Showing posts with label Mary Catherine Kelley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Catherine Kelley. Show all posts

Monday, December 10, 2018

There They Go Again...CTC Opens with Blockbuster for 25th

By Mike Logothetis

To open its 25th season, City Theater Company (CTC) presents an energetic production of Mamma Mia! in its new space 
— Studio One of The Grand Opera House. The beloved 1999 musical is a celebration of love, friendship and female empowerment with a nostalgic soundtrack featuring some of pop music’s favorite songs from the 1970s.

Mamma Mia! is based on the songs of the Swedish supergroup ABBA (1972-1982), one of the most popular international groups of all time. Going in, the music may seem dated, but Benny Andersson and Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus crafted songs that have aged very well. The excellent “Taverna Ensemble” led by Joe Trainor had my foot tapping all night.

On a small Greek island, 20-year-old Sophie (Darby McLaughlin) dreams of a perfect wedding — one which includes her father giving her away. The problem is that Sophie doesn’t know who her father is. Her hotel-owning mother Donna (Kerry Kristine McElrone), the former lead singer of the fictional ‘70s pop group Donna and the Dynamos, refuses to talk about the past, so Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. Sneaking a peek in her mother’s old diary, she discovers three possible fathers: Bill (Dale Martin), Harry (Nick Hunchack), and Sam (Righteous Jolly). She secretly invites all three to her wedding, convinced that she’ll know her father when she sees him. But when all three turn up, it may not be as clear as she thought.

Sophie’s bridesmaids Ali (Emma Orr) and Lisa (Pam Atkinson) arrive on the island to help their friend celebrate her upcoming marriage to Sky (Trevor Fayle). The girls plan a bachelorette party while hotel employees Eddie (Jeff Hunsicker) and Pepper (Dominic Santos) are raring to join Sky on his last night as a bachelor.

Meanwhile, Donna’s former bandmates Tanya (Kat Pigliacampi) and Rosie (Dionne Williford) arrive and seem more content to rehash their days as the Dynamos. The women question why “Donna the dark horse” would allow her daughter to marry at such a young age.

Once all the principal players are on the island, full-stage musical numbers like Dancing Queen and the title track Mamma Mia almost encourage the audience to sing along. Donna and the Dynamos signature number Super Trouper was also a highlight of Act I.

The three paternity candidates each get their time with both their old flame and potential daughter. All come away thinking they will be walking Sophie down the aisle on her wedding day. Donna and Sam’s duet SOS hit all the right notes and epitomized the caring each once felt for the other.

But the main action circles around the two female leads McLaughlin (Sophie) and McElrone (Donna). Both are outstanding, but the script allows McElrone more range to emote, which she does masterfully. When Donna helps Sophie get dressed in her wedding gown, there is genuine tenderness and disbelief that her daughter is going to be a bride (Slipping Through My Fingers). Donna admits to Sophie that her own mother disowned her when she learned that she was pregnant. After absorbing this heretofore unknown family secret, Sophie asks her mother to walk her down the aisle, bypassing her fantasy of a stranger/father escorting her.

It’s a touching scene for the actresses and the audience. But the script immediately pushes Sam into the room and a bitter confrontation ensues. Donna tells Sam that he broke her heart, presumably when she found out he was engaged (The Winner Takes It All). It emerges that the two still love each other dearly, albeit against Donna's better judgment. McElrone handles the emotional rollercoaster with subtle but strong stage movements and powerful vocals.

The secondary characters have side adventures and a couple of songs, but Williford’s (Rosie) rendition of Take a Chance on Me in her bid to lure Bill into a romantic interlude was another show highlight.

The show finishes at the wedding ceremony officiated by Fr. Alexandrios (Rob Hull). Everybody is there, but many lingering questions remain unanswered. I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s a satisfying conclusion to a well-told story.

As a new Resident Company at The Grand, CTC has a lot more production space than in its old digs. This allows for the Mamma Mia! set to be expansive and lets the players move freely throughout the room. The setting is a Greek hotel and taverna, which was designed by Vicki Neale and Richard A. Kendrick. The sloped stage juts into the audience, which is seated at tables curving around the front and sides of the stage. A prop bar at one side and small tables at the other allow actors to surreptitiously slide into the action to provide backing vocals or movements to augment the main stage activities.

Director Mary Catherine Kelley has instructed her actors to use every inch of the room and play to all corners of the audience. The pacing is tight and the overall theme includes hints of the Disco Era, but has mostly contemporary elements. The dreamy direction during Under Attack was creative and temporarily switched the bride and groom roles. The jaunty choreography by Jackie Kappus and Dominic Santos blends well with Kelley’s vision and Trainor’s dynamic musical arrangements.

Alas, the new space did have its technical issues on the night I saw the show. Wireless mics unfortunately dropped the audio signal for Trevor Fayle (Sky) during his entire vocal performance of Lay All Your Love on Me. Dale Martin (Bill) and Righteous Jolly (Sam) lost their vocal parts in duets Take a Chance on Me and I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, respectfully.

But this is not a Greek tragedy. This is a show that celebrates life. As City Theater Company's Board of Directors collectively state in the program: “CTC’s productions are as much party as performance.” I suggest you join the party on Market Street…Opa!

