Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Thornton Wilder's classic 'Our Town' at George Street Playhouse

Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney on Friday, April 25th at 8:00pm

OUR TOWN has come home - literally. Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play premiered in New Jersey at McCarter Theatre at Princeton University in 1938. Now, more than 75 years later, the timeless classic is onstage at George Street Playhouse in an inaugural partnership with nearby Rutgers University. Although Wilder set his meditation on life and death in a fictional New Hampshire town called Grover's Corners, he earned his master's degree from Princeton and taught school in nearby Lawrenceville. He set his 1942 Pulitzer Prize-winner “The Skin of Our Teeth” completely in the Garden State.

OUR TOWN hardly needs introduction. It has been performed across the globe on stages large and small practically non-stop since its premiere. Chances are you have seen a production somewhere at sometime. But the magic of Wilder's masterwork is that despite being set just after the turn of the last century it somehow seems timeless. Examining small town life before the advent of technology and industrialization, Wilder created a play told without scenery, without props, and even without much in the way of plot. The events of life are his subject – and the miracle of his writing is that three quarters of a century of progress hasn't rendered the script dated or quaint. The play is divided into three acts: daily life, love and marriage, and death. As one character so aptly puts it “My, isn't life awful - and wonderful.”

George Street Playhouse's new production is certainly the latter. Director David Esbjornson wisely eschews directorial trickery to present a clean, concise and ultimately traditional OUR TOWN that manages to fulfill Wilder's mission of being palpably modern while simultaneously recalling a lost time and place. In order to meld Rutgers with New Brunswick's Theatre Row, Esbjornson (chair of the University’s Theatre Program) has recruited a fine cast featuring Rutgers alumni, current students, and theater veterans led by Tony winner Boyd Gaines. As the Stage Manger, Gaines lends a quiet gravitas to the proceedings, his centered authority always emanating a respect for the material and his great privilege to share it with us. The Stage Manager is essentially Wilder himself. The author even played the role on Broadway for a fortnight in 1938. The entire ensemble is uniformly excellent, but Aaron Ballard stands out as Emily, arguably the show's leading character. Ballard's Emily is a refreshingly simple creation. A gawky country girl, not completely comfortable in her own skin, but terribly earnest in intention.

Ending their 40th Anniversary Season, this long-awaited 'town and gown' partnership between George Street and Rutgers has created a new theater community – and community is one of Wilder's chief themes. Esbjornson brilliantly reinforces those themes with subtle touches. Act Two's nuptials are set amid the orchestra section, involving us, the audience, in a way that never seems forced or gimmicky. Scott Zielinski's lighting casts a warm amber glow over us as we bear witness to this important event in Emily's life. As a nod toward timelessness, stars are frequently mentioned in OUR TOWN. 

Toward that end, bare bulbs hang above both stage and auditorium lending added poignancy to lines like“The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go, – doesn't it?” Esbjornson also wisely directs his cast away from huge 'Pepperidge Farm' accents that mar lesser TOWNs with too much specificity. This Grover's Corners might be New Brunswick, Princeton, or your town. Mid-way through they play, Wilder has one of the town's youngest citizens muse on their place in the world: “Grover's Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God.” Specific and universal – that's the brilliance of OUR TOWN and in aim this production excels. Visit Grover's Corners at George Street Playhouse now through May 25th.

The George Street Playhouse at 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 

'Barnum' at Chatham Playhouse in May


What happens when you set a Broadway musical at the circus? Let’s just say you may want to “Join the Circus like you wanted to, when you were a kid.” The Chatham Community Players concludes their successful 92nd Season of producing local theater with an audience favorite, “BARNUM” with book by Mark Bramble, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and music by Cy Coleman.

This musical will run from May 9 through May 24 and will feature a “side show” 30 minutes before every performance. Jeffrey Fiorello from Montclair directs, Jack Bender from Jersey City is Musical Director and Megan Ferentinos from Cranford is the Choreographer.

Winner of a Drama Desk and three Tony Awards, BARNUM sparkles with a cast of singers, actors, jugglers and clowns. Barnum ran two years on Broadway in the early 80’s with music by Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity, City of Angels & Will Rogers Follies) Lyrics by Michael Stewart (Bye, Bye Birdie, Carnival & Hello Dolly!) and book by Mark Bramble (42nd Street).

The show traces the life of the legendary huckster Phineas Taylor Barnum from the purchase of his first sideshow act through his partnership with James A. Bailey and his marriage to Chairy reveals a couple who looked at the world from opposite sides of the spectrum, revealing that she was the practical one who made Barnum’s dreams come true. The score is a pastiche of toe-tapping marches, ballads, ragtime and Dixieland tunes with several circus-infused show stopping numbers designed to thrill audiences. The worlds of musical theatre and circus are blended into a vibrant and entertaining musical celebrating the colorful, creative and driven life of the World’s Greatest Showman, Phineas “P.T.” Barnum.

