Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
A BITTERSWEET VISIT TO CANADA’S THE SHAW FESTIVAL
The Shaw Festival is conducted in theatres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, an easy four-hour trip from Cleveland. Once you arrive, you will be entranced by the most beautiful little city in Canada. Lovely flowers, classical home architecture and inviting well-stocked shops and galleries make for an inviting experience.
I have contended for years that THE SHAW is the best venue in North America for seeing classical theatre. It is therefore, with frustration that I found some of what I saw this season, less than expected.
‘TONIGHT AT 8:30,’ is a cycle of 10 short plays written by Noel Coward to be performed across three evenings. As Coward explained his purpose for the format, “A short play, having a great advantage over a long one in that it can sustain a mood without technical creaking or over padding, deserves a better fate, and if, by careful writing, acting and producing I can do a little towards reinstating it in its rightful pride, I shall have achieved one of my more sentimental ambitions."
He wrote the series for Gertrude Lawrence and himself in which to star. The Shaw decided to do the entire series, thus using up about half of their performance times. Maybe seeing some of the productions might have been fine. Staging all of them was overkill and may be one of the reasons the Festival’s attendance is down ten percent this year.
Of the seven Cowards that I viewed, I was most pleased with ‘STAR CHAMBER’ and ‘BRIEF ENCOUNTERS.’
‘STAR CHAMBER’ was the last of the ‘TONIGHT AT 8:30’ series written by the author. It is the only one intended to be shown separately. It is being presented as a noon-time offering. The show is a hysterical look at a meeting of the management committee of a theatrical charity to benefit a retirement home for destitute actresses. The committee consists of egocentric actors, who drive the fund’s financial director to distraction through constant interruption of his report by telling stories, breaking into song, gossiping and paying attention to the president’s huge Great Dane. One of the highlights is a songfest of “Mad Dogs and Englishman.” The cast is universally excellent and the direction Kate Lynch is right on the mark. Quickly paced and stressing the humor, this must be one of the season’s highlights.
Of the other Coward’s, ‘BRIEF ENCOUNTERS’ was the most pleasing overall. All three plays, under the adept direction of Jackie Maxwell, were well paced, hit the emotional highlights and captured the right “Coward” balance of sarcasm, ridiculousness and purpose. ‘STILL LIFE’ allows us to view the unexpected love affair between Alex and Laura, who accidentally meet at a train station when he, a doctor, takes a spec of dust out of her eye. Both, obviously in less than satisfying marriages, meet at the station over a period of twelve months. Theirs is a serious affair contrasted with the teasing, flirtatious relationship of Myrtle and Albert, two of the station staff. The ending is filled with pathos. The cast is universally excellent and the setting extremely effective, as we see the trains pull in and out of the station, a parallel to the lives of the transient lovers.
When it opened in 1936, ‘WE WERE DANCING’ was heralded as "a witty little piece.” It is full of ridiculousness and was a perfect acting, singing, and dancing vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence and Coward. The Shaw production is delightful. Two stylish people, Karl and Louise (a married woman), fall in love at a country club dance. They spend the night planning their future. In the morning, when they are tired and hungry, they realize that their love has died, and they have nothing in common. It is so, so British! And, so, so well done.
The last of the ‘BRIEF ENCOUNTERS’ trio is ‘HANDS ACROSS THE SEA.’ Two people “drop in” on a British upper class couple. Who are these guests? Who knows? Who cares? Commander Peter Gilpin and his wife Lady Maureen ("Piggy") Gilpin, have invited so many people to their home on their travels that they can't entirely remember who they invited, so the guests are there, and, as is the custom, are included in the goings on. Among the arrivals, departures, telephone calls and free-flowing alcohol, confusions abound. Rumor has it that the play mirrored the life of Lord Mountbatten and his wife, friends of Coward. As with the two other shows on the bill, this production is delightful, well conceived and acted.
In future reviews I’ll cover some of the less successful Coward productions, several GB Shaw plays (one outstanding and the other frustratingly weak), and a fine Sondheim’s ‘SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.’
A VIEW OF THE SHAW FESTIVAL AREA
Besides the plays themselves, the Festival includes a reading series, Sunday coffee concerts, a Village Fair and Fete, seminars, backstage tours and pre-show chats.
