January 25th, 2009

little-dog-signatureSHOWTUNE VIDEO MADNESS – Plus a Hit and a Miss this Week in Local Theatre

By Ben Ryland

 

 

Every Tuesday night from 9pm until 1am it’s SHOWTUNE VIDEO MADNESS

at the Club Hippo sponsored by Baltimore Outloud and the Hippodrome Theatre.  All your favorite musical numbers from Broadway and Hollywood with a few comedy bits thrown in has the crowd singing and dancing. The clips are shown on the big projection screens with the incredible Hippo sound system entertaining show queens and theatre fans alike. Requests are welcomed & singing and/or dancing are not required.

 

The Baltimore City Paper called the weekly event a ‘Critics Pick’ for a fun evening out. Admission is free and there are drink specials. On Tuesday February 3rd its GREASE night and you might win a pair of tickets to the show at the Hippodrome Theatre. On February 17th it is the DVD release party for, “High School Musical 3,” with give-a-ways. Join us Tuesday nights at the Hippo and bring your friends.

 

Signature Theatre presents The Little Dog Laughed

After the disappointing (for me at least) production of Les Miz, the Signature Theatre in Arlington is presenting the gay themed hit direct from Broadway- The Little Dog Laughed in their smaller theatre- The Ark.

 

 The intelligently written and funny script by Douglas Carter Beane (As Bees in Honey Drown, To Wong Foo and the recent Tony nominated, XANADU) is an important show about love, romance, big bucks and hypocrisy in Hollywood. It seems that movie star Mitchell always gets a slight case of reoccurring homosexuality every time he gets drunk and this time his wish has been fulfilled by ‘Manhattanschoolboys.com.’

 

We all know that many Hollywood A-list actors are gay as we also know they will never come out. Here we have a story of an actor on the brink of superstardom, Mitchell (Matthew Montelongo), who has fallen for a rent boy while visiting NYC. The sweet hustler, Alex (Ivan Quintanilla), is looking for something that he hasn’t found in his life- someone to share it with.

But Mitchell’s Hollywood agent, Diane (3 time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford), is of the barracuda variety and determined to keep him on the straight and narrow path.

 

Complicating the trio is Alex’s girlfriend who is pregnant and a new gay play that is being pitched to Diane for her main client as a film vehicle. Of course she wants rewrites to make the protagonist straight, or at least straight appearing, so her movie star can play gay and win an Oscar for being daring and playing a homosexual. But Mitchell and Alex’s romance is running full throttle and she is worried he is on the verge of coming out. Yikes!

 

When Mitchell informs her that he wants Alex to accompany him to see the play Diane believes that this preference may become obvious, “like taking his mother to the Academy Awards as his date.” To keep his career on track, “all it takes is a little deception,” according to his lesbian agent. In a clever bit of casting director Michael Baron has given the three gay roles to three gay actors, in fact Montelongo and Quintanilla are long time partners.

 

The Little Dog Laughed has a unhappy ending but the playwright always defends it in interviews. It is a compromise which life is full of but it serves everyone’s purpose in this story. I must admitted the conclusion really disturbed me when I saw the play for the first time last year in New Haven, Ct. But Signatures version gets it right by really making the play more sincere and loving. Twyford is the driving force of the cast if a bit too smirky at times. The actress has all the best jokes and plays them to the back of the house unnecessarily. There is nothing subtle about the role or her performance. Quantanilla is a standout bringing real feelings to his boy toy role and I predict great things for him in the future. Montelongo and Casie Platt (Ellen the girlfriend) are both strong actors but fade into the background when the agent is preaching to his choir.

 

This is an important (gay) play in an outstanding local premiere at Signature and worth your attention. Plus the fact that it is fall out of your seat funny. It’s not to be missed.

 

The Little Dog Laughed    Signature Theatre, The Village of Shirlington, Arlington, VA

Now until March 8th.

