2012 Reviews





2012 REVIEWS
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'A Tuna Christmas' at the Bickford

Jim Ligon and Michael Irvin Pollard
Hurry you have only until December 30th to visit the wacky, oh so funny residents of the third smallest town in Texas, Tuna. Never heard of Tuna? The town that is. The town's most exciting events are the annual elk shooting season, with only one problem, there are no elk in that part of the world. The other big event is the annual "Best Yard" contest that has had the same winner for the past 14 years.
All this is in the marvelous satire of redneck country, Texas style, "A Tuna Christmas" now playing at the Bickford theatre in Morristown. 

The comedy-thriller "39 Steps" is performed by four actors, "A Tuna Christmas" stars just two quick-change actors (Jim Ligon and Michael Irvin Pollard). These two hilarious comic actors portray 24 quirky characters and their Christmas adventures cleverly using imaginary props. The play is a sequel to Ligon and Pollard's very successful "Greater Tuna." Most of the colorful Tuna denizens from "Greater Tuna" are back, plus a few more. It is directed creatively by John Pietrowski. 



Most of the characters are sweet, even lovable, although a "few bricks short of a full load." If you are old enough, the type of comedy is reminiscent of radio's "Lum 'n Abner" and possibly Judy Canova. Ligon and Pollard are a joy to behold in their transformations, both male and female. As you would suspect, it is as their female characters that they score the most laughs.

 
The "big" media outlet in Tuna is a low powered radio station WOKKK featuring a casual morning team who dish out the town gossip and at least one aspires to move up the radio ladder to the "big time".....in Waco, Texas. When a teenager is in need of discipline, mother declares that the punishment is to watch an "Andy Williams Christmas Special." My favorite line concerns the possibility of going to see a movie, the negative reply goes like this "There hasn't been a good movie since Audie Murphy* died."

Be prepared to hold your sides...this a very funny, clever production featuring two marvelously talented gentlemen. Warning: just in case you didn't read the above comments...this play, actually a series of connected skits...will not remind you of "Hamlet" or "The Phantom of the Opera." Go to laugh. A commodity much too rare these days.

"A Tuna Christmas" was written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. It is a co-production of The Bickford Theatre and Playwrights Theatre (appropriate for all ages), will run through December 30, 2012, no performance Saturday, December 29.

“We are very excited to collaborate once again this year with The Bickford Theatre on this hilarious play,” said Playwrights Artistic Director John Pietrowski. “I am also excited to reunite the comic duo of Jim Ligon and Michael Pollard who teamed up a couple of years ago in an acclaimed production of Rounding Third I directed. Playwrights audiences will recognize Jim Ligon from productions of The Good Girl Is Gone and Where the Sun Never Sets and Michael Pollard from the audience hit Big Boys. These two accomplished actors create a very funny and moving holiday experience.”

“This production is just fun. I am very excited co-producing again with Playwrights Theatre and John Pietrowski and bringing back the original cast of "Greater Tuna" for this sequel. It all adds up to an ideal way for guests to fill their stockings with laughter!” said Eric Hafen, Artistic Director of Bickford Theatre.

Jim Bazewicz is the Set Designer, Ric McAllister is the Costumer Designer, and Danielle Pietrowski is the Properties Designer. Lights are designed by Roman Klima, Sound Design is by Jeff Knapp. Yumi Matsuura is the Production Stage Manager.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio December 15, 2012

Single tickets are on sale now: General Admission $45, Seniors $40, Members of the Morris Museum/Bickford Theatre Guild $38, Groups (10 or more) $30 and Students $20. For tickets, call the box office at 973-971-3706.
All performances will take place at Bickford Theatre, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, NJ.


* The son of poor Texas sharecroppers, Audie Murphy became a national hero during World War II as the most decorated combat soldier of the war including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award for bravery that a soldier can receive. He starred in 44 movies and died in 1971.
Pictures by Tom Kelcec

                      ++++++++++++++++++

'Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL' at Chatham Community Players 



This past weekend The Chatham Community Players premiered their wonderful musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The adaptation is by Philip William McKinley and Suzanne Buhrer and is directed by Jeffrey Fiorello with Chris Curcio the musical director and Megan Ferentinos the choreographer. This is a tradition at the theatre that started back in 1988. Unlike the standard version of "A Christmas Carol," this version has Ebenezer Scrooge sharing the stage with Charles Dickens. Dickens participates in most scenes in his special role as the narrator....and who better to narrate than the author.

The script follows the original story of the re-birth of Scrooge rather faithfully, plus material the writers incorporated from letters that Dickens wrote to family and friends for his commentary as he travels with Scrooge on his life-changing journey.

Playing Scrooge for the tenth time is the fine actor Alan Semok. Semok, who has a long list of professional credits from both stage and television, nicely makes the transformation from the "cold-hearted, tight-fisted and greedy man, who despises Christmas and all things which give people happiness." Other standout actors include: Charles Dickens played by a 40-year veteran of community theater, Gordon Wiener; Scrooge's nephew Fred played by Chip Prestera, a comedy delight in the CCP's last production "39 Steps;" Gus Ibranyi as Bob Cratchit; Paul Aiello as Jacob Marley and the three ghosts past, present and future Katie ShultsPaul Salvatoriello and Jason Jackson. Playing Tiny Tim is Lucas Schultz.

The remainder of the large and talented cast includes: Annie Reynolds, Jennifer Bogush, Jaron Cole, Pat Wry, Brent Hartwell, Samy Cordero, Gira Derise, Patrick Weaver, Shannon Ludlum, Ava and Tessa Ferentinos, Kristin Bennett, Jeffrey Gallup, Eila Francis, James and Mia Ciccarelle, and Jackie Jacobi.

Director Fiorello nicely uses the entire space available in this semi theatre-in-the-round facility (The audience sits on three sides). The rear space is used impressively for several scenes including Scrooge's home with several set pieces on turntables. Also, impressive is the entrance and exit of Marley's ghost in chains (no spoiler here). Much of the action involving the speaking members of the juniors in the cast is wisely staged in the floor area closest to the audience. The youngsters, and several female adults, occasionally commit the common error of failing to project beyond their fellow actor. The sets, props, lighting and sound are all top level as are the attractive Victorian costumes. Just what we have come to expect from Jeffrey Fiorello and his team.

Since this is a musical, we tip-our-cap to the excellent musicians under the leadership of Chris Curcio, who doubles on keyboard. They are; Joe DeVico keyboards and percussion; Eric Olsen keyboards; Jeff Dingler bass; and Mike Advensky percussion.

A special nod also to Fiorello's fine creative staff- from choreographer Megan Ferentinos who has the large cast moving smoothly-even the children; Ben Reisebeck and Jessica Phelan wigs and make-up; Tish Lum props and furniture; Fran Harrison costume design; Joe DeVico sound design; Richard Hennessy lighting design; Andrea Sickler scenic artist; Pamela Wilczynski production coordinator; and the stage crew led by Robert Lukasik with Allie Warshaw and Rita Arney.

This marks the 16th time that the Chatham Players has produced this show.  Originally it was an annual event, however since 1995 it is produced every other December. The CCP's estimate that it has entertained more than 30,000 audience members since 1988. We are confident that by maintaining this high level of production it will continue to entertain thousands more. We urge you to call for tickets now. The Sunday performance we attended was 'sold-out' and only eight performances remain.

We give the last word to director Jeffrey Fiorello (Remember his superior production of "Cabaret" last season?); “I hope that audiences will make "A Christmas Carol" a part of their holiday tradition. A story like this, with its themes of: a second chance, re-birth, humanitarianism, forgiveness, compassion, love, family values, and hope, are timeless, as timeless as Christmas itself.”

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   December 9, 2012


The remaining performance dates are December 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8:00 P.M. and December 15, 16, 22 & 23 at 3:00 P.M.  All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham.  Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior.

To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to http://www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and click on the “Buy Tickets” logo.  The service is available 24 hours a day.  Tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance.  The box office accepts phone reservations at (973) 635-7363.

Note: The Chatham Community Players theater; there isn't a bad seat in the house. The audience is seated on three sides, in this not quite, theater-in-the-round.

Parking is free and plentiful. The theater is blessed with a good number of truly excellent restaurants within easy walking of the theater, as is the Chatham train station.

Cast photo: CCP

                             +++++++++'Trelawny of the Wells' at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey'
Nisi Sturgis as Rose Trelawny and Jordan Coughtry


Oscar Wilde's comedy "The Importance of Being Earnest" is from the same Victorian period as The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's season ending production "Trelawny of the Wells" by the Victorian playwright Sir Arthur Wing Pinero known for writing strong parts for leading ladies.

Unlike Wilde's iconic comedy of the late 1800's, "Trelawny of the Wells" has been rarely produced on this side of the Atlantic. Its last major New York production was at Lincoln Center in 1975 with Meryl Streep and Mandy Patinkin. The play was adapted in 1928 by M-G-M as an early sound film for Norma Shearer.

"Trelawny" is an amusing, affectionate "bonbon" for anyone who ever experienced the cry "curtain" from behind it, or ever dreamed of a life on stage. Or as Bonnie J. Monte states: "it is a love letter to artists, their admirers, and the art of theatre all at once! If you never had the "bug" to act, don't fear, there is much to enjoy in this relatively straight forward plot. No need for Sherlock Holmes' skill of observation to recognize the plot's obvious, but charming and romantic direction.

Briefly, it is a tale of two seemingly incompatible worlds: the relatively lowly world of the theatre and the snobbery of the British aristocracy who enjoyed the talents of the actors, but considered them social inferiors. At the center is the young actress, Rose Trelawny, who gives up a promising career to marry a wealthy young man, per the advice of her late mother. His aristocratic, and incredibly boring-from Rose's viewpoint-family is strongly against the grandson's plan to marry someone as lowly as an actress. Meantime, life on the stage is changing with a more realistic, natural depiction of people rising in popularity and the older performers being push aside or reduced to secondary positions. Most of the play is set in the theatrical lodgings of the members of the "Wells" theater troupe.

The play is flawlessly cast. Director Bonnie J. Monte has assembled a marvelous cast led by one of our STNJ favorites Nisi Sturgis as the beautiful young actress Rose Trelawny who finds love beyond the footlights. Sturgis had leading roles in the recent productions of "To Kill a Mockingbird," "I Capture the Castle" and "Arms and The Man." Fans of television's "Boardwalk Empire" will recognize Nisi as Nuckie's sister-in-law.

The 12 other cast members cover 20 roles; Jordan Coughtry plays Arthur Gower, Rose’s fiancée; John Patrick Hayden plays Tom Wrench, a bottom rung actor and playwright; Edmond Genest plays Sir William Gower, Arthur's pompous grandfather; Jennifer Harmon plays Mrs. Mossop, the landlady of the theatrical lodgings housing most members of the "Wells" theatre, and Arthur's spinster great-aunt, Lady Tralfagar Gower; Jon Barker plays the flamboyant actor Ferdinand Gadd; Caralyn Kozlowski plays Imogen Parrott and Miss Trafalger Gower; Elizabeth Shepherd is Mrs. Telfer, a regal former theatrical giant; JohnFitzGibbon (a late addition to the cast) as Mr. Telfer, who, with his wife, has found that their once exalted place in the theatre is fading; Matt Sullivan as Ablett, Captain DeFoenix and Mr. Denzil; Connor Carew as Augustus Colpoys; Rachel Fox as Rose's good friend Avonia Bunn; and Erica Knight as Sarah,Clara and Miss Brewster.

The play, again from the actor's viewpoint, is remarkable in that it provides every member of the cast, from the butler to the Lord and Lady, with at least one standout scene: from Matt Sullivan as Mr. Ablett and the mismatched gloves in the first scene to Edmond Genest as Sir Gower discovering his late night uninvited guests. Adding to the humor are Rachel Fox as Avonia Bunn, a particular 'hoot" in her unwelcome entrance in her gaudy harlequin "panto" costume and Jon Barker who plays her full-of-himself husband Ferdinand Gadd. John Patrick Hayden impresses as Tom Wrench. He is perfect in projecting the warm, sympathetic and supportive nature of Wench. Caralyn Kozlowski shines as the star actress Imogen Parrot who proves a great friend to both Rose and Tom Wench.

"Trelawny of the Wells" is a very pleasant, amusing play, blessed with a marvelous cast led by Nisi Sturgis, John Patrick Hayden, Caralyn Kozlowski and Edmond Genest. The sets are excellent and the costumes are gorgeous. Fine light-hearted holiday entertainment.

Director Monte, in addition to directing, also contributed to the excellent set design. Her creative staff includes; set designer Anita Easterling, costume designer Hugh Hanson, lighting designer Tony Galaska and production stage manager Kathy Snyder.

The play is presented in four acts with one intermission. Total time is about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Performances continue through December 30th at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Road) in Madison. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at973-408-5600 or by visiting www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. A special family matinee will be held on Thursday, December 27th at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $70; student rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to curtain for $10.

Nisi Sturgis, Jordan Coughtry and Caralyn Kozlowski
(front l to r) Jon Barker as Ferdinand Gadd and Connor Carew as Augustus
 Colpoys  Nisi Sturgis as Rose Trelawny and John Patrick Hayden as Tom Wench   
 Nisi Sturgis as Rose Trelawny gives her farewell speech to the actors
of the Wells theatre.


Photos:© Gerry Goodstein


                          +++++++++++++


Mi Casa, Tu Casa at Luna Stage



The Luna Stage in West Orange is repeating this Christmas season the joyous bi-lingual musical production "Mi Casa Tu Casa" ("From My House to Your House") they premiered last year. Have no fear, the bi-lingual format works beautifully. "Mi Casa Tu Casa" is a 75 minute explosion of happy exuberance from a talented cast of seven.

Five are members of the Mi Casa Band, all returning from last year's production. They include two co-creators - Michael Aquino on electric guitar and Deivis "Deivito" Garcia playing a classical guitar; Chris Blanco on percussion, Jane Keitel on accordion and glockenspiel, and Cindi Merklee on bass guitar, plus two storytellers, Jennica Carmona and Chris Kent.

The program is divided into nine segments that includes folktales such as "Firebird” and "The Vain Little Mouse," brief poetry by Pablo Neruda (Remember "Il Postino?") touching and fun memories of childhood Christmas by the cast and their families, "T'was The Night Before Christmas," "Silent Night," and the brightest, happiest hispanic music this side of Spanish Harlem, e.g. "La Bamba" and "Cielito Lindo."

 Jennica Carmona
The two storytellers, new this season, Jennica Carmona and Chris Kent are two fine young talents with perpetual smiles. They sing and dance nicely in addition to their excellent storytelling skills. There is no mistaking that they are having as much fun as the audience. Our favorite retelling was Kent's "El Tambor" with assistance from percussionist Chris Blanco as a dog...who excels on the drum (what else did you expect?). Carmona with her radiant personality was fine in each skit with "The Firebird" a particular standout.

 Directing the colorful fiesta is Jane Mandel, the Luna Stage's Artistic Director, a New Jersey theatre treasure. She is ably assisted by Deborah Caney costume design, Michael Hochman lighting design, Steve Brown sound engineer, Liz Cesario production manager and Christina Balkovic stage manager. The four creators of "Mi Casa, Tu Casa" are Michael Aquino, Deivis Garcia, Dania Ramos and Jane Mandel.

This is pure, unadulterated all-family entertainment. During many of the music numbers the audience, particularly the junior members, are encouraged to join the cast on the stage floor.

 "Mi Casa, Tu Casa" is a perfect holiday treat for all members of the family. A nice change of pace from the more traditional Christmas/Holiday fare widely available. At the performance I attended today it was very special to see the look of wonderment in the eyes of the children.

The combination of the colorful set, costumes, dancing, singing and fabulous infectious music makes for a most enjoyable theatre experience.

 "Mi Casa, Tu Casa' plays Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through December 16th.

Tickets are only $10 for children under 17 and $20 for adults. They can be purchased online, at the door, by phone (973) 395-5551, and in person during our daytime box office hours (Tues-Fri 10 a.m.-3 p.m.).

The Luna Stage is at 555 Valley Road in West Orange, a short distance from Route 280. Ample free parking is available and numerous restaurants are just a short stroll away.


                             
                    
                      ++++++++++++++George Street Playhouse's "Best of Enemies"
John Bedford Lloyd and Aisha Hinds



Most theatres at this time of the year are presenting holiday or Christmas themed productions with their universal message of good cheer, on the surface the folks at the George Street Playhouse might seem to be minus the holiday spirit. The December presentation is the New Jersey premiere of "The Best of Enemies." The riveting true life story of a poor black civil rights activist and her relationship with a poor white member of the KKK during the school desegregation battle in Durham, North Carolina in 1971. The play by Mark St. Germain is inspired by the book "The Best of Enemies" by Osha Gray Davidson.

Good cheer? Feel good entertainment? Yes, surprisingly on both counts. "The Best of Enemies" is a touching, warm and amazingly funny telling of the highly unlikely relationship between two combatants, each at one point, only minutes, if not seconds, from committing a murderous act. Good cheer? Yes, again, this is superior theatre with outstanding performances by four gifted actors who lead us from the darkest of moments of racial tension to the forming of an incredible long lasting friendship.

Director Julianne Boyd and the cast; Aisha Hinds as the black activist Ann Atwater, John Bedford Lloyd as the KKK leader C.P. Ellis, Don Guillory as Bill Riddick, the college educated black community organizer and Susan Wands as Mary Ellis, combine to provide an extraordinary and powerful theatre experience. They remind us again of the magic that only live theatre can provide.

Don't dismiss this production on the basis of the theme of social injustice. It is a wonderful, "exhilarating example of the human spirit and its capacity for change" as stated perfectly by the GSP Artistic Director David Saint.

The Boyd team is not new to the play, director Boyd and her cast first presented "The Best of Enemies" at the Barrington Stage in Massachusetts in 2011 where it broke all box office records as the most-attended play in their 17 year history and was described as "one of the most important historical plays about America to ever reach the stage." It may not be the most important, but it is a major part of our history that many under the age of 50 do not appreciate or understand the sacrifice many endured to arrive at the integrated world of today. 1971 Durham, like much of the South, seven years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 still restricted Blacks from most restaurants, schools and other establishments. C.P. Ellis's Pure Oil white only service station is a perfect example. Public places still had water fountains designated for "Whites" or " Colored" only.

The story is presented via a series of short scenes or blackouts. The stage consists of three areas, far left is Atwater's humble home with a chair and floor lamp, far right, is white supremacist Ellis' bare kitchen with a 1960's style table and chairs. The center is used for a variety of locations indicated very effectively by large sliding panels and video projection.

Aisha Hinds, a television and film veteran, is superb (this may be an understatement) as Ann Atwater, a tough, sarcastic woman who has suffered much of her life. Married at gunpoint, abandoned by her husband and recently unemployed after being dismissed from a longtime position in a wealthy white home for objecting to constant demeaning treatment, she has the courage to stand up to the discrimination and becomes a voice for her community. Aisha can convey more with a raised eyebrow than most can do with a page of script.
 Photo by Kevin Sprague

Superb too is Broadway veteran John Bedford Lloyd as C.P. Ellis (photo right), who's life is centered around his leadership participation in the Klan, the only place where he has ever been made to feel important. His skillful transition to a self-confidant man is a joy to behold. The other two roles are secondary, but performed by excellent actors, Don Guillory, with Broadway and a first film credit (The Bourne Legacy), as Bill Riddick, the suit-and-tie attired college educated black community organizer who may be naïve, but nonetheless arrogant, in his dealings with the two opposing communities but, in the end achieves what seemed to be impossible, and Susan Wands, with extensive on and off Broadway credits, as Mary Ellis has the smallest role, but she could not be more perfect as C.P. Ellis wife. Mary is unhappy in her marriage; she has a retarded child who requires continuous attention and a husband who places the Klan before wife and family.

Director Julianne Boyd's excellent production staff includes; scenic and projections designer David M. Barber, costume designer Kristina Lucka, lighting designer Scott Pinkney, sound designer Brad Berridge and production stage manager Thomas Clewell.

We rate "The Best of Enemies" at five stars (5 out of 5). Remarkable play with a remarkable cast. "The Best of Enemies" will run until December 23, 2012. The play runs about 95 minutes. There is no intermission. "The Best of Enemies" is recommended for mature audiences due to strong language.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio December 6, 2012

The George Street Playhouse is located 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Individual tickets start at $28. The Box Office: 732-246-7717, website www.GSPonline.org.

Aisha Hinds, Don Guillory and John Bedford Lloyd (T. Charles Erickson)

                          +++++++++
Growing Stage's "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"
Rear: William Ward as The Snowman with David Spellman (axe)
Becky Nitka and P.J. Schweizer at bottom (Bunnies unidentified)



"You know Dasher and Dancer, And Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, And Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall...The most famous reindeer of all?"

Yes, it's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" now starring in the delightful musical production of, you guessed it,  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at one of New Jersey's theatre treasures, The Growing Stage, rightly billed "The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey."

This stage production, the New Jersey premiere, is adapted by Robert Penola from the popular 1964 television special with music and lyrics by Johnny Marks.  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the perfect holiday treat for young families (and fun, too, for seniors). It is under the able direction of Stephen L. Fredericks, the Growing Stage’s Executive Director, with musical direction by Laura Petrie and outstanding choreography by Jillian Petrie.

Do you remember the story of Rudolph from the television special? The adventure is set in Santa's North Pole village where by Christmas Eve the weather has turned dark and foul and Santa is set to cancel his world-wide flight, until he realizes that the young reindeer, Rudolph, shunned by most of the inhabitants because of his shiny, glowing red nose, can save Christmas if he guides Santa's sleigh.

The cast features six professional performers: the Growing Stage regular, Becky Nitka is a charmer in the title role of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer;  William Ward makes a wonderful Sam the Snowman (excellent costume) the narrator who leads the singing of the now classic "Holly Jolly Christmas," and, of course, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; P.J. Schweizer as Hermey the Elf, hates to make toys and dreams of becoming a dentist, he has a cute duet with Becky Nitka "I Am Not Just A Misfit."; David Spellman is spot-on as Yukon Cornelius, the prospector whom the two "misfits," Hermey and Rudolph, encounter on their journey beyond the North Pole and leads them to the Island of Misfit Toys.

In the key roles of Mr. & Mrs. Claus are director Steve Fredericks and the exceptional singer/actress Jenna Morris. They pair nicely. Fredericks makes a handsome Santa, albeit a bit shy in the weight department. Morris is the perfect sweet, caring "mother" to Santa's Elves and reindeer, including Rudolph.

The lead performers are ably assisted by community theatre veteran Steve Nitka as Donner and Boss Elf, Equity candidates Jillian Petrie as Mrs. Donner and Will Sandoval as Coach Comet.

Rounding out the cast are twenty-four enthusiastic and talented junior performers;  Alana Claffey, Dalton Allison, Jennifer Andreacchi, Amanda Beck, Bryn Bennett, Carly Berkeland, Grace Brizek, Sal Constantino, Peyton Crimi, Matthew Fralley, Amelia Graham, Ethan Graham, Lexi Halbur, Megan Hurley,Jillian McLaughlin, Lindsey McLaughlin, Jacob Meth, Mackenzie Miller, Brooke Nagel, Savannah Doelfel, Erin Quinn, Sydney Reynolds, Justin Watt and Sophie Verhalen.
Director Steve Fredericks' key crew members are assistant director Danny Campos, music director Laura Petrie, choreography Jillian Petrie and stage manager Steve Graham.

One of the pleasures of the Growing Stage productions is to see the way the youngsters in the audience respond with such delight and full attention to the blend of pros with the young community players.  We attended the sold-out Sunday afternoon performance (capacity 240) where some of the children were as young as three. They were active (translation: noisy) prior to the start of the play and during intermission, but amazingly not during the performance.

Part of the attraction, beyond the colorful, tuneful fun on stage is the theater itself. The Palace Theatre started life in 1919 with vaudeville, but since 1981 has been transformed into  a fascinating children's theatre with outstanding murals of various fairy tales lining the side walls.

The Growing Stage's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is an excellent family outing. A particularly wonderful way for children to be introduced to the magic of live theatre. The combination of the familiar songs, charming performances, attractive set and fine dancing will also keep the adults pleased.

The fun doesn’t end with the finale, there are cut-outs of the Snowman and Rudolph available for taking photos (no charge!) and all of the performers gather in the lobby to greet the audience and sign autographs!