The area itself is filled with activities ranging from a golf course within the city limits; an art park (www.artpark.net), The Good Earth Cooking School (www.goodearthcooking.com), the Jordan Village, a diverse blend of fine shopping, dining, and antique treasures (www.jordanvillage.com), an international chamber music festival (www.niagramusicfest.com), learning vacations at Niagara College (www.niagaralearning vacations.com), bike paths,Mystery on the Lake, a new interactive theatre (www.motl.ca), and a Niagara river jet boat trip.
The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have fine dining restaurants. My favorite is Hillebrand Estates Winery. Friends love Peller Estates. Be aware that these are quite expensive, even with the favorable exchange rate.
Helpful hint: To satisfy border requirements carry your passport. Right now, some of the officers are checking them, others are not. But, to be safe, carry it or you might become a resident of Canada.
For information on the Festival and tickets call 1-800-511-SHAW or online, SHAWFEST.COM.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ off mark at Porthouse!
‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ was the first musical I directed. I go to productions of the show with fond expectations. Unfortunately, Porthouse Theatre’s present production of Annie didn’t totally fulfill my needs.
‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ is a musical with lyrics and music written by Irving Berlin. The book was developed by Herb Fields and his sister Dorothy, who conceived the piece for the legendary Ethel Merman, the show’s first Annie.
It is basically a fictionalized version of the professional life of Annie Oakley, a sharpshooter from Cincinnati, Ohio, and her husband, Frank Butler. Its score includes such wonderful songs as "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly", "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun", "They Say It’s Wonderful.” And, depending on which version you see ,"Colonel Buffalo Bill", "I'm A Bad, Bad Man" and "An Old-Fashioned Wedding" may or may not be included. Even characters come and go.
Same show, different songs, different characters? Yes. Each time there was a revival of the show, there were changes.
The show’s history is filled with Broadway gossip and legends. Originally, Jerome Kern wrote the music, but he died and was replaced by Irving Berlin. The production’s show stopper, "There's No Business Like Show Business," was almost left out because Berlin got the impression that one of the producers did not like it. Ethel Merman only agreed to the 1966 revival if more focus was placed on her. Singing sections by Annie’s brother and sisters were dropped, a sub-plot involving the romance between Winnie, the sister of Frank Butler's assistant and Tommy, her part-Native-American boyfriend were dropped, along with two the show’s most endearing songs. Other tidbits include that Nick Jonas (of the now famous Jonas Brothers) played Little Jake in the 2001 revival and besides Merman, Annie has been portrayed by the likes of Bernadette Peters, Betty Hutton, Susan Lucci, Reba McEntire, Marilou Henner and Mary Martin.
With all that said, what’s with the Porthouse production? I found the pacing too languid, the musical numbers often lacking dynamism, the humor level weak and some questionable casting.
That’s not to say the production is terrible. It’s not. It just isn’t everything it could have been, which is surprising, as this is the kind of material that director Terri Kent usually does so well.
Beautiful and vocally talented Kayce Cummings is just too much of a lady as Annie. Even with dirty clothes and a smudged face and a gallant try to sound back woodsy, Cummings is just too classy. Fabio Polanco has a great singing voice, but is missing the charisma, the matinee idol looks and dynamic personality to make Frank Butler live. The duo doesn’t ever interpersonally connect and convince that they are really in love. Though their “Old Fashioned Wedding” is well paced, “Anything You Can Do” lacked fun. It was well sung, but not as delightful as necessary.
Brian Duncan sang well, but lacked any depth of character as Tommy, while Alyssa Bruno sparkled as Winnie. Their “fun” song, “Who Do You Love, I Hope,” was too automatic, not filled with mirth.
The always dependable Maryann Black was properly air-headed as Dolly and Marc Moritz was fun as Charlie Davenport. Black, who also served as the show’s choreographer, did a nice job of creating some clever numbers, especially her kneeling kick-line in the show’s opening. Unfortunately, she was blessed with a group of male dancers who were less than up to the task. (Talking about Black, has consideration been given to starring her in a production of ‘HELLO DOLLY’?)
Why Little Jake was played by a girl, I’ll never understand. The part demands an impish, scene stealing little boy.
As was the case in Porthouse’s opening show, ‘A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,’ Jonathan Swoboda’s musical direction left much to be desired. The pacing lagged and there were instrumental problems, especially with the brass.
The special effects in the shooting scenes were lacking in creativity and “wow.” I missed the omitted Sitting Bull adoption of Annie ceremony, which includes the delightful song, ”I’m An Indian Too.”
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: As demonstrated by the standing ovation at the conclusion of the second-night-of-the-run production, audiences will enjoy ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.’ For me, on the way home I envisioned the production that I know Terri Kent was capable of placing on the Porthouse Stage. It was great!
‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’ runs until August 9 at Porthouse Theatre . For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to www.porthousetheatre.com.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
‘MARY POPPINS,’ almost perfect in every way, flies into the State Theatre
“Anything Can Happen,” ”Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Honestly, did you read those song titles and not have the tunes and words flowing through your head? Yes, ‘MARY POPPINS’ has come to town. And the event is so significant that the segment of Euclid Avenue, directly in front of the theatre, has been renamed Cherry Tree Lane (where nanny Mary Poppins comes to live in the Banks’ home, the setting for the musical).
Mary arrived accompanied by impressive sets, exciting special effects and very high expectations. Opening night found a packed theatre of adults and kids in the State Theatre to see one of the area’s most anticipated theatrical events of the year.
‘MARY POPPINS, is a musical based on a series of children's books by P. L. Travers and a 1964 Disney film. The stage version features the film's music and lyrics by the Academy Award winning Sherman Brothers, along with additional tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
As Ian (9), one of the Kid Reviewers, who I bring along to give the youngster’s view of child friendly productions, stated, “This isn’t exactly like the movie.” He’s right, songs have been added, special effects like statues that come to life have been created, and some scenes have been dropped.
The amazing visual image--Mary flying over the heads of the audience up to the level of the balcony; Bert dancing vertically up the side of the proscenium arch, hanging upside down as he moved across the bottom side of the arch, then down the other side; a lark being set free by Mary to fly over the heads of the audience, and the chimney sweeps dancing on the roofs of houses, all add to the awe-factor. It’s those special moments that make this, the live version, superior and more involving than the movie.
Don’t go expecting to see an enduring musical. As Alex (13) the other Kid Reviewer said, “The plot isn’t great, but the music and the lyrics and the production qualities, are.” Without the gimmicks, the script doesn’t hold well. The first act drags a little. The second act is the fun of a giant amusement park ride!
The Cleveland presentation, which is the first stop on the show’s national tour, is well done. The cast includes the two lead actors from the Broadway version.
Ashley Brown, who Clevelanders saw in the world premiere of the national tour of ‘ON THE RECORD,’ is wonderful as Mary. Brown has a lovely voice and much stage presence. Some may be surprised because she is not the warm and fuzzy nanny that some imagine. As written in the books, she is a very structured woman, who has the whimsy and creativity to let a spoon full of sugar make the medicine go down. Mary Poppins is explained in the song “Practically Perfect” and that’s the character Brown presents.
Gavin Lee, a Brit who plays Bert, is delightful. He lights up the stage each time he smiles. His dancing and singing are high quality. His “Step in Time,” was one of the many show stoppers. Other crowd pleasers were, “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which turned into a sing-along with the words written on a front curtain.
“Feed the Birds,” was tenderly delivered by Mary VanArsdel.
The boys gave the show an 8 out of 10, making it pretty high on their “like” list. They both agreed that “girls will probably like it better than boys, but boys will like all the fly and theatrics.”
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Go see ‘MARY POPPINS’ for the sheer joy of the music, the production shticks and the feel good quality. You’ll leave smiling and knowing that you have seen a show that was staged with audience pleasure in mind.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
‘’THE SHADOW BOX’ emotionally draining at CSU
“This lifetime doesn’t take forever.” “Every life has to make sense on its own terms.” With these two sentences ringing in my ears, and emotions welling, I left Cleveland State University’s 2009 Summer Stages production of ‘THE SHADOW BOX.’
Michael Cristofer’s ‘THE SHADOW BOX came to Broadway on March 31, 1977, with a cast that included, Mandy Patinkin and Geraldine Fitzgerald. It went on to win a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The script was made into a television movie in 1980, which was directed by Paul Newman.
In the act of shadow boxing, a person fights with an imaginary opponent, often while encased in a psychological container, which holds his/her thoughts and may allow others to look inside. Since in Cristofer’s play we get to “eavesdrop” into the lives of three terminally ill patients as they live the last weeks of their lives in hospice cottages on the grounds of a hospital, the title is quite appropriate.
Adding to the shadow box effect is the writer’s device of having the characters sitting on an isolated stool and being asked questions about the dying process by a voice which represents the audience’s thoughts. And, there is also the fight each is having, boxing with the illusion of their upcoming death.
