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Arts and Culture (Performing Arts)

The formula for the chemistry of commitment

     I Do! I Do! has been done over and over in community theaters, repertory theaters, dinner theaters and church basements since it closed on Broadway in 1968. One reason is that its two-person cast and simple single set of a four-poster bed make it far easier and less expensive to mount than the typical big-cast-and-chorus musical, thus very attractive to those looking to bring in an audience at relatively little cost.
    That’s not the only reason. The material was lightweight even for the 1960s, and the score produced only one recognizable hit. Yet both bring so much humor and empathy that anyone who is, has been or will be married can identify with Agnes and Michael Snow. It is their union the show follows for some 50 years from the honeymoon night all the way through to the sale of the house they lived in, loved in, argued in, raised kids in and sang to each other in for all those decades. It was written to begin in 1895 and end in 1945.
    Infinity’s production, tightly directed by Tina Marie Casamento and starring Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, takes a more modern setting, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the current day. The story is timeless enough that the change is barely noticeable.
    On Broadway, I Do! I Do! was a hit because the personalities and chemistry of stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston raised the level of the material. Infinity’s production is likely to be very popular for the same reason. Both Dalli and Laurie have personality plus, and their vocal chemistry elevates a score that was never one of Broadway’s more popular. Together, they turn the show’s hit, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a pop smash for big-baritone-voiced Ed Ames, into a more real-life paean to growing old together.
    The chemistry between Dalli and Laurie doesn’t stop with their vocals. As wide-eyed young love dims with the passing of the years — and the giggling embarrassment of the honeymoon night gives way to the inevitable vocal sparring of two people wondering years later whether they are where and with whom they want to be — both of these New York actors display an empathy for their characters and each other that remains strong throughout the rises and falls of a long marriage. That arc — from love to frustration to anger to cheating to loneliness and back — is one we’ve all seen on stage and film time and time again. Still, these actors know how to deliver a vocal quip and a physical take in ways that make it all seem fresh. Through it all, they never lose sight of the depth of feeling that must anchor each of these moments, just as it anchors the ups and downs of any long-term relationship.
    Dalli takes Agnes through the decades with a charming and knowing subtlety, gradually aging in body and blooming in attitude but never varying from the personality that makes her the anchor of this production. Her beautiful, rich soprano is the perfect vehicle to carry the emotional ups and downs of Agnes’ songs.
    Laurie is more of a character actor than a leading man à la Robert Preston, so we get a Michael who is a bit broader than one might expect. Laurie pulls it off because of that chemistry with Dalli, because he connects with the audience in a way many actors can’t and because, through it all, he never loses touch with that aforementioned depth.
    Music director David Libby keeps it simple, with pianist Paul Campbell playing a single keyboard in accompaniment because, frankly, that’s all two people singing a nice, relatively simple score really need. A single live keyboard played well is almost always more emotionally satisfying and effective than a recorded and digitized orchestra.
    That simple set with the four-poster bed? Turns out it’s not so simple. Being a professional theater company, Infinity knows how to get the most out of a set, and does so with this one. What appears to be just a big headboard, for example, turns into everything from the altar of a church to a quilt of lights mimicking Agnes’ and Michael’s raised voices in the same ritual married couples everywhere have engaged in since time began: talking past each other from opposite sides of the house.
    It is this, and so much more of ourselves, our parents and our married friends, that we recognize in I Do! I Do! The play is a salute to the institution of marriage, and Infinity carries on the tradition delightfully.


Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III; Sound designer Wes Shippee; Stage manager Geoffrey Weiss; Costume designer Tristan Raines; Lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor.

About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Runs through August 3: Thursdays at 2pm and 7pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm; added performances on Wednesday, July 23 at 7pm and Friday, August 1 at 8pm. Advance tickets $35, $40 at the door (seniors $34/$29): call 877-501-8499 or visit www.infinitytheatrecompany.com

