Community Theater

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Burlington County Footlighters

This is not an easy show, as director Alex Davis prefaced her remarks in the playbill. That’s a trenchant point. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead included themes from the disciplines of rhetoric, philosophy and mathematics. Add to that some Shakespearean dialog and an approach to action that made sitting through a Beckett play seem like watching the X-Games. Some would argue that Tom Stoppard produced the theatrical equivalent to Jerry Seinfeld’s “show about nothing.” Whatever one’s take, I’m sure most would agree it makes for some pretty deep theatre. I attended the opening night performance on November 2nd at Burlington County Footlighters.

High minded dialog combined with stretches where little action occurs puts a lot of pressure on the actors. Ms. Davis selected the perfect duo for this challenge with Josh Ireland and Matt Dell’Olio.

One of the key precepts of writing is to hook the reader with the first sentence. The same goes for drama. Mr. Stoppard proved himself quite the iconoclast. This show began with two characters discussing the results of coin tosses for several minutes. That forced the actors to interest the audience through their histrionic skills alone. Mr. Ireland and Mr. Dell’Olio deserve great respect for meeting this challenge.

The conversations seemed to shift topic randomly. While ostensibly about dry subjects on the surface, it contained serious philosophical undertones. The dialog even modulated into Shakespearean language during several scenes. Once again: Mr. Ireland and Mr. Dell’Olio didn’t allow the difficult material to impede their performances.

Mr. Ireland played a spirited Rosencrantz. In addition to his natural means of speaking, he displayed the perfect gestures. At times they reflected my own confusion with some of Mr. Stoppard’s complex dialog.

Mr. Ireland showed poise when a miscue occurred. During the opening scene one of the coins rolled into the audience. He leapt off the stage, said, “Excuse me”, took it from the spectator who had it, and resumed playing the scene. Even during this unexpected incident, he remained in character.

In 2016 Mr. Dell’Olio took delivering a soliloquy to a new level. In Dead Man’s Cell Phone he made the selfish justifications of a narcissist sound as weighty as Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” oration. It seemed fitting that he’d play a role that interacted with the same character who delivered it.

Mr. Dell’Olio treated audiences to another sublime performance. He showed exceptional stage presence as Guildenstern. Mr. Dell’Olio displays a method of speaking that makes even the commonplace sound profound. Through his gestures he brings powerful emotion to his roles. It’s a testament to his abilities that even this material didn’t restrain him from delivering a Matt Dell’Olio style performance.

As The Player, Dennis Doherty delivered the funniest line of the show. “We’re actors! We’re the opposite of people!” Mr. Doherty also brought out one of the script’s most serious themes. His character demonstrated the subtext that explored the relationship between reality and art. Mr. Doherty executed both the humorous and serious attributes of this character brilliantly.

It’s quite an achievement to make madness and a hunger for vengeance comical. Enter John Hager. He transformed Hamlet into one of the funniest characters I’ve seen performed on stage. Mr. Hager selected the perfect voice for the role. Through his eccentric mannerisms, he made the audience laugh even when not speaking.

Performers Howard Goldberg, Jenny Scudder, David Rizzo, Liz Baldwin, Courtney Bundens, Joshua Kurtz, John Salera and Michael Mueller rounded out the cast.

This high minded show became a high tech spectacle. Jim Frazer’s set and lighting design established a perfect setting for the dramatic action. The use of projections and lighting created flawless impressions of nighttime and daybreak. Amanda Cogdell’s period costuming transformed the stage into a replica of seventeenth century Denmark.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead made for an evening of sophisticated theatre. Ms. Davis added:

You could look at it through the lens of existentialism, questioning whether or not these men truly are free to choose their own paths, or if their fate is sealed and, in turn question your own reality, and whether or not YOU choose your own destiny.

The show may not be “easy”, but the choice to see it is. For those allowing fate to decide whether they should, flip a coin: preferably one of Rosencrantz’s. For South Jersey theatregoers who prefer to control their own destinies, the show runs through November 17th at Burlington County Footlighters. After that it meets the same fate as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern…and Hamlet…and Ophelia…and Polonius…and Claudius…

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24 Hour Play Festival at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

How’s this for a challenge? You and a group of your fellow performers arrive at the theatre. Someone hands you a hat. From it you select first a genre, then a prop, during the third round a character, after that a task, and finally a style of delivery. Then you’re given a line that must appear in the play. You and your team then have 24 hours to write an original dramatic work based on the criteria you selected. Once the time runs out, you and your team will perform the play to a live audience. Now who would have the courage to attempt this?

Well, on February 23rd, a select group of 14 brave performers accepted this dare. They chose to participate in Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage’s Sixth Annual 24 Hour Theatre Festival on February 24th. The three teams they assembled treated an audience to superb performances. They followed these shows with some outstanding improv.

The teams presented remarkable writing. All the plays included compelling characters, conflict and plot twists; that quite an achievement for works written less than a day before show time.

The one unifying factor in all the plays included the use of the line: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” All the teams worked around the difficulty of applying a statement written in the present tense to their stories.

The team called the Space Cadets opened the evening’s festivities. The troupe consisted of performers Kelly Deeny, Pat Frazer, Tim Kirk, Kathy Smith and Chrissy Wick. They presented an interstellar speed dating play called “What Planet Are You From?” The group interpolated characters from some popular space themed films, a lovelorn woman…and a cat. Even with only 24 hours’ notice to put the show together, they still engaged in some creative casting. It seemed appropriate that the gentleman named Kirk took the lead in a sci-fi story.

The Space Cadets were tasked with writing a science fiction play that included the use of an overhead projector, a character who rapped whenever speaking, and the use of “positions.” The players received instructions to deliver their lines “seductively.”

The Sutter Home Girls comprised the next team to take the stage. Its members included Angel Ezell, Carla Ezell, Tasha Holmes, Nina Law and Eylis Skamarakas. Their “Not Going Home for Christmas” show featured a melodramatic take on a group session at a mental health institution. Their assignment included use of a Christmas tree, one character who only spoke in Disney lyrics, a character who used a hula hoop the entire play and a “sweet” delivery.

I liked how they began and ended their show the same way by lighting the Christmas tree. It also impressed me how, in spite of the play’s brevity, Tasha Holmes even managed to work in a couple of costume changes.

The Chun-Kay team rounded out the evening. Members DJ Hedgepath, Stephen Jackson, Matt Maerten and Darryl Thompson presented “The Transfigured Night” in the mystery/detective genre. To craft this whodunit they received direction to use a foot measurer, include a clown as a character, and to deliver five tongue twisters excitedly.

The latter instruction served as a starting point for this group. Almost every line Mr. Thompson spoke included at least one. Even with the limited rehearsal time, he expressed the dialog clearly and without tripping over his words.

Footlighters 2nd Stage put on a much better triple bill than I expected. All the teams wrote strong scripts. Every performer sounded much more prepared than the rehearsal time allowed.

Then the real ‘improv’ portion of the program commenced. At the beginning of the show, the master of ceremonies, Gaby Affleck, asked audience members to give ideas for ‘quirky’ characters. The players then drew these suggestions from a hat.

First, the performers put on a version of a dating game. The bachelorette, Chrissy Wick, asked questions of three actors who took on the ‘quirky’ roles. Ms. Wick received the task of guessing the character’s description.  Eylis Skamarakas took on the role of a Wookie with laryngitis, Angel Ezell played a pilot who hated to fly, and Kelly Deeny performed as doctor with a case of the giggles.

Some performers as well as some daring audience members participated in the hat game. Individuals put on comical hats and then gave a brief talk as though making a dating video.

The ‘improv’ section concluded with a party scene. DJ Hedgepath played the host tasked with identifying the quirky character each guest played. Stephen Jackson performed as an angry bartender, Tim Kirk acted the role of a child learning to count, and Darryl Thompson acted the role of a disgruntled priest.

I’d also give kudos to Gaby Affleck and Jim Frazer for the professional way they ran the evening’s events.

The performers played eclectic roles extremely well and with very little preparation. That demonstrated the level of talent they all possess. While both funny and entertaining, I’d classify the evening as inspiring above all else. They proved that American ingenuity thrives in the South Jersey Community Theatre circuit.

 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre Company

The magic of Disney transformed South Jersey into a mystical wonderland; well, more so than usual. Twenty-first century exurbia altered into the form of a rustic medieval village. A mysterious enchanted castle settled on the outskirts. The Ritz Theatre served as the source of this enchantment. The building became even more bewitching this July 28th. I experienced a supernatural evening in the form of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Craig Hutchinson.

