Lisa Croce

Disaster! at Burlington County Footlighters

Take a spoof of 1970s disaster movies, include a soundtrack that sounds like a best of K-Tell Records compilation add a cast of South Jersey community theatre legends and you’ve got Disaster! A 70s Disaster Movie…Musical! (To save readers the time of going back and re-reading that title: I know. I never thought I’d see those words written in that combination, either.) So theatre fans grab your roller skates, your pet rocks and hook up your CB radios. This September 20th my “20” was Burlington Country Footlighters.

Scott Angehr and Tracey Hawthorne directed this rib-tickling tale of terror. Drawing on the suspense of films such as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and Jaws with the farcical wit of Airplane!, Disaster! told an old story with new twist.

Unscrupulous business man and Lothario wannabe Tony Delvecchio (played by John Romano, Jr.) came up with a clever scheme to avoid New York’s gambling laws. He owned a floating casino. As this was the 1970s, the establishment included a discotheque. Mr. Delvecchio’s ethical lapses also caused him to avoid spending money on the necessary safety measures.

To add to the potential for misfortune, scientist and disaster maven Ted Scheider (played by Evan Hairston) informed Mr. Delvecchio that a fault line lay underneath his casino. Mr. Delvecchio addressed this matter with same diligence that he managed the casino’s other safety concerns.

The late 1970s television series The Love Boat may have provided inspiration for the show’s characters. They were both quirky and the types of figures one would like to see the victims of misfortune.

The passenger list for this ship included a gambling addicted nun (Jillian Starr-Renbjor), a washed-up disco diva (Mikayla Nelson), the sappily married Summers pair (Alan Krier and Lisa Croce) and a wealthy couple (played by Antonio Flores and Kelly Scott) that made Thurston and Lovie Howell look like the Clampetts before Jed found “Texas tea” on his homestead.

The casino’s employees were even more idiosyncratic than its passengers. They included lounge singer Jackie Noelle (Alex Davis), waiter and malapropism prone pick-up artist Scott (Aaron Wachs) and a flamboyant chef (DJ Hedgepath).

Disaster! writers Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick infused their script with the philosophical wit of comedian Bill Hicks. The latter observed: “It’s only funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.” And Disaster! was hilarious.

Dramatis personae this eccentric, a wacky script and a soundtrack that featured radio staples of a decade, required performers with the right skills to execute these unique challenges. Directors Scott Angher and Tracey Hawthorne made strong casting choices: many of whom are Footlighters’ legends.

John Romano, Jr. made the reprehensible Tony Delvecchio a pleasure to watch. He performed the most comical near-death scene I’ve ever watched. While crooning a melodramatic version of “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, Mr. Romano battled rising waters and a school of sharks. He made the scene and the outcome hilarious.

Ally Masson played investigative reporter Miss…Excuse me, that’s Ms. Wilson. Ms. Masson played a stellar straight performer opposite Mr. Romano’s comical concupiscence. She displayed perfect chemistry with the character’s love interest played by Vinnie DiFilippo. The two delivered a fantastic duet with “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.” Ms. Masson also performed a memorable version of “I Am Woman/That’s the Way It Always Should Be” accompanied by BCF Mainstage newcomer Makenna Renbjor.

What Jim Frazer is to set-design, Vinnie DiFilippo is on his way to becoming as a theatrical performer. Mr. DiFilippo turned in another strong performance through the role of lovelorn Chad Rubik. The performer reciprocated the chemistry Ms. Masson displayed while working with him. While Mr. DiFilippo enacted all facets of the role perfectly, I especially enjoyed the soul he added to his vocals on “Without You.” He shifted the mood at the song’s conclusion by curling into the fetal position. This touch of comedy made the track even more memorable.

Evan Hairston played the deceptively complex character, Ted Scheider. Mr. Hairston delivered the sine qua non of this character type’s usual modus operandi. He ran around the casino and warned everyone who wouldn’t listen about a pending “disaster.” He executed this maneuver like the character’s namesake (the actor Roy Scheider) did in the movie Jaws.

Mr. Hairston added the requisite comedy to the role. His actions recalled those of another disaster spoof hero: Ted Striker, the protagonist of the film Airplane!

The performer still inspired empathy for Sheider. With his lamentations on the fate of the character’s deceased wife he showed Sheider’s personality deeper than that of a dispassionate scientist. He best did so through his interactions with his character’s love interest: nightclub singer Jackie Noelle (Alex Davis).

Alex Davis selected the perfect voice for the role. Ms. Davis spoke in a sultry high-pitched tone. It well suited the lounge singer’s vocal style on “Muskrat Love,” “Mockingbird” (accompanied by Mr. Hairston) and the “When Will I Be Loved” duet with Makenna Renbjor. Ms. Davis added her own brand of comedy to Jackie Noelle through the shuffle she used for her character’s walk.

Makenna Renbjor made her BCF Main Stage debut in the dual roles of Jackie Noelle’s children, Ben and Lisa. She selected a challenging show with which to do so. Ms. Renbjor managed the quick wig changes without flaw. The performer also showed strong vocal prowess as mentioned earlier. One has to credit her for the courage to perform along such outstanding performers as Ally Masson and Alex Davis during her first foray onto the Main Stage. Ms. Renbjor’s wonderful performance proved that she earned the right to share the stage with them and her real life mom, Jillian Starr-Renbjor.

Yet another Footlighters legend, Jillian Starr-Renbjor added her talents to this extraordinary cast. Ms. Starr-Renbjor played Sister Mary Downy, erstwhile gambling addict turned moral crusader turned gambling addict again. In a departure from the nun’s usual deadpan delivery, the performer expressed her character’s passion for one-armed bandits through her emotional rendition of “Torn between Two Lovers.”

A production consisting of this much talent and entertainment makes it difficult to select a most memorable moment. For me the casting of the Summers couple provided highlight of Disaster! Two of the best comic performers in South Jersey community theatre took on these roles: the extraordinary Alan Krier and the incomparable Lisa Croce.

Alan Krier provided his usual comedic genius for the production. He performed a perfect imitation of Ms. Davis’ shuffle. In perhaps an even more impressive feat: he did so without wearing heels.

Mr. Krier also returned to his roots in musical theatre for this role. He served as part of the group that performed “Ben.” He also delivered a fun duet with Lisa Croce on “Still the One.”

Lisa Croce’s fans will be ecstatic with her performance in Disaster! This show is an absolute “must see” for them. Ms. Croce treated them with her usual proficiency at comedy. Her portrayal of her character’s unusual medical condition, including Tourette’s like symptoms, delighted the audience. She sang a duet with Mr. Krier that was both comical and, in its own way, poignant.

