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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

The best of times and worst of times brought to vivid, emotional life

The most famous first lines in literature — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — may make you fear you’re in for a dry history lesson.
    Not so with Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s A Tale of Two Cities. As soon as actor Brian Keith MacDonald follows that opening, you realize this production is going to be about the fire of feelings, not the dust of historic facts. Thereupon, it becomes impossible not to go with this revolutionary ride.
    Lara Eason’s adaptation of Dickens’ 1859 novel is concise, filtering out a few characters and situations to put on stage the very basics of the book that so many read in high school. (Most lists have A Tale of Two Cities as the top-selling book of all time, excluding the Bible and other religious books often given away.)
    We’re in England and France before and during the French Revolution, with the aristocracy’s long years of entitlement and cruelty punished by the revolutionaries, whose self-justified actions are just as cruel.
    This production runs only one hour and 45 minutes including intermission, but if anything, the power of Dickens’ story and the clarity of his characters’ feelings are enhanced by that brevity. That’s due in very large part to a cast of seven actors, including MacDonald, who plumbs the depths of each main character even as they quickly switch to playing multiple others.
    MacDonald plays the cynical drunk Sydney Carton, who turns out to be the hero. Patrick Truhler gives us Charles Darnay, the French noble who changes his name out of disgust at his family’s treatment of the peasants. Richard Pilcher is Doctor Manette, imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. James Carpenter is Jarvis Lorry, Manette’s friend. Laura Rocklyn is Doctor Manette’s daughter Lucie, loved by both Carton and Darnay, and the central character tying everything together. Joel Ottenheimer plays Monsieur Defarge, the wine shop owner who becomes a revolutionary leader. Amy Pastoor plays his wife Madame Defarge, whose cruel back story is hinted at in such speeches as “Tell the wind and fire where to stop; not me!” Each of these actors does a remarkable job switching from role to role in a way that clearly delineates the character of the moment so that the audience keeps up easily with the action.
    Director Sally Boyett, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, keeps the pace moving with nary a scene change in the small, 70-seat, black-box space. The play is beautifully choreographed so that the action is constant, yet the emotions remain the focus. Lighting designer Adam Mendelson’s illumination is so focused and appropriate that it acts as another character.
    It’s very likely, of course, that you’ve read the book. It’s not very likely that when you did you were kicked in the gut by the emotions and raw power of the characters that are brought to life so vividly in this sincere and succinct production.

Stage manager: Sara K. Smith; Sound designer: Gregory Thomas Martin; Fight choreographer: Amy Pastoor; Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

FSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7pm thru Aug. 2. 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513;

Area premier gives the popular film a song-and-dance twist

Catch Me If You Can: The Musical, an area debut, is a song-and-dance celebration of the lovable conman, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Ron Giddings), and the FBI agent who caught him, Carl Hanratty (Joshua Mooney). The fugitive traveled five million miles impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and cashed $1.8 million in fraudulent checks — all before turning 21.
    The story is many things. It’s the sad tale of a broken marriage between big talker Frank Sr. (Tom Newbrough) and his opportunist war bride Paula (Alicia Sweeney). It’s a funny escapade about a jet-setting playboy who masters persuasion as a survival skill. It’s a mind-boggling lesson in counterfeiting and police procedures from the bumbling team of Hanratty and his cohorts: Branton (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Cod (Jamie Austin Jacobs) and Dollar (Nick Carter). It’s the heartbreak of true love in the rearview mirror when the Feds track Frank to the home of his fiancée Brenda (Hayley Briner) and her conservative Southern parents, Carol (Sweeney) and Roger (Steve Ariesti). And it’s a glitzy chorus of hoofers in uniforms and hot-pants evoking the glamour of the early 1960s.
    The nonmusical Dreamworks film — starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams and Christopher Walken — was so successful that the theater world couldn’t let it be, which is unfortunate. For even Marc Shaiman’s musical talent (Hairspray) couldn’t enrich such a rich story. It’s not that the musical’s bad; it received four Tony nominations. It’s just that the songs aren’t memorable, and the story is better told in prose. Still, to give credit where credit is due, this cast rocks the jazzy, campy, film noir score seasoned with riffs borrowed from Duke Ellington and Cat Stevens.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a powerhouse cast.
DiCaprio is a tough act to follow, but Giddings — a longtime veteran of local stages best remembered for his award-winning portrayal of Bat Boy — fills those shoes without a misstep. Charming and versatile, he is a song-and-dance tour-de-force, by turns brash and boyish, self-assured and scared, culminating in a poignant “Goodbye.”
    Mooney is equally impressive as Hanratty, looking every inch the hardened middle-aged cynic despite his youth. A theater student at Frostburg State, he played Lancelot in last summer’s Garden Theatre hit Spamalot. Together, the duo is perfect in their finale duet, “Stuck Together.”
    Briner, in her Summer Garden Theatre debut, brings both personal and vocal strength to the role of Brenda. Her tender “Fly, Fly Away” benediction is a highlight.
    Newbrough, a longtime trouper, conveys a multi-layered portrayal of the washed-up wannabe Frank Sr., creating a tortured role model who is equal parts inspiration (“Butter Out of Cream”) and desperation (“Little Boy Be a Man”).
    Sweeney, a veteran of six Summer Garden Theatre productions, charms in the elegant mother roles of the cosmopolitan danseuse Mrs. Abagnale and the conservative Southerner Mrs. Strong.
    With the exception of some amplification hiccups, this show is technically tight with smart staging and choreography. I recommend it for its astute depiction of the real people who lived this true story. Just don’t expect to leave this musical humming.

