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The best actor in the film is a dog, who is saved the trial of lines.

Max is the perfect Marine. The Belgian Malinois is a search dog whose job in Afghanistan is sniffing out weapons, explosives and possible trouble for his platoon. His partner Kyle (Robbie Amell: The DUFF), is more than a trainer; he’s Max’s whole world. So when an ambush leads to Kyle’s death, Max is a broken dog. Afraid of gunfire, aggressive and unwilling to be touched, Max has PTSD and is useless to the Marine Corps.
    Kyle’s family is having a similar reaction. Father Ray (Thomas Haden Church: Heaven is for Real) is stoic. Mother Pam (Lauren Graham: Parenthood) cries as she cooks. The only person who seems unaffected is Justin (Josh Wiggins: Hellion), Kyle’s little brother. A videogame-obsessed teenage terror, Justin is too busy committing petty crimes, BMX biking and sassing his parents to care. After Kyle’s death, Justin’s surliness worsens.
    Brought by Marines to Kyle’s funeral, Max refuses to leave the casket. The dog’s fidelity convinces Pam and Ray to take him home. But the traumatized dog refuses any attentions except Justin’s. Deciding responsibility could help the surviving son, his parents put him in charge of Max’s rehabilitation.
    Max has the best intentions and the worst execution. The movie eschews character development and reasonable plot for plodding moral messages. At fault is the script by Boaz Yakin (who also directed) and Sheldon Lettich. Neither writer trusts the audience to understand the themes, instead belaboring their points with cringe-worthy dialog. The duo also has a limited view of Mexican families, trotting out every possible stereotype from gang association to Chihuahuas.
    The best actor in the film is Max, who is saved the trial of lines. Even veteran actors like Church and Graham can’t make much of this script. Portrayed as the dog’s saviors, the family chains him outside, without shelter or water, in Texas. That’s animal abuse. Ray lectures Justin on the importance of the dog one moment, and the next is willing to shoot him. Graham has the thankless job of being the subservient mother unyieldingly supportive of her men.
    The dog is this movie’s saving grace. Malinois are expressive by nature, and Yakin capitalizes on every ear twitch and head tilt. Max’s antics are amusing, his ability to search grids and leap over obstacles is inspiring and the story of the dogs who have served alongside U.S. troops since World War I is fascinating. Young viewers will be captivated by the pretty dog, but a few violent scenes of war and shootouts may scare them.

Fair Family Film • PG • 111 mins.