Ms. Croce impressed most with her dancing ability; a skill that’s a bit out of her comfort zone. When I interviewed her on June 22, 2016, I asked about the most difficult role she played. Ms. Croce replied:

I feel much more confidence in my acting than my singing or dancing these days (age will do this!). Therefore, playing Rosie in Wedding Singer where I had to sing solo and dance was difficult for me. I needed to get out of my own head and just do it! I lean more towards plays or non-singing and dancing roles in musicals when I can.

Fans wouldn’t have suspected that for her performance in Disaster! She proved the old cliché that we’re our own harshest critics.

In this show, Ms. Croce performed a tap dance number. Part of the way through, Ms. Davis and Mr. Hairston accompanied her. Ms. Croce still occupied center stage while leading the ensemble. She executed the routine beautifully.

Set designer extraordinaire Jim Frazer worked his usual magic with the Footlighters’ stage. For Disaster! he turned it upside down: literally. Mr. Frazer transformed it into a dock, a lounge and a host of other settings one would find in a casino.

The show featured a live band under the direction of bassist Peg Petti-Smith. Ms. Smith led the Diablo Sandwich Band & Friends through the pop music of the seventies. The group performed tunes written in a range of styles. The songs included the contemplative “The Lord’s Prayer,” the upbeat “Saturday Night” and the disco masterpiece (now there’s an oxymoron) “I Will Survive.”

Tom Shaw, Jr. choreographed, Leslie Romanuski stage managed, Amanda Cogdell managed the costuming and Scott Angehr produced. The following performers completed the cast: Mark Henley, Christian Decolla, Shannon Ewing, Shannon Forbes, Mackenzie Smith and Abby Zahn.

Disaster! runs through September 28th at Burlington County Footlighters. As of this writing your correspondent hasn’t confirmed the rumors that FEMA: A New Musical will follow it. Sources do tell me that production is lacking the needed financing.

I found the performance of Disaster! at Burlington County Footlighters as anything but. Theatre fans can only hope we see the members of this talented cast perform again. If we don’t, it wouldn’t be a disaster: it would be a catastrophe for the arts in South Jersey.

 

Night of 1000 Plays at Haddonfield Plays and Players

The play’s the thing, William Shakespeare wrote. This June 7th and 8th, plays were about a lot of things. Haddonfield Plays and Players hosted their annual Night of 1000 Plays special program. The company presented 24 short pieces submitted by local playwrights. I attended the Saturday, June 8th performance.

HPP Artistic Director Pat DeFusco directed the program. Mr. DeFusco selected a variety of dramatic styles for this endeavor. They ranged from the comical (such as David Lewinson’s Crazy), to the topical (Allie Costa’s Failure to Communicate) to the absurd (Absurdity by Jim Moss). They even included a philosophical piece contrasting the ancients’ views of gender roles with the modern one. (RA Pauli’s Man & Woman) Drama containing powerful soliloquys made the bill, as well. (Scot Walker’s Whole and Lily’s Fine by John O’Hara.)

The program’s sequence reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Echoes. On that best of compilation, producers mixed various songs from the band’s catalog into a sequence. The arrangement made them flow together naturally. Some have said the mix makes the album sound like one song.

The same could be said of Mr. DeFusco’s arrangement for this program. Somehow all these diverse plays flowed well with one another. That’s a testament to Mr. DeFusco’s creativity.

The Haddonfield Plays and Players stage became a busy place on Friday and Saturday nights. They still managed to present all 24 plays in less than two hours. Your correspondent has a rule about writing: the running time of anything I review should be greater than the time it takes to read my assessment of it. To adhere to that philosophy, I’m going to borrow an idea from another show I attended at HPP. High Fidelity’s protagonist, Rob, had a “top five” list for everything. For this post, I’m going to present my “top six” plays performed.

Two shows impressed through their imaginative use of language. Ron Baruch’s Love (directed by Pat DeFusco) took a minimalist approach. The playwright selected a difficult setting in which to do so. Amber Kusching played a director instructing two actors on how to play a scene. Performers Maddox Morfit-Tighe and Cassidy Scherz enacted a heartwarming result.

Jack Helbig crafted creative language in Thinking of Her Made Him Think of Her (directed by Bill Fikaris). The dialog included repetition a bit reminiscent of some passages in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. Performers Zach Martin and Amanda Barrish played a couple expressing their inner feelings towards one another. Repeating the same words in different context can become comparable to speaking in tongue twisters. Both performers handled this challenge flawlessly.

George Sapio also used language ingeniously in his The One-Minute Mamet (directed by Pat DeFusco). Anecdotally it’s said that the average person uses only 23 different English words during a 24 hour period. Based on Mr. Sapio’s dialog, it seems Mr. Mamet gets by with two. Performers Lisa Croce, Pat DeFusco, Andrea Veneziano, Victor A. Martinez and Steve Kreal expressed the delicate nuances of the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s prose.

Playwright John O’Hara drew on the subject of theatre for his work. Cast (directed by Omi Parrilla-Dunne) envisioned what happens to actors after they die. Performers Steve Kreal, Lisa Croce, Connor Twigg and Lili Myers took the audience on a journey through the theatrical equivalent of the afterlife.

Mr. O’Hara’s Fan-Tastic (directed by Pat DeFusco) presented a twist on the traditional sports bar. The playwright envisioned the concept of a “theatre bar”: a place where supporters of the arts could pound a few brewskies with like-minded people. Performers Steve Kreal, Bonnie Kapenstein, Victor A. Martinez and Pat DeFusco brought this world to life.

Patti Perry both wrote and directed the evening’s concluding piece, Young Miss Sissy Fanning. This parody of Inside the Actors’ Studio contemplated the extremes aging actresses will pursue in order to remain relevant. It featured performers Pat DeFusco, Bonnie Kapenstein, Ricky Conway, Lili Myers, Brynne Gaffney, Andrea Veneziano and Cassidy Scherz.

The following shows rounded out the program: Complete Stranger or Completely Strange written by Carol M. Rice and directed by Lisa Croce, Air Rage written by Shirley King and directed by Omi Parrilla-Dunne, Balls written by Emily Hageman and directed by Alex Hawthorne, Remove Your Belt and Shoes written by Shirley King and directed by Bill Fikaris, It’s All in the Breast written by Robin Rice and directed by Bill Fikaris, The Down-Low Dating Show written by Steven G. Martin and directed by Pat DeFusco, Pseudo-Human Resources written by Rex McGregor and directed by Randy Hendler, In the Heist written by Allie Costa and directed by Nicole DeRosa Lukatis, Diagnosis: Improv written by Peter Dakutis and directed by Amanda Frederick, Proverbs written by Donna Latham and directed by Lisa Croce, Post-Apocalyptic Romance written by JJ Steinfeld and directed by Amanda Frederick, and Suit Yourself written by Chip Bolick and directed by Alex Hawthorne.