Featuring an energetic cast ripe with circus antics, this musical includes actors from all around New Jersey. Leading the cast, Chris Abbott from South Plainfield is playing the role of P.T. Barnum.

Also featured are Kathleen Campbell Jackson from Peapack/Gladstone as Chairy Barnum, Michael Healy from Boonton as Ringmaster, Jen Hanselman from Berkeley Heights, Ray Guy from Montclair as Tom Thumb, Sarah Kuhns from Stanhope as Jenny Lind, Joe Guadara from Caldwell as James A. Bailey, Alan Van Antwerp from Little Falls, Joe Leo from Cranford as Sherwood Stratton, Raven Dunbar from Dayton as Mrs Stratton, William Carey from Glen Ridge as Wilton, Anthony Bruno from Lodi as Humbert Morrissey and Shannon Ludlum from Whitehouse Station as the Blues Singer.

The ensemble is consists of Michal Efron from Summit, Jessica Phelan from Montclair, Jo Rosa Rio from Belleville, Gira Derise from Wharton and Samantha Kaplan from Verona.

Rounding out Fiorello’s talented production team, the Producer is Bob Lukasik, Stage Manager is Pam Wilczybski, Production Stage Manager is Debby Hennessy, Scenic Designer is Bob Lukasik, Scenic Painting by Andrea Sickler, Costume Designer is Fran Harrison, Lighting Designer is Richard Hennessy, Sound Designer is Joe DeVico and Production Coordinator is Steffi Denmark.
As a special treat and to help the entire family enjoy the circus atmosphere, we are going to offer a “Side Show”, where the audience may partake in some circus refreshments, face painting, watch performers doing some tricks and also a chance to learn something about P.T. Barnum. The special preshow activities will occur 30 minutes before each show.
Performance dates are May 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8PM and May 17, 18 and 24 at 3PM. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior. Fun for the entire family!
Tickets can be purchased at our Box Office or Online. To access the theater’s online ticketing service, simply go to ccp.ticketleap .com. 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. Chatham Playhouse’s box office will begin accepting phone reservations on February 28 at (973) 635-7363. For information regarding box office hours, please call the box office number listed above.

Award-winning vocalist Julie Budd stars in The Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein kicking off Surflight Theatre’s 65th Season

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the dynamic duo of the golden age of Broadway, writing such masterworks as CarouselThe King and IOklahoma!South PacificThe Sound of Music and more.  Some Enchanted Evening showcases their greatest hits boasting over 30 songs performed by Julie Budd and members of the Surflight 2014 acting company.
Some Enchanted Evening is directed and choreographed by Norb Joerder, with music direction for Julie Budd by Herb Bernstein and music direction by Henco Espag.
Tickets are $45 and on sale now by (609)492-9477 or online at
Performances of Some Enchanted EveningThe Songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein will be presented Wednesday, June 11 through Sunday, June 15 at Surflight Theatre, 201 Engleside Avenue in historic Beach Haven on Long Beach Island.  Matinee performances WednesdayThursdaySaturday and Sunday are at 2pm with evening performances Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm.

Surflight Theatre's 65th Anniversary Season continues with Jekyll and Hyde (June 18-July 6); Fiddler on the Roof (July 9-27); Monty Python’s Spamalot (July 30-August 24) and A Chorus Line (August 27-September 14).

Julie Budd is considered to be one of the most exciting singers on the scene today.  While enjoying a multi-faceted musical career, Julie’s credits range from television to film, the NY stage and symphonies all over the country, along with the most lavish casinos and showrooms everywhere.
The New York Times raved with a full two-page glowing retrospective of Julie’s career, declaring Ms. Budd “The Consummate Performer.“
She began her professional career at the tender age of twelve, after meeting record producer/orchestrator Herb Bernstein.  He immediately took Julie under his wing and introduced her to Merv Griffin at a recording session in New York City.  After hearing Julie sing, this “Mini Girl with the Maxi Voice “was invited to appear on more than 100 of Merv’s shows.
From there Julie went on to appear on “The Tonight Show“, “Entertainment Tonight” and every major TV show.  In the years that followed Julie co- starred with such legendary performers as Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, and Liberace.
As Julie recalls. “What a way to grow up and start in this business! These people were wonderful to me.  Some kids went to school, but I went to work and learned from the best each one of these performers was a professor to me, and I was lucky to have had the opportunity to know them all.”
While touring in her one-woman shows, Julie’s concerts have included performances at:
Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The London Palladium, Tel Aviv’s Israel Performing Art’s Center, venues in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and major symphony halls in the United States.
Julie Budd has become a favorite to many of the Symphony Orchestra’s including: The Baltimore Symphony, The National Symphony, The Pittsburgh Symphony, The Austin Symphony, The Alabama Symphony, The Philadelphia Symphony, The Boca Pops, The Milwaukee Symphony, and The Dallas Symphony.
Julie Budd has also pursued an exciting acting career having appeared in productions with: the prestigious Circle Repertory Company in New York City, Playwrights Horizon in NYC, appearing on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, and in Neil Simon’s They’re Playing Our Song.
Moviegoers will remember Julie starring role in “Disney’s The Devil & Max Devlin” with Bill Cosby and Elliot Gould. Along with this role, Julie once again had the pleasure of working with the late and brilliant, Marvin Hamlisch, who together with Carol Bayer Sager penned the title song “Roses and Rainbows” for Julie, which she has recently re- recorded and released on her CD “The New Classics.”
Julie Budd has also recently appeared in the motion picture, “Two Lovers” with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Two River Theater's lineup of productions for its 2014/15 Season.