Tickets:  www.signature-theatre.org

 Mid-life, the Crisis Musical

mid-life-tobys Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia is presenting a new musical, Mid-life, for a short run until March 8th. It is so depressing, not the show but what it represents to us of a certain age. Menopause, socks with sandals, yelling at neighborhood kids, balding, too tired for sex and needing to pee several times during the night. It’s all here and more in this 90 minute review style show.

 

Unfortunately both the show and production has its problems. The music is merely serviceable and un-melodic with lyrics that you can see coming from a mile away. The cast tries their best but there are problems with pitch in some voices and the ‘orchestra’ sounds hollow. I don’t have a problem with most small theatre productions that just use a piano but here at Toby’s you expect more. As for the acting and comic timing of the cast of six, the less said the better. Director Shawn Kettering does have fun with the staging and the video projections are a clever touch but even he can’t save the lame script.

 

The show does have some funny scenes but much of the delivery is pedestrian at best and once again you can see where the jokes are going. However the older dinner theatre crowd ate most of it up as fast as they did the steamed shrimp on the pre-show buffet. You will probably never hear of another production of this show so if this is your cup of tea hurry on down to Columbia.

 

 

Mid-Life, the Crisis Musical – Toby’s Dinner Theatre,

Now through March 8th

 

Tickets: 410-730-8311

 

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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It’s a Flying Car, but Not Much Else

By Ben Ryland

 

Ian Fleming was the creator of “Bond, James Bond,” then in 1964 he wrote a book for his young son, Casper. That book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was musicalized by the Disney composing team into a popular children’s film. Using all of his stylistic Bond writing touches he created a hero into gadgets a fantastical flying car, a foreign villain (anyone other than British/American) from a strange foreboding land and a heroine with a comical name.

 

This stage version very popular in London but not so popular in New York is on tour currently at the Hippodrome. Only this time the hero’s (Potts/Bond) girl doesn’t get laid, and the villain is silly instead of menacing, while our leading man is still very into gadgets- in fact he is an actual inventor.

 

When Caractacus Potts creates a candy stick whistle that blows we simply have the entire show review ready to go. CCBB is very juvenile, obsessively so but I want to blame it failure on stage adapter Jeremy Sams. The director, Ray Roderick, seems to have tried to work some alchemy in the production but apparently didn’t have much to work with. The songs are too generic and unmemorable to make much of a difference with the exception of ‘Toot Sweets’ and ‘Hushabye Mountain.’ You will get sick of the title tune reprised in voice and endlessly repeated in background arrangements.

 

Steve Wilson as Potts is bland but it seems to work for him and much of the cast. Vocally

most are standouts including Truly Scrumptious (Kelly McCormick) and the touring child actors. The standout performance, if brief, is given by Oliver Wadsworth as the Childcatcher and nice comic relief is offered by Dirk Lombard and Scott Cote as the Baron’s bumbling henchmen.  As for the Baron and Baroness villains they are too silly for words; to the point of embarrassing.

 

The true star of the show is the flying car of course and the effect is not just exciting but exhilarating for the audience. I could spend several paragraphs on ‘how-they-did-it’ like the Sunpaper critic has but most theatre patrons, including myself; wish to believe in theatrical stage magic especially when there are no wires holding the rest of the show together.

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 North Eutaw St.

Currently playing until Sunday, January 18th.

Caroline, or Change at Center Stage

By Ben Ryland

 

If you have seen the wonderful documentary- Show Business: The Road To Broadway, it features Caroline, or Change along with the other nominees for the Best Musical Tony Award in 2005. The film follows the development of the show from inception to Tony night where it was a front runner more for its leading actress, the critic’s darling- Tonya Pinkins, than the show itself. The award went to Idina Menzel for WICKED the popular audience choice instead.

 

Caroline is a domestic for a Jewish family living in Louisiana in 1963. Try as they might to show equality to the woman in the turmoil and civil rights changes of the 60’s the family members are all left feet towards her. To teach their son to be more careful with his pocket money they offer the maid the coins in his pockets on laundry day instead of a raise. Caroline stubbornly resists the changes in the country failing to improve herself with new found opportunities even though friends are going to school and trading up jobs. She is borderline self-destructive towards most barring God and her own children’s dreams.