    Two and a half hours, including intermission. Mild profanity and adult situations. With Hannah Thornhille as Cheryl Ann, Colin Hood as Dr. Wannamaker and Gabrielle Amaro, Madeleine Bohrer, Lucy Bobbin, ­Amanda S. Cimaglia, Debra Kidwell, Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Rebecca Gift Walter, Brandon Deitrick and David Ossman.
    Director and costumer: Mark Briner. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Choreographer: Becca Vourvoulas. Set: Matt Mitchell. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Lindsea Sharple and Dan Snyder. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Rich Estrin, Randy Martell, Randy Neilson, Tony Settineri, Kevin Hawk, Tod Wildason, Jeff Eckert, Reid Bowman, Zach Konick and Bill Georg.
    Th-Su 8pm thru July 25 plus W July 22: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22; rsvp: 410-268-9212; ­


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:

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;

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;

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;

Another Classic-Lite premieres

Two summers ago, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company offered a new concept in dinner theater: Comedy in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, featuring modern adaptations of classics from the Enlightenment. Satires such as Molière’s Tartuffe and The Schemings of Scapin, performed by comely professionals with a flair for punny couplets, found audiences as hungry for bawdy barbs as they were for shrimp and grits. So when Artistic Director Sally Boyett commissioned Timothy Mooney, author of 17 Molière adaptations, to translate an Italian classic — Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters  — the public house was packed. Mooney flew in from Chicago for the champagne reception honoring this world premiere about love and revenge among bumbling aristocrats, saucy maids and a scheming servant.
    The servant in question, Truffaldino (Patrick Truhler), is an opportunist whose greed and incompetence engender romance between his two masters after two hours of swashbuckling confusion. It all starts when a Venetian merchant, Pantalone (Brian Keith MacDonald), arranges for his daughter Clarice (Megan Morse Jans) to marry Silvio (Michael Windsor), son of Doctor Lombardi (James Carpenter). Clarice’s previous betrothed, Federigo (Laura Rocklyn), was killed by Florindo (Carpenter), the lover of Federigo’s sister Beatrice (Rocklyn). Now Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother, has come to claim Federigo’s uncollected dowry. Yet unbeknownst to Beatrice, her lover Florindo arrives in Venice simultaneously. The servant Truffaldino contracts to serve them both even as his feeble brain is besotten with love for Clarice’s maidservant, Smeraldina (Amy Pastoor). Only the innkeeper, Brighella (Sue Struve), knows who’s who, and nobody knows fully what’s what in this comedy of errors where all’s well that ends well.
    Confused? I still am, but it really doesn’t matter. In the spirit of the Three Stooges, the entertainment lies in the delivery and the pratfalls. The dialogue is modern with such clever observations as defining patriarchy as a cockocracy. Witticisms are served up with a sauce of slapstick garnished with outrageous sound effects. A chorus of whistles, drums, gongs, castanets, horns and whipsticks accompany each gag, and no one utters the name of the mysteriously reincarnated Federigo without Ennio Morricone’s riff from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoing through the courtyard.
    The actors engage the audience by snatching props from their tables and deigning to sit with them on occasion, perhaps waiting in vain for a bite of the bread pudding or other menu offerings so highly praised in the script. Bawdy jokes, double entendres and physical gags are de rigueur, and Truhler as the servant is a buffoon par excellence.
    This costume comedy is a lowbrow introduction to a highbrow classic intended to entertain and enlighten the modern audience on the roots of revolutionary philosophy and letters. It runs two hours with two intermissions, and regular menu prices are in effect.