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, announces the lineup of productions for its 2014/15 Season. The year will include world-premiere plays and musicals that have been developed at the theater, including Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, a new play written and directed by Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson; and Be More Chill, a musical by Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz, adapted from the novel by Ned Vizzini and directed by Scott Ellis. The season will also include a range of world masterpieces and American classics, and work for audiences ages three and up.

Low-priced ticket packages are on sale now from 732.345.1400 or Two River Theater offers flexible blocks of tickets that patrons can divide up however they like, with a special discount of 25% off regular ticket prices. Ticket prices for individual shows range from $15 to $65.

“This season, Two River will produce work by some of the world’s greatest theater artists—including Molière, Ayckbourn, and the legendary musical theater team of Lerner and Loewe—as well as original plays and musicals by established artists like Ruben Santiago-Hudson and emerging writers, such as Tony Meneses and the musical theater team of Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz,” says Artistic Director John Dias. “Michael Hurst and I are proud to offer our audiences this season’s range of classics and new work, and to support the extraordinary artists who are at the center of it. One of my ambitions for Two River when I joined the company in 2010 was to create a pipeline for developing work that contributes to the vitality and future of the American theater. The work of these artists is both groundbreaking and entertaining, and we are grateful and honored to connect our adventurous Red Bank audience to the national theater community.” 


By Molière
Translated into English Verse by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
Rechnitz Theater
September 13-October 5, 2014
Press Opening: Friday, September 19  
Two River Theater opens its season with Molière’s classic comedy about a rich, middle-aged bachelor named Arnolphe, whose plan to groom his innocent young ward into the “perfect” wife goes quickly awry. The School for Wives received its first production in 1662, with Molière himself as Arnolphe. One of the world’s funniest playwrights, Molière’s verse plays also include Tartuffe and The Misanthrope.

Director Mark Wing-Davey first came to prominence in the United States with his highly acclaimed 1992 production of Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest at New York Theatre Workshop. Since then he has worked extensively in New York City for NYTW, Manhattan Theatre Club, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, and The Public Theater, directing Troilus and Cressida and Henry V in Central Park. Wing-Davey is the Chair of Graduate Acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Also an actor, in June 2012 he embarked on a six-week National UK tour reprising the role he created—Zaphod Beeblebrox—in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show Live on Stage, playing to thousands of people a night. 

Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by David Lee 
Rechnitz Theater
November 15-December 14
Press Opening: Friday, November 21

Director David Lee (Two River’s critically acclaimed production of Present Laughter and TV’s FrasierWings, and Cheers) directs one of the great musicals in the American theater canon, showcasing the youth and vitality of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. Lee’s Broadway-bound revival of Cole Porter’s Can-Can will open the season at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse just prior toCamelot’s run at Two River.

Written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (My Fair LadyGigi) in 1960, this timeless love story, based on The Once and Future King by T. H. White, includes “I Loved You Once in Silence” and “If Ever I Would Leave You” and other favorites. Camelot will be performed by an eight-actor ensemble and eight-piece orchestra.

Presented by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia
Rechnitz Theater
December 19-22, 2014

Three beloved stories by Eric Carle (The Mixed-Up ChameleonLittle Cloud, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar) are retold on stage through the magic of evocative music, stunning visual effects, and innovative puppetry. On the road continuously since 1999, the Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (a component of assorted compilations with four other Eric Carle stories) is an imaginative and delightful hour-long production that has delighted audiences in 12 countries. This production is recommended for ages three and up.
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Jessica Stone 
Rechnitz Theater
January 10-February 1, 2015
Press Opening: January 16

A laugh-out-loud look at how three English couples deal with their relationships, social standings, and the pressures of three successive Christmas gatherings. Sir Alan Ayckbourn is an Olivier, Tony, and Molière Award-winning playwright who has written 78 full-length plays. Absurd Person Singular (number 12) had its world premiere in 1972 and is considered one of his greatest works; it holds the record for the single longest run of an Alan Ayckbourn play in both the West End and on Broadway. My Wonderful Day (number 73) charmed audiences at Two River in 2011/12.

