Kevin Esmond

Oliver! at the Ritz Theatre Company

The Simpsons character Krusty the Clown cynically stated, “I don’t use my A-material for charity.” The cast and crew of Oliver! took a much more professional philosophy towards aiding those in need. McMagical Productions sponsored this benefit performance that runs from February 21st through February 23rd and is hosted by the Ritz Theatre. I attended the February 22nd show.

Prior to the show, McMagical Productions President Donna Krier addressed the audience. Mrs. Krier explained that McMagical Productions is a non-profit organization created to honor the memory of Barbara McKinsey, a young dance teacher who passed away from lung cancer in 2013.

According to the organization’s website:

McMagical Productions serves those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts.

Our focus has primarily been on raising funds and awareness for lung cancer research through donations to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation (formerly Free to Breathe,) but we are also working to support other causes as well. For each of our production events, we choose one of the charities close to our hearts, and all the proceeds from that event go towards a donation for that charity. The charity that is supported will be listed on each flier, and additional information about the charities will be available at our events.

Proceeds from this February 21 – 23 run of Oliver! will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.

I’ve noted before how the Ritz Theatre possesses an unparalleled capability to transform itself. Their casts and crews have converted the building into settings such as the magical world of Disney, a medieval forest and a Christmas wonderland. For this run they took a much different tack. It seemed that they converted the facility into Burlington County Footlighters.

Fans of the Cinnaminson based group would be well-served taking the trip to Haddon Township. Numerous big name performers typically associated with Footlighters contributed their talents to this show. Alan Krier (as Fagin), Lindsey Krier (as Nancy), Buddy Deal (as Mr. Bumble), Tim Sagges (as Mr. Sowerberry) , Gabrielle Affleck (as Mrs. Sowerberry), Bailey Shaw (as Charlotte/Rose Seller), Matt Becker (as Noah Claypole/Knife Grinder), Kevin Esmond (as Bill Sikes) and Stevie Neale (as Mrs. Bedwin) performed. Another BCF legend, Valerie Brothers, directed.

Ms. Brothers didn’t limit the cast to Footlighters alumni. In the lead roles, Jack Barkhamer played Oliver Twist and Naomi Serrano performed The Artful Dodger.

The Ritz Theatre contains much more space than the theatre at Footlighters. Ms. Brothers utilized the opportunities it provided for her. The ensemble employed the entire room for the opening number. While singing “Food Glorious Food” the performers entered though the back and walked down the aisles. During a chase scene Mr. Barkhamer ran through the room after picking Mr. Brownlow’s (played by Steve Phillips) pocket. Matt Becker in the role of a policeman pursued.

Playwright Lionel Bart achieved every songwriter’s dream with Oliver!. It contained a host of catchy songs; just about all possessed some kind of earworm. I’d keep hearing them over-and-over in my head until the next one began. Music Director Peg Smith and the orchestra provided spectacular accompaniment.

“Consider Yourself” made for one of the more memorable numbers. Naomi Serrano delivered phenomenal vocals while performing an excellent dance routine; the latter choreographed by Liz Baldwin. Mr. Barkhamer accompanied her on this number very well. He delivered an excellent solo number on the moving “Where is Love?”

Tim Sagges and Gabielle Affleck performed “That’s Your Funeral” together. It was a pleasure to hear such talented actors combine for a duet.

One of Oliver!’s songs even included a four part harmony. Credit goes to Bailey Shaw, Lisa Krier, Marisa Lazar and Matt Becker for their respective deliveries on “Who Will Buy?” The added reverb gave the number a haunting quality.

Fans of Alan Krier need to see Oliver! And people not familiar with his work will be his fans after this run. Audiences get the full Al Krier experience with this show.

Mr. Krier built upon his reputation for his unique approach to costuming. While nothing will compare with his The Fox on the Fairway wardrobe (incidentally, designed by Valerie Brothers) he used notable attire in Oliver!. He came out wearing a hat. The brim partially covered his face. He wore a raggedy looking trench coat. I’ve watched Mr. Krier perform for several years. I’ve even spoken with him a number of times. I didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t because of the fake beard, either. Mr. Krier is just that talented an actor.

