Robert Respici

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 Because of these outdated examples, some of the references from the 30s and 40s may go over the heads of modern audiences just like the bluebirds flying over the White Cliffs of Dover.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.

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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.

 

Into the Woods at the Ritz Theatre Company

Once upon a time there was a rapping witch, a comical carnivore of a wolf and a mooooving death scene involving a cow. Then a writer named Lames Lapine encountered songwriter Stephen Sondheim. They took these tales and translated them into a story for the stage. Director Craig Hutchings heard this fairy tale and decided to make it a reality. He worked his magic on the staff at the Ritz Theatre Company. Like Jack with the magic beans, he planted the idea of presenting Into the Woods this autumn. The audience who witnessed the October 26th performance lived happily ever after.

Into the Woods brought a unique concept to theatre. In essence, Lapine and Sondheim combined elements of various fairy tales and set them to music. They took the stories of “Cinderella” (played by Jenna Lubas), “Little Red Riding Hood” (played by Brittany Marie), “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Zachary Moore and Melissa Manzano), and “Rapunzel” (Jamie Talamo) and used them as part of a larger narrative (eloquently explained by Ryan Ruggles).

A witch (Jennie Knackstedt) promised a baker (Joshua Bessinger) and his wife (Megan Ruggles) that she would grant them a child if they could provide her with the following items before three midnights passed: a cape as red as blood, a strand of hair as yellow as corn, the whitest cow and a golden slipper. To my surprise, this quest concluded by the end of the first act: yet another happy fairy tale ending, right? Well…

As local South Jersey writer Christine Hardy once observed, “There’s a reason why fairy tales always end with a wedding.” Into the Woods proved this hypothesis. Act Two injected a dose of “realism” into this fantasy world.

Jenna Lubas delivered strong operatic vocals on the emotional number “Cinderella at the Grave.” Jennie Knackstedt sang a somber lament on parental estrangement with “Last Midnight.” Megan Ruggles performed a moving meditation on regret with “Moments in the Woods.”

To balance out this mood, Into the Woods contained humor. Robert Repici played the most comical death scene involving a cow possibly ever performed on stage. Brittany Marie made “Little Red” into an emotionally charged character. Michael J. DeFlorio turned the villain of her tale into quite the witty wolf. The audience echoed his howls with those of laughter.

Mr. DeFlorio also played Cindarella’s prince in this show. His scenes with another lovelorn regent (Rapunzel’s prince played by Anthony Crosby) made for the evening’s funniest moments. These pretentious princes exaggerated every action they took on stage. This included their singing on the melodramatic duet “Agony.” I also enjoyed Mr. DeFlorio’s struggles to sheathe his sword.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, Into to Woods put some outstanding costuming on display. Costuming Designer AJ Garcia took on quite a project with this show. The pauper style garb that Cinderella, the Baker and his wife and Jack and his mother wore appeared very authentic. On the upper class end of the spectrum, so did Cinderella’s gown, the elaborate uniforms worn by the princes and the witch’s elegant dress in the second act. Even without the music (directed by Collin Maier), the choreography (by Michele Romond) and the excellent acting, Into the Woods would’ve made for an entertaining Halloween parade.

The story book and forest setting (by Krysten Cummings and Joshua Bessinger) made an exceptional framework for action on the stage. The lighting (by Jen Donsky) enhanced it spectacularly.

The cast included A LOT of talent. I’d also credit Krysten Cummings, Ellorah Mead, Monette Solomon, Nicholas French, Jomarie Apelt, Chris Jewell, Maggie Harbord and Sadie McKenna for adding their skills to this stellar ensemble.

Into the Woods made for a scintillating sylvan spectacle; an awesome autumnal arboreal undertaking. The Sunderer of Sorrows and Destroyer of Delights will inflict upon it the same fate as the giant in Jack’s story after November 18th at the Ritz Theatre Company.