Counting future stars

They’re gaining on you, Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day Lewis. The talented teens of Twin Beach Players are hot on your heels as the next generation of rising stars.
    See for yourself in Twin Beach Players’ Youth Troupe production Sherlock Holmes and the Most Amazing Case!
    This year marks the 17th season that this small but mighty community theater has been entertaining audiences. This is the first 2015 Youth Troupe show. If there were opening night jitters, you couldn’t tell as 11 young actors took to the stage, breathing life into a new work.
    Youth Troupe alum and playwright Matthew Konerth has written a light-hearted parody of familiar — and new — characters and the sleuthing antics beyond Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known detective stories.
    “I love the cast of characters,” said Konerth, of Baltimore, who delivered just what Players’ president Sid Curl demanded.
    Youth Troupe allows young artists to explore and “find their niche,” says Curl, who finds himself “amazed at the talent.” In winter classes, the Players build talent by teaching acting, fostering professional attitudes and developing trust. These teens have spent hours rehearsing, studying reference material provided by their play’s director, Rachel Cruz, discovering the characters of their roles and learning their lines. These young thespians, ranging in age from 13-17, were selected out of 40 who auditioned. Serious about theater, they are taking this experience in stride.
    First-time Players’ director Cruz couldn’t be prouder. “This has been an amazing experience, and lots of fun,” she said. Her challenges have included motivating her young cast and keeping them focused. As with adults, Cruz treats the teens with respect, praising their work ethic and energy.
    Like his fellow cast members, Cameron Walker, 15, researched his Sherlock Holmes role by reading material provided by his director. Other inspirational sources included studying BBC television and movies. No stranger to the Players, Walker auditioned because he loves the arts and is a “fan of Sherlock Holmes characters.” He brings a commanding presence, instinctive vocal variety and expressive reactions to his British investigator’s persona.
    One of three female actors cast in gender role reversals, 14-year-old Olivia McClung portrays John Watson as a calmer investigative sidekick to Walker’s excitable Holmes. She said she welcomes the challenge of performing an “iconic character” like Watson. Along with her fellow actors, she believes there is something special about being with the cast and developing a stage presence.
    Each young actor brings unique character choices to the roles. Taylor Baker, 17, plays Holmes’ girlfriend, Irene Adler. Like her younger sister, Sidney Baker, 14, who plays Mary Watson, both enjoy portraying characters and plan on using their new skills in future productions.
    Mickey Cashman, 14, plays an animated French waiter full of lively quips with a good ear for an authentic French accent. He especially likes the self-discovery and expression he finds in acting.
    New to the troupe and Twin Beach Players, Hannah Lunczynski, 14, has enjoyed performing the role of arch-villain, Professor Moriarty because he’s such a different character from others she’s acted. Travis Lehnen, 15, has worked onstage and behind the scenes before taking on the role of love-seeking Inspector Lestrade. Lehnen likes the script and thinks it’s “pretty cool to do the show.”
    Kiera Gallagher, 13, adds touches of feistiness and one-upmanship to the role of Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft. Transitioning to a convincing male role has been a fun challenge for her, said the aspiring actor who hopes to land roles in commercials.
    Victoria Mastando, 14, and Melly Byram, 13, are convincing as the scheming Russian duo Katarina and Victor. Aaliyah Roach, 13, plays indignant and persistent landlady Mrs. Hudson, who comes to collect Holmes’ belated rent payment. Like the others, Roach believes acting is a “unique way to express myself and push my limits.”
    A well-lit minimalist set complements make-up, hairstyles and clever costuming.
    “If these teens are the future of theater, I believe it is in good hands,” said Director Cruz.

Mark July 31 to August 9 on your calendars for more original works by young playwrights in the Players’ 10th Annual Kid’s Playwriting Festival.

FSa 7pm and Su 3pm. Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern MD, 9021 Dayton Ave., North Beach:

Pixar explores the mind and emotions of a girl on the brink of adulthood

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler: Parks and Recreation) was the first emotion Riley (Kaitlyn Dias: The Shifting) knew. Joy wasn’t alone long, 33 seconds after popping into Riley’s mind, she’s joined by Sadness (Phyllis Smith: The Middle), Anger (Lewis Black: Let Freedom Laugh), Fear (Bill Hader: Trainwreck) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling: The Mindy Project).
    For 11 years, Joy led the team, controlling Riley’s responses to the world and safeguarding her memories. All the emotions love Riley, but Joy is particularly protective, trying to keep the others from making Riley feel anything but happiness. Joy’s nemesis is Sadness, a well-meaning but mopey figure who Joy feels is unnecessary. Excluding Sadness proves harder as Riley ages.
    When Riley’s family moves to a new city, Sadness becomes more assertive. Riley flounders, and Joy blames Sadness.
    After Sadness accidentally corrupts Riley’s core memories, she and Joy are sucked into long-term memory, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust trying to take over.
    Can Joy find her way back to Riley’s control center? Will Sadness find a way to contribute? What goes on in the minds of little girls?
    Directed by Pete Docter (Up) and first-timer Ronaldo Del Carmen, Inside Out is a funny and honest look at a girl on the brink of adulthood. The filmmakers consulted psychologists to perfect the science of Riley’s mind, but the film doesn’t feel like a lesson. Each facet of Riley is beautifully realized with an explosion of color and imagination. From French fry forests to vampire teen boyfriends, there’s plenty to relish as Joy and Sadness try to find their way home.
    Docter and Carmen rely on their vocal cast to fill in their world. Poehler and Smith are particularly good as foils who must learn to appreciate each other. Black is perfectly cast as anger, and Hader is a shrill delight as fear. But Richard Kind (Happyish) steals the film as Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend long relegated to a dark corner of imagination land.
    Pixar is at its best when it takes on big concepts, such as loss (Up), growing up (Toy Story series) and love (WALL•E). In Inside Out, Pixar delves into the psyche of a child on the verge of puberty who is learning that life is filled with complex emotions. The film captures the death of childhood and the birth of a more multifaceted emotional life, both celebrating and mourning the changes required. The parts of childhood we build upon and the parts we let go shape us, and as Riley’s emotional life becomes richer, her emotions must learn to work together lest they spin her out of control.
    The genius of Pixar is making a film for everyone in the theater, from the wide-eyed kid with a bedtime to the jaded reviewer with a notepad on her knee. The brain crew is colorful, funny and engaging for little ones, and though their deeper struggles and symbols might be lost on the Sesame Street crowd, they will hit home for parents and teens.
    Docter has a knack for finding heart and nobility in every character. This tender treatment of a young girl’s emotional journey is worth a ticket and a few tissues.