In the prologue voiceover, Rick Williams delivered a stellar reading of the backstory for this “tale as old as time.” In it, a handsome prince discovered the perils of vanity in the most unpleasant way possible. He turned a homely beggar woman away from his door because of her appearance. Spoiler alert for those who’ve never had contact with the outside world: a witch bore the guise of the old woman. She cursed the good-looking young man, making him into a hideous beast. In the process, his servants experienced their own metamorphoses. They started changing into various items in the household.

Only one thing could end the curse. Spoiler alert for those surprised by the first spoiler alert: it’s the love of a good woman. The beast must find a young lady who can look past his horrifying appearance. But this quest contained an added challenge. The Beast must complete it before all the petals fell off the rose the witch gave him. At the story’s beginning, the rose was almost bare.

The action then turned to the bookish Belle (Annabelle Garcia). Somewhat of an outcast due to her love of literature, she still drew the interest of the most desirable man in town, Gaston (Nicholas French). While spurning his affections, her father, Maurice, (played by Bruce A. Curless), became lost in the woods. In order to avoid a coven of wolves, he took shelter in the Beast’s castle. The latter didn’t take kindly to uninvited guests, so he imprisoned the father. In order to free him, Belle promised the Beast she would stay with him forever. Then as the rose withered, their relationship bloomed.

Annabelle Garcia interpreted her character’s role as “beauty” very broadly. I witnessed no paucity of pulchritude from this performer. Ms. Garcia showcased a beautiful voice, beautiful dance moves and beautiful acting ability. Belle proved quite a demanding role, and this thespian rose to the level it required.

Ms. Garcia turned Belle into the epitome of a Disney heroine. Her selection of voice brought to mind Judy Garland’s from The Wizard of Oz; only more mellifluous. Even when delivering lines, her voice contained a melodic quality to it. This performer treated the audience with impressive singing. Her delivery of “A Change in Me” drew on the character’s feelings and expressed them proficeintly.

Ms. Garcia also wowed theatregoers with her dancing ability. Her most memorable scene occurred when she took part in the fast, high-energy “Be Our Guest” routine along with the ensemble.

A true triple threat, Ms. Garcia also exhibited superb aptitude for non-verbal communication. Even when other action occurred on stage, she remained in character through her perfect use of facial expressions. The way she laughed in her scenes with Maurice (Bruce A. Curliss) showed the character’s genuine affection for her father. It came across as believable and sincere. Bravo.

Bryan M. Pitt put on one beast of a performance as the Beast. I liked the way he brought out the character’s inner turmoil through his vocals. He delivered “If I Can’t Love Her” in a dolorous tone that stirred me. One has to credit him for doing this so well without allowing a burdensome costume to distract him.

Mr. Pitt varied the monster’s emotions very well. Through his character interpretation he showed the Beast possessed much more depth and complexity than what appeared on the surface. When required, he played an angry, frightening creature speaking in a harsh tone that invoked terror. The reverb added to his voice in the first act enhanced this effect.

Like a true stage veteran, he portrayed the character’s change in a measured way that made it credible. Mr. Pitt brought out the Beast’s vulnerability when admitting to Belle he didn’t know how to read. He also got laughs when squealing as Belle bandaged his wounds.

I always enjoy the opportunity to hear Tami Gordon Brody sing. Her rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t disappoint. It provided the perfect background to Belle’s and the Beast’s solo dance.

This show featured elaborate costuming. To illustrate just how extravagant, it’s difficult to argue the Beast’s as the best. David M. Mooney (as Cogsworth) played a realistic appearing clock. Tami Gordon Brody (Mrs. Potts) took the stage as a tea-kettle. Achilles Inverso (as Luminaire) donned the attire of candelabra. Nicky Intrieri performed as a teacup. Brittany Marie (Babette) played a feather duster. Jane Ericksen wore a dresser most of the evening. The ensemble acted as various pieces of silverware. These players deserve immense respect for not allowing costumes that inhibited movement to affect their performances. That’s true professionalism.

In addition, the “normal” characters wore authentic appearing gowns from the 18th century. They made for quite a visual spectacle.

David M. Mooney and Achilles Inverso displayed outstanding comedic chemistry working together. Their respective costuming added to the humorous effect, but they didn’t allow themselves to become reliant on them for humor. As with Ms. Garcia, they selected the perfect voices to correspond with their characters. I enjoyed Mr. Mooney’s English accent and Mr. Inverso’s French intonation. The inflections enhanced the witty banter between the two.

Nicholas French (Gaston) and Matt Flocco (Lefou) performed well as a comedy team. In addition, I  enjoyed their singing together on the apotheosis of self-admiration the appropriately titled “Gaston.”

Nicholas French may have played a reprehensible character in the form of Gaston, but I still relished they way he performed. It’s quite a trial to play a lothario in an appropriate way to a Disney audience, but Mr. French did so. He teamed up with Ms. Garcia on the outstanding duet: “Me.”

I had one minor issue with the show. I know this is Disney, but dancing wolves? In the story’s context, they were supposed to be threatening creatures. Seeing them dance, made them less so; and Beauty and the Beast isn’t Cats. That’s not to diminish the work of the dancers. More thought out writing would’ve gotten the playwright’s point across better.

Choreographer Jessica Quindlen put together memorable routines. I’d credit dancers Casey Clark, Olivia West, Lindsey Krier, Nicky O’Neal, Kaitlyn Delengowski, Margot Adams, Matthew Janis, Madeline Kendall, Annie Raczko, Kahlil Wyatt, Mike Wemer, Brian Gensel and John Sayles for the technical ability to execute them.

I also enjoyed Taylor Brody in the role of the malevolent Monseiur D’Arque. Bruce A. Curless played the eccentric Maurice exceptionally well.

During intermission, the Ritz allowed theatregoers the opportunity to purchase illuminating roses. When the proper scene arose a series of roseate glows dotted the auditorium. Watching a dark theatre light up with red flowers added to the optical display.

Some “tales as old as time” never get old; Disney’s Beauty and the Beast among them. A curse may have ignited the main story spark, but it blessed the audience with a truly enchanting evening. Unfortunately for theatre fans, the petals are falling off the rose while you’re reading this. The magical opportunity to see Beauty and the Beast ends this August 6th.

Rock of Ages at Haddonfield Plays and Players

When narrator Lonny described the action in Rock of Ages as taking place during “the Reagan Era” my face scrunched. Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Lonnie? I thought. My entire memory of that period consists of spending the summer watching the Iran-Contra Hearings. I hoped I wouldn’t start wiggin’ out in the theatre. Then I took a chill pill. I realized that I live in a time when people in government “just say no” to engaging in illegal deals with a hostile foreign power. Theatre goers should feel even more stoked that Haddonfield Plays and Players opted to bring back the era’s best attribute fer sure: the gnarly music. They delivered some schweet renditions in Rock of Ages when I attended the mahvelous performance on July 22, 2017.

The show featured a most fresh premise. Author Christopher D’Arienzo re-worked the old small-town girl goes to Hollywood concept. He crafted the musical in a way so that host of hit songs from the 1980s delivered the 411.

The dancers in this show earned my respect fast; and continued to earn it throughout the entire performance. La’Nise Ambrose did monumental work in coordinating the moves. I give immense credit to dudettes Audrey DiEnno, Katharina Munoz, Tiara Nock and Nicolette Palombo. They kept up the same level of intensity the entire evening; and the show required a lot of intensity to maintain.

The high tech production quality impressed me. Rock of Ages featured a live band and a big screen. Combined with the singing and dancing, it made for a complex show. Director Ed Doyle did an extraordinary job coordinating all these facets.

Anyone interested in the popular music of the 1980s MUST see this show. As a fan of the era’s tunes, I got stoked to hear the rock-o-rama presented in this type of forum. The quality of singing enhanced the tracks much more than I’d expected. How much better these songs sounded when performed by the cast surprised me.

Few would dispute Lou Gramm delivered outstanding vocals during Foreigner’s prime. Performers Michael Robert Anderson and Dana Masterman made him sound dag. They sang one of the best duets I’ve ever heard on “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” They combined with Vinnie DiFillipo to deliver a passionate “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Mr. Anderson and Ms. Masterman weren’t the only performers who delivered memorable duets. Ed “Rico” Santiago and Aaron Blake combined their skills for a comical rendition of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feelin’.”I liked the way they managed to sing this tender ballad in their characters’ voices.

