Valerie Brothers

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.

 

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Dan Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

Dan Brothers Picture

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

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

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

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

He also produced Metamorphosis.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m the very opposite of Valerie.

 

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

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

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

There was no uncomfortableness during that show.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s quite something to get that reaction.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dan Brothers: Chicks. (Laughs)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Valerie Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

I picked up the materials at Village Thrift.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Valerie Brothers: Yes and no.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

I also go kickboxing with Liz (Deal).

 

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

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

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

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

 

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

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

The Critique Compendium Interview: Gaby Affleck

gabrielle-affleck-headshotGaby Affleck advises those starting out in the arts to “never stop learning.” As she’s established a remarkable career as both an actress and director throughout the South Jersey community theatre circuit, performers would be wise to study what follows. Ms. Affleck kindly provided readers the opportunity to learn some things about her. We conducted this interview via email during the winter of 2017.

 

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

Gaby Affleck: Way, WAY back when I was in 7th grade, I saw my sister’s friend, Joan Kratowitz Tenaglia, play Julie Jordan in Carousel in a high school production. I was so enamored by her performance that I knew that’s what I wanted to do! But, alas, I was terribly shy.

When I enrolled at St. Hubert High School for Girls, I joined Glee Club, following in my sister Melissa’s footsteps. I found I could perform, but just be a face in the crowd. That was until my Glee Club instructor, Sr. Pat Cashman, encouraged me to audition for The Wizard of Oz, our Spring Musical. I was cast as part of the ensemble, and had a small role. AND…I was bitten by the Acting Bug!

 

Critique Compendium: In addition to acting, you also direct. Which do you prefer? Why?

Gaby Affleck: I don’t have a preference, per se. I like them both for different reasons. I like to act because it gives me an opportunity to show off my talents, and hone my craft. To quote one of my favorite characters, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, “It’s what I LIVE for…” Okay, let’s be honest, I do it for the applause. Applause is like a drug. Once you experience it, you want it over and over again.

Directing, on the other hand, like putting together a puzzle. It’s making sure all of the moving parts are working properly. It’s also “the thrill of the chase” finding the perfect actors, costumes, props & set pieces. I do so love working with the actors to push them to dig a little deeper and find the heart and soul of their characters. I also enjoy collaborating with the set designers and the tech gurus, the costume designers and producers, and together, as a team, building the final product! Then I get to take the credit for everyone’s hard work. (I KID! I KID!)

Directing is a different kind of satisfaction. It’s being able to look at the final outcome and say, “That’s my vison come to life!” It’s a proud moment.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in prospective projects? Why?

Gaby Affleck: In the acting department, I like two kinds of roles: Ones that allow my current wheelhouse of talents to shine. BUT, I also love to play roles that are far from the “real me” and make me really work hard for the outcome. They are actually more fulfilling.

In the directing department, I like scripts that scream out “direct me, Gaby!” They must have meaty characters that need to be brought to life! I prefer to direct shows that aren’t often produced. I also tend to lean towards thrillers. In short, I’m drawn to scripts that speak to my soul.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most challenging show in which you’ve participated? Why?

Gaby Affleck: That’s a tough one. I’ve been involved with many challenging shows, from both sides of the stage.

I think I it would be when I directed Dracula at Burlington County Footlighters. Dracula was the most technically involved show I’ve ever worked on. We had a plethora of special effects: On-stage transformations, disappearing vampires, creatures with glowing eyes, books opening of their own accord, vampire stakings (complete with a geysers of blood,) crosses that caught fire, exploding coffins…just to name a few!

To accomplish all of that, you need the BEST OF THE BEST on your team! I’m looking at you, Jim Frazer (Set Design,) Bob Beaucheane (Tech. Design,) Torben Christensen (Producer,) Pat Frazer (Assistant Director,) Jasmine Chalfont (Blood FX Specialist,) Valerie Brothers (Makeup and Hair Design,) Lynne Johnson (Costumes,) Kristina VanName (Props) and Sarah Flanagan (Stage Manager.) I could not have done this show without them, and I can’t thank them enough for having faith in my ability to stage this show!

Dracula also boasted a brilliant cast, with whom I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work.

We also won a few awards that year. Best child actor (Lisa Krier as The Girl,) Best Supporting Actor (Bernard DiCassimiro as Renfield,) Best Technical Show, and Best Show! So, yeah, I’m very proud of that one!