Teen players give you hope in youth and humanity

An all-teen cast draws a fine line between the real and unreal in Twin Beach Players’ Harvey. We’ve known Elwood P. Dowd since 1944, when Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened on Broadway, but most notably in James Stewart’s 1950 movie incarnation.
    In all those years, nobody has ever seen Dowd’s best friend and constant companion, a six-foot-three-inch tall white rabbit named Harvey.
    Dowd describes Harvey as a pooka, a benign but mysterious creature from Celtic mythology who is especially found of social outcasts — like Dowd.
    The word comes up several times in the play, always with a mysterious air as if it’s too taboo to be spoken. Nobody else wants to think like Dowd, who is either a nut or a drunk.
    Or is he?
    Twin Beach Players give us glimpses of Harvey — a fedora hat with two holes poked out for rabbit ears, a door that mysteriously opens when Harvey is invisibly passing through, Dr. Chumley sideswiping by Harvey and Elwood’s conversations with his imaginary friend.
    As Dowd, 14-year-old Cameron Walker does such a believable job of talking to Harvey you’d think the oversized rabbit was in the room next to him.
    Dowd’s family doesn’t share his wide-eyed guilelessness. Prim sister Veta (Marina Beeson) is as much put out by his dinner invitations to people he’s just met as she is to his constant opening of doors for invisible lapine friends.
    And how will she ever find a husband for her daughter Myrtle Mae (Abby Petersen), with an uncle whom most of the town regards as a nutcase.
        Myrtle Mae and Veta join forces to have Dowd committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Chumley (Jeffrey Thompson). Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
    Twin Beach Players keeps the set simple — a cushioned chair, a phone, a bookcase and a desk and chair. All three acts take place in either the library or Chumley’s Rest, the ­asylum.
    The only sound effects are a ringing telephone and the one-time sound of a large rabbit hopping across the stage.
    The elaborate costumes, made to order by Dawn Denison, suit an era of propriety.
    The teen actors playing grown-ups are mature in roles and dramatic skills. No one missed a beat — or a line.
    Veta is dramatic and loud, overbearing to her brother but not to her audience.
    Newcomer and first-time actor Danielle Heckart, who plays Judge Ophelia Gaffney, shows the audience that even a fourth-grader can pull it off.
    Asylum orderly Wilson (Matthew Konerth) adds humor with impromptu actions and one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see him pop back on stage and hear his next crack.
    Dr. Sanderson (Dean Stokes) and Nurse Kelly (Olivia McClung) are believable in their roles as medical professionals: He, the stoic psychiatrist with a secret crush on her and she, the obedient employee with an underlying twist of sarcasm.
    Camden Raines keeps her duel roles — Betty Chumley and Ethel Chauvenet — separate and ­successful.
    Cab driver E.J. Lofgren (Ethan Croll) is true to his role as a cabbie, complete with New York accent and toughness. Despite his short time on stage, he resolves the conflict with his worldly view of patients with mental illness.
    You leave this quirky comedy about human oddities and outcasts feeling pretty good about yourself and everybody else, including large rabbits.

Director: Annie Gorenflo. Producer: Matthew Konerth. Light and set design: Sid Curl. Sound: Michael Happell. Prop master: Camden Raines. Music: Bob Snider. Costumes: Dawn Denison. Youth Troupe directors: Rob and Valerie Heckart.

Playing thru June 29: FSa 7pm; Su 2pm at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $5; rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.
 

Actors may flirt with you and filch your food in this frothy romp back in time

With summer comes another season of Molière for moderns, adapted by Tim Mooney and performed by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern.
    The Schemings of Scapin, playing through July 29, is a frenzied farce in rhyming couplets about well-heeled 17th century fools and their gamesome servants. With a contrived plot about true love and arranged marriages, this play pits fathers against sons while elevating the lowly and poking fun at the idle rich and lawyers — revolutionary stuff for its time, but Louis XIV loved this fluff.
    To wit, Scapin (Charlie Retzlaff), a brilliant trickster and politician, is employed as valet and temporary guardian to narcissistic Leandre (Zachary Roberts) whose father, buffoonish Geronte (Gray West), is away on business. Likewise, Sylvestre (Ashlyn Thompson), an anxious nudge, is similarly employed with simpering Octave (Michael Windsor) while his sour old father, Argante (Joseph Palka), is away.
    Fortunately for the young men, their servants have not kept very close eyes on them. Unfortunately for the young men, each father returns home with a marriage contract for his son. Alas, Leandre is already in love with the seductive Gypsy Zerbinette (Lauren Turchin). Octave is secretly married to darling Hyacinthe (Jackie Madejski), a match arranged by her nurse, Nerine (Roberts in drag).
    What follows is an elaborate scheme to bilk the fathers, transferring money intended to benefit their sons to the support of relationships with the women who threaten to break family ties. But all’s well that ends well.
    Turchin’s Gypsy steals the show, but all of the performers are masterful at physical comedy, word play, improvisation and audience interaction. Don’t be surprised if they flirt with you and filch your food. With interludes of Baroque harpsichord music and costumes ranging from Blue Boy and Bo Peep to bangles, this is a frothy romp back in time.