Dana Masterman turned in a totally ace performance. While an extremely gifted vocalist, she possesses boss skills for non-verbal communication. This performer’s smiling and upbeat facial expressions reflected those of an idealistic young woman. As the show progressed, Ms. Masterman deftly conveyed disillusion over her character’s romantic problems and career failures. Her shibby inability to quite master pole dancing got laughs, as well.

After hearing Michael Robert Anderson croon these 80s classics, fans would gag on a spoon listening to the originals. Mr. Anderson sang so remarkably well that I had trouble imagining a struggling musician could have such talent. Still, he acted the role of Drew very convincingly. He sustained a high note on “Oh, Sherrie” without vibrato. Singers in 80s cover bands would be well served to study his technique.

The show contained a large cast. No one person could bogart all the accolades. The posse worked very well together and complimented one another’s talents to the max.

Holly Birch Knapp’s performance as the radical Reginia was, well, radical. She displayed exceptional passion leading the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” number.

Vinnie DiFillipo showed fantastic comedy prowess as the randy rock star. Monette Solomon delivered outstanding vocals on “Anyway You Want It” and “Shadows of the Night.” I applaud Bill Zeoli and David Fusco for the ability to sing with authentic German accents. I’d also compliment performers Armando Mendez, Trisha Dennis, Jenn Kopesky-Doyle, Faith McCleery, Jenni Pines, Amanda Frederick, Cara Dickinson, Shannon McClernan and Jeremy Noto for their contributions to the ensemble.

I also enjoyed hearing the live band under Mark Kozachyn’s direction. Eric Madden shred his guitar like a true 80s axe-man.

“So what’s your damage with this production?” You may ask. I found it grody that Antonio Baldasari didn’t have more stage time as Aresenal’s new lead singer. The man possesses a genius for comedy. If Mr. Baldasari stood in front of an audience reading the phone book he’d find a way to make people laugh. In his limited scenes, he still amused the audience.

Rock of Ages reminded me that the 80s contained some choice music. I’m not being bogus when I write that that the cast and crew presented one tubular production. I’ve fallen for this show and I can’t get up. Cowabunga! Grab the Bartles and Jaymes and jet to the theatre. Where’s the beef? It’s totally happening at Haddonfield Plays and Players until August 4th.

Dan Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

Dan Brothers Picture

Dan has been involved in theater since 2003 with Burlington County Bridge Players production of The Complete History of America as Assistant Director.  Since then he has appeared in worked on the following productions:

At the Burlington County Bridge Players he assistant directed Arsenic and Old Lace. He acted in A Christmas Carol, Exit Date, and Don’t Dress For Dinner.

He acted in The Champagne Charlie Stakes at the Hanover Street Theater.

He acted in the following shows at Burlington Country Footlighters: The Nerd, Dangerous Liaisons, The Boys Next Door, Assassins, As Bees in Honey Drown, Rumors, Legally Blonde, And The Winner Is, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Foreigner, Rabbit Hole and The Fox on the Fairway.

He also produced Metamorphosis.

Mr. Brothers graciously consented to an interview on 7/7/17. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

Critique Compendium: In a recent interview, Al Krier expressed some pretty strong thoughts about you. He said, and I quote, “Dan is the best! I will share a stage with him anytime. He is very generous as an actor.” Do you agree?

Dan Brothers: Vice versa. Al’s a good friend. Playing opposite him is cake. I’m very comfortable working with him.

You have no choice but to raise your game around him. He’s one of that select few that do that. He’s that good. It’s a joy to work with him. Kudos.

In Glengarry Glen Ross we were both funny together. It gelled. Sometimes you know you got it. With that show we both knew we had it.

 

Critique Compendium: What was it like to perform in shows directed by your wife, Valerie Brothers?

Dan Brothers: It’s a good time. It’s fun, but different. She’s allowed to come down on me much more because I’m her husband. She comes down on me anyway. (Laughs.)

She’s a perfectionist. I’ve known her for 11 years. When she does a project she’s all in.

We have different ways of preparing. The clash can be fun and challenging at the same time.

She really takes care of a script. She does extensive preparation. Eight to 12 months out, she has something laid out.

The Nerd was the first show I auditioned for at Footlighters. I got the lead and at the first read through with the cast I learned that there’s a surprise ending regarding my character. That’s the first time I knew about the ending because I didn’t read the entire script before auditioning.  Pretty sad isn’t it.

I’m the very opposite of Valerie.

 

Critique Compendium: Your character in The Fox on the Fairway had quite an infatuation with Elizabeth Deal’s character. Did having your wife as the director influence your performance in any way?

Dan Brothers: Not in the slightest. Liz and I became good friends over the last few years. We got to know each other quite well during Rumors.

That’s one of the unseen things that happens in community theatre. Meeting people and making friends is the best part. It’s the best reward.

There was no uncomfortableness during that show.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve worked as an assistant director in the past. Have you ever considered directing yourself?

Dan Brothers: I’ve daydreamed about it. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. It could be a couple of years from now.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve also performed on stage with your wife, Valerie, most recently in Rumors. The two of you also played a married couple in Exit Date. What’s it like sharing the stage with your spouse?

Dan Brothers: That’s a good time. We met during The Nerd and would laugh and flirt quite a bit…we still do that.

 

Critique Compendium: In the scene where yours and Al Krier’s character made the bet in The Fox on the Fairway, how did you keep a straight face? Between his silly sweater and the tone of voice he used, that must’ve been difficult.

Dan Brothers: Good question. There’ve been so many moments like that. What happens for me is I get the laughs out of the way during rehearsal.

When it’s “game time” you’re conscious of the fact people paid to see the show. People should see us performing to the best of our abilities.

On stage, I’m more focused on staying in character. I find that more difficult that not laughing or giggling.

I’m actually more nervous about misspeaking a line or stuttering than laughing.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve performed with Mr. Krier regularly. You also played the male lead in his directorial debut, Rabbit Hole. Was it any different working with him as a director?

Dan Brothers: Yes. That show was extremely rewarding. Al’s a very laid-back individual and that was exactly how he directed. I was very grateful to be cast in that show.

People are familiar with me playing funny roles. I remember a compliment Brenda Kelly Bacon gave me after seeing Rabbit Hole, she said something to the effect: “When you first came out I expected to laugh but as the show went on I forgot I was watching you.” Those are the compliments that really hit home.

I love getting laughs, but if I can move people it’s that much more rewarding because it’s not something I normally do. I’ll always cherish the role for that reason.

 

Critique Compendium: In Rabbit Hole, you played a father struggling to cope with the loss of his four-year-old son. The scene of you watching the videos of him really moved me.  How did you condition yourself to get through that a show that emotionally demanding every night?

Dan Brothers: I take personal experiences. Not all our days are happy. Many years ago I lost someone very close to me. I resort to what it was like to lose her.

It’s got to be unbelievably devastating to lose a child. I’m not a parent, but I do know what loss is.

When you’re on stage you want to do the best you can. I drew on my personal experiences to drive it home.

In The Boys Next Door I played a boy abused by his father. My mother said there were a couple of times during the show there was silence instead of applause after a scene I was in and that in itself is the audience’s reaction to what they just witnessed. I learned in that show that silent audience is actually high praise.

It’s quite something to get that reaction.

 

Critique Compendium: Rumors featured an abundance of slapstick humor. You played a physically demanding role in that show. In fact, the character you played got hit by a door and even broke his nose. How did you prepare for it?

Dan Brothers: I drank lattes and sat on the couch.

To the kids who want to get into theatre: don’t prepare like Dan. I really don’t prepare. That should prove helpful for any future directors who might consider casting me.

You’ve got to listen to your director. Scott (Angehr) casts you because you earned it. Now you’ve got to prove it to him. You’ve got to prove him right.

Take the vase toss and “one more time” in the Fox on the Fairway. In “one more time” we reenacted the show in three minutes. It comes down to rehearsals.

I can be a real bitch when I’m rehearsing. During “one more time” there was a lot of bumping and dropping things. You just keep going even if there’s a mistake.

As far as the vase toss goes the vase never dropped. Liz (Deal) made a catch like Odell Beckham, Jr. one night, but the vase never dropped.