This elaborate show contained an extensive cast and crew. The following actors performed in various skits: Amanda Barrish, Amber Kushing, Andrea Veneziano, Bobby Kramer, Bonnie Kapenstein, Brynne Gaffney, Cassidy Scherz, Connor Twigg, Debbie Tighe, Isabella Capelli, Lana Croce, Lili Myers, Lisa Croce, Liza Chesebro, Maddox Morfit-Tighe, Melynda Morrone, Pat DeFusco, Ricky Conway, Sarah Pardys, Sera Scherz, Steve Kreal, Victor A. Martinez, and Zach Martin.

Pat DeFusco produced the show and handled the sound and projection design, Omi Parilla Dunne stage managed and designed the lighting, and Kalman Dunne worked as the sound engineer. Lana Croce and Emma Scherz assisted the Stage Manager.

Night of 1000 Plays treated audiences to an entertaining evening of theatre. For those who missed it, Haddonfield Plays and Players has more opportunities for budding playwrights on their calendar. This August 24th, they will present a 24 Hour Play Festival. On September 13th and 14th, they will host a Teen One Act Play Showcase.

Haddonfield Plays and Players received an “overwhelming” number of submissions for Night of 1000 Plays. They presented 24 of them. Playwrights have crafted plays since the fifth century BC. In a world where sources of entertainment change regularly, theatre still retains its popularity. To paraphrase Shakespeare: the play will always be the thing.

 

The Man Who Came to Dinner at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Who hasn’t had a guest who overstayed his or her welcome? Playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman took this premise to a new level with their comic masterpiece The Man Who Came to Dinner. The unwelcome guest in this case overstayed not just a few hours or days. He didn’t leave their house for several weeks; and this extended stay occurred during the Christmas Season. The visitor in this story also happened to be an obnoxious, arrogant journalist, radio personality and worst of all a critic. He also had a penchant for meddling in other people’s affairs. The hosts may not have enjoyed his visit, but the audience at Haddonfield Plays and Players delighted at watching the ensuing mayhem. I attended the opening night performance on May 10th.

The dramatic version of The Man Who Came to Dinner premiered in 1939. The film version followed in 1942. Hart and Kaufman included numerous cultural references from the time period in the play. Because of these outdated examples, some of the references from the 30s and 40s may go over the heads of modern audiences just like the bluebirds flying over the White Cliffs of Dover. (I wrote that example and even I had to look up the reference.)

In the playbill Director Shannon Gingell included a website to consult. It provided a good summary of the era to aid theatregoers in understanding the play. The analysis also included details about the real life people upon whom the playwrights based their characters.

For those who enjoy watching eccentric characters interact on the stage, The Man Who Came to Dinner is a must see. While walking up the steps to Mr. and Mrs.  Stanley’s (Wes Anderson and Phyllis Josephson) Ohio home, Sheridan “Sherry” Whiteside (played by Pat DeFusco) fell on the ice. Dr. Bradley (Tim Sagges) diagnosed that Sherry fractured his hip and couldn’t leave the Stanley’s house for several weeks. While there, Sherry tormented his hosts, his nurse, Miss Preen (Gina Petti Baldasari) and his secretary Maggie Cutler (Sarah Blake).

Local reporter Bert Jefferson (Joe Godley) arrived and talked Sherry into giving him an interview. In the course of their discussion, Bert mentioned he aspired to be a playwright. He gave Sherry a copy of his play to read.

Following that development, Bert and Maggie became romantically involved. Maggie told Sherry that she’d planned on quitting her job to become Bert’s wife.

Good administrative assistants must have been hard to find circa 1940. In order to keep Maggie working for him, Sherry came up with a plan to break up the relationship through Bert’s literary aspirations.

Sheridan Whiteside was not a likable character. To use contemporary references, his personality melded that of a pompous radio host with the mindset of a self-help guru who received an Ivy League education. Director Shannon Gingell selected the legendary Pat DeFusco for the role. Mr. DeFusco captured all these components of Sherry’s personality while keeping the role funny.

Mr. DeFusco introduced the character brilliantly. From his wheelchair, he ordered the Stanleys that he was taking over their home. Later he sarcastically informed them that he would be suing them for his broken hip. When Mr. Stanley (Wes Anderson) complained out the $700 plus phone bill, Mr. DeFusco said he would pay it. With sardonic wit he informed Mr. Stanley he’d deduct the cost from the money he’d win in the lawsuit.

And then there were Sherry’s bad qualities. The Stanley’s daughter June (Taylor Kellar) explained in her uniquely emotional way that she wanted to marry Sandy (Victor E. Martinez). The gentleman worked at Mr. Stanley’s factory. He was also a union organizer. Carl Sandburg once said, “Beware of advice: even this.” Mr. DeFusco’s character proved that statement’s veracity by nonchalantly advising the two to marry.

But there was more. The Stanley’s son Richard (Zach Martin) longed to become a photographer. Sherry recommended he leave home to follow that pursuit.

Mr. DeFusco and Gina Petti Baldasari played well opposite one another. Mr. DeFusco shouted insults at her every time she (as the nurse Miss Preen) tried attending to him. Ms. Baldasari made Miss Preen more neurotic with every interaction the two had. By the end of the show, she transitioned her character into a bitter, cynic with a hatred of humankind: all thanks to Sherry. Ms. Baldasari also showed tremendous imagination through her enactment of a penguin attack victim.

Wes Anderson and Phyllis Josephson portrayed their characters’ contrasting personalities well. Both harbored different attitudes towards their “guest.” Ms. Josephson exhibited Mrs. Stanley’s star struck attitude towards Sherry. She gushed over the celebrities who called and sent Sherry Christmas presents. Mr. Anderson showed increasing agitation with Sherry’s annoying behavior.

As one can tell by this point, Sherry was not the person one would want stuck in his/her home. In addition to his abrasive personality, he liked to entertain guests.

Sherry received a series of visitors at the Stanley’s home for the Christmas Season. To put it politely, they were not the Three Wise Men. Professor Metz (played by Rob Repici) would be the closest. With his emphatic German accent Mr. Repici raved over the gift he presented. The professor gave Sherry a cockroach village; think an ant farm, only with actual buildings. It included a speaker so Sherry could listen to the bugs.

Other intriguing guests included the hyperactive movie star, Banjo (also played by Rob Repici). The overly histrionic actors Beverly (Jim Bloss) and Lorraine Sheldon (Julia Terruso) wished Sherry a Merry Christmas in person. Prison Guard Baker (Victor E. Martinez) brought along two convicts (Andrew Chaput and Kacper Milkus).