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  December 2, 2012

The play will run until December 23, 2012. Performances are Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Palace Theatre is located on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey just minutes from routes 46 and 80. Parking is free either behind the theatre or curbside.

The Growing Stage continues FUN-tastic Fridays with all tickets $15! Saturday and Sunday tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children and seniors.  To place your reservation, contact the Growing Stage Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or e-mail at boxoffice@growingstage.com  Group rates and Birthday Party packages are available.

Becky Nitka as Rudolph with Jenna Morris as Mrs. Claus and Stephen Fredericks as Santa
Photos supplied by The Growing Stage

                      
 
                                              ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Paper Mill Playhouse's "Sound of Music"
Any list of the greatest American musicals includes Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's last collaboration "The Sound of Music" (1959 Broadway premiere with Mary Martin) based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers." The story of Maria Rainier and her marriage to Captain von Trapp and his seven children as Hitler takes over the nation has been retold on the stages of the world continuously ever since.

The 1965 film, with Julie Andrews, won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and displaced "Gone with the Wind" as the highest-grossing film of all-time. Many of the fans of the film have viewed it hundreds of times. 

Now, if you think your familiarity with this musical masterpiece would in any way diminish your pleasure, dismiss the thought; this is a fabulous production by the highly creative team at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Typical of the Paper Mill's past musical revivals, this version of "The Sound of Music, directed and choreographed by James Brennan, is Broadway quality at every level from outstanding veteran Broadway performers, to musicians, sets, costumes, and lighting.  

The thrill of live theater begins in the very earliest moments of the play when the Nuns of Nonnberg Abbey sing the Preludium followed directly by Elena Shaddow as Maria singing the award-winning title song. Shaddow is a fine, attractive Maria with a superior voice. She is particularly effective in the scenes at the Abbey with the Mother Abbess, played warmly by the magnificent voiced Suzanne Ishee, and with the children in the audience favorites "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd."  

The other adult leads are also very impressive. Ben Davis as the handsome Captain Georg von Trapp who resists the German offerings the only way possible; Edward Hibbert  provides humor as Max Detweiler even as he courts the Germans in hopes of surviving the fast changing, dark, world of the Nazis; Donna English as Elsa Schraeder, the rich Viennese socialite who accepts this new world order the invading Germans represent.

The seven von Trapp children are excellent from the oldest to the youngest; Chelsea Morgan Stock as Liesl, Gracie Beardsley as Marta, Greta Clark as Gretl, Maya Fortgang as Brigitta, Amanda Harris  as Louisa, Hunter A. Kovacs as Kurt and Sean McManus as Friedrich. Serving the von Trapps are Robert DuSold as Franz and Joy Franz as Frau Schmidt. "American Idol" finalist Anthony Fedorov as Rolf Gruber, the young postman and willing Nazi recruit.

Also in the cast are: Ashley Kate Adams, Duke Anderson, Allison Blackwell (Sister Sophia), Christopher Carl (Admiral von Schreiber), Jonathan Charette, Christine Cornell, Patrick David, Margaret Dietrich, Maggie Finnegan, Osborn Focht (Herr Zeller), Kera Halbersleben, Jenavene Hester, Dennis Holland (Baron Elberfeld), Norah Long, Robin Lounsbury, Anna McCarthy, Jeannie Shubitz (Sister Margaretta), Adam Soniak, Chris Stevens, Mary Stout (Sister Berthe), Sally Ann Swarm and Nadine Zahr (Baroness Elberfeld).

The other musical highlights in "The Sound of Music" are the emotional "Edelweiss" as sung by Ben Davis (Capt. von Trapp) in the concert hall under a threatening swastika emblazoned banner as the Nazis arrive to escort him to a German naval base; "My Favorite Things" sung by Elena Shaddow (Maria) and Suzanne Ishee (Mother Abbess) in the Abbey; the stirring "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" by Suzanne Ishee (Mother Abbess);  "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" with the young lovers Chelsea Morgan Stock (Liesl) and  Anthony Fedorov (Rolf); and "How do you solve a problem like Maria" with Mary Stout (Sister Berthe), Allison Blackwell (Sister Sophia), Jeannie Shubitz (Sister Margaretta) and Suzanne Ishee (Mother Abbess).

Director/Choreographer James Brennan's team includes:Tom Helm Music Director; Scenic Designer James Fouchard; Costume Coordinator Amanda Seymour; Lighting Designer F. Mitchell Dana; Sound Designer Randy Hansen; and Hair/Wig Design Leah Loukas. Matthew DiCarlo is the Production Stage Manager.

For every lover of this America classic this is a must see event. For those who simply love live musical theater this is spectacular treat for both the eye and the ear.  The Sound of Music will run at the Millburn, New Jersey, theater to December 30, 2012.  It will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   November 25, 2012

Single tickets range from $26 to $97. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680.  






Elena Shaddow (Maria) and the von Trapp Children.
               Elena Shaddow (Maria)

        Ben Davis (Captain von Trapp) and Elena Shaddow (Maria).


Susanne Ishee (Mother Abbess) Elena Shaddow (Maria).
Chelsea Morgan Stock (Liesl von Trapp) and Anthony Fedorov (Rolf).

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

                         +++++++++++

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2012


Review: Centenary Stage Company's wonderful 'Wizard of Oz'





A family classic, The Wizard of Oz, is the Centenary Stage Company's delightful holiday season offering. This is a joyous, highly entertaining all-family event that will charm the adults and "wow" the junior members. This production is beautifully directed and choreographed by Broadway, film, and television veteran Michael Blevins.  Working with an enormous cast of 50, Blevins presents a surprisingly faithful recreation of the classic MGM film. The adaptation for the stage is by Frank Gabrielson and John Kane. They developed it for Britain's highly honored Royal Shakespeare Company where it has become an annual event. 

The music, of course, is directly from the film score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Incidental music, based largely on the songs, was by Herbert Stothart, with borrowings from classical composers. The story is from the 1900 book by Frank Baum. It was first produced on Broadway as a musical in 1902 by Baum!

Blevins, as the choreographer, has this large cast dancing at almost every turn. It is a spirited, enthusiastic collection of dance numbers featuring several dance pros working with a highly energetic group of dancers from Centenary's excellent Young Performers troupe. The dance highlight is a number that was cut from the original movie “The Jitterbug.”
The musical highlight is, what else could it be, the song that was crowned the number one movie musical song of the 20th Century, the Academy Award-winning "Over The Rainbow." The song receives a particularly fine presentation by the very impressive young lady who is Dorothy Gale-McKenzie Custin. She not only has a beautiful voice, but is a fine, charming actress who does the magic red shoesproud. She is ably assisted by the big scene stealer....Toto. Unlike the movie where the dog is a black terrier, Toto, played by Magic, appears to be a (white) Bichon Frise. Magic is owned by cast member Anthony Zas.
Blevins, as the director, has nicely cast the leading roles, first with the before-mentioned McKenzie Custin as Dorothy; playing a perfect Aunt Em is CSC member Lea Antolini-Lid; CSC artistic director Carl Wallnau is naturally fine as the Kansas farmer Uncle Henry. The three farmhands are all standout performers...Nick Ardito-Martelli demonstrates his tap-dancing talent as Hickory and the Tin Woodsman, Saquan Williams excels as Hunk and the "boneless" Scarecrow and the equity pro Jeremy William Hilgert is beyond perfect, if possible, as Zeke and the Cowardly Lion.
Miss Almira Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West are played with proper nastiness by Broadway veteran Colleen Smith Wallnau. Steven Davis is spot-on as Professor Marvel and the Wizard. The beautiful good witch Glinda is played by Jessica Rzucidlo. Last, and possibly having the most fun in his role as the Wizard's Guard, is James J. Nester. It is the obvious pleasure each of these actors is having that adds greatly to the over all enjoyment of this fine version of The Wizard of Oz.
Supporting the leads as singers and dancers are 16 ensemble members and 24 Centenary Young Performers. Their names are included below. Music is ably provided by a ten member orchestra led by music director Kevin Lynch. The members are Susan Braden, Rayne Cafaro, Kaitlyn Fay, Sarah Culp, Pam Dragosh, Shire Feingold, Stacey McCaffery, Gabe Valle and Anthony Bevilacqua.

One of the highlights of this production is the flying of the the Witches, the Wizard and the monkeys, a first for the Centenary Stage Company. The flying is the work of the highly repected theatrical flying service Flying by Foy.
Major credits: producers- Carl Wallnau, CSC artistic director and Catherine Rust, general manager; director/choreographer- Michael Blevins,  assistant director- James J. Nester; assistant to director/choreographer- Jenna Black and Anthony Zas; costume design-Julia Sharp; set design- Will Rothfuss; light design- Elizabeth Sutherland; props master- Dani Pietrowski; make-up crew head- Amanda Roy; and production stage manager- James Russo.
ENSEMBLE: Dana Bartolomeo, Jon Bodi, Scott Ryan Braid, Laura Cantwell, Dan Compton, Kyle Dylan Conner, Christiane Darensbourg, Sarah Farber, Deborah Heagen, Lisa Kosak, Morgan Mack, Megan McGill, Samantha Santana, Laura Santarelli, Brittany Wienstein and Dita Wieser.

CENTENARY YOUNG PERFORMERS: Jenna Black, Jared Cowley, Raegan Davies, Jessica DeFort, Tyler Donovan, Alex Evans, Albert Garrido, Ciera Gross, Neil Ianniello, Sara Lee, Erin Martire, Lexie Miller, Andrew Nussbaum, Suzanna Nussbaum, Quinn O‘Hara, Raphael Pelczmann, Sydney Phythian, Kiana Rodriguez, Hanna Rose, Christina Stanton, Katie Yarussi, Meghan Yarussi, Anthony Zas and Dennis Zuravlev.

Again, if you are ready for a perfect fun event for the holiday season a visit to the comfortable Sitnik Theatre in the David and Carol Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College will not disappoint. Be warned however, that youngsters in the family may get the bug from seeing so many talented young people on stage....the acting bug, of course. It was a delight to visit Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, the Lion and Toto, too, in Hackettstown.

 Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   November 25, 2012

The Wizard of Oz will run until December 9th. Tickets range from $20-$29.50 with discounts for students and seniors. Every Thursday night is “Family Night,” which offers a 2-for-1 rush ticket price when purchased at the door. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Wednesday, November 28th plus 10 a.m. school matinees on Tuesday, December 4th and Wednesday, December 5th. There is 10 minute intermission between Act I and Act II.

The Friday, November 30th performance of The Wizard of Oz will coincide with Hackettstown’s Hometown Holiday Celebration, which will include the arrival of Santa in a horse-drawn sleigh, horse-drawn carriage rides between Centenary and the Holiday Gazebo, a parade featuring the Colonial Musketeers, performances by local choirs and a holiday bazaar. For more information on the celebration, visit the Hackettstown Business Improvement District website at hackettstownbid.com.


The dining hall at the Lackland Center will also host a special Yule Fest dinner ($12.50) before the show dates on Saturday, December 1st and 8th and a brunch ($10.00) on Sunday, December 2nd and 9th. There will be also be different vendors from the community selling special holiday gifts so that audiences can get an opportunity to catch up on their holiday shopping.


To purchase tickets or to find more information on other performances in the 2012-2013 season, visit www.centenarystageco.org or call (908) 979-0900.


The Wizard of Oz is sponsored in part by Restaurant Village in Long Valley and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center. 









                                                       +++++++++++++++++++++++


Review: Princeton's Triangle Club show is a high kicking delight


This past weekend at Princeton, the 122nd edition of Princeton's famous Triangle Club's Fall musical comedy extravaganza opened. This year's edition titled "Trees Company....Forest's a crowd" features a cast of twenty five students supported by a 14-member student orchestra, skit writers, composers and technical staff.

These impressively talented performers are directed, choreographed and costumed by Triangle alums, many of whom are Broadway professionals. The result of their collaboration is an entertainment delight of fast paced comedy, dance and songs worthy of any stage....all, of course, original material.

From the first moment of the first scene, the energy and enthusiasm they display quickly charms the audience, but then as the show progresses, the over all outstanding talent they display via clever and funny skits and bright tuneful song and dance numbers carries the audience's appreciation well above the level of mere charm. This is first rate happy "feel good" entertainment with future Jimmy Stewarts ('32) and Jose Ferrers ('33) inabundance.

The production consists of 25 scenes with the highlight the "Boyz 'n the Hood" with eleven boys in matching "Red Riding Hood" outfits doing the traditional all-male high-kicking routine (photos below). In keeping with the theme of hiking in the woods, many of the scenes have clever "woodsy" titles, e.g. "Stream of Consciousness,"I Like Hike" (old enough to remember Eisenhower?), "Where There's Smokey" and "Parks and Desecration."

"Trees Company" is directed by Glen Pannel ('87) with David Kaley ('97) costumes, Nick Francone set design, Hans Kriefall ('87) choreographer, and Peter Mills ('95) music director.

The cast members are Chris Beard, Katie Birenboim, Maeve Brady, Billy Cohen, Catherine Cohen, Maddy Cohen, Briyana Davis, Sean Drohan, JT Glaze, Victoria Gruenberg, Caroline Hertz, Mary Lou Kolbenschlag, Brian Lax, Alex Morton, Carl Nist-Lund, Tim O'Leary, Jake Robertson, Marquito Rodriguez, Pat Rounds, Max Rubin, Sarah-Anne Sillers, Adam Stasiw,Evan Strasnick. Evan Thompson and Carolyn Vasko. Directing the traffic is the stage manager Lily Gold. Reube Shorser conducted the orchestra.

Now that the Triangle World Premiere Weekend is past, the troop will be touring over the Winter Break (January 27 to February 2, 2013). The stops are New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville and Washington DC. For ticket information visit the website: www. TriangleShow.com.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 18, 2012

                                 +++++++++++++++++++

Saturday, November 10, 2012     COMMUNITY THEATER


Review: 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' at The Barn Theatre

Every serious theater fan knows that the longest playing Off-Broadway musical is "The Fantasticks." The show's original Off-Broadway production ran for a total of 42 years - 17,162 performances, making it the world's longest-running musical. Now, do you know which show is the second-longest running Off-Broadwaymusical? It is "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change"with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts. The 1996-97 musical ran for 5,003 performances.

Joe DiPietro's delightfully clever concoction opened Friday night at The Barn Theatre in Montville, New Jersey. The Barn team may be labelled "community" theater performers, but this excellent production, certainly worthy of Off-Broadway, is directed beautifully by Lauren M. Grof-Tisza with musical direction by Jack Bender. This is the second time we've had the pleasure of hearing...and seeing him this season. He was the musical director for Laura Ekstrand's witty "Neighborhood" (Dreamcatcher Repertory Company) last month. Bender particularly impresses with his keyboard skills.

New Jersey born and raised Joe DiPietro is one of our favorite comedy playwrights with a marvelous view of the everyday world and the humor that lurks around every corner. His funny and warm comedy "Over The River And Through The Woods" recently had two fine productions in North Jersey. On Broadway he did the book for the Matthew Broderick starring "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and won the 2010 Best Book of a Musical Tony Award for "Memphis."

In 1996 DiPietro turned to a different form of comedy with a very human, honest series of brief non-connected tales about the misadventures of dating and marriage and everything in between. The result is a fun fast paced journey observing very amusing up close and personal, often hilarious, vignettes between couples.

Director Lauren M. Grof-Tisza has nicely cast the four roles of two men and two women. Over the course of twenty scenes the talented cast keep transforming into a wide range of easily identifiable fugitives from the dating to mating game. Accept this as a warning that you may have uncomfortable moments when you relate too closely to a character ....a nerd, a geek, a stud or a goddess, for example.

The cast members are Brandon Frumolt, Michael Campbell, Samantha Kaplan and Shannon Murray. Shannon has great fun with the comedy solo highlight of the evening "Always A Bridesmaid." The funniest duet has to be "Funerals Are For Dating" with Michael Campbell and Shannon Murray. Naturally with a large senior contingent in the opening night audience it provided the most laughs. Campbell and Murray (sounds like a vaudeville team) are two lonely senior citizens who meet at the viewing of a recently departed friend, but no...they have no idea who the person in the coffin is!

The most versatile actor in the group is probably Samantha Kaplan. She is simply marvelous as the lonely Jewish widow in the clever "The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz." Kaplan works from a platform (stage right) seated and facing a video camera where she is recording her video. The picture from the camera is projected on a large plain rear backdrop. Video is also used effectively via two large flat tv screens flanking the center stage. The screens are used to provide the titles of each scene

At the rear of the center of the stage is a low riser with Jack Bender at a grand piano and Flora Yousefi on the violin. Bender is a major talent who adds immeasurably to the evening. In a very nice touch Yousefi has a brief solo at the beginning of the Second Act.

Brandon Frumolt scores (that's not what I mean, or do I?) nicely in all his scenes with "A Stud And A Babe" with Kaplan and "The Lasagna Incident" again with Kaplan as our favorite.

Production credits: Nicholas Marmo producer; Julie Gallup stage manager; Lauren M. Grof-Tisza, Nicholas Marmo set and lighting design; Jeff Knapp sound design; Jessica Phelan hair/make-up; Anthony Rubolotta slide design.

Bottom line: "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" is a wonderful way to spend an evening or afternoon. Terrific cast and fine music wrapped up with Joe DiPietro's superior book and lyrics. This is a fine example of how enjoyable live theater can be. You have until December 1st to see this great date play. Here is another warning: An incredible 57 marriage proposals have taken place over the years on stage during this show. In every instance, the brides-to-be happily accepted as the audience roared with approval.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 9, 2012


The Barn Theatre is a very comfortable facility with excellent sight lines. The parking is ample and free. Several family style restaurants are just minutes away.

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For more reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn on the web at www.barntheatre.org.
                                               ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Review: 'Man of La Mancha' at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (EQUITY)


William Michals as Don Quixote 
Saturday night (October 20, 2012) was opening night for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's spectacular production of the musical "Man of La Mancha." Director Bonnie J. Monte has produced an exciting retelling of the story of Miguel de Cervantes' creation "Don Quixote." Remember? Cervantes is a prisoner who enlists his fellow prisoners in performing a play-within-a-play about the jouster of windmills, Don Quixote while awaiting his hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. The book published in 1605 and recently cited as the "best literary work ever written," was transformed into a non-musical 1959 teleplay "I, Don Quixote" by Dale Wasserman and transformed again into a Tony winning "Best Musical" in 1965 with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. “It has been nearly ten years since we’ve produced a musical and we are thrilled to present this gorgeous classic in our 50th Anniversary Season." said Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte.

Back to the word 'spectacular,' what lifts this production from merely 'excellent' to the spectacular level can be stated in two words....William Michals. His magnificent baritone voice, whether speaking or singing, as well as his physical appearance and performing skills are superior to a very fine cast. Please understand, this is a very fine cast, all excellent actors worthy of any national stage. Michals, however, is world class. It may be an overused expression, but in this one case I believe to be completely true..."it is worth the price of admission to see and hear William Michals." The audience opening night gasped at his first note and routinely provided sustained applause at the end of each song. His closing bow was met with a standing ovation. We should note that, as of early September, this role was to be played by Robert Cuccioli, but instead he joined the Broadway company of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." Wow, what a pinch-hitter Bonnie sent in to play the "Mad Knight."

The setting of the play is the common room of the dungeon in a forbidding Spanish prison populated by both men and women. The set is dominated by a rear set of stairs rising to an imposing framed iron gate. Cervantes is joined in the prison by his squire, manservant, friend and wit, Sancho Panza, played wonderfully by Blake Pfeil. He is at his best with the song "I Really Like Him;" The very attractive Broadway veteran Jane Pfitsch plays the key role of Aldonza, who Don Quixote sees as his fair maiden Dulcinea. She has a fine soprano voice that might benefit from an audio boost. Particularly, when singing with the deep voiced Michals. She is a fine actress who seems to be cast against type. Translation: she is not the buxom, earthy, highly sexual type we associate with the role from our Broadway and London viewings 40 years ago. She is at her best in the closing death scene.

All the prisoners play dual roles: Patrick Boll is very impressive as The Duke and Dr. Carrasco; as is Jeremy Lee Parish as the Padre; David Hess as the Governor/Inkeeper; Derin Altay as the Housekeeper; John Seidman in the comic role of the Barber and Darren Matthias as the Captain of the Inquisition. Rounding out the fine cast are: Kim Sava, Lee Harrington, Sean Buhr, George Abud, Jordan Laroya, John Gardner, Katy Hinson, Doug Oberhamer (the music director who doubles as a prisoner), Anthony DeAugustine, Alex Domschot and Sean Harrington.

The excellent orchestra deserves special praise. It is under the direction of accomplished classical pianist and jazz trumpeter Doug Oberhamer. The members, most double as prisoners, are Alex Bender, Alex Domschot, Daniel Dorrance, Anthony DeAugustine, Anna Garcia, Sean Harkness, Lee Harrington, Katy Hinson and John Hoesly.

The play includes 20 musical numbers led by the now American classic "To Dream the Impossible Dream." Also including the title song "The Man of La Mancha," "Dulcinea," "Golden Helmet of Mambrino," "What Does He Mean To Me," "Little Bird Little Bird" and "Knight of the Woeful Countenance."

Director, and Shakespeare Theatre artistic director, Bonnie J. Monte's production team includes: scenic designer Michael Schweikardt; costume designer Michelle Eden Humphrey; lighting designer Michael Giannitti, sound designer Steven L. Beckel; fight director Rick Sordelet and production stage manager Denise Cardarelli.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 20, 2012

"The Man of La Mancha" is presented with one 15 minute intermission. The total time is two hours and fourteen minutes. The venue is Shakespeare Theatre’s Main Stage, the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Road) in Madison on the campus of Drew University. Parking is free. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 973-408-5600 or by visiting www.ShakespeareNJ.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; and Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets range from $42 to $80; student rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to curtain for $10.

For no more than the cost of a regular ticket, three Symposium Series performances are offered for each show and include a post-play discussion with the cast and artistic staff. Symposium performances for Man of La Mancha will be Tuesday, October 23rd at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, October 27th and November 3rd at 2 pm.

For each production, The Shakespeare Theatre presents the popular education program Know the Show. From 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre will present a pre-performance talk that provides background information and an insider’s perspective on the production. The Know the Show performance will be held on October 25th at 7:00 p.m. General admission is $5 for the general public, $4 for ticket package holders and subscribers. Tickets to that evening’s 8:00 p.m. performance may be purchased separately.

The 2:00 p.m. performance on October 27th will be audio described for those who are blind or have visual impairments. Audio description enables patrons with visual impairments to hear, through an FM transmitter, a live description of the action on the stage. A pre-performance sensory seminar is offered that allows patrons to feel props, costumes and set pieces to further enhance their live theatrical experience. The service is offered free of charge.



                                      +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



'The Best Man' at Summit Playhouse

In 1960, twenty years before he won the race to the White House, movie actor Ronald Reagan auditioned for the part of a presidential candidate in Gore Vidal's drama about the race for the presidency "The Best Man." Ironically, Reagan didn't get the part because Gore Vidal did not think he could play a credible president! "The Best Man" opened on Broadway that year and was nominated for Best Play. It became a major film starring Henry Fonda in 1964 and was revived on Broadway in 2000 and again last year with a cast that included James Earl Jones
and Angela Lansbury.

Now just about two weeks before the 2012 presidential election, the Summit Playhouse has premiered their excellent version of Vidal's sophisticated tale. 'Excellent' may be an inadequate word....the production directed by one of our most respected directors , Frank Licato, is simply superior theater. Even though the play is more than 50 years old and references the world of 1960- Eisenhower, Nixon
and McCarthy- this witty, highly entertaining play is very relevant today as demonstrated by the fight for power between the two presidential hopefuls, the socially ethical, more liberal Harvard educated, Secretary of State William Russell (Michael King) and the highly ambitious, self-avowed Christian, but unscrupulous handsome young senator from the south, Joseph Cantwell (Rick Holloway).

The setting is confined to two hotel suites during the 1960 presidential convention in Philadelphia where Russell and Cantwell are the front runners for the Democratic party's Presidential nomination. Unlike today's conventions which merely crown a candidate decided weeks earlier, the candidates have arrived at the convention minus the delegate votes needed to secure the nomination. To close the gap and win the nomination, both candidates are seeking the ex-President's endorsement.