Director: Sally Boyett. Costumer: Maggie Cason. Stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Running 1:40 with two intermissions.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wednesday) thru July 29 at 7:30pm at Reynolds Tavern Courtyard, Church Circle, Annapolis. $20 w/advance discounts; rsvp. Happy Hour prices until 7pm; dinner menu then available: 410-415-3513; www.AnnapolisShakespeare.org.

 
It would be a shame for one seat to go empty during this run.
Debuting to 10 Tony Awards 50 years ago, Hello, Dolly! is a rarity among musicals: song and dance blend seamlessly with story, its buoyant innocence saving it from contrivance. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, it’s a perfect vehicle for 2nd Star Productions, long recognized for outstanding musicals. The combination of strength in show and talent makes this the best amateur musical production I have seen in 13 years of reviewing. 
 
Dolly Levi (Nori Morton), as charming as she is perceptive and manipulative, is a marriage broker who, after a long widowhood, has set her own matrimonial sights on Horace Vandergelder (Gene Valendo), the half-millionaire from Yonkers who also happens to be her client. Horace is set to marry Irene Molloy (Pam Schilling), a lovely widow and milliner from the city. But his quest does not end as he — or six younger romantics — anticipated, as Dolly lets drop some slanderous rumors about Irene’s character.
 
Horace’s two clerks at Vandergelder’s Feed Store — Cornelius (Nathan Bowen) and Barnaby (Daniel Starnes) — close the store without Horace’s knowledge to follow him, intent on sightseeing and kissing a girl — all on two dollars. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Freeman), meanwhile, steals off to the city at Dolly’s urging with her forbidden love Ambrose (Josh Hampton). Dolly enters the pair in a polka contest at the swanky Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where Horace will dine.
 
In the city, Cornelius and Barnaby spot their boss and take refuge in Irene’s hat shop, where Horace discovers them and abandons Irene. She and her assistant Minnie (Colleen Coleman) then fall for Cornelius and Barnaby. Dolly next sets up Horace with a mannequin, then with Ernestina (Rebecca Feibel), a crass floozy, interrupting their miserable tête à tête so that he will fall for her in desperation. Horace’s employees, meanwhile, are trying to entertain the milliners on a pittance in an adjacent booth when an accidental wallet swap saves their day but causes Horace to be arrested for not paying his bill. The polka contest turns into a riot. Everyone is hauled to court, but Cornelius saves the day with a speech on the power of love that moves the Judge (Mark Jeweler) to free everyone but Horace. Dolly, of course, is there to save his day.
 
There is not a clinker in this cast. The leads, all well cast, know how to sell their songs. With hummable hits like Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Takes a Woman and It Only Takes a Moment, the singing is pitch-perfect and the dancing precise. Morton is every inch the marvelous meddler; Valendo delivers just the right blend of tightwad anxiety; Bowen charms with naïve sincerity and energy to burn; Starnes is an impressive presence as the teen playing a teen; Schilling sings like a lark in Ribbons Down My Back and Coleman is her perfect ingénue foil. Tim Sayles is hilarious as Rudolph, the maître d’ who barks orders like a German drill sergeant in the Waiters’ Galop, a stunning ballet of  tuxedoed servers. Feibel wrangles the laughs with her bumptious shenanigans. There are even children — two talented girls — always a welcome sight in community theater choruses.
 
Sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes with half a dozen ornate set changes and two dozen beautiful ensembles complete with parasols, plumes, boaters and bonnets. The robust nine-piece orchestra sometimes overpowers the soloists, but never a word is lost. 
 
Money is like manure. It isn’t worth anything unless you spread it around, Dolly is fond of saying. The same is true for talent. It would be a shame for even one seat to go empty during this run. So buy your tickets now, Before the Parade Passes By.
 
 
Hello, Dolly! by Stewart and Herman. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. choreography: Vincent Musgrave. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. With Heather Jeweler as Mrs. Rose and Brianne Anderson, Aaron Barker, Rosalie Daelemans, Austin Dare, Genevieve Ethridge, Samantha Gardner, Ethan Goldberg, Ann Marie Hines, Julie Hines, Amy Jones, Crista Kirkendall, Brigid Lally, Erin Lorenz, Rebekka Meyer, Spencer Nelson, Malarie Novotny, Sharon Palmer, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, CeCe Shilling, Jordan Sledd, Deb Sola and Sarah Wessinger.
 
