Sunday, May 9, 2010

CTC Ends Season on a High Note with Falsettos

Already out and about for Art on the Town, I figured I’d add more material to the tour. I’d heard the hipsters at City Theater Company had partnered with AIDS Delaware to bring William Finn’s Falsettos to the stage. Since it hadn’t been produced in this area in more than a decade, I was eager to see what CTC – always engaging in its repertoire and staging – would bring to this Tony Award-winning play.

This season has been an amazing one for the company, starting with the blockbuster Sweeney Todd in December; CTC, as always, provided plenty to enjoy!

The Opening Night house, in The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios, was sold to capacity, with folks even standing at the back. The Black Box space is intimate without feeling “tight”, and there truly doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house. You couldn’t have asked for a better opening evening – we hardly noticed the air conditioning was on the fritz, the show was so absorbing!

Falsettos is the story of the middle-aged, self-absorbed Marvin, who is struggling with his own issues and his relationships with his son, ex-wife, gay lover, psychiatrist (who marries his ex-wife) and the lesbian neighbors who live next door.

The entire cast is accomplished and well built by Producing Artistic Director Michael Gray. Gray has collected and directed an amazingly talented cast, creating a touching performance that focuses on the beauty and tragedy of all types of love and family, and he does so without sending an overly political or moral message. His interpretation of the characters is humorous, heartrending and real.

Marvin, passionately played by longtime CTC veteran Patrick O’Hara, is all-consuming in his needs. O’Hara’s voice booms and you feel his zeal and frustration as he sings “The Thrill of First Love”; then his tone lightens, coming through soothing and gentle in the touching “Father to Son”.

Jason is played expertly by Jameson May, a 12-year-old actor from Cab Calloway. May holds his own in this skillful cast and is especially enjoyable in “Jason’s Therapy” and “Miracle of Judaism”.

Mendel, Marvin’s psychiatrist and Trina’s new husband, finds hilarity and timidity in Jason Stockdale. Stockdale’s performance in “A Marriage Proposal” elicited laughter throughout the theater.

Jim Burns plays Whizzer, Marvin’s lover, with great strength in voice and manner. His performance of “The Games I Play” is compelling. His character is able to both captivate and infuriate. Jason loves him; Trina loathes him; Marvin seems torn between both.

Maggie Cogswell and Karen Murdock are solid and enjoyable as Cordelia and Charlotte, Marvin and Whizzer’s neighbors. They are funny and poignant, providing a wholeness to the story and further pushing home the notion that family bonds aren’t just born of blood relation.

The standout for me, though, was Trina, played riotously by Dana Michael. Michael’s neurotic, hilarious, needy, powerful performance brought the house down more than once, but her “I’m Breaking Down” was truly the pinnacle. I couldn’t imagine anyone playing this part better.

The performance enjoyed booming applause throughout, and ended with a standing ovation from the crowd. I heard one patron mention that he had seen the performance on Broadway and couldn’t wait to compare the two. CTC is up to that challenge.

Bottom line? You must see this show! We are so lucky that this musical has returned to the Delaware Arts scene. We’re even luckier that CTC is the group that has chosen to bring it. They offer one 2pm Sunday matinee on 5/16; all other shows are at 8:00pm.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Pirettes of Penzance: The Women Take Over

Every year since 1948, the Ardensingers have produced a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. This year, there was something a bit different -- a reverse gender Pirates of Penzance. I asked Bob Beavins, what inspired him to created this “farce of a farce”, making the Pirate King into a Queen, and Mabel into a young stud with a penchant for high notes.

He had heard women complain for years about not having enough fun things to do in the G&S roles. So, to Beavins it seemed, the natural thing was to switch the genders around: The pirates would be played by women, the maidens would become men of leisure and all the main roles would be reversed! With stage direction by Nancy Kraus and musical direction Helene Furlong, this fun, re-worked operetta came to life at the Gild Hall.

The audience loved the “gaggle of gorgeous gentlemen” taking the stage to sing, “Climbing over rocky mountain.” These strapping men -- some of them actors probably well into their sixties -- were dressed in proper Sunday attire with blue vests, and carrying tennis rackets, croquet mallets and cricket bats.

Petra DeLuca was dangerous and risqué as the Pirette Queen, threatening to slice the throats of those who wouldn’t obey, her athletic command of the stage ideal for the role. As Mervyn (the male “soubrette”), Ryan Goulden popped out high notes with a surprised, pained expression turning Mabel’s traditionally sweet Poor wand’ring one into a ‘how-high-can-he-go’ fest, with the male chorus backing him up.

Singing well, David Silberstein played Ralph (NOT “Rafe”), a confused Piratical Man of All Work. Amy Karash was lively as the Sergeant of Police, singing with panache. Marisa Robinson made a sweet Phoebe, and Meghan Mercier was fun as lieutenant Saphir. Not only did Martha Smylie, as Major-General Stanley spit out all her words in the beloved I am the very model of a modern Major-General (I’d like to meet the G&S alto or soprano who hasn’t tried to sing that song), but she sang some glorious lush high-notes in her other solo parts.

The Ardensingers will be at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Gettysburg this June, and producing The Gondoliers in 2011.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tosca a Treat by OperaDelaware

Opera Delaware’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca is the best I have seen from the organization since OD’s1960s interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Gustavo López-Manzitti’s passionate portrayal of Mario Cavaradossi is intense – his daredevil high tenor notes and focused acting made for a spellbinding character. His Recondita armonia, extolling the mysteries of Floria Tosca and why he finds her beautiful was almost as gripping as his hauntingly sad E lucevan le stelle - accompanied cautiously by clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt.

Kary Shay Thomson’s Floria Tosca was brilliantly sung. The glockenspiel and flute were perfectly balanced with her voice in E la luna piena – and she brought the house down with her heart wrenching rendition of Vissi d’arte. During the wild applause, both Youngblood and Thomson stayed so firmly in character that I never lost the feeling of being immersed in the story.

The staging by Marc Astafan is inventively illustrative. He places Scarpia on one side, while to his left the choir and cardinal sing the Te Deum to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat. But Scarpia is singing about how he wants to seduce Tosca and cries, “Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Dio” (Tosca you make me forget God) as he demoniacally rips apart a blood red rose given by Tosca as an offering to the church.

Conductor John Baril brings out the contrasting sounds of the Puccini score -- like the bell sounds representing the church as well as tolling the warning of the devious Scarpia. Although the orchestra did not have as many stands as Puccini would have demanded, they produce a great sound. The next performances are on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8 at 8 p.m.