Director Jessica Stone has worked as an actor on and Off-Broadway, in television and film, for the last 20 years. Her Broadway credits includeAnything Goes with Sutton Foster, Butley with Nathan Lane, and The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Her directing career began with her 2010 production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for the Williamstown Theater Festival, which was met with critical acclaim. Her upcoming productions include Christopher Durang’s Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike for The Old Globe and June Moon for Williamstown. 

By Tony Meneses
Directed by Daniella Topol
Marion Huber Theater
February 14-March 15, 2015
Press Opening: February 27

This beautiful new play introduces audiences to Guadalupe Castillo, a Mexican woman whose daughter’s untimely death leaves her struggling to connect with her American son-in-law, in a country whose language she barely speaks. Written by the rising young playwright Tony Menesesand directed by Daniella Topol (A Wind in the Willows Christmas at Two River Theater), Guadalupe in the Guest Room is a moving and funny celebration of life, connection, and the unexpected healing power of telenovelas.

Mexican-born playwright Tony Meneses has had work presented in New York, Austin, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Guadalupe in the Guest Room was part of the 2013 LARK Playwrights’ Week. He is also a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Obie-award winning writing group Youngblood. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and BA from The University of Texas at Austin.

Written and Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Rechnitz Theater
April 11-May 3, 2015
Press Opening: April 17

When liberal, Upper West Side resident Judith befriends Zeke, a highly educated yet once-homeless man she meets at a soup kitchen, their fragile hold on history begins to slip. Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson (August Wilson’s Seven Guitars) crafts a provocative, daring, and immensely powerful world-premiere drama about race, sacrifice, and legacy.   

As a playwright, Santiago-Hudson won an Obie Award and critical acclaim for his solo show Lackawanna Blues, and his screenplay for the HBO adaptation received the Humanitas Prize, Christopher Award, National Board of Review Honors, and NAACP Image Award. His directing credits include Two River’s critically acclaimed productions of August Wilson’s Jitney and Two Trains Running.

Adapted and Directed by Jason McDowell-Green
Marion Huber Theater
April 23-May 1, 2015
Two River’s new “A Little Shakespeare” series launched during the theater’s 20th Anniversary Season with a production of As You Like It. This year, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most famous, magical, and romantic comedies, will be performed by a cast of local high-school students in a 90-minute version adapted and directed by Jason McDowell-Green. The schedule will include both public performances and six student matinees, and will launch on April 23, 2015—Shakespeare’s birthday.

Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz
Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini
Directed by Scott Ellis 
Rechnitz Theater
May 30-June 21, 2015

Two River Theater will conclude its season with a commissioned world-premiere musical by two of the most exciting young voices in the musical theater, Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz, based on the acclaimed 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story). Jeremy Heere is just your average dork trying to survive life in his suburban New Jersey high school. When he swallows a pill-sized supercomputer that promises to bring him everything he desires most, he is transformed from complete geek to the coolest guy in class. But is being the most popular guy in school worth the risk?
Joe Iconis (The Black Suits, TV’s Smash) is a musical theater writer and a fixture on the New York cabaret scene. He is the recipient of an Ed Kleban Award, a Jonathan Larson Award, an ASCAP Harold Adamson Lyric Award, and a MAC John Wallowitch Songwriting Award. Joe Tracz’smusical adaptation of the first book in the popular Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief (written with composer Rob Rokicki) will premiere at the Lortel Theatre this summer, then tour nationally with Theatreworks USA. Scott Ellis (CurtainsThe Mystery of Edwin Drood) is a six-time Tony Award-nominated director for theater and television.

Plays, artists, dates, and ticket prices are subject to change. For additional information, visit

Ticket Information

Season ticket packages (beginning at three plays) are on sale now; prices range from $88.80 to $318.50. Two River Theater offers flexible blocks of tickets that patrons can divide up however they like, with a special discount of 25% off regular ticket prices.

Ticket prices for all productions except The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites and A Little Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream range from $37 to $65, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. 

Ticket prices for The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Eric Carle Favorites and A Little Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream are $20 for adults and $15 for children under age 12. 

Now at The Summit Playhouse the hilarious comedy 'Harvey' with Chip Prestera as Elwood P. Dowd

Cast of Harvey. Photo credit Truc-Lan Vu

“We can’t wait to bring the wit and charm of Harvey to our audiences at the Summit Playhouse”, says Steve Catron, director. “One of the things we love about this show is that folks know the title, since many have seen the movie with Jimmy Stewart. We know our patrons will love this story of the big white rabbit Harvey and his unflappable friend Elwood P. Dowd.”

