities.

John Jackowski brought both Henry’s strengths and weaknesses to the stage. While dragging his leg as he walked, he still carried a commanding presence. Mr. Jackowski balanced the demands of appointing a successor to rule an empire with the challenges of being a father. After imprisoning his wife, he still showed Henry’s respect for her. As ruthless as Henry conducted himself, Mr. Jackowski displayed his human side. His discussion with Ms. Darrell about staring a family of their own served as the most poignant example of this quality.

Judy Morris’ stage presence reflected both the queen’s dignity and her drive for retribution against her husband. She expressed her lines with the elocution of royalty. Yet, her tone contained palpable vitriol. Ms. Morris also showed Eleanor’s frustration when her plans failed. A desire to “win” motivated her character. She even sought to enlist her husband’s mistress in her machinations. Only a love of her family tempered her determination to punish her husband.

Ms. Morris performed an outstanding scene with Jack Sharkey. The two performers showed that issues beyond power politics plagued the family. As Geoffrey, Mr. Sharkey confronted Ms. Morris about his childhood. He explained that she and the king treated him with indifference during his upbringing. This scene provided some much-needed humanization for the Plantagenet family.

Robert Repici played King Phillip II as a cunning conniver. In a brilliant scene opposite Michael J. Pliskin, Mr. Repici showed just how calculating Philip could be. Mr. Pliskin expressed his character’s tender feelings towards Philip. The clever way he and Mr. Repici slowed down their conversation enhanced the scene’s impact. Mr. Repici later explained to Henry that he behaved as he did with Richard in order to annoy the king.

When each of the king’s sons asked for Philip’s assistance, he agreed to aid their efforts to secure the crown. When they realized that all of them approached Philip with the same request, Mr. Repici sat back in his chair sporting an impish grin. He seemed as entertained as the audience watching Henry and his sons attack one another for their scheming.

Mr. Repici performed another excellent display of Philip’s ruthlessness. Ms. Darrel implored him to stop her wedding to one of Henry’s sons. “I’m your sister,” she yelled. Mr. Repici gently stroked her face and then thrust her towards the altar.

Elizabeth Darrell’s character served as a pawn in the Plantagenet’s family’s myriad manipulations. By the end of the story Alais Capet transitioned into an uncouth political practitioner herself. Ms. Darrel made her character’s change credible.

Joseph Colasante showed the essence of the crown’s heir apparent: John. Adopting the diction of a spoiled child, he whined about his right to ascend to the throne. After developing an intense passion for brandy wine, he stumbled about the stage like a drunkard.

Jackie Spence designed stellar costuming for this production. The purple shirt with the fleur-de-lis Mr. Repici wore befitted a French monarch. Mr. Jackowski’s red robe enhanced his royal persona. Their crowns also appeared authentic. Ms. Morris’ green blouse with golden embroidery aided in transforming her into a Medieval monarch.

Matthew Gallagher managed the sound design. Matthew Weil served as the Lighting Designer. Alyssa DeLuca stage managed. Nathan Kunst worked as the show’s Technical Director. Melissa Harnois managed the properties. Bruce A. Curless served as the Producing Artistic Director.

With all the intrigue, family issues, and relentless ambition, The Lion in Winter will appeal to fans of films such as The Godfather and Goodfellas. Those with an interest in Dr. Henry Kissinger’s tomes on realpolitik will find it enjoyable, as well. The show runs through March 22nd. With the amount of conflict in this story, it’s doubtful this lion will go out like a lamb.

Noy Marom: The Critique Compendium Interview

Noy Marom by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom photo by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom is an Israeli actress based in NYC.

She was born and raised in Israel and moved to New York to pursue acting.

Noy is a graduate of The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, class of 2017.

Other training and workshops include: Grace Kiley Acting, The Barrow Group and The Nissan Nativ Acting Studio (Israel).

Theater credits include: Dian in Escape from Happiness, Sara in God of Vengeance, Eva in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, A in the short play Kiss That Frog and The Letters Project.

Film credits include: What Would Nova Do?, Date Night, Shidduch, Crush and Once More Time with Feeling.

Noy is a founding member of the Virago Ensemble, an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

Noy has also co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment, that was recently announced as a Semi-Finalist of the Variety International Film Festival.

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Ms. Marom graciously agreed to an interview with The Critique Compendium. It took place via email from February 25, 2020 through February 29, 2020.

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Critique Compendium:  What first interested you in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: For as long as I can remember, I loved to perform and from a very young age, my twin sister and I used to design costumes and perform in front of friends and family.

As I grew up, I discovered the magic and power of how actors tell stories through theater and cinema.  I remember watching actors on stage and in film, and just thinking how amazing it is that you can move people and make them feel different emotions by telling important and compelling stories. I remember being intrigued by it and saying to myself “Wow, this looks like the greatest job in the world. That’s what I want to do when I grow up”. Today, I still see it like that, but I also feel that as artists we also have great responsibility to try to make a difference through our art and I look for projects that focus on telling important stories that I feel  a special connection to and that I feel can make a difference and bring up issues that are important to me as an artist and as a human being.

Critique Compendium: What makes you want to play a role?

Noy Marom: I like to take on roles that are challenging and that can help me develop and refine my craft.

The work that I’m most passionate about is definitely female-driven projects.

I was fortunate enough to take part in many projects that centered around strong, interesting and complex leading female characters.

I always look for characters that are somewhat different from me, that takes me out of my comfort zone. Acting is also an opportunity for me to let loose and let out different sides of myself which are not usually out there. I feel like I always learn so much about myself in the process.

I was lucky enough to take part in many projects that shared the views that I believe in and care about. I only do work that I feel a personal connection to and that speaks to me as an artist. I think it’s important to use the stage we’re given as artists and raise awareness to different issues and to tell important stories that need to be told.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: You’ve performed both on-stage and in film. Which do you prefer?

Noy Marom: I love both equally. The magic of the cinema and the power of the camera and also the excitement of performing in front of a live audience.

I feel very lucky to have had the training that allows me to do both.

I have been lucky enough to take part in wonderful productions with some of the most talented artists in the industry and I will keep focusing on being the best actor I can be, on camera and on stage.

Critique Compendium: Which is more challenging: performing on-stage or on film?

Noy Marom: There are different challenging aspects to both.

While on camera, you have to beware and conscious of many things, like your facial expressions and how you project your voice, since everything is way more noticeable on camera. There are also many challenging things you have to pay attention to that have to do with continuity and working on set with many staff members at any given time, which can be difficult when you’re working on very demanding scenes.

You also have to repeat the scene many times while filming and it can take the spontaneity out of the work and it can be pretty difficult to stay “fresh” after doing the same scene over and over again.

With theater, there are also many challenges.

Besides the obvious fact that it can be very stressful to act in front of a live audience (though it definitely gets better with time and the more you do it, the more you enjoy it and use this excitement in a positive way), you also have to be conscious of many things: again, the way you project your voice (and you always have to do a vocal warmup, which can be time consuming), the way you carry your body and your overall physicality and not to mention the amount of lines you have to memorize when your performing in a full length play.