Although she already lived in the home, Mr. Stanley’s sister, Harriet, (Sheila McDonald) proved Sherry’s most intriguing visitor. Ms. McDonald spoke in a quiet voice and talked enigmatically. I’d suggest audience members pay close attention to Ms. McDonald’s eccentric behavior while watching the show.

Sarah Blake made Maggie into the strongest character in the cast. Ms. Blake played the role of someone falling in love during her scenes with Mr. Godley. She made Maggie into a tough counterpart to Mr. DeFusco’s bullying. Ms. Blake portrayed Maggie’s indomitability very believably.

I enjoyed The Man Who Came to Dinner more for the performances than the script. Hart and Kaufman based some of the characters on real people. The playwrights developed them as caricatures for this comedy. The depictions fit the show and made it much more entertaining. The performers conveyed the essences of the roles they brought to the stage.

Taylor Kellar played Sarah as a highly emotional and dramatic teenaged girl. Jim Bloss portrayed Beverly as an actor who put the “drama” into the word dramatic. Julia Terruso presented Lorraine as a self-absorbed stardom addicted actress willing to do anything to remain popular. Rob Repici brought tremendous energy to the stage in his performance as the colorful actor Banjo. Tim Sagges added his comedy skills to the wannabe author Dr. Bradley. All these performers selected excellent voices to suit their roles.

One line from the show grabbed my attention. Mr. DeFusco introduced one of the convicts as a murder named “Stephany.” My great-uncle John Stephany lived in Stockton, California during the 1940s. It’s doubtful he ever encountered either Hart or Kaufman, however. By all accounts my great-uncle was a well behaved gentleman. For these reasons, I suspect my surname didn’t appear in the original script.

In addition, Mr. DeFusco is familiar with my writing. I’m sure he’s well aware that the only thing I’ve ever “butchered” is the English language. I do have to acknowledge that particular slaughter will continue for years to come.

I’d also credit performers Gary Werner (who also worked as Technical Director while designing and building the set), Lisa Croce, dee Stenton-Litchford and Andrea Veneziano for their contributions to the performance. Omi Parrilla-Dunne made her debut as producer. She also stage managed and designed the lighting. Pat DeFusco served as Artistic Director, Renee McCleery designed the costumes, Anna Diaczynsky handled the properties. Sound Engineer Kalman Dunne worked on the set design, as well. Jen Tracy served as the Scenic Artist.

The Man Who Came to Dinner affected me on a personal level. After the curtain call I didn’t want to leave the theatre. It wasn’t just because of the hospitality I received from Phyllis Josephson, Lisa Croce, Rob Repici and Omi Parrilla-Dunne, either. Theatre fans have until May 25th to see this show at Haddonfield Plays and Players. After that HPP will do to Sherry what the Stanleys couldn’t.

The Boys Next Door at Bridge Players Theatre Company

“I can’t tell if this is the saddest place I’ve ever been or the happiest,” social worker Jack observed. That’s a good summation of The Boys Next Door. It contained both a heart-rending and heart-warming story. I attending this opening night performance at the Bridge Players Theatre Company on February 1st. Edwin Howard directed.

The Boys Next Door related the stories of several men living at a group home. Arnold Wiggins (played by Stephen Jackson) possessed a compulsive and nervous disposition. Mentally retarded middle aged man Lucien P. Smith (Jay Scott Burton) had a fascination with books. Norman Bulanski (Matthew Brent) fixated on donuts and locks. Schizophrenic Barry Klemper (Jeff Skomsky) believed himself a golf instructor.

Case worker Jack Palmer (Thomas Everett) attended to these clients. The continuous struggles of helping these men fit into society strained him. He confessed to feeling burned out. “Either they deserve better or I deserve better,” he mused. Maintaining his composure proved a challenge.

Bridge Players’ production featured some powerful performances. Stephen Jackson played a convincing compulsive obsessive personality. His repeated counting, quick pacing and even faster talking captured Arnold’s essence. It’s difficult to speak clearly when delivering a machine-gun like barrage of words. I credit Mr. Jackson as he spoke in a way that I could still understand him.

Jay Scott Burton delivered the most powerful speech in the show. After his genuine portrayal of a man with mental deficiencies, he stood upon a soap box. Mr. Burton delivered a disquisition on the plight of the mentally retarded. He animated playwright Tom Griffin’s dialog with authority.

Matthew Brent played the lovable donut aficionado, Norman Bulanski. Perhaps, because of that, his character was the only one with a love interest. His scenes with Lisa Croce (as Sheila, the resident of a different group home) made for the show’s most sentimental. I give Mr. Howard and the performers credit for not allowing this relationship to deteriorate into melodrama. Their portrayal of the conflict that resulted when Ms. Croce innocently asked for Mr. Brent’s keyes aided in that regard.

The most moving scene occurred at the end of Act One. Mr. Bulanski and Ms. Croce danced together. They performed a well-choreographed routine. They showed each character’s affection for each other by smiling the entire time. So did the audience.

Jeff Skomsky played an exceptional Barry. Through the serious way he discussed “business” and conducted his golf lessons, I had difficulty telling why the character was even in the group home. Then Barry found out that the father he hadn’t seen in nine years was coming to visit him. At this point, Mr. Skomsky brought out the character’s inner turmoil.

Mr. Skomsky kept a blank look on his face while staring straight ahead. In an eerie monotone he told unbelievable stories about Barry’s father. He described “Kipper” Klemper as a third base coach for the Yankees, a defensive coach for the 49ers and Ted Williams’ fishing buddy. The performer’s interpretation of Barry’s mental state showed that the two men’s reunion would not end happily.

This segued into the show’s most memorable scene. Russ Walsh played Mr. Klemper as socially inept and crass. When he asked Jack to leave the two alone, Mr. Everett paused and gave him an uncomfortable look. Mr. Walsh then showed the dark side of “Kipper” Klemper’s personality. He and Mr. Skomsky played a very unsettling scene together. The emotions involved and the quality of the acting made it very difficult to watch.

With characters of this nature, humor becomes a challenge. The cast and director conveyed it respectfully. One of the most comical moments occurred when a neighbor (played by Andrea Veneziano) visited. While sitting on the couch sandwiched between Mr. Brent and Mr. Skomsky she asked if they’d seen her son’s hamster. I’ll avoid giving away spoilers, but the startled looks on their faces showed that they had.

The production also included some spectacular lighting. It figured. Bob Beaucheane is one of the best lighting designers in South Jersey community theatre. The Boys Next Door showed why. The multi-colored lights that simulated the dance hall looked very authentic. It complimented the music very well. (Mr. Beaucheane also handled the sound design.) The full moon projected on the backdrop created a superb ambiance for the outdoor night scenes.

Bridge Players Theatre Company President Timothy Kirk rounded out the ensemble.

