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Monday, May 17, 2010

Suffield Player’s “Enchanted April” an Italian getaway

SUFFIELD — It’s “Sex and the City” meets All’Italia in the marvelous romantic comedy, “Enchanted April” at the Suffield Players.
The show, which had it’s world premier a decade ago at our own Hartford Stage Company, was written by Matthew Barber based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim.
It is the story of four very different English women in post-World War II who decide to rent a coastal villa in Italy for the month of April.
The first half of the play finds flighty but somewhat psychic Lottie, who is the mastermind behind the plan to get away with just women for a holiday, rounding up the other vacationers.
Lottie meets Rose and they decide to get two other women to split the cost of renting the villa by placing an advertisement in the newspaper.
Rose is the sad Madonna who has a secret sorrow. They find the wealthy and beautiful Lady Catherine and the elderly sourpuss Mrs. Graves to join their initially less than merry band.
Lottie, who narrates the show, is just as perky as can be, with enthusiasm to spare, played by Vanda Doyle who seems to have been born just to play this part.
Rose is played by Amy Rucci whose husband Brian Rucci plays her stage husband Frederick Arnott, a famous novelist who uses a female pen name to assuage his conscience for writing such scandalous stories. Actually, he doesn’t seem troubled about his novels, but his rigid wife is not too pleased.
Lottie has a drip of a husband in the solicitor Mellersh, played with precision by Dana T. Rucci. Lottie says her husband says the her “mind is like a hummingbird — always fluttering about but seldom lands.”
The lovely Karen Balaska plays Lady Catherine Bramble with just the right amount of ennui and world-weariness.
Anna Marie Johansen comes in like a lion as Mrs. Graves, swinging her walking stick like a weapon, and cracking walnuts within an inch of their lives.
Rounding out the cast is the easy-going artistic landlord Antony Wilding, played by Joshua Guenter, and the expressive Italian housemaid Costanza, played by the amusing Karen Sidel.
The first act is all grays and dark colors, with a fantastical surrealistic London backdrop designed and painted by the talented Christopher Berrien. It is really terrific.
While all the characters are polished and posh, and their English accents for the most part are spot-on, the real star of this show is the fabulous set, designed by Konrad Rogowski, who truly outdid himself, along with his 37-member crew.
From the dreary, stormy England in Act I the set magically transforms in Act II into a glorious garden villa, complete with wisteria, that is theatrically unveiled to accentuate the glorious transformation.
Kudos too to the fine sound and light work, with sound designed by director Dustin Sleight and light design by Jerry Zalewski, and crew, who do an amazing job timing the numerous lightening and thunder sequences in Act I, making them extremely realistic.
If you find that a trip to an Italian villa for a month is just not in your budget this year, do the next best thing this weekend and take a trip to Mapleton Hall in Suffield to see “Enchanted April.”


3½ Stars
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Written by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. Direction and sound design by Dustin Sleight. Stage manager Dorrie Mitchell. Technical direction and lighting design by Jerry Zalewski. Set design by Konrad Rogowski. Costume design by Dawn McKay and Rebecca Murray.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 22.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 800-289-6148 or visit their website at
Vanda Doyle … Lotty Wilton
Amy Rucci … Rose Arnott
Dana T. Ring … Mellersh Wilton
Brian Rucci … Frederick Arnott
Karen Balaska … Lady Caroline Bramble
Anna Marie Johansen … Mrs. Graves
Joshua Guenter … Antony Wilding
Karen Sidel … Costanza
“The Secret Garden” at the Opera House Players a lyrical musical

EAST WINDSOR — Tucked away in the little hamlet of Broad Brook is a bit of Broadway in the Opera House Players lyrical production of “The Secret Garden.”
While the supporting cast is important in any show, the success of this musical rests squarely on the small shoulders of the actress playing the lead role — a little girl named Mary Lennox.
A daunting burden for some, but not so for Hollis Long who plays 10-year-old Mary. Long, who has an impressive resume for one so young, belts out her numbers with pizzazz and supreme confidence of a little pro.
The show written and with lyrics by Marsha Norman, is faithfully based on the beloved English novel, “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Set in the Victorian England and India during British rule, it follows the life of Mary, whose father and mother die suddenly from a cholera epidemic in India. She is sent back to England to live with her deceased Aunt Lily’s husband, her Uncle Archibald Craven.
Craven, played with heart by the excellent Carl Calhoun, is a hunchback who has lost all interest in life, and hands the day to day management of his estate to his bitter brother, Dr. Neville Craven, played by the stoic and stolid Keith Johnson.
Both Calhoun and Johnson have strong and melodic voices, as does Erica Romeo who plays the ghost of Mary’s mother, Rose, and Melissa Dupont who plays Lily.
In fact, the singing is the thing in this show, and everyone is impressive. There are an assortment of duets, trios, and quartets, along with the solo performances, and they are all topnotch.
The secret garden is a walled off garden that has been neglected since Rose died. It is up to Mary to bring it back to life, and make a choice between embracing life and the future, or wallowing in the past with the dreams of the dead.
Director Sharon FitzHenry makes sure her cast wastes no time between the numerous scenes, giving this show its zippy pace.
The set designed by FitzHenry and master carpenter George Fields is okay, but feels cramped. It would be nice to have a real bed for Craven’s sickly son, Colin, played by Kenny Bell III, he of the angelic soprano voice, rather than a bench.
The 3-person orchestra led by musical director Bill Martin, along with husband and wife team Peter and Abby Thomson, are fantastic. They seem like many more than just three, and never overpower the vocalists.
The elegant costumes, designed by Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger are detailed and pretty, and Mary’s dresses and that lovely pink overcoat are precious.
Dead people dominate the stage in this show, from Mary’s parents to her aunt and sundry others, but it is life that wins out in the end.
As Dickon the country lad, played by the fine Scott Gilbert, says of the secret garden, “a lot of this is looks dead is just biding it’s time,” and “the strongest roses thrive on being neglected.”
Come to Broadway — I mean Broad Brook — and embrace life at the Opera House Players’ production of “The Secret Garden,” running through May 23.