You rehearse the hell out of it and get it right.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Rachel Comenzo played a married couple in Rumors. What was it like playing opposite her?

Dan Brothers: She’s a delightful young woman. She’s great to work with. Rachel and I would actually find time alone to run lines and ideas about our characters together which really made our first scene together very strong and enjoyable. She’s great to play against.

With that show our characters didn’t go on stage until 45 minutes in. Backstage, we’d play games. Liz’s (Deal’s) character didn’t enter until late into the second act. We all had a blast. The show was a great time.

Critique Compendium: One of your strongest traits is your voice. You can do soothing baritone. You can also broadcast very well. Is that something you were born with or did you develop it?

Dan Brothers: My parents gave me my voice. I use it a lot. Some might say too much. It’s cool to have compliments on my voice.

 

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

Dan Brothers: Chicks. (Laughs)

Kevin Esmond and I went to high school together. The guy’s amazing. Holy Cross was doing a show of Anything Goes. Kevin rattled names of girls involved in the theatre. I decided to try out and got cast. It was amazing. There was tap and singing in the show. I never thought I’d do it.

I returned to South Jersey from Florida in 2006 and once again Kevin reached out to me to asst. direct Burlington County Bridge Players production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I’ve been involved in community theatre since.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in playing a role?

Dan Brothers: Quite a bit. My roles have been very diverse. Howie (in Rabbit Hole) and Bingham (in The Fox on the Fairway) were very different. I’d have to say it has to be someone I can relate to in a pretty good way.

In Rabbit Hole, for instance, while I’m not a parent, I do know how to be a good husband. The character had a desire to seek affection elsewhere. That’s very foreign to me because of Valerie. Ultimately, he wanted to be with his wife. I know how to be a good man.

Valerie is greatest thing that happened to me. I’m crazy about this woman. I like bringing that into a character.

Rabbit Hole was very real and needed to be performed as such. I didn’t want to make fun of this character.

Rebekah (Masters) and I had a scene where we really laid into one another. We worked very hard with Al and Val to make sure we got it right. It really worked. That was my favorite scene in the show.

Quite frankly it’s hard to specify what turns me on to a particular role.

 

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

Dan Brothers: I’d have to pick more than one.

Rick Stedman in The Nerd. I don’t toot my own horn very often, but there are times when you know you’ve got a character locked in and this was certainly one of those times.

Howie Corbett in Rabbit Hole is another one, for reasons I mentioned earlier.

Barry Klemper in Boys Next Door. He’s a great character. It wasn’t even the one I wanted in the show. But getting cast as Barry was wonderful learning experience. That’s where I learned drama can be as rewarding as making someone laugh. It was a good lesson.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Dan Brothers: I had a hard time with Henry Bingham (The Fox on the Fairway), but I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult. I find comedies easier than dramas.

I had to sing two lines in Legally Blonde which was actually quite nerve-wracking since I’m not musically gifted.

I would probably say Barry. It took me a while to learn. I didn’t get the part I auditioned for but I needed to get over it. The show dealt with some pretty tough issues in a direct way and also a lighthearted approach. It’s a beautifully written show and will always be grateful for being a part of it.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Dan Brothers: Jack Nicholson. He was in my favorite movie, The Shining. Talk about natural ability! The guy just knows how to do it. He can convey so much without ever saying a word.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Dan Brothers: Nicholson. I would love to work with him. It would be very intimidating but very cool as well.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies?

Dan Brothers: Golf. Val loves it. She has cats. I have golf. It works beautifully.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Dan Brothers: It’s pretty easy for me. I’ll separate work from theatre. I get in game mode for theatre.

These days I’m getting my lines down quicker. If you have lines down faster, it gives you more time to work on the role. I like playing with the role. When you’re in a show your wife is directing, you have to get your lines down quicker.

 

Critique Compendium: What adjective would best describe your theater career?

Dan Brothers: Rewarding. It’s all been rewarding.

 

Alan Krier: The Critique Compendium Interview

Alan Krier Head shotAlan has been performing in and around the Philly/South Jersey area for over 25 years. He has been married to his wonderful wife Donna for 30 years as of May of this year and has three talented children, Lindsey, A.J., and Lisa, who also perform. He was last seen on the BCF 2nd stage in the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Clybourne Park. Other BCF appearances include The Fox On The Fairway (Dickie Bell), The Who’s Tommy (Uncle Ernie), How To Succeed…(Twimble/Womper), Glengarry Glen Ross (George Arronow), Little Shop of Horrors (Mushnik), The Foreigner (Charlie Baker), Assassins (Hinckley), and Urinetown (Lockstock). Other area appearances include You Can’t Take It With You (Paul Sycamore), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Pseudolus), and The Full Monty (Dave Bukatinsky) at the Ritz Theatre; also Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Pharaoh) and Children of Eden (Father) with McMagical Productions.

Mr. Krier kindly agreed to share thoughts on his craft. We conducted the following interview via email 7/2/17 – 7/3/17.

Critique Compendium: After seeing you wear those sweaters in The Fox on the Fairway, I have to ask the question readers are dying to know: did the title really refer to Bailey Shaw’s character?

Al Krier: Well, I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me for a fox so I would say, “Yes.” The incredibly talented and lovely Bailey Shaw is the fox to whom the title refers.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve done serious drama (Glengarry, Glen Ross) as well as farces (The Fox on the Fairway). In Clybourne Park you played both a serious role and the comic relief. Are there differences in how you prepare for dramatic versus comedic roles?

Al Krier: In a dramatic role I typically look at the script and the situation and try to determine how I would react if the events of the story were actually happening to me. I try to think of the character’s back story to help give it some depth.

When it comes to comedy I will do just about anything to get a laugh. I also look to some of my comic heroes such as John Belushi and John Candy. I’m not ashamed to say I steal from them whenever I can.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve also performed in musicals such as Tommy and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Those shows were quite a departure from your other work. Why did you decide to perform in them?

Al Krier: I’ve been doing musicals since the mid ‘90s. Tommy is the definitive rock opera and I’ve been listening to it since the early ‘70s and I saw the movie in the theatre when it came out in 1975 so I’ve always been a fan. To get a chance to be a part of it and sing those songs with a live band was just awesome.

How To Succeed… is one of those quintessential musicals that I had on my bucket list. I don’t think there is a better closing number in musical theatre than “Brotherhood of Man.”

 

Critique Compendium: Your son A. J. and your daughter Lindsey also perform. Did they learn the craft from you?

Al Krier: I would love to say that I taught them everything they know but they are both uniquely talented in their own right.

Lindsey has been involved in the performing arts since she was 3-4 years old and while I would say that my involvement in theatre may have influenced her, I think she would have gone that route anyway. She has done some incredible work. My favorites are Natalie in Next to Normal (brought tears to my eyes) and Kate Monster in Avenue Q. She is currently rehearsing for Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre.

A.J. got involved in theatre on his own when he went away to college. He auditioned for a show on a whim and has been acting since then. He has performed in dramas, comedies, and musicals. His senior capstone project was an amazing one man show called Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. It was an incredible performance for which he won an award.

My youngest daughter, Lisa, has also been involved from a very young age – she’ll be a sophomore in high school this fall. She dances with The Next Stage Dance Company but has also been on stage at BCF as the young girl in Dracula. I got to share the stage with her in Scrooge: The Musical at the Ritz several years ago.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Lindsey both performed in Tommy at Burlington County Footlighters. What was it like sharing the stage with your daughter?

Al Krier: I was very proud to share the stage in Tommy, especially since she also choreographed it. We’ve done a few shows together but we really haven’t had any scenes together. It’s always fun to work with family.

 

Critique Compendium: You selected David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Rabbit Hole for your directorial debut. What interested you in that project?

Al Krier: Rabbit Hole was the first show my son did at college. When we drove up to his school to see the show, first we were blown away at his acting. Then I thought that the play itself was outstanding and would be a perfect fit for the BCF stage. I decided right then that would be the first show I direct.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you plan on directing again?

Al Krier: I would like to direct again. There is a one act play I would like to put on The 2nd Stage and I have a few ideas for the main stage but nothing scheduled yet.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Dan Brothers have worked together on several projects. The two of you have fantastic chemistry as both a dramatic and comedy duo. What’s it like working with him?

Al Krier: Dan is the best! I will share a stage with him anytime. He is very generous as an actor and we are always able to bounce ideas off one another. I can’t say why it works but it does and I’m just very happy that it does.