Mr. Krier entertained with his usual comedic prowess. He did a routine with jewelry that printed words cannot adequately describe. Suffice it to comment that Mr. Krier behaved hysterically.

Fans of Mr. Krier’s vocal stylings would be pleased, as well. He contributed his singing skills to several numbers including “I’d Do Anything”, “Be Back Soon” and the ironically titled “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” I used the word ironic because audience members won’t feel like their pockets were picked after hearing Mr. Krier’s crooning.

I’ve referred to Mr. Krier as the patriarch of the Krier Royal Family of South Jersey Community Theatre. Two of his children, Lindsey and Lisa, performed in this show with him. Lindsey’s performance gave this reviewer the impression that she’s ready to take over as leader of that family dynasty NOW.

To share a personal anecdote with readers: the first community theatre show I reviewed was a performance of Avenue Q at Burlington County Footlighters. It took place in May of 2014. Lindsey Krier delivered a moving rendition of “It’s a Fine, Fine Line.” I still remember her singing it even though I heard it once and that occurred almost five years ago. I didn’t think it would be possible to her to improve as a vocalist, but Ms. Krier has developed into a much stronger performer now. Based on how talented she was back then, that’s quite an achievement.

Ms. Krier treated the audience to her exceptional singing ability. “As Long as He Needs Me” contained emotional angst. Ms. Krier captured that sentiment through her vocal inflections and added facial expressions. In addition to her solo numbers, she sang an excellent duet with Abby Swaney.

When I interviewed Alan Krier back in July of 2017, I asked him what it was like to share the stage with Lindsey in Tommy. He said, “We’ve done a few shows together, but we really haven’t had any scenes together.” In Oliver! the two performed together on the “I’d Do Anything” and the reprise of the “It’s a Fine Life” numbers.

 

Al and Lindsey Krier

Alan and Lindsey Krier backstage at Oliver!

Lindsey Krier also displayed remarkable acting ability throughout the evening. Her struggle to save Oliver (Jack Barkhamer) from the evil Bill Sykes led to an excellent confrontation scene. She and Kevin Esmond performed it with uncomfortable realism.

Other performers in the extensive ensemble included: Abby Swaney, Lindsay Deal, Steve Phillips, Michael J. DeFlorio, Susan Dewey, John Sayles, Nicky Intrieri, Liz Baldwin, Christa Campisi, Zachary Capone, Nick French, Paul Huntington, Robert Repici, Chris Valkyria, Noah Bantle. Abigail Bradshaw, Tristan Cogdell, Emily Ferry, Sabrina Gipple, Lizzy Holland, Meghan Lex, Joey Lieberson, Zachary Palais, Nora Ragonese, Maezie Ruggles, and Rebecca Seligman. Caspian Aicher-Roberts played Oliver Twist at the Saturday matinee show.

The final performance of Oliver! will take place on Saturday, February 23. McMagical Productions and the The Ritz Theatre Company will next present Disney’s The Lion King, Jr on April 19th and April 2oth, 2019. For more information, please consult www.mcmagicalproductions.org and http://www.ritztheatreco.org.

 

Merrily We Roll Along Presented by the BCF Intern Company at Burlington County Footlighters

The opening scene of this musical took the audience to a party held in Frank Shepard’s honor. All the “movers and shakers” of Bel Air arrived to pay tribute to this towering titan of Tinseltown. As well they should have. While starting out as a small-time writer of musical scores, he’d achieved dizzying heights of prominence as a Hollywood movie producer. Everyone loved Frank; well, everyone except his ex-wife, his estranged writing partner and his life-long friend whom he drove to a life of alcoholism. For that matter, his ex-wife didn’t care for him, his current wife suspected him of infidelity, and potential wife number three had been attacked by wife number two. Merrily we roll along.