Harvey tells the story of an affable man named Elwood P. Dowd and his presumably imaginary friend Harvey, a six-foot, three-and-one-half-inch tall pooka. When Elwood starts to introduce Harvey to guests at a society party, his society-obsessed sister, Veta, decides to have him committed to spare her daughter Myrtle Mae and their family from future embarrassment. When Veta takes Elwood to the local sanatorium, the doctors mistakenly commit the anxiety-ridden Veta. This sets off a hilarious whirlwind of confusion and chaos.

The play by Mary Chase opened in Broadway in 1944 and ran for four and a half years.  Harvey won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for best play.  The 1950 film starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd was brought even more attention to the work as Harvey gained popularity in the theater and on the stage.

Harvey is under the direction of Steve Catron. Truc-Lan Vu is both producer and stage manager. Costume design for the show is by Sheila Rees, set design by Kevern Cameron, lighting and sound design by Wendy Roome, set décor by Risha Walden and set painting by Tina White.
The cast for Harvey features Stacey Petricha as Veta Louise Simmona, Jackie Jacobi as Myrtle Mae Simmons, Nerida Miller as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, Jon Beeler as Dr. Sanderson, Kendall Green as Nurse Kelly, Eric Friedman as Wilson, Arnold Buchiane as Dr. Chumley, Kathy Mierisch as Mrs. Betty Chumley, Frank Guerrasio as Judge Omar Gaffney, Steve Nitka as E.J. Lofgren, and Chip Prestera as Elwood P. Dowd.

About the Summit Playhouse
Since its founding in 1918, the Summit Playhouse has produced over 300 productions, making it one of the oldest continuously operating community theaters in the United States. The historic institution is devoted to maintaining the practice of theatre arts and encouraging those interested in all aspects of the performing arts and its operations.  The Playhouse’s original stone structure was constructed in 1891 and housed Summit’s first library.
HARVEY at The Summit Playhouse will run the next two weekends May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 10th at 8pm, and Sunday, May 4th at 2pm.
Ticket are available  or 1.800.838.3006. Single tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students (18 and under). Group rates for ten or more are also available; for details call the Playhouse at 908.273.2192.

Tony Nominee and American Idol Finalist CONSTANTINE MAROULIS And Tony Award-nominated stars of Memphis MONTEGO GLOVER and NANCY OPEL Perform as Part of Tribute to Playwright JOE DiPIETRO At George Street Playhouse’s Annual Gala Sunday

Trio, Joined by Actors Jim Stanek and Kate Wetherhead, Will Perform During Cabaret Portion of the Evening in Which Tony Award-Winning
Playwright Will Receive George Street Playhouse Distinguished Artist Award

George Street Playhouse certainly knows how to throw a party – and invites some pretty spectacular guests in the process.  Tony Award nominees and musical heavy hitters Contstantine Maroulis  (American Idol finalist, The Wedding Singer and Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway) Nancy Opel (GSP’s Toxic Avenger, Broadway’s Memphis) and Montego Glover (Memphis) will join the festivities as the Playhouse celebrates its fortieth season during its Annual Gala on Sunday May 4.  Mr. Maroulis, Ms. Opel and Ms. Glover will perform during the cabaret portion of the evening as part of a tribute to Tony Award-winning playwright Joe DiPietro (The Toxic Avenger, Memphis, Nice Work if You Can Get It, GSP’s Clever Little Lies).    Mr. DiPietro will be awarded the Playhouse Distinguished Artist Award, and in a nod to the final production of George Street’s 40th Season, New Brunswick Mayor, the Honorable James Cahill, will be given the Thomas H. Kean Arts Advocacy Award, to be presented by the former Governor himself.

The Black Tie affair at The Heldrich (located right across the street from George Street Playhouse)begins at 5 pm with a cocktail reception and silent auction.  Dinner follows at 6:30 pm with the Cabaret performance commencing at 7:30. Individual tickets as well as tables of ten are available. Seating for only the cabaret performance is also available.  For further information contact Steven Barry, at (732) 846-2895, extension 144.

George Street Playhouse Distinguished Artist Joe DiPietro won the 2012 Drama Desk Award and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book for the recent Broadway hit Nice Work If You Can Get It.  He won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score for Memphis, which was also awarded the 2010 Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.   He has seen three of his shows begin their lives on the George Street Playhouse stage:  The Toxic Avenger, Creating Claire, and this season’s Clever Little Lies.  His other shows include All Shook UpI Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (the longest-running musical revue in off-Broadway history); The Toxic Avenger and The Thing About Men (both winners of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical).  His plays include the much-produced Over the River and Through the WoodsThe Art of Murder (Edgar Award winner for Best Mystery Play),Creating Claire and The Last Romance.  His work has been produced thousands of times across the country and around the world.