Director Edwin Howard wrote in the playbill:

In today’s world of tolerance and acceptance, sometimes we forget that everyone has wants and needs. Just because simple things are harder to do for some people, doesn’t mean they are any less human and deserve any less care and love.

The Boys Next Door is a solid commentary on these sentiments. The show runs through February 16th at the Bridge Players Theatre Company.

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite at Riverfront Community Players

The Riverfront Community Players made the perfect artistic decision to present Plaza Suite just before summer. It’s doubtful that Neil Simon’s pessimistic, but comical, take on marriage would’ve been a good choice for Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving weekend or the Holiday Season. I attended the June 9th evening performance at the Samuel M. Ridgway Middle School in Edgewater Park. Linda Golden directed.

Plaza Suite seemed a bit of a misnomer for this Neil Simon piece. For in it, the playwright provided three takes on marriage that were anything but ‘sweet.’ The show consisted of three separate acts involving different characters. Each occurred in Suite 719 of the Plaza Suite Hotel. The first allowed audiences to witness the disintegration of a 23 (or 24) year marriage. Act II placed two affection starved characters in the same hotel room. The male lead had endured three failed marriages. The woman, lips loosened by liquor, let out that her marriage was imploding. The finale showed a bride too timorous to leave the bathroom on her wedding day. She loved her fiancé, but she feared that their marriage would become like her parents’.

See what I mean about not staging this show from November through February?

Mr Simon subtitled the first act Visitor from Mamaroneck. In this vignette, Karen Nash (played by Chrissy Wick) planned on celebrating a romantic anniversary with her husband, Sam (played by Zach Wishnefsky). For this event, she reserved the same suite where they spent their honeymoon. The festivities turned into anything but joyous within moments of Sam’s entering the room. The two got into an argument regarding the precise date and year of their marriage. They also disputed Karen’s age. The subtext showed a marriage in despair. Sam’s behavior demonstrated his experiencing a ‘mid-life crisis.’

Chrissy Wick turned in a superb performance as the dutiful wife. Ms. Wick portrayed a woman yearning for her husband’s affections who steadily realized she couldn’t have them. She transitioned from a happily married woman into a figure coping with an unexpected tragedy very well. Her tears at scene’s end seemed genuine.

As Neil Simon wrote this script, the character still needed to make the audience laugh: with physical humor. Ms. Wick didn’t disappoint. While wearing a single galosh, she got laughs as she dragged her foot across the floor.

Zach Wishnefski portrayed the austere, career oriented husband. The performer selected a warm voice that well suited the role. Mr. Wishnefsky made Sam into a man always in control. Whether barking orders into the phone or (repeatedly) correcting his wife, he always remained in command…until he told his wife he didn’t know what he wanted out of life. The performer brought out this change very credibly. He played a well-ordered man suffering from inner turmoil that even he didn’t understand. Mr. Wishnefsky executed this task with profound ability.

The Visitor from Hollywood skit comprised Act II. In this one, successful Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger (played by Marc Steinberg) invited his high school flame Muriel Tate (played by Amy Bannister) whom he hadn’t seen in 17 years to…wait for it…Suite 719 at the Plaza Suite Hotel. Following three failed marriages, and dealing with insincere Hollywood types, he longed to reconnect with the one woman he believed “authentic.” Star struck at first by her high school beau’s success, Muriel became very nervous. She imbibed a series of vodka stingers to help her relax. In the process, she revealed her own marital woes.

Marc Steinberg played the jaded Hollywood power broker very well. He talked in a nonchalant fashion about the famous people with whom he worked. While discussing his own capability for making profitable movies he sounded bored. During the scene’s opening, Mr. Steinberg convinced the audience Jesse was a lothario looking to score with his former girlfriend. By its end he transitioned the character into a person seeking a more meaningful relationship. Mr. Steinberg portrayed this change very convincingly.

Amy Bannister made Muriel the funniest character in the show. When she first appeared on stage, she fidgeted and commented about how “nervous” she felt in the presence of such a famous producer. I enjoyed how she contradicted herself with her dialog. After using a hairdressing appointment as her reason for needing to leave, she kept changing the time. When Mr. Steinberg questioned the equivocation, her riposte “it’s flexible” made the audience chuckle. As Ms. Bannister’s character continued drinking, she spoke with the slurred speech and loosened inhibitions of someone under the influence. The performer fused this with her dialog to make Muriel a joy to watch.

The Visitor from Forest Hills made up the most comical scene. Mimsey Hubley (played by Jaclyn Clark) locked herself in the bathroom on her wedding day. Norma Hubley (played by Lisa Croce) and Roy Hubley (John Hughes) spent the act attempting to coax her out of it. When they couldn’t, they determined to discover her reason for doing so.

Following the show, I spoke with Lisa Croce. She said that she and Mr. Hughes worked together in the past. It showed. The two displayed marvelous stage chemistry with one another in Plaza Suite.

With the nature of the situation, Mr. Hughes’ dialog contained many comical lines. The performer expressed them flawlessly. It’s ironic that his best stage time entailed non-verbal communication. After speaking with his daughter off stage, he re-entered with a forlorn look on his face. His expression allowed me to guess what she told him. That’s superb acting.

Lisa Croce possesses a gift for delivering comical lines with aplomb. She didn’t disappoint in Plaza Suite. My favorite occurred when the character’s daughter slipped a note through the bathroom door. Mimsey wrote that she wanted to speak with her father. She’d scribbled it on the only source available. Ms. Croce commented, “It figures she’d write it on that” in reference to the toilet paper.

Ms. Croce also displayed some exceptional non-verbal cues of her own. Her best took place when Roy said something to the effect, “I did my best raising her. I don’t know why she’s like that.” I found Ms. Croce’s expression even funnier than the punch line. Only someone as talented as she could get laughs with a serious look.

Mr. Simon crafted each scene very well. All contained strong conflict. He added some surprise plot twists that made Plaza Suite a solid work of drama. The script did contain some poor dialog, however. I’ve written before that one can’t blame actors for bad writing. It’s not fair to criticize them for following instructions as Shakespeare wrote, to “speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.” (Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2) It is, however, appropriate to criticize playwrights for not providing them better material with which to work.

The Visitor from Hollywood section began with an excessive amount of backstory. At times I thought the actors were reading their characters’ biographies. I give Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Bannister credit for doing their best to make the lines sound like a natural conversation.

While worrying that his daughter may cancel her wedding, Roy Hubley talked about the wedding’s cost. And talked about it. And talked about it some more. At one point, I wanted to shout out, “I get it! A wedding’s expensive! Next!” Mr. Hughes worked around this by pacing and talking like someone muttering in disgust. He put on a clinic for how actors can handle getting stuck with bad dialog.

I would also credit performers Jackie Clark and Bill Upham for their contributions to the production.

