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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: Charley’s Aunt opens at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey

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         Spoiler alert: This is a rave review! No need to read any further.

The plot? Well here is a quick peek in case you are not familiar with the play that broke records in London and New York and has six film versions. Oh, it was also a hit musical comedy (Where’s Charley).

Here goes; Two young male college (Oxford) students are in love with two young ladies. They wish to invite them to lunch to profess their great love, but Victorian rules of etiquette require a chaperone. Fortunately, the aunt of one is due to visit by lunchtime…problem solved. The ladies send word that they will attend, however, a messenger arrives with the news that the aunt is delayed ! What to do?  Simple, have a friend pretend to be the aunt! Easy… since the aunt has just arrived from Brazil where she has lived for the past 20 years and no one knows her! Problem is solved when a fellow student very reluctantly agrees to stand-in for the absent aunt. But, one potential snag….the student is a man! What could possibly go wrong?

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  Photo: L-R Isaac Hickox, Erica Knight, Seamus Mulcahy, Emiley Kiser and Aaron McDaniel

That is the core of the hilarious farce Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas that opened this past weekend at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. New play….where have you been?  This is a comedy masterpiece from the 19th century making its debut at the STNJ. First and foremost, this is a tale of love and the indignities we are willing to endure for love. Also, it beautifully pokes fun at the British aristocracy, e.g Oscar Wilde’s  The Importance of Being Earnest? You may also be reminded of Some Like It Hot, John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor, or even the Marx Brothers. Bottom line…it is a very funny romp…with an unusual number of old fashioned belly laughs.

This production, with its clever fun plot, superior cast and eye treats (sets and costumes), is fit for any stage either side of the river and beyond.

Directing the fun is STNJ veteran director Joseph Discher. The cast he has assembled is beyond marvelous. It includes company favorites John Ahlin, Peter Simon Hilton, David Andrew Macdonald, and Erika Rolfsrud in a cast of ten.

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The three outstanding leads are the young men who are in pursuit of love……Aaron McDaniel (above center) is Jack Chesney the Oxford undergraduate, in love with Kitty Verdun; Charles Wykeham  the Oxford undergraduate, in love with Amy Spettique is played by Isassc Hickox-Young (above left); and Seamus Mulcahy (a master of slapstick) is Lord Fancourt Babberly who unwillingly masquerades as Charley’s aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez (​”​I’m Charley’s aunt the nut from Brazil”). His performance is worth the price of admission! (Photo above right and at top)

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The villain of the play is Stephen Spettigue,  Uncle of Amy and guardian of Kitty. He is played to perfection by the wonderful character actor John Ahlin(above right). David Andrew MacDaniel impresses as Colonel Sir Francis Chesney, the single father of Jack Chesney. No English drawing room comedy is complete without a proper, all knowing butler/valet. Here we have Bassett, Jack Chesney's valet, played by Peter Simon Hilton.

best_crop_90f7bd6321c0feda103e_STNJ--Charley_s_Aunt--7Now the lovely talented ladies (all beautifully gowned), Erica Knight is Kitty, Jack’s love interest; Emiley Kiser is Amy, Charles Wykeham's young lady; Sally Kingsford as Ela (above right), the orphaned young woman accompanying Donna Lucia (loved by Lord Fancourt). As Charley’s real aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez is the imposing Erika Rolfsrud (above left).

The design team  includes the Scenic Designer Brian Prather, Lighting Designer Matthew Adelson, Costume Designer Natalie Loveland, Sound Designer Steven Beckel, and Dialect Coach Julie Foh. The Production Stage Manager is Kathy Snyder.

Charley's Aunt is presented in three acts (two 10 minute intermissions).

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  October 27, 2018

Tickets: Single tickets are $49 to $69.  Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with a valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets,  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 in Madison on the campus of Drew University.

ALL PHOTOS BY JERRY DALIA

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