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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian ­circus of musical theater

“Musical comedies aren’t written, they are rewritten,” declares Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
    Just so, writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart of movie and television fame readapted a collection of Greek-themed works already adapted by the Roman playwright Plautus around the turn of the second century, B.C.
    Something familiar, Sondheim writes in the show’s best-known song, “A Comedy Tonight.” But also Something peculiar, Something for everyone, A comedy tonight.
    Those catchy opening lyrics foreshadow what to expect as Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian circus of musical theater.
    The action takes place within and surrounding the neighboring houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus. A scheming plot swiftly develops — only to unravel when a slave negotiating for his freedom agrees to play matchmaker to his youthful master smitten with a beautiful but unintelligent courtesan in the nearby Lycus house of ill repute. The antics that follow involve multiple cases of mistaken identity, athletic physical comedy, sight gags and jokes that echo beyond social class.
    The mature themes of this show are not appropriate for children.
    The first time the Players have brought a musical to the stage, it is a formidable undertaking. Actors play their parts through clever songs and dance as well as humorous dialogue. Taped musical accompaniment adequately fills the space at the Players’ Boys & Girls Club location, but at times it overpowers the performers’ singing. A chorus line adds a kick.
    Sid Curl, director and lighting designer, has assembled a cast of familiar and new actors who create unique characters while working together to deliver an enjoyable evening of theater. Reacting well to each other, all possess an effective balance of comic and musical timing. 
    Angela Sunstone (Prologus/Pseudolus) offers insight and intensity, serving in dual roles as storyteller to introduce the show and as slave. Andrew Brinegar, Annie Gorenflo and Tyler Vaughn (The Proteans) exhibit distinct identities while smoothly transitioning through multiple roles as a cohesive group. Rick Thompson (Prologus/Senex) plays lecherous Senex with effective comic physicality. Lindsay Haas (Domina) provides character-appropriate rigidity in her interactions. John Carter (Hero), whose singing is strong and full of emotion, is convincing as the love-smitten son to Senex and Domina. Aidan Davis (Hysterium) adds vocal variations to the role of Senex’s slave.
    Jeanne Louise fluidly commands the stage with a sparkling and energetic persona as Marcus Lucus. Arianne Dalton (Tintinabula), Brittney Collins (Panacea), Mikayla Ann Ford and Aaliyah Roach (The Geminae), Hayley Miller (Vibrata), and Jenny Liese (Gymnasia) shine as courtesans, each displaying sex appeal through character-appropriate, seductive dance movements.
    Katie Evans (Philia) is hysterical as Hero’s love interest, projecting a soprano singing voice that is strong and polished. Phil Cosman (Erronius) plays the nearly blind old man very convincingly, bringing comic talent to every scene he enters. Kevin McAndrews creates a dominating presence as Captain (Miles Gloriosus), with a booming spoken and singing voice that packs a powerful punch.
    Among the production staff helping to mount this ambitious production, Dawn Denison’s costume choices — including togas, flowing robes and military uniforms — add realism to the Roman time period, while chorographer Sherry Dennison gives the actors imaginative work to perform. Wendy Crawford’s set by Robert Snider and Katie Evans’ musical direction help transport us to another time and place.


Thru Oct. 30: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Twin Beach Players, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Meet the World’s Most Admired Woman in her formative years

When Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, the widow of the 26th President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was called by the New York Times The World’s Most Admired Woman. The longest-serving first lady, she was also the tallest until Michelle Obama, at 5'11", met her mark. At a time when political wives were expected to be seen and not heard, she was an outspoken humanitarian, feminist, unionist and champion of racial reform. In an election year focused on another famously civic-minded first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey, is a dynamic opener for Compass Rose Studio Theater’s sixth season.
    Based on a 1979 novel author Rhoda Lerman referred to as a fictional autobiography of Eleanor’s life from 1918 to 1922, this one-woman-show debuted in 1998 with Jean Stapleton. Composed of memories sparked by a phone call from President Truman asking her to speak at the newly formed United Nations, the script covers Eleanor’s formative years at home and in Paris during her husband’s tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy. An instructive and intimate peek at her privileged and turbulent life after the war to end all wars, this production is animated with great sensitivity by local favorites Sue Struve and director Rick Wade. Introspective and poetic, it examines her transition from naïveté to insight as she struggles with both worldview and marriage fraying at the seams.
    Here we see a dutiful woman manipulated by a domineering mother-in-law, a depressed wife betrayed by her unfaithful husband, a blushing mother of six as object of a GI’s flirtation, a sympathetic observer of desperate working women, war widows and soldiers haunted by PTSD.
    Now we see her engaged in political dialogue with the greatest minds of her time: Uncle Teddy Roosevelt, General Blackjack Pershing, Dorothy Strait and historian Henry Adams (of that other old presidential dynasty), who likens her to lead that turns to silver under pressure.
    We also meet Bernard Baruch (Woodrow Wilson’s confidante) who sends her roses and whom her husband refers to as a Hebrew and NOKD — not of our kind, dear. Quotes such as this, sprinkled throughout, convey the surprising notion that Franklin was not only an anti-Semite but also a ­chauvinistic jerk.
    Altogether we have a modern take on a pedigreed woman of a different time, as seen through the filter of a century’s progress and skewed to lionize her.
    For all that this monologue addressed, there is much that it does not: namely FDR’s 1921 polio affliction and Eleanor’s subsequent role as guardian of his vital image — and her conjectured bisexuality (which was addressed in a different drama following the publication of her personal letters in the year this play debuted.)
    Struve commands the stage, navigating a dozen speech patterns and physical postures as she segues through a parade of characters. Slender as the young Eleanor and dressed in a burgundy floral silk dress, Struve nevertheless conveys the matriarchal solidity of the elder’s patrician speech patterns and aristocratic mannerisms. Yet when she inhabits Teddy Roosevelt, you can see and hear his sportsman’s swagger.
    The set is simple: four pieces representing different times and locations, a phone and photo of Franklin and a slide show of personalities and headlines projected above the stage. Indeed, there is no place for Struve to hide, but she does not have to. These 70 minutes (without intermission) feels like a fascinating 50.
    I recommend this show to feminists, history buffs and social optimists of all stripes. This encore production, which debuted last summer at Compass Rose’s Play Festival, appears for a limited engagement only through October 9.


Director: Rick Wade. Stage manager and costumer: Beth Terranova. Lights: Frank Florentine. Sound: Kit Boidy and Ruth Cowgill.
 
Playing thru Oct. 9, FSa8pm, Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater Company, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis. $38 with discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.