I have to say that on some level, I do find theater to be a bit more challenging, since it is performed in front of a live audience and there are no second chances and you can’t just stop and go like you can while working on camera. On the other hand, I find it exciting for the exact same reasons.

Critique Compendium: You’re a founding member of the Virago Ensemble. Could you tell us about that organization?

Noy Marom: Virago Ensemble is an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

I co-founded with a group of fellow actors from Stella Adler.

“Fresh” out of school, we wanted take charge of our careers and our artistic journey in NYC and we decided to produce our own work, while also continuing to work on other projects and going on auditions.

We started working together and found our voice as female international artists in NYC.

We’ve produced a number of very successful sold-out events, including a staged reading of the one-act play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers, and a theatrical movement piece of the short play Kiss that Frog by Serena Cates, both took place at the Artists Co-op in Manhattan and were directed by the accomplished actor and director Angelita Esperanza.

It was a wonderful experience and it taught me so much about working in an ensemble, which can be quite challenging, but I got to do it with amazing women who also happen to be amazing artists.

Critique Compendium: You both co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment. What’s it like to perform in a project you also co-produced?

Noy Marom: A New York Moment is a project that is very dear to my heart.

The short film tells the story of two good friends, Dana and Molly, both facing the struggles of pursuing their dreams in the Big Apple.

The story takes place in a park in NYC and it gives us a look into their journey as individuals and as friends, their hopes and dreams, love affairs, friendships and struggles.

We had an amazing crew and it was a wonderful experience.

I loved the experience of co-producing and also acting it, since I definitely allowed me more artistic freedom in the process, and it taught me so much about producing and managing a project from different aspects.

Critique Compendium: According to your resume, you’ve performed in 12 films. You played the lead in ten of them. How are you so successful at landing lead roles?

Noy Marom: I have to say that I’ve been very lucky in my journey as an actor. I really had many opportunities to explore many wonderful leading characters and take part in great productions with amazing artists.

I guess I just really try to do the work and to come prepared.

There is so much that is out of your hands when it comes to auditions, but you can control how prepared and professional you are in the process.

I do my best in the audition room and then I just try to breathe and let it go and move on to the next thing.

The secret is also to create as many opportunities for yourself to be seen and to reach new artists in the field that you can find a shared language with.

Noy Maram by Holly Thiel

Noy Marom in What Would Nova Do? photo by Holly Thiel

Critique Compendium: In the films Once More Time with Feeling and What Would Nova Do? you play characters who are either alone or isolated from the people around them. How do you prepare yourself to play roles this emotionally demanding?

Noy Marom: I really take my time with the character work. I focus on the character’s back story and I try to personalize it as much as possible. I also have this thing that I try to not interact so much with other people on set/ backstage before a very demanding and dramatic scene. I do my best to zoom-out and focus on the circumstances and be present and in the moment when I have to deliver a dramatic performance.

Critique Compendium: Once More Time with Feeling contains no dialog. What Would Nova Do? has very little. Did the lack of speaking concern you that you wouldn’t be able to tell the story in a way the audience could understand?

Noy Marom: I knew that it would be a challenging task, but I felt like I could make it work.

I’ve done many roles that involved a lot of dialogue in the past and I’m comfortable with that, so I saw it as a healthy challenge.

I guess that from an outside perspective, it can seem easier since you don’t have a lot of lines to memorize, but I actually think it’s more challenging, since you can only relay on your physicality and your facial expressions in order to tell the story. It was a challenge that I believe has made me a better actor.

Critique Compendium: Have you approached performing for Israeli and American audiences any differently?

Noy Marom: I approach every character and every performance with the highest level of dedication and professionalism.

The only difference that I can think of is that when I’m performing in front of an American audience, I’m focusing more on the vocal warm up and the accent work prior to the show, to make sure that I feel comfortable and that I won’t have any issues with the sounds and the speech, since I’m not originally from the US and it takes some work.

When I do that, I feel very comfortable with my speech and I’m ready to go.

Critique Compendium: You’ve received theatrical training in both Israel and the United States. Are the programs in both countries similar?

Noy Marom: I had the privilege of attending different institutes and classes in both countries.

From my experience, it’s true that every institute has its own philosophy and its own different approach towards acting, both in Israel and in the US, but the important main guiding lines regarding the technique, are actually usually pretty similar, even if they’re taught through a different vocabulary.

Critique Compendium: You served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Did your time as a soldier influence your acting career in any way?

Noy Marom: I think that serving in the IDF has taught me mainly that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for.

I’ve learned so much from my service and I think that I am better at dealing with things that can be challenging in general and also specifically in the industry, thanks to going through this experience.

Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far? Why?

Noy Marom: I love so many of the roles that I’ve played and it’s very difficult for me to choose one, but if I had to choose, I have to mention a role that I’ve really enjoyed working on, Sara from God of Vengeance.

It was such a special role to take on. It’s such a strong and fierce character on one hand and such a vulnerable and delicate character on the other hand.

It was also the first time that I ever played the character of a mother and since I’m not yet a mother myself, it was quite a complicated personalization process in the beginning, but I really felt that I found “her” in the end and I loves every minute of working and breathing this character.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook 2

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played? What made it so challenging?

Noy Marom: There were many challenging roles that I can think of, but one especially comes to mind. When I was working on The Letters Project with the No Frills Theatre Collective, I had to take on a character that had to say a very deep and vulnerable monologue while dancing freely on stage. It created a very silly and amusing scene and the contrast between the heavy material and the light and amusing physical activity, while trying to stay focused and avoiding the expected laughs from the audience, was extremely challenging to do.

It was a wonderful process and I got to work with amazing actors and to learn so much from them.

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you? Why?

Noy Marom: I’ve always loved Natalie Portman. She’s also originally from Israel like me and I followed her career from a very young age.

I think she’s an amazing actress with an amazing career.

She takes on very versatile roles and she played many very memorable characters.

I also really admire the fact that she seems to have a really nice balance and separation between her private life and her life as a movie star.

She seems to really have it figured out: a successful career, a quiet family life and just an overall healthy approach to a balanced, positive life.

Critique Compendium: You list snowboarding and skiing as two of your hobbies. How do you balance the demands of performing with taking the time to enjoy those activities?

Noy Marom: It’s definitely challenging to find time to do those activities when you’re constantly busy auditioning and working on projects, but I always try to find time for the things that I love. As an actor, being in such a demanding field, it’s easy to lose balance at times and I find it very important to make time to enjoy the things you love in order to stay balanced and to renew your energy.

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Noy Marom: As an actress who is dedicated to her craft and isn’t afraid of taking chances and being vulnerable on stage.

It’s extremely important for me to portray characters that the audience can identify with and I want the audience to experience the highest- level of authentic performance.

I see it as an absolute privilege to share my work with the audience, to be able to create art and to reach people and also let them into my artistic world.

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: It takes time to find your place in the industry and I think the best advice that I can give young people that are just starting their journey, is to also create their own work.

