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Thursday, July 16, 2009

“THWAK!” is indescribably delicious

HARTFORD — Wacky, wild, wonderful, and full of energy and slapstick humor, the kooky, crazy, and indescribably delicious “THWAK!” is like a high-octane cabaret act shot through a canon, complete with out-of-this-world sound-effects.
Part “Three Stooges” part “Marx Brothers” with some Fred Astaire-meets-the Prairie Home Companion thrown in for good measure, the show, created, performed and directed by two cheeky Australians and want-to-be German/Austrians, David Collins (the one with hair as he likes to remind everyone) and Shane Dundas (the other one) is unquestionably one of a kind.
These two, who call themselves the Umbilical Brothers, probably because they have similar builds, accentuated by their identical gray pants and maroon tops, also possess similarly slightly off-kilter minds. They jump, roll, spin, move in slow motion, and take the willing audience on a wild roller-coaster ride of the imagination.
They have performed bits of their act on “Late Night with David Letterman Show” as well as the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and have that kind of in your face “stupid pet tricks” instant appeal those shows seek in their guests.
They both work so very hard to win you over and there’s really no reason not to like them.
They pay homage to the art of mime, while contemporaneously chide it’s sometimes smug self-importance, by doing the old “invisible rope,” “staircase,” and “invisible wall” mime moves, complete with a single clap and a little shimmy.
Then they take pantomime to a whole other level as tanks, grenades, exploding real invisible dogs (not to be confused with the make-believe invisible dogs), barbecues, cats, squished bugs, taxis, horses, robots, and even some moody crooning by Collins.
When Collins is singing Dundas does his darndest to disturb him with sweeping, vacuuming, and taking cell phone calls. It is funny, but it would be funnier still if Collins gets angry at Dundas, rather than just passively annoyed. It feels rehearsed and planned, rather than spontaneous and immediate — a missed opportunity.
While Dundas does most of the stunningly fine sound-effects, Collins is no slouch in the sound department either, but also adds a plethora of super-silly “zappity zoo” sounds all his own.
When they go behind the screen and put on the puppet show, it is a little pedestrian, but when they are behind that same screen and perform the rubber arm and contortionist leg bit, it is original and inspired.
The two have put on children’s productions, and use sock puppets in “THWAK!,” and cartoon character voices, such as Kermit the Frog, at times, but this show is definitely not for the little kids, because there is a good amount of profanity involved. Still, teenagers enjoyed the show as much as adults.
This pair of sunny, funny of Australians is an irresistible, original whirlwind pair of sound and fury that have to be experienced.

3 stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Created, performed, and directed by Shane Dundas and David Collins. Original New York production directed by Philip William McKinley. Lighting designed by Josh Monroe. Show Controller Tina Oldhauser.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through August 2.
Tickets: $19 — $50. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Shane Dundas and David Collins as the Umbilical Brothers

Monday, July 06, 2009

"The Full Monty" an upbeat hope-filled musical

IVORYTON — Do they or don’t they? That’s the underlying question that won’t be answered here, in the musical “The Full Monty” playing at the Ivoryton Theatre through July 26.
Based on the 1997 English movie by the same name, playwright Terrence McNally seamlessly transferred the setting from working class Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York.
McNally kept the blue-collar characters and situations the same as the movie, including the six out-of-work and down on their luck men who decide to imitate the Chippendale dancers to raise much need cash. They also decide to go “full monty” meaning — completely naked. But do they have the nerve?
The actors, who are a combination of amateurs and professionals, are all terrific, and when you consider they put the musical together in just two weeks, it’s pretty amazing.
Credit goes to Larry Nye, who also created the highly athletic, complex, and dynamic choreography, which the actors perform with fine precision.
The music is jazzy and bluezy, with the musicians behind the industrial set, with musical direction by John Sebastian DeNicola.
This show couldn’t be more timely either, with the current 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The musical demonstrates how demoralizing and hard it is on the self-esteem to be without a job.
In the first song, an atonal number called “Scrap,” the characters sing about “how I got to be a loser, when I used to be a man.”
Barrett Hall plays the everyman loser, Jerry Lukowski, whose wife, Pam Lukowski, (Victoria M. E. Church) has left him for another man, and whose 12-year-old son, Nathan (Carlin Morris) might be lost to him if he can’t come up with the child-support money.
All the characters are well-defined and good, including Dave Bukatinsky, played by Robert W. Schultz Jr., the plus-sized guy whose wife, the spunky Georgie, played by MaryAnne Piccolo, wants him to get a job as a Wal-Mart security guard.
Harold Nichols, the MBA manager who also gets let go, played by Peter Craig Morse, is convinced by Jerry to teach them all how to dance. Nichols pretends he is still working because he doesn’t want to let his wife, Vicki, down, played by Jackie Sidle.
John T. Lynes plays Malcolm MacGregor, the nerdy mama’s boy who attempts to kill himself.
The song “Big Ass Rock” sung by Malcolm, Jerry, and Dave is darkly absurd, hysterical, and terrific, with the guys promising to kill Malcolm rather than having him commit suicide, because that’s what friends do for friends.
There’s also the fine Mark F. Weekes who plays Noah (Horse) T. Simmons, the best dancer in the group by far. That man can move.
The song “Michael Jordan’s Ball” where the guys interpret basketball moves as dance routines is inspired and reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s athleticism.
A character who wasn’t in the movie but is an appealing addition to the musical is the crusty old piano player, Jeannette Burmeister. Judith Lenzi-Magoveny plays Jeannette who used to be on the big band circuit and has been married eight times, with a dry frankness that steals the show every time she is on the stage.
It probably goes without saying that there is a lot of sexual innuendo, a plethora of profanity, and some scantily-clothed men, making this show very unsuitable for kids.
You just can’t keep a good man down in this lively, upbeat, hope-filled musical “The Full Monty.”


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Directed and choreographed by Larry Nye. Lyrics and music by David Yazbek. Book by Terrance McNally. Musical direction by John Sebastian DeNicola. Set design by Cully Long. Lighting design by Tate Burmeister. Costume design by Vivianna Lamb.
Running time: 2 ½ hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through July 26.
Tickets: $35 for adults, $30 for previews and seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Barrett Hall … Jerry Lukowski
Carlin Morris … Nathan Lukowski
Victoria M. E. Church … Pam Lukowski
Paul Falzone … Teddy Slaughter
Robert W. Schultz Jr. … Dave Bukatinsky
MaryAnne Piccolo … Georgie Bukatinsky
Peter Craig Morse … Harold Nichols
Jackie Sidle … Vicki Nichols
John T. Lynes … Malcolm MacGregor
Justin Boudreau … Ethan Girard
Mark F. Weeks … Noah (Horse) T. Simmons
Judith Lenzi-Magoveny … Jeanette Burmeister
Steven Hosking … Buddy (Keno) Walsh
Cole Sutton … Second stripper
Rick Farndell … Tony Giordano
Elisabeth Cernadas … Estelle Genovese
Jorie Janeway … Susan Hershey
Abby Gershuny … Dolores
Bethany Fitzgerald … Joanie Lish