 

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

Al Krier: One of the first plays I ever saw was when my brother was in a high school performance of Heaven Can Wait. I was just enamored with the entire experience and could not wait for my chance to try it.

My parents always took us to see movie musicals and I distinctly remember seeing Oliver at the movies. My parents bought the soundtrack album and I used to listen to it all the time.

Sometime in the late 70s they took us to see A Chorus Line at the Forrest Theatre in Philly. Just a great experience. I just always loved watching live performances including rock concerts. That’s pretty much all I did in the 80’s – went to concerts and got married. But I digress, movie musicals, my brother’s show, A Chorus Line, rock concerts.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things make you want to play a role?

Al Krier: There are roles that I want to play because they are a perfect fit for me and then there are roles that are a challenge. I enjoy both because the ones for which I am perfect, I can go on stage and feel very confident. The roles that are a challenge make me feel accomplished if I am successful at performing them.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been you’re favorite role that you’ve performed?

Al Krier: Dave Bukatinsky in The Full Monty at The Ritz Theatre. Just an incredible experience from the show itself to the cast & crew and the audience reaction. If you know the show it is about a bunch of out-of-work guys trying to make some money by stripping. In real life I had just been laid off from my job that I had for 23 years so that part of it was completely relatable. I love the music in the show and we had just a perfect group of guys.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Al Krier: I always wanted to play Pseodolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. I got my chance to do that at The Ritz and I just don’t think it was my best performance. I was full of nerves every night before the show and that doesn’t happen to me very often. My comedic instincts just didn’t seem to gel with the part. I can’t say why – it was just one of those things.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage.

Al Krier: Going back to The Full Monty, one particular night let’s just say there was a lighting miscue at a very important part of the show. We performed that show over 20 times with close to sold out shows every time, yet it seems that no matter who I meet that says they saw that show, claims they were there the night of the lighting mishap.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Al Krier: There are so many but DeNiro and Pacino are probably the most influential. I’ve just enjoyed watching them in so many films it’s hard not to be influenced. John Candy has also been an inspiration just for his natural comedic delivery – gone way too soon.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Al Krier: Again, too many. DeNiro would be up there. Also, Spencer Tracy. His delivery of lines was just so natural. Watch him in Inherit the Wind. One of my all-time favorites.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage?

Al Krier: When I’m not on stage I wonder why I’m not on stage. Just kidding. In real life I’m a technical instructor. I teach technicians how to fix copiers. Everything from basic xerography to networking. Pretty boring stuff.

As far as hobbies I just started getting back into one of my childhood hobbies of building and flying model rockets. It’s been and on again off again hobby that I really enjoy. I also enjoy golf but I don’t get to play nearly enough and I really suck at it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Al Krier: Since my entire family is involved in theatre there is an understanding when it comes to the demands. We all know that there will be struggles, time commitments, scheduling conflicts, etc. There are no guidelines for balance, we just do our best. Most of the time it works, when it doesn’t we figure it out.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Al Krier: I bring Al Krier. Nobody else can say they are Al Krier.

Seriously, I can’t say what others don’t bring. Obviously I won’t name names but I’ve worked with some actors that simply struggled to deliver a line naturally. That may seem like a simple thing but I will practice a single line over and over again until I think it is coming out in a very natural, conversational way. I don’t know if I have always been successful at that, but I know that is always my goal.

 

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

Al Krier: I would hope they would say, “Remember that guy, in that show that time, yea, he was really good. So what are you ordering?” I would hope audiences remembered that they were entertained anytime they saw me on stage and that if they met me after the show I was gracious and humble. And that they didn’t avoid a show because they saw my name in the cast list.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Al Krier: Hopefully, they would say that I was someone that they could trust on stage and was completely committed to the role. And funny, heavy on the funny.

 

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

Al Krier: Do it! Don’t be afraid. There is nothing like being involved in a production and watching it go from the first read through to the final product. I’ve worked with a lot of young people and I’ve always found that the kids that are involved in the performing arts are always the ones that are exceling in school. The two seem to go hand in hand.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Al Krier: I’ll probably have some lunch. Oh you mean in life, theatre etc. Ok, gotcha. I don’t have anything in the pipeline right now. I started a new job in February so I’m still getting my bearings in that respect. I do have a few shows I am looking at for which I may audition but I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how things go.

 

Valerie Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

Image19Valerie Brothers has been active in South Jersey community theaters for the last 18 years both on stage and behind the scenes. Her love of theater was inherited from her mother who instilled in her at a very young age an appreciation of the theatrical arts, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals!

She has been involved in all facets of theater from acting and directing to stage managing, producing, costuming, hair and makeup artist as well as special effects makeup.

Favorite past roles include Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain”, Truvy Jones in “Steel Magnolias”, Tansy McGinnis in “The Nerd”, Mary in “The Champagne Charlie Stakes” and Lizzie Borden in “Blood Relations”.

Directing credits: “The Foreigner”, “Fidelity Farce”, “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Fox on the Fairway”.

Mrs. Brothers graciously agreed to an interview on June 29, 2017. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve produced shows in the past. Could you tell me: what percentage of a show’s budget goes to pay for Al Krier’s wardrobe?

Valerie Brothers: I made all the sweaters (for The Fox on the Fairway). Just two days before opening I finished. I have degree in fashion merchandising. It came in handy.

I picked up the materials at Village Thrift.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve been involved in the just about every facet of theatre as a performer, a director and a producer among other roles. Which is the most challenging for you?

Valerie Brothers: Directing is the most challenging because I am I perfectionist. I want everything exactly right. I try to stay as close to playwright’s vision as I do to my own.

When you’re the director the responsibility falls on you. There’s only one person to blame if something’s not right.

 

Critique Compendium: You credit you mother for instilling your interest in theatre. When did you start performing?

Valerie Brothers: I was incredibly shy in grade school and high school. I auditioned for one show in high school and didn’t get cast.

I was working back stage when a Footlighters director tried to get me over my shyness. She pushed me into playing a hooker. Getting me to walking out on stage while scantily clad did it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you select the shows you’d like to direct?

Valerie Brothers: I love farces and comedies. I like to make people laugh. The sillier the show the better.

I worked as the assistant director on Rabbit Hole. After spending three months on a show about a four-year-old getting killed after a car hit him I needed to laugh.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you take a different approach when directing a drama versus directing a comedy?

Valerie Brothers: Yes and no.

With comedy everything still has to be true to the script and vice versa. I have more fun with comedy.

Doing drama can be depressing. Especially when rehearsing it three nights a week.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you directed the comedy team of Dan Brothers and Al Krier. What was it like working with those two performers?

Valerie Brothers: They’re my “go to couple.” They have undeniable chemistry. They’re also good friends off stage. When they’re on stage they raise each other up.

Working with them is a hoot. Any crazy idea I throw at them they’ll do. In Fidelity Farce their characters kissed at the end. They went at it so hard I think Dan chipped a tooth.

 

Critique Compendium: In both The Fox on the Fairway and Glengarry, Glen Ross, you had the opportunity to direct your husband, Dan Brothers. What was it like to find yourself directing your own spouse?

Valerie Brothers: He’s such a diva. (Laughs.)

I treat him like any other actor. Since we live together I have a lot more opportunities to talk to him than I do with the other cast members.

We actually had a long talk about his Fox on the Fairway character. You wouldn’t know it from way he performed in the show, but up until two days before it opened he struggled with the role. We discussed it and worked on it together until he nailed it.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you found yourself in a very unusual situation as a director. In the show a woman takes a romantic interest in the character your husband plays. Do you feel that situation affected your artistic judgement?

Valerie Brothers: No. I’ve known Liz (Deal – the performer who played her husband’s love interest) for years. She’s a professional. Everyone I’ve worked with in community theatre is professional.

There were no worries. Plus, Dan knows I would just kill him if something happened. (Laughs.)

 

Critique Compendium: There’s a scene in The Fox on the Fairway where the characters get into a circle and toss a vase back-and-forth. What was it like coordinating that incident? Did you have a dozen spare vases handy in case someone dropped it?

Valerie Brothers: No. We just had the one vase.

We started off with a plastic vase. It was larger than the one we used in the show. We did the scene over and over until it was second nature. We must’ve done it ten times during a night’s rehearsal.

The assistant director’s girlfriend brought in the vase we used in the show. It’s Japanese.