The play is filled with Vidal's elegant, sharp, witty and often amusing dialogue. As an example here is Russell talking to Cantwell: “You said you were religious. Well, I’m not. But I believe profoundly in this life and what we do to one another and how this monstrous “I”; the self, must become “we” and draw the line at murder in the games we play with one another, and try to be good even when there is no one to force us to be good.” Vidal's best line, also spoken by Russell, is "Since when has the truth been a deterrent at this convention?"

Now to deliver these sharp witty lines of dialogue, director Licato has a cast that blurs the line between professional paid Equity performers and community theater volunteers. This cast is outstanding. Michael King (Secretary of State Russell) is one of the finest actors on any stage. We were greatly impressed by King in the Chatham Playhouse's recent production of "Glenngarry Glen Ross." He delivers an equally remarkable performance in 'The Best Man." Hank Barre is superb as the ex-President Art Hockstader. Rick Holloway nicely nails the part of the ambitious, the 'end justifies the means', Senator Cantwell.

Some of the finest, most touching and humorous moments are provided by the two candidates' wives. Debbie Bernstein is perfect as Russell's attractive wife locked in a cold marriage aching for her husband's affection, as is Kathleen Campbell Jackson as the pretty, high style Mabel Cantwell determined to help her husband win, no matter what....and very funny doing it.

The balance of the excellent cast: Jean Kuras as Mrs. Sue-Ellen Gamadge, Chairman of the Party’s Women’s Division; David Hoffman as Sheldon Marcus; Frank Blaeuer as Dick Jensen campaign manager for Secretary Russel; Arnold Buchiane as Senator Clyde Carlin; Dennis Conaway as Dr. Artinian; FJ DeRobertis as Don Blades; Jessica Phelan as Catherine assistant to Dick Jensen. The reporters and delegates: Diana Chaves, Jeff Foote, Steve Gabe, Ivette Hawthorne, and Rich Kessler.

"The Best Man" is the 304th production of the Summit Playhouse now in its 95th sesaon and is directed by Frank Licato with Sally Ponzio and Pamela Wilczynski producers. Production staff: Rhoda Roper set design; Petra Krugel costumes; Risha Walden set decoration; J. Guerdon Mayfield set construction and Pamela Wilczynski stage manager.

"The Best Man" is running at the Summit Playhouse, 10 New England Avenue, Summit, New Jersey, October 20, 25, 26, 27, 28 and November 2, 3. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students (18 and under). For tickets: visitwww.summitplayhouse.org/tickets, or call 800-838-3006.


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 19, 2012

                                          +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



Review: 'The Mousetrap' a thriller at Centenary Stage Company




Ashley Kowzun, Jon Mulhearn, David Edwards, Thomas Leverton, Kevin Sebastian,
Megan Davis and Alan Coates (CSC)


A popular expression, long dormant, is "See Paris and Die." Variations are numerous with "See Naples and Die" considered the original. It means, of course, in today's terms that something should be at the top of your bucket list. Theater fans, particularly fans of murder mysteries, or "whodunits" and the great mystery writer Agatha Christie have on their wish list the incredible Christie play "The Mousetrap." It is incredible because it premiered on the London stage in 1952 and is still running, 60 years later! Think you saw the movie? wrong. It has never been filmed. The stage producers secured the production rights with a guarantee that no film would be produced until six months after the end of the run! The play opened with rave reviews, e.g. The Daily Telegraph called it ''the cleverest murder mystery ever written for the British theater.'' Since then more than 10 million theater goers over 60 years have seen the original play making it the longest running show (of any type) of the modern era.

Here's the good news: New Jersey fans don't have to cross the Atlantic to see an absolutely first rate production of "The Mousetrap." The producers are now permitting productions outside London.This past weekend the very creative folks at Centenary Stage Company premiered their faithful version of "The Mousetrap." We saw the play in London in its 40th year and the production we saw this week in Hackettstown is the equal to London. First: the set is perfect, an impressive recreation of the Great Hall of a small English country inn by Emmy Award-winning set designer Bob Phillips. Second: There is the matter of the cast; perfect again, director Carl Wallnau has a terrific cast of eight, all but two are Equity professionals; and Third: the superior Agatha Christie "whodunit" plot with a twist ending, which the audience is traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre. So expect a minimum of plot details here.

The entire two act play takes place in the Great Hall at Monkswell Manor 30 miles outside London during the first day of operation as an Inn. The owner/operator's are a young married couple Giles (Jon Mulhearn) and Mollie Ralston (Megan Davis) sadly inexperienced in innkeeping. Their first paying guests are: Mrs. Boyle (Kathleen Huber), an elderly retired woman who is the "guest from hell"; the authoritatve Major Metcalf (Broadway veteran Alan Coates); Christopher Wren (Thomas Leverton) is a strange flamboyant young man with a weird laugh who is fascinated with the furniture and has something to hide; Miss Casewell (Ashley Kowzun) is a young English woman who lives abroad and claims she booked into the inn to enjoy the pastoral countryside; the last guest is Mr. Paravicini (David Edwards). As the area is hit with a major snow storm he arrives unexpectedly seeking shelter claiming his car overturned in the snow. Last to arrive is Detective Sergeant Trotter (Kevin Sebastian) investigating a Manor connection with a woman's murder the day before in London. The Ralston's and guests are all quick to realize that the killer may be among them.

After the guests settle in, Mollie (Megan Davis), feeling the stress of the occasion, offers this nervous comment to her husband Giles “all of our guests are unpleasant or odd.” Not the way they expected to start their life as innkeepers. Naturally, what follows, since this is a murder mystery, only provides more stress. Christie nicely keeps us guessing with a good number of "red herrings" right up to the closing moments.

All eight of the cast are excellent, however the acting skills of the senior members, Kathleen Huber, David Edwards and Alan Coates are particularly impressive. Of the younger members, Megan Davis as Mollie, at the center of most of the activity, is very effective.

Director Carl Wallnau, the Centenary Stage Company's artistic director, who scored big time with the wonderful comedy romp "Ladies Man" last year, repeats his winning ways with a terrific change of pace with this excellent production of "The Mousetrap." The London folks have to be pleased. You will be too.

Credit also to Wallnau's production staff including these keys members: Stage Manager - Kathryn China Hayzer, Set Design - Bob Phillips, Light Design - Ed Matthews, Sound Design - Colin Whitely, Costume Design - Julia Sharp.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 11, 2012
“The Mousetrap” will be performed until October 21 in the Sitnik Theatre, in the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 715 Grand Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey. To purchase tickets or to find more information on any of the events listed, visit www.centenarystageco.org or call the box office at (908) 979-0900. Tickets for The Mousetrap range from $17.50 to 27.50 with discounts for students and seniors. Every Thursday night is “Family Night,” which offers a 2-for-1 rush ticket price when purchased at the door. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There is a 2 p.m. matinée Wednesday October 17th.

The Centenary Stage Company is a not-for-profit professional equity theatre, in residence at Centenary College, dedicated to serving as a cultural resource for audiences of the Skylands Region with professional music, theatre and dance events and arts education programs throughout the year. Performances at the Centenary Stage Company are made possible through the visionary support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the NJ State Council on the Arts, and CSC members, friends and sponsors, including Premier Sponsor Heath Village, Silver Sponsors Hackettstown Regional Medical Center and The Holiday Inn, and Series sponsors, Fulton Bank, Mamas and Café Bacci, and Restaurant Village in Long Valley.


                                                  ++++++++++++++++++++++++

Review: 'One Slight Hitch' at George Street Playhouse



Mark Linn-Baker and Lisbeth Mackay

Last night was opening night for a very funny comedy "One Slight Hitch" at the George Street Playhouse." The play is the work of the multi-talented (stand-up comedian, playwright, author and tv actor) Lewis Black. He is the winner of two Grammies and an Emmy and best known for cutting edge humor. Surprisingly "One Slight Hitch" is not a black comedy, the humor is softer, warmer and closer to an up-dated version of "Father Knows Best" than the the anger associated with much of Black's later work.

Most importantly, the show, directed by Joe Grifasi, is a belly-laugh event for most of the evening largely due to two superior comedy actors who play a long-married couple, Lisbeth Mackay as Delia Coleman, a Broadway veteran who recently played Delia in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production and Mark Linn-Baker as Doc Coleman, also a Broadway veteran, plus film and television. He was in two of our favorite comedies, the film version of "Noises Off," and the television classic "Perfect Strangers."

The fine cast includes: The Coleman sisters...Clea Alsip as Melanie, also reprising her role at Williamstown, Rosie Benton as Courtney and Lauren Ashley Carter as sixteen year-old P.B. Coleman. The 'suitors' for Courtney's hand are Scott Drummond as the very WASP-ish Harper, and Christopher Tocco as Ryan, Courtney's former New York boyfriend.

But, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, in every other theatre the evening begins with the announcement about no photos, recording devices, candy, texting or cell phone use. Well, it does at this production with a sharply different style....the style of off-the-wall Lewis Black. Black’s snarling voice tells us what is prohibited “and if I have to tell you why, you’re an idiot.” The audience is laughing even before the curtain....if there was one.

The play uses one very up-market set....the well appointed living room of Dr. and Mrs. Coleman's Ohio home during the Summer of 1981. The set features a dramatic floral wallpaper, and the requisite (Republican?) well-stocked mini-bar that seems to be the center of all family activity. Translation: this is a near alcoholic family...which may explain why they are massively dysfunctional.

There is one exception...sixteen year old B.P. Coleman played beautifully by Lauren Ashley Carter. She is more a spectator to the household turmoil and, as such, serves as the narrator breaking the fourth wall with the audience. She sets the stage, introducing her family and explaining that one of her two older sisters, Courtney (Rosie Benton), is getting married to her fiancé Harper (Scott Drummond) that afternoon. Melanie (Clea Alsip) the older unmarried sister offers this observation; “Marriage is an institution designed by losers to make them feel like winners." Doc Coleman (Mark Linn-Baker), not to be out-done, responds to the mayhem enveloping him by declaring "I don't have to make sense...I'm a doctor!"

'Now the "one slight hitch" comes when Doc Coleman answers the door bell after calming his nervous wife who got into his pill collection, actually she's on the brink of a breakdown over the last minute preparations for the lavish lawn wedding only two hours away. The florist, for example, has been in a traffic accident on the way to the home and is in jail for drug dealing.

Back to the front door....standing at the threshold is Courtney's former boyfriend Ryan from New York claiming to be hitch hiking across the country gathering material for a non-fiction book. Why is he really here? Is he trying to stop the wedding? What will Courtney do? Can the Coleman's marriage survive this disastrous attempt to give their daughter the lavish wedding they never had? Answers and many laughs can be found only at the George Street Playhouse through Sunday, October 28, 2012.

Director Joe Grifasi staff includes: scenic designer Bob Dahlstrom, costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Rui Rita, sound designer Christopher J. Bailey and production stage manager Jane Pole.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 5, 2012


Tickets: The George Street Playhouse Box Office 732-246-7717, or by visiting the Playhouse’s website – www.GSPonline.org. George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue in the heart of New Brunswick’s dining and entertainment district, steps away from a variety of eateries for every taste and budget. For parking and dining recommendations, patrons may visit the Playhouse website or speak with a sales associate. Group Rate tickets are available for parties of 10 or more and may be purchased through the GSP Group Sales Office at 732-846-2895, ext. 134 or by email at mbergamo@georgestplayhouse.org.

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Review: "39 Steps" is hysterical at the Chatham Playhouse




Top: Glen Post and Chip Prestera
Bottom: David Cantor and Erika Knight


The absolutely hysterical production of the "39 Steps" now playing at the Chatham Playhouse is the London and New York hit play adapted by Patrick Barlow and based on the Alfred Hitchcock 1935 film from the novel by Scottish mystery writer John Buchan. The play is usually billed as a fast-paced comedy, however this maybe a gross understatement. It is nothing short of brilliance that just four actors bring to life more than 150 characters in the short space of 90 minutes.

The Chatham Players' production of this 2008 Tony Award winning play clearly kicks off the Chatham Players’ 91st season in high gear. If we were to reduce our review to a few words we would turn to the old Scottish phrase "Hoot mon, this is grrreat!" This production by the Chatham Players, a community theater company, is the equal of any professional production of this farce we've seen. Ticket information is below.

Do you remember the plot? Richard Hannay* is the suave lead character in this spy thriller set in pre-World War One England and Scotland. Early in the play a mysterious woman, with a secret about 39 steps and a foreign spy in Scotland, is killed in his London flat. He flees to Scotland to solve the secret of the 39 steps and stop an international spy ring while the police are in hot pursuit assuming he's the murderer. Naturally, as in any good plot, he saves the day and finds romance.

The perfect cast is headed by David Cantor (Berkley Heights) who plays our hero Richard Hannay. If you thought Cantor was terrific in the Chatham Players' drama "Glengarry Glen Ross" wait 'til you see him masterfully play a very physically challenging comedy role (think "Monty Python" meets "Fawlty Towers" meets the Marx Brothers meets Cary Grant AND throw in Harold Lloyd for good measure....look up the now largely forgotten early film star).

The very attractive Erica Knight (Clinton Twp) plays the three main female roles (the spy Annabella Schmidt, Pamela who Hannay first meets on the train to Scotland, and the Scottish farmer's randy wife Margaret).

The remaining cast of characters... male and female (spies, farmers, policemen, inn keepers, soldiers, traveling salesmen, etc.) are played by two marvelous comedy actors Glen Post as Clown #1 (Boonton) and Chip Prestera (Stirling) as Clown #2. They are outstanding, particularly as we observe their constant transformation into each character (nearly one-hundred costume changes) which alone is worth the price of admission....velcro has never been more important.

Possibly the most hilarious moments are when the Clowns and Hannay engage in exceptionally clever business with all sorts of props, doors, window frames, boxes, lamp posts, steering wheels, etc. Not to be overlooked is the excellent use of sound track music between scenes....all from Hitchcock movies, of course. Also, be alert for clever mentions of Hitchcock's film titles.

The director of this ingenious romp is Bell Wesel. Her "39 Steps" production team includes Scenic Designer Roy Pancirov; Scenic Painting Andrea Sickler; Costume Designer Tom Marshall assisted by Bev Wand; LightingDesigner is Richard Hennessy and Sound Designer is Joe DeVico.


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 6, 2012

The remaining performance dates are October 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8 PM and October 14 at 3 PM. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. There is ample free parking and excellent restaurants just steps away.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for youth/senior. To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to http://www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and click on the “TicketLeap” logo. The service is available 24 hours a day, and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance. The box office accepts phone reservations at (973) 635-7363. For more information, including details of CCP’s entire 2012-2013 season, visitwww.chathamplayers.org.

*Richard Hannay has been portrayed on screen in four versions of The Thirty Nine Steps by Robert Donat, Kenneth More, Robert Powell and Rupert Penry-Jones (in a 2008 BBC production), while Powell reprised the role for the ITVseries Hannay (1988–1989). The comic theatrical adaptation by Patrick Barlow opened in London's Tricycle Theatre, and after a successful run, transferred to the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly. Although drawing on Buchan's novel, it is chiefly influenced by Hitchcock's 1935 film adaptation. In January 2008, the show made its US Broadway premiere.



L-R: Erica Knight, David Cantor, Chip Prestera, Glen Post



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Review: Comedy gem with Liz Zazzi at the Theater Project


A quirky gem of a comedy is on stage at the Burgdorf Cultural Center in Maplewood featuring the the lady we consider 'The Queen of New Jersey comedy' the always wonderful Liz Zazzi. Zazzi always amazes us with her special talent to lift any production she is in. However, no special lift is needed in The Theater Project's off-the wall production of Jeff Whitty's "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" as directed by Mark Spina (The Theater Project's Artistic Director). In addition to his wisdom, along with Bev Sheehan, in casting Zazzi as the one of the most tragic women in literature, Hedda Gabler, their other cast choices are also spot-on.

First, one of the finest actors on anybody's stage, is Rick Delaney. Delaney plays Eilert Lovborg, another tragic figure from Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, plus several other characters from the world of fiction including even Medea, pre and post filicide, and Jesus; Gary Glor is perfect as Hedda's weak husband Tesman who has taken boring to a new level; two very funny gay fugitives (a la Boys in the Band) from the 1970's are played by Jason Gillis as Patrick and Dennis DaPrile as Steven;Rachelle M. Dorce, a product of Kean University's theatre program, displays fine talent, both singing and acting, as The Lady in Pink and others; Barbara Guidiwith a more limited role nicely supports the proceedings. Now we get to Rasha Jaywho is simply spectacular as Mammy the maid from Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind."

Now what is this play all about? Simply put it is a visit with some of literature and theater's most famous, and mostly tragic, characters who are trapped forever in an alternate world of constant repetition. In Hedda Gabler's case she strives to revolt from the final act of her play which, of course, always ends with her suicide. She vows to never commit suicide ever again and sets out to find Ibsen in the 'Furnace,' as only he has the power to change her place in literature. Mammy and the others join the quest with the same goal of changing their less than admirable places in fiction. In Mammy's case she has never questioned her constant role as a domestic until now, but she is tired of being rejected by other black characters as an offensive cliche and serving the needs of "whitey."

The laughs start early as we first meet Hedda Gabler waking up bewildered following her latest suicide to find husband Tesman, as boring as ever, with Mammy as her maid, and her neighbor on the Cul de Sac of the Tragic Heroines, Medea. On the journey that follows we meet a wide assortment of characters ranging from a science fiction movie monster, a tv cop, a Black feminist, two gay wisecracking young men from the 70's, Icarus still trying to fly, Hamlet, Apollo's Cassandra and even Biblical figures. In the end there is a hard truth about the change they have been seeking. Once they face it: Do they accept or reject it? (No spoiler here).

Note: this play bears no resemblance to any play by Neil Simon. Don't expect a standard plot.... just sit back and enjoy the hilarious ride. Read the program insert to be prepared for the other fictional characters that move through the play. It may not be until your ride home or later that you will more fully appreciate the playwright's bizarre, witty creation.

We give the final word(s) to Rick Delaney: "I think the play is serious in intent and brilliantly uses humor to get the audience to think. Jesus says that the audience members, sitting alone and watching, can feel more compassion for the imaginary characters than they do for the loved ones sitting along side them. I think each person in the audience will get something different from the play. Some will laugh more, some may get angry. They have to be willing to change! I hope people [in the audience] have as much fun as we do!"

Ready to laugh? Remember you only have this Thursday, October 4 through Sunday October 7 to see Liz, Rick and company in "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" at the Burgdorff Cultural Center, 10 Durand Road, Maplewood, New Jersey. Ample free street parking. For directions visitwww.thetheaterproject.org. The play runs about two hours including a 15 minute intermission. Enjoy the magic of live theatre with this marvelous group.

The production staff: Casting Director - Bev Sheehan, Set Design - Thomas Row, Light Design - Sam Gordon, Costume Design - Barbara Canace, Assistant Costume Design - Carol Rutledge, Properties Design - Madelyn Morrison Lichtman, Choreography - Amy Hadam, Sound Design - Greg Scalera, Stage Manager - Amy Hadam, Assistant Stage Manager - Will Budnikov, Technical Director - Joh Zaccone, Executive Producer - Daaimah Talley.     Photo by Kevin Sebastian


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 30, 2012
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New musical 'The Neighborhood' by Laura Ekstrand is a winner at Dreamcatcher


We first had the pleasure of seeing the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company perform two years ago at the Playwrights Theatre in Madison. The play was "Distraction" and we commented then that they were "one of the finest groups of actors we’ve had the pleasure of watching perform in a long time." The actors, mostly Equity pros, included Harriet Trangucci, Scott McGowan, Noreen Farley, Harry Patrick Christian and Jessica O’Hara-Baker. The director was the Artistic Director of the company, Laura Ekstrand.

Last night (Friday September 28, 2012) they all were on stage demonstrating their great chemistry, including Laura, in the premiere of a new musical, "The Neighborhood" with book and lyrics by Laura Ekstrand and music by Joseph Zawila. Directing this fast paced gem is Lauren Moran Mills. The location is the new home for Dreamcatcher at the Oakes Center at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. The impressive venue is a spacious and comfortable former church.

We went expecting major pro performances but, to be brutally honest, some concern about an original musical (translation: the success rate of original musicals is dismal so you normally expect a long night). However, and this is a big "however," what we experienced was one of the most enjoyable theatre events of the year. "The Neighborhood" is charming, clever, funny, delightful, heart-warming, and add your own adjectives to a wonderful evening of the most magical of entertainments, live theatre.

This marvelously talented group that also includes the fine comic talent of Dave Maulbeck spends two hours (minus a 15 minute intermission) capturing the sometimes crazy world of a neighborhood, all based on the stories of Dreamcatcher’s family of actors.

Cast of "The Neighborhood"

It is impossible not to recognize the foibles of those who live around us, and a few of our own. Via a series of mostly short vignettes they cover everything from noisy, over sexed, stand-offish neighbors to barking dogs and lonely spinsters seeking grey-haired companionship in a neighborhood overrun with yuppies and their little ones. Here is how Laura Ekstrand describes her creation; " How much (do) we really know about our neighbors, and how much we really want to know about them. These are the people we see every day on the train while commuting to work, the people next door whose dog drives us crazy, the people we wave at from a distance, and the people who cross the line from neighbor to friend by allowing us into their lives when it matters most."

Now "The Neighborhood" is billed as a musical, however it might be fairer to call it a play with music. Eight fine songs are sprinkled throughout the play; Act I- My Old Neighborhood…All, The Perfect House…Jessica with Jason, Scott and David, Single in the Suburbs…Harry, Little One...David and Laura, A Neighbor Is…Scott, Jason, Jessica. Act II -The PTA...Laura, Christmastime…Jason, All, The Neighborhood…Scott, All. They are all very clever, but the biggest audience pleaser is Laura's Act Two opener The PTA. She has great fun reciting the names of 62 PTA committees.


Laura, Jason & Scott

One of the many laughs of the night that registered with this writer comes in a commuter train scene with Jason Szamreta as a struggling actor (oxymoron?) heading to Manhattan for an audition and his nerdy, intrusive neighbor played perfectly by Dave Maulbeck who expresses concern for his job security. He realizes he is getting no sympathy from Jason and bluntly says "Of course, as an actor....you are always out of work!'

The other Neighborhood cast members Jessica O’Hara-Baker, Harry Patrick Christian and Harriett Trangucci all have fine fun turns, but Noreen Farley (fabulous in last season's "Blood...a comedy") and Scott McGowan are truly outstanding.

Director Lauren Moran Mills is ably assisted by a very experienced creative staff including; music director Jack Bender, scenic design Wesley Krantz (clever silhouettes of homes form the background), lighting design Zach Pizza, sound design Jeff Knapp, costume design Laura Ekstrand, and the all important stage manager/traffic cop Danielle Constance. Additional backstage support from assistant stage manager Sophie Schulman and the set crew: Julia Colicchio, Gloriann Figenshu, James Sullivan, Frank and Cathy Hawrusik. Overseeing the entire effort with Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand is the tireless Managing Director Steven McIntyre.


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 28, 2012


"The Neighborhood" will run through Sunday, October 14. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There will be talkbacks with the artists after the September 30 and October 7 matinee performances. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and students, with special rates for subscribers and groups. Purchase tickets online at www.dreamcatcherrep.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006. Seniors pay only $15 on advance purchases only on Senior Sunday, the September 30 matinee.

Performances are at The Oakes Center, located at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. Parking is available in the lot behind the theatre on Ashwood Avenue and at the Summit Recreation Center on Morris Avenue. The facility is wheelchair accessible. Assistive Listening devices for the hearing impaired and advance large print scripts are available by prior arrangement.


                                           ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++




Review: 'Noises Off' a stunning production at The Barn Theatre



The idea for the the hilarious British farce "NOISES OFF" was born in 1970 when English playwright Michael Frayn was standing in the wings watching aperformance of a farce that he had written. According to the playwright, "It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind." Thus, more than a decade later was born the play that would become an international hit about a second-rate theatrical touring company. We first saw a production of "Noises Off" when we lived in London in 1993. Later, in 2009 we saw it again here in New Jersey at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison. Last night we saw it again at The Barn theatre in Montville. If you don't know the theatre...it is an award-winning community theatre blessed with an enormous group of very talented actors and support staff, all, of course, volunteers (translation: no pay...you work for the love of the theatre). They perform in a first rate theatre with a barn like structure that is the envy of many professional companies.