This annual installment of the Burlington County Footlighters Intern company served as an outstanding vehicle for these eager thespians. Director Kevin Esmond had a lot to work with here. The show featured numerous roles so that even the secondary characters had an opportunity to display their skills.  I’d especially give kudos to Mack Massey. He turned in a convincing performance playing a nine year old child.

The show featured an unusual time sequence. It began in 1976 and ended after Sputnik’s launch. Each act progressed backwards in time. We got to witness Frank’s rise to stardom in reverse. It’s difficult to keep an audience engaged with that structure. After all, they already know the ending when the play starts. Then again, in the talented hands of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, I remained interested.

The musical centered on the interlocking lives of three friends. Franklin Shepard (played by Ryan Kiernan) the music writer, Charlie Kringas (Alec Hamilton) the playwright, and Mary Flynn (Daio Floyd) a novelist. The three had exceptional chemistry together. One highlight of the show came when they sang as a trio on the tune, “Old Friends”.  While pressed together on a small couch, they had to execute some tricky choreography, also. I didn’t hear any of them go out of key the whole time.

Sondheim likes trios, apparently. Another one featured Mr. Kiernan, Mr. Hamilton, and Sarah Peszka (as Beth) singing “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” in the 1960 scene. This homage to the Kennedy clan included a bit of a traditional Irish dance. It also required the three to rattle-off the names of everyone in the Kennedy family very fast while in unison. (Sondheim likes sixteenth notes, too.)  The fact the cast remembered the all the lyrics alone impressed me. (more…)

Theater Review – How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at Burlington County Footlighters

Some will wonder: why spend an evening watching people connive their way up the corporate ladder, cynically manipulate co-workers and eliminate any obstacle, both real and imagined, while doing so? Can’t one see that every day at the office? Perhaps, but Burlington County Footlighters made it an entertaining pleasure to witness such chicanery.

This cast, crew and orchestra got right down to business. Brenda Kelly Bacon directed and choreographed a phenomenal show. This performance showcased everything: singing, acting and elaborate choreography. It featured many memorable musical numbers. J. B. Biggley’s (played by Kevin Esmond) performance of his college fight song, “Grand Old Ivy” will stay with me for decades. The character showed more enthusiasm for his alma mater than I’m accustomed to seeing during March Madness. The musical also showcased some astonishing dance numbers. Several featured tap dancing. As I sat in the front row, my ears hurt a bit from the entire ensemble performing percussive tap. But as the members of Pink Floyd observed: “What price art, eh?”

All the actors turned in outstanding performances. Matt Becker displayed astonishing range in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch. He played a hyper-ambitious young man obsessed with ascending to the top of World Wide Wickets. Still, he did so in a way that made the character likeable and amusing. It’s a struggle to identify his core competency. He delivered comedic chops, sang and danced with equal dexterity.

Angela Longo (Rosemary) played an exceptional romantic distraction for Finch’s ambitions. She delivered a pining rendition of “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” about wanting to be a businessman’s wife. It added a humorous contrast to the following exchange with Smitty (Alexandra Haas).

Rosemary: “What do you call the opposite of a sex maniac?”

Smitty: “A businessman.”

I especially enjoyed watching Becker and Longo merge their skills and work together as a team. Both these thespians possessed very strong, clear voices. I relished the opportunity to hear them sing together. The two performed the ballad “Rosemary” brilliantly. I also enjoyed their rendition of the catchy tune “Been a Long Day” with the aid of Smitty. (Talk about an earworm. As I’m writing this, the song is running through my head again.)

Kaitlyn Delengowski turned in a memorable performance as the ditsy Hedy LaRue. It’s hard enough to speak in a squeaky voice let alone sing in one and stay in key. She played the role as a red-head as opposed to a stereotypical blonde. That added a more realistic touch to the character.

The show featured a litany of memorable musical numbers. I mentioned several already. Another one that I find myself humming from time to time is “The Company Way”.  (Al Krier, as Twimble, did a fantastic job taking the lead on this tune.) Some of the lyrics stuck with me.