Find a story you’d like to tell and that you’re passionate about and tell it. Go out there and audition and try to find work and projects that speak to you and that you can contribute to, but also find your artistic voice and create your own work and take charge of your path and your career.

Also, I would advise them to be patient and to believe in what they’re doing. It’s a challenging path but it’s worth it because at the end of the day you’re pursuing the thing you love best.

Critique Compendium: Where can people see your work?

Noy Marom: I make sure to post and update about my work and to inform regarding performance and film release dates.

People can see and learn about my work on my website: noymarom.com.

Critique Compendium: What’s next for Noy Marom?

Noy Marom: I have many exciting projects coming up in the coming months.

I have a few projects with IAP- The Israeli Artists Project, a New York based organization that supports Israeli art and Israeli artists in the city.

We’ll be working on a number of productions together, including wonderful bilingual shows for children (that includes, among others, a production of the show Kef in Israel, that I’ve also acted in in the past) and a production of the renowned Israeli play called Best Friends.

I’ll also be working on an exciting, original one- woman show called Memories of Fire, that will be directed by a wonderful NYC based director and devised theater maker.

Also, I’ll be working on a production of the renowned Israeli play Hefetz, directed by an accomplished Israeli director also based in NYC.

I can’t share more information at the moment, but I’m very excited about what’s to come and will be able to share more details soon.

Film Review – Once More Time with Feeling

Noy Maram Once More Time with FeelingWriter/director Farah Jabir has created a both a topical and powerful piece centering on female empowerment. Once More Time with Feeling explores an abusive relationship between a Man (played by Patrick Ittleman) and a Woman (portrayed by Noy Marom). Through superb artistry Jabir allows the Woman to find her inner strength and liberate herself from his domination.

Once More Time with Feeling contains no dialog. Perhaps in homage to silent film, music plays throughout the movie. Ms. Jabir limits her performers’ storytelling methods to gestures and facial expressions. This artistic choice enhances the tension. A gripping and at times disturbing piece of cinema results.

Beginning in media res, Noy Marom’s character opens the story by making an effort to mask herself, as it were. The audience is introduced to Ms. Marom’s “Woman” as she puts on her makeup. As she does so, memories the man’s denigration flash through her mind.

As the scene shifts through images of past and present, Ms. Marom shows both the Woman’s turmoil and indomitability. Through her non-verbal skills, the performer expresses that the Man cannot destroy her spirit. Ms. Marom projects firm resolve as she stares at her reflection in the mirror.

The director shows the contrast between the Man and Woman’s relationship to that of their friends (played by Tiffany Peach and Laval Alsbrooks). These two performers along with Mr. Ittleman smile, hug and display a fondness for being together. Ms. Marom looks down and expresses sadness. Her heartbreaking countenance aids in amplifying the audience’s empathy for her.

Ms. Marom allows the woman’s intensity to manifest itself through dance. The joy on her face contrasts with both her earlier representations of sadness and Mr. Ittleman’s present countenance of defeat. Ms. Marom shows superb execution during this powerful scene. Mr. Alsbrook maintains a blank look while Ms. Peach smiles; the contrast between the male and female characters’ reactions is telling. The warmth of Ms. Marom’s smile concretizes her character’s victory.

Ms. Jabir has the following thoughts on Ms. Marom’s professionalism.

The moment I met Noy, I knew she was the perfect choice for Lou (The Woman). As a director this is rather rare to feel but Noy possessed such a unique sense of direction and honesty in her performance and this attitude was brought to set at all times. She was both uplifting and understanding, which is surprising given the nature of material that we were working with. Truthfully, she was an absolute joy to work with. *

Ms. Marom’s cites a Joseph Campbell quote as her inspiration. It explains her commitment to her craft.

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. And when you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

Noy concludes: “I believe in that, and that’s what I intend to keep doing. To follow my bliss and to enjoy the ride.” **

Once More Time with Feeling is produced by Farah Jabir and Amanda H. Miller. Ms. Miller also plays the Waitres in the film. Jenny Wang is the production’s Cinematographer and Editor. Angie Urrea is the film’s Gaffer / Grip.

Fans of arthouse films will be delighted by Once More Time with Feeling. Its theme of female empowerment will hold a strong appeal for modern audiences.

*Press release from Thompson Communications

** Retrieved from http://www.cinemanewswire.com/noy-marom-virago.html on 02/22/20.

The Groundling at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

The ‘garage band’ phenomena may be followed by a ‘garage theatre’ trend compliments of playwright Marc Palmieri. This writer took the concept of ‘home theatre’ to another level in The Groundling. Add a story influenced by Shakespeare to some quirky characters and an entertaining evening of theatre resulted. Your correspondent attended the February 15th performance at Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage.

A production of Love’s Labour’s Lost inspired Bob Malone (played by Michael Melvin) to become a playwright. He decided to craft a play describing his and his wife Karen’s (Lori Aleixo Howard) courtship. He even hired the director of the show that led him to write, Dodd (played by Nicholas French), to direct it. Bob’s play, however, would take place in his garage and last for just one show.

Bob was no Shakespeare. For that matter, this playwright’s rhyming couplets made the airy lyrics found in popular love songs sound profound by comparison. Add to Bob’s writing “skills” the romantic tension between Dodd and leading lady Victoria (Marissa Wolf) along with the complex personalities of the other actors (Stephen Jackson and Allison Adams) and Mr. Palmieri created a comedy that would have made the Bard laugh.

Mr. Palmieri provided director Edwin Howard with an outstanding attention getting opening. Think ‘Mamet meets Mambo’ for this one. While Mr. Melvin’s and Ms. Howard’s characters engaged in an obscenity filled shouting match, ‘technical director’ Frank (Russ Walsh) proceeded to percussively pound a beam with his hammer. No audience chatter occurred after this curtain rose.

The Groundling contained an extraordinary plot twist. The cast executed Mr. Palmieri’s unexpected, but inevitable conclusion with moving realism. All the performers on stage, especially Mr. French, seemed as surprised by it as the audience did.

Michael Melvin ended a three-year hiatus from the theatre with The Groundling. He captured the full range of Bob’s emotions during his performance. He showed the character’s romantic side when discussing the play with Mr. French. The director recommended he add more “conflict” to the story. Dodd called the relationship “too smooth.” “Nothing happens,” He said. Mr. Melvin became nostalgic as he explained, “That’s how it happened.” The performer balanced comedy with anger during his arguments with Ms. Howard. Mr. Melvin made the hackneyed writer a figure of pity and empathy through his gripping delivery at the show’s end.

In her performance as Karen, Lori Howard brought out the character’s wrath and bitterness. She maintained the persona of an angry woman while providing nuances that Karen deserved sympathy. Ms. Howard measuredly revealed the character’s underlying personality during an exceptional scene opposite Ms. Wolf. The performer showed that Karen possessed heart underneath a harsh exterior.