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable theatrical moment: either performing or directing.

Gaby Affleck: Just one? That’s not easy.

I’d have to say playing Mama Rose in Gypsy to sold out houses. I’ve been lucky enough to play Rose twice, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Rose is the role of a lifetime, and she is larger than life. And based on a REAL PERSON, with so many layers to peel back. I think I’ve a lot more to learn about her.

 

Critique Compendium: In addition to acting and directing, you’re also an excellent vocalist. What inspired you to learn singing?

Gaby Affleck: I’m going to give St. Pat Cashman another shout-out here. I grew up singing for my own personal pleasure, but it was Sr. Pat who convinced me that I actually had talent. She encouraged me to audition for the school play, gave me my first solo, had me sing “God Bless America” for the Rotary Club, and she even submitted my audition tape for the 1988 Coca-Cola World Chorus (for which I went on to be a semi-finalist.) She really was my guiding force.

 

Critique Compendium: What performance artists have influenced you? Why?

Gaby Affleck: I don’t think there is any one in particular. There are some wonderful actors out there that I just adore watching because I know they always deliver. Some of them are (in no particular order): Meryl Streep, Gary Sinise, Liev Schrieber, Denzel Washington, Helen Mirren, Kathy Bates, John Malkovich…

I always enjoy when I’m watching someone perform and they deliver a line, or make a physical choice, that is so NOT what I was expecting! I think to myself “Wow! That was a fantastic choice. I never would have thought to go that way.” Then I wonder, “Was that their choice or something the director asked them to do?” I’m constantly watching from both sides.

 

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

Gaby Affleck: Again, just one?

Meryl Streep because she is an amazing actress and I think I could learn a lot from her. There’s nothing she can’t do!

I want to be Meryl Streep when I grow up!

 

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

Gaby Affleck: Sleeping is a favorite. The occasional adult beverage. (stop laughing)

 

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

Gaby Affleck: I don’t. Theatre wins. Every time.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare to direct a show?

Gaby Affleck: I read several scripts until I find one that speaks to me. Then I read it again to be sure. Sometimes I give it to other people to read to get their opinions. And, if it’s a tricky script, like in the case of Dracula, I put together a team before I even submit the show to a theater for consideration.

Then I read it about 20 more times, taking character, set, costume and prop notes.

If the script is based on a book, I will read that book. But, I don’t like to watch the movie, or other performances as I do not want to be influenced by other director’s choices. I want my show to be my own. (For better or worse.)

 

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

Gaby Affleck: I’m big on character development and honesty.

I develop a new character for each production I am in. I’ve never re-used a character, though I do occasionally borrow bits and pieces to create others.

For me a character is not just a voice affectation. It’s everything: demeanor, style of dress, posture, gait, how do they respond to different situations/people, what is their backstory? All of these things factor into creating a believable character.

I’m also big on research. I will scour the internet for information about eras to learn how people looked, dressed, behaved, wore their hair.

As for honesty, I believe one must literally become the character to be believable in the role. You cannot just deliver lines. You can’t pretend to cry or laugh. An audience knows when you are not being honest, and they will find you boring or stilted. To be true to the character, and the author, you must live the role. You have to feel what they are feeling, and react as they would. That’s what makes a performance believable.

 

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

Gaby Affleck: Going up on lines. Sometimes there is just no graceful way to recover.

Oh, and there was that time I walked out on stage with my dress tucked into my pantyhose, but, I’d like to forget about that.

 

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

Gaby Affleck: Well, I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who walked out on stage with her dress tucked into her pantyhose.

I’d like to be remembered for making the audience feel something. Whether I make them laugh, or cry or become angry, I want the audience to leave feeling differently than when they came in. (Same goes for when I direct.)

 

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

Gaby Affleck: As an actress I’d like to think that they would tell you I’m a hard working actress, who comes prepared and is enjoyable to work with. And that they CAN’T WAIT to work with me again!

As I director I hope people would tell you that I’m a dedicated director who has a vision, and who has the creativity and know-how to bring her vision to the stage. Also, that I’m serious, but lots of fun to work with….and that they CAN’T WAIT to work with me again!

 

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

Gaby Affleck:

1) Never stop learning!

2) Take something away from every experience.

3) If you don’t push yourself, you won’t grow!