I was a little afraid. Theatre people are not sports people. There’s a reason we did drama in high school and not sports.

 

Critique Compendium: Both you and Mr. Brothers performed together in Rumors. What’s it like to share the stage with your spouse?

Valerie Brothers: It’s always great to have your spouse out there. Every night I got to observe the things he would change up.

We played a husband and wife team in Exit Date at Bridge Players.  The characters were totally unlike ourselves, but it was fun to play a married couple together.

 

Critique Compendium: The role of Cookie Cusack in Rumors was physically demanding. Walking on your palms and the balls of your feet couldn’t have been comfortable. What did you do to prepare yourself for that show?

Valerie Brothers: I got a hip replacement. I called it my bionic hip.

The sillier the role the better. If people will laugh at me I’ll do it.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in playing a role?

Valerie Brothers: I like stepping into someone else’s shoes. It’s challenging to see if you can pull it off. Playing Lizzie Borden is a good example.

 

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

Valerie Brothers: Singing in the Rain was an iconic movie musical. It harkened back to when my mom instilled that appreciation of the theatrical arts. I wanted to be the people on the screen, but I can’t sing.

I’d also say The Nerd. I met Dan there. It was a fun show.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Valerie Brothers: Lizzie Borden was a very complex character. I liked trying to understand her side. It was a heavy drama piece. I had fun watching everyone in the audience gasp. It was a very challenging emotional roller coaster. One moment she’s sweet, in another she’s crying and then she’s wielding an axe.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage so far.

Valerie Brothers: I played the lead hooker part in No Sex Please, We’re British. The director was adamant that I had to carry a guy on my shoulders across the stage in six inch heels: not piggyback. She insisted it had to be on my shoulders. I had to come out a door, too. Like Seabiscut, I carried this man across the stage every night.

It was a challenge doing it so that he didn’t go flying or fall; but it got a laugh every night.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Valerie Brothers: For comedy, Goldie Hawn has great comic timing. Melissa McCarthy will do anything for a laugh.

I have to add Meryl Streep, too, because she’s Meryl Streep.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Valerie Brothers: I’m a very big nostalgia buff. I’d say Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn. They had class. Actors back then held themselves to a higher standard.

That’s not to say that actors today don’t have high standards. I just don’t think actors should make political statements like Johnny Depp did recently.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Valerie Brothers: When I played Lizzie Borden, I read every book I could find on her. If I’m playing a fictional character I’ll research the situation to make my performance as believable as possible.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Valerie Brothers: This isn’t to say that other performers aren’t, but I’m a perfectionist. If it ain’t right I won’t do it. I feel it’s important to the author to get the lines right.

 

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

Valerie Brothers: Just as somebody who entertained them, gave them a good laugh and gave them their 20 bucks worth.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Valerie Brothers: I think they’ll tell you I’m open to suggestions. They may see something I’m missing. We talk about it. I go into it with a vision, but they see me as being open to possibilities.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies?

Valerie Brothers: My cats. I’m a huge animal lover. I’ll do anything for an animal. Both of my cats are rescues. I enjoy trying to find homes for homeless animals and would like to foster shelter animals someday. I’m also quite adept at spoiling my kitties and am well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady!

I visit my mom in the nursing home. I’ll go over pictures with her.

I also go kickboxing with Liz (Deal).

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with your involvement in community theater productions?

Valerie Brothers: That’s why I take time off between shows. I love being involved, but it’s nice to sit on the couch and relax. Theatre doesn’t leave much time for other commitments.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Valerie Brothers: I’m going to assistant direct Crossing Delancey at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage in June. Torben Christensen will be directing.  

 

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

Valerie Brothers: Just have no fear. I always had dreams of performing, but my shyness inhibited me for a long time. Just go for it.

Clybourne Park at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

My most memorable moment as a theatre critic occurred several months ago at Burlington County Footlighters. During a production of The Fox on the Fairway, they used my name during the show. I’m sure glad my name didn’t come up during their 2nd Stage presentation of Clybourne Park. I much rather prefer having my golfing ability questioned in a public forum than getting associated with the themes in this story. In addition to a sense of relief, Footlighters treated me to a thought provoking and entertaining performance on June 16th.

Bruce Norris’ 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning drama also received the 2012 Tony Award for best play. The story addressed the topic of racism in America. The first act occurred in 1959 and the second fifty years later in 2009. With housing as the background, it explored the state of race relations in American society during two different time periods.

The playwright used an interesting technique. The same actors played different characters in acts one and two. All had a personal connection to either the neighborhood or the home that served as the play’s lone setting. It led to some unsettling discussions involving race. In the first act, white people fought the perceived encroachment by African Americans into the community. Over time the neighborhood demographic shifted becoming predominantly African American. Mr. Norris then added an interesting twist. In the second act, the African Americans fought to preserve the neighborhood’s historical heritage from white people’s interference.

Sensitive theatregoers should be forewarned: Mr. Norris’ show featured raw dialog. It made me feel uncomfortable during the second act when the characters discussed racial matters. During the first act I found the conversation just painful. The characters seemed very timid as though they struggled to understand one another, but just couldn’t find the right way to communicate their thoughts.  The discussion in the 2009 act deteriorated into anger and resentment. The racist jokes from both sides compounded the animosity.

Shows that require actors to play multiple characters challenge thespians. Most times that’s because their roles possess antithetical traits to one another. Clybourne Park took an original approach to this technique. Even though the cast played different characters, the roles they performed possessed the same values and beliefs. The difference showed in how they chose to express them.

Performers Sheldon Jackson and Nina Law played the African American couple in both scenes. In the first act, Ms. Law took on the role of an ostensibly obedient domestic servant. She always seemed hesitant or uncomfortable when speaking to her employer Bev (Kathy Harmer). Her open expressions of frustration and defiance towards her husband showed her true character. I credit Ms. Law for executing this challenging balancing act so well.

Mr. Jackson removed his hat and recited a series of “yes, ma’am”s when addressing his wife’s employer. While overtly polite, his mannerisms and speech reflected an underlying tension.

In the second act, they transitioned into more assertive people. Mr. Jackson physically confronted Steve (Fred Ezell) in response to his insulting his wife. Ms. Law crossed her arms and legs, pursed her lips while attending the meeting, thus expressing contempt through her mannerisms. Then she confronted Steve when he intimated his views on race.

Both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Law animated these challenging emotions brilliantly. Their counterparts as the white couple, Fred Ezell and Stevie Neale, did the same.

In the first act, Mr. Ezell looked and sounded the role of someone fighting to preserve his “progressive community.” He struggled when explaining how “different” people were, well, “different.” He held his hat in front of him as if metaphorically trying to conceal the character’s true inner feelings.

Stevie Neale turned in an extraordinary performance as a deaf woman; someone incapable of hearing the goings on around her. Ms. Neale’s manner of speaking demonstrated that she took the time to research and comprehend the role.

In the second act, the hat was gone and Mr. Ezell’s character let loose. While managing to repress and feign his feelings he eventually expressed his views with abandon; even telling a bigoted joke.

During this portion of the show Ms. Neale’s character couldn’t avoid hearing her husband’s views. While reserved at first, she also became enraged at the course of the conversation. As with the African American wife in the first act, she directed it at her husband.

In the first act, Kathy Harmer played an outstanding 1950s wife. She expressively pranced about the room discussing trite matters with her husband. Even with the stresses of an uncertain future following a horrible family tragedy, she exhibited a sense of optimism. In the second she became a dull lawyer.

Jonathan Edmonson ran the emotional gamut in Clybourne Park. This performer transitioned from a priest in the first act to an attorney in the second. (It’s hard to imagine any two roles more oppositional than these.) His calm reserve in response to Russ’ (Al Krier) insults gave way to impatience and aggravation in act two.  Later in the show he returned in the role of a somber, distraught man.

Al Krier always makes himself unique in his performances. Usually he does so through his costuming. While the bandana he wore in act two did present a rather unique look for him, he distinguished himself in the first act. In yet another example of why I’m glad my name didn’t come up the show, he instructed a priest (Jonathan Edmonson) to go “f–k himself.”

Mr. Krier turned in an extraordinary performance even by the standard of excellence I expect from him. In the first act, he played a father with anger issues over a family tragedy. He convincingly played someone trying to repress his emotions; especially, by the calm way he delivered the line in the preceding paragraph. Later in the scene he vented his rage at the community itself. In the second act, he refocused and became the show’s comic relief.

