Monday, October 18, 2010


Delightful production greets audience at Actors' Summit new home

Neil Thackaberry stood behind the reservations desk in the beautiful lobby of Actors' Summits' new home on the 6th floor of the Greystone Hall in Akron, looking pleased, very pleased. Not only had his family-operated theatre company finally found a permanent home, but he and the company's Co-Artistic Director, Mary Jo Alexander, had just become grandparents.

In 1998 Thackaberry & Alexander founded Actors' Summit with the purpose of assuring that professional actors in Northeast Ohio had an artistic home. And, though it has taken many moves, including a long stretch in a Hudson warehouse with a pizza parlor and antique store as neighbors, it appears that the company finally has a permanent home. Ironically, it is the venue where the company presented several of their first shows.

It seems only fitting that the company, whose audiences regard attendance at AS's production as going to a family outing, should welcome attendees into their new home with A MURDER A MYSTERY & A MARRIAGE, a folksy, hokey, corny, delightful and fun family-friendly Mark Twain-inspired musical.

Mixing comedy and romance with a see-through plot of suspense, A MURDER, A MYSTERY & A MARRIAGE is a knee-slapping musical served up Grand Ole Opry style. Originally written by Twain, with the idea of leaving the ending undone and having famous writers of his day suggest endings, the musical version is a product of Oberlin grad, James Sugg (music) and Aaron Posner (book and lyrics). Their ending, the obvious conclusion where the sweet lovers flit off for a life of perpetual bliss, and the theatre goers into the lobby to have one more drink from the theatre's fully stocked bar, is the bulls- eye choice.

The story takes us back to 1876 and the small town of Deer Lick, Missouri. The beautiful, but poor, Mary Gray, wants to marry her sweetheart, grocery store clerk Hugh Gregory; but, if they walk down the aisle, she will be disinherited according to her evil uncle's will . Enter a “count,” dressed in black (ah, ha, a sure sign of a melodramatic bad guy), with a strange accent and stranger tale of who he is. The uncle is killed, the male love-interest is charged, brought to the gallows, and (come on now, I'm not going to reveal the obvious ending and ruin the “suspense.”)

AC's production, under the direction of Alexander, is a total delight. Audience members left saying how much fun it was and how much they enjoyed it. The pace, the blocking and even the movements (even Alexander admitted it wasn't choreography), were all perfect for the script.

The cast is universally excellent. The singing isn't always the greatest, but this type of music doesn't need great voices, just keeping on tune, having the right attitude, and singing ideas rather than words.

Dawn Sniadak Yamakowski, who has the most trained singing voice, was on target as Clem, “our friendly narrator.” Frank Jackman, as John, Mary Gray's hog farmer father, is a total delight as he navigates his abundant girth around the stage. Paula Kline Messner, John's “faithful, but forceful and fabulous wife,” is fabulous. Scott Davis, who portrays Mary's “rich, mean and kind of creepy uncle” and also plays banjo in the band, earned the knife in the back which “does him in.” Shani Ferry is properly sweet and innocent as Mary, and Shawn Galligan is appealing as, Hugh, her love interest. Ryan Anderson, who plays a mean “gi'tar,” makes an appearance as the Sheriff. A word of warning, you better be careful, you might get selected to appear as the US Marshall, as an audience participation part of the show. Then there is Keith Stevens, who earned the wrath of the audience, getting boos on his entrances, for his smarmy portrayal of The Stranger. Evie Morris plays the keyboards with joyous abandon.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It's worth going to see A MURDER A MYSTERY & A MARRIAGE, not only to see the show, which is totally delightful, but to see the fancy new digs, including what have to be the most fabulous bathrooms in any local theatre.