Three Stars
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Music by Lucy Simon. Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Directed by Sharon FitzHenry. Musical direction by Bill Martin. Set design by FitzHenry and George Fields. Lighting design by FitzHenry. Costume designers Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 23.
Tickets: $20, seniors over 60 and youth under 12 pay $16. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Hollis Long … Mary Lennox
Carl Calhoun … Archibald Craven
Keith Johnson … Dr. Neville Craven
Kenny Bell III … Colin Craven
Amy Facey … Martha
Scott Gilbert … Dickon
Steven Dombeck … Ben Weatherstaff
Melissa Dupont … Lily
Erica Romeo … Rose
Roger Gove Jr. … Capt. Albert Lennox
Marge Stepansky … Mrs. Medlock
Reva Kleppel … Ayah
Gary Rhone … Fakir
Christopher Berrien … Maj. Holmes
Susan Howland … Claire Holmes
Lyndsay Robyn … Alice
Andrew Hall … Lt. Wright
Dallas Hosmer … Lt. Shaw
Elsa Berrien … Indian servant
Khara C. Hoyer, Erin Maloney,
Moonyean Field … Friends at Rose’s party

Saturday, May 15, 2010

There’s no business like “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Goodspeed

EAST HADDAM — Seriously, is there any business like show business? Everything about it is appealing, and so is this wonderfully-realized production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” directed by Rob Ruggiero at the Goodspeed Opera House, whose run has been extended to July 3 by popular demand.
The show is about a travelling show called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which travels from town to town on the old vaudeville circuit. While in one of their towns in rural Ohio they come across Annie Oakley, who can’t read or write, but can hit a target with a gun practically blindfolded, and was based on the real life sharp shooter by the same name who “can shoot the fuzz off a peach.”
Annie has a shoot-off with the famous marksman Frank Butler, and wins. In real life Annie did marry Butler and it was a true love affair.
The show begins with that classic theater anthem and Ethel Merman’s signature song “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” which, along with all the other songs in the musical are written by the inimitable Irving Berlin.
Other great songs include “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “You Can’t Get a Man With A Gun,” and “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better.”
The lyrics are snappy, such as in “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” when Annie, played by the scrappy Jenn Gambatese, sings — “You can’t hug a mug with a slug,” and “You can’t shoot a male in the tail with like a quail,” because “they don’t buy pajamas for pistol-packin’ mamas.”
Gambatese is energetic and appealing, which is good, because, like the title of this particular show indicates, it’s all about Annie, and she is in just about every scene.
During the first act the songs drag some, such as the lovely “Moonlight Lullaby” that she sings to her young siblings, played by the cute Joy Rachel Del Valle, Marissa Smoker, and Griffin Birney that practically lulls the post-dinner audience to sleep.
The chemistry between Gambatese and the fine Kevin Earley, who plays her love interest Butler, could not be better. They seem to really enjoy each other’s company, and their mutual attraction is infectious.
The sets are simple, but scenic designer Michael Schweikardt cleverly divides the stage in lengthwise layers, making it seem deeper than it is.
The railroad car is a solid addition to the show, and well used when Winnie and Tommy, the subplot interracial love interest, played by Chelsea Morgan Stock and Andrew Cao, do their tap number on the roof of the car. It is an inspired idea and uses every inch of space available on the tiny stage.
The story brings up the age-old question of what is more important, love or a career, and also the question of whether a woman should diminish her skills and talents so she doesn’t outshine the male egos in her world.
The costumes, from the tight fitting wranglers and custom-made chaps on the guys to the elegant but durably constructed ball gowns on the gals are numerous and flattering, designed by Alejo Vietti.
The supporting cast and ensemble add much to the energy of this show, with smooth and tight choreography by Noah Racey.
In most shows it spoils the moment when an actor looks at the audience, but because this is a show within a show, when the actors sing directly to the crowd, it’s magical.
Riding in the elevator, one of the ushers said that they had over 800 actors audition for this production, so you know they had their pick of the very best.
As they say, love is grand, and so is this sparkling production of “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Goodspeed.