Neil Simon found the humor in marital troubles. The cast and crew of the Riverfront Community Players made them absolutely entertaining in Plaza Suite. While the show wrapped this weekend, we can look forward to watching these performers apply their craft to other tragedies of the human condition in the future. Hopefully, they won’t make us wait until Thanksgiving to do so.

 

Theatre Review – Bye Bye Birdie Presented by Haddonfield Plays and Players

Director Jeanne Gold engaged in the most creative casting I’ve ever encountered. For Haddonfield Plays and Players’ summer musical, Bye Bye Birdie, she selected a real life husband and wife team to star in this production. How can an actual married couple portray two people who are dating? I thought. It’s going to be a colossal effort to suspend my disbelief during this show. The performance opened with the two in the midst of a heated argument. Rosie (played by Megan Knowlton Balne) threatened to leave Albert (played by Thomas Balne), in essence, unless he took a more stable job and gave her more attention. After that exchange, I completely bought into the casting decision.

Bye Bye Birdie featured a sophisticated story line for a musical. The amount of conflict impressed me. Rosie Alvarez wanted her boyfriend, Albert Peterson, to sell his company and give up his career managing rock and roll sensation Conrad Birdie (played by Steve Stonis). She also needed him to develop a life of his own away from his overbearing mother. Thanks to Lisa Croce’s spectacular portrayal of the latter, I’m still trying to determine which of these tasks the more challenging.

In addition to this thorn tree in this garden, teenaged Kim MacAfee (performed by Ashleigh Neilio) battled her own series of romantic conflicts. As a young woman discovering her own maturity, she decided to give up her membership in Conrad Birdie’s fan club. She opted to abandon her childhood crush and devote herself to her boyfriend, Hugo (played by Jack Rooney). Serendipitously for theatergoers, just as that moment occurred she received unexpected news from Mr. Peterson’s company. She’d been selected as the young lady with the honor of kissing Conrad Birdie on The Ed Sullivan Show the day before his entering the army.

As I mentioned the two lead performers in this production are married in real life. Since they spend so much time with one another when they’re not on stage, it’s not surprising that they have similar skill sets. Both are extraordinarily strong singers and dancers. They both possess exceptional acting chops, too. Watching the two of them showcase their craft made for a most entertaining evening.

Thomas Balne turned in an amazing performance. His best moment on stage occurred during the upbeat song and dance number “Put on a Happy Face”. The ensemble and he sure made the audience smile. Under choreographer Jennifer Morris Grasso’s direction, they put on a very impressive dance sequence while he sang impeccably.

I also credit Mr. Balne for his crooning of “Baby Talk to Me.” The high notes at the end of the song sounded a bit of out his natural vocal range. He still nailed the notes correctly…on a balmy ninety degree evening, no less. That’s remarkable singing.

Megan Knowlton Balne also conveyed outstanding vocal prowess. A strong performance on an early number, “An English Teacher”, served as a good warm up for the more challenging “Spanish Rose” towards the end of the show. She sang just as proficiently in a Spanish accent as she did with her regular voice. Once again, that’s remarkable singing.

Aside from the great songs, the role called for a very intricate dance number with a group of Shriners. Mrs. Balne’s Rose rose to that challenge, as well. At times I thought the line between dance and gymnastics blurred a bit. It didn’t affect this performer at all.

While Mrs. Balne displayed many strong traits on stage, I found her non-verbal skills without peer. This player can express more emotion with an eye roll than most could with an extended soliloquy. Bravo.

Ashleigh Neilio may only be a freshman in high school, but she displayed the skills of a seasoned stage veteran. Her delivery of “How Lovely to Be a Woman” impressed me. It’s incredible how talented she is at this point in her career. Ms. Neilio sang with great vibrato and sustain. She also caroled with perfect intonation on the high notes. While achieving that difficult feat, she performed the number while changing costumes on stage as she faced the audience. (I can’t even put on a pair of loafers without looking at what I’m doing.) She’s got a bright future in theater. Audiences can look forward to watching Ms. Neilio perform for many years to come.

Steve Stonis (as Conrad Birdie) undoubtedly earned the award for best costumes in this show. The gold suit he wore gave off the colorful attire of a rock star and allowed him the flexibility of movement to out-gyrate Elvis Presley. He also drew laughs during his comedic appearance chugging a bottle of beer while sporting a leopard skin robe. Aside from his fifties crooner style singing, he showed his commitment to playing this character by wearing a pink blouse with a head scarf at the end of the show. That’s dedication.

I’d also like to credit Michael Hicks for his portrayal of Kim’s father. I last saw him play the serious dramatic role of Dr. Sloper in Haddonfield Plays and Players production of The Heiress. He turned in a fantastic performance in a light hearted musical. I’d never heard him sing before. His frustrated delivery of “Kids” and fitting facial expressions suited his character perfectly. Mr. Hicks brilliantly expressed Mr. MacAfee’s antediluvian values (even for a 1950s dad). I appreciated watching him in this comedic role.

I relished observing my friend Lisa Croce reprise her role as Mae Peterson. Ms. Croce once told me that she’d like audiences to remember her as “funny”.  I’m sure she achieved that goal with this group of theatergoers. Her artistic choice of voice suited this role. It fit well with her repeated (and mostly successful) efforts to lay guilt trips on Albert. Her modulation on the not so veiled attacks on Rose made her the perfect antagonist to Mrs. Balne’s character.

I wished the performance could’ve included a live band. As a “purist” I feel that musicians performing along with the people singing make for a better listening experience. All the music was pre-recorded and broadcast over the public address system. I understand that the facility lacked the space to fit the required orchestra for some of the songs, however.

The show began with an off-stage relationship developing into a fictional one on stage. By the end of the performance the true love affair turned out to be between the audience and the cast. (I still noticed a little friction among Ms. Croce’s and Mrs. Balne’s characters, though.) See this show no later than August 6th. After that it’s bye bye Bye Bye Birdie at Haddonfield Plays and Players.

Lisa Croce: The Critique Compendium Interview

Dancer. Singer. Actress. Director. Lisa Croce is one of the most talented and entertaining performers active on the South Jersey community theatre circuit today. In spite of her very busy schedule, Ms. Croce agreed to take questions regarding her life and career. We conducted our interview via email on June 22, 2016.

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Critique Compendium: Tell us a little about yourself.

Lisa Croce: I’m really quite boring. I was raised in Voorhees, NJ. After high school I moved up to NYC to go to NYU as a musical theatre major. I lived in NY for about 10 years before moving back to the South Jersey area. I now work with numbers and rules in the mortgage biz but always keep my creative side active with my hobby of theatre, as well as writing (for my own eyes only).