4) If it doesn’t scare you a little, you’re not doing it right!

 

Critique Compendium: What adjective best describes your theater career?

Gaby Affleck: Eclectic!

 

Critique Compendium: I’d like to ask a bit of a personal question involving two characters with whom you’re familiar. If you were available with whom would you rather take a Hawaiian cruise: Count Dracula or Aldolpho from The Drowsy Chaperone?

Gaby Affleck: Tough choice.

Dracula is sexy on a cerebral level. Adolpho is pure physical sexual attraction.

Dracula would hide from the sun, making it difficult to enjoy the daylight hours. While Adolpho would “keep me awake” all night, also making it difficult to enjoy the daylight hours.

I think when it comes down to it, I’d pick Dracula. He’s a man (?) with whom I could enjoy intelligent conversations and long walks on the beach (after sunset.) He’s a snappy dresser, he owns his own castle, and he won’t drink any of my…wine.

 

Critique Compendium: And the big question I know readers are curious about: are you related to Matt Damon in any way? Just kidding. Any relation to Ben Affleck?

Gaby Affleck: Me personally, no.

As to whether he is a relation of my husband…well, we don’t receive a card from him at Christmas, so….

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for Gaby Affleck?

Gaby Affleck: (Squealing with excitement) I’m going to be playing Ursula in The Little Mermaid! A Dream Role! She’s evil yet witty, with a little sexy tossed in for good measure. And she sings the best villain song every written: POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS!

Come see me and the rest of this amazing cast! May 26, 27, 28 June 2, 3, 4 Yardley Players Theatre Company at The Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College.

 

Theatre Review – The Fox on the Fairway at Burlington County Footlighters

Ken Ludwig crafted the most atypical adaption of a classical work of literature ever performed on the stage. In her giddy and bubbly way, Louise (played by Bailey Shaw) introduced The Fox on the Fairway as essentially a modern rendition of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. The setting took place not along the Aegean Sea, but at the Quail Valley Country Club. In lieu of javelins and arrows, the combatants took the field with irons, drivers and putters. While eschewing traditional combat tactics such as blockades and sieges, the Pericles and Alcibades of the links utilized chicanery and gambling to vanquish their opponent. The result: a farcical spin on golf. I attended Burlington County Footlighters opening night performance of this comic piece on January 20, 2017.

The story contained a lot of conflict for a light comedy. A synopsis of it shares the complexity of Thucydides’ masterpiece. You might want to bring a score card to keep track of this one.

Henry Bingham (played by Dan Brothers) faced a dilemma. Every year his organization, the Quail Valley Country Club, would lose the big tournament to Silly Squirrel; a rival club run by his arch nemesis Dickie Bell (Alan Krier). Knowing he had a star golfer (of dubious membership) who would guarantee victory, Bingham wagered a substantial sum on this annual contest. Since he knew he couldn’t lose he agreed to add his wife’s antique shop to the bet without her knowledge. After making the deal Dickie revealed that the star golfer had quit Quail Valley and just joined his club. Then Quail Valley’s Vice President, Mrs. Peabody (played by Elizabeth Deal), informed Bingham that the board decided to fire him if the club lost the big tournament again.

Fortunately, Bingham discovered that Justin (played by Kevin Pavon), one of his new employees, shot rounds in the mid-sixties. He and Mrs. Peabody connived to make Justin a member of the club and enter him in the tournament. Problems solved, right?

No, there’s more. Justin had recently become engaged to Louise (played by Bailey Shaw). His fast track admission to a prestigious country club combined with the love of a beautiful woman should’ve put Justin at the top of his game, so to speak. But another complication ensued. Louise happened to be the most emotionally high-strung person ever to grace this earth. Justin also had a bit of a quirk himself: he’d become a horrible golfer when anything upset him.

Louise then lost her engagement ring (originally Justin’s grandmother’s) while her beau played in the tournament. The two quarreled over the matter causing both their relationship and his golf game to suffer. At the same time, Bingham’s wife Muriel (played by Eileen Rackus) learned of his reckless gamble.

Director Valerie Brothers selected the perfect cast of players for such an amusing story. Their superb complimenting of one another allowed me to follow what would have been a very confusing series of connections. Mrs. Brothers assembled a group of people who displayed the best chemistry I’ve witnessed on a live stage together. It showed when they tossed a “nineteenth century English Ming vase” around the room.  The object travelled back-and-forth through the air to different players standing several feet apart. Each member of the ensemble impressed me by catching it cleanly.