Marissa Wolf turned in a Marissa Wolf level performance. Ms. Wolf brought out Victoria’s change with subtlety. After starting out as a bit of a diva, she became curious to learn more about the character she played in the ‘play within a play.’ In the process Victoria discovered a personal connection to her role. In the pivotal scene opposite Ms. Howard, she showed skill by adopting Ms. Howard’s tone of voice and mannerisms to play the role of Karen.

Nicholas French portrayed Dodd: a man deeply and passionately in love with his own perceived genius. When Bob expressed his admiration for Dodd’s work, Mr. French delivered a monolog in which he described his approach to Love’s Labour’s Lost. He did so with such passion it sounded like he gasped several times. His exaggerated mannerisms accentuated the character’s high-minded vocabulary. Mr. French’s moving a pencil like an orchestra conductor’s baton during the play’s rehearsal showed his artistic pretentions. The display led Allison Adams’ and Russ Walsh’s characters to mock him during this scene.

The other members of the cast added their own brands of comedy to the production. The irony of Russ Walsh’s character not being able to hear in the presence of so much noise added humor to an already funny opening. Stephen Jackson showed the humor in a composer who couldn’t compose. Allison Adams portrayed a struggling actress struggling to act.

Jackie Duran served as the Stage Manager for this project. Nicholas French became the uncredited Music Director for The Groundling. He composed the play’s music and taught performer Stephen Jackson how to play the keyboards for the show.

Shakespeare even may have influenced the seating for The Groundling. Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage is an intimate 35 seat venue. Because of the limited room, your correspondent had the opportunity to sit next to Mr. Melvin during one of the show’s scenes. This arrangement hearkened back to the Globe Theatre during the Elizabethan Era. In those days, audience members would pay to sit on stage during the performance.

Playwright Marc Palmieri attended the February 15th performance at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage. During the talkback session he was asked what he thought of this performance of The Groundling. Mr. Palmieri said that he, “Hasn’t seen better.” With the quality of community theatre in South Jersey, is that a surprise?

 

Seussical Presented by McMagical Productions at the Ritz Theatre Company

Why do we have such a love of Dr. Seuss? Director Megan Knowlton Balne inquired. Why is Dr. Seuss so universally loved by children and adults, generation after generation? Why is a Dr. Seuss book the perfect gift for a child entering adulthood or an adult embarking on parenthood?

Ms. Balne embarked on a voyage of her own in order to answer these questions. She did so by directing McMagical Productions’ presentation of Seussical at the Ritz Theatre Company. Your correspondent attended the February 14th performance.

With all the rhyming couplets and colorful characters, the true message of Dr. Seuss’s work can get lost. Not with Ms. Balne. In the Director’s Note, she observed:

When I think about Seuss, I think about stories that go beyond the children’s literature. Dr. Seuss’s books teach us about imagination and show us how to see the world in a different light. When we are blinded by technology and can’t go through the day without looking at our smart phones, we need to take a moment and look around and remember that imagination and looking beyond the noise will help us make better decisions and become better people.

Ms. Balne applied her own ingenuity and made good choices towards bettering the show. They started with Seussical’s beginning. During the opening number, the performers placed copies of Dr. Seuss’s books into a milk crate. Another actor entered the stage and perused them. The Cat (played by Haley Melvin) then made her entry. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, your reviewer won’t elaborate on this delightful sequence.

Through the power of her own imagination, Ms. Balne created a wonderful spectacle of the world of Seuss. The performers she selected to bring this magical realm to the stage applied their own inventiveness in bringing their characters to life.

For her sixth run of Seussical, performer Haley Melvin played the Cat in the Hat for the first time. Ms. Melvin approached the role like someone inspired.

Ms. Melvin captured the Cat’s high energy through her prancing about the stage. When JoJo (played by Gracie Brown) ordered her to leave, she would pout while slowly exiting. Then she would quickly turn and add a cheery, “Let me say one more thing.”

Ms. Melvin performed the unforgettable vocal numbers with skill and humor. She captured the ironic essence of “How Lucky You Are” through her upbeat delivery.

So be happy you’re here.

Think of life as a thrill.

 It could get worse

 As we all know it will.

In May of 2019, Sid Maycock turned in a comedic tour de force playing the Cat during the Village Playbox’s presentation of Seussical. For this production he changed hats and took on the role of Horton the Elephant. Mr. Maycock applied warmth, tenderness and humor to the role of the poignant pachyderm.

Mr. Maycock delivered his portions of “Solla Sollew” and “Alone in the Universe” with the sensitive vocals the songs required. For the latter he performed a powerful duet well accompanied by Gracie Brown as JoJo. Fans of Mr. Maycock’s comedic work will be delighted by his interaction with Suzanne Tuttle (as Mayzie La Bird).

While already known as an outstanding choreographer, Lindsey Krier showed her extraordinary skills as an actress and vocalist. Ms. Krier captured Gertrude McFuzz’s lovelorn frustration in “Notice Me, Horton.” She showed comedic prowess during her scene with the Pillberry Bush. She followed with a hysterical delivery of “Amayzing Gertrude.”

Ms. Melvin’s, Mr. Maycock’s and Ms. Krier’s stage presences gave the impression that they were playing roles they’d longed to perform for their entire lives. That’s not to take away from any of the other actors. These three just seemed passionate about the opportunity to portray their characters.

Your correspondent sat in front of the director during the performance. Ms. Balne laughed throughout the show. As familiar as she was with Seussical, the cast still entertained her.

All of this demonstrates just how committed everyone was to making this production successful. It also shows the pride they took in their work and the professionalism of the finished product.

For their “revitalized and reimagined” version of Scrooge: The Musical in December, the Ritz production staff removed the pageantry that appeared in earlier productions. The pomp returned to the Ritz stage for Seussical.

The show featured dance spectacles choreographed by Elizabeth Baldwin. Both the Adult Ensemble (Kayla Disibio, Rachel Insley, Amber Kusching, Alexa McClean-Maynes and Chris Valkyria) and the Children Ensemble (Caspian Aicher-Roberts, Sophia Bianco, Alexis Finkelstein, Annalise Griffin, Sophia Leone, Piper Loughlin, Gracie Sokoloff, Nora Ragonese and Max Ruggles) performed sophisticated routines. The Wickersham Brothers’ (Adam Bretz, Zach Capone and Zach Palais) added some comical monkeyshines to the dance sequences as well.

The Bird Girls performances reminded this reviewer of the Supremes. Tori Tatulli, Lisa Krier and Erika Dorsett combined soulful vocals with elaborate dance moves on “Horton Hears a Who,” “Biggest Blame Fool” and “Egg, Nest and Tree.”

Choreographer Liz Balwin contributed her own R & B stylings to the production. Ms. Baldwin entertained with her brand of soul on “Biggest Blame Fool” and “The People Versus Horton the Elephant.”