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

Lisa Croce: My mom enrolled me in dance classes at the age of 4. I wanted to quit basically every year but in elementary school my gym teacher encouraged my parents to keep me in dance as it would help me with my eye-hand and eye-foot coordination. When my dance teacher was hired to choreograph “The Music Man” when I was 13 years old, and encouraged all her dancers to audition, I was cast in the ensemble … and that was it. I was bit by the bug. Once bit, it’s irreversible.

Critique Compendium: When did you start performing?

Lisa Croce: Dance recitals at the age of 4. Theatre at the age of 13.

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

Lisa Croce: I am always interested in new challenges. When I see a role with a lot of dimensions, for instance, the opportunity to be funny but touch on an emotion or two along with it, I definitely want to dig my claws into that.

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

Lisa Croce: Relating to the above, Debra Watts in Kimberly Akimbo was an amazing example of a funny character but she also had a heart. Trying to bring both aspects to life for the audience was a challenge I looked forward to meeting each performance.

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

Lisa Croce: I feel much more confidence in my acting than my singing or dancing these days (age will do this!). Therefore, playing Rosie in Wedding Singer where I had to sing solo and dance was difficult for me. I needed to get out of my own head and just do it! I lean more towards plays or non-singing and dancing roles in musicals when I can.

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

Lisa Croce: Yes, there are 2 if I may. The first one is the first time I played Mae Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie. There is a scene where Albert tells Mae to do something about Conrad and Mae insinuates a sexual encounter between Conrad and herself. Here I am made up and dressed up to be old and frumpy and coming onto the rock star Conrad Birdie. When I said my line, an audience member (male) let out an audible “UGH” … that made me so happy.

The 2nd one was during Guys and Dolls, I managed to get the biggest laugh of the show, every single performance, based solely off of my height (or lack thereof).

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you? Why?

Lisa Croce: I am constantly astounded at the talents of Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks. While there are many talented actors out there, the three I name are so incredibly diverse and I feel like no matter what role they are asked to play, it will be done perfectly!

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

Lisa Croce: The ones I name above of course. Idina Mendel! Can I do a love scene with Channing Tatum? HA! (Need I say why??)

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

Lisa Croce: As mentioned I work in the mortgage biz and the rest of the time is devoted to my 10 year old daughter and her activities – dance, voice, girl scouts, drama club. I’m a single mom working full time, so the concept of “spare time” is kind of foreign to me. When I am involved in a show, it’s a complete anomaly!

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

Lisa Croce: Sleep? Who needs sleep? Messy house? I’ll clean it after tech week! It isn’t easy but it’s what I love to do, so I make it work. Thankfully, I have my mom around to help with my daughter A LOT – if not for her, I probably wouldn’t be able to do theatre.

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Lisa Croce: Once I’ve read a script several times, I want to understand what my character is feeling. When possible, I try to relate my character’s situation to my own life, or of someone I know. I try to find the same feelings within me that the character is feeling, even if it’s from a completely different situation. As for learning lines, it’s a matter of repetition. I read them, I write them, I speak them, I record them and play them back to myself. They are constantly in my head. Often times I’ll randomly speak some out loud. Actors are weird!!!!

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

Lisa Croce: Oh, I don’t know. I have a great comedic timing. My look is unique.

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult part of performing in front of a live audience?

Lisa Croce: It doesn’t matter how many times I do it, every night is a new set of jitters when “places” is called. Will I remember my lines? Will I trip and fall on my face? Will I hit all the notes (if singing) or remember all the steps (if dancing)? Will they like it? Will they laugh where they are supposed to laugh and cry where they are supposed to cry and clap where they are supposed to clap? The actors definitely feed off of the energy of the audience. Every audience is different and therefore every performance is different. You never really know what you’re going to be facing until you get there.

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

Lisa Croce: Hilarious of course! “Remember that short girl who played (whoever) … she was so funny!”

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

Lisa Croce: They would tell you that Lisa keeps her drama on the stage. That I have zero tolerance for divas, drama and BS. We are all doing this as volunteers. It’s supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, is the day I hang it up! Believe it or not, I’m actually slightly on the shy side until I get to know people. Then I’m fun, funny, and easy to work with. Oh, and very self-depreciating but will build everyone else up incessantly.

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

Lisa Croce: Go and have fun with it. Try different companies, different types of shows, etc. Volunteer to help with as much as you can – sets, lights, sound, costumes – try to learn all aspects of it. Audition even when you don’t think there’s a role for you – you never know what the director wants. (Prime example is me playing Big Jule in Guys and Dolls. This is a role typically played by a large male. He’s a gangster. When 4’11” me shows up in this role, hilarity ensues.) Most importantly, don’t take it personally. When you’re not cast in a role it stinks. When you know you’d be better than the person who was cast, it stinks even more. It will happen though. Why? It’s not about you. It’s about the director’s vision. Directors go into auditions with ideas and visions already established. If you don’t fit what they see, it doesn’t matter how talented you are, it just won’t work.

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

Lisa Croce: Improving (as I get older I fit more roles that I look right for.)

Critique Compendium: Barbara Walters famously asked Katherine Hepburn: “What kind of tree would you want to be?” Let me ask you this: If you were a tree, in what forest would you like to be located?

Lisa Croce: Can I be a palm tree on a beach? The beach is my happy place. The ocean is peaceful. That’s where I’d like to be.

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Lisa Croce: One Flew Over the Writer’s Block one act festival goes up this weekend. Bye Bye Birdie (2nd chance to play Mae Peterson) opens July 14th. Auditions for Brighton Beach Memoirs are also in July. After that (if cast) I will need a break. I will be directing for the first time in April 2017. It’s a poignant dramedy, Making God Laugh, at Bridge Players in Burlington.

 

 

The Wedding Singer at Haddonfield Plays and Players

These days it may be “All about the Bass”, but in 1985 it was “All about the Green”. The Haddonfield Plays and Players took theatergoers back to an era of big hair, junk bonds and the New Coke through their presentation of The Wedding Singer.  This Connor Twigg directed musical featured upbeat rocking numbers, romantic angst and even a Ronald Reagan impersonator.  This show had something that would appeal to just about any audience member.

The Wedding Singer told the lugubrious tale of lovelorn loser Robbie Hart (played by Steve Stonis). He met waitress Julia (played by Jayne Zubris) at the reception hall where he worked. After the two discussed their pending nuptials (to other people), Julia asked Robbie to sing at her wedding. He agreed.

The next day Robbie’s fiancé, Linda (Tricia Gardner), broke up with him. She did so through a note that he received while waiting for her at the altar. The effects of his ensuing insanity included an inability to continue as a wedding singer. He reneged on his promise to sing at Julia’s wedding. Ever the gentleman, he agreed to help Julia prepare for her wedding. The two fell in love. This presented Julia with the dilemma: should she marry the man she loved or settle for Glen (played by Bobby Hayes): the guy who could provide her with all the material comforts she could ever desire?