The play contained a range of dialog; some of it very tense and other portions rather comical. I didn’t care for the opening of both acts with banal discussions. The conversations droned on far too long for the effect the playwright wanted to achieve. I’d encourage audience members to be patient and endure them. Beyond that one shortcoming, I found the rest of the story well written.

As with a previous visit to Footlighters 2nd Stage, I had the opportunity to sit next to the director. (Blogging about community theatre has its perks.) Carla Ezell laughed heartily during the comedic lines. That impressed me. She’s worked on this show with the cast and crew for months. Familiar dialog still drawing that kind of reaction from her demonstrated her enthusiasm. That passion carried over into the performances.

Clybourne Park brought an uncomfortable part of the American experience to the stage. With that noted, a diverse audience attended the same performance I did. Not one attendee walked out. No one reacted in anger. It led me to believe that just maybe, should Mr. Norris add a third act covering the year 2059, the characters would behave with more civility towards one another. For now, theatre fans can attend the conflict laden version at Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd stage through June 24th.

 

Tami Gordon Brody: The Critique Compendium Interview

Tami HeadshotAfter a 20-year hiatus from the stage to raise her two sons, Tami Gordon Brody has certainly been making up for lost time over the last five years. Upon the urging of her son Taylor, who is also an actor, Tami embarked on her first audition in two decades; Haddonfield Plays & Players’ 2011 production of Titanic and was cast as Charlotte Cardoza. Since then, she has been lucky enough to portray some of musical theatre’s great “women of a certain age” roles. Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, with Voorhees Theatre Company, Joanne in Company with Cumberland Players, Carmen Bernstein in Curtains and most recently Mother Superior in Sister Act, both at Haddonfield Plays and Players.   She’s also taken on some “strictly acting” roles, such as Harriet, in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at South Camden Theatre Company and Reba Freitag in The Last Night of Ballyhoo, at HP&P.   Up next, Tami is thrilled to be working with director Craig Hutchings in the Ritz Theatre production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in the role of Mrs. Potts.

In the course of “making up for lost time”, Ms. Brody kindly offered her time to be interviewed on 6/7/17. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

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

Tami Gordon Brody: When I was young my father worked in the record business. He was head of promotion for Columbia. I took singing lessons, but my voice wasn’t suited for pop music. When I got a little older I discovered musical theatre while at Cherry Hill High School East.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve said that you’re “making up for lost time” in terms of your performance schedule. What motivates you to be so active in community theatre productions?

Tami Gordon Brody: What do you do after work? Some people play tennis. I do theatre. I love doing it. When I leave work I get to be the actress.

 

Critique Compendium: From looking over your resume, it seems like you’re equally comfortable performing in either musicals or playing strictly acting roles. Which do you prefer?

Tami Gordon Brody: When I was younger I would’ve said musicals. My background is in musical theatre. I was a singer who acted. There have been some directors who have helped build my confidence as an actress. While I prefer musical theatre, acting challenges me more. I enjoy the challenge of it.

 

Critique Compendium: You’re a very talented vocalist. Who influenced you musically?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d have to say Barbara Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald. Every Jewish girl loves Barbara. (Laughs.) Ella had such a pure, rich voice.

I have other performers I look to now for inspiration such as Victoria Clark, Christine Ebersole and Bernadette Peters. Bernadette Peters was the ingénue when she could be the ingenue. I’m finding that there are many amazing roles for “women of a certain age.” Musical Theatre is one of the few mediums where you don’t get replaced by younger actors.

There’s a show on Broadway now called War Paint. The two performers leads in it (Ebersole and Patty LuPone) are both women over 50.

Helen Mirren is another example of that type of actress. There are amazing roles for “women of a certain age.” I think you really need to have lived a life to play them.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you feel that you’ve matured as a performer when you play these roles?

Tami Gordon Brody: My priorities are different than they were when I was in my 20s. Now I pick and choose what I want to do.

When I was younger performing was about attention. Now it’s about being part of a bigger thing. It’s about telling a story. I’d rather be part of a strong cast.

It’s great having the opportunity to become someone else. Theatre is ageless.

 

 

Critique Compendium: If I could return to the subject of your vocal talents. You’ve done voice overs for the Special Olympics of New Jersey, Karl’s Baby and Children’s Furniture (in Philadelphia) and JCCA Maccabi Games. How did you get into that field?

Tami Gordon Brody: Karl’s is my big claim to fame. (Laughs) My ex-husband is a filmmaker. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing some voice over work. To do it I needed to lose my Jersey accent! It’s a different kind of medium. They want you to say things a certain way. After recording they speed up the track to eliminate the pauses. It’s very unnatural. So in that sense it’s much different than theatre.

 

Critique Compendium: What kinds of things interest you in playing a role?

Tami Gordon Brody:  Sometimes, it’s the story. For instance, Parade was an important story. In that show, I played a Senator’s wife. Although it was a smaller role, I got to be part of it.

Then there was Mother Superior in Sister Act. Roles like that one really gives you a chance to create a character.

I look at the way the character is written. Of course, you have to be practical about how young you can play.

It has to be something I’m going to enjoy doing. I also like roles that are a challenge emotionally, such as Joanne in Company. I wanted to find out why she was so angry and drank. I wanted to convey the character’s emotions. It’s important to make the audience feel.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you handle an audience that doesn’t feel?

Tami Gordon Brody: Every audience is different. You get different reactions from different crowds.

A performer must listen to the audience. It’s important to be mindful of their responses. Timing is important to allow them to react. Sometimes, you may get the same reaction to a line or a moment on stage and you come to expect it.   Then you’ll get an occasional audience that doesn’t react the way you expect.

 

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

Tami Gordon Brody: Oh, Joanne in Company. But I would love to play Golde in Fiddler again. Both are iconic roles. I do enjoy playing flawed characters better than playing ‘normal’ ones. Some are just fun though.

 

Critique Compendium: Why?

Tami Gordon Brody: My Jewish upbringing. My great-grandfather grew up in a village in Russia just like Anatekvah . Golde is the character I’ve played that’s the closest to me. It was very personal.

Although, I’ve loved all the roles I’ve played. I learn things about other people by playing different characters. Some aren’t like me at all. I like learning about people and cultures. Now, in Beauty and the Beast, I’m playing an animated character.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Tami Gordon Brody: Harriet in Broken Glass. That was my first straight acting role. The caliber of talent in that show was unlike anything I’d worked with before. I had to reach. It’s good to have to reach. It was hard work. I wasn’t going to be able to rely on my singing. Until then, I was more insecure about acting than singing. Although, you don’t want to see me dance. (Laughs)

 

Critique Compendium: First, allow me to wish you a belated Happy Mother’s Day. You had the experience of working with both your sons, Taylor and Evan, in: Parade. You and Taylor will be sharing the stage once again at the upcoming production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre Company this summer. What was it like sharing the stage with your children?

Tami Evan and Taylor

Tami Gordon Brody: Amazing! It was the greatest experience! I’m so proud of them. They’re so talented. They’re so much more advanced than I am vocally.

Taylor and Evan got the bug. Taylor (to Ms. Brody’s left in photo) was in Fiddler on the Roof with me too. Evan (to Ms. Brody’s right) will be playing Kenickie in Grease this summer in Blackwood.

Unfortunately, (because of our theatrical schedules) sometimes we can’t always see each other’s shows. Theatre is something we share. We can lean on each other and help each other. It’s great to have this shared love with my children.

My boyfriend Glen is also an actor, and it is something that I can share with him as well. We all understand the commitment that goes into doing a show – which is a wonderful thing.

 

Critique Compendium: What performers have influenced you?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d say Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey and Helen Mirren. They can really transform themselves into different characters; and they don’t need accoutrements to make that happen.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Tami Gordon Brody: I’d love to work with Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and definitely Nathan Lane. His comic timing is amazing. These are people I could learn from. When I was younger the answers might not have been the same. Back then I would’ve been interested in their “star power.”

 

Critique Compendium: In addition to your busy performance schedule, you’re the Vice President of Haddonfield Plays and Players. What inspired you to take on a leadership role with that organization?

Tami Gordon Brody: I did two shows with them (Titanic and Full Monty). Dave Stavetski (the President of HP&P) got me to go to a meeting. I helped out with creating the posters in front of the theatre.  Now that I am on the board, I handle the playbills, social media, media and advertising. I’m happy to give back to them. We have an amazing leadership team. They’re a really great group of dedicated people.