Excellent Animation • PG • 94 mins.

Tribute strikes a chord

Think of the music of Johnny Cash, and many hearts respond to his evocations of love, faith, family, tragedy and redemption. Think of Johnny Cash himself, and we remember a fallible and gifted man who wrestled throughout most of his 71 years to overcome powerful personal demons. There’s not one without the other. Music and man are intertwined, as they are in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Annapolis Infinity Theatre Company’s first and latest mainstage production this season, interpreted by a stellar five-member cast of multi-talented professional actors/musicians from Broadway and beyond.
    The 2006 original Broadway production on which this show is based was short-lived and unsuccessful. The one Infinity presents was conceived by William Meade and adapted from its disappointing predecessor by Richard Maltby Jr. and Jason Edwards. No small feat, Infinity’s production transports us in time to a by-gone era in deep south Arkansas, recollects Cash’s inaugural appearance at The Grand ‘Ole Opry and highlights the legendary romance between Cash and June Carter.
    Brief character narratives, reminiscent songs and well-synchronized scene transitions converge to create a rich, theatrical experience. We are charmed as the actors morph into different roles, singing and playing instruments in a range from acoustic and electric guitars, cello and trumpet to banjo, fiddle, juice harp, washboard, tambourine and harmonica — among others.
    The inventive, rustic set surrounding a circular, edge-lit platform enables smooth maneuvering while enhancing the production’s historical context. Lighting choices combined with character-appropriate costuming contribute to the relaxed, authentic atmosphere.
    Under the guidance and vision of stage and musical director Amy Jones and staff, an energetic, charismatic and masterful production has emerged. Katie Barton, Lori Eure, Silas Moores and Spiff Wiegand shine while playing characters in Cash’s life. Ben Hope’s portrayal of Johnny Cash is tender yet strong. A sole drummer sits discreetly up-stage adding a balanced, percussive rhythm to most of the 30 songs.
    Favorites like “Hey Porter,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Ring of Fire,” “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line” are bookended by others including “Big River,” “Flesh and Blood,” “Man in Black,” “If I Were a Carpenter” and “A Boy Named Sue.”
    Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is a winner. All of the elements come together seemingly effortlessly to deliver an entertaining, soulful and spirited musical tribute.