Playing thru June 29. F & Sa at 8 pm; Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions: Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $22 w/discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Gather under the stars for satins and sequins, top hats and tails and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness

It seems only yesterday we were urged to come and meet those dancing feet … on 42nd Street. But the 2001 revival of the 1980 Broadway hit (both multiple Tony Award winners) debuted as a 1933 Warner Brothers film starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers. Now Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre brings back this buoyant musical extravaganza, after a 20-year hiatus, in a show billed as a “bold celebration of the transcendent joys of Broadway.”
    Packed with show-stopping classics, it stars several dynamic leads guaranteed to satisfy the strongest nostalgia craving. ASGT’s stage can’t provide the same trademark visuals of Busby Berkeley’s film choreography, but the tapping is complex and tight, highlighting the virtuoso performances of Hannah Thornhill as Peggy Sawyer, the sudden starlet, and Summer Garden Theatre newcomer Nicholas Carter as her friend Andy, the dance captain of her star vehicle, Pretty Lady. Maggie (Allie Dreskin), the show’s wisecracking writer, is equally impressive for her singing.
    Because even the spunkiest musical needs a story line, no matter how flimsy, Peggy the small-town-girl takes the city by storm and wins the hearts of hard-nosed producer Julian Marsh (Brandon Deitrick) and sweet chorus boy Billy (Kyle Eshom).
    Meanwhile, aging diva Dorothy Brock (Allison Erskine) gives Peggy her lucky break, literally, when age trips over youth in rehearsal. Dorothy was due for a change, anyway, having tired of her sugar daddy who is the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Wendell Holland), and desperate to reunite with her secret love, Pat Denning (Thomas Brandt).
    For a show with two love triangles, there is nary a spark beyond the music. But with hits like We’re in the Money glittering green as a lotto commercial, Lullaby of Broadway with its great male harmonies, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo staged in train cars, the rest is fluff.
    Thornhill, ASGT’s star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago, has it all: voice, moves, personality and Renée Zellweger’s looks. Carter astounds as an Astaire for the modern age. Dreskin brings a Bette Midler quality to Maggie, wowing early on in Shadow Waltz, and dominating the stage for a third of the show. Newby Erskine’s strong contralto is best showcased in About a Quarter to Nine and I Only Have Eyes for You. Eshom shines in Dames. Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Lacy Comstock, Amanda Cimaglia and Trent Goldsmith excel in the tertiary lead chorus roles of Anytime Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine and Brent, featured in the big-production numbers.
    From an acting perspective, Aubrey Baden is worth mentioning for his terrific impersonation of a rehearsal pianist, despite the fact that he doesn’t play or speak. All the music, in fact, is provided by a tiny, tinny backstage combo. Holland is a quintessential milksop. Deitrick does a decent job with his famous pep talk, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star,” but he has trouble navigating 42nd Street in his solo reprise of the title song in the finale. Similarly, some dragging tempi and a lighting problem siphoned some of the show’s energy on opening night.
    Still, if you love satins and sequins, top hats and tails, and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness, you will thrill to this chestnut.


With Samantha Curbelo, Ashley Gladden, Debra Kidwell, Maureen Mitchell, Erin Paluchowski , Aaron Quade and D.J. Wojciehowski.
By Stewart, Bramble, Warren and Dubin. Director and choreographer: Kristina Friedgen. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Dance captains: Nick Carter and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan. Set designers: Friedgen and Dan Snyder. Costumes: Miriam Gholl. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra conductor/pianists: Hawk and Laura Brady.
Playing thru June 21. Th-Su plus Wed. June 18 at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
 

Two past winners illustrate the magic of make-believe

     Make a play! Bay Weekly challenged two aspiring young playwrights to show us how the Twin Beach Players Kids Playwriting Festival lights the fire of creativity.
    Holmes and Watson Make the Best Summer Ever is the result.
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A show of fun and fashion delights kids and the adults who bring them

Infinity Theatre — which has gained a solid reputation for bringing New York talent to the Annapolis stage — gives young audiences as well as adults a taste of professional theater.
    Infinity’s production of The Emperor’s New Clothes is a delight; you know it’s a winner when the parents and grandparents cheer and clap as enthusiastically as the kids they’ve accompanied.
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Talent Machine’s young actors are rehearsing for life

     Talent Machine is a gifted crew of kids and volunteers who make magic for audiences of every age. This year, the seven- to 14-year-old troupe is working on Peter Pan; the kids have learned lines, choreography and music to captivate audiences. From this experience, they’ll take away more than memories and new friends.
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