Theater Review

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.

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.

 

 

Holmes and Watson at Burlington County Footlighters

Theatre fans won’t have to do a lot of sleuthing to find good theatre this winter. Burlington County Footlighters is presenting Holmes and Watson. The game was afoot on Friday, January 17th. Your correspondent attended the opening night performance that evening.

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher put Sherlock Holmes’ observation that “what one man can invent, another can discover” into crafting this play. He also disproved the fictional sleuth’s musing that, “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.” Mr. Hatcher expanded on the “whodunit” premise and added a “whoisit” element to the tale. Holmes and Watson explored a mystery in which the famous detective served as the source.

Three years following Holmes’ death, Dr. John Watson (played by Ed Marcinkiewicz) received a strange memo. A man named Dr. Evans (played by Kevin Esmond) summoned him to an asylum off the coast of Scotland. Three men had arrived each claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Evans invited Watson to identify the correct one. In a set-up that seemed a bit like a Victorian version of the game show To Tell the Truth, Watson went to this island and then interviewed each alleged Holmes.

Each supposed Holmes had an eclectic personality. Three outstanding actors portrayed the alleged sleuth.

Performer Matt Becker played the most conventional of the three. Mr. Becker captured the attributes of the confident, analytical Holmes. He spoke in a quick fashion, reminiscent of Jeremy Brett, and exhibited the detective’s self-assurance. He best portrayed these features during his first meeting with Watson. Mr. Becker illustrated the sleuth’s powers of deduction by interpreting the scent of the tobacco on his clothes and evaluating the cut of his suit.

Joe Chialastri portrayed the neurotic version of Holmes. Mr. Chialstri showed superb delivery with his narration of Holmes’ final encounter with his nemesis Professor Moriarty. He deftly varied his character’s lines by talking in both American and convincing British accents. His hurried speaking expressed the character’s anxieties. His nervous demeanor added humor to the show; as did the straight jacket he wore throughout the entire performance.

Dave Pallas enacted the deaf, mute and blind incarnation of Holmes. These personality traits didn’t provide Mr. Pallas many opportunities to flex his histrionic muscle. C’est dommage. The performer, however, exploited the opportunities the script presented him. When hypnotized by Dr. Evans he delivered a gripping description of Holmes’ last confrontation with Moriarty.

Like many detective stories, this one became more complex as the story developed. To add to the mystery, Dr. Evans revealed that an inspector (played by Bernard DiCasimirro) arrived before Watson. Someone murdered this investigator. His final words were, “Sherlock Holmes.”

The plot then became even more involved. A missing document and the arrival of a woman (played by Kristin Curley) who claimed to be “murdered” became part of the story. Dr. Evans and Dr. Watson each struggled to solve these mysteries while attempting to identify the true Holmes.

“It has been a long axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important,” Holmes said in A Case of Identity. The same premise applies to directing.

A story featuring a legendary character requires a renowned director to present it. Burlington County Footlighters chose theatrical maven Gabrielle Affleck to lead this project. Ms. Affleck has directed several shows at Footlighters including Kimberly Akimbo (on BCF’s 2nd Stage) and the award winning productions Dracula and The Explorers’ Club. For the latter, Ms. Affleck received the Best Director honor for Footlighters’ 2017 – 2018 season.

Ms. Affleck may have found inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. Perhaps recalling Sherlock Holmes’ observation that he couldn’t “make bricks without clay,” Ms. Affleck selected excellent performers to bring Holmes and Watson to the stage.

Mr. Marcinkiewicz applied Holmes powers’ of deduction into Watson’s character. The performer displayed calmness and cunning reasoning ability. He also delivered the quick reasoning more often identified with Holmes’ character. His slow walk as he explained his analysis showed an underlying arrogance.

Kevin Esmond played the guarded Dr. Evans as an enigmatic figure. His laconic responses showed that he knew much more than he was willing to tell. His character gave Watson incomplete information; in many cases telling him that he couldn’t share the details. The only ideas he expressed openly were those on Watson’s writings. His character harbored a belief that he understood them better than Watson himself. Mr. Esmond’s critiques made his character even more intriguing.

The two characters’ personalities allowed Mr. Marcinkiewicz and Mr. Esmond to perform gripping exchanges opposite one another. These two thespians’ performances made them much more engaging than the dialog suggested.

Mr. Hatcher added elements of literary criticism to the script. Mr. Esmond accused Watson of writing exaggerated “stories” about Holmes. He argued they enhanced the Holmes mystique at the expense of facts. Mr. Marcinkiewicz countered that he wrote accurate “accounts” of Holmes’ deeds. A tense, yet witty conversation resulted.