Th 2pm and 7pm; F June 26 and Sa 8pm; Su 2pm thru June 28: Children’s Theatre of Annapolis. $20-$36; rsvp: 877-501-8499;

Behind a great man, a woman more qualified

CIA top agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law: Black Sea) is handsome, smooth and comes out on top in a fight. Fine’s secret isn’t training or a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Behind Fine’s success is CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy: Mike and Molly).
    Cooper who gathers intel, memorizes building plans to lead Fine in and out, warns him when bad guys approach. Though qualified as a field agent, Cooper is content to be the voice in Fine’s ear, eschewing credit to support the man she secretly loves. Fine barely notices, treating her like Siri, a neat toy that can answer all his questions.
    An intelligence leak leads to Fine’s death at the hands of crime boss Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne: Annie), who has uncovered the identities of all the top CIA operatives. Reeling from Fine’s death, Cooper volunteers to track Rayna and the portable nuke she’s marketing. The CIA is desperate enough for an operative Rayna’s people won’t recognize to overlook her 10 years out of the field.
    Cooper is issued a cover identity, a gun and a mission.
    A mashup of James Bond and Inspector Clouseau, Spy is a hilarious comedy buoyed by smart writing, enthusiastic performances and snappy action. Writer/director Paul Feig (The Heat) crafts a comedy that empowers, a rarity in blockbuster filmmaking. Spy has plenty of obscene humor, sight gags, physical comedy and witty dialog, but the director’s feminism sets it apart. Feig is interested in how often women allow themselves to be overlooked. In Spy, all of the women are capable, funny and smart; they just don’t know it until they’re tested.
    In the real world, too, McCarthy has long needed a film worthy of her talents. Usually her weight is the punchline. Forced to fall over, act like an oddball or hit on men who react with revulsion, she has spent much of her career as a side show. In Spy, she’s allowed to be a person, not a shtick. Her Cooper is a smart, funny woman who discovers that she’s a natural in the field.
    McCarthy carries the film and has a great supporting cast backing her up. As the ruthless, snobby Rayna, Byrne is delightfully snarky. She spars admirably with McCarthy and manages to make Rayna somewhat likeable in spite of her evil ways. The real surprise of Spy, however, is action hero Jason Statham as rogue spy Rick Ford. Usually a snarling, serious presence, Statham proves himself to be a comedic talent by lampooning his man-of-action image. He spews ridiculous tough-guy talk and takes pratfalls like a champ. His chemistry with McCarthy crackles as he competes with her to take down the criminals.
    A few jokes and sequences fall flat, as Feig has a tendency to push a joke a bit too far. But the laughs greatly outweigh the groans in this rare R-rated comedy that’s both smart and funny. Buy a ticket to see Melissa McCarthy show the James Bond wannabes what a real spy looks like.

Great Comedy • R • 120 mins.

Figuratively and literally, this show is Looney Tunes

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Colonial Players is forthright about Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them, the unconventional “arc” show offered to make the theater-in-the-round better rounded. Marketing Director Tim Sayles calls this “raucous and provocative” show an “ideologically pointed black comedy by America’s master absurdist playwright,” Christopher Durang. Well and good. A political commentary on post 9-11 paranoia could be hilarious — except I only laughed twice. Admittedly, I was in the minority.
    This show is Looney Tunes, both figuratively and literally, with soundtrack and soundbites lifted straight out of Warner Brothers’ classics. Imagine a society populated only by extremists. Now give them sophomoric quirks and non-sequitur dialogue, and throw in nauseating violence for good measure. This show is so warped that I’m breaking with tradition to give the spoiler: Reality lurks on the periphery until the final 10 minutes, when the action rewinds to construct an alternate course of how things should have unfolded were the principals not xenophobes on red alert.
    Felicity (Diane Samuelson) awakes to find herself married to a congenial stranger whom she suspects of slipping her a roofie at Hooters. Zamir (Pat Reynolds) is unemployed and has criminal connections, conservative Muslim ideals and an intolerant temper. Felicity’s parents are no help, as her mother, Luella (Jean Berard), who cultivates an image of clueless confusion, responds with platitudes from her encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway hits. Her ultra-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Fiske), who masquerades as a butterfly collector while analyzing top secret intelligence in the attic, has his naïve partner Hildegarde (Chaseedaw Giles) investigate Zamir.
    Misinterpreting Zamir’s conversation with a porn-producing minister, the Rev. Mike (Jason Vaughan), about a film called The Big Bang, Hildegarde has Leonard kidnap and torture Zamir. Assisting is Agent Looney Tunes (Ruben Vellekoop, also the narrator) who speaks only in cartoon quotations. Zamir’s false confessions of a terrorist plot trigger catastrophic consequences.
    The jokes are a jumble of societal barbs, from ballroom dancing at Hooters and falling panties with cheap Chinese elastic to Hanoi Jane and Freedom toast. Humor this forced requires a level of sincerity that only Vaughan achieves throughout, though Reynolds and Giles are entertaining.    Mostly, however, the dialogue feels awkward. Complicating matters, this show is technically complex, from its extensive light grid to its versatile stage dominated by a raised platform with trapdoors. Thus, the scene changes are tedious and sight lines limited.
    If your mind races like American Pharoah, if you enjoy sensory overload, if you find dismemberment entertaining, this show is for you.
    Two and a half hours with intermission. Contains violence, mature themes and adult language.