Dave is very civic minded. He’s very involved in sharing the arts in South Jersey.

Our space allows for the ability to do shows that other people can’t do. For instance look at (director) Matt Weil’s innovative use of space in The Pillowman. You wouldn’t see a show like that in a larger theatre.

We have a successful StageKidz program. Last year, we switched to a five show season. We used to do seven shows. This gives us more production time for each, mainstage show. It also allows us to provide additional special programming – like our annual production of Number the Stars, as well as our successful cabaret series. Whenever I perform I think, “Look at how much I’m getting.” Being involved with HP&P gives me the satisfaction of giving back. You make connections with the other performers. Creating lasting relationships. Community theatre in South Jersey is getting stronger and stronger. So many theatres mean more opportunities for actors. There’s a lot of talent down here.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Tami Gordon Brody: When I’m at work I focus on work. It all comes down to time management. Theatre teaches it. It helps with other aspects of my life. It’s a responsibility.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Tami Gordon Brody: I write the lines on index cards. I use them for memorization.  It’s all about time management. I’ve got the instrumental rehearsal tracks of Beauty and the Beast in my car.  I sang it on the way over here.

I know I need to do my homework. I need to get past my frustration and learn what I need to know. Then I don’t have to worry about it. I need to understand the character. I need to be prepared. Sometimes it entails not only knowing my lines, but that of my fellow actors as well.

It’s not always easy to do theatre. It means something different to everyone. I’m very proud of what I do. The roles that satisfy me the most are the ones where I work the hardest.

You have to live up to the role. Golde and Joanne are iconic roles. People expect it to be a certain way. I also want to be as good as my fellow cast members. I do enjoy playing flawed characters better than playing ‘normal’ ones. Some are just fun, though.

 

Critique Compendium: This is the first time you’ve worked with director Craig Hutchings since you played Harriet in the South Camden Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass. What’s it like working with him again?

Tami Gordon Brody: Craig is an “actor’s director.” He’s always looking at the acting. He gives notes and character suggestions. To him, the lyric is just as important as the dialog. He brings depth to the characters.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Tami Gordon Brody: After Beauty and the Beast I’ll be taking a rest. I would love an opportunity to assistant direct next season.  I’m hoping to be as versatile as some other theatre people. But, I like performing more. If the right role presented itself, I would definitely audition!

I can honestly say if I didn’t have theatre I’d be half a person. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it.

 

City of Angels at Burlington County Footlighters

I spent a long evening of being mesmerized this May 5th. The excessive amount of talent on stage nearly overwhelmed me when I attended the opening of Burlington County Footlighters presentation of City of Angels. This Daryl S. Thompson, Jr. directed piece contained superb acting, great dancing and extraordinary singing. It also featured performances by several South Jersey Community Theatre legends. DJ Hedgepath, Rachel Comenzo and Jillian Starr-Renbjor all returned to the Footlighters stage. To add to the show’s appeal, Jim Frazer designed the set and Cameron Stringham served as musical director. Mallory Beach and Erica Paloucci handled the choreography.

Well, what else is there to say?  Oh, DJ Hedgepath and Rachel Comenzo once again showed us mortals why we all need to keep our day jobs. This is the easiest review I’ve ever written. Enjoy the rest of your day.

For the benefit of those people who like details, I’ll continue.

The show applied the “story-within-a-story” approach to a musical. It told the tale of screenwriter Stine’s (DJ Hedgepath) quest to write the script for a movie called City of Angels. In the course of doing so, he battled Hollywood producer and director Buddy Fidler’s (Steve Rogina) incessant meddling, he struggled to keep his marriage to Gabby (Rachel Comenzo) together; a feat complicated by his infidelity with Donna (Jillian Starr-Renbjor), and the voice of his protagonist, Stone (John Romano), tussled with him in his head.

In a manner reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, characters from real life ended up in the imagined story. One has to credit the performers who played dual roles during the same evening.

Kaitlyn Delengowski stood out as portraying the two most diverse characters. I really enjoyed the high-pitched squealy voice she selected for the Carla character; quite a departure from that of the haughty, Alaura Kingsley.

As to where the story went after that: your guess is as good as mine. With the Hollywood characters becoming the movie characters, the plot twists in the detective’s quest and Stine’s re-writes, I found it far too complicated to follow. It didn’t matter, though. The fantastic singing and superb performances made for a very enjoyable evening.

The story didn’t possess the same complexity as some of the melodies, however. David Zippel’s lyrics didn’t quite compliment Cy Coleman’s odd musical phrasing, either. They gave the singers a challenge.

Rachel Comenzo delivered a transcendent performance on the intricate “It Needs Work”. Perhaps inspired by her skill, DJ Hedgepath followed it up several tunes later with his stellar rendition of the equally difficult “Funny”.

The musical began with an unconventional and difficult opening to perform. It started as scat singing that transitioned into a barber shop quartet. Performers Stephen Jackson, Matthew Maerten, Emily Huddell and Kori Rife accepted the challenge of hooking the audience with this unusual material. They executed this task brilliantly.

Not many players would volunteer for the opportunity to sing a duet containing sixteenth notes. Fans familiar with them already know that Rachel Comenzo and Jillian Starr-Renbjor possess exceptional vocal prowess. They showed it with their rendition of “What You Don’t Know about Women.”

DJ Hedgepath and John Romano shared their own dual moment in the spotlight, as well. They delivered an outstanding performance on the “You’re Nothing without Me” number.

The cast delivered outstanding presentations. Mr. Romano tuned in a solid performance as the hard-boiled detective. I enjoyed his interactions with his edgy secretary (Jillian Star-Renbjor), the wealthy wife (Kaitlyn Delengowski) and the gangsters (Wayne Renbjor and the brilliantly comical Tony Flores). Noel McLeer played the missing girl very well, too. This group made me feel like I watched a musical interpretation of a Dashiell Hammett novel. Steve Rogina’s portrayal of the arrogant Hollywood director added a nice element to the story, as well.

Unlike many directors, Darryl Thompson, Jr. chose not to spend the night in the control booth. Instead, he opted to add his own superior vocal talents to the show. I’ve heard him sing bluesy and soulful material in the past. In this production, he showcased his ability to croon jazzy tracks with “Ya Gotta Look Out for Yourself” and the tender ballad “Stay with Me.”

I’d also like to credit Vitaliy Kin’s performance in the roles of Pancho Vargas and Lt. Munoz. I still remember several years ago hearing him perform Spandau Ballet’s “True” in Yiddish in The Wedding Singer. As comical as it was, he sang the tune very well. In this show, he delivered an awesome “All Ya Have to Do is Wait” number featuring a salsa and conga dance.

It thrilled me to hear Rachel Comenzo showcase her vocal talents once again. I watched her perform several non-singing roles last year. Ms. Comenzo’s rendition of “With Every Breath I Take” as nightclub singer, Bobbi, made up for the long wait. Her voice delivered great vibrato, soft inflection and outstanding modulation. I thought the band a little too loud on this number. Without a microphone, she still found a way to deliver soft notes in a manner so the audience could still hear her clearly. I’m still trying to figure out how that was even possible.

While crooning this moving number she also used extraordinary facial expressions toward Mr. Romano’s character. As difficult as this may be to believe, she conveyed Bobbi’s emotions non-verbally so well, that the scene would’ve been just as effective had she been silent.

With the possible exception of Mr. Hedgepath, I’ve never watched a performer get into character as well as Ms. Comenzo. Somehow, she manages this so flawlessly, that one sometimes loses sight of just how proficient she is at doing so. That’s talent.

It’s always difficult to select a ‘best’ DJ Hedgepath moment. His duets with Mr. Romano and monumental solo rendition of “Funny” would be good contenders. I also liked when he stepped out of the spotlight to put on the trench coat, glasses and hat and become one of the background dancers. In addition to his superior skill as a performer, you have to respect actors who are willing to accept any role to remain on the stage.

The City of Angels title aptly fit the show. The cast took the audience to heaven. The production impressed so much that “you can always count on me” to tout its praises “with every breath I take.” It’s true that “ya gotta look out for yourself.” There’s nothing “funny” about that, but “eve’rybody’s gotta be somewhere.” So why not use “the buddy system” and take a friend to go see it? “All ya have to do is wait” until the next performance.