It helps in viewing the play to be aware of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory of the five stages which a person, and those in relationships with them, often go through when diagnosed with a terminal illness. These stages are: denial (“This can’t be happening”), anger (“It’s not fair”), bargaining (“I’ll do anything not to die”), depression (“There is no point of treatment”) and acceptance (“I accept that my life is over”). As we watch ‘THE SHADOW BOX,’ we see the participants in or transition into these stages.
Joe, a middle-aged, blue-collar family, man has accepted his fate, but his wife Maggie is in denial. She refuses to even step into the hospice cottage as this action will take her into acceptance.
Brian, a bisexual English professor is being cared for by his lover, Mark. Each appears to be in acceptance, yet Brian is escaping into a world of illusion by submerging himself into nonsensical writing. And, when forced to face reality during a visit by Brian’s ex-wife, Mark shows that he is actually in depression. His reality climaxes in a brilliantly written monologue which, in part says, “We are dying here, lady. That's what it's about. Brian looks at me and I can see it in his eyes. One stone slab smack in the face, the rug is coming out from under, the light is going out. It's sick and putrid and soft and rotten and it is killing me.”
And then there is Felicity, a crusty old woman who has been living a life of delusion, a delusion that is keeping her alive.
CSU’s production, under the direction of Everett Quinton, hits most of the right notes. The pacing is good, the emotional levels held in proper check, the intensity is well defined. The staging, in which we see all three families working in the same set, at the same time, yet in isolation, is extremely creative. The weakness is the lack of balance in the level of acting between the Equity cast members and the student performers.
Greg Violand (Brian) walks his character’s fine line between reality and escapism. He is totally believable as the intellect who attempts to fool both himself and all about him, that he has accepted his fate.
Tom Woodward (Joe), looking gaunt and gray, is totally natural in his characterization. The emotional strain between Joe and his wife Maggie is like viewing a tightly pulled rubber band, ready to snap, with each actor on an opposite end. Ursula Cataan is totally on target as the denying wife.
Story Comeaux, as Beverly, Brian’s flighty ex-wife, who keeps her emotional distance from the death issue, has some excellent scenes. Lydia Chanenka, (Felicity), the strongest of the non-professional cast members, is appropriately pathetic as the old lady.
The rest of the cast is acceptable, but not outstanding. Justin Steck, does fine as the unseen narrator, but is on the acting surface when he appears before our eyes. Randy Muchowski as Mark, is fine in most of his scenes, but doesn’t have the acting depth to plumb out what should have been the play’s most emotionally wrenching monologue. (Oh, to have seen the then young Mandy Pantinkin wring pathos out of that speech.) Denise Astorino as Agnes, Felicity’s daughter, gives a properly emotional portrayal. Charles Hargrave has little to do as Joe and Maggie’s son.
Don McBride’s set design works beautifully, Dennis Dugan’s lighting was spotty. In some scenes there were light spillages that allowed for the wrong actors to be highlighted, and, at times, light shone into the eyes of audience members. Alison Garrigan’s costumes hit the 1970s well. It would have been helpful if the program had indicated the date of the play so that Garrigan’s clothing didn’t have to carry the whole burden.
The selection of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” as the play’s final music, was era and emotionally wrong. It is a 1942 song (incidentally, written by Clevelander Sam Stept), which came on loud and sprightly after the play’s serious emotional ending, jarring the audience’s senses.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THE SHADOW BOX’ is a very well written, purposeful, and emotion-laden script. It gets a very serviceable production at CSU, that is worth seeing.
Monday, July 13, 2009
‘RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET” a silly delight at CSU
The theatre people at Cleveland State University are trying to tell us their 2009 Summer Stages’ ‘RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET,’ is a musical version of Shakespeare’s ‘THE TEMPEST.’ Well, don’t believe them. What it is, is a zany blend of faux Shakespeare (think of it as Fakespeare), mixed with science fiction, a whole canon of quips and puns, all highlighted with rock-and-roll hits. This is a zany hoot!
Don’t attend with any idea that you are going to take the goings on seriously. Go expecting to get beach balls thrown at you. Balls which will continue to be tossed about by the audience, while you are holding your hands on your head, doing squats, and trying to stop from laughing at the ridiculousness.
The hardest thing to believe about the whole experience is that this bizarre show won the 1990 Olivier Award (the British Tony Award) for Best Musical, beating out ‘MISS SAIGON.’
This is the kind of script and production that cult shows are made of. Think ‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW,’ ‘EVIL DEAD’ and ‘SPAMALOT.’