Director: Kristofer Kauff. Set designer: Terry Averill. Sound: Kaelynn Miller. Lights: Wes Bedsworth. Costumes: Sarah Wade.

ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm (and 7:30pm June 14) thru June 20: Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373;

Shakespeare, thy chauvinism doth wear thin

O, Shakespeare! Why didst thou write such a play? Why doth any company still perform it? Forsooth, it hath some enduring one-liners, despite being one of thine earliest works. Yea, thou wert the first to say Love is blind and I am but a fool. But really, thy chauvinism doth wear thin.
     How are we in the 21st century to believe that a strong woman, even in the Roaring Twenties, would pledge troth to a cheating would-be rapist? That the high-born and educated witnesses to his baseness would laugh it off as passing folly? T’would have been better set in a modern gang.
    Be that as it may, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company gives admirable lift to this cumbersome play.
     Valentine (Joel Ottenheimer) and Proteus (Patrick Truhler) are best friends from Verona who, with their servants Speed (Brian Keith MacDonald) and Launce (Matthew Alan Ward), visit the Duke of Milan (Brian Davis). Both woo his daughter Silvia (Laura Rocklyn), despite her father’s preference for Thurio (Brendan Edward Kennedy) and Proteus’ pledge to his hometown girl, Julia (Amy Pastoor). Suspecting Proteus’ vacillation, Julia disguises herself as his boy servant, forcing her to court Silvia on her betrothed’s behalf. When Silvia chooses Valentine, Proteus thwarts their elopement and causes his friend to be exiled. Silvia follows, is set upon by outlaws and rescued by Proteus, who tries to force himself on her. But Valentine saves the day, and all’s well that ends with a double wedding. Rrright.
     The best things about this show are MacDonald and Ward as the comic relief. MacDonald, a most watchable actor, is a master of nuance as Valentine’s wily valet, Speed. Ward is a physical dynamo as the ribald clown Launce, a cross between Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey. He also exercises absolute command of his costar, Crab the dog (Julie Ricketts), an adorable spaniel who disproves the conventional wisdom that animals don’t belong onstage. Also noteworthy is Kennedy for his stunning rendition of “Lady Be Good,” adapted to Shakespeare’s poetry in praise of Silvia. That man can sing to beat the band!
     The period costumes are a delight. The Jazz Age soundtrack features hits by the Gershwins, Fats Waller and Fred Fisher. Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s tiny black box theater is painted with a minimalist Art Deco mural and a blinding sunburst of pinlights suggesting a crowded speakeasy. The concept sounds good, but the action feels forced in this intimate space when fights break out or the whole company kicks up their heels to the Charleston.
     The Company’s mission — to produce bold, re-imagined, entertaining and accessible interpretations of classics — is admirable. Some projects, however, are more deserving than others. This lengthy comedy will appeal most to mature Shakespeare buffs.