We saw a stunning production of "NOISES OFF" with a wonderfully talented cast out Marx-ing the Marx Brothers at their madcap, door slamming, door opening wild best. Plus a most impressive moveable set far above what might be expected from a community theatre of non-professionals. But of course, this is The Barn Theatre that has for many years (85th season) won raves for the quality of its productions, certainly equal to Off-Broadway and very often better. Now I must point out that last night was "Noises Off" final performance of a run that started three weeks ago. What you say? This writer is reviewing a play that is striking its remarkable five-piece set as you read this! Yes, all true, but unfortunately the phethora of openings and family obligations this month prevented an earlier visit. Are we glad that the good folks at The Barn Theatre kindly extended the invitation knowing, of course, that this review would appear after the closing.

The ringmaster for this laugh-packed, fast-paced farce is the director Tom Blewitt. He has assembled a marvelous group of actors who demonstrate excellent physical comedy skills. "Noises Off" is the tale of a British touring theater company as it holds a disastrous final dress rehearsal of a sex farce "Nothing On." No-one seems prepared for opening night that is in less than 24 hours. They are missing cues, mishandling props (the sardines and the telephone in particular) and, the greatest sin of all, don't remember their lines.

The temperamental director Lloyd Davis (David Romankow) has more than his hands full dealing with this slightly wacky cast including: a demanding middle-aged leading lady, Dotty Otley, who is also a show investor (Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver); Freddy (Christopher J. Perez); a vain leading man whose nose bleeds at the slightest provocation Garry (Doug McLauglin) an easily excited actor who repeatedly tries to attack Freddy believing that Dotty is cheating on him; the emotional and overly-sensitive assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Jess Prekel); the young inexperienced actress from London, Brooke (Sarah Pollara) possibly a porn star, who wears nothing but a black undergarment for much of the show; Selsdon (William Horwitz) an alcoholic has-been, expert at missing both cues and lines, but excels at locating stashed whiskey bottles; the sensible Belinda (Erin Comer) and last, but far from least, the tireless stage manager Tim (Nick Wolf) who struggles to contain the lunacy around him while trying to get the show on. Again, the cast is terrific, with the two actors in the leading roles...Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver, as the wacky Dotty and Doug McLaughlin as Garry were particularly impressive. This was a very, very funny event.

We can't close without a tip of the hat to director Tom Blewitt's support staff: Anthony Rubolotta - producer; Omar Kozarsky - stage manager; Micah Lewis - assistant stage manager; Gregory Cilmi - set designer; Todd Mills - set design/construction; Laura Kennedy - set décor; Larry Wilbur - lighting designer; Jeff Knapp - sound design; Claudia Metz - properties; Christine Morgan - costume design; Rachel Persenair - hair/makeup.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 29, 2012

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For reservations to future productions, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn on the web at www.barntheatre.org.                                       ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Review: 'Peter Pan-the Musical at Growing Stage



Peter Pan and the Lost Boys

They are sprinkling "fairy dust" in the historic Palace Theater in Netcong. The season opener at The Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey, is J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan-the Musical." This is not the Styne, Comden and Green version of Peter Pan from 1954 with Mary Martin, but British composer Piers Chater Robinson's charming 1985 adaptation of J.M. Barrie's book for the stage. This version has been an audience favorite in London's West End and theatres around the world for the past 25 plus years. All the J.M. Barrie characters are still there - Peter Pan, Wendy, John, Michael, Captain Hook and his sidekick Smee, Tiger Lily, the Lost Boys, pirates, Neverland Indians, and Tinker Bell. The primary differences are the music, Robinson's music, however, is delightful and serves a young audience very well and due to the stage limitations, there is no 'flying" via wires, but the use of several clever devices, including puppets, substitute nicely.

The classic characters are brought to life on stage by director Stephen L. Fredericks, the Growing Stage’s Executive Director, and the very able cast of Equity professionals supported by an impressive group of young performers. The cast of twenty-seven is led by Emily Cara Portune in the title role; Casey Elizabeth Gill as Wendy; Jeremy William Hilgert as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook; Lori Lawrence as Mrs. Darling/Tiger Lily; Danny Campos as Captain Hook's first mate Smee and Becky Nitka as Hook's mate Starkey.


Emily Cara Portune, with her athletic moves and fine voice, is a perfect Peter Pan. The attractive Casey Elizabeth Gill is Wendy, blessed with a beautiful voice and acting talent. Jeremy William Hilgert is a fine Mr. Darling, totally dominated by his wife and children, in other words totally normal. His Captain Hook outfitted beautifully in proper pirate captain attire, is appropriately nasty, without terrifying any of the younger members of the audience. Playing Mrs. Darling, Lori Lawrence is the epitome of an English lady. The fun begins when she reappears as Tiger Lily the strong fearless leader of the Neverland Indians. Playing Smee is a Growing Stage favorite, and Oliver Hardy lookalike, Danny Campos. As with the other Equity team members, Danny is obviously enjoying every minute on stage feeding off the attention particularly from the youngest members of the audience who are, as you would expect, wide eyed in the spectacle provided by live performers just a few feet away.

Another Growing Stage favorite, and professional, is Becky Nitka fine as the mate Starkey (Becky, apparently, gets her love of the theatre, and talent, from her Dad, Steve, a very talented community theatre regular). Also in Hook's villainous crew is P.J. Schweizer as Bill Jukes. Chief sprinkler of "fairy dust" in any production of Peter Pan is Tinker Bell normally seen via a small spot light, however in this version a young lady with marvelous dancing skills Peyton Crimi brings Tinker Bell nicely to life.

Now here are the other cast members; Matthew Fralley (Mullins), Connor Kamp (Michael), Lindsey McLaughlin (John), The Boys; Dalton Allison (Tootles), Grace Brizek (Nibs), Giselle Gonzales (Slightly) and Sydney Reynolds (Curly), The Twins: Sal Constantino and Justin Watt; The Neverland Indians: Alana Claffey, Kimberly Jackson, Jennifer Andreacchi, Lexi Halbur, Jillian McLaughlin, Amanda Beck, Carly Berkeland, Savannah Doelfel, Rachel Thomas and Lauren Santarelli.

Director Stephen L. Fredericks production team includes; musical direction Laura Petrie, choreography Jillian Petrie, stage manager Rosemary Glennon, costumes Lori B. Lawrence, and Set/Props/Puppets Perry Arthur Kroeger.

This is superior family entertainment that will dazzle the youngest members of the family, amaze the older children and amuse the adults. Treat the kids to the magic of live theater.


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 22, 2012


Growing Stage - The Children’s Theater of New Jersey’s production of "Peter Pan – the Musical" runs until October 14th, with performances on Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 p.m.

The Growing Stage introduces Fantastic Fridays with all tickets $15! Saturday and Sunday tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children and seniors. To place your reservation, please contact the Growing Stage Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or e-mail at boxoffice@growingstage.com. Group rates and Birthday Party packages are available.


The Growing Stage is located in the Historic Palace Theatre on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey (Just off I-80).

The Growing Stage is a professional member of the Association of Actor’s Equity.
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Review: 'The Fantasticks' at Women's Theater Company



Question: What began as a summer theater production at Barnard College; opened Off-Broadway in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village; became the longest-running musical production in the history of stage with 17,162 performances; and is currently playing at The Women's Theater Company in Parsippany? The answer: "The Fantasticks" the romantic, funny, tale of love between a boy, a girl, a wall and two manipulating mothers (Yes, mothers, not two fathers as in the original, remember this is a production of The Women's Theater Company.

The director, and a New Jersey cultural treasure, Barbara Krajkowski* has made this change work perfectly. It works in large part due to the two fine actresses, Bridget Burke Weiss (the girl's mother) and Perry Award winner Lynn Hart (the boy's mother). Incidentally, Ms. Hart reminds us of a much younger version of the great British actress Judi Dench. .

The show has opened the 20th season at the Women’s Theater Company which is located in The Parsippany Playhouse, 1130 Knoll Road, an intimate and comfortable black box theater.

"The Fantasticks" was the creation of Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music). The musical score includes two songs that have become popular worldwide “Try to Remember” and Soon it’s Gonna Rain.”

It is small scale musical, with minimalist set design, that has a cast of eight including veteran actor, J.C Hoyt, who performed in the original Sullivan Street production. Hoyt's spot-on performance as the faded Shakespearean actor Henry, who makes his entrance by climbing out of an old trunk, is worth the price of admission alone. El Gallo, the outlaw narrator in cowboy garb, is the handsome, fine voiced, WTC favorite Marc G. Dalio. He sets a perfect calm tone asking the audience to use their imagination and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic...projecting nicely that all will be fine in the end. Marc has impressive Broadway credits, e.g. "Beauty and the Beast' and "Miss Saigon."

Chelsea Rose Friedlander and Michael Restaino make an attractive, believable young couple who find love, lose love, but regain love after experiencing the harder side of life. Chelsea has an impressive opera trained voice and Michael displays the right amount of naivete as he ventures out into the cruel real world. Hovering around the actors is a marvelous mime played by another WTC favorite Lea Antolini-Lid (at WTC in "The Last Five Years"). Also making his entrance by climbing out of the old trunk with J.C.Hoyt is Scott Tyler as Mortimer, Henry's all-purpose assistant. Scott displays a great talent for comedy, particularly when he is helping carry out a comic abduction. We expect to see him in bigger roles in the near future.

Now, remember that "The Fantasticks" is a musical. Fortunately, Barbara Krajkowski was able to get one of the very best musical directors in the Tri-state area Warren Helms. Warren excels on the keyboard along with one of the most in-demand bass players Tim Metz. It is amazing the sound that just two instrumentalists produce. One of the other important elements in the production is the artistic movement/dancing required. Credit for the choreography goes to Meridith Johnson and Lea Antolini-Lid.

Whether it is your first time seeing the show, as it was ours, or your twentieth time, the production at The Women's Theater Company will make it clear why "The Fantasticks" has been so popular for 52 years. It is fun, charming, romantic and, most important, a 'feel good' event. Hurry you have only until the 30th to see it.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 23, 2012

The "Fantasticks!' runs through September 30th, with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.

Tickets are $20 general admission and $18 for seniors. For more information or to reserve your tickets please contact the box office at 973-316-3033 or log ontoww.womenstheater.org (new web address).

The Women’s Theater Company is located at The Parsippany Playhouse, 1130 Knoll Road, Parsippany, NJ 07005. Parking is free.

* NJ theater pioneer Barbara Krajkowski (photo), who is also the founder and artistic director of The Women’s Theater Company. Ms. Krajkowski’s honors include: “2008 Outstanding Arts Advocate” from the Arts Council of the Morris Area; the “2009 Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment” Award by the Garden State Woman Magazine; and “2010 Female Legend of Morris County” by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce.


Cast photo credit: WTC

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Review: Impressive adaptation of 'Oliver Twist' at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

Ames Adamson (Fagin) and Quentin McCuiston (Oliver) 

The greatest writer in English fiction after Shakespeare is unquestionably Charles Dickens. Three of his most memorable characters are Fagin, Bill Sykes and The Artful Dodger, villains all, from one of Dickens' most famous books....Oliver Twist, of course. Oliver Twist was Dickens' second novel published in 1838 and is, and was, an important work that highlighted the many social ills of Victorian England particularly the cruel treatment of children. The story and the characters based in part on Dickens' own early youth as a child laborer are as familiar to us as any work of fiction ever written. Our memory and appreciation of the story has been further enhanced by the fact that Oliver Twist has been the subject of several film and television adaptations, both British and American, and is the basis for the highly successful, but sanitized, Lionel Bart musical play and the multiple Academy Award winning 1968 movie version.

British playwright, author, and director, Neil Bartlett who previously adapted Dickens' Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, has instead captured the dark, grimy world of Victorian London using only Dickens' original words. Following the play's premiere (to much critical acclaim) in London, Bartlett wrote “the first decision taken was that the adaptation would be made out of Dickens’ original language and nothing but. Indeed, the extraordinary energy and volatility, the sadistic black comedy and sheer dramatic guts of Dickens’ actual sentences are the raisons d’etre of this piece. I wanted the show to be as alarming, compelling and as wickedly comic as Dickens’ words are.”

This past weekend the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey launched their Fall portion of its 50th Anniversary season with a most impressive production of Bartlett's adaptation of Oliver Twist. Director Brian B. Crowe, in his seventeenth season with The Shakespeare Theatre, has assembled in this New Jersey debut a marvelous cast of 13,11 of whom double 30 parts, and all perfectly capture the look and language of both the dangerous dark underworld of pickpockets, other thieves and prostitutes, and the more genteel "upstairs" world of the city's advantaged citizenry.

The two actors who don't double are Quentin McCuiston, fine in the very sober title role of Oliver. McCuiston delivers the classic, most memorable, Dickens line "Please, sir, I want some more," and Corey Tazmania is excellent as the soft-hearted Nancy, mistress/prostitute to Bill Sykes.

Ames Adamson covers several parts, but it is as the master teacher of the young pickpockets, the self-confessed miser Fagin that he excels. His courtroom plea for mercy, as a verdict of hanging is a certainty, is a dramatic high point in the play. The truly brutal Bill Sykes is played by Jeffrey M. Bender who is properly menacing in sharp contrast to his other comic role as the sour Mrs. Sowerberry, the undertaker's wife. The parts can't get more different.

Our favorite character is Mr. Bumble, a parish beadle played with great humor by Eric Hoffmann. He is nicely supported by Mrs. Corney, matron of the workhouse where we first meet Oliver. The fine actress Tina Stafford is totally convincing, if not menacing, as Mrs. Corney. Fagin's leading boys are Robbie Collier Sublett as the Artful Dodger and Andy Paterson as the thief Charley Bates. Other fine performances are by John Little as Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's grandfather, Meg Kiley Smith as his daughter Rose Brownlow, Andrew Boyer as Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker. Also in the cast are George Abud and David Andrew Laws.

Director Brian B. Crowe's production staff includes the set designer Brian Ruggaber, costume designer Nancy Leary, lighting designer Andrew Hungerford, sound designer Steven Beckel. production stage manager Josiane M. Lemieux, dramaturg Emily Anne Gibson and music direction by Kris Kukul.

Oliver Twist may be a very familiar tale, but this adaptation is fascinating, the acting, as always at the STNJ, completely first-rate, with several truly outstanding performances, the excellent set with clever changes, plus perfect costumes, all combine for us to rate the production at Four-Stars.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 15, 2012.

The production continues through Oct. 7 at The Shakespeare Theatre’s Main Stage - the intimate F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday evenings, and Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $32 to $70. Student rush tickets are available for $10. For tickets or for more information, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org. The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), in Madison.

For each production, The Shakespeare Theatre presents the popular education program Know the Show. From 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre will present a pre-performance talk that provides background information and an insider’s perspective on the production. The Know the Show performance will be held on Thursday, September 20th at 8:00 p.m. General admission is $5 forthe general public, $4 for ticket package holders and subscribers. Tickets to that evening’s 8:00 p.m. performance may be purchased separately.

The 2 pm performance on September 29th will be audio described for those who are blind or have visual impairments. Audio description enables patrons with visual impairments to hear, through an FM transmitter, a live description of the action on the stage. A pre-performance sensory seminar is offered that allows patrons to feel props, costumes and set pieces to further enhance their live theatrical experience. The service is offered free of charge.
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Review: Very funny 'Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike' at McCarter Center


Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce (T.Charles Erickson)
"Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" is the title of a new play from the man who gave us "Beyond Therapy" and "Miss Witherspoon" Christopher Durang, The play is a McCarter Theatre Center commission, that is playing in the Berlind Theatre through October 14. Following the McCarter, on October 25 it will open at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater.

Not only is it a very funny evening of absurd satire from the master of satire Durang, it is blessed with a fantastic cast that includes three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver, four-time Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce, and Obie Award winner Kristine Nielsen. The supporting cast members, also all superb, are Genevieve Angelson, Shalita Grant, and Billy Magnussen. Unique to this play, each cast member has a semi-neurotic solo comic turn that earned a 'showstopping' response from the packed house on Opening Night.

This production, as you may have guessed, is inspired by Chekhov, but with a modern twist by Durang. It starts in an idyllic setting, a country house in Bucks County Pennsylvania (marvelous set) with Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) calmly at rest in the morning room overlooking a pond, reading while sipping his morning coffee, normally provided by his adopted sister Sonia ( Kristine Nielsen). This morning however, the possibly bi-polar, Sonia was tardy and is outraged that he made his own coffee. Her reaction to this dastardly deed is over the top. We reveal only that work was provided for the cleaning lady. Sonia for many years cared for their parents right up to their demented end and now her only sense of worth is providing for her fellow 50 something brother Vanya. The two have lived in the house since childhood. Their names, of course, were selected by their professor parents active in local Bucks County community theater.

Neither Vanya or Sonia have ever been employed, although Vanya has play writing ambitions. Neither, have ever been, or even close to being married, Sonia cries "I haven't lived'' and Vanya is 'quietly' gay, i.e. with no apparent relationships. They are living on the good graces of their, dare we say fading, stage and film star sister Masha (the always impressive Sigourney Weaver) who owns the house and pays all the expenses.

Masha who has been absent for several years returns with an objective that promises to alter Vanya and Sonia's lives dramatically. She arrives dramatically, but again remember she's a movie star who never lets anyone forget her exalted status in society, with toy-boy Spike ( Billy Magnussen). Her previous romantic encounters included five failed marriages.

Oversexed Spike is happiest when wearing next to nothing, which discreetly registers with Vanya. Keeping the four in line is the sassy cleaning lady Cassandra (the outstanding Shalita Grant) who gets more than her share of laughs as she delights in bursting the pretentious Masha and Spike's balloons. She claims psychic powers and dabbles in voodoo magic. She hilariously applies her voodoo skills on Masha in an attempt to alter her plans.

Early in the play, Masha informs the household that she has been invited to a costume party at the nearby former home of Dorothy Parker. Naturally, only the famous locals are invited, but she has had them (Vanya, Sonia, and Spike) invited in order for her to complete her costume theme (sorry, no reveal/spoiler here either).

Rounding out the cast is a very young theater student from next door, Nina (Genevieve Angelson). Nina is in awe of Masha, while gaining attention from the young stud, Spike....much to Masha's considerable displeasure. She gets to demonstrate her acting talent to Masha via a reading of Vanya's unfinished play. She convincingly plays a molecule.

The plot may be thin and a bit obvious but this is a very enjoyable play with many hysterical moments, particularly David Hyde Pierce's scene where he vents his frustration with Spike who is rudely texting during the play reading This leads to a rant about modern, sterile, solo communication, e.g. e-mail and texting, versus the shared event days of the 1950's. He recalls particularly the tv programs of the period...from Ed Sullivan to Howdy Doody to the very mis-named Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Deserving of further mention for their very funny contributions are Shalita Grant as Cassandra and Kristine Nielsen as Sonia (particularly her transformation during and after the party).

The unseen stars of the evening: first and foremost, is director Nicholas Martin plus his production team; David Korins designed the great set, Emily Rebholz provided excellent costumes, Justin Townsend designed the lighting, Mark Bennett is responsible for sound design and wrote the original music used to bridge the scenes, Daniel Swee provided perfect casting, and Cheryl Mintz is the production stage manager.

You have until October 14 (the run was extended one week) to see "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" at the very comfortable Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Center (stadium seating), with free parking, no tolls and lower ticket prices than the Lincoln Center where the play opens on October 25.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 14, 2012


For tickets, call (609) 258-2787; visit online at www.mccarter.org; or in person at the McCarter


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Review: Political drama 'Farragut North' at Premiere Stages





Farragut North at Premiere Stages in Union is a riveting political drama from playwright Beau Willimon. This is a fascinating story of political spin doctors who make their living practicing the highly specialized art of campaign management where morals are checked at the door and any means to victory including all shades of lies, trickery and worse are not only acceptable, but expected. These are the people who write the campaign speeches, issue press releases, and manipulate the press via press conferences or one-on-one conversations, in turn, of course, the voters. They have no loyalty to any candidate... they are simply hired guns who are trying to attribute saint-like qualities to their candidate while painting a picture of the opponent reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's debauched Dorian Gray. The title Farragut North, is the name of a downtown Washington Metro station located near the offices of lobbyists and advocacy groups who do their own 'spinning.'

The story centers around an aggressive, vulgar, over-reaching 25 year old press secretary named Stephen Bellamy, played to perfection by the very impressive Philip Mills. He has become an admirer of his candidate an evidently rare occurrence in the profession. Bellamy early in the play remarks “This thing, it’s got me starry-eyed again,” and “It’s reminded me of why I got into politics in the first place.” Actually the entire cast as assembled by director Michael Barakiva is excellent. Playing Bellamy's boss Paul, the campaign manager for the unseen presidential hopeful Governor Morris, is Paul Bernardo. Paul (the character) operates on a slightly higher moral plain than Bellamy, but he too is simply a hired hand who goes from election to election and candidate to candidate regardless of cause or party affiliation.

Paul's counterpart at the camp of opponent Pullman is Tom, played by Steven Hauck, who has his own arsenal of dirty tricks. Rounding out the Equity members of the cast is Roya Shanks as Ida, a reporter for the New York Times and Steven Carter as Ben, the assistant press secretary. Holding her own with this fine cast is non-equity member Cara Ganski, a drama junior at Kean University, home of Premiere Stages. Cara is Molly, a very attractive 19 year old intern who may be trying to out-Lewinsky even Monica...or is she? The other non-equity member is Erick Gonzalez who nicely doubles as the Waiter and Frank, a Los Angeles reporter.

Also deserving of credit in this four star production are the members of director Michael Barakiva's production staff; First, set design, a very effective, attractive use of space, by Joseph Gourley, Nadine Charlsen designed the lighting, costumes by Karen Hart, the women's outfits were particularly attractive, one of the best uses of video projection we've seen was the work of Kevin R. Frech, Clare Drobot served as the dramaturg, and Dale Smallwood is the all important stage manager.

If this plot sounds familiar, Farragut North was produced for the screen by George Clooney last year. The title was changed to The Ides of March.







Producing artistic director John Wooten of Premiere Stages has produced this New Jersey premiere of Farragut North in collaboration with the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy and is supported by the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters have a booth at all performances to register Union County voters. “The upcoming presidential campaign promises to be one of the most fascinating in history” said John Wooten, “Regardless of party affiliation, this collaborative premiere will provide audiences with a great deal of insight into the process before they enter the voting booth. Only at Premiere Stages can you see an excellent production and register to vote at the same time.”

Bottom line: Farragut North is an excellent compelling drama, well directed and features a superior cast, this is a four star event. The most common word from fellow theater goers as we exited was "Wonderful." Once again we thrilled to the realization that "Theater is alive and well in New Jersey."

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 8, 2012

Farragut North runs until September 23rd with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $30 standard, $20 senior citizen and $15 student. Significant discounts for groups of 10 or more apply. To make reservations call Kean Box Office at 908.737.SHOW (7469) or visit www.kean.edu/premierestages.

All performances take place on the Kean University campus, located at 1000 Morris Avenue in the intimate Zella Fry Theatre of the Vaughn Eames Fine Arts Building.

Premiere Stages offers air-conditioned facilities and free parking close to the fully accessible spaces. Free or discounted tickets to patrons with disabilities are available. Please call for a list of sign-interpreted, audio-described or open-captioned performances. Assistive listening devices and large print programs are available upon request. Publications in alternate forms are available with advanced notice.

Premiere Stages is made possible in part through funding from The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Shubert Foundation, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Provident Bank Foundation, The Northfield Bank Foundation, The Westfield Foundation, The New Jersey Theatre Alliance, The New Jersey Historical Commission, The National Science Foundation and through the generous support of individual patrons. For further information, call Premiere Stages at 908-737-4092.



Philip Mills as STEPHEN and Cara Ganski as MOLLY









Roya Shanks, Philip Mills, Steven Carter and Paul Bernardo






Steven Hauck and Philip Mills

Photos by Roy Groething



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Theatre Center Ticket Office at 91 University Place in Princeton.Review: 'Jersey Voices' impressive at the Chatham Playhouse



The joy of live theatre can be experienced this coming weekend at the Chatham Playhouse, home of the award-winning The Chatham Community Players. The CCP is impressively hosting, for the 18th year, a remarkable theatrical event.... "Jersey Voices." It is an all-New Jersey, all original One-Act Festival featuring plays written by New Jersey playwrights and produced, directed and acted by New Jersey artists.