Comedy, tragedy and undercurrents of love … just like every family

“You have to soar to fill your soul, but your family is what keeps you grounded,” writes first-time director Dave Carter in the playbill for The Cripple of Inishmaan. That’s the point of Colonial Players’ season opener, a well-crafted comic piece that dips into the reality of sadness and cruelty without turning maudlin.
    Martin McDonagh’s play debuted in 1996 in London and off Broadway in 1998. The wisp of a plot focuses on an American coming to Inishmore, near the island of Inishmaan, to make a film about the locals, who are abuzz.
    Bright performances abound in this dark comedy.
    Teenaged orphan Billy Claven (Jack Leitess), known as Cripple Billy, decides that his fate — and his escape from the cruelties of the island — lies in Hollywood, so he shoves off to join the movies. His two aunts (Mary MacLeod and Carol Cohen) worry about their charge, who spends much too much time reading books and staring at cows. Friend Bartley McCormick (Drew Sharpe) tries his best to understand, and Bartley’s egg-flinging, rough-edged sister Helen (Natasha Joyce) tries to be as cruel as possible.
    Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols), the rough-hewn widower facing his own demons, manages the transit off the island. Tying things all together is the theatrical town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller), whose thirst for attention is fed by his ability to barter news for goods. Lisa KB Rath as Johnny’s elderly sot of a mother and Danny Brooks as Doctor McSharry also shine in smaller supporting roles.
    The star of this production is not one particular character over another, but rather the vast undercurrents of love that ebb and flow through each and among them all together. Thence rises the heartfelt laughter, saving what could have been too dark a comedy. Cripple Billy’s friends and neighbors are his family, and Cripple Billy takes as good as he gets when it comes to understanding and coping with his disability. The directness with which his condition is treated gives us some very lovely, often laugh-out-loud, comic moments. From the aunts’ hand-wringing angst over Billy’s lack of prospects and Helen’s addiction to cursing and kissing, to Bartley’s denseness and Johnnypateenmike’s hilariously childlike need to be first to tell, this cast makes McDonagh’s characters come to life brightly, hilariously and sincerely.  
    It’s not a perfect show, to be sure. In several scenes the pacing needs to be picked up (opening night was two hours and 40 minutes, a bit long for a two-act non-musical). Several scenes are awkwardly staged so that too much of the audience in the round is blocked from the action. In a few spots, the actors’ volume must be turned up.
    On a more positive note, director Carter and his actors take care to ensure the Irish accents are of the less-is-more variety, consistent enough that we know we’re in the Aran Islands, but not so overdone that we lose what’s being said.
    What’s being said is beautiful, funny and often heart-wrenching. The Cripple of Inishmaan rides an undercurrent of love that draws us in, gives us good, hearty laughs and soars into our hearts.


Playing thru Oct. 1: Th-Sa8pm, Su 2pm, plus Sept. 18 7:30pm, Colonial Players Theatre, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Set designer: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Michelle Bruno. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

Mel Brooks’ mocking masterpiece

To end its 50th season, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has challenged itself with one of the biggest and most popular musicals ever to hit Broadway: Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Winner of a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001 and running for more than 2,500 performances, the show sought to hilariously offend everyone — Jews, producers, actors, homosexuals, Nazis … the list goes on. Brooks’ blockbuster set the stage for the kind of hard-to-get ticket that is being matched only by the current hit, Hamilton.
    It’s a big musical, with choreography, music and acting that have to be over the top to work; have you ever seen subtlety in any Mel Brooks movie? Annapolis Summer Garden Theater smartly turned the reins over to local directing veteran Jerry Vess, who strikes a nice balance between the bigness of Broadway and the limits of community theater. A tight, seven-piece band led by Ken Kimble sounds bigger, the original choreography is nicely adapted by Emily Frank, and Anita O’Connor’s music direction helps a talented cast confidently deliver on such songs as It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Opening Night.
    Costumer Jocelyn Odell brings Brooks’ wacky German vision — think pretzel heads and beer-stein jewelry — brilliantly to the stage. The costumes emulate those that helped make the original so memorable.
    The plot is simple: Down and out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (B. Thomas Rinaldi) ropes in straitlaced and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Nathan Bowen) to stage a purposely horrible musical, Springtime for Hitler, and abscond to Rio with the money they raised when it closes after one night. The wrinkle, of course, is that it becomes a smash hit.
    Rinaldi hits all the right notes as Max, and his body type, voice and attitude are perfect for the role — though opening weekend tentativeness zapped some of the zing from Brooks’ zingers. Late in the second act, when he reviews all that’s happened while sitting in a jail cell, he makes Betrayed masterful: funny, even a touch emotional. 
    Rinaldi and Bowen work well together, evoking a Laurel and Hardy dynamic. Bowen’s baritone lends itself well to I Want to Be a Producer. As actor, he allows Leo’s uptightness to be comical but not unbounded — for that would mean competing with so many unbound characters that Brooks has in store for us. Characters including —
    • Franz Leibkind, the Springtime for Hitler playwright who, on his rooftop with his Nazi pigeons, reminisces about his past (In Old Bavaria), forces Max and Leo to sing along to Adolf’s favorite song (Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop) and has them swear to never dishonor Adolf Elizabeth Hitler. Josh Mooney, complete with liederhosen and Nazi helmet, is hilarious as Franz, his bright smile and energy surpassed only by his sidesplitting seriousness when tending to the fuhrer’s honor.
    • Roger DeBris, the flamboyant “worst director in New York,” whom Max attempts to sign to ensure the show flops, and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia. Pete Thompson as Roger and Kevin James Logan as Carmen are brilliant together and apart, and bring one of the most popular numbers of the show, Keep it Gay, to hilarious life. Logan’s flaccid fluidity is so beautifully comical that the audience has no choice but to laugh. Playing Hitler during the show-within-a-show, Thompson’s Roger romps mischievously and riotously as he sings Heil myself!
    • Ulla Inga Hansen etc. etc. (a long long name, pure Brooks), the tall, beautiful Swedish blonde who auditions for Max’s next show and becomes his “Secretary-slash-receptionist.”
    Max lusts, Leo longs and Ulla titillates in a complete 180 from Max’s older women benefactors. As the always smiling statuesque Ulla, Erica Miller gives us a syllable-chewing faux Swedish accent that works to perfection in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It, which gives her body, Max’s libido and Leo’s heart quite the workout.
    • The Usherettes, Ashley Gladden and Amanda Cimaglia, musically narrate, and a fine ensemble provides wonderful voices, dancing and characters, none more uproariously than almost the entire cast in Along Came Bialy, better known in theater circles as the little old lady walker song.
    While there was that tentativeness on the second night, accompanied by some screechy microphone levels, little details like that always work out as a run progresses. Here’s the important thing:
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has gone all out for its 50th birthday. With Jerry Vess’ perfectly paced adaptation and a cast that’s having a blast, the company fits Mel Brooks’ comic genius and this big Broadway show onto a local stage. It’s the audience that gets to celebrate.
    Act quickly … several dates are already sold out.