The other cast members included: Don Toal, Lisa Toal, Tracy Brycem Will Young and Sammy Balne. The following individuals rounded out the production team: Musical and Vocal Director Kendra Hecker, Stage Manager Jeanette Carden, Lighting Design Jennifer Donsky, Costumes Rachel Theibault Grodzielanek. and Spot Operator Bridget Bryce. Sam Tait, Anastasia Swan and Natasha Swan managed the Sound. Jay Capone, Al Krier, Scott Palais, Eric Dorsett, Greg Laughlin, Will Young, Zach Palais and Zach Capone worked on Set Construction.

McMagical Productions was created to honor dance instructor Barbara McKinsey; a young woman who passed away from lung cancer in 2013. The organization describes its mission as to serve: those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts. This run of Seussical will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. More information is available at: www.mcmagicalproductions.org.

 Fans of Seuss should take a trip

To the arts district of Haddon Township.

There they will find theatrical bliss

In the form of McMagical’s production of Seussical at the Ritz.

The rhyming couplets are infectious. So is the joy the team at McMagical Productions imparted to the audience.

Al Krier opened the Valentine’s Day performance by stating that the cast would “win your heart.” He asked the audience to “feel the love.” They sure did.

Seussical runs through February 15th at the Ritz Theatre company. McMagical Productions and the Ritz Theatre Company will team up again to present Hairspray, Jr. That show will take place April 3rd and 4th.

The Tin Woman at Bridge Players Theatre Company

The Bridge Players Theatre Company is commemorating Valentine’s Day with heart this year. They are doing so through their presentation of Sean Grennan’s The Tin Woman. Alice Weber directed this absorbing reflection on loss and second chances. Your correspondent attended the Saturday, February 8th performance.

Director Weber has a reputation for selecting thought-provoking projects. The Tin Woman is her most captivating to date.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Grennan’s drama, think David Lindsey-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, only with much more tension. Joy (played by Gina Petti) recently received a heart transplant. The experience of coming so close to death led her to reflect upon her life. Failed relationships, a mediocre job and lack of fulfilment made it an unpleasant recollection. She became plagued by guilt that someone had to die so that she could live.

Meanwhile, Jack’s (Francis B. Pedersen’s) family endured their own sorrows. His parents Hank (played by Alex Hraur) and Alice Borden (Regina Deavitt) along with his sister Sammy (Bethany Sketchley) struggled to cope with his tragic death from a car accident. As the family’s mourning turned to anger, they received an unexpected letter. Joy, the woman who received Jack’s heart, asked if she could meet them.

The playwright crafted a script that provided a host of challenges for the cast and crew. It began with an unconventional opening: silence and stillness. The show opened to Ms. Petti lying in a hospital bed with Jack standing nearby. Then the scene shifted to Mr. Hraur sitting in a lawn chair at stage left drinking from a thermos. Jack walked over and observed him. Even without the benefit of activity and movement, the performers made the scene a gripping one.

For such an emotional story, the dialog included some humorous quips. Ms. Deavitt and Mr. Hraur delivered the witty banter between husband and wife effectively. Ms. Sketchley made Sammy’s misunderstanding of the word corn witty, also.

The play included nine different scenes and five separate sets. The cast and stage crew managed the quick changes they necessitated without flaw.

The dialog contained the most demanding transitions. Some scenes involving Jack combined the past and present. Throughout most of the show Francis B. Pedersen remained on stage. Mr. Pedersen reacted to the things happening, but didn’t participate. The script included two exceptions. While sitting around the dinner table, the Borden family reminisced about his sense of humor. Mr. Pederson took a place at the table and told a funny story. When Mr. Hraur began talking about an argument the character had with his son, Mr. Pedersen entered the scene and delivered his lines with white hot rage.

Gina Petti brought the psyche of a haunted woman to the stage. She portrayed the character’s myriad emotional states realistically. Ms. Petti became playful when flirting with the man in the café and showed despair as she lay on the couch while drinking wine from the bottle. She cried in the emotional scenes. When reciting the letter Joy sent to Jack’s family, Ms. Petti captured the character’s vulnerability.

Ms. Petti used the scenes opposite her counterparts to demonstrate Joy’s nature. Lisa Croce played the cheery, bubbly Darla; all decked out in her Sarah Palin style glasses. Ms. Petti became reserved and guarded during their time on stage together. The contrast between the two personalities showed why the name “Joy” proved an ironic description of her character.

Ms. Petti played an outstanding scene when her character met Mr. Hraur’s. She managed to show how Joy’s personality shared both Jack’s artistic interests and his father’s bitterness. The priceless look on her face when she asked for “bourbon” will go down in South Jersey theatre lore.

Anyone studying the craft of acting would be well served to watch Francis B. Pedersen during this run. Throughout most of the show, Mr. Pedersen played a ghost; expressing Jack’s feelings non-verbally. His character couldn’t speak or interact with the other performers. Director Walker did make one powerful exception when he placed his hand in Ms. Sketchley’s.

Most of the scenes from Jack’s life began in media res. Mr. Pedersen jumped into the scene and played it naturally. He sounded like he’d already been engaged in the conversation for several minutes.

With the strong performances Ms. Petti and Mr. Pedersen delivered, it’s easy to overlook Regina Devitt’s own powerful performance. Ms. Devitt portrayed a woman struggling with the loss of her son and her husband’s increasing withdraw into alcohol. She served as the force trying to keep the Borden family together. Her portrayal made her character a figure well deserving of empathy.

Alex Hraur showed the father’s descent from grief to anger convincingly. He made the character’s scenes difficult to watch, but yet, he still gave the audience reasons to sympathize with him.

Assistant Director Shelby Tibbetts completed the cast. Ms. Tibbetts played the nurse.

Other members of the Production Staff included: Producer Lindsey Kilchesty, Production Assistants Diana Dohrmann and Pat Marotta, Stage Manager Amy Miele, Technical Producer and Light Designer Bob Beaucheane, Sound Design John Weber and Set Construction Casey Barrett.

Each performance of The Tin Woman includes a talk back. Members of the Gift of Life Donor program will be on-site to address the audience. They will share personal stories regarding organ and tissue donorship.

In the playbill, Director Weber wrote that, “We all have regrets.” Don’t let missing The Tin Woman at Bridge Players Theatre Company be one of them. The show runs through February 22nd.

The Hotspurs!: Spur of the Moment at the Ritz Theatre Company

Your correspondent experienced literal chills as he stood outside the Ritz Theatre on Friday night. Inside, South Jersey’s premiere improv troupe, the Hotspurs!, were about to end their three month hiatus from the stage. In retrospect, the brisk winds, frigid temperatures and alcohol withdraw may have had something to do with those shakes, too. At any rate, John Hager, Evan Harris, Sean O’Malley Brendan Rucci and Andrew Snellen returned to perform a Valentine’s Day comedy extravaganza on February 7th. Love and laugher from the audience resulted.

Mr. Rucci opened the show by singing a lugubrious love song while playing the piano. In the backdrop, hearts and red streamers adorned the Ritz stage. The rest of the group then made an obstreperous entrance as music blared over the loudspeakers.