Montego Glover  was born in Macon, Georgia and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  A graduate of Florida State University with a BFA in Music Theatre, Montego made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple in the roles of Celie & Nettie. She created the role of Felicia Farrell in the Broadway hit musical Memphis and received a Tony Award Nomination for Lead Actress in a Musical as well as a Drama League Nomination and won both the Outer Critics’ Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for her performance.  While based in New York, Montego has been privileged to travel to a number of exciting theatre companies around the country including: the Geffen Playhouse, Pittsburgh CLO, The Huntington Theatre, and Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre to name a few. And the productions have been as varied as the locations: Aida (4 productions in the role of Aida, IRNE Award-Best Actress in a Musical), Ragtime (2 productions in the role of Sarah), Dreamgirls (Lorrell), Into The Woods (Red Riding Hood) Oklahoma (Ado Annie), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hermia), Westside Story (Anita), Jesus Christ Superstar (Mary Magadelene), and Once On This Island (TiMoune, Helen Hayes Award Nomination) among others.

Travel has also given Montego an impressive list of credits in Concert work both in New York and around the country. She has been a Guest Artist for the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Caramoor Music Festival, and the prestigious Smith Center in Las Vegas.

While thriving in the theatre and concert work Montego also spends time in television, film, and commercials. On television Montego has appeared on The Following, Hostages, Smash, Golden Boy, The Good Wife, White Collar, NYC 22, Law & Order, and Made In Jersey as well as several award winning programs for PBS including Memphis on Broadway. Montego’s numerous commercial campaigns include: Campbell’s Soup, Chase, Verizon, Charmin, Subway, Nickelodeon, and McDonald’s. And Montego has not been limited to voicing for products and networks, she has also lent her voice to avatars for the Star Wars franchise with Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron and Star Wars: The Old Republic. And in the world of animation she can be heard voicing characters for Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go.

Montego is a member of the Artists’ Committee for the Kennedy Center Honors, and recently joined the community efforts of the New York Pops by becoming a PopsEd Ambassador.

Nancy Opel is known to George Street Playhouse audiences as Babs Belgoody, the mayor of Tromaville in the world premiere production of The Toxic Avenger which moved to New York.  A graduate of the Juilliard School, her Broadway credits include Memphis, Gypsy, Fiddler on the RoofUrinetown (Tony Award nomination)Triumph of LoveRing Round the MoonGetting Away with MurderSunday in the Park with GeorgeAnything Goes and Evita. Off-Broadway, the singer-actress has been seen in All in the TimingMere MortalsLives of the SaintsHundreds of HatsDon Juan in Chicago and Personals. She also starred in the title role of the national tour of The Drowsy Chaperone. Opel's screen credits include Flight of the ConchordsElectric CompanyThe Ice StormSecond SkinMarcixLaw & OrderRyan's Hopeand One Life to Live.

Born in Brooklyn, New York and later raised in the nearby suburbs of New Jersey, Constantine Maroulis grew up surrounded by a wide array of varying music from classic rock, alternative and spirituals to jazz and jam band antics. When he entered high school he participated in musical theater productions as well as singing in various rock bands. Constantine continued to pursue both acting and music while attending college locally. It was not unusual to see Constantine onstage at a Summer Stock theater production while afterwards heading straight to a nightclub to front a band. There, he gained the invaluable experience of burning both ends of the entertainment candle that would help him nail his audition that garnered his spot to attend the prestigious Boston Conservatory of Music.  After completing school Maroulis returned to his native New York City where he soon landed the role of Roger in the ever-popular aforementioned musical Rent. For the better part of the next year Constantine electrified audiences nightly, receiving critical praise touring North America and Asia with the show.

Upon completion of the Rent tour, Constantine returned to Manhattan where he busied himself with his rock band by night auditions by day. By chance, a friend coaxed him into traveling to Washington D.C., this for an audition of a different sort where 10,000 plus hopefuls took their chances to make the cut for the wildly popular television showAmerican Idol. Well, what happened next is the "stuff dreams are made of," eventually Constantine became a finalist, this before a consistent television viewing audience of millions. Ironically, while American Idol would expose Constantine to a new world, he himself was yearned to get back to his theater roots, subsequently doing just that in 2006 when he was cast in his first Broadway leading part, this for a special limited engagement of the Tony nominated musical The Wedding Singer. This was followed by another ensemble piece with the eclectic 1960s off-Broadway gem Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris where Constantine garnered a string of excellent reviews.

In recent months Constantine finished a highly touted guest appearance on television's Law & Order: SVU as well as the lead role in Joe DiPietro (Memphis) penned cult musical The Toxic Avenger, at Houston's Alley Theater. Speaking of reinvention, Maroulis worked diligently with famed Manhattan producers the Niederlander Organization to create a re-imagined version of Frank Wildhorn's epic musical Jekyll & Hyde. Constantine co-starred with the talented Deborah Cox in a massive 25-week National Tour and a 8-week engagement on Broadway.