The CCP's Artistic Director, Bob Lukasik explained in his introductory remarks this past Saturday night that they annually receive as many as 100 original works that "run the gamut from comedy to heart gripping drama and the themes cover many aspects of life such as loss, fear and unconditional love." A committee, that includes CCP producer Bob Denmark, makes the final selections from the many submissions. This year they 'green lighted' six short, original one-act plays. Guiding the plays were 2 veteran directors and 4 directors new to the Playhouse. Each director did his or her own casting.

To say that the selection, the staging and performances were impressive may be a gross understatement. More so when you remember this is a community theatre of all volunteers. Each play was excellent, nicely directed and performed. Several actors gave absolutely stand-out performances that deserve special applause. The actors we placed in this category were Jean Kuras, Jeffry Foote and Terri Sturtevant (who's solo performance in "Ping" won a standing ovation). The entire event is another example of the marvelous acting, directing, and oh yes...writing talent we have in the Garden State.

The six plays were divided equally with three pre-intermission and three post-intermission. The total time is about two hours. The fact that the evening consists of six separate, different themed plays that are obviously short and each ends with a nice plot twist presents a bit of a reviewing conundrum. In other words, we will only include here the author's description with no further plot discussion.

The plays in order of presentation were:



Scott Tyler & Miriam Salerno 
The Portrait Gallery by Gary Shaffer of Toms River - An older gentleman sits quietly on a bench viewing paintings at a museum gallery, while a younger woman sits quietly on the floor sketching one the hanging portraits. Another man enters the gallery, disrupting their world and learns there is indeed more there than meets the eye. The actors: Miriam Salerno is the younger woman, Scott Tyler is the intruder and Jim Clancy the older gentleman. Directed by Stephen Catron.

Cooper Sachs & Jean Kuras
6 in the Kid by Ralph Greco, Jr. of Clifton - A young aspiring writer interviews with a famous playwright to be a research assistant. But the playwright may not be exactly who they seem to be; or maybe they don't really want a research assistant after all. This features Cooper Sacks as the writer, Jean Kuras as the famous playwright and Terri Sturtevant as her assistant. Directed by Joann Scanlon of Chatham.

The Buffer by Mike Allegra of Scotch Plains - Sarah has convinced Bill to go out with her best friend and her friend’s annoying, unemployed husband. Bill, who dislikes the husband, realizes that he is going as a “buffer” and doesn’t want to go. Couples negotiations ensue, with an unexpected outcome. This production features Jeff Foote (Fine comedy talent) and Jessica Phelan. Directed by Paul Bettys.
Jessica Phelan & Jeff Foote 

The Incident Report by E.M. Lewis of Princeton- When a passenger ends up dead on a plane, an aviation safety investigator attempts to discover the truth of what happened. This features Brian Carroll, Jeff Maschi, Chip Prestera, Jim Clancy and Jessica Phelan. Directed by Chris Messineo.

Children of September by Eric Alter of West Orange - Sometimes wanting to believe is all we have ... and all we need. This features Liz Royce, Maude Weiss, and Brett Levin. Directed by Frank Briamonte.


Terri Sturtevant
Ping by Mary Jane Walsh of Basking Ridge - A one-woman play that depicts, in a riveting fashion, a mother's unwavering love for her grown child. This production stars the wonderful Terri Sturtevant. Directed by Arnold Buchiane.

One production comment: All of the plays except "Children" are presented in the flat forward stage area closest to the audience. The "Children of September" featuring a fine young actress Maude Weiss and the excellent Liz Royce, however is presented from the back of the rear raised stage.... the greatest distance possible from the audience. We overheard several members of the audience seated in our vicinity comment on the difficulty in hearing some of the dialogue. Both the cast and the audience would be better served with a set-up, regardless of the added time, in the foreground space. If that's not possible, just setting the furniture closer to the apron could be an improvement.

Bottom line...we enjoyed the entire evening. It's certainly normal to expect different levels of performance and play interest in a multi-play event such as this, but that was not the case. The play selection committee made fine choices. Artistic Director, Bob Lukasik, producer Bob Denmark and the team at the Chatham Community Players deserve their own round of applause. We look forward to the 91st season of the CCP. It starts on October 5 with the comedy-thriller "39 Steps."

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio July 28, 2012

The remaining performance dates are Friday and Saturday evenings, August 3 and 4. All performances begin at 8 p.m. at the Chatham Playhouse 23 North Passaic Ave Chatham, NJ. Tickets are $15 for adults (19 and older) and $10 for youth (18 and under). They can be ordered by visiting CCP’s Web site at www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and clicking on TicketLeap. For more information, call the box office at (973) 635-7363 or go to www.chathamplayers.org.

It is highly recommended that tickets be purchased in advance. Patrons with special needs requiring seating accommodations should contact the Playhouse at least 24 hours prior to the performance. Without prior notice, accommodations cannot be guaranteed.

Note; Plenty of free parking, both curbside and in the community pool area across from the Playhouse. Excellent restaurants line Main Street Chatham just around the corner. Seats are not reserved.

                                                       +++++++++++++++++++++++++

Review: 'Nunsense' fun at the Bickford








Normally at this time of the year very few theatres,either professional or community are active. Most mount their annual schedules to cover the September to May period. The lone professional exception has been the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey with a play schedule from May to December. The STNJ is currently running two plays, "The Liar" indoors at the Kirby Theatre and Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" on the outdoor stage on the campus of St. Elizabeth's College in Convent Station.

This summer we can happily report that we have a third professional opportunity to enjoy the excitement of live theatre, thanks to Eric Hafen, the Artistic Director of the gem of a theatre, The Bickford. Hafen, celebrating his 10th season at the Bickford, is presenting, and directing, a perfect summer confection.... the very funny, family friendly musical comedy "Nunsense" with book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin. The play which first opened off-Broadway in 1985 and ran for 3,672 performances, second only to "Fantastics" has been so successful that it has spawned six sequels. It certainly fits the definition of "a hit."

The wacky plot concerns a convent in Hoboken that is presenting an all-Nunperforming fund raiser at a local theatre complete with scenery for an amateur production of "Grease." The Little Sisters of Hoboken are in need of cash in a hurry due to a "minor" accident in the convent kitchen by their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God. She has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds to complete the burials. Their funds ran out after burying 48...the remaining four are resting in the kitchen freezer....a big "no-no" with the Hoboken Health Department. This unique predicament is recognized in song...."We've Got to Clean Out the Freezer"!

 The cast consists of five nuns; Gwendolyn F. Jones (Reverend Mother Mary Regina), Geraldine Leer (Sister Hubert) Kristen Michelle (Sister Mary Amnesia) Amanda Yechechak (Sr. Mary Leo) and Katie Mott (Sr. Robert Anne) and on piano Father Dan ( Music Director Wayne Mallette).

Each of the five nuns is nicely cast and demonstrate considerable talent, but the star-turn belongs to the wonderful Broadway veteran, Gwendolyn F. Jones. She is an absolutely perfect Mother Superior. She may be a large lady, but she moves gracefully, sings with charm and is blessed with fine comic timing. Geraldine Leer plays the second in command Sister Hubert who plans some day when she becomes the M.S. to elevate the Little Sisters of Hoboken to The Big Sisters of Newark. She and Gwendolyn F. Jones have a fun time with the duet "Just A Coupla Sisters." Kristen Michelle ("So You Want to Be a Nun"), Amanda Yechechak ("Benedicite") and Katie Mott (" I Just Want to Be a Star") each have fine amusing solo singing turns. In total there are 19 musical numbers all clever, bright, and nice on the ear.

Director Hafen's creative team includes Music Director: Wayne Mallette, Choreographer: Laurie Piro, Set and Lighting Designer: Lewis Perlmutter, Costume Designer: Andrea Dante, Properties Designer: Danielle Pietrowski, and Production Stage Manager: Yumi Matsuura.

Don't be put off if you are not Catholic, this is a very ecumenical laugh-fest. If you are Catholic you are sure to enjoy the loving pokes at the church provided by the Little Sisters of Hoboken. Many of the jokes, puns and turns of phrase may be of the less sophisticated variety, but the ladies are clearly having fun performing their fund raiser and it is contagious. In fact, forgive me, habit-forming! You have until August 12, 2012 to participate in the fun. Note: "Nunsense" is recommended for audiences age 12 and over.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio July 21, 2012

The remaining performance dates: Wednesday at 7:30 pm August 8, Thursdays at 2 pm August 2, 9, Thursdays at 7:30 pm July 26, Fridays at 8 July 27, Aug. 3 & 10, Sat. at 2 pm July 28, Saturdays at 8 pm July 28, Aug. 4, Sundays at 2 pm July 29, Aug. 5 &12.

Tickets: Reserved seats are $45 for the General Public; $40 for Senior Citizens; $38 for Morris Museum and Bickford Theatre Guild Members; $20 for Students (18 or under or with valid college ID); and $30 Groups (10 or more). For tickets or more information, please contact the Bickford Theatre Box Office at 973.971.3706 or visit www.bickfordtheatre.org. The Bickford Theatre is conveniently located within the Morris Museum and offers free parking and full accessibility. Box Office hours for phone sales are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-up hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Review: The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ's 'The Liar' is great fun





(L-R) Jim Hopkins, Brian Cade and Kevin Isola (Gerry Goldstein)


The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is presenting two marvelous comedies this July. The first is Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" at the outdoor amphitheatre on the campus of St. Elizabeth's College, the second, that we reviewed, quite appropriately on Bastille Day (July 14, 2012), is "The Liar" a classic farce that has been translated and adapted with great wit by American playwright David Ives from the work of 17th century French playwright Pierre Corneille. Actually Corneille based the "The Liar" on a Spanish play of mistaken identity.

Directing this fun-filled romp is the 21-year veteran of the STNJ, Paul Mullins. Mullins most recently directed the surprise comedy hit of last season "Accidental Death of an Anarchist." Mullins' terrific comedy lead in "Accidental", Kevin Isola, gives a stand-out performance in "The Liar" as the crafty servant, Cliton who can not tell a lie. This affliction is particularly unsatisfactory since his employer, the handsome and charming Dorante (played by the excellent Brian Cade), who has arrived in Paris seeking a suitable bride, is incapable of telling the truth. Dorante believes the best and quickest route to his marital goal is to fabricate outlandish tales of conquest both in the boudoir and on the battlefield.

Dorante, on his very first day in Paris, meets two beautiful young women, who are not only close friends, but live on the same exclusive street and each has a servant. Here is where the fun and resulting confusion starts and ends. The two servants, Isabella and Sabine are twin sisters (played to perfection by Katie Fael). Sabine serves the charming Clarice (Jane Pfitsch) and Isabella serves Clarice's best friend, the quiet, but attractive Lucrece (Maya Kazan). Dorante falls in love with... Clarice, whom he unfortunately mistakes for her friend Lucrece. He spends most of the two-hour hilarious adventure pursuing her via every means possible including a dark midnight rendezvous and a passionate note. Rounding out the fine cast is Clark Carmichael as Alcippe, Clarice's secret and very jealous fiance. One of the comedy high points is a swordless duel between Dorante and Alcippe. Playing Dorante's father, who is also in Paris to arrange a marriage for his master liar of a son, is the impressive Jim Hopkins. Lastly, James Russell has fun has Philiste, Alcippe's friend.

What takes this play to a special level, adding greatly to the enjoyment, is that the entire play is delivered in very clever, very amusing modern rhyming verse. "The Liar" is a fun romantic event that, of course, has a happy ending (with a nice twist). How the tale is resolved, naturally, requires a visit to the Kirby Theatre ASAP. The run ends July 29.

Paul Mullins' production team includes the set designer Michael Schweikardt, who has designed one set with a Parisian backdrop, that works for all scenes via the simple placement of potted plants, a bench and curtains. The colorful, nicely detailed period costumes are the work of costume designer Candida K. Nicols. The lighting designer is Andrew Hungerford, and the sound designer is Karin Graybash. Holding it all together is Allison Cote who serves as production stage manager.For tickets or for more information, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org. The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), in Madison, New Jersey.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio July 14, 2012




(L-R) Maya Kazan, Jane Pfitsch and Katie Fael (Gerry Goldstein)


________________________________________________________________
Photo by Jerry Dalia, From left
to right: Darius de Haas, Saycon Sengbloh, Jerold E. Solomon, Kenita R. Miller, Aurelia
Williams, Alan Mingo Jr., Syesha Mercado and Courtney Reed.


"There is an island where rivers run deep.Where the sea sparkling in the sun earns it  the name Jewel of the Antilles. An island where the poorest of peasants labor. And the wealthiest of grands hommes play. Two different worlds on an island! The grands hommes, with their pale brown skins and their French ways. Owners of the land and masters of their own fates. And the peasants, black as night, eternally at the mercy of the wind and the sea, who pray constantly... to the gods." These are lyrics from the fun all-singing and dancing  calypso-flavored musical "Once On This Island"  which opened officially Sunday at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey.

The final production of the 2011-12 season is billed as a 'reinvention' of the musical first presented in 1990-91
Composers Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), they had a major hit with "Ragtime," have re-imagined their first musical with impressive help from Broadway veteran and Tony-nominated director Thomas Kail, exciting dancing from choreographer Bradley Rapier, new bright orchestrations by music director Lynne Shankel, clever colorful sets and props (masks and puppets), and a talented cast of exceptionally energetic singers and dancers who form a perfect ensemble.

The result is a happy songfest that will be a major live theatre treat, particularly for young adults and the even younger. Veteran theatre goers will be familiar with this Caribbean fantasy which is based on the book My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy with a mix of Romeo and Juliet and the pre-Disney Little Mermaid tale from Hans Christian Andersen. "Once On This Island" is an all too rare event that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

In regard to the fine cast of professionals, the stand-out is the former American Idol finalist
Syesha Mercado who has been cast as Ti Moune. Ti Moune is a peasant girl who lives on the poor side of an island once occupied by the French. She rescues and nurses back to health while, of course, falling in love with a handsome fair skinned young man Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. In so doing she uses the power of love to bring together people of different social classes. Mercado as Ti Moune is not only impressive vocally, but demonstrates that she can move and shake with the best of the dancers. Her big number is "Waiting for Life," where she yearns for the future she feels she has been promised by the gods.

The veteran Broadway cast that director 
Thomas Kail has recruited is simply superb; this includes the very able and handsome Adam Jacobs as Daniel. Jacobs, as an example of the major Broadway credits of the cast, comes to the Paper Mill from playing Simba in Disney's The Lion King, Marius in the recent Broadway revival of Les Misérables and starred in the title role of the world premiere of Disney's Aladdin. 
Also, deserving of special notice are the two fine performers playing Ti Moune's parents, Kevin R. Free is Tonton Julian, Ti Moune's father and Kenita R. Miller is Mama Euralie, Ti Moune's mother, they adopted the orphan Ti Moune after finding her in a tree having survived a shipwreck. Ms. Miller is a very special joyous presence on this stage. She, Kevin Free and Syesha Mercado shine in the song of parting "Ti Moune."

The rest of the marvelous cast includes;  Darius de Haas as Agwe, the god of water; Alan Mingo, Jr. has the villainous role of Papa Ge, the god of death; Saycon Sengbloh as Erzulie, goddess of love;  Aurelia Williams plays Asaka, goddess of the earth, she has a standout solo "Mama Will Provide." Courtney Reed plays Andrea, the girl from the other side of the island;  Jerold E. Solomon as Armand, Daniel's Father. The charming, fine voiced eleven-year-old Courtney Harris is making her impressive professional debut as Little Ti Moune.

Thomas Kail's design team includes: scenic design by Donyale Werle (also responsible for the terrific masks, puppets and even recycled scenery), costumes by Jessica Jahn, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, sound design by Randy Hansen and hair and wig design by Bettie O. Rogers. The production stage manager is Lisa Dawn Cave.


Once On This Island will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Single tickets are on sale from $25. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 25% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680




Photo by Jerry Dalia: Syesha Mercado and the cast of Once On This Island.
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As the British celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the current Queen Elizabeth, who sits secure on her throne, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey launched their Golden anniversary last night with Shakespeare's rousing tale of "King Henry IV, Part One."  Henry, you may recall, won his crown via a bloody civil war that deposed his cousin the former king, Richard II. The play alternates between drama in the form of murderous treachery in a long struggle to keep the throne, a King's despair over the irresponsible antics of his eldest son, Prince Harry, and high comedy presented by one of Shakespeare's most memorable characters, Sir John Falstaff. The overstuffed Falstaff may have been knighted, but, he is happiest in the bawdy underworld of dark taverns populated with thieves and whores. He is also the mentor to the rowdy young prince providing instruction in living a wasteful, irresponsible life.  

For those unfamiliar with this, one of the most popular of Shakespeare's history plays, "Henry IV, Part One" has two primary plots that intersect in a dramatic battle at the end of the play. The first plot concerns King Henry IV and the strained relationship with his son Prince Harry. The second concerns a plot to overthrow King Henry by a discontented and powerful Northumberland family.

Director
Joseph Discher , a 22 year veteran of the Shakespeare Theatre, has assembled an outstanding cast of mostly company veterans. Leading the cast, as the absolutely perfect, larger-than-life Falstaff, is John Ahlin. His pun-for-pun banter with Prince Harry must have been as big an audience 'pleaser' in the first Elizabethan period in British history as it is today. His retelling, with extensive embellishments, of their attempt at being highwaymen is the comedy highlight of the play. Playing Prince Harry, King Henry IV’s son, who will eventually become King Henry V, is Derek Wilson. Wilson impresses as his young Prince transforms over the course of the play from the immature antics of a prodigy of Falstaff to a heroic prince, defender of his father's kingdom. In the secondary role of King Henry, and appropriately regal and commanding  is Brent Harris, who last season played the iconic role of Atticus Finch in the Theatre’s acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird (read our review). The always excellent Jon Barker is Henry Percy, or Hotspur, Prince Harry's quick tempered arch rival. His family helped bring King Henry IV to power but they now believe that the king has dismissed his debt to them.  
 
Other Shakespeare Theatre veterans include John Little as Earl of Westmoreland; Conan McCarty as Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester;  Doug West  as Lord Edmund Mortimer, Richard II's hand-picked successor; Jeffrey M. Bender as Ned Poins and Sir Vernon; Patrick Toon as Bardolph and Izzie Steele as the fiery Lady Percy.  In his Shakespeare Theatre debut is Maxon Davis as the brave Scotsman, Archibald, Earl of Douglas. 

Rounding out the fine cast are Cliff Miller as Lord John, the younger son of King Henry; Robert Grant as Sir Walter Blunt; Glenn Beatty as Henry Percy, Earl of Northhumberland;Drew Dix as Glendower, a Welsh lord; Megan Sass as Lady Mortimer; Jordan LaRoya as Peto, Jesse Grahamis Mistress Quickly, hostess of the Boar's Head tavern.  Supporting actors (Soldiers, Attendants and tavern folks) are Sophia Cameron, Ryan McCarthy and Brandt Roberts.
 
Supporting director Joseph Discher is the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production staff, all superior artists in their own right, set designer Jonathan Wentz; lighting designer Matthew Adelson; costume designer Paul Canada, sound designer Rich Dionne and fight director Michael RossmyKathy Snyder is the production stage manager. 

"Henry IV, Part One" is a very special, exciting theatre experience with outstanding performers, beautiful costumes, impressive set, excellent sound, lighting and rousing combat scenes, in other words, it is another triumph that we have come to expect from Bonnie J. Monte and this unique New Jersey treasure. It brings home the point, which we are exposed to constantly, that we are blessed with professional theatre equal to the other side of the Hudson.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   June 2, 2012



"Henry IV, Part One
"  is presented in two acts with the total time about two hours and thirty minutes. Performances  run through June 24 at the Theatre’s Main Stage – the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre.   All tickets, including discounted ticket packages are now on sale.   For tickets or for more information, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org. The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), in Madison.

(Center) John Ahlin as Sir John Falstaff re-tells his version of a daring robbery. Photo:  ©Gerry Goodstein
(l to r) Izzie Steele as Lady Percy and Jon Barker as Hotspur, her husband.  Photo:  ©Gerry Goodstein

Review: 'Assassins' at the Barn Theatre




"Rich man, poor man,
Black or white, Pick your apple, Take a bite, Everybody Just hold tight To your dreams. Everybody’s Got the right To their dreams." this is from one of the Stephen Sondheim songs in the controversial, but fascinating musical that is receiving an outstanding production at one of our leading community theatres, The Barn Theatre in Montville. The musical is the "Assassins" that debuted on Broadway in 1990, and won five Tonys for its last revival. The book is by John Weidman with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and based on an original idea by Charles Gilbert. In the "Assassins" we meet the actual successful and unsuccessful assassins of presidents of the United States. A frighting concept, particularly to an observer of the current political scene. Each assassin, or would-be assassin, in this retelling of these dark periods in American history believes he or she has the requisite grievances to justify this deadly action, and in most cases believes they will be honored as a savior to the nation. We learn what they could not grasp-that nothing positive is actually achieved by this dark deed.

The entire play is set in front of an amusement park roller coaster. At the opening, a man,The Proprietor (Clinton Scott) is behind a counter dispensing hand guns and the advice that you can chase the blues away by killing a President, pointing out that assassination is a skill at which even rank beginners can excel. 
Each "assassin" makes his entrance, first  Leon Czolgosz (Peter Ogrodnik), a  laborer in his late twenties, shuffles in, followed by John Hinckley (Alan Van Antwerp).  The Proprietor convinces Hinckley he can improve his love life and impress his dream girl (Jodie Foster) by shooting a President (Ronald Reagan). They are joined by Charles Guiteau, the killer of James Garfield (Jeff Dopson),  He is soon joined by Giuseppe Zangara (Michael Campbell), an angry man, who groans and grips his stomach. The Proprietor promises shooting a President, in this case FDR because Hoover was unavailable, will relieve his pain. The next arrival is Samuel Byck (Tom Morrissey), in a dirty Santa suit, carrying a sign that says, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Constitutional Right to Peaceably Petition My Government for the Redress of My Grievances.” He plots to crash a plane into the Nixon White House. Next young Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Allie Acquafredda) from the "Charles Manson is God" clan, and Sara Jane Moore (Jodi Freeman Maloy), a  middle-aged woman, enter. They have targeted Gerald Ford.
Last  is the most infamous of them all, John Wilkes Booth (Stu Scheer) of Lincoln fame. This is when we first hear the song "Everybody's Got The Right To Their Dreams." Later, one of the key points of the play is made when the Balladeer (Daniel Grayberg) points out to Booth that, ironically, in trying to destroy Lincoln, Booth actually elevated him to legendary status...."Hurts a while, But soon the country’s Back were it belongs, And that’s the truth. Still and all... Damn you Booth!"

For the next 90 minutes, we ride another type of roller coaster as each assassin's tale is presented, with a degree of empathy, via a series of vignettes with the aid of the Balladeer.  Yes, the topic is dark, but Sondheim's music and lyrics, although not exactly hummable, are engaging and all the performers are fine and very well cast, with several truly outstanding performances. In the process the play is lifted to a marvelous level. Deserving of special mention; the fine voiced Stu Scheer as Booth, Allie Acquafredda is spot-on as Fromme, and Tom Morrissey excels as Byck. Morrissey's monologues alone may be worth the price of admission.


The fine Ensemble, several of whom have brief parts, includes; Billy--Thomas Wertheimer, Herold-- James Lopez, Emma Goldman-- Kay Koch, President Garfield-- Alan George, James Blaine-- Peter O'Malley, D'Angelique Dopson, Samantha Kaplan, Dana Reminski and Martha Riley.

This thought-provoking musical is ably directed by Roseann Ruggerio and produced by Carla Kendall and Lillian Miller in the usual Barn Theatre five-star style. The production staff includes; Production Stage Manager—Alice Regan Moynahan, Set Design/Construction—Beau Kennedy, Lighting Design—Todd Mills, Sound/Multimedia Design—Jeff Knapp, Light/Sound Operation—Jeffrey Kinkaid, Lauren Groff-Tisza and Sarah Wertheimer-Lopez,  Costume Design—Carla Kendall, Lillian Miller, Alice Regan Moynahan, Roseann Ruggerio, Hair—Jessica Phelan, Properties—Carla Kendall with Lillian Miller.