Kristin Curley played all the female roles in the show. They required a range of acting skills. Ms. Curley expressed the different accents and character traits believably. Her characters included the traumatized “woman”, the unemotional Irish orderly and the ebullient woman in red.

Bernard DiCasimirro added his monumental talents to the show. Even while in the background, Mr. DiCasimirro’s presence hovered over the scenes. His funny accent, shuffle and bushy beard allowed the Orderly to provide excellent comic relief.

Mr. DiCasimirro played another very notable role in the show. He took on the role of the detective genre’s most famous villain in the form of Professor Moriarty. The dark hat and cape he wore gave him a Snidely Whiplash aura sans the handlebar mustache. Mr. DiCasimirro brought out the character’s malicious persona without degenerating into melodrama.

This portrayal of Moriarty once more showed Mr. DiCasimirro rather adept at playing “bad guys.” In October of 2018, Mr. DiCasimirro played an outstanding Richard Nixon in Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage production of Frost/Nixon. After his mastery of portraying antagonists, it would be interesting to watch Mr. DiCasimirro play a likable protagonist. The strength of his recent performances shows that he has the ability. Perhaps Mr. DiCasimirro should consider trying the role of someone like Sherlock Holmes. If his performance in this show is any indication, he could do so without audiences even knowing that he’s acting.

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” Holmes said in A Scandal in Bohemia. Judging from the gasps of surprise your correspondent heard during the show, this audience did much more of the former than the latter. The script contained more plot twists and surprises than the last two minutes of a Saw film. While mind-bending at times, the shifts made the suspension of disbelief more interesting.

Once again, Jim Frazer proved himself a set designer beyond comparison. In the past, he’s turned the Footlighters stage into a Christmas village, a Victorian explorers’ club and the Bonnie and Clyde death car among many other locations. This time he transformed it into both Switzerland and a late-Victorian asylum.

Holmes and Watson contained flashbacks to the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty. This scene occurred at the Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland. The rocks combined with creative lighting (also designed by Mr. Frazer) to simulate moving water made Mr. Frazer’s set appear even more uncannily authentic than usual.

Mr. Frazer displayed excellent attention to detail with the asylum. Exposed brick showed through sections of the gray concrete walls. The archways leading off-stage added to the dreary ambiance.

This set provided the director with opportunities for some mesmerizing visual spectacles. Ms. Affleck used them brilliantly. The scene at the falls where the silhouette of Holmes played his violin looked more like a movie scene than live action theatre.

Ms. Affleck used lighting ingeniously for another key scene. When Kristin Curley (as “the woman”) explained the events that led to her situation, Ms. Affleck had her move to center stage. A spotlight provided the only illumination. This staging gave the scene more impact.

Mr. Frazer and Sound Designer Bob Beaucheane combined their talents to create realistic thunder and lighting. The crashes and flashes enhanced the tension on stage at the appropriate times.

“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” He (Sherlock Holmes) remarked with a smile. “It is a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.”

The same premise applies to theatrical performances. The cast and crew at Footlighters sure showed their own brand of genius for Holmes and Watson.

Other members of the production team included: Assistant Director Pat Frazer, Producer Torben Christiansen, Stage Manager Chrissy Wick and Props/Special Effects Coordinator Jasmine Chalfont. Amanda Cogdell, Ty Chalfont, Jen Scache Bloomberg managed costumes. Valerie Brothers performed hair and make-up.

The real mystery is why theatrical fans would miss the opportunity to see Holmes and Watson. Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s work will enjoy the show; as will anyone interested in detective stories. Its plot twists will also appeal to fans of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. South Jersey’s community theatre fans don’t need someone as smart as Mycroft Holmes to tell them to see it. The decision to watch this show is “elementary.” It runs through February 1st at Burlington County Footlighters.

 

Sweet Charity at the Ritz Theatre Company

Valentine’s Day comes early this year compliments of the Ritz Theatre Company. The production team replaced all the theatre’s Holiday decorations with hearts, red streamers and a musical about the joys and sorrows of looking for love. The fickle finger of fate led your correspondent to attend Sweet Charity on Saturday, January 11th.

Charity Hope Valentine (played by Lauren Bristow) endeavored upon a quest for love. A series of unfortunate choices caused some navigational problems along her voyage. One boyfriend threw her into a lake. Another used her as his personal ATM machine. The third time seemed more promising.