'Dover Little Theatre's First One Act Play Festival This Weekend Only

Actors perform nine original one act works of local playwrights. Show times are Friday, May 2 at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at 8 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Running time is approximately two hours.
Please be advised that there is a gun shot and some explicit language. Tickets are $15. Groups of 10 or more receive tickets at $12.00 each. 

Reservations can be made by calling 973-328-9202

Final Weekend 'Heels Over Head' Tri-State Actors Theater

Love conquers all in HEELS OVER HEAD presented by Tri-State Actors Theater through May 4th at the Performing Arts Center, Sussex County Community College, Newton. 973 383-0510

Celebrating the moment are the cast of Susan Goodell's zany new comedy. Left to right: Rosemary Glennon, Jason Szamreta, Ashley Kowzun, Nicholas Wilder, Tom Walker and Tara Henderson.

HEELS OVER HEAD is directed by Patricia Durante.

Enchanting ‘South Pacific’ at the Paper Mill Playhouse

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Reviewed by Ruth Ross  April 13, 2014:
Opening night of South Pacific at the Paper Mill Playhouse was truly "some enchanted evening" as Richard Rodgers' lush melodies and Oscar Hammerstein's clever and affecting lyrics, sung by attractive and talented actors, enveloped the playhouse's cavernous auditorium, transporting the audience to the South Pacific Ocean where Americans battled the Japanese in the 1940's.

Using James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein cobbled together several of the books sketches to create a tale of love and loss. Somewhere on one of the distant Solomon Islands, a group of Seabees wait for the war to come their way. At the officer's club, Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse, has caught the eye of suave French planter Emile de Becque. As their romance blossoms, it is paralleled by that of Lt. Joseph Cable, sent to the island to find a way to spy on the Japanese and attack them when they least expect it, and the beautiful Tonkingese maiden, Liat. These couplings are unorthodox at the time, for they both involve a mixing of the races and cause Nellie and Cable much anguish. But all is not gloomy and sad; the frisky Seabees hilariously pine for "dames," stage a Thanksgiving extravaganza and, one of them at least, the wily Luther Billis, tries to find way to get to the mysterious island of Bali H'ai to witness exotic rituals involving boars' teeth and find the virginal maidens the natives have hidden away from the horny Yanks.

Director Rob Ruggiero, choreographer Ralph Perkins and music director Brad Haak give us a production worthy of Broadway. The cast they have assembled is talented, energetic, attractive and have no trouble carrying both the music and the dance steps. Erin Mackey is a lovely Nellie, not so far removed from Little Rock, Arkansas, that she's lost her Southern twang. Her clear soprano soars as she reveals she's a cockeyed optimist who's in love with a wonderful guy whom she later wants to wash right outta her hair! As Emile de Becque, Mike McGowan conveys the man's gravity while letting us see how besotted he is with Nellie. He is very handsome, and his baritone bowls us over as he sings of that enchanted evening when he first spied Nellie. As Nellie slips through his fingers, he sings "This Nearly Was Mine" so poignantly that it brings a tear to the eye.

Doug Carpenter, as Lt. Joseph Cable, conveys the yearning of a young man far from home who falls in love with a native girl, winsomely played by Jessica Wu. She may not have any dialogue, but her body English tells us all she'd want to say. Carpenter's tenor is especially suited to the song that Oscar Hammerstein wrote that sums up the play in a nutshell (and caused quite a stir when it was sung at the premiere), "You've Got to Be Taught." Tally Sessions' Luther Billis is a real operator, but one who can sing and dance, kicking up his heels as he leads the Seabees in their lament "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" or as Honeybun at the camp variety show. And Loretta Ables Sayre brings down the house as the conniving and profane Bloody Mary; her rendition of "Bali H'ai" will not be forgotten.

These stellar actors are aided and abetted by a handsome group of Seabees and a bevy of lovely nurses who add to the hijinks. Youngsters Gabby Gutierrrez as Ngana and Bonale Fambrini as Jerome, Emile's children, are darling; no wonder Nellie falls in love with them!

The set designed by Michael Yeargan evokes the God-forsaken island, complete with the blue South Pacific, palm trees and an elegant planter's villa. John Lasiter's lighting, Randy Hansen's sound and Catherine Zuber's costumes (with the assistance of Leon Dobkowski and Leah J. Loukas) complete the effect.