The excellent large orchestra is directed by Clifford Parrish (Keyboard 1). The musicians include; Reed 1—Jon Bencivenga, Reed 2—Nancy Vanderslice, Trumpet—Christian Arnold, French Horn—Carolyn Kirby, Trombone—Jon Ferrone, Guitar—Matthew Jardim, Bass—John Zimmermann, Percussion—Gary Fink, Keyboard 2—Marilyn Patterson.

The remaining performances are May 26, June 1, 2, 8 & 9 at 8:00 PM; May  27, and June 3 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $20 ($19 for seniors/students at matinees only). To reserve tickets, call (973) 334-9320, or visit the box office on Saturdays from 4-7 PM.

The Barn Theatre is located at 32 Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Route 287, Exit 47. For more information or directions, call (973) 334-9320, or visit www.barntheatre.org.

The Assassins
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Review: 'Over The River and Through the Woods' at the Summit Playhouse

Nancy Lee Ryan, Wendy Schibener, Scott Tyler and Marguerite Wurtz
If almost non-stop mirth of the belly laugh variety mixed with a few tears in a heartwarming loony family setting rings your entertainment bell, then I urge you to spend two hours eavesdropping on the happenings at the Gianelli home on stage this weekend at the Summit Playhouse in Summit, New Jersey. 

The play is Joe DiPietro’s very successful comedy, "Over the River and Through the Woods." It played first off-Broadway in 1998, then 800 performances on Broadway, and since has been produced all over the world. 



"Over The River and Through the Woods" is about something many Italian-Americans call "Tengo famiglia" or "the importance of your family." In this case, it is the family of a 29 year old unmarried  Manhattan marketing executive Nick Cristano perfectly played  by Scott Tyler. He handles nicely the roller-coaster of emotions this part demands. You'll understand better once you meet the grandparents! 
Every Sunday Nick dutifully takes the bus to Hoboken for dinner with his four grandparents as he has since birth. They are simple, somewhat ecentric, people who live for the three "F"s....Family, Food and Faith. Everyone is of Italian stock, Frank Gianelli (Arnold J. Buchiane), a retired carpenter lives with his kitchen bound wife Aida (Nancy Lee Ryan) in the home he built for her. Aida is never happier then when she is feeding her family. Clearly she believes there is no problem that can't be solved with food.


Nearby live their son-in-law's parents Nunzio Cristano (played by Jim Broderick) and wife Emma (Marguerite Wurtz). They are permanent fixtures at the Gianelli's Sunday dinner table. Frank has been in America since the age of 14 when his father sent him to America for a better life than he could ever provide in Italy.  One of the most moving moments in the play is when Frank explains to Nick the sacrifice his father made for him.  Nick's parents are now living in Florida, his sister is married and living in San Diego, thus Nick is the sole beneficiary of his grandparents' limitless love demonstrated via much hugging and food.

Nick has good news/bad news to present to his grandparents. The good news: he has been offered a promotion, the bad news: the new position is 2500 miles away in Seattle, Washington.  


Applause to the very talented cast;  Arnold J. Buchiane as grandfather Frank Gianelli. He was also excellent as the Grandpa in the "Grapes of Wrath" at the Chatham Playhouse; Nancy Lee Ryan as Aida could not be more perfect in this role. In fact, she won our hearts as Aida in the Bickford's version of "Over the River" last Fall; Jim Broderick is fine as Nunzio Cristano; Marquerite Wurtz as Emma Cristano is spot-on as the loving matchmaker; and Wendy Schibener, with the smallest part, is convincing as the eligible young lady Caitlin O'Hare.
Nicely directing is Julia Frieri, who in her "Notes" reveals that she is an actual veteran of the Sunday pilgrimage to her grandmother's home for dinner.  Her experience has served her well. The producing team is Joann Scanlon and David Hoffman. Also, high marks to; set designer Rhoda Roper, costumes Nancy Davies, lighting and sound Bill Roome, stage manager Petra Krugel and set construction J. Guerdon Mayfield.
 
What happens when Nick tells them of his promotion offer? How do they handle his possible move to Seattle? How does Nick react when they invite a single, very eligible young lady to dinner in hopes that a romance will stop the move to the West Coast? No answers will be provided here..no spoilers. Remember you have only two more performances to see this laugh-out-loud production. 
The play's message: "The biggest difference between these generations is their concept of family and home. They believed that family was central, and work is something you just do to provide for them. For our generation, it's a lot more complicated."-- Playwright Joe Di Pietro, on his characters in "Over the River and Through the Woods."
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    May 6, 2012

"Over The River and Through the Woods" is running at the Summit Playhouse only for two more performances: May 11 and 12  at 8 p. m.   Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students (18 and under).  For tickets: visit www.summitplayhouse.org/tickets. or call 800-838-3006.  The Summit Playhouse is at 10 New England Avenue, Summit, NJ.

As part of a commitment to give back to our community, the Summit Playhouse asks patrons to bring non-perishable food items to be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. Donations will be accepted on all performances.

Review: 'Cabaret' at the Chatham Community Players-Wow!


The final production of the 2011-12 season at one of New Jersey's premiere community theatres, the Chatham Community Players in Chatham, is a 'must-see' masterful staging of one of the great musicals of all time, the Tony Award winning musical, "Cabaret." The book is by Joe Masteroff with music/lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb and is based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood.

This not the original Kander and Ebb 1966 version with Joel Grey as the Emcee, or a direct lift of the Grey and Liza Minelli's Oscar winning film, director Jeffrey Fiorello is presenting the darker, more sinister, more powerful 1990's London and New York revival. Since "Cabaret's" Emcee and Sally Bowles are two of the most memorable "star turn" roles in musical theatre the casting is, of course, critical, to the success of any presentation of "Cabaret." Wow, has director Fiorello succeeded!  Katherine LeFevre and John Sechrist  as Sally Bowles and the Emcee are both outstanding. LeFevre is perfect as the second rate English singer who needs to use her 'other' talents to survive in the harsh world of the tacky Kit Kat Klub in the 1930's Berlin. Her finest moment comes in the second act with her powerful delivery of one of Kander and Ebb's showstoppers "Maybe This Time."  

Katherine LeFevre (Howard Fisher)
 John Sechrist as the Emcee is the star of this production. He is at the decadent center of all the activities at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, mostly topless except for suspenders across his chest and around his crotch and with the bizarre makeup of a drag queen. He has several highly sexual cabaret numbers led by "Two Ladies" that includes a shadow play simulating various sexual positions. Sechrist's  showstopper number, with the ensemble, is the now classic Kander and Ebb hit "Money." This is a song actually written for the movie. His most dramatic scene comes at the end when he removes his outer clothes to reveal a striped suit of the type worn by the internees in concentration camps on which were pinned a yellow badge (identifying a Jewish prisoner) and in his case a pink triangle (denoting a homosexual prisoner).

At the center of the story is the struggling American writer, Cliff Bradshaw, played nicely, if a bit understated, by Steve Sharkey. Bradshaw, who despises the rise of the Nazis, falls in love with the bohemian Bowles who is blind to the dangers that surround them. Confusing the romance is Cliff's bisexuality demonstrated via a brief scene where he kisses one of the Cabaret boys. The second romance involves Bradshaw's spinster landlady Frau Schneider, played with great sensitivity by Pat Wry, and Herr Schultz. the widowed Jewish fruit vendor, played to perfection by Steven Nitka. Pat Wry excels with the sad solo "What Would You Do?" Earlier, Schultz and Schneider crown their decision to marry with the fine duet "It Couldn't Please Me More." This number is immediately followed by a chilling rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" by a young boy (Sean McManus) in a Nazi Youth Movement uniform.

The excellent supporting cast includes Stacey Petricha as the prostitute, Fraulein Kost. She is exceptionally patriotic when the Navy is in town. Chip Prestera as the Nazi Ernst Ludwig is frighteningly good, or is that evil? The Ensemble of dancers and singers include Chris Abbott as Bobby, Raven Dunbar as Fritzie, Michal Efron as Frenchie (and the Gorilla!), Brian Hall as Hans/Rudy, Pam Mueller as Helga, Natalee Phemsint as Rosie, Shawna Schopper as Texas, Sky Spiegel as Lulu (she doubles nicely as the Chanteuse in the "Married" number), Chaz Turner as Max, Andrew Velez as Victor, and Craig Zimmerman as Herman.

The director, again, is the multi-talented Jeffrey Fiorello (Jeff is fresh from his terrific comedy performance as 'Gussie' Fink-Nottle in the Chester Theatre Group's 'By Jeeves' last month-read our review). "The original Broadway production utilized a massive mirror, which was turned to face the audience, as part of the set. The mirror forced the audience to face themselves. We saw. We heard. Could it happen again???  In our production, we have gone a step further and placed the audience directly in the Klub. We are no longer bystanders; we are active participants in the production. We are not only the audience of the show, Cabaret, we are also the audience of the Kit Kat Klub and the audience of Berlin in early 1930’s,” explains Fiorello.

Jill Finnerty is the Musical Director and leads the excellent  Kit Kat Girls orchestra (Emily Jones, Mary Lou Irvine, Kathy Goff, Joann Lamolino and Andrea Gonnella). They are situated at the rear of the stage above the action.  Megan Ferentinos deserves applause for her sensual choreography.

Other production credits: set design Robert J. Lukasik, lighting design Richard Hennessy, sound design Joe Devico, fight choreographer Steven Ruskin, costume design Fran Harrison and Beverly Wand, props and set decoration Tish Lum, make-up Ben Reisebeck and casting Leslie Reagoso. Stage manager Debby Hennessy with Steffi Denmark. The production coordinator is Pamela Wilczynski.  The producer is Robert J. Lukasik.


Reviewed by  Rick Busciglio  May 4, 2012

 'CABARET'  concludes The Chatham Community Players' 90th Season (1922) of producing local theater. The remaining performance dates are May 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 8 P.M. and May 13 at 3 P.M. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham.  Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior. Suitable for mature audiences only.

To access the theater’s online ticketing service, go to http://www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and click on the “TicketLeap” logo.  The service is available 24 hours a day, and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance.  The box office accepts phone reservations at (973) 635-7363




Photos by Howard Fisher:

John Sechrist and Katherine LeFevre
Katherine LeFevre and the Kit Kat Klub Girls

Review: Family fun at the Growing Stage with the 'Diary of a Worm, A Fly and a Spider'




Attention all parents and grandparents of children ten and under. Enjoy with them the magical experience of live theatre at the extraordinary Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey.  We had the pleasure of attending the Sunday at 4 p.m. performance of The Growing Stage's current, and last of the season,  musical production of Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly.  
We sat in a position to easily observe the junior members of the audience and rarely have we observed an adult audience as attentive, and yes, well behaved  On stage they were observing a group of six young inhabitants of the insect world; a worm, a spider, a fly, an ant, a beautiful butterfly and a bee who has a teaching degree. The lessons of the thin but charming story are of kindness and respect for others and the realization that their problems from the dreaded homework to social acceptance are not terribly different from ours. Naturally, there are a few exceptions; Is Spider getting too big for his own skin? Will Fly find her superhero powers in time to save her Aunt Rita from peril? Will Worm learn to stand on his own two feet, even though he doesn‘t have feet?


The cast features the talents of six professional (Equity) performers. Brandon Lavon Hightower of Jersey City as Worm, J.D. Kellman of Brooklyn as Spider,  Emily Cara Portune of Jersey City as Fly, young Becky Nitka of Long Valley as Ant; Katelyn Spinosa of Bayonne as Butterfly and Katie Horn of Manhattan as Mrs. McBee. Each of the performers is excellent in their role, or should I say "skin."  
Two, in particular, project "star" quality; Brandon Lavon Hightower as Worm and Emily Cara Portune as the Fly. Both come to the Growing Stage with very impressive credits. Brandon has a long list of regional play credits, plus an acting gig on HBO's hit series about Atlantic City in the 1920's "Boardwalk Empire." Emily too has a long list of credits, this obviously versatile performer with an exceptional voice has toured as Janis Joplin, was Bianca in "Kiss Me Kate," and the hot Lola in "Damn Yankees." 
As you can see, this may be a production for young families, but the talent is not juvenile. These performers are the equal of the marvelous talent we enjoy at the major New Jersey theatres such as the Paper Mill, George Street Playhouse, McCarter Center, etc.

The play is based on the very popular children's books by Doreen Cronin with book, music and lyrics by Joan Cushing. The set is inspired by the book illustrations of Harry Bliss.  The director is Lori B. Lawrence, the Growing Stage’s Director of Educational Programming, with musical direction by Laura Petrie.  The fun, energetic choreography is by Jillian Petrie.
Pre-show photo of "Diary" set
The production staff includes Stage manager-Steve Graham, Set & Props-Perry Arthur Kroeger, Costume design-Lori B. Lawrence, Lighting design-S.L. Fredericks, Light board operator-Natalie Kane, Backstage assistant-Matthew Fralley. The Artistic director of the Growing Stage is Stephen Fredericks.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  April 29, 2012
The play runs about 90 minutes with one intermission for popcorn.

Diary of a Worm, A Fly and a Spider runs to May 20, with performances only on Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. The Growing Stage, currently celebrating its 30th season, is a professional (Association of Actor’s Equity) theatre for young people and their families. It is located in the Historic Palace Theater on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey with free parking behind the theatre. Several restaurants are in the immediate area.
Tickets for Diary Of A Worm, A Spider And A Fly are only $18 for adults, $14 for children and seniors, with group rates available.  School Matinee performances are also available throughout the week.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or logging onto their website at www.growingstage.com.  
Photos: TOP L-R J.D. Kellman, Emily Cara Portune and Brandon Lavon Hightower

Review: The hilarious '39 Steps' at the George Street Playhouse

Howard McGillin and Stacie Morgain Lewis

George Street Playhouse's final production of the 2011-12 season, The 39 Steps is absolutely hilarious! This is the London and Broadway success that spoofs Alfred Hitchcock's first 'man-on-the run' thriller 'The Thirty-Nine Steps.'  It was adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow.

Leading the fun parade is two-time Tony Award nominee Howard McGillin. McGillin is perfect as the John Cleese like 'man-on-the run' Richard Hannay. Whether comedy or drama, McGillin always impresses (he just finished as The Devil in the Paper Mill's 'Damn Yankees' and of course,
his record-setting performance in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway). He is supported by two masters of broad, slapstick comedy Michael Thomas Holmes and Mark Price.  The two play all the male and several female parts from London stage performers in tux' to Scottish inkeepers (husband and wife!) to international spies and much more. The principal female parts are played with marvelous style, tongue planted firmly in her cheek, of course, by the very attractive Stacie Morgain. Lewis.  The director of this mad-cap three-ring circus is Mark Shanahan who was a member of the original Broadway cast.

The clever use of the set, props, sound effects and sight gags in 39 Steps provides many of the belly-laughs that this fast-paced fun event delivers. Just what are the 39 steps? Why is Hannay on the run? How does he prove his innocence? Who is the man with the partial finger? Who wears a kilt? Does he get the girl?

Sorry, you'll have to visit the George Street Playhouse (very comfortable stadium seating) no later than May 20 to find out. When you do, don't blink or you will miss some of the fun in this five star event. The play with one intermission runs about two hours. Warning: there are several gunshots, flashing strobe lights and a man wears a kilt.

 Director Mark Shanahan's production team includes scenic designer Yoshi Tanokura; lighting designer Rui Rita; costume designer David Murin, wig and hair design Rob Greene and J.Jared Janas, sound designer Ryan Rumery, dialect coach Chantal Jean-Pierre, fight director Rick Sordelet, movement director Jen Waldman, so necessary in this whirlwind of a comedy. The production stage manager is Jane Pole.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio     April 28, 2012
The 39 Steps has performances  through Sunday, May 20. Tickets are priced from $26.50, and may be obtained by contacting the George Street Playhouse Box Office by phone at 732-246-7717. Tickets may also be purchased online via the Playhouse website: www.GSPonline.org. George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue, in the heart of New Brunswick’s Dining and Entertainment district, steps away from dining for every cuisine and budget. Visit GSPonline.org for directions as well as parking and restaurant recommendations.

Review: 'Copenhagen' at Luna Stage



Ian Gould and Paul Murphy in "Copenhagen," at Luna Stage (Amanda Faison)
The Luna Stage Company, of West Orange, is noted for producing intelligent, thought-provoking plays. The selection for the final production of the 2011-2012 season delivers on all counts. It is a fascinating revival of  Michael Frayn's 'Copenhagen', winner of the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play.

The always impressive director/actor James Glossman has nicely staged this most unusual play. First, he has perfectly cast this production with three marvelous actors, Ian Gould, Paul Murphy and Linda Setzer. Their performances, and Glossman's direction, breath fire into, and make fascinating what could, in lesser hands, be a deadly evening of theatre, at least the first act. Second, is the maximum use of theatre space, including a simple, highly effective circular set that the two men race around for most of the two hours (are they orbiting like electrons?).

This is the story of two actual nuclear scientists who first met as student and mentor in Copenhagen in the early 1920's and meet again in 1941. Paul Murphy plays the renowned Danish physicist Niels Bohr, Linda Setzer is Margrethe, Bohr's wife, principal confidant and commentator to the audience, Ian Gould is Werner Heisenberg, the former student, who now in 1941 is the leading German atomic physicist.

The 1941 meeting in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen between the two friends and fellow scientists, but on opposite sides of the war, has been debated for many years since no one knows exactly what happened. What was Heisenberg's motive for the brief visit? He departed abruptly following an eleven minute stroll. Was he visiting to determine if the rumors about the U.S. progress on an Atomic bomb were true? How far had it been developed? Did Heisenberg sabotage the German efforts to develop the bomb on moral grounds or did he miscalculate the amount of plutonium required for a bomb or the crucial calculation for the critical mass of U-235 that would have given Germany the key to the bomb?

Michael Frayn uses a clever device to tell the story. He presents the three in an imagined meeting that takes place after all three characters have died. They attempt to explore what happened or didn’t happen at that meeting in 1941. Bohr is friendly to Heisenberg, at least more than Margrethe, who despises the German and everything he represents. Heisenberg admits he is a German patriot, but never joined the Nazi Party, and always got along with his Jewish colleagues. “I am not a Nazi, but a German!. Germany is where I was born. Germany is where I became what I am. Germany is all the faces of my childhood, all the hands that picked me up when I fell, all the voices that encouraged me and set me on my way, all the hearts that speak to my heart. Germany is my widowed mother and my impossible brother. Germany is my wife. Germany is our children."


This is the point to insert the primary question....What if?  Suppose Germany had developed the bomb before the Allies? Prime targets surely would have been London and Paris.

Michael Frayn has written a very complex drama that will demand your full concentration. It is hard to believe that this is the same author of one of the wildest, funniest, broad comedies....'Noises Off.'

James Glossman's production staff deserves special recognition; Lighting design-Richard Currie, Costume design- Deborah Caney, Sound design-Jeff Knapp, Set design-Carrie Mossman, and Stage Manager- Mary Ellen Allison. The lighting and sound were particularly effective.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    April 27, 2012

Copenhagen runs through May 20. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $35 each (Thursday performances are $25), and can be purchased in person, on the phone at 973-395-5551, or on the Luna Stage website: www.lunastage.org. The 3 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 29th will be followed by a talkback with director James Glossman and other members of the creative team.

Ian Gould, Paul Murphy and Linda Setzer (photo: Amanda Faison)

 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: 'The Unfortunates' at the Centenary Stage Company


The Centenary Stage Company opened this past weekend their latest production, a fascinating one-woman play by Avoise Stratford...“The Unfortunates.” Set in London's Whitechapel area in early November 1888, the play provides a glimpse into the lives of the victims of the infamous London killer of prostitutes, 'Jack the Ripper.' The title refers to the "unfortunate," destitute and mostly homeless, 'working' women of London. First, we should note that the play contains no visual violence, only a short description of the Ripper's gruesome activities.

 

Playwright Stratford tells the tale via one character, an actual Ripper victim, Mary Kelly, who was "said to have been possessed of considerable personal attractions."  Actually, Mary Jane Kelly is believed to be his final and most mutilated victim. The only one of the four murdered in their own bed as opposed to the street. This plot-less tale, however, is not about Mary's murder on November 9th, but about her life, the difficult life of poverty, she and the other women endured. 

Playing the 25 year old Mary, and all the other parts, is the amazingly talented actress, Diana Cherkas (photo). Cherkas, under the sharp direction of  Judity Stevens-Ly, masterfully commands the attention of the audience while assuming  these roles with a variety of surprisingly easy to understand cockney accents.

The entire 90 minute play is set
in the 'Ten Bells' pub on one foggy, cold early November night. The tale begins with Mary Kelly entering the pub to escape the harsh streets, where 'Jack the Ripper' may be stalking, and possibly may find a customer for her services. During the course of the evening, Mary, addressing the only other person in the pub, a man (actually she is speaking to the audience), recites her story of misfortune, and the tragic lives of the other women.

Playwright Stratford offers these comments: "This play doesn’t want to be overly romantic about sex workers in Victorian London; the truth is many of them were vagrants, alcoholics, in and out of trouble with the police.  But it is also the case that Mary Jane Kelly could read and write and liked to sing.  Cath Eddowes had a sense of humor and could sew.  I would like us to see that side too.  So in a sense this play hopes in some small way to recognize these women-and the many others who have vanished into obscurity- and to explore the still relevant questions of how social attitudes and conditions shaped both their lives and our reaction to their loss."

The director of "The Unfortunates" is
Judity Stevens-Ly.  Her staff includes; Set Designer-Evan Hill (outstanding pub set), Lighting Designer-Will Rothfuss, Technical Director-David Smith, Production Stage Manager-Kathryn ‘China’ Hayzer, Assistant Stage Manager-Jon Bodi, Sound Designer-Colin Whitley (very effective sound effects) and Costume Coordinator-Julia Sharp (Mary's dress is perfect)
 
Diana Cherkas who has appeared at numerous regional theatres including the Bickford and twice before for the Centenary Stage Company, is not new to the play, she participated in the original staged reading of "The Unfortunates" as part of annual the Centenary Stage Company Women Playwright Festival.  This production of “The Unfortunates” is the centerpiece of the 20.th Festival that was initiated in 1992 to provide a working platform for the underserved voices of women writing for the theatre. This year's Festival consists of a month-long program of plays, staged readings, classes and activities offered through April 29.th  The driving force of the Festival is the program director Catherine Rust, the Centenary Stage Company's General Manager.

"The Unfortunates" is playing in the
Edith Bolte Kutz Theatre of the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey until April 29th..  
 
 For more information about tickets contact the Centenary Stage Company Box Office at 908-979-0900 or visit online at www.centenarystageco.org.  Tickets for “The Unfortunates” range from $20 – 25, with discounts for seniors and students, with a special “Family Night” two-for-one offer on Thursday evenings, available at the door only.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 P.M., Sundays at 2 P.M., Thursdays at 7:30 P.M., with additional matinee performances on Wed, Apr 18 at 2 P.M., and Wed, Apr 25 at 10 A.M. (student matinee series).

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  April 14, 2012

Photos by Bob Eberle/CSC 

Diana Cherkas as Mary Kelly

 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: 'The Pavilion' at the Mile Square Theatre





Bravo to director Chris O'Connor and the Mile Square Theatre Company in Hoboken for presenting the thought provoking , Pulitzer-nominated, play The Pavilion about life's choices. 

Do you remember the longtime game show that required contestants to chose between the green, red or blue door in their quest for prizes? Playwright Craig Wright reminds us in The Pavilion that we all are making these types of choices which prove life altering, and irreparable.

The Pavilion here is a dilapidated waterfront dance pavilion that is hosting its final event before it will be torched by the local volunteer fire department
at midnight. The event is a twentieth high school reunion attended by a wide assortment of classmates and friends who have faced life's challenges, some successfully, at least on the surface, others appear to have chosen less rewarding paths.  Not unlike Thornton Wilder's classic American play Our Town, our guide to the evening's proceedings is the Narrator, played to perfection by Matt Lawler. The narrator, who takes on a variety of roles, both male and female, both other-worldly and real, explains that we all make choices within the greater pavilion of the universe. Be prepared for an emotional ride that provides no easy answers in this beautifully performed two act, three actor production.
 