An encounter with Oscar Lindquist (played by Matthew Weil) led to a blossoming romance. Unfortunately, quirks riddled Mr. Lundquist’s personality. His pathological obsession with purity functioned as the most glaring. Charity feared her job as a ‘dancehall hostess’ would cause him to terminate their relationship. It caused Lundquist to wonder if his taste in women could be as flawed as Charity’s taste in men.

That’s pretty heavy material for a book written by Neil Simon based on a concept by Bob Fosse. While witty at first, the story contained the potential of becoming a 1960s answer to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Fortunately for theatre fans, directors Bruce A. Curless and Roberta Curless kept the performance lighthearted and entertaining.

Sweet Charity featured a host of impressive dance routines choreographed by Co-Director Roberta Curless. Most of them highlighted Charity. Lauren Bristow proved herself the perfect performer to play the part. Ms. Bristow opened the show with a wonderful solo dance that contained no vocal accompaniment. She deftly incorporated a hat and a cane into the “If My Friends Could See Me Now” number while singing Dorothy Fields’ lyrics. (Cy Coleman wrote the music.) Later in the show, Ms. Bristow executed a series of quick twirls while performing “Where Am I Going.”

The other cast members performed a memorable sequence themselves. The instrumental “Rich Man’s Shrug” included an eclectic mix of music. It allowed the choreographer and ensemble to explore their creativity. During the number’s first part, this reviewer thought: if Mike Myers wrote Austin Powers as a musical, this song would be in it. The piece’s second section hearkened back to the sound of the Roaring Twenties. The routines Ms. Curless crafted well suited both these unique musical styles.

Charity may have struggled to find love, but audiences will find it easy to love Lauren Bristow as Charity. Ms. Bristow turned in a superlative performance. Because of the strength of her solo dance routines, her dancing ability impressed the most. She also showcased stellar vocals all evening on songs such as “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, “Ciao Baby” and “Where Am I Going” as well as on the ensemble tracks.

Through her acting ability, Ms. Bristow captured the character’s inner hopefulness. In spite of Charity’s romantic turmoil, Ms. Bristow’s smile expressed her indomitable optimism. Her curious yet amused facial expressions during the Rhythm of Life church scene, showed how the character could find amusement in even the most awkward situations. In addition, Ms. Bristow delivered her many comic lines with both seriousness and the proper timing.

Ms. Bristow also captured the serious side of the character’s personality. For a story written in 1966, Charity evolved into a model of female empowerment. Ms. Bristow portrayed this change with believability; in large due to her skillful display of Charity’s inner optimism.

After the completion of his latest directorial project, Willy Wonka, Matt Weil returned to the stage for another show about sweetness. Mr. Weil pulled his own version of a ‘Nicholas French at the Ritz’ performance.* Mr. Weil played all three of Charity’s boyfriends. He played the first two as humorous characters. He wore a pompadour wig and dark sunglasses for Charlie. Mr. Weil adopted a silly voice while wearing a shaggy wig for the second beau.

Well known for his directing prowess, Mr. Weil showed himself just as adept a performer while on stage. In the role of Oscar Lundquist, Mr. Weil sang an impassioned rendition of “Sweet Charity.” He displayed a comical, yet believable case of nerves when trapped on the elevator with Ms. Bristow. His vocals on “I’m the Bravest Individual” expressed his anxiety.

Ms. Bristow and Mr. Weil complimented one another very well. When Ms. Bristow confessed Charity’s real profession, Mr. Weil exhibited empathy and understanding. Later, Mr. Weil did an excellent enactment of Oscar’s inner conflict. He modulated his character’s attitude making the confrontation scene much more moving. Ms. Bristow’s response gave the resolution added impact.

Vocal Director Tim Brown conducted wonderful arrangements. “Big Spender” featured performers Lauren Bristow, Lindsey Krier, Kelly Govak, Kristin Hegel and Melanie Ervin singing together. Mr. Brown split the vocal sections between the performers. The organization allowed the melody to create a unique audio effect.

Other memorable tunes populated the set list. Ms. Krier and Ms. Govak turned in a strong performance of “Baby Dream Your Dream.” Craig Bazan led a terrific rendition of “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” Terrance T. Hart delivered an operatic sounding “Too Many Tomorrows.”

Sweet Charity’s ambiance gave the performance an excellent 60s vibe. The set (designed by William Bryant) contained a mix of bright and semi-dark colors. The choices reminded this reviewer of the cover of Cream’s Disraeli Gears album.

Costume Designer Tina Greene-Heinze used the same patterns in her work. She placed Ms. Govak in a bright yellow dress. The sequins on Ms. Krier’s blue dress sparkled and enhance the brilliance. The black dress Ms. Bristow wore and the tuxedo on Terrance T. Hart offset the bright colors. The psychedelic patterns on the Rhythm of Life Church members’ clothes fit the time period.