I play it the company way

Wherever the company puts me, there I’ll stay.

And

Junior have no fear

Whoever the company fires

I will still be here.        

While listening to the song, I found the extent of its veracity on par with Biblical truth.

I also liked the “Coffee Break” number. The ensemble showed what that can happen in an office during a coffee shortage. Think One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While funny, I did detect a colonel of truth to it.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying delivered a humorous send-up of one ambitious man’s rise to the top. Finch got ahead rather easily. The cast at Burlington County Footlighters succeeded in putting on a great show. I can’t say they succeeded as easily as Finch, though. The amount of time and effort they put into this production was evident in their performances. As always, I applaud and marvel at the passion I see in its thespians. The show runs through February 7th.

 

Theatre Review – David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross at Burlington County Footlighter

I spent this past Saturday with a group of bitter, middle aged men who drank and swore copiously. The entire conversation entailed lamenting how much they couldn’t stand their jobs, wanted to get even with their bosses and get rich in the process. Before readers get the impression I didn’t spend this weekend any differently than usual, I attended a theatrical performance. I had the pleasure of watching the Burlington County Footlighters present David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Glengarry Glen Ross. What a job they did!

Robert Hawkey did an exceptional job animating the character of Richard Roma; a role iconized by Al Pacino in the movie version. Mr. Hawkey made the personality entirely his own. When he first appeared on stage gesticulating in his gold suit, he scared me. I sat in the front row and worried that by the end of the play I’d be walking out the door owning a hundred acre time share in Florida. It takes great faith in one’s histrionic capabilities to take on a character that conniving and, yet, convincing, but he did so exceptionally well. According to the playbill, this run of Glengarry Glen Ross is his first theatrical performance in seven years. Upon discovering that, I respected him even more. Either he possessed natural confidence performing in front of an audience, or he’s so good at his craft he could act like he did. Either way, bravo.

I also enjoyed Breen Rourke’s rendition of Shelly “The Machine” Levine. I’ve always thought that character a hybrid of serious pathetic loser Willy Loman and comical pathetic loser Al Bundy: disgraceful and, at the same time, comical. Mr. Rourke displayed these dual characteristics throughout his performance. His emphatic pleading with Mr. Williamson (played by Kevin Esmond) for “prime” leads in the opening scene led me to empathize with the character. Moments into his spiel, however, I got tired of listening to his whining. I felt sorry for him, but wished he would go away. Rourke’s exceptional acting chops made me forget the later point shortly after.

In essence, Roma served as the archetype of the consummate winner, while “The Machine” embodied the pitiful loser. Hawkey’s and Breen’s superb interaction in the final scene really concretized this dichotomy. I give both actors credit for executing this so well.

Dave Moss (played by Daniel Brothers) and George Aaranow (Alan Krier) worked as great contrasts, too. These thespians brought out the subtleties in Mamet’s text through their interface. I’ve read the play, but didn’t catch the semi-humorous subtext of the conversation. Brothers’ performance of the devious schemer to Krier’s unwitting dupe allowed me to understand the underlying dynamics of the drama much better.

For those unfamiliar with Mamet’s writing, young children should not accompany parents to this performance. There’s a lot of freaking bad language: no bullsnot. While many will no doubt enjoy witnessing the characters swear at and berate their boss (kudos to Kevin Esmond for taking it all in stride), I’d recommend doing so in the company of a mature audience.

The stage crew did a great job with the set design. They converted an elegant Chinese Restaurant set into a trashed real estate office. I applaud how they managed to get it done during a short 15 minute intermission.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Burlington County Footlighters presentation of Glengarry Glen Ross. Intense tragedy populated with delicate interjections of dark humor, and foul language filled the evening. I just hope I don’t run into the cast the next time I’m in the market for real estate. If they can sell as well as they can act, they just might set me back a couple hundred grand for swamp side acreage.