The center of the tale is Peter (played sensitively by Greg Jackson), a successful psychiatrist but grossly unsuccessful in his personal relationships. He has returned for the first time since graduation tormented by the decision he made to  abandon his 17 year old pregnant girlfriend Kari (the superb Dena Tyler), and the realization that he chose the wrong path in life. His hope, of course, is maybe he will be able restore that loving relationship of so many years before, regardless of the pain he inflicted on her.   She aborted the baby and married the local golf pro, who lives and breathes only golf. So much so that his thoughts never stray from the game even during the most intimate moments of their marriage.  Kari is outraged that he would think it possible to just reappear and magically restore what they had as teenagers. Plus, as she reminds Peter, she is not only married, maybe not happily, but never the less married, but has endured a constant all consuming pain ever since. That's the extent of the plot we will reveal. This presentation, and the performance of these three outstanding actors brings home again the excitement that can only be found in live theatre.

 We should note that when the play had its world debut in 2000, Chris O’Connor, the theatre company’s founder and artistic director, originated the lead role.  The Pavilion is certainly very dear to my heart,” says O’Connor, who now directs his own version of the play.  “It has a universal theme about the choices we make, the inevitable highs and lows of life and the questions that linger about what could have been. Who amongst us doesn’t wonder about the road not taken?”

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  April 14, 2012

The Pavilion runs Thursday through Sunday through April 29th at Monroe Theatrespace, 720 Monroe in Hoboken.  Tickets are available online (www.milesquaretheatre.org) or before each performance.  Adults, $30; students/seniors $18. The April 19 performance is a special Pay What You Will admission.

Matt Lawler, Greg Jackson and Dena Tyler
Greg Jackson and Dena Tyler

 

Review: 'I Do! I Do!' at the Bickford


"I Do! I Do!" which chronicles the 50-year marriage of Michael and Agnes Snow opened this weekend at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown. This utterly charming gem of a production, beautifully directed by the Bickford's artistic director Eric Hafen, stars two marvelous local professional actors, First as Agnes Christine Marie Heath,  who last appeared at the Bickford Theatre in "I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change"; and as Michael, Scott McGowan, who was Mack in the Bickford Theatre's recent production of "Mack & Mabel". McGowan is a member of the outstanding New Jersey repertory company, The Dreamcatcher.

Hafen's pairing of these two attractive, highly talented actors is perfect. They nicely display the emotional and amusing ups and downs of a marriage that spans 50 years starting with the honeymoon embarrassment, the first fight, the daughter's wedding, a mid-life fling and the examination of their lives as they down-size. Even though the period of the play is the first half of the last century it is remarkably easy to relate to their relationship and situations. Young unmarrieds may find the plot and the sentimental lyrics a bit saccharin, but the majority of the senior audiences' that comprise the major support of our live professional and community theaters will find much to relate to in this happy (mostly) tale of one couple.  Is it true, as we see with the Snow's, that we wait eagerly for our children to grow up and leave, and then are sad when they do? 

 
The diverse score has some terrific songs, starting with the wedding night innocence of the duet ''Goodnight'', to Michael's  hat-and-cane solo  ''It's A Well-Known Fact'', to the fun showstopper of ''Flaming Agnes,.'' to the show's hit song, the beautiful duet "My Cup Runneth Over." The very effective musical support is provided by two pianos placed at the rear behind the bedroom set. Nick DeGregorio and Jack Bender are the masters of the keys.

Part of the visual fun, beyond the very impressive bedroom set, are the handsome period costumes. 
This leads us to the production credits; Director: Eric Hafen (celebrating his 10th year as Artistic Director, Music Director: Nick DeGregorio, Musical Staging: Laurie Piro, Scenic Designer: Bill Motyka, Lighting Designer: David Landau, Properties Designer: Danielle Pietrowski, Costume Designer: Andrea Dente and Production Stage Manager: Yumi Matsuura.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   April 12, 2012

"I Do! I Do!" completes the Bickford Theatre’s Main Stage 2011-12 season, with performances  through Sunday, May 6, 2012. Performances are Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets:  Reserved seats are $40 for the General Public, $36 for Senior Citizens, $33 for Morris Museum and Bickford Theatre Guild Members, and $20 for Students (18 or under or with valid college ID). Group rates are available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets or more information, contact the Bickford Theatre Box Office at 973.971.3706 or visit www.bickfordtheatre.org.





The Bickford Theatre is conveniently located within the Morris Museum at 6 Normandy Heights Road (at the corner of Columbia Turnpike) in Morristown, NJ. and offers free parking and full accessibility. Box Office hours for phone sales are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-up hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The Happy Parents
I Love My Wife

 

Review: 'Temperamentals' at the Alliance Repertory Company




"Temperamental" was a code word for 'homosexual' in the early 1950s, part of a created language of secret words that gay men used to communicate. It is also the title of an excellent, sensitive drama on the beginnings of the gay rights movement in the US written by Jon Marans and directed by David Christopher.  

Dustin Ballard (T) and James Morgan (B)
This story of  a relatively unknown chapter in gay history is now on stage at the Alliance Repertory Theatre Company's Edison Valley Playhouse. Christopher has assembled a fine cast led by James Morgan as Harry Hay with Dustin Ballard as his lover Rudi Gernreich, Gus Ibranyi as Bob Hull, the most openly gay member (& others), Eddie Capuano as Dale Jennings (& others) and  Michael Lasry as Chuck Rowland (& others) the actual five founders of The Mattachine Society. The name reportedly was inspired by a French medieval and renaissance masque group. Hay, the founding father of the movement, said " we took the name Mattachine because we felt that we 1950s Gays were also a masked people, unknown and anonymous, who might become engaged in morale building and helping ourselves and others, through struggle, to move toward total redress and change."

 
Hay was a communist at the start of the movement, as were all the founders. Not only a communist, but also married with children, Harry Hay and the Viennese refugee and fashion designer Rudi Gernreich  fall in love while forming the organization. This play starts with the first clandestine meetings in the 1949-50 period when being identified as being gay could mean loss of family and employment, not to mention imprisonment for indecent and lewd behavior or worse. It covers the struggle to get new members during America's most conservative decade with the Cold-War between Russia and the West fueling the anti-communist hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, Hay's appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Dale Jennings' trial for indecent behavior in a men's room.

Director Christopher uses a spare dark set keeping the focus on the five excellent actors and the remarkable story of courage. In regard to the actors, both
James Morgan as Hay and Dustin Ballard as Rudi Gernreich, the Hollywood costume designer who later gains fame as the designer of the topless bathing suit, are particularly outstanding. It is fascinating to watch Morgan's (Hay) transformation from the early business suit crusader to flamboyant, shawl wearing character secure in himself. Ballard is 'spot on' as Rudi, with the perfect look and demeanor of the ambitious designer who keeps his role in the society secret to protect his career. 

The sparse set, with locations and time cleverly indicated by the use of small signs of the street variety, is by
David Munro.  The costumes by Dori Stober are nicely appropriate for the time period right down to the men's hats, with lighting by Ed Pearson and sound and music design by Greg Scalara. The stage manager is Hilary Pearson. "Temperamentals is produced by Michael Driscoll, the Alliance Repertory Company's Artistic Director.

In regard to the story of the "Temperamentals," this is much more than a glimpse into the history of the gay rights movement....it is a riveting story about the struggle for human rights and human dignity. You have until  April 7th to see the "Temperamentals."

 Reviewed by Rick Busciglio     March 26, 2012

See it at the Edison Valley Playhouse, 2191 Oak Tree Rd. Edison NJ (08820). Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM, Sunday matinee April 1 at 2 PM Special performance, Thursday, April 5 (Talk-back on March 30 and April 5).

Tickets are $22 for Adults, $17 for Seniors/Students For directions and tickets,
call: 732-755-4654, or visit the website: http://evplayhouse.com

Photos by Howard Fisher

James Morgan,  Dustin Ballard, Eddie Capuano, Michael Lasry & Gus Ibranyi

 

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Review" 'Damn Yankees' at the Paper Mill Playhouse


They are playing 'Hall of Fame' level baseball at the New Jersey treasure that is the Paper Mill PlayhouseWe're referring to the absolutely first class production of the 1950's baseball themed musical...Damn Yankees...winner of  eleven Tony® Awards including Best Musical and Best Choreography. Damn Yankees has a book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and  Jerry Ross. 

Director, and also the Paper Mill Playhouse's Producing Artistic Director, Mark  Hoebee has created a big Broadway level production that is pure fun.

The all-star cast of Damn Yankees is loaded with top Broadway veterans led by, the longest running 'Phantom,' Howard McGillin (Applegate), Joseph Kolinski (Joe Boyd), Patti Cohenour (Joe's wife Meg Boyd), Nancy Anderson, who was a hit in the Paper Mill's 'Peter Pan' in 2010 (reporter Gloria Thorpe) and Ray DeMattis (team manager Van Buren). The key part of Joe Hardy, the baseball phenom from Hannibal, Missouri (or is he?) is played by an outstanding newcomer, Christopher Charles Wood. He scored big time with the opening night audience from the first moment he started to sing.

Also featured  are: Chryssie Whitehead (Lola), Susan Mosher (Sister),  Jill Abramovitz (Doris),  Steve Czarnecki (Rocky),  Gary Lynch (Welch) and  Mike Cannon (Smokey). Rounding out the ensemble are: Giovanni Bonaventura, Grady McLeod Bowman, Scott Brateng, Dick Decareau, Taurean Everett, Justin Henry, Corey Hummerston, Robin Lounsbury, Robbie Roby, Ryan Steer, Lauren Elaine Taylor, Vaden Thurgood and Anna Aimee White.

The plot, as longtime musical lovers know, is not very complicated. The Yankees are perennial winners led by Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, whereas the lowly Washington Senators are habitual cellar dwellers. Washington fan Joe Boyd (Joseph Kolinski) makes a pact with the devil (Howard McGillin) for the chance to play for the Senators and beat the 'damn' Yankees. If Joe doesn't exercise an escape clause at midnight on September 24th to reclaim his soul, he is playing permanently on the Devil's 'Hot' team down under for eternity. Exercise the 'out' clause at the stroke of midnight and he is transformed back into couch potato Joe Boyd. As Joe Hardy (Christopher Charles Wood), with Applegate's guidance he plays at a superstar level helping the team to victory, however he misses his wife Meg more than he expected. To keep him distracted, Applegate calls up 170 year old Lola (Chryssie Whitehead) to work her sexual magic on our boy. You know the rest. In regard to Lola, Chryssie Whitehead is a beautiful young lady with magnificent dancer's legs, but, somehow she misses with the hot sex appeal. Her big number 'Whatever Lola Wants' is good but, not of the showstopper variety associated with the song.

Three musical stand-outs: 'Heart' ('You gotta have heart') set in the Senators' locker room with the excellent Ray DeMattis as the Senators' manager supported by his players.  'Goodbye, Old Girl' provides one of the most touching musical moments early during the clever scene one transformation from Joe Boyd to Joe Hardy (Joseph Koslinski and Christopher Charles WoodHoward McGillin, making his Paper Mill debut, a delight as Applegate (a/k/a The Devil), has great fun with his big solo 'Those Were the Good Old Days.' 


The combination of music via a large pit orchestra under the direction of Ben Whiteley and outstanding choreography  by Denis Jones is major league caliber. As are the efforts of the production team including: scenic designer  Rob Bissinger, costumes Alejo Vietti, lighting design Tom Sturge,, wig design Charles LaPointe, and sound design Randy Hansen. The production stage manager is Kathy J. Faul. 

Damn Yankees will run at the Millburn theater through Sunday, April 1, 2012 and will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Single tickets are on sale from $25. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-376-4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 25% discount on tickets and should call 973-315-1680. Damn Yankees is generously supported by a gift from Allen and Joan Bildner. Damn Yankees is a co-production with Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.
 
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   March 11, 2012

Photos below;

Ray DeMattis and players sing "Heart"



 Giovanni Bonaventura, Corey Hummerston and Mike Cannon
Howard McGillin
Christopher Charles Wood and Chryssie Whitehead

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Review: 'Lend Me A Tenor' at The Barn Theatre

The Cast of Lend Me A Tenor

One of the most difficult forms of theatre to execute well is farce. It requires the audience to accept and not question illogical or outlandish situations. A good example would be a Marx Brothers movie..great fun but far from reality.... using buffoonery and horseplay and ludicrously improbable situations. A wonderful example is on stage at the comfortable and spacious Barn Theatre in Montville. The play is Ken Ludwig's mad-cap comedy 'Lend Me A Tenor.' Note that despite the title it is not a musical.

The entire play takes place one day in a Cleveland hotel suite in 1934.
The Cleveland Grand Opera Company is presenting a special performance of "Othello" as their Gala season opener with the world famous Tito Morelli, “Il Stupendo”, the greatest tenor of the day. Morelli (Lionel Ruland) arrives with his very jealous wife (Helen Boyadjian) and is greeted by the General Manager (Jonathan Rudolph) and his assistant Max (Jonathan Peck) who are planning to usher him to the rehearsal.  Morelli refuses to attend the rehearsal. He is ill from over eating (and drinking ?) and heads for the bedroom for a nap. What follows is a hilarious series of wild mix-ups 
involving the General Manager's naive daughter Maggie (Leyda Torres) who's seeking a "fling" with tenor, the Opera Company's over-sexed leading soprano, Diana (Carla Kendall) who sees an intimate bedroom liaison with the tenor as her opportunity to advance to the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, the Opera Company's board president Julia (Gloria Quinn) also make amorous moves toward the great tenor, the star-struck bellhop (James Lopez) who hopes to audition for the famous singer, and then there is young Max, madly in love with Maggie, who also aspires to be an opera singer and has learned the part of 'Othello' from observing the rehearsals. And, yes, he is the nervous amateur who saves the day by going on in Morelli's place without anyone realizing that it is not Morelli! This is the biggest stretch of logic in the play since Tito Morelli and Max both in Othello costumes with blackface and wigs have wildly different body types and, of course, voices....but, (remember it's a farce)...no one notices and this was author Ken Ludwig's design. You'll have to see this romp to find out why Morelli did not perform, at least as a singer....remember the soprano Diana? Does Max get Maggie, in more ways than one ? The ringmaster who has so beautifully cast and staged this production is Ron Mulligan.

Back to the wonderful cast of community players, all performing for the pure love of the stage;
Jonathan Peck is excellent as the nerdy, but 'day saver' Max, Leyda Torres is properly naive and lovely as Max' almost fiancee...she needs a fling before saying yes. Jonathan Rudolph is perfect as the GM, Having the most fun is James Lopez as the outrageous bellhop;  Gloria Quinn as Julia, in an art-deco style dress described as looking like the Chrysler Building, is regal and oozes of financial security, but with an appetite for celebrity tenors, and Carla Kendell excels as the singer ready to advance her career via the casting couch, in this case, the bed. Finally, the fabulous Morelli's, Helen Boyadjian as Tito's wife gets a laugh with almost every line, and Lionel Ruland is positively splendid as Tito Morelli, the world class singer and womanizer.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  March 18, 2012

You have until April 7, 2012 to see this very funny production. The remaining performances are March 24, 30, 31, April 6 and 7 at 8 PM; and March 25 and April 1 at 2 PM. Tickets are $15 ($14 for seniors/students on matinees only). For tickets, call (973) 334-9320 or visit the Box Office on Saturdays, 4-7 PM. The Barn Theatre is located at 32 Skyline Drive in Montville, New Jersey just minutes from exit 47 on US 287.
 
Here are the production credits; Producer Cheryl Wilbur; Stage Manager  Craig Zimmermann, Stage Crew (in rotation): Stephen Catron, Zack Catron, Emily Goldman, Micah Lewis, Carol Offermann, Jessica Phelan, Lisa Poggi, John Trumbull, Tom Wright, Cheryl Wilbur; Set Design Stephen Catron, Assistant Set Design Craig Zimmermann, Assistant to the Director John Trumbull , Opera/Vocal Coach Stu Scheer,  Master Carpenter Mike Alfano, Set Construction: Marie Bogert, Roy Bogert, James Lopez, Greg Marocco, John Misiewicz, Ron Mulligan, Jonathan Rudolph, Micah Weiss, Craig Zimmermann;

Set Decor
  Stephen Catron, Laura Iacornetta, Craig Zimmermann;  Set Decor/Painting Crew: Marie Bogert, Roy Bogert, Cheryl Wilbur;  Lighting Sarah Halperin; Lighting Crew: Monica Dawes, Fred Halperin; Sound  Dan Metz , Light/Sound Operation Fred Halperin, Omar Kozarsky, Cheryl Wilbur; Costumes Claire McDonald, Christine Morgan, Janet Lazar; Hair Design Jessica Phelan; Makeup Design Janine Lee Papio; Graphic Design/Program John Trumbull; Properties Sarah Wertheimer-Lopez; Headshot/Publicity  Tom Schopper; Dress Rehearsal Photography Joe Gigli.

 

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Review: 'Tom Stoppard's Travesties' at the McCarter Theatre

James Urbaniak
British playwright Tom Stoppard is the author of the highly acclaimed comedy, Travesties that opened this weekend at the McCarter Center's Matthews Theatre. Before we go any further in the review read Stoppard's original 1974 program remarks; "Travesties is a work of fiction which makes use, and misuse, of history.  Scenes which are self-evidently documentary mingle with others which are just as evidently fantastical.  People who were hardly aware of each other's existence are made to collide; real people and imaginary people are brought together without ceremony; and events which took place months, and even years, apart are presented as synchronous......history rather than imagination places Lenin, Joyce and the Dadaist Tristan Tzara in Zurich at one and the same time.  History, too, offers us one short conversation between Lenin and a Dadaist, recounted in [The Dada Painters and Poets edited by Robert Motherwell], and also the possibility of a meeting between Lenin and Joyce (though it is hard to imagine what they would have had to say to each other).  But for the most part Travesties is presented through the fevered imagination of its principal character; which brings us to Henry Carr..."

Even with its billing as a masterpiece and awards from both Broadway and London
(Tony-winning-Best Play) Travesties by Tom Stoppard is rarely produced.... yesterday, we discovered why. It can be difficult to follow; first because of the presentation...this is an excellent example of The Theatre of the Absurd, where nonsense rules; second, the actors, all excellent, commit the greatest sin of the theatre...they are not always easily understood. It doesn't help that many of the actors speak with an accent. The fault, may be in the use of the large Matthews Theatre instead of the more intimate Berlind Theatre. We were in row O and missed much of the first act dialogue. Almost all of the audience reaction (laughter) was from the front of the theatre. We urge you to sit as close to the stage as possible in order to properly appreciate the brilliant word-play and overall zaniness of Stoppard's work and the excellence of the performers. I would also urge you to read everything you can about the play in advance, and perhaps, reread Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest

Unfortunately, judging by the comments in the lobby at intermission and on exiting many in the audience were baffled by the play. One comment overheard was it is " like a visit with a demented uncle." The humor in Stoppard's script is delivered largely by witty, mostly non-factual, comments on art, literature, philosophy, politics, and history.

Should you see it? Yes, if you accept it more as a vaudeville with wacky skits and witty dialogue, think Monty Phython meets The Importance of Being Earnest and leave logic at home...but sit as close as possible. It has fine performers, magnificent sets, beautiful costumes and clever use of props. No, if you are seeking Neil Simon or Ken Ludwig style comedy.

The plot: As Stoppard stated in his remarks
Travesties' is set in Zurich in 1974 and in Henry Carr's memory of his life during the First World War when James Joyce, Lenin, and the Dadaist Tristan Tzara were all for various reasons, residents of Zurich, Switzerland. Stoppard has them coming together to stage an amateur production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In 1974, the play’s narrator, British consulate official Henry Carr, apparently in the early stages of dementia, recalls this momentous meeting of the minds, placing himself at the center of the events. 

The cast includes: 
Fred Arsenault as James Joyce, Demosthenes Chrysan as Lenin, Christian Coulson as Tristan Tzara, Susannah Flood as Gwendolyn, Everett Quinton as Bennett the butler, Lusia Strus as Nadya, Lenin's wife, Sara Topham as Cecily, and James Urbaniak as Henry Carr. It is Urbaniak, unfortunately, as the old Carr, particularly in the first act, who is difficult to understand.

The production is directed by  McCarter Theatre Center's resident director Sam Buntrock. The design team includes David Farley (set and costume design), David Weiner (lighting design), Fitz Patton (sound design), with original music by composer David Shire. The production stage manager is Cheryl Mintz. Travesties. runs  through April 1.  

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 17, 2012 

Tickets for Travesties start as low as $20 and can be purchased online at www.mccarter.org, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. Performances are Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 3:00pm, Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more save and receive premium seating. For more information, call (609) 258-6547 or e-mail cmurray@mccarter.org.

Note: Get the Inside Story: A free 20 minute pre-show talk led by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff, will take place 45 minutes before each and every performance of Travesties. Get a sneak peek into how the play was developed and intriguing tidbits about the production process.
McCarter is committed to making live theater available and affordable to all members of our community. Public Rush makes unsold tickets available for half-price on the day of selected performances, and is not available in all seating locations.
  
McCarter Theatre Center is easily accessible by car via US Route 1, Interstate 95/295, and NJ Route 206. Or take the train to McCarter:  New Jersey Transit serves Princeton Junction via the Northeast Corridor Line. Then it’s a ride of four minutes on New Jersey Transit’s “Dinky” train to Princeton Station–McCarter is directly across the street at 91 University Place in Princeton.

Additional cast photos by T. Charles Erickson:

James Urbaniak, Susannah Flood, Everett Quinton, Fred Arsenault, and Christian Coulson (in mid-air)
Sara Topham, James Urbaniak (in chair), Susannah Flood, and Fred Arsenault 

                         +++++++++++++++++++

Review: 'Twelve Angry Men' at the George Street Playhouse

Cast of Twelve Angry Men (Photo: T.Charles Erickson)

A standing ovation is not an unusual event at the end of a play today, however, a spontaneous standing ovation from an audience rising as one is rare, well we experienced that rarity last night at the George Street Theatre's magnificent, flawless production of  the classic American courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose. For Director (and Artistic Director) David Saint it must be a great personal triumph. Three weeks into rehearsal, his star, movie and tv legend Jack Klugman was forced to bow out of his role as Juror 9 for health reasons. David then turned to veteran television actor David Canary who, with only one week before opening, also had to step aside for personal reasons. To the rescue came Terry Layman who was the understudy for Canary and had played the same role in a Broadway revival in the 1990's.

Last night there was not a hint of a stressful lead up to the opening curtain. If I may repeat myself, this was a flawless, thrilling performance by a superior cast of film, tv and Broadway veterans. This is an ensemble effort where it may be wrong to single out anyone performer....each was excellent in their roles. However, we have mentioned Terry Layman and will mention three of the superb actors with more substantial roles in the verdict. First, Gregg Edelman  as juror Eight, the lone voice in favor of acquittal,
per Director Saint Edelman brings " enormous warmth, intelligence" to this role. Second, James Rebhorn as juror three who's relationship with his own son has influenced his decision, and last, and far from least, the bigot of the piece juror Ten David Schramm who delivers the most volatile performance. All the actors and their juror numbers are as follows;  Jim Brachitta (Juror One/Foreman), Scott Drummond (Juror Two), James Rebhorn (Juror Three), David Adkins(Juror Four), Michael Sirow (Juror Five), Lee Sellars (Juror Six), Jonathan C. Kaplan (Juror Seven), Gregg Edelman (Juror Eight), Terry Layman (Juror Nine), David Schramm (Juror Ten), Jonathan Hadary (Juror Eleven), John Bolger (Juror Twelve) and Andrew Nogasky (Guard).