Jim Reed’s wig designs kept the audience rooted in the period as well. They comprised currant buns, long shaggy hair and big Afros. With all the high impact dancing, it surprised this reviewer than none of the performers lost their wigs during the show.

Other members of the Production Team included: Sound Designer Matthew Gallagher, Lighting Designer Chris Miller, Technical Director Nathan Kunst, Stage Manager Brian Gensel, Properties, Meg Iafolla, Assistant Stage Managers Melissa Harnois and Alyssa Sendler, Sound Board Operators Anastasia Swan and Natasha Swann and Spot Operators Gabe Slimm and Jessi Meisel.

The show your correspondent witnessed included a moment for the blooper reel. Since there is no video recording of live theatre, fans will have to be content to read about it. When Matt Weil’s character entered the dancehall, performer Craig Bazan (as the proprietor Herman) called him by his real name, Matt.

Charity observed, “Without love, life has no purpose.” Without shows as fun as Sweet Charity, musical theatre has no purpose. Make a date to see it at the Ritz no later than February 2nd. After that, this run will seem as ephemeral as one of Charity’s relationships.

 

*In the Ritz Theatre’s January 2019 production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, performer Nicholas French played all eight members of the D’Yasquith family.

Scrooge: The Musical “Revitalized and Reimagined” at the Ritz Theatre Company

The “Weil”d December continues for South Jersey community theatre fans.

Under Matthew Weil’s direction, the Ritz Theatre Company premiered the “revitalized and reimagined” version of Scrooge: The Musical this week. This perennial Holiday classic took the stage sans Bruce A. Curless in the lead role. It’s also the second Holiday show that Mr. Weil is directing this month: and it’s one extraordinary Christmas tour-de-force. Your correspondent attended the Saturday evening show on December 14th.

While approaching the Ritz, a series of illuminated Christmas wreaths adorning the Ritz building captured your correspondent’s attention. As did the evergreen strands descending from the roof onto the marquee. The red and green colors of the iconic R-I-T-Z letters distinguished this historic South Jersey institution from the other edifices along the White Horse Pike.

As much as those features established the Holiday mood, the Ritz staff made the interior even more festive. Scrooge purists will be delighted that the production team retained the familiar wreath, evergreen garland and Christmas trees that framed the stage.

The “Weil”d December turned into one “Weil”d Winter Wonderland.

The wrapped gifts underneath the Christmas tree seemed superfluous, however. The real present was the one the performers delivered to the audience.

Alan Krier demonstrates courage when selecting theatrical projects. He played dual roles in Bruce Norris’ exploration of housing discrimination: Clybourne Park. For his first directorial endeavor he chose David Lindsey-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole: a Pulitzer Prize winning play centered on a family coping with the death of their child. Mr. Krier’s decision to play the role of everyone’s favorite Christmas curmudgeon may be his bravest choice yet.

As South Jersey community theatre fans know, 2019 marks the first time the Ritz is presenting Scrooge without Bruce A. Curless in the lead role. He is, in essence, the Tom Brady of Scrooge performers. He’s played that role every December for over twenty years. Unlike actors such as George C. Scott, Winfred Owen and Seymour Hicks, Mr. Curless is a veritable institution as Scrooge. When the Ritz’s production team decided to return this South Jersey “Holiday tradition” to the stage, they only thought of one performer to take the mantle of Scrooge from him: Alan Krier.

Mr. Krier pulled off a theatrical Jimmy Garoppolo, as it were. When stepping out of a master’s shadow, he took a franchise with an uncertain future to another level. The witty delivery he employed for the “I Hate People” number drew laughs from the audience. As did his riposte to Marley’s (played by John Nicodemo) announcement that Scrooge would be visited by three ghosts. The nervous, “I’d rather not,” added to the legacy of vintage Krier comedy.

Director Weil made this incarnation of Scrooge much more dramatic than last year’s performance. He discarded the fluff and pageantry (and thankfully, the platforms in the middle of the room) to focus on the story. By removing those layers, he allowed the depth of Charles Dickens’ original tale to surface. A fable of greed, poverty and redemption played out on stage.

Mr. Krier enacted the dramatic scenes with extraordinary skill. His interactions with John Nicodemo (in the roles of Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future) equalled the strongest performances he’s delivered on stage. His somber pining when watching his younger self (played by Robert Repici) and his lost love Isabelle (Lindsey Krier) moved this reviewer. The sorrow on his face when Lindsey Krier performed “Isabelle’s Dance” to end the first act concretized Scrooge’s heart shattering.