About two hours 50 minutes with one intermission.

Thru Sept. 4: Th-Su 8pm, $22, rsvp: ­www.summergarden.com.

Find out as six young playwrights speak out in Twin Beach Players’ 11th Annual Playwright Festival

Twin Beach Players has unusual success in getting kids to say what’s on their minds. Over 11 years, youngsters from elementary to high school have taken to the Kids Playwright Festival stage, writing plays that describe the world as they know it.
    The Player and the Festival are “safe spaces for kids of all backgrounds to express themselves,” says company president Sid Curl. “Kids feel they can be themselves and have fun doing it.”
    At the same time, the annual competition and festival introduce young people to the camaraderie and teamwork needed to get live theater productions to work.
    From Kids Playwright Festival, alums have even made it big, with internationally published plays, small roles on popular shows like House of Cards and original plays on the Charm City scene.
    Six-dozen aspiring thespians are creating this year’s festival, as authors, actors and stage hands. Two dozen submitted plays. Half a dozen — all girls — earned the honor of seeing their words come to life in the words and gestures of actors in front of families and friends. That talented cadre also earns cash prizes of $100.
    After three years of acting, recent homeschooled high school grad Taylor Baker tried her hand at playwriting this year. Objection! won, she says, because it not only “breaks the fourth wall — drawing the audience in — but also is funny.”
    Sisterly competition brought younger sister Sidney Baker to this year’s stage with her Shoes, Pizzas and Spirits. “It’s a twist on A Christmas Carol,” she says, created to please theatergoers who, like herself, tire of the same old play every December.
    Rising Northern High School ninth grader Leah Hartley is a two-time winner. Last year she wrote about art and friendship. This year’s Science Mistakes was a challenging new subject for her. And, she thought, for the competition because, she says, “nobody writes about science.”
    Wrong.
    Cousin Elizabeth Kieckhefer, a home-schooled sixth grader, tracked her with Amber’s Science Lesson.
    Science would have been a natural subject for aspiring meteorologist Lucie Boyd, a seventh grader at Northern Middle School, and second-time Festival winner. A couple of years back, her play about meteorologist Doug Hill won a countywide school competition. Instead, for this year’s festival she wrote a sequel to her last year’s winner. “I love reading mysteries and learning about history in school,” she says. The Mystery of the Hum of Nachitti combines both ­interests.
    Sadie Storm, a seventh grader at Plum Point Middle School, is the most experienced Twin Beach Player, with the company since second grade. As an actress, Sadie poured her heart into her roles. One of her proudest moments was her director’s praise for her work in a very small part. “Passionate about social change,” her debut as a playwright is Changes, a play about bullying that, she hopes, is “better than the boring ones she sees at school.”