This is the “tale of the future.” Well, actually the past of the 1950s when the atomic bomb had everyone scared, Mad Scientists ran amok, and fear was in the air. Fear of fear of science, fear of sex, fear of the Russians, fear of ourselves, and the fear of rock and roll! It was a time when the most innocent lab experiments could result in giant monster bugs and mutated humans.
Specifically, we participate as the crew of a routine spaceship flight is drawn mysteriously to the planet D'Illyria where mad scientist Doctor Prospero and his lovely daughter Miranda are marooned. (Sounds like a 1950 black and white television show, huh?)
For music, conceiver Bob Carlton uses many rock and roll oldies, which are dropped in between lines, often for no reason. Songs include “Great Balls of Fire,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “Good Vibrations,” and “Only the Lonely.” I defy you to stop your bouncing legs and swaying bodies as musical director/keyboardist John Kroll, and the “ship” musicians, wail.
The CSU production, under the creative direction of Michael Mauldin, is well staged and has all the right ridiculousness needed to make this a fun production. Lynn Deering’s fine choreography adds to the hilarity.
The cast is universally excellent. Handsome Lew Wallace plays the Ken doll-like thick-headed, emotion absent, captain of our ship, with the right degree of seriousness. He has a fine singing voice and dances well. Greg Violand, he of great singing voice, whose career has seen him transition from ingénue to nasty old man, is properly fake-evil as scientist Prospero, who gives his life to “save us.” John Paul Soto sparkles as a endearing roller-skating robot. Tracee Patterson sings and mugs her way through the role of the bad/good Gloria. Her limp rag doll segment is nothing short of hysterical. The rest of the cast is up to the task of creating the right degree of the faux seriousness. This is a difficult undertaking, because there is often a temptation in this type of show to over- do the action. This would have brought about a less comic result.
Don McBride’s set (with the exception of a door design flaw which caused problems on opening night), Alison Garrigan’s costumes and properly horrific wigs, Dennis Dugan’s lighting and Jim Swonger’s sound designs all enhance the production.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET’ is a laugh delight at CSU’s 2009 Summer Stages. This is a must go-see for summer entertainment!
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Updated GODSPELL appealing at Mercury Summer Stock
‘GODSPELL,’ now on stage at Mercury Summer Theatre, has a strong Cleveland connection. This is often overlooked in the stories about the rock musical which is based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, and supposedly tells the story of the last seven days of Christ's life..
Playwright John-Michael Tebelak was a 1966 graduate of Berea High School. At age 22, while a student at Carnegie Mellon University, he wrote the script as his masters thesis project.
As legend goes, Tebelak, who had thoughts of becoming an Episcopal minister before he decided to become a theatre director, had attended an Easter service in Pittsburgh and was struck by the lack of joy and celebration in the service, as well as by the personal hostility he felt from some of the older churchgoers because of his clothing and long hair. To put this in perspective, remember, this was the height of the Vietnam War, the hippie/peace movement, and the open clash between generations.
He dropped out of college, completed the musical, eventually hooking up with musical composer Stephan Schwartz (who would eventually go on to write ‘PIPPIN,’ ‘WICKED,’ and “CHILDREN OF EDEN’). The rest is theatre history. Working with Schwartz they retained the song "By My Side" from the original version, and wrote the rest of the score during preparations and rehearsals for the off-Broadway production.
The show opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971. Ironically, in August of that year, Tebelak directed a production of the script at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, which was then housed in the Lakewood High School Auditorium.
John-Michael returned to Berea to direct the 10th Anniversary production of ‘GODSPELL’ at Berea Summer Theater in the summer of 1980. He subsequently directed ‘CABARET’ there in the summer 1981. He was named an Outstanding Ohioan by then-Governor John J. Gilligan.
The musical is noted for its score, which is a mixture of rock, folk, pop and Broadway and includes “Day by Day,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” ”Light of the World,” and “By My Side.” Some of the lyrics are original, with others taken from either the BIBLE or the 1940 EPISCOPAL HYMNAL.
As conceived by Tebelak, in his attempt to add joyousness to the proceedings, the cast is traditionally dresses in clown-like costumes, or tie-dye materials which were popular during the “hippie” era. The Christ figure often has a Superman logo on his chest.
Since Director Pierre-Jacques Brault has added all sorts of references to today’s world, to modernize the parables, his cast is dressed in 2009 casual clothing. The likes of American Idol, Bernie Madoff, Kevin Bacon, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin get referenced. The setting is a school library, which allows for some creative, if overused, use of tables to create visual levels and walkways on the stage. Brault has some cast members seated within the audience and singing so that there is a feeling that the “congregation” is participating in the action.