City Theater Company offers a wide selection of soft and alcoholic drinks to enjoy during the show. With the setting of Mamma Mia! being Greece, why not serve some Greek wines and ouzo?

Mamma Mia! will conclude its two-week run on Saturday, although as of this posting, only tickets for Wednesday and Thursday remain. All performances begin at 8 o’clock. 
The show runs about 2.5 hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission (and one post-curtain disco sing-along). 
The CTC cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

City Theater Company’s new home is in Studio One at The Grand Opera House located at 818 North Market Street in Wilmington. General admission is $35 and tickets can be purchased at the box office or online. 

 Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel, students and youth (ages 15 & under). Please call the Grand Box Office at 302.652.5577 or visit www.thegrandwilmington.org for details.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Revel in the Open Air with Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

By Mike Logothetis

The Arden Shakespeare Gild is continuing its over-100-year tradition of homegrown performances with the classic comedy Twelfth Night. One of the most popular and enduring of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night invites the audience to the Mediterranean resort of Illyria where mischief runs rampant. Set in “fairly modern times,” the usual elements of a Shakespearean comedy appear: twins, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, love, revenge and plenty of clever wordplay.

But what sets this production apart from the talent and the play itself is the natural setting. This is Shakespeare being performed in the actual Forest of Arden. What can top that?! (Padded seats on the wooden benches might improve matters. Hint: Bring a cushion. And maybe some bug spray.) The audience is introduced to the entire cast as the actors enter from “The Field” singing Over The Hills – the marching song of the Arden Players. (The music doesn’t end at the procession.) 


The cast of Twelfth Night. Photos courtesy of Arden Shakespeare Gild. 
This year’s production features the stellar duo of Kerry Kristine McElrone (Olivia) and Michelle Jacob Stradley (Viola), who are reprising their roles from a 2006 City Theater Company production of Twelfth Night. Director Mary Catherine Kelley observed that “these two actresses did their homework years ago; both are dedicated to the text and to clarity and to the pure fun of the comedy. It’s truly a pleasure to watch them.”

The story begins as Viola arrives on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. She is distraught as she fears her twin brother Sebastian (Colin Antes) has drowned. With the aid of the ship’s Captain (Tom Wheeler), she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (Jason Fawcett).

Orsino is enchanted with the fair Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. Olivia refuses to entertain romantic suitors, be in the company of men, or accept marriage proposals from anyone until seven years have passed. Orsino decides to employ Cesario as an intermediary to profess his love for Olivia. However, Olivia falls in love with the messenger Cesario, setting herself at odds with her promise to remain temporarily celibate. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, creating a misguided love triangle.

Stradley says, “This time around, I’m enjoying exploring how Viola navigates the relationships that arise from her new life in Illyria – from her love interest [Duke] Orsino to the lovely but confused Olivia.”


Olivia (Kerry Kristine McElrone)
Orsino and Cesario
(Jason Fawcett & Michelle
Jacob Stradley.)
When McElrone and Stradley are on stage together as Olivia and Cesario, the dynamics crackle. Shakespeare’s words flow freely and the actresses’ nimble physical movements help relay both the romantic and duty-bound natures of their differing efforts. You can almost see McElrone’s heart flutter as she absorbs the mere presence of the stately Cesario.

McElrone comments that she is “playing [Olivia] with the idea that Cesario makes her lose control; before, the control was there leaving little time for real emotion.”

In a subplot, Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby Belch (Dan Tucker) and silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Henry Moncure III) drink and carouse late into the night at Olivia’s residence. In a great bit of comedic irony, the drunken revelers wake the house singing Hold Thy Peace. Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Rob Hull) chastises them, which initiates a plot for revenge against him. Toby, Andrew, and house servants Maria (Elizabeth Varley) and Fabian (Petra DeLuca) team up against Malvolio with the help of the fool Feste (Liam Freeh).

Moncure and Tucker play off each other brilliantly as a pair of old drunks trying to keep the good times rolling. The pair provide most of the physical comedy in the show, but others certainly hold their weight – just watch the boxing match between Cesario and Aguecheek.

The conspirators convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a romantic letter written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. Malvolio starts acting out the laughable contents of the letter to impress Olivia, who is shocked by the disturbing changes in him. Olivia leaves the apparently mad Malvolio in the care of her staff – the conspirators – who imprison him.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother Sebastian has been rescued by Antonio (Will Bryant), a sea captain who previously fought against Duke Orsino. Taking Sebastian for Cesario, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly wed in a church. Later, Cesario and Sebastian’s joint appearance in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino evokes confusion because of their physical similarity. At this point, Viola sheds the guise of Cesario, reveals her identity, and is reunited with her twin brother.

The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Orsino and Viola plus it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Duke Orsino sends Fabian to placate him. All’s well that ends well, right?

It should be noted that certain scenes include original music and period songs, often sung by Freeh. The night closes with a celebratory song and dance by the entire company. Sam Arthur, Megan Murphy King, Sarah McIlvaine, and Lisette Walker provide the live soundtrack for the performance.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 8:00pm, plus a matinee on Sunday, June 17, at 2:00pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. 


Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to www.ardenshakes.com for online ordering. Prices are $10 for members, $12 for general admission, and $5 for children 12 and under. The Sunday matinee costs $7 across the board.