Playing thru August 14. FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave., $7, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

These talented kids will get your laughs

Annie Get Your Gun is a classic musical based on real people in the days of America’s western expansion. Buffalo Bill’s traveling performance entertained people from all walks of life with the best shot around, Frank Butler. That is, the best shot around other than Annie Oakley.
    The story of the girl who could shoot better is brought to life by Talent Machine, a local theater company that has been getting kids on stage since 1987.
    Talent Machine’s president Lea Capps believes in her young troupe, so there’s no “dumbing down” anything — as youth theater companies may do, performing junior versions of famous plays and musicals.
    Capps’ dedication to performing the authentic plays and musicals pushes her pupils further, allowing their talent to grow. Talent Machine’s Annie Get Your Gun delivers belly-busting laughter, foot-tapping music and talented actors to boot.
    “There’s no business like show business,” proclaims the fame-hungry Wild West ensemble. The message resonates with the budding thespians, children from ages seven to 15.
    “It’s my favorite song in the musical,” says eighth-grader Thomas Crabtree, who plays Mr. Adams.
    Talent Machine cultivates kids’ interest in theater into real talent with the help of dedicated volunteers who for this show created costumes and sets that seemed to step right out of the sharpshooting days of Annie Oakley.
    Michelle Nellum, who trained the spotlight on the young stars, had never planned to get involved. When she and her family moved locally a decade ago, a cousin invited her to one of Talent Machine’s extremely popular Easter breakfasts hosted by Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs. When daughter Maya, then around three, saw what kids not much older than her were doing, she wanted to join them. Maya wouldn’t be satisfied with dancing in the aisle. Now Maya and her mother encourage other friends to join.
    “As it’s 100 percent volunteer, Talent Machine keeps costs low for everyone,” Nellum says.
    On stage, actors and actresses lose themselves in their characters. From Annie’s rustic accent to the mesmerizingly perfect tap dancing and the children’s ability to push through sound equipment malfunctions, Talent Machine knows how to prepare its actors for their big night. Off stage, the actors were more than happy to meet new fans.
    Nine-year-old Lucy Dennis, answered my questions about the musical as though she was regularly hounded by the paparazzo. Lucy, who has been in seven Talent Machine productions, was also inspired to join after watching a breakfast show. Much as she loves acting and dancing, she aspires to be a vet.
    If you have a free night this weekend and want to change up the usual Netflix routine, see Annie Get Your Gun before Talent Machine moves onto its second summer performance.
    Remember, there’s no business like show business!


Thru July 17: ThFSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15, rsvp: ­www.talentmachine.com.
 