The members expressed their confusion as to whether they were performing a Valentine’s Day or President’s Day show. Mr. Harris needled Mr. O’Malley by making a reference to President Taft. The latter, of course, is the only American President to also serve as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This abstract allusion to the current President’s reputation for being law abiding in the wake of the impeachment trial was pretty slick. Either that or Mr. O’Malley is the most legal minded of the five. Either way, the addition of topical humor worked.

The members of the 1960s psychedelic rock group Cream said that they rehearsed the beginning and ends of their songs. Everything in the middle they improvised. The Hotspurs! plan out even less of their shows. They script the opening and plan the sequence and participants of the improv games. Everything else that happens on stage is “spur of the moment.”

The show at the Ritz Theatre lasted an hour longer than the other shows they’ve performed. It allowed the group the opportunity to bring more of their classic routines to the stage. They included their standard improv games: “Half Life,” “Pan Left,” “Twists,” “Director,” “Infomercial” as well as others. In all cases they solicited either settings, emotions or character suggestions from the audience. When someone recommended a character they had played before, Mr. Rucci asked for another idea. The original ideas the audience presented gave the traditional routines a fresh edge.

Adding to the originality, the Hotspurs! added some new games to their repertoire. They included: “Best Date / Worst Date,” “Oscar Winning Monolog” and “Start Every Sentence with a Letter of the Alphabet.”

Some Hotspurs! routines include audience participation. “Best Date / Worst Date” featured something unique. The group invited community theatre performer Michael Pliskin and his girlfriend Lauren to come up to the stage. The pair discussed some activities they like to do together. Building off of their stories, the group then performed two sketches. One enacted a perfect date between the couple, the second showed a horrible date between the two.

Your correspondent has written that no one can tell a story like Mr. Pliskin. It appears that no one can inspire a story like he does, either. Mr. Hager played him. Mr. Harris performed as Lauren. The two brought exaggerated caricatures of the couple to the stage. They acted out comical references to alcoholism and the teaching profession. “We’re teachers,” Mr. Harris said with a slur. “People trust us to work with and teach children.”

Local writer Thomas Halper expressed a theory about humor and national tragedies. He told your correspondent that the greater the tragedy the more extreme the jokes are in response to it. (A particularly gruesome one circulated after JFK’s assassination.) This reviewer found that interesting as he’d never heard anyone tell a joke referencing the events of 9/11.

Until now.

The group performed a game called “Oscar Winning Monolog.” The audience provided the “sexy occupation” of firefighter. Mr. Harris and Mr. Snellin delivered an improvised scene. At a crucial point, Mr. Rucci stopped them. He informed Mr. Harris, “Evan, this is your Oscar winning monolog.”

The spotlight shone on Mr. Harris. He improvised a speech about a fireman’s picnic that took place every year on September 11th: “except that one year.” While the group asked the audience “not to take to Twitter,” the way Mr. Newlin made the reference wasn’t offensive or in bad taste. The soliloquy about a firefighter who saves a clown, but not the children at a party however…

Comedian Bill Hicks observed: “It’s only funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.” The Hotspurs! may have blazed a comedy trail regarding that one. They certainly scorched a few throats.

The “Start Every Sentence with A Letter of the Alphabet” routine required Mr. Hager, Mr. Harris, Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Snellen to deliver sentences that began with the next letter of the alphabet. In other words, if one person said something that began with the letter d, the next person would start a sentence with the letter e. But, being the Hotspurs!, the group added a twist.

Before beginning this improv game, Mr. Rucci held up a bottle of hot sauce. The label instructed that it be diluted before use. Being the rebels they are, the Hotspurs! ignored the warning. Each member of the group took a spoonful of scalding seasoning. With each other’s screams in the background, they managed to complete the exercise. The four members crafted the requisite 26 sentences.

As of this writing, one hopes everyone is okay.

Each member of the group had his own stand out moment. People will be talking about Mr. Harris’ “Oscar Winning Monolog.” During the Dating Game, John Hager performed a dramatic rendition of Spider-man’s demise. While playing the director, Mr. O’Malley instructed Mr. Hager to put bleach in his eyes. “It’s my vision,” He said. “You don’t get to have any.” Mr. Snellen crafted the best one liner of the evening. An audience member suggested the question, “What’s something you could say to a hooker and your grandmother?” Mr. Snellen replied, “Take your teeth out.”

This reviewer had one criticism of the show. It began 15 minutes after the scheduled 8:00 PM start time. Some performers like to build dramatic tension by delaying their entry. This was a comedy show. The delay wasn’t necessary.

Obviously, audiences should leave the young children at home before attending a Hotspurs! performance. Of course, if a parent thinks it’s a good idea to take a child to see comedy improv, their kids will grow up with worse problems than seeing a Hotspurs! show.

The Hotspurs! have sold out Burlington County Footlighters multiple times. They sold close to 200 tickets for this gig. They will return to the Ritz Theatre on Friday, March 27th. Those interested in attending that show are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets now. If the group decide to give it an Easter theme, they may all come out dressed as bunnies. The seats in the back will sell fast.

 

Harvey at the Village Playbox

Easter is coming a little early this year compliments of the Village Playbox. The company presented a show featuring a six-foot one-inch tall rabbit. This cottontail issued something other than candy, however. The treats he delivered brought either good or bad fortune to those he chose. To complicate matters, only one person could see him. Nevertheless, he made his presence known through the vehicle of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize winning comedy Harvey. Your correspondent attended the February 2nd performance.

Elwood P. Dowd (played by Michael Hicks) made his sister (Veta Louise Simmons) hopping mad. His either talking to or about an invisible rabbit named Harvey impeded her and her daughter’s (Myrtle Mae Simmons played by Amy Bannister) efforts to move into high society. Veta decided to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium. While explaining the situation with Elwood and “Harvey” to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) she became distressed. Assuming that she must be the person requiring treatment, he committed her and released Elwood.

Veta’s attorney Judge Omar Gaffney (Jay Burton) became involved as did the physician managing the sanitarium, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Klotz). The ensuing search for Elwood led to a series of misunderstandings, comedic hijinks and surprises.

Anita Rowland (assisted by Jan Johnston) directed an entertaining show. The cast made it a spectacular one.

Michael Hicks turned in an award worthy performance as Elwood. The character’s love of humanity came through every moment he occupied the stage. Mr. Hicks smiled often while delivering his lines with warmth and charm. In his scene with taxi driver EJ Lofgren (played by Jason Pollock), Mr. Hicks shook his hand and sounded genuine when insisting he come over for dinner. This occurred just minutes after the two met.

Mr. Hicks had the challenge of working with an invisible sidekick. Elwood described Harvey as a pooka: a spirt that appeared to him in the form of a six foot plus rabbit. Mr. Hicks showed imagination working with this fictional figure. He looked upwards when addressing Harvey. Once he even gave the pooka a friendly wink. Mr. Hicks would either move out of the way or ask others to “make way” for Harvey when walking about the set. His actions showed that whether Harvey existed or not, his character believed he did.