2.5 hours with intermission. With Renata Plecha (Lucetta), and James Carpenter (Elgamour). Director and choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lights: Adam Mendelson. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Musical arranger: Gregory Thomas Martin. Scenic artist: Mariana Fernandez. Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor.

Playing thru June 28: FSa plus Th June 25 8pm; Su 3pm: 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513;

It’s a disaster!

Rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson: Furious 7) has saved countless lives. But he was unable to save his daughter from drowning on a family trip. Haunted by memories, Ray drove away his wife Emma (Carla Gugino: Match) and his surviving daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario: Burying the Ex). Now he longs to have them back.
    What could possibly mend this broken family?
    How about a catastrophic earthquake along the California coast?
    When the earthquake strikes, buildings topple, streets open into gaping maws and thousands struggle for survival. This would be a compelling scenario — if our hero cared. Instead of doing his job as a firefighter, Ray reroutes his helicopter — effectively stealing it — to rescue his wife and daughter. What’s a few hundred lives when your ex needs you?
    The biggest fault in San Andreas is lack of tension. Director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) choreographs a massive earthquake with computer graphics and stirring music. But there is never any question about the outcome. You know Ray will save his wife and daughter and that they will reunite.
    It is possible to make a good disaster movie. The original Poseidon Adventure (1972) showed us how to use disaster to explore a group of characters — before devastating us by killing them. It’s a tried-and-true formula ignored by modern filmmakers. Why develop interesting characters when you can use computers to animate destruction? In these bloodless disasters, we watch cities crumble without the bother of emotion.
    Because the stakes are so low, performances are uneven. Johnson, who’s played this role so many times he could do it in his sleep, isn’t so much acting as flexing his natural charisma. A great star with a commanding presence, he has yet to find a project worthy of his personality.
    Gugino isn’t as lucky. As the damsel in distress, she’s forced to stare admiringly at Johnson, follow mutely behind him and panic so he can manfully calm her. Though she can hit the right hysterical notes, it’s an embarrassing role for a reliable character actress.
    Loud, silly and wholly unsatisfying, San Andreas is the type of film giant tubs of popcorn were made for.

Ridiculous Action • PG-13 • 114 mins.

Whodunnit? Ask the audience

When Charles Dickens died 145 years ago this month, he left behind an unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Release was scheduled in a dozen installments between 1870 and 1871, but he finished only six. Afterward, it became a bit of a cottage industry to take on the novel’s completion, including deciding which of Dickens’ characters was responsible for the murder of the title character.  Would-be Dickens met with varying levels of success. One that turned out quite well is the version that kicks off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th season.
    With book, music and lyrics by Rupert Holmes (earworm warning: Holmes is perhaps best known for his 1979 hit “Escape … The Piña Colada Song”), the show debuted in 1985 and won Holmes five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Original Score. Lighter and broader than the novel, this musical Drood’s action and audience are in an old-time English music hall, a show-within-a-show complete with emcee and cast playing not Dickens’ characters but music hall performers playing Dickens’ characters.
    And what characters they are, an English town’s worth of winking whackies, led by a triad of top talent. David Merrill has a great time as John Jasper, Drood’s schizoid uncle and choirmaster. Paige Miller is the sincere ingénue Rosa Bud, Drood’s betrothed after whom Jasper lusts. Emily Lentz is Drood in a traditional cross-dressing role. All three have wonderful voices, and Merrill’s and Miller’s especially soar on the operatic “The Name of Love and Moonfall,” sung after he confesses his love for her.
     As the proprietor of the Music Hall Royale, Erik Alexis excitedly introduces us to the actors and their characters and guides us through the story with old jokes and a fine voice. His duet with Merrill on “Both Sides of the Coin,” a 100mph patter-song romp through an actor’s confusion when playing two parts, is a highlight of the night.
    As the newcomers from Ceylon, Casey Lynne Garner and DJ Wojciehowski stir things up nicely as siblings Helena and Neville Landless. Wendell Holland’s Reverend Crisparkle is perhaps not the upstanding man of the cloth he wants us to believe. As Princess Puffer, an opium den denizen, Maribeth Vogel offers up a fine “The Garden Path to Hell” in describing how a boyfriend turned her to a life of sleaze. Several other fine characters anchor the show, including Ethan Goldberg as Durdles, the usually drunk stonemason, and Stephanie Bernholz, doing a fine job with the stick puppet that plays Durdles’ Deputy.
    Connecting all of these characters to the plot might take more space than allotted here, so let’s just say that when Drood ends up murdered, there are plenty of suspects, plus a new character who comes on to investigate. This being a musical based on Dickens’ version of Drood rather than the brooding, dark and incomplete novel, it’s all tied up with a happy ending. Several, in fact.    
    Whodunnit? You get to decide.

Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Ken Kimble. Choreographer: Elysia Greene-Merrill. Stage manager: Kristy McKeever. Costumer: Jackie Colestock. Lighting designer: Drew Fox.
Playing thru June 20. Th-S plus W June 17 8pm: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212;

The music is timeless as life ­imitates art

Is it life imitates art? Or art imitates life? Either way, when Kiss Me, Kate hit Broadway back in 1948, winning a Tony Award, it marked the first time that Cole Porter’s music and lyrics integrated into a stage story, moving beyond showcasing Porter’s clever musical banter to pushing the story along. The story, told in show-within-a-show technique, is the on-and-offstage comedy of errors of the producer, director and star of musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Fred Graham, his ex-wife and costar Lilli Vanessi, and a comic cast with some very fine voices.
    Brian Binney nails Fred’s egoism, has a fine voice and cavorts across the stage with a jumpiness that mirrors his desperation to ensure that the show goes on. He is desperately trying to keep Lilli from quitting after she discovers his lust for Lois Lane, the sexy young actress whose boyfriend owes some very bad men some very big bucks. As Lilli, Brenda D. Parker is as convincingly egotistical as Fred. She has a powerhouse voice that is flexible enough to move from ballad to comedic in a matter of measures. As Lois and Bill, her boyfriend in arrears, Amy Greco and Nathan Bowen give us a pair of sure-footed hoofers and singers who seem born to the stage of old, whose attractions were soft shoe and solid voices, not special effects and remakes.
    The story is frantic and funny, but it’s the classic Porter songs that keep the audience — at least those of a certain age or interest in Broadway history — thinking a-ha at recognizing tunes that turned out to be timeless. The hit parade starts with the company announcing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” As the parade passes by, we’re mesmerized by Parker’s beautiful “So in Love” and riotous “I Hate Men,” Greco’s and Bowen’s “Why Can’t You Behave?” and, opening Act II, Jared Shamberger’s turn as Paul energetically leading the company through a very nicely choreographed “Too Darn Hot.” Special mention to the bassist in the orchestra — either Jeff Eckert or Steve Hudgins in the program — who plucks a very jazzy accompaniment on the latter.
    Other chestnuts, from “Wunderbar” by Binney and Parker to Greco’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” keep the parade of hits coming. When two toughies, played by Josh Hampton and Michael Iacone, show up trying to collect from Bowen’s Bill and end up a part of the cast, they bring a cool liveliness to the goings-on that culminates in a hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” that seems to go on forever — and deserves to.
    Costumes by Linda Swann are colorful and fun. Director Roy Hammond and choreographer Rikki Howie Lacewell keep the pace moving. Stage manager Joanne D. Wilson keeps the scene changes short. The live orchestra led by Joe Biddle does a nice job moving the music without overpowering the singers, quite an accomplishment when an orchestra of more than a dozen is playing in a relatively small 155-seat venue like Bowie Playhouse.
    2nd Star’s Kiss Me, Kate brings us old Broadway that’s as good as new. It’s comedy, romance and music that were built to last. Judging by the vitality of 2nd Star’s production, tickets likely won’t.

Playing thru June 27, FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700;