Stellar, but still shocking after all these years

When Jonathan Larson’s rock opera Rent, loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme, debuted 20 years ago to a Pulitzer and Tony for Best Musical, it felt so edgy, so raunchy, so shocking with its cast of young radicals: the addicts, the drag queen, the bisexual, the stripper. Despite evolving societal norms and newer crises eclipsing the AIDS epidemic, this blockbuster still has power. With a pulsing beat and haunting earworms, it follows an unforgettable cast of characters for one year as they wrestle with the seven deadly sins and private turmoil only to realize that happiness lies only in living each moment as if it were their last.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a stellar cast of singer/dancers for this production, starting with Tim German as Mark, the videographer who records it all and learns the price of success when his creative genius meets corporate TV greed. At issue is his coverage of a housing firestorm surrounding former roommate Benny (Matthew Walter), who has turned ruthless landlord since marrying into money. When Benny padlocks the building and a tent city sprouts up, the cops and the media are there. So is protest artist Maureen (Loghan Bazan), Mark’s attention-whore ex who left him for an attorney named Joanne (Andrea Greenwald).
    When Mark’s old friend Tom Collins (Christian Gonzalez), a mathematical genius, rolls back into town, he is rolled by gangstas on the street and rescued by a cross-dressing Angel (Nicholas Carter), who becomes the love of his life (Today 4 U). As both men are HIV positive, their support group plays a large role as the story progresses. Mark’s other roommate, guitarist Roger (David Colton), is similarly afflicted and spends the whole show composing his magnum opus (One Song Glory and Your Eyes) before the virus that killed his girlfriend claims him. Roger is a content loner until he meets Mimi (Athena Blackwood), an exotic dancer (Out Tonight) and Benny’s sometime girlfriend. It’s complicated, but Roger and Mimi’s affair is the catalyst for most of the show’s greatest hits, including Light My Candle, I Should Tell You, Another Day and Without You.
    Momentum is slow to build, especially regarding a secondary plotline that has Angel killing Benny’s dog by drumming. But once things get rocking, they don’t stop.
    Greenwald is dynamite with German in Tango Maureen and with Bazan in Take Me or Leave Me. Bazan’s bizarre protest piece, Over the Moon, way eclipses the film version. German and Colton’s Living in America is raw and driving, while Gonzalez and Carter slow the pace in the dreamy Santa Fe and I’ll Cover You. The ensemble impresses with powerhouse solos by Kylie Airin Sjolie and Gabe Taylor (Seasons of Love), Kyle Gonzalez (Will I), Wesley Williams (No Day but Today). Amy Matousek, Katie McCarren, Elizabeth Pittman, Lilibeth Rabang and Brian Shatt provide solid backup.
    Details are fun. Remember the Lycra and shredded denim invasion? Pay phones and bricklike cell-phones? Technological innovations like flashlights serving as spots lend poverty-chic, and the onstage band feels as natural as your noisy neighbors. Best of all, live footage of Mark’s films projected onstage provide intimacy and immediacy.
    The take-away is this: Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.
    If you fly the rainbow flag and like your rock intellectual and irreverent, don’t miss Rent. Runs two hours and forty minutes with intermission. Rated R for adult themes and language.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Paige Austin Rammelkamp. Choreographer: Casey Lynne Garner. Stage manager: Jen Schiller. Set: James Raymond and Jeff Huntington. Costumes: Kristina Marie Martin. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Rob Glass. Video: Babs Weiss. Musicians: Rammelkamp, Ken Kimble, Kevin Hawk, Jeff Eckert and Declan Hughes.
Playing thru July 23, Th-Su plus Weds. July 13 & 20, 8:30pm, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22 rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.

An impressive troupe of young people takes on one of the most challenging races in theater

Producing a Shakespeare play is similar to running a marathon. It’s grueling, frustrating, thrilling and exhausting — and that’s just training.  Maintaining forward motion through the entire course is an accomplishment for any age.
    Twin Beach Players youth production of Much Ado About Nothing has taken on that challenge with great success. 
    Framed at the end of World War II, Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado is a largely festive story made even more spirited by the smart and snarky banter between the fiercely independent Beatrice (Neha Chawla) and the perpetual bachelor Benedick (Cameron Walker). There’s a shadier side as well involving a malicious scheme by the military leader’s illegitimate brother (reimagined here as a sister), Don Jon (Olivia McClung). The ne’er-do-well sets her plan into motion to spoil the wedding of young Claudio (Conor Reinold) and their host’s daughter Hero (Ashley Venier).
     Teeming with elements of trust and deceit within families, friends and romance, the storylines lead to both triumph and disaster. 
    While fondness for Shakespeare and familiarity with the story are helpful, they are not necessary to enjoying this aspiring production. Actors Chawla and Walker set the over-arching tone for the exuberant physicality that helps keep the plot moving when the language — at times challenging for even experienced actors — threatens to bog the performance down. The two offer laugh-out loud moments and engage the audience. The central romantic story is sweet and its actors expressive.
    Other notable performances come from Travis Lehnen as Leonato, E.J. Roach as Don Pedro, Olivia McClung as Don Jon, Aaliyah Roach as Friar Francis and Andrew Brinegar as Antonio. 
    The mood of the era is well set with the sounds of Glenn Miller-esque tunes on a tinny radio, complemented visually by military uniforms, Hepburn–style slacks and charming vintage dresses. Some of the best-staged scenes were teamed with excellent lighting choices, for instance when the entire backdrop glowed in twinkling lights as the full cast launched into a joyful swing dance.  All is supported well by a young tech staff who keep the show rolling at a decent clip.
    Without question this is a teen production and at moments the mark was missed. But those moments were, in a way, appreciated. Otherwise, we might forget we are watching an impressive group of young people taking on one of the most challenging races in theater.