The Ritz team understood that the comparisons between Mr. Krier and Mr. Curless would occur. Director Weil didn’t burden Mr. Krier with carrying the show on his own. Mr. Weil surrounded him with a cast of monumentally talented performers. They gave the “revitalized and reimagined” Scrooge its own identity.

Robert Repici and Lindsey Krier delivered a gripping version of “Happiness.” The cool baritone of Mr. Repici’s voice accentuated the song’s bittersweet lyrics. Ms. Krier applied palpable passion and enthusiasm to this number. The addition of the dark background, lighting and snow made the scene a visual spectacle for the ages.

The Cratchit kids (Adalyn Crow, Anna Bizhko, Jeffrey Smith and Lillian Low) delivered the “cute factor” for the “Good Times” number. Kaitlyn Healey’s vocals and Steve Stonis’ operatic syllables made this another unforgettable number.

Mr. Weil ensured that each of Scrooge’s spectral visitors possessed their own distinct personalities.

John Nicodemo’s anguished delivery as Jacob Marley captured the character’s torment. His slouching under the weight of the chains showed it. Mr. Nicodemo’s silence and slow movements made the Ghost of Christmas Future even more minatory.

Daio Fumilayo delivered a haunting performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The lighting and white gown gave her character an ethereal ambiance. Ms. Fumilayo’s calm delivery (with just a touch of reverb added) and blank stares at Scrooge reflected the character’s otherworldly nature.

John Romano, Jr. made the Ghost of Christmas Present just as jolly as Good Old Saint Nick himself. His Marc Bolan style wig added good comedic effect. The laughter and mannerisms Mr. Romano used while showing Scrooge both the Cratchits’ and Harry’s Christmas festivities gave the impression that he enjoyed the show just as much as the audience. Mr. Romano moderated his character’s frivolity when Scrooge inquired about Tiny Tim’s fate. The tempered anger in his voice while repeating Scrooge’s point about “excess population” gave the point more impact.

Thanks to Mr. Weil’s hospitality, your correspondent attended a rehearsal for Scrooge. During that session Musical Director Nicholas French and Alan Krier teamed up for “Thank You Very Much.” The two brought immense energy to that run through. They displayed even more vitality during the actual show. This reviewer wouldn’t have through that possible.

Steve Stonis, who directed Scrooge last year, and Adalyn Crow performed outstanding acapella numbers, as well.

While this year’s Scrooge didn’t include a ballet company, it did contain a solo dance in that style. Lisa Krier performed a wonderful routine on the “Celebration” number; the latter composed by Bob Cerulli.

In addition to the talent, Mr. Weil added spellbinding visuals to this version of Scrooge. The snow falling from the ceiling along with the strategic use of lighting (designed by Mr. Weil and operated by Stage Manager Melissa Harnois) enhanced the action on the stage. The periodic illuminating and dimming of the wreath above the stage and Christmas trees on stage left and stage right made the show a spectacular Christmas spectacle.

The other performers who provided their talents for this outstanding show included: Charles Bandler, Liz Baldwin, Jay Burton, Sadie McKenna, Audrey Mitros, Dillinger Crow, Beatrice (Bee) Fraga, Gwen Low and Ella Samuel-Seigel.

Assistant Stage Manager Brian Gensel, Costume Designer Briana Bailey and Sound Operators Sam Tait and Natasia Swan rounded out the production team.

Community theatre fans have the opportunity to get the full range of Mr. Weil’s directorial talents this December. Those impressed with the “revitalized and reimagined” Scrooge are encouraged to attend Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka at Haddonfield Plays and Players. Mr. Weil also directed that show; Scrooge’s Stage Manager Melissa Harnois assistant directed. Wonka runs through December 21st.

Mr. Weil’s direction ensured he won’t be visited by any apparitions this Holiday Season. The stage set, the marquee and the overall story would satisfy the Ghost of Christmas Past. Mr. Krier’s interpretation of Scrooge, the performance of the cast and crew as well as the “reimagined and revitalized” franchise would captivate the Ghost of Christmas Present. (He’d probably be happy that the platforms in the middle of the building are gone, too.) All the new faces in the cast would make even the dreadful Ghost of Christmas Future smile. These performers may ensure the Scrooge franchise a home at the Ritz for the next two decades.

This run, however, passes from the domain of the Ghost of Christmas Present to the Ghost of Christmas Past on December 22nd. Fans should see Scrooge: The Musical before the Ghost of Christmas Future haunts them about the prospect of missing it.