The best moment of the evening occurred at the conclusion. Following the curtain call, the ensemble shouted, “One more time!” The cast then proceeded to re-enact the entire show in about two minutes. The first time around they delivered an impressive performance. They did the whirlwind version just as brilliantly.

Even when paired in twos, the players complimented one another extremely well. Dan Brothers and Alan Krier performed like a classic comedy team together. Mr. Brothers and Mr. Krier worked off each other exceptionally well when they made the bet. The former took a cocky, uptight approach to the scene while Mr. Krier delivered his lines like a cocky, carefree persona. Their attire reflected these personalities. Mr. Brothers’ conservative gray suit contrasted brilliantly with Mr. Krier’s increasingly outlandish sweaters. Kudos to Dana Marie Marquart: the silly squirrel sweater seamstress.

Mr. Brothers and Ms. Deal enhanced one another’s performances in their shared scenes; he portraying the unhappy husband, she as the lovelorn woman with three failed marriages. They developed the characters’ relationship steadily throughout the show. The most memorable part occurred when they attempted to set-up a romantic dinner for Justin and Louise. Its unforeseen consequences led to the two sharing a few drinks. As they drowned their inhibitions, comedic hijinks ensued. Ms. Deal lay on the ground and presented Mr. Brothers the opportunity to hit a golf ball out of her mouth. His character unwittingly professed his longing for her into an open microphone; thus revealing his deepest most intimate desires to the entire tournament crowd.

Bailey Shaw showcased an exceptional rendition of a rather hyper and emotionally volatile woman. When Kevin Pavon’s character proposed to her she became giddy and ecstatic. Upon losing her engagement ring she converted into a tearful and despondent person; doing so in a way that still got laughs. That’s not an easy achievement. When Mr. Pavon forgave her he made an offhand comment related to the incident. That’s not a good thing to do to a rather hyper and emotionally volatile woman. She abruptly became livid and stomped around stage before exiting.

Kevin Pavon’s character ran through a range of emotions as well. He needed to in order to cope with Louise’s caprices and to deal with Bingham’s machinations. This performer played them all convincingly. I could empathize with him when he tried to console Louise and unwittingly made the situation worse. A pretty comical pre-golf shot dance became part of his repertoire, as well.

For lack of a better expression, Eileen Rackus’ character served as the comic relief. That’s quite a challenge among this group of quirky performers. She played best opposite Mr. Krier. I liked the dynamic of a gruff unhappily married woman interacting with a carefree lothario. I credit her selection of a great voice for her character. She spoke in a tone both angry and loud; at times she sounded as though growling. While speaking in this manner, she still kept it funny.

The cast of Footlighters’ productions often makes the audience feel like part of the show. For this performance they brought me personally into the action much more than usual. When seeking a replacement golfer for the tournament, Ms. Deal suggested a series of names to Mr. Brothers. His character rejected all of them as being poor golfers. One name that came up during the discussion was Kevin Stephany.

I would inform Mr. Brothers I’m a very consistent golfer. I always shoot between the high 50s and low 60s…at least until the third hole…when playing miniature golf.

From a story standpoint, I can’t dispute the choice of Ms. Shaw’s character over me to participate in the contest. While I’m often very critical of myself, I strongly suspect she wore the red dress better than I would have. Nor will I make any effort to prove that wrong.

They say all is fair in love and war. Burlington County Footlighters’ presentation of Ken Ludwig’s The Fox on the Fairway proved that golf pushes the envelope when it comes to that premise. After watching the six characters interact all evening, it made the Peloponnesian War seem like a game of touch football and a golf outing seem like a rugby match. While the show didn’t inspire me to join a country club, it did provide an audience with a very funny and entertaining evening. Now to paraphrase one of Mr. Krier’s more colorful sweaters: if you “like big putts” check it out.

Neil Simon’s Rumors Presented by Burlington County Footlighters

I heard a rumor that Burlington County Footlighters were putting on a show that featured a series of misunderstandings, slapstick humor and numerous comedic antics. Much to my relief they didn’t present a stage rendition of a Three’s Company episode. On Friday night I experienced the pleasure of attending the opening night showing of Neil Simon’s Rumors directed by Scott Angehr.

