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The Philadelphia Story

2nd Star Productions updates this classic with color-blind casting

Golden girl Tracy Lord (Erica Miller) is a privileged ice princess trying to choose between three dissimilar men, including poet-cum-reporter Mike Connor (Erik Hatcher). <<photo by Nate Jackson Photography>>

Legendary acting gave The Philadelphia Story its fame. Philip Barry’s so-so comedic drama about high society marriage and divorce in the 1930s is synonymous with Katherine Hepburn, who debuted the show on Broadway and starred on screen opposite Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. That’s a hard legacy to live up to.
     Renowned for outstanding musicals, 2nd Star Productions tries to update this classic with color-blind casting. But this time the troupe aims higher than it can reach.
    The action covers a pivotal 24 hours in the life of golden girl Tracy Lord (Erica Miller), a privileged ice princess who finds her heart as she searches her soul to choose between three dissimilar men. The occasion is her impending wedding to establishment tycoon George Kittredge (Akili Brown). The society event summons attention from poet-cum-reporter Mike Connor (Erik Hatcher) and impish ex-husband, Dexter Haven (Joshua Hampton). George adores her as a goddess, Mike appreciates her surprising innocence and Dexter acknowledges both qualities — plus his culpability in souring their love.
     Subplots center on Tracy’s family: literary brother Sandy (Alex Hyder), meddling little sister Dinah (Miranda Newheart), philandering father Seth (Brian Binney) and long-suffering mother Margaret (Rosalie Daelemans), for whose sake they welcome the press in hopes of averting a public scandal. Uncle Willie (Gene Valendo) lends comic relief as resident philosopher and lecherous geezer smitten as he is with press photographer Liz Imbrie (Nina Y. Marti), who is in love with Mike. There is also the requisite black butler (Wendell Holland) and two domestics, May (Mary Retort-George) and Elsie (Lily George).
     This production stumbles on relevance and credibility. As the central characters bumble through a haze of champagne and sexist humor toward an incendiary misunderstanding, a relevant question is posed.
    “What place does a woman like Tracy have in the world today?”
    In our era of Kardashian socialites, that 80-year-old line describes an anachronism.
    Confounding credibility is the directorial concept of Tracy’s interracial engagement to George. For these characters, such a union would have been unthinkable. That scenario was the impetus for a different Hepburn blockbuster — Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner — 40 years later.
     Stepping in for another director, Christopher Overly, who starred as Father in 2nd Star’s musical Children of Eden, inherited a challenge. The principals deliver their own brand of Hepburn’s fiery ice, Grant’s suavity and Stewart’s guileless charm, but they cannot live up to the expectation set by that charmed trio. Despite yet another award-worthy set from company founder Jane B. Wingard, this show feels immature and, at two and a half hours with two intermissions, long.


FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, thru Feb. 20. Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts: 2ndstarproductions.com.

Stage manager, Joanne D. Wilson; Costumes, Linda Swann; Lights & sound, Garrett R. Hyde