Two and a half hours with an intermission. Thru June 26 FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $10 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

(For Friday performance, arrive very early to enjoy the North Beach Farmers Market to ensure decent parking.)

A very good play balancing good ­fortune with bad luck

“To live in poverty is to exist in a war zone,” award-winning Colonial Players director Edd Miller notes in the playbill for Good People. “Not necessarily with bullets and bombs but with situational choices of conscience.”
    Do choices pull people out of poverty? Determine our lot in life? Or is it luck? Or hard work? Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and Miller ask us not to decide but to ­consider.
    The 2011 drama is set in South Boston, or Southie, in 1998, but its questions are timeless and beyond boundary.
    To help us do that Lindsay-Abaire gives us Margie (with a hard “g”), a middle-aged single Southie mother who loses her job at a dollar store because she’s always late, usually because her adult handicapped daughter can’t be left alone. Margie doesn’t want a handout, just a job that will pay the rent. To find that, she sets aside her ego and reluctantly asks help from her years-ago boyfriend Mikey, an Irish lace doctor who escaped from the neighborhood and got rich because … luck? Hard work? Choices?
    Act I sets us up with the firing by young manager Stevie, with Margie and her friends Dottie and Jean urging her, sometimes hilariously, to look up Mikey. Turns out he has no work to offer. But he has an extravagant birthday party coming up, and Margie invites herself. When she hears by phone that the party is off because of a sick child she believes she is being disinvited lest she won’t embarrass Mikey in front of his non-Southie friends. She goes anyway and is mistaken by Kate, Mikey’s wife, for a caterer picking up dishes that weren’t used because the party was indeed canceled.
    Identities straightened out, Kate invites Margie to chat, much to Mikey’s dismay. Now fly the slings and arrows of good fortune versus bad luck.
    With Miller at the helm, this fine cast navigates the stream of comedy at the surface of much of this show while personifying the undercurrents of deception, despair and distrust. Shirley Panek gives us a Margie who shouldn’t be likeable, but is, thanks to Panek’s deft ability to deliver a stinging yet funny blow to the ego while allowing us to see the pain in her eyes. It is a riveting and emotional performance.
    Likewise, Ben Carr takes Mikey beyond a caricature of a local boy who made good to a finely crafted multidimensional character who relishes his success but, under Margie’s jealous glare, becomes so defensive that his own doubt about luck vs. work show through. Panek and Carr click, so for the audience Margie and Mikey do, too.
    As Kate, Ashley Spooner does some navigating as an elite African-American inexperienced in the past lives of Mikey and Margie. Her Act II performance in a long, yet riveting, three-person scene moves from elitist to understanding as flaws in her husband and their marriage are revealed.
    Karen Lambert’s Jean and Bernadette Arvidson’s Dottie are fine Southie friends, delivering hilarity that resonates with despair. As Stevie, the young store manager whose mother was the women’s friend, Glen Pearson displays the nervousness of a character appearing as the cause of despair.
    Director Miller’s multi-use set cleverly moves from a store alley to a Southie house to a bingo hall to a well-off doctor’s living room all with minimal movement — clear proof that in theater in the round, less is more. His cast keeps the pace moving, and each is clearly invested not only in what we see of their characters but also in what we can feel is so subtly moving under the surface.
    Good People is very, very good.