While Phyllis Josephson has done spectacular comedic work all throughout South Jersey, something about the Village Playbox inspires Ms. Josephson to exhibit her best humorous skills. During the winter of 2019, Ms. Josephson appeared in the farcical Noises Off! the company presented. Her portrayal of Veta Louise Simmons brought that classic performance to mind.

Ms. Josephson used a superb delivery when explaining to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) why she wanted Elwood committed. She started off calm and steadily became more excited. By the end of her monolog she sounded unhinged. Mr. McDevitt played the perfect straight man in this scene. Other than his jittery finger against the call buzzer, he remained composed.

Ms. Josephson made a comedic entrance as only she could. With her hair disheveled, she stumbled through the door of the library. After collapsing on the couch, she staggered through an explanation to her attorney (Jay Buton) and daughter about getting stripped when mistakenly admitted to the sanitarium.

Amy Bannister’s reaction made this the best scene in the show. Ms. Bannister raised and lowered her eyebrows several times. She kept an arch smile on her face until pressing Ms. Josephson for details. Then she became very serious.

The script included two sets of couples. Their interactions created a host of humorous moments.

Steve Kreal played the sanitarium strong man. He spoke with a tough voice and moved with the grace of a gorilla. His character developed a romantic interest in Amy Bannister’s. Mr. Kreal expressed his feelings with the same rough vocal inflection. Ms. Bannister’s coy responses made their exchanges even funnier.

Dan McDevitt and Ashley Trasser (as Nurse Kelly) played a comedic version of star-crossed lovers. While professing not to like Nurse Kelly, Mr. McDevitt would let some double entendres slip past his lips. Ms. Trasser used perfect facial expressions to show what her character felt. In the course of praising Dr. Sanderson to Veta, Ms. Trasser turned an encomium into a sultry sermon.

Jennifer Maienza portrayed both Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet and Mrs. Betty Chumley. As the former, Ms. Maienza became the caricature of a wealthy woman. She wore a large red hat and a garish blouse of the same hue. Ms. Maienza adopted the parody of an upper-class voice for her character. The whole personna reminded this reviewer of something from a Three Stooges short.

Chuck Klotz played Dr. Chumley as a psychiatrist more anxious than his patients. He used a great voice for the character. It worked very well for when he told Elwood his life’s ambition. The glasses perched at the end of his nose were a nice touch.

Performers Donna Allen and Jason Pollock completed the cast.

The Production Team included: Stage Manager Donna Allen, Set Construction and Lighting/Sound Effects Gary Kochey, Set Painters Jan Johnson, Chris Dziczek and Anita Rowland. Ms. Rowland also handled the costuming along with Amy Bannister.

Harvey may or may not have been real, but the fun was. Those interested in an entertaining evening of theatre don’t need to rub a lucky rabbit’s foot. They should just hop over to the Village Playbox this February. The audience won’t need to be offered a carrot to keep the laughter multiplying during Harvey. Community theatre fans can chew on that until the show closes on February 15th.

 

The Who’s Tommy at Haddonfield Plays and Players

No company can celebrate an anniversary like Hadonfield Plays and Players.

A half century ago on this February 14th four lads from Shepherd’s Bush London performed a concert to promote their latest release: a “rock opera” about a deaf, dumb and blind boy with a skill at playing pinball. That Valentine’s Day gig from 1970 has been immortalized by the iconic recording Live at Leeds.

Tommy extended the artistic boundaries of Rock and Roll music upon its release in 1969. Then the record’s “amazing journey” continued. In 1975, The Who decided to “join together” with director Ken Russell to “relay” it to the silver screen. Taking his own advice never to “spend his guitar or pen,” Pete Townshend (and Des McAnuff) adapted Tommy into a musical in 1992.

Adding to the concept’s “success story,” Haddonfield Plays and Players opened their 2020 season with The Who’s Tommy. Your correspondent attended this “welcome” addition to the company’s repertoire on January 31st. HPP didn’t have to “bargain” with him to do so, either.

Bill C. Fikaris proved himself a “sensation” through his direction of this show. Along with Music Director Arlo Ehly, Musical Conductor Alex Ayala and Choreographer Chris McGinnis, the team at HPP injected the spirit of Pete Townshend’s masterpiece into the performance. They presented a high energy show with a lot of movement. Can one imagine anything based on The Who’s music without it?

The Who’s fans can now claim their favorite group capable of producing a high-tech visual spectacle on par with a Pink Floyd show. The design and special effects brought the audience into the world of the story. Chris Miller’s lighting strips positioned at the four corners of the stage added a unique style of illumination to the set. Sound and Projection Designer Pat DeFusco produced stellar visuals. They simulated London flats, an RAF airfield and neon arcade signs. Set designers Ed Ortiz and Glenn Funkhouser painted a Union Jack on the stage floor. The ubiquitous smoke gave the show the aura of a rock concert.

The ambiance was vintage Who. It would have made Pete Townshend, Roger Daltry, John Entwistle and Keith Moon proud. Its authenticity made your correspondent wary of getting hit by shrapnel from smashed guitars and exploding drum kits.

In addition to his musical genius, Mr. Townshend showed creativity at crafting memorable characters. Mr. Fikaris selected gifted performers to bring them to the stage.

The show featured three incarnations of Tommy. Wesley Halloway played the four year old version, Nicky Intrieri performed the 10 year old one and Dennis Summerville took on the role of adult Tommy. All three Tommys sang the high-pitched melody from the “See Me, Feel Me” number. Their vocals sounded cleaner and more professional than those on the original 1969 album.

Mr. Fikaris utilized these performers effectively during the mirror scenes. While one Tommy stared into the looking glass, a different one gazed back. It made for one of the show’s most spectacular visuals.

Mr. Summerville played an outstanding Tommy. He enacted all of Tommy’s personality traits with equal skill. The performer stood still with a blank stare while either in front of the mirror or playing pinball. Mr. Summerville became enthusiastic following Tommy’s moment of realization. He accompanied it with a stirring rendition of “Welcome.” His impassioned vocals captured the essence of “I’m Free” after Mrs. Walker (Shaina Egan) smashed the mirror.

Listening to theatrical vocalists sing Rock and Roll songs is always entertaining. Mr. Summerville made it more of a pleasure than usual. He belted out powerful vocals on the heavier songs such as “Pinball Wizard” and “Sensation.” His soft falsetto on “See Me, Feel Me” articulated the character’s sensitive side.

Justin Walsh played Tommy’s father, Captain Walker. Mr. Walsh’s face held the look of a concerned parent all evening. During the “Acid Queen” and “Hawker” numbers, he showed the nuance between an expression of anxiety and one of repulsion. Mr. Walsh modulated the character’s outlook by singing “There’s a Doctor I’ve Found” with an optimistic tone. He also showed professional acting ability during the altercation between the Lover (played by Keian Hagstrom) and he.

Shaina Egan performed a superior Mrs. Walker. Ms. Egan adopted a very natural sounding British accent for the role. Her expressive facial movements showed the character’s inner turmoil regarding her son’s condition. Her vocals captured the upbeat sentiments of “Twenty-One” and “It’s a Boy” with sincerity. Ms. Egan expressed Mrs. Walker’s frustration through her rendition of “Smash the Mirror.” Her Townshendesqe swinging motion of the chair added a nice touch.