The romantic twists kept coming. Robbie’s band mate Sammy’s (Evan Brody) ex-girlfriend, Holly (Genna Garofalo) developed an interest in him.

As a Who fan I’ve heard of rock operas. The Wedding Singer just may be the first rock and roll soap opera.

Steve Stonis played an excellent Robbie. I thought he did a great job in the scene where he spoke to Julia from inside a dumpster. The somber tone of voice he used managed to covey sadness while still getting laughs from the audience.

His best stage time occurred when he sat on his bed with his guitar and played “Somebody Kill Me Please”. He performed this number acoustically. In the movie of the same name, Adam Sandler cranked it out of an electric guitar. For my personal tastes, I preferred Mr. Stonis’ unplugged version.

Jayne Zubris displayed great emotion in her role as Julia. At first, her only life goal was to get married. Upon getting to know Robbie, her quest transitioned into a desire for true love. Ms. Zubris best conveyed Julia’s heart-wrenching conflict while singing the “If I Told You” number in a wedding dress. That helped me to understand the internal struggle plaguing the character.

Ms. Zubris also did a great job on the vocal harmonies. No singing is ever easy; especially on a very humid night. Her vocal skills enhanced the tunes “Awesome” and “Grow Old with You”.

In addition to directing this show, Connor Twigg also choreographed. He and the cast did a phenomenal job on “Saturday Night in the City”. It served as a perfect, high-energy ending for Act I.

The highlight of The Wedding Singer occurred when Tricia Gardner performed the “Let Me Come Home” number. In addition to a solid vocal performance, she executed a complex dance number. The latter included a summersault over Robbie. (I give Mr. Stonis credit. It takes a lot of courage and trust in your partner to let her do a summersault over your recumbent body.) The routine then entailed doing splits. Ms. Gardner performed this challenging sequence flawlessly. She impressed me even more by doing all this without getting hurt or injuring Mr. Stonis.

As expected, my friend Lisa Croce played a memorable role as the “Rappin’ Granny”. The Wedding Singer marked the first time I’ve heard her sing on stage. She delivered a beautiful rendition of “A Note from Grandma”. Living up to Grandma Rosie’s nickname, she kicked it out old school just as proficiently as she sang. In addition, she delivered the trademark comedic chops I’m accustomed to hearing from her. She sweated to the oldies in a way that would’ve made even Richard Simmons find humor in them.

Vitaliy Kin (in the role of George) got steady laughs through the evening, as well. Song accompanied his best humor. He joined Ms. Croce on the rap duet. He also sang Spandau Ballet’s “True” in Yiddish. As much as I found his performance funny, I still thought he crooned the ballad exceptionally well.

The show did experience a few technical issues. Static broadcast over Mr. Stonis’ microphone during the “Casualty of Love” number. In the next scene while in the dumpster, his mic cut out. The actor had to perform the remainder of the first act without amplification. Much to his credit, he handled the situation like a true professional. He didn’t allow this snafu affect his performance at all. Mr. Stonis delivered his lines loud enough that I could hear from the back of the room.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the technical glitches affecting Mr. Stonis for the evening. During the pivotal performance of “Grow Old with You”, his acoustic guitar was out of tune. When he played the instrument during the first act it sounded fine. Something must’ve happened to it back stage. Once again, he remained focused on performing the scene.

I saw Mr. Stonis in the lobby following the show. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with him, but I noticed him smiling. I would suggest all the “temperamental” “artists” out there remember that.

To paraphrase Glen Gulia: the 1980’s may have been “All about the Green”, but I experienced some “green” at the end of this show. I felt a bit jealous of the skill and talent the cast and crew showed in putting on The Wedding Singer. I didn’t have to spend a lot of “green” to watch it, either. The Haddonfield Plays and Players will be performing The Wedding Singer until August 8th.

Theater Review – Kimberly Akimbo at 2nd Stage at Burlington County Footlighters

Treading the delicate balance between comedy and tragedy challenges any thespian. The cast and crew of 2nd Stage at Burlington County Footlighters did so brilliantly this April. They selected the perfect script in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo (directed by Gabrielle Affleck) to showcase their skills.

Phyllis Josephson delivered an inspiring performance as Kimberly: a teenager suffering from an incurable disease. The nature of the disorder compounded the tragedy of her situation. This malady caused her to age four-and-a-half times as quickly as a normal adolescent. Ms. Josephson flawlessly expressed the mannerisms and speech inflections of a 16 year old. In an exhibition of her range, she also acted the part of a heart attack victim. After the show I didn’t know if it more appropriate to send her flowers or take her out for ice cream.

Ms. Josephson unveiled her true forte in the emotional scenes with Kimberly’s alcoholic father, Buddy. (Very convincingly played by Zach Palmer.) She cowered like a scared little girl, but also lashed out venomously when he asked embarrassing questions to her love interest, Jeff. (Exceptionally played by Tim Schumann) Palmer’s comedic tirade against the evils of Dungeons and Dragons evened out the scene nicely.

After witnessing Kori Rife’s portrayal of Buddy’s hypochondriac wife, Pattie, I could understand his issues with the bottle. Ms. Rife played the role of a narcissistic, self-obsessed, pregnant woman while still delivering solid comedic chops. In her first appearance on stage she revealed the depth of her talent. Pattie struggled to dictate a message to her unborn child into a tape recorder. The bandages which covered her fingers, due to perceived carpal tunnel syndrome, prevented her from hitting the record button. She slapped it with her hands, and then tried her tongue, and eventually her chin.

Lisa Croce played an exceptional Aunt Debra. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I know Ms. Croce personally.) I haven’t witnessed a devious character played with such humor. She mixed the comedy and criminality very well. I liked how she dragged a mailbox involved in Debra’s scheme across the length of the stage.

2nd Stage featured an unusual set-up. Upon entering, the audience walked through the performance area to their chairs. Seating was limited, and the room got cramped, but I didn’t mind. I liked being up-close. At times I felt part of the show.

In terms of the play itself, I thought it extremely well-written. It began with a family on the verge of disintegration. In spite of the alcoholic father, the self-absorbed mother, terminally ill child, and homeless aunt with a criminal record the comic yuks didn’t stop. That’s an astounding accomplishment from a gifted playwright.

I’ve got bad news and good news. I’ll give you the bad news first. Unfortunately for theater goers, Kimberly Akimbo completed its run at 2nd Stage this past Saturday. Now the good news: the performers actively participate in other community theater projects. Based on the range they showed in this play, you can’t go wrong seeing them in either a comedy or tragedy. I hope we’re lucky and get to see them in a show that fuses the two like Kimberly Akimbo.