 

Playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori have attempted to tell a story of the times through those who accept or ignore change but the storyline only works on a superficial level. This is not an epic musical like Ragtime; this is more observational than reactionary and on a tiny scale.

 

One would assume that the popularity of the show is based on the staging, acting and the dynamics of the leading lady. With singing and dancing laundry appliances in the basement they are Caroline’s connection with the real world and its changes, not just the change in the kid’s pants pockets. The Supremes style singing group on the radio and on stage moves the story along more than the protagonist; a device that is limited and ultimately unfulfilling dramatically.

 

The staging here is the best part of the production along with the cast who can act and sing their underwritten roles. Directed by Baltimore native David Schweizer, he appears to know the limitations of the work but uses it to his best advantage. Regional theatre actress E. Faye Butler (fresh off her acclaimed run of the show in Chicago) breathes life into the role and sings the hell out of it too. Future directors take heed: Butler is astounding as Caroline and worth the price of a ticket. The rest of the cast with one exception is up to the task, but it’s Butler that brings the audience to their feet.

 

Caroline, or Change    CenterStage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore

Now until January 18th

Tickets: www.centerstage.org

 

 

 

Signature Theatre Les Miserables

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Truth in Advertising?

By Ben Ryland

 

Only a few theatres have been granted performance rights to Les Miz, and those have been selected by producer Cameron Macintosh based on their reconceiving the original staging.

The nationally-acclaimed Signature Theatre just south of DC in booming Arlington was one of the chosen few.

 

Earlier this year the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia did the show in a thrilling, heart-wrenching production that was a total sell-out for the entire summer. Unhappily, despite raves from most of Washington’s theatre critics, the production at Signature has a lot to be desired.

 

From the moment one enters the theatre you are in the world of the 19th century underbelly of France. Director Eric Schaeffer has declined to discuss the money spent but with a larger than normal orchestra, more than a hundred costumes and a cast of dozens of equity actors it was a small fortune.

 

The question of what you are in for at this Les Miz is immediate. The stylized set is a cross between a ravaged junkyard and a steel roller coaster accident and makes no sense. In the first scene the prisoners are at hard labor for their crimes; shown as pulling ropes with chairs attached up and down. Was Schaeffer’s vision a stylized version? If so, then why does he jump back and forth between the stylistic and realistic? And be forewarned fans of the show- there is not a turntable barricade. There wasn’t one in Philly either only here it is sorely missed.

 

The cast consists of local professional actors from past Signature, Toby’s Dinner Theatre and Olney Theatre productions; but most of the leads are Broadway/ Road tour veterans who add nothing to the mix. Greg Stone was a weak Jean Valjean but maybe he was having an off night.

Tom Zemon seemed to be performing in Jesus Christ Superstar but singing the role of Javert.

Locals Andrew Call as Marius handled the role well & Christopher Bloch is having fun as innkeeper Thenardier and is the only one onstage that impressed me as he often does. Chris Sizemore is full of piss and vinegar as Enjolas when he should have been cast as Valjean (however he is a might young for the role). Felicia Curry plays Eponine, not as twitter pated for Marius but instead a crazy, stone-eyed stalker. The less said about the other women roles the better. Of course most can all sing the roof off the place but Les Miserable requires a lot more.

 

The costumes are appropriate rags for the most part but lacking in any wit or style. The lighting makes the show come alive in spots but misses the mark on big dramatic moments especially the deaths.

 

Intermission comments overheard in the lobby were the complete bewilderment of the storyline from newbie’s (the program lacked the usual synopsis) to major fans of the work trying to understand why they weren’t having a good time. But I must add that the show queens seemed to be the cheerleaders of the production.

 

Director Schaeffer and musical director Jon Kalbfleisch did a monumental job of such a mammoth undertaking with only 280 seats. If only the results had the passion onstage that they obviously had in attempting to reconceive the world’s most popular musical.

 

Les Miserables – Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA

Tickets: www.signature-theatre.org