About two hours, 15 minutes with intermission. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Costume designer: Dianne Smith. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Lighting designer: Frank Florentine.

Thru June 25: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Back to the ’80s

To celebrate its 50th season bringing musical theater to Annapolis, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has chosen this summer to stage, in reverse order, The Producers, Rent … and The Wedding Singer. The Producers won 12 out of its 15 Tony nominations, setting the nominations record and joining the short list of musicals winning in every nominated category. Rent was nominated for 10 Tonys and won four, plus the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Wedding Singer … five nominations, no wins and critical yawns.
    The fact that The Wedding Singer was a loveable but mediocre 1998 movie didn’t stop its writer, Tim Herlihy, from turning it into a loveable but mediocre 2006 Broadway show. It is, of course, set in the 1980s, and most of its purpose seems to be to remind us of that fact. Big hair, big music, big money and big names are tossed around like rice at the newlyweds — with results nothing near the quality of The Producers and Rent.
    Yet a game and talented Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre cast answers the call of the decade with talent and humor that in more cases than not rises above the material.
    In case you missed the movie, the plot is basic: Robbie Hart, a wedding singer, lives with his Grandma Rosie in Ridgefield, NJ. He’s engaged to skanky waitress Linda but at a gig meets Julia, who herself is engaged to smarmy Wall Street banker Greg Guglia. Robbie promises to sing at Julia’s wedding, Linda hilariously dumps Robbie at the altar — claiming she wants to marry not a mere wedding singer but a rock star — and Julia pines for Greg to pop the question.
    As Robbie and Julia, Jamie Austin Jacobs and Hayley Briner (who splits the role on alternating weekends with Layne Seaman) generate chemistry and do some nice vocal work together, especially on the delightful Grow Old with You, which is carried over from the movie. Briner also delivers an upbeat, very ’80s-like Someday, one of the few songs in this score you might leave the theater humming. And while Jacobs needs to remember that wearing a body mike doesn’t negate the need to project when speaking, he’s got the personality and presence, and certainly the singing voice, to make you forget Adam Sandler.
    As Linda, Hannah Thornhill delivers attitude, punch and the vocal chops to match. In Let Me Come Home, she doesn’t just beg to be taken back, she demands it … physically as well as emotionally, in a comic highlight of the show. Jeffrey Hawkins plays Julia’s fiancée Glen with the right amount of Wall Street Gordon Gekko (look it up kids) and also displays a very nice voice on the greed is good message It’s all About the Green. As Robbie’s bandmates, Robbie Dinsmore as a wannabe Boy George and Fred Fletcher-Jackson as a wannabe Van Halen show solid comic timing. Ashley Gladden is Julia’s cousin, a sassy, sexy Holly, whose Saturday Night in the City comes with a Flashdance finale. Even Grandma Rosie channels the ’80s, with Phyllis J. Everette breaking into a very funny rap, Move that Thang. Members of a fine supporting ensemble effectively back up leaders with solid vocals, energetic dance and comic characters.
    Director Mark Briner keeps the pace moving, as does the choreography of Becca Vourvoulas, and Ken Kimble’s backstage orchestra hits all the right notes. Andrew Mannion’s set design puts the fun in functional, and Lin Whetzel’s costumes are full of ’80s fun, with big shoulder pads and bigger colors (but why oh why does the Wall Street tycoon walk around in ratty jeans? Not even Guess?).
    All in all, an invested and energetic cast and crew bring you a slick and rollicking evening. You won’t cry at the romance, you might even groan at the references, but you’ll also smile and tap your feet — especially if you lived through the decade that bored many of the people you’re watching on the stage.


About two and one-half hours with one intermission.

Thru June 18. ThFSaSu (plus W June 15) 8:30pm, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.summergarden.com.