The title served as a good summation of this show’s content.  Upon arriving for a dinner party hosted by the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife, guests Ken Gorman (Played by Gary Werner) and Chris Gorman (played by Corinne Hower-Greene) discovered him bleeding while his wife and servants were missing. They suspected he attempted suicide. They then called a doctor. When Chris got him on the phone, Ken then told her to say everything was fine. It turned out the Deputy Mayor only shot off part of his earlobe. Ken thought it best to discover what happened before contacting anyone else. He didn’t want his friend to get involved in a scandal.

Following that, more guests started arriving. Lenny Ganz (played by Paul Sollimo) and Claire Ganz (Megan Shafranski) entered the house. Ken and Chris used a series of stories to explain why the Deputy Mayor, his wife and the servants weren’t at the party. After they discovered the truth, more guests showed up. The four of them decided not to tell the new arrivals, Ernie Cusack (Greg Northram) and Cookie Cusack (Valerie Brothers), what had happened. This turned in to quite a challenge as Mr. Cusack worked as a psychoanalyst.

Gossip swirled around the characters’ romantic peccadillos. That led to even more misunderstandings. Are you following the plot at all? Well, it doesn’t matter. What is important is that all these antics made for an enjoyable evening of comedic mishaps from a series of quirky characters played by talented thespians.

The true highlight of the evening took place in the interplay between Glenn Cooper (played by Dan Brothers) and his wife Cassie (played by the omni-talented Rachel Comenzo). In the past I’ve watched Mr. Brothers perform serious dramatic roles. Most recently I saw him play the grief-stricken father in Footlighters’ production of Rabbit Hole. I’ve also attended several performances featuring Ms. Comenzo. She’s a gifted actress, but I’ve always thought her a stronger singer and dancer. When I read the cast list, it interested me to see how the two of them would play a married couple in a comedy. They both delivered performances well in excess of my expectations.

There’s an old adage about Hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Ms. Comenzo showed that Humorous Heaven has a special place for one, too. She did a phenomenal job of balancing anger and comedy in her opening argument with Mr. Brothers. I liked the way she could raise her voice in the context of an emotional conversation while still speaking clearly. Following this outburst, she admired herself in the mirror. These mannerisms provided great insight into the character.

Mr. Brothers did a fantastic job playing the “innocent” husband in the face of his wife’s accusations. In addition, he handled the physical comedy very well. In the hands of most performers slapstick becomes caricature. Mr. Brothers demonstrated that he isn’t “most performers.” He convincingly handled falling down after getting hit by a door. The most memorable moment of his performance occurred after his wife assaulted him with a phone. Mr. Brothers has a natural bass voice. With cotton stuffed up his nose he spoke in a high-pitched nasal squeal. Like his counterpart, he talked very clearly.

Proficiency at physical comedy must run in the family. Mr. Brother’s real-life wife, Valerie Brothers, got in on the act in her role as Cookie Cusack. Her character suffered from back problems that prevented her from both “walking” and “sitting”.  The audience roared as she made her way across the stage on her hands and feet with her body at a 90 degree angle. In order to do that she first had to lift herself out of a chair using only her upper body.

As readers if this blog are aware, in the past I’ve been attacked for making “troubling” and “disturbing” comments about female costuming. During this show I did have an observation about one of the actress’ attire. In the interest of artistic integrity I’m going to state it.

Corrine Hower-Greene played Chris Gorman, very well. From the trembling voice, the facial expressions and stumbling around the stage with a wine bottle she displayed the appropriate mannerisms of a neurotic woman. I thought some of her attire too distracting, though. While the plain black evening gown she wore contrasted well with the solid white background, my eyes kept getting drawn to her shoes. I agree that glittery silver shoes would be appropriate attire for a dinner party. I could imagine her character wearing them to such an occasion. For me, they stood out and kept diverting my attention. With the exception of Valerie Brothers, whose character wore a white dress, all the other actors wore dark colored shoes. As I wrote, Ms. Hower-Green is an exceptional performer with great stage presence. Audiences should be watching her performance, not staring at her shoes.

The antics and misunderstandings continued until the final curtain. The surprise ending left open the possibility of a sequel. If someone writes one, let’s hope the cast of Burlington County Footlighters’ production is available. They had such fantastic chemistry working together that I’d welcome the opportunity to see them reprise these roles. And that’s a fact, not a rumor.