Director: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Stage Manager: Sara K. Smith.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wed.) thru Sept. 29, 7:30pm (come early for dinner and drinks): 1747 Pub Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis; $25 w/advance discounts plus fare; rsvp: 410-415-3513;


Set to music, Oscar Wilde is twice as funny

It’s ironic that when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, many critics loved its humor but were taken aback at its lightness, its refusal to take on heavy social or political issues of the time, as most dramas had done. The irony is that it’s exactly this drive to escape the heavy responsibilities of “position” that impel Jack Worthing to create an alter ego, Ernest, through whom Jack can live a life untethered by the demands of position.
    Even so, Wilde’s Earnest was quickly acclaimed one of his greatest works, and certainly his greatest comedy, one that moved the audience to laughter consistently and whose dialogue and characters rang so true that even today the plot seems as likely as life. Take this thespian froth, add music that stays true to the times and the story, and you end up with the hilarious hit that The Colonial Players of Annapolis is displaying on its in-the-round stage through May 16.
    Director Rick Wade — a long-time directing, acting and playwright veteran of Colonial Players (Wade wrote the book for the group’s version of A Christmas Carol, a three-decade Annapolis tradition) — knows just how to make the most of that stage. Along with set and floor designer Edd Miller and lighting designer Frank Florentine, Wade turns Colonial’s theater into a garden of comedy, with pastel flowers lining the walls behind the audience, a floor just as beautiful, lights constantly in motion and set pieces cleverly rearranged during quickly choreographed scene changes ranging from London flats to a country garden.
    Worthing, played by Eric Hufford, and his pal Algernon, played by Steven Baird, have a nice camaraderie on stage, giving the little digs that friends do. When Algernon, whose cousin Gwendolyn Jack is in love with, figures out Jack’s Ernest ruse, the plot takes off. It’s a plot that, because of Wilde’s intricacy with words and humor, requires direction that keeps the pace moving. In turn, the cast must have the talent to not only portray these characters brightly but also to reject the temptation to allow the pace to trip up a basic acting requirement: The audience must hear and understand you, especially in the round, when the actor is always facing away from at least one section of the audience. This cast gets the job done.
    From the impossible patter of “A Handbag Is Not a Proper Mother” to the round of “My Eternal Devotion,” some very nice voices are on display here. But never does the music take precedence over the comedy.
    This is a stellar cast. Erica Jureckson as Gwendolyn and Sarah Wade as Cecily, the young ward of Worthing, work very well together, especially when singing “My Very First Impression,” an irony about their ability to size up a man on first glance. Greg Jones as Lane, Worthing’s valet, is top-notch and in fine voice in “You Can’t Make Love,” with Sherri Millan’s servant girl Effie, about the many burdens of upper classdom that prevent their enjoying … ahem … life to its fullest. As Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell, Barbara Bartos is the picture of rigid elitism in that “handbag” song and throughout. And as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Dianne and Duncan Hood get plenty of laughs but serve up a touching dose of mature puppy love as well as dance around their feelings for each other in “Metaphorically Speaking.”
    There are others, including several smaller characters who do double duty keeping the scene changes brisk, often getting their own tee-hees. The bottom line here is every audience’s top priority in a comedy: Keep things moving, and make us laugh. They do, and you will.

Playing thru May 16: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373;