Gary Werner played the lovable lush Uncle Ernie. Mr. Werner added humor to the show during his “Fiddle About” and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” numbers. The performer added a slight slur to his voice. Mr. Werner did so in a clever way. One could understand his character drank. He still expressed the lyrics so that the audience could understand them.

“Acid Queen” would make the list of Tommy’s best numbers. Legends Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle even sang it with The Who. While an intimidating song to attempt, Joyel Crawford met the challenge. Ms. Crawford gave the song the sultry, soulful treatment it warranted.

Jerrod Ganesh performed the role of the sadistic Cousin Kevin. Mr. Ganesh’s vicious vocals and quick movements demonstrated he character’s malicious nature. He applied the cigarette prop for maximum effect.

Courtney Bundens portrayed Sally Simpson. With a pining look from “behind blue eyes” Ms. Bundens showed her character’s infatuation with Tommy. The performer’s vocals on “Sally Simpson” and “Sally’s Question” made the character even more likable.

Tommy even included a number written by a legendary bluesman. As the huckster Hawker, Keian Hagstrom sang Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Eyesight to the Blind.” In this sequence, performer Faith McCleery portrayed the harmonica player. Ms. McCleery made her character even more interesting than the Marilyn Monroe icon in the movie version of Tommy.

Tommy contained mesmerizing dance sequences. “Pinball Wizard”, “Acid Queen” and “Miracle Cure” featured spectacular routines. Dance Captain Nicole Lukaitis set a stellar example for the ensemble. The Lads and Lasses executed elaborate moves all evening.

In addition to some different lyrics and arrangements, Mr. Townshend added a “new song” to the musical version of Tommy. This refreshing inclusion of something different made the musical more appealing. Justin Walsh and Shaina Egan delivered a beautiful duet on “I Believe My Own Eyes.”

Other members of the Production Team included: Producer Tami Funkhouser, Stage Manager Omi Parrilla-Dunne, Set Builder Glen Funkhouser, Set Construction/Sound Engineer Kalman Dunne, Costume Designer Renee McCleery, Costume Assistant Brennan Diorio, and Properties Nicole DeRosa Lukaitis and Tami Funkhouser.

The following performers completed the cast: Audrey DiEnno, Jaime Weingard, Jonathan Greenstein, Jake Van Horn, Jake Hufner, Gia Lukatis and Gianna Leonen.

Who fans who would go “anyway, anyhow, anywhere” to experience the band’s music would be well served to go to Haddonfield Plays and Players this February. The opportunity is also a “bargain” for fans of community theatre in South Jersey. Hop in your “magic bus” and head over to the playhouse. “The song is over” this February 15th. So is this run of Tommy at Haddonfield Plays and Players.

 

 

“An Illustrated History of RCA/Victor” by Frederick O. Barnum III

There’s a cliché that a picture paints a thousand words. One could easily say that a lot of pictures provide material for one excellent lecture. On December 3rd, Frederick O. Barnum III delivered a speech inspired his 1991 book: His Master’s Voice in America. The Moorestown Library hosted the event.

The book contains numerous photos documenting the history of Victor Records through the RCA years. Mr. Barnum III drew upon “a lot of material” for his project. He spent 35 years working for the organization’s Camden plant. He retired there in 2017.

Shortly after Mr. Barnum III began working for RCA, he inherited ten to twelve filing cabinets containing the company’s archives. He decided to compile the photos he discovered for a book that he titled His Master’s Voice in America. The company only printed five thousand copies that it released on November 18, 1991. Extant editions are rare. Fortunately, for those interested in the history of Victor Records and RCA, Mr. Barnum III shared its images with the audience.

Mr. Barnum III opened his remarks by noting that most of those in attendance “had a connection to RCA.” He delivered his presentation so that both those familiar with the material and those new to it could be equally entertained.

Mr. Barnum III began by discussing Camden, New Jersey’s industrial background. He described the city as a “manufacturing mecca one hundred years ago.” Camden provided a home for companies as diverse as Campbell Soup, the Van Sciver Furniture Company and Camden Beer.

Camden hosted a number of firsts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra became the first such ensemble recorded there in 1918. The first music video took place there in 1928. In 1933, the world’s first drive-in movie theatre opened along the Admiral Wilson Boulevard. During 1934, first fax machine was produced in the city. The first television production line went into operation there in 1946. Both the 45 record and the corresponding record player entered the world through Camden in 1949.

The main portion of interest for Moorestown residents occurred when Mr. Barnum described the early years of Victor Records. Moorestown resident Eldridge Johnson founded the organization. He incorporated it on October 3, 1901.

Johnson moved to Moorestown in 1920. He purchased the former home of Flexible Flyer Sed founder Samuel Leeds Allen. While known as Bridenhart Castle, Johnson named it “The Towers.” In the present day, the building serves as the Lutheran Home.

Johnson donated the funds to construct the Community House located on Main Street. That building opened in 1926.

According to Mr. Barnum III, Johnson’s visionary acumen allowed him to foresee a market for home entertainment. He sought out the talent needed to accomodate this niche. Enrico Caruso became the first entertainer he signed to the Victor label.

Mr. Johnson possessed a genius for business. He developed the record player / cabinet called the Victrola in 1906. From 1912 through 1917 he reinvested his profits back into Victor Records. The company grew so large that it needed its own railroad to travel between buildings.

His efforts allowed Johnson to enjoy a comfortable retirement. In 1927 he cashed in his stock for $28 million dollars. He sold the business for $50 million to investment bankers. Even without Johnson’s leadership, Victor continued to grow. In 1929, the same investors sold the company to RCA for $150 million.

Mr. Barnum III then discussed the history of Radio Corporation of America (RCA). His remarks covered the time the organization purchased Victor through its time in Camden and Moorestown and into a period that included a mind-twisting series of mergers.

The speaker shared some amusing anecdotes about the company. In 1937 RCA sponsored a contest for its dealers and distributors. The first prize winner received a free trip to Camden.

He added that the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) received the first ever trademark for a tone. The company’s musical theme includes three pitches: G, E and C. The letters represent the initials of NBC’s parent company: the General Electric Corporation. GE purchased RCA in 1985.

RCA’s Camden facility continued to produce significant products. RCA built the radar that mapped the surface of the moon during the final Apollo mission. The plant manufactured the television antenna positioned on top of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

In 1953, RCA opened its Moorestown facility. That plant also manufactured systems for the Apollo missions. That branch built the satellite dish used on the lunar module that accompanied the last three.

RCA/Victor has a rich history in the South Jersey area. While copies of His Master’s Voice in America may be difficult to locate, fortunately its author isn’t. Mr. Barnum III mentioned that the library only scheduled the lecture for an hour. He joked that he knew it would be impossible to hold him to that time limit. With his engaging presence, the interesting nature of his talk and the abundance of material he compiled, it’s easy to understand why.