You may recall that Reginald Rose wrote
Twelve Angry Men back in 1954 for television's Studio One, later it was a film (Jack Klugman played juror Nine)and was nominated for the Academy Award for best screenplay in 1957, and finally arrived on Broadway 50 years later. In 2007, Twelve Angry Men was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


The entire play is set in a Manhattan jury room early in the 1950's (excellent set by R. Michael Miller). The twelve jurors, all male (women did not participate until several years later ) are charged with determining the guilt or innocence of a 16 year old black boy (never actually mentioned but clearly inferred) who has been accused of fatally stabbing his father in their slum apartment. Two witnesses provide apparent damming evidence. A guilty verdict will mean execution. One lone juror, Gregg Edelman (Eight), not sure of the boy's guilt or innocence, but nagged by inconsistencies in the procedure and the non-aggressive representation of the boy's court appointed attorney votes for acquittal based on reasonable doubt. The reaction from many of the other members toward him is often violent with their racial bigotry and pure self-interests apparent, but he persists in methodically reexamining the evidence. It is not difficult viewing this story to recognize that this boy, quite possibly innocent, would have died due to lack of financial resources, whereas a boy from a family of means would possibly never have been brought to trial. What Rose has done is to hold up a mirror to the flaws in the justice system, certainly as it existed in the 1950's. Today of course, a defendant is tried before a more representative group of the community. I do disagree with those who think this is a dated play...this story of social injustice sadly appears to have no time limit. A simple read of today's headlines seems to indicate that justice remains multi-layered according to one's finances.

In addition to set designer R. Michael Miller,  credit also to Esther Arroyo for the perfect 1950's wardrobe  and the lighting and sound designer Christopher J. Bailey. Lighting may have been more challenging in this production since the set has a hard ceiling, thus all stage lighting was from the grids high above the audience.

Yes, you may have seen the tv production, yes, you may have seen the film, but if you love fine drama played out by outstanding live actors (and appreciate the magic of live theatre) you will thoroughly enjoy this powerful production that I give 5 out of 5 stars. Thank you David Saint and company for a theatre experience we will long remember.  You have until April 8 to see Twelve Angry Men. The play runs about one hour and forty minutes without an intermission.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 16, 2012

Individual tickets, starting at $26.50, as well as three play subscriptions and flexible admission packages are available through the George Street Playhouse Box Office, 732-246-7717 or by visiting the GSP website:  GSPonline.org.  George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue in the heart of downtown New Brunswick and steps away from plentiful parking, and dining options for every taste and budget.
Here are additional cast photos (T.Charles Erickson)

                                   +++++++++++++

Review: 'Blood: A Comedy' at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre





This past weekend the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, the always impressive professional Theatre in Residence at the Baird Center in South Orange, launched a 'new' farce by New Jersey playwright David Lee White, 'Blood: A Comedy. New, at least in North Jersey, in 2009 it was produced at the Passage Theatre in Trenton.

 Miceli, Farley, O'Hara-Baker, Carmichael & Halpert

The mystery is why did this very funny and
irreverent gem of a comedy go without a stage for so long?   Dreamcatcher’s Artistic Director, Laura Ekstrand deserves a standing ovation for play selection, impeccable casting and, of course, directing. The casting part at all the Dreamcatcher plays is truly amazing when you realize that they are a rep company with a core of regulars in every play.  In 'Blood: A Comedy' the DRT members are Clark Carmichael, Noreen Farley, David Miceli  and Jessica O’Hara-Baker. The one guest performer is F.David Halpert.

What David Lee White has provided is a fascinating, very intimate peek into the lives of two dysfunctional families that are about to be bonded by marriage. The peek is confined to one evening when the families gather for a pre-wedding dinner at the home of the bride Franny (
Jessica O’Hara-Baker). She lives with her eccentric atheist mother Jacqueline (Noreen Farley) who is showing signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Example: she is a college professor who has just lost her tenure for trying to teach intelligent design in a science class!

This is one of those 'Dinners from Hell' when no one is spared and no one leaves the table unchanged. Noreen Farley, as
Jacqueline, kicks off the verbal action with an explanation to the audience of her own memory problem and sets the stage for the dinner. At the table will be daughter Franny, her son Alec (David Miceli) a standard issue bisexual internet porn merchant, who is returning home for the first time in several years, Franny's fiance Matthew (Clark Carmichael) who is a 38 year-old born-again Christian virgin and is bringing his widowed father Noah (F.David Halpert) to meet Jacqueline. 

Prior to the father's arrival, Jacqueline, the atheist who is frightened by the memory loss, announces that it is time for them to get religion. To start this conversion she engages Franny, Alec and Matthew in a confession session. Each is to confess one past sin with the reward a piece of cheese. What follows, is a very clever verbal roller coaster ride ranging from the bride-to-be's extensive promiscuity to the existence of God. 

That is all of the plot we'll reveal....what you need to know is that this is a remarkably talented cast, especially Noreen Farley, so perfectly cast, and Jessica O’Hara-Baker, in a hilariously funny play (especially for the open-minded), beautifully directed by Laura Ekstrand, that could easily make the transition to Broadway without the slightest alteration.This is four-star entertainment.

You have until March 25 to get to the intimate black-box theatre in South Orange (ample free parking) to see this excellent production of
David Lee White’s Blood: A Comedy.

Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will a talkback with the artists
after the March 18 matinee performance. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and students, with special rates for subscribers and groups. Purchase tickets online at www.dreamcatcherrep.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.

The Baird is located at 5 Mead Street in Meadowland Park, a few blocks from the center of
downtown South Orange. The facility is wheelchair accessible. Assistive Listening devices for the hearing impaired and advance large print scripts are available by prior arrangement.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio     March 11, 2012

                                   +++++++++++++

Review: 'Seussical' at The Growing Stage-fun for the whole family

Steve Graham and Kristen Ware
A musical treat for the entire family opened this past weekend at The Growing Stage, The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey currently celebrating its 30th season. It is the fun-filled, happy musical experience, Seussical directed by the Growing Stages' executive director and founder Steve Fredericks, with choreography by Jillian Petrie and musical direction by Laura Petrie. Music is by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

The play is beautifully designed to entertain all ages, grandparents, parents, teens, and youngsters down to three. Everything about this production that features six excellent equity performers, plus a cast of adult and junior community players is a delight. This, of course, is what we have come to expect from Steve and company.

 Seussical,  one of the most popular, and most performed shows in America, debuted on Broadway in 2000. The play's story is a blend of many of Seuss's most famous books. Remember The Cat in the Hat? It tells the story of Horton, an elephant who takes on the responsibility of protecting the citizens of 'Whoville,' all of whom  live on a tiny speck of dust.  This adventure weaves story lines and characters together in fun and unexpected ways, introducing you to some of Dr. Seuss’s most famous characters along the way.

At the Saturday matinee we attended, the children out-numbered the adults about ten to one, but have no fear grandparents and parents, they were better behaved than many an adult audience. As a shameless  advocate of live theatre, it is wonderful to see the effect that this talented, enthusiastic cast supported by clever scenery, props and exotic colorful costumes had on the junior members of the audience.  Hopefully, firmly planting the seed of love for live performing.

The large cast of 31 is led by Steve Graham as The Cat in the Hat. He is absolutely perfect as the exuberant narrator and ringmaster. As is, young Kristen Ware as JoJo and Christopher Frazier as Horton the elephant. Some the best moments are due to the very talented, enthusiastic  Melinda Bass as Gertrude McFuzz, and Maggie Graham as the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird.  They are nicely supported by 'The Bird Girls' played by Sarah Jessica Anfora, Kristen Comyns and Katelyn Spinosa. Along with Steve Graham (The Cat in the Hat), the ladies are at their talented, funny best in the musical number 'The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz and the Amayzing Mayzie.' Seussical has twenty two other bright, genuinely amusing musical numbers composed by Tony winners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

Back to the cast credits; the professionals, as you would expect are all stand-outs. This includes Sahirah Johnson as the Sour Kangaroo and Mr. & Mrs. Mayor of Who,  Danny Arnold and Sandy Taylor. Also deserving of special mention are Becky Nitka, Matthew Fralley and particularly the fluid Brandon Hightower as The Wickersham Brothers. The full cast credits are listed below.

The Growing Stage is located in the Historic Palace Theatre (National, State and County Registers of Historic Places) on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey just off U.S. 80 and Route 46. The magic of this venue is complete down to the magnificent murals of famous children's stories that frame the entire auditorium. They provide a charming fantasy-land like atmosphere that contribute to the excitement, particularly for the the junior members of the audience.....worth the price of admission just to see the interior of this theatre built in 1919.

Seussical is playing  until April 1st with performances Friday evenings at 7:30 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 4:00 PM.


We give the director Steve Fredericks (photo left) the last word;  “The magic of Dr. Seuss' work and what allows it to live on from generation to generation is the unique value he places on imagination.  He doesn’t merely ask his readers to sit back and escape – he encourages us to think – just think!”

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 10, 2012

Tickets for Seussical are $18 for adults, $14 for children and seniors, with group rates available.   On Sunday, April 1st the Growing Stage will host a signed interpreted performance at 4:00 PM.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946 or logging onto their website at www.growingstage.com. 

The Growing Stage – The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

Now the cast;

Cat in the Hat, Steve Graham*
JoJo, Kristin Ware
Horton the Elephant, Christopher Frazier**
Gertrude McFuzz, Melinda Bass*
Mayzie La Bird, Maggie Graham*
Sour Kangaroo, Sahirah Johnson*
Young Kangaroo, Grace Brizek
The Bird Girls, Sarah Jessica  Anfora**, Kristen Comyns**, Katelyn Spinosa**
The Wickersham Brothers, Mathew Fralley, Brandon Lavon Hightower**, Becky Nitka
Mr. Mayor, Danny Arnold*
Mrs. Mayor, Sandy Taylor*
Judge Yertle the Turtle, Adrienne Reuss**
Citizens of Who:  Amanda Beck, Bryn Bennett, Peyton Crimi, Amelia
Graham, Ethan Graham, Kevin Irving, Jessi Kirschner, Adrienne Reuss**,
Joey Terrezza, Sierra Valdes
The Everything Girls:  Alana Claffey, Mackenzie Miller, Kelsy
Picatello, Olivia Row, Madeline Seeland, Nicole Sollazzo**
*Denotes a Member of the Association of Actors Equity
** Denotes an Equity Membership Candidate
Production Staff
Stage Manager, Rosemary Glennon*
Production Manager, Steve Graham*
Set, Props and Puppet Design, Perry Arthur Kroeger
Costume Design, Lori B. Lawrence
Lighting Design, S.I. Fredericks
Dance Captain, Olivia Row
Light Board Operator, Pierre Got
Sound Board Operator, Hannah Parker
Spot Light Operator, Dalton Allison

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Review: 'The Grapes of Wrath' at The Chatham Community Players


The New Jersey Association of Community Theaters each year presents 'Perry' awards for theatrical excellence. Last year they awarded two major Perry's to the The Chatham Community Players. The first was for Outstanding Production of a Play and second Outstanding Actor, both for the CCP's production of the drama 'Glengarry Glen Ross' (Read our review).  Actually two actors from 'Glenngarry' were nominated, David Cantor (Winner) and Michael King. Now comes the question, Is it possible for the CCP  to win the Outstanding Actor award two years in a row (different actor)? or is there an Association policy of spreading awards around? 
Dale Monroe, Tom Hodge and Debbie Bernstein

The reason for this concern, is that director Frank Licato's superior staging of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath' now playing (this weekend is the end of the run) has at least three actors who deserve to be nominated. They are
Dale Monroe as Tom, Jeff Maschi as Rev. Jim Casy and Debbie Bernstein as Ma Joad Dale Monroe is 'spot-on' as Tom, the family fighter who killed a man in a brawl in Oklahoma and ignores his parole to journey west with the family.  Jeff Maschi is also perfect in the supporting role of Rev. Casy, the former minister who lost his faith after seeing so much misery.  
My vote would go to Debbie Bernstein. She is simply magnificent as the mother who, regardless of the heartbreaking conditions she and her family experience from foreclosure in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in 1938 to the ugly plight of California migrant workers, far from the 'promised land' that had been promoted, somehow maintains her dignity and proves to be the true family leader and saviour. The final scene will leave you in no doubt that it is the mothers of the world who will save humanity.
The balance of director Licato's large cast includes these fine community actors: Tom Hodge as Pa, Arnold Buchiane as Grandpa, Jeslyn Wheeless as Grandma, Amanda Prieto as Rose of Sharon, Thom Wolfe as Al, Ian McGonigle as Noah, Jacqueline Pothier and Bridget McGarry share the role of Ruthie, Jaron Cole as Winfield, Steve Gabe as Uncle John,  Others in the cast include  Scott Tyler as Connie, Anna McCabe as Aggie Wainwright, and comprising the Ensemble are Frank Bläeuer, Victor Gallo, Rory Hoban, Charlotte Jusinski, Shanna Levine Phelps, Diane Lotti, Chip Prestera, Theo Errig, and Liz Royce.
 
Don't be put off by the fact that you are familiar with either the Nobel and Pulitzer winning book, or the Oscar winning 1940 film with Henry Fonda as the ex-con son Tom, this is an absolutely first rate retelling of one family's devastating attempt to survive this dreadful period in our history (The Great Depression). This tale of bank foreclosure, unemployment and social injustice is sadly all too relevant today.
Director Frank Licato: "We have a tendency to think of the story as a historical document, but nothing could be further from the truth.  It remains at the heart of who we are as society, and questions what our priorities are.  Some of these questions are just as pragmatic today as they were then; certainly for migrant workers, but Steinbeck, like any great artist, uses the specific to depict the universal.  This is no museum piece and I hope that we can surround the Joads’ story with elements which challenge the audience to see beyond the familiar trappings of the period and to look at the images that reflect back at us today."

Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, "The Grapes of Wrath" premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and later transferred to the West End and Broadway. There it was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning two for Best Direction and Best Play. Known for his sympathetic humor and keen social perception, John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939 after seeing the devastation that blanked the country during the Great Depression. The novel won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and was a cornerstone to the Nobel Prize in Literature he was awarded in 1962.

The remaining performance dates are March 16 and 17 at 8PM. Performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham.  Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for youth/senior.


To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to http://www.chathamplayers.org/tickets.htm and click on the “TicketLeap” logo.  The service is available 24 hours a day, and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance.  The box office will begin accepting phone reservations on February 24 at (973) 635-7363.
 
The Chatham Community Players has been entertaining residents of Morris County and the surrounding area since 1922.  "The organization’s mission is to produce high-quality theater for a diverse audience, while elevating its standard of excellence and providing a creative outlet with educational opportunities and outreach programs."  For more information, including details of CCP’s entire 2011-2012 season, visit www.chathamplayers.org
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 10, 2012
The Joad Family:
(L-R Standing) Dale Monroe as Tom from Hackettstown, Steve Gabe as Uncle John from Madison, Jeslyn Wheeless as Grandma and Arnold Buchiane as Grandpa from Summit, Debbie Bernstein as Ma from Maplewood and Tom Hodge as Pa from Denville, (L-R Seated) Jaron Cole as Winfield from Madison, Amanda Prieto as Rose of Sharon from Madison and Jacqueline Pothier from Summit as Ruthie. 

PHOTOS BY HOWARD FISHER
                                                           +++++++++++++++++++

The Women’s Theater Company, based in Parsippany, opened their latest production last night, a one-act musical, 'The Last Five Years.' The play is written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Lauren Mills. 

James D. Sasser and Lea Antolini

This is an intimate, bittersweet tale of love between two people both pursuing creative careers. At first meeting they are in the early stages of their careers. Cathy, played nicely by Lea Antolini*, is a struggling actress who is unable to crack the competitive world of New York theater and finds her only source of performing in Mid-Western regional theater. Her husband, Jamie, a writer, played by the excellent James D. Sasser*, however, has found major national success. In this all too familiar story (remember "A Star Is Born"?), her constant casting rejections are keeping her on a career tread-mill that is clearly leading her nowhere and  taking its inevitable toll on their relationship. Meanwhile, as his star rises he accuses her of being unsupportive of his career just because hers is stalled. 

The tale is presented in a most unique manner: first, it is all singing, no spoken dialogue, and second it is the method that it is told. He tells it chronologically from beginning through the end of five years.  She tells the story chronologically in reverse, from present to past. They do not interact except for a wedding song in the middle as their time lines intersect.

The two performers are fine actors with fine voices. Lea has become been a favorite of ours from her outstanding work at the Centenary Stage Company. She starred as Nancy in their 2010 production of 'Oliver!' and this past December as The Ghost of Christmas Past in 'A Christmas Carol'. James D. Sasser has a very impressive talent that extends from Broadway to the operatic and concert stages. They are musically supported by WTC veterans Musical Director Warren Helms on keyboard and Tim Metz on electric bass. We continue to be amazed at the great, quality sound the two provide. Our friend, and fellow reviewer, William Westhoven has stated that Warren was "the secret weapon behind years of successful Morris (county) musicals." Director Lauren Mills has beautifully delivered a fragile, emotional tale that will resonant with many in the audience.

Brown won the Drama Desk Awards for the music and the lyrics after the Off-Broadway premiere in 2002. The inspiration for 'The Last Five Years' reportedly came from Brown's own failed marriage. 

The production crew includes stage manager Grayce Coviello,* Set design and construction Jonathan Wentz, costumes Caitlin Cisek and lighting design Todd Mills. 

We must note that the ringmaster for this touching tale of love, as she is for all the efforts at the WTC, is the dynamic Artistic Director and co-founder, Barbara Krajkowski (PHOTO). Barbara, recipient of many awards, was most recently awarded the title of Legend of Morris County by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. 

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    March 2, 2012

 
The show will run Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees through March 18.  Evening performances are at 8 pm, Sunday matinees at 3 pm  Performances are at The Parsippany Arts Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha. Free parking.

Tickets for performances are $18.00 and $20.00 and discounted to $15.00 for Senior Citizens.  Groups of 10 or more pay only $13.00 per person for a performance. Call 973 316-3033 to reserve seats for a performance. Groups please call 908 306-0881 for reservations. 

* Members of Actors' Equity Association 


             ************************************************************************************* 

THE LUNA STAGE

The Luna Stage is presenting the world premiere of a powerful and fascinating drama of the under-exposed story of the slave trade north of the Mason-Dixon line. The play is Reparation and was written by Gino DiLorio, a college professor of Theatre at Clark University in Massachusetts, and directed by the Luna Stage's Artistic Director Jane Mandel. DiLorio, in a Talk Back discussion on Sunday following a performance, said he was inspired to develop the play from a lecture he attended about slavery in New England. The method he has chosen to illuminate this sad chapter in American history is a three character tale about a real estate deal that is on the brink of collapse when the site is discovered to be a slave burial ground. 

The 'mayor' and custodian William Patterson a long-term resident of the mostly abandoned housing project insists that no deal to compensate and relocate the few remaining tenants is possible without preserving the burial ground he alone has maintained for many years and considers his legacy. The real estate team consists of the head of the firm, Chrissy Aurora, who is desperate to close this development deal. Failure could mean the end of the long time family business. To negotiate with William she turns to David, a black out-of-work investment banker, who not only is a former employee who had a falling out with her late father, but is also a former lover. He has simple, very direct instructions "Get the deal done, no matter what it takes." In the process of 'getting the deal done' do they trample on William's legacy for maximum profit or will they 'do the right thing' and honor the historical site?

 

Catherine Eaton & Shane Taylor
Now the cast, they are superb. Director Jane Mandel has put together a perfect threesome. Chrissy is played by the very fine actress Catherine Eaton, equally impressive is Shane Taylor as David, and, the performance that is worth the price of admission alone, the truly extraordinary actor Frankie Faison as William (Frankie is not only a star of stage and screen he is also Director Jane Mandel's husband).

This is a fascinating, provocative play with superior performances that reminds us that many of our institutions were built either on the backs directly or by the profits from slave labor. The play offers no clear answer regarding the moral dilemma it presents....is there one?


Of special note... is the excellent use of original music by jazz musician Oliver Lake at each break. The clever three level set is designed by Maiko Chii. Lighting is by Rachel Budin, sound by Steve Brown and costumes by Deborah Caney. The production is stage managed by Mary Ellen Allison. 


Reparation was the winner of the E. Desmond Lee Prize in 2011 (African-American subject) and a Yale Drama League Finalist in 2010.

The play runs through March 11th. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $20-$30 per person and can be purchased in person, on the phone at 973-395-5551, or on the Luna Stage website: www.lunastage.org. Luna Stage is located at 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ 07052. 973-395-5551. The theatre is handicapped accessible and assisted listening devices are available.

 
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio Sunday February 19, 2012


***************************************************************************************

THE CENTENARY STAGE COMPANY

The source of the hilarious comedy, 'The Ladies Man', now playing in the Centenary Stage Company's Sitnik Theatre is the French playwright Georges Feydeau's comedy 'The Ladies’ Dressmaker' freely translated and adapted by Charles Morey. This quote from Feydeau provides more than a clue to the plot of 'The Ladies Man', "Whenever two of my characters absolutely, positively under any circumstances shouldn't meet, I put them in the same room together." What he has created with Moray's assistance is one of the funniest, madcap comedies of this or any other season. First...a warning...this not a cerebral event...don't look too closely....this fast-paced farce, particularly Act Two, is to be enjoyed without too much concern for logical situations, excessive silliness or occasional French accent lapses.

This handsome production is directed by the Centenary Stage Company's Artistic Director and frequent star, Carl Wallnau. Not only a fine director of comedy, he is also a master of casting. He wisely chose for the leading role, Dr. Hercule Molineaux, the star of CSC's 2010 'Oliver' (Fagan) Carl Wallnau. Carl is perfect in this wacky role. 

His skill in casting is also evident in the supporting cast led by one of our favorite NJ acting treasures, Liz Zazzi, who plays the Doctor's Mother-in-Law from Hell, Madame Aigreville. No one makes an entrance as grand, with the support of Mozart, as she does. Another favorite is Allen Lewis Rickman, direct from Broadway ('Relatively Speaking'), who is hysterical as a patient (Bassinet) with a unique speech impediment and a missing wife. The good doctor has an extremely faithful valet masterfully played for laughs by Robert Anthony Jones. Rounding out the cast are three very attractive ladies and one towering handsome Prussian officer. The doctor's young wife is in the able hands of a newcomer (actually a CSC intern) the lovely Alycia M. Kunkle. All French drawing room comedies would not be complete without the obligatory sexy maid....filling that role perfectly is Jaclyn Ingoglia as maid Marie. Last are the Aubins....Suzanne Aubin is the over-sexed wife of the Prussian officer, Gustav Aubin. Suzanne is played by the young and vivacious Ashley Kowzun. Gustav, the jealous Prussian officer (in full uniform including a helmet) is played with the appropriate amount of blustering and gusto by Colin Ryan.
 

The play is set, early in the 20th century, in the second-floor Parisian parlor of the Molineaux residence that serves as his office and later in a dressmaker's shop that's more suited for men than women. Dr. Molineaux is married to a beautiful young wife, Yvonne, who passionately calls out "Tiger, Tiger" during love making, his totally unacceptable reaction is to giggle destroying all romantic thought (and ability). The result is that he takes to sleeping alone in his study claiming the reason is that his wife snores. As the play opens, his wife discovers that he has not been home all night with the only explanation possible to her (and her mother) is that he spent the night in a palace of sin. In truth, he spent the night on a park bench in the pouring rain (disregard the fact that he returns in the morning in neat dinner clothes) after a failed rendezvous at the Moulin Rouge with his amorous patient, Suzanne Aubin. What can he do... admit his indiscretion? No, instead he concocts a mammoth lie about sitting up with a near-death patient. What follows is lie, after lie, leading to a series of mistaken identities and embarrassing situations worthy of the Marx Brothers. Be prepared...this is a laugh out loud event. 

Production credits: The elegant set was designed by Emmy Award winner Bob Phillips (Sesame Street), the Stage Manager is Kathryn China Hayzer, lighting by Ed Matthews, sound design by Michael Magnifico, and superior costumes by Julia Sharp.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio February 17, 2012



The Ladies Man opened at Centenary Stage Company on February 17th and runs through March 4th. Performance times are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM, Sundays at 2PM, Thursdays (Family Nights) at 7:30 PM, with one additional matinee performances on Wed, Feb 22 at 2 PM. A student matinee is offered on Wednesday, February 29th at 10 A.M. with discounted ticket prices for school groups with advance reservations Ticket prices are $20 - $25, with discounts for seniors and students. Thursday evenings are “Family Nights” with two-for-one “rush” tickets available at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at
www.centenarystageco.org, by calling (908) 979-0900, or in person at the Lackland Center at 715 Grand Ave in Hackettstown, with box office hours from 1-5 Monday through Friday, and two hours prior to performances. Performances will take place in the Sitnik Theater of the David and Carol Lackland in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The Centenary Stage Company is a not-for-profit, professional Equity theatre, in residence at Centenary College.


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