This sublime example of American Musical Theater reminds us of how much we have missed with the passing of two musical geniuses. A big thank you goes to the Paper Mill Playhouse for reviving South Pacific just in time for its 65th anniversary. When it opened in 1949, starring Broadway's darling Mary Martin and opera great Ezio Pinza, its themes were edgy and the war had been over for just a half decade. That it has stood the test of time is testament to its brilliance and, yes, to the fact that racial prejudice is still with us. And, it is a prime example of the heights to which the Paper Mill Playhouse will go to entertain us.

Note: You can take children ages 10 and up to see this show. The little boy behind me sat quietly through the entire play, but burst into tears learning of Cable's demise! And I heard other patrons burbling about how this could be just the show to introduce kids to the theater. There are no special effects, cartoon figures brought to life or jukebox melodies; what there is onstage is what the American theater does best: musical theater in all its glory.
South Pacific will be performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, through May 4th. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.376.4343 or visit online at
Top Photo: From left to right: Grace Wales, Caitlin Maloney, Erin Mackey (Nellie Forbush), Meggie Cansler, Paige Sommerer and Samantha Joy Pearlman.(Photo by Jerry Dalia)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review:'Motherhood Out Loud' at Dreamcatcher in Summit

Reviewed by Ruth Ross (

Just as mothers and their children come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and temperaments, so too does the experience of motherhood. That is the premise of Motherhood Out Loud, a collection of short playlets about the joys, sorrows and perplexities of this singular state experienced by half the world's population, currently being performed by Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center in Summit.

Conceived by Susan R. Rose and Joan Stein and directed by company member Harry Patrick Christian, Motherhood Out Loud is organized around five themes: Fast Births, First Day, Sex Talk, Stepping Out and Coming Home. The program features the work of Leslie Ayvazian, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Anne Weisman, Cheryl L. West and Brooke Berman, work that is both hilarious and heartbreaking and shatters the standard notions of what it means to be a mother.

Switching accents and stances as easily as scarves and jackets, Dreamcatcher company members Scott McGowan, Harriett Trangucci, Laura Ekstrand and Nicole Callendar assume multiple roles to convey the joys and sadness that come with being a parent. All do such a fine job that it is difficult to single any one out for superior work.

Ekstrand (left, with Nicole Callender, center, and Harriett Trangucci, right) is magnificent as the mom who deals with her son's wanting to dress up as Queen Esther for a Purim celebration ("Queen Esther" by Michele Lowe) and completely convincing as a woman who has to deal with her boyfriend's teenage children ("My Almost Family" by Luanne Rice). Trangucci nails it as the adoptive mother of a Chinese daughter ("Baby Bird" by Theresa Rebeck)) confronting the "minefields" of that role. She also conveys very well the angst of the mother whose an autistic son is going on his first date ("Michael's Date" by Claire LaZebnik). Hilariously, Callender shows that being a Muslim mother isn't very different from the rest of us ("Nooha's List" by Lameece Isaaq), but it's her role as the mother of a young soldier in Afghanistan ("Stars and Stripes" by Jessica Goldberg) that grabs the heart of everyone in the audience; preparing for the notice of her son's death, every day, is crippling and very poignant.

And McGowan's portrayal of the gay dad ("If We're Using a Surrogate, How Come I'm the One with Morning Sickness" by Marco Pennette) is spot on: With humor and truth, he prepares his young daughter for the "brave new world" where she will have to deal with people who want to know where her mommy is (right). And revealing the difficulties of dealing with an aging mother in "Elizabeth" by David Cale, McGowan warmly conveys the love that will help him (and her) get through it.

Each of the five sections is preceded by a dramatic fugue, wherein the four actors recount an aspect of the subject to come. Written by Michele Lowe, these funny yet serious snippets act as the perfect set-up for what follows. Director Christian wisely broke up the final piece, "My Baby" by Anne Weisman, into four parts to bring the evening to a satisfactory end. The photographs of each actor's mother provide a lovely conclusion to an exciting performance.

Lighting by Zach Pizza signifies scene and mood changes; Laura Ekstrand's costumes—actually black pants/shirts/skirt—are transformed by the addition of a scarf, shawl, jacket or tee shirt; And Dave Maulbeck's Spartan scenery (really just a pair of boxes on a platform) provides a variety of minimal, though more than adequate, settings. Jeff Knapp's unobtrusive sound design further enhances the production.

Once again, Dreamcatcher Rep has brought to us the New Jersey Premiere of an important, albeit offbeat, work. Motherhood Out Loud reveals the comedy that accompanies the seriousness of life and celebrates the personal truths that span and unite generations. So whether you are a mother-to-be, a new mom, an empty-nester, a grandma or a great-grandmother—or the spouse, child or male friend of one of the above—you will enjoy yourself and think about Motherhood Out Loud long after you've left the theater. I know I have!

Motherhood Out Loud will be performed by Dreamcatcher Rep at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, through Sunday, May 11. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. For information and tickets, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online at