Brault’s staging and choreography are sprightly and well-conceived.
The cast, mostly made up of young college students, creates many good vocal blends, though individual voices are not always good. Standouts include Sara Masterson who has a pretty voice and makes for an adorable disciple, and Jen Myor who also sings well. The musical renditions and staging of “All for the Best,” “We Beseech Thee,’ and “All Good Gifts” are excellent.
Since the main story is displayed in the subtext, the way the players interact with their leader and come together to create a loving community, the Christ figure must have a special charisma. Unfortunately, though he tries hard and has some appealing qualities, Zach DeNardi neither has the emotional presence or the voice to pull off the role. It was obvious that he, and Brian Marshall, who has both the fine singing talent and the required charisma, should have reversed roles.
Eddie Carney’s musical direction and his pit orchestra were excellent. Zach DeNardi’s set design, with library wall’s covered with philosophical phrases was engaging and appropriate.
The use of visuals to create a worldly meaning to the death of Christ at the end of the show were more distracting than appealing.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though John MichaelTebelak died on April 2, 1985, at age 35, he will long be remembered for giving the world of theatre a major work that can be staged by and for groups of all ages. I think he would have approved of the updates and staging at Mercury. Yes, it’s all for the best!
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Neil Simon, author of ‘THE ODD COUPLE,’ which is now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is known as the Crown Prince of Broadway Comedies. He authored 33 shows that appeared on the Great White way, with the first, ‘COME BLOW YOUR HORN,’ opening in 1961. Since then, he has garnered seventeen Tony nominations and won three. He won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘LOST IN YONKERS.’
Historically, Simon set a record in 1966 when he had four shows running on Broadway at the same time: ‘SWEET CHARITY,’ ‘THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL,’ ‘THE ODD COUPLE,’ and ‘BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.’
‘THE ODD COUPLE’ was not only a Broadway hit, but became a successful film, television series, and animated cartoon. There was also a female version of the script.
The plot concerns two mismatched adult male roommates, one neat and uptight (Felix), the other more easygoing but slovenly (Oscar).
The original show, directed by Mike Nichols, ran for 966 performances and won several Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Well known stars who have been seen in the various versions include Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemon, Martin Short, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Art Carney, Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno.
The success of the play is also one of the weaknesses of putting it on a theatre’s production schedule. Because of its popularity, it has been done extensively by summer stock, community theatres and educational institutions. It’s been staged to death. In the last several months, for example, it’s been performed at least three times in the Cleveland area.
So are audience’s tired of the show? From the reaction of the opening night assemblage at Porthouse, the answer must be no. Well, it may be yes, but the Porthouse production, under the adept direction of Rohn Thomas, and a stellar cast, could make a staged reading of the telephone book appealing.
Thomas pulls out all the stops. He combines the comedy lines with farce shticks, making the production hilarious. There are the Keystone cops, Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers rolled into one. Think of the speed and exaggeration of British farce complete with door slamming, a chaotic race through multiple swinging doors, a plate of spaghetti (excuse me, linguini) splattering on a wall, and over done angst, and you have a picture of the goings on.
This is one of the best productions of the script I’ve ever seen, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them.
Eric van Baars is nothing short of hysterical as Felix, the up-tight, hypochondriacal, drama queen. It’s not only fun to watch him in action, but since he is on the theatre faculty at Kent State, and many of his students were present on opening night, it was a hoot to see his cherubs, watching their mentor appropriately making a total fool of himself.
John Woodson gives his own take to the role of slovenly Oscar. He doesn’t overdo it the way that others have. His underplay makes van Baars’ out-of-control Felix even funnier.
Elizabeth Ann Townsend and Katherine Burke are delightful as the Pigeon sisters, the odd couple’s British neighbors. Their squealing, laughing and feigning were right on target.
The rest of the cast, Paul Floriano (Speed), Chuck Richie (Murray), Tony Zanoni (Roy), and Arthur Wise (Vinnie) are all character right. Richie displays wonderful comic timing.
Things went so well on opening night that even the set changing crew got applause on their exits.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘THE ODD COUPLE’ has been performed and performed, but few, if any of those productions, compares to the wonderful version appearing on the Porthouse stage. If you want to laugh and laugh a summer evening away, get thee to the theatre on the grounds of Blossom.