3 ½ Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, Route 82, East Haddam
Production: Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Original book by Herbert Fields and Dorothy Fields as revised by Peter Stone. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Choreography by Noah Racey. Music direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Scenic design by Michael Schweikardt. Costume design by Alejo Vietti. Lighting design by John Lasiter. Sound by Jay Hilton.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesday, Sunday, and selected Thursday matinees at 2 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday matinees at 3 p.m., and selected Sundays at 6:30 p.m. through July 3.
Tickets: $27.50 - $71. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at
Jenn Gambatese … Annie Oakley
Kevin Earley … Frank Butler
Rebecca Watson … Dolly Tate
David McDonald … Buffalo Bill
Chelsea Morgan Stock … Winnie Tate
Andrew Cao … Tommy Keeler
Michael Nichols … Chief Sitting Bull
Bill Nabel … Foster Wilson
James Beaman … Charlie Davenport
Joy Rachel Del Valle … Jessie
Marissa Smoker … Nellie
Griffin Birney … Little Jake
Orville Mendoza … Running Deer
Con O’Shea-Creal … Eagle Feather

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elegant “Proof” at Valley Repertory Company

ENFIELD — A family mystery with unexpected twists and turns are in store for you at the Valley Repertory Company’s thoughtful production of the award-winning “Proof,” playing through May 22.
The story jumps around through time, but follows the life of a brilliant but depressed young woman, Catherine, played by Becky Rodia Shoenfeld, whose mathematically gifted and recently deceased father, Robert, (Bruce Showalter) suffers from what is presumably schizophrenia, an illness she lives in terror of having inherited.
Catherine’s financially successful sister, Claire, played by the cool Monica Ceresa, comes to the house looking to cart her sister from Chicago back to New York City where she can look after her.
Hal is a math graduate student played by Logan Lopez, who comes to the rather dilapidated house, well designed and built by Ken Estvanik and Jason Fregeau and crew.
Hal is going through the notebooks of Robert, hoping to glean some important mathematical tidbits that he hopes the former genius left behind, but his motivations are suspect.
Is he doing the research altruistically, or is he hoping to make his own name in the competitive mathematics circles.
Written by David Auburn, the play was showered with awards including a well-deserved Tony Award for best play and also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001, and was later made into a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
The story unwinds like a mystery novel, with surprises and twists from the start, which open like a flower, or perhaps an elegant math problem, to reveal deeper truths. It is also reminiscent of the film “A Beautiful Mind,” which also explores mental illness — here with Robert suspecting that there is a secret code locked in the library’s Dewey Decimal System.
Shoenfeld perfectly captures the brooding sarcasm and rapier sardonic wit of the edgy, defensive Catherine, but at times she doesn’t appear unsure enough of her own mental stability. There has to be some evident, gnawing doubt in herself about whether she is able to function in the world, and she seems too normal and not frustrated and furious enough to validate her sister’s concern that she be placed in a mental ward.
Lopez’s Hal has just the right combo of geeky nerdiness and intellectual egotism and superiority, with a twitchy hyperness that works exceedingly well.
He is deeply concerned that at 28 years old he is past his mathematical prime and is destined to a life of lowered expectations, teaching at the high school level.
Or as Robert amusingly expounds to him, Hal will be relegated to teaching younger, more annoying versions of himself.
Showalter has a mellifluous voice that is almost too melodic for a crazy mathematician, but he steps it up nicely when he unravels.
As the elegant play evolves there are revelations and discoveries that gave me visceral chills of understanding more than once.
“Proof” is a super play, well-acted and very smart.


3½ Stars
Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by David Auburn. Directed by Janine Flood. Produced by Celeste Estvanik. Stage manager Jason Fregeau. Dresser Aleeza Hagerty. Set construction foremen Ken Estvanik and Jason Fregeau. Sound by Boyd Wood. Lighting and sound technician Ken Estvanik.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 22.
Tickets: $12 — $10 for seniors 60 and older and students 18 and younger. For more information call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at
Bruce Showalter … Robert
Becky Rodia Schoenfeld … Catherine
Logan Lopez … Hal
Monica Ceresa … Claire
LTM’s “The Man Who Came To Dinner” old-fashioned fun

MANCHESTER — The Little Theatre of Manchester is kicking off their 50th season with some old-fashioned fun in Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s comedy “The Man Who Came To Dinner.”
The show, which was a Broadway hit in 1939, revolves around a famous radio personality and theater critic named Sheridan Whiteside, who is in Ohio on the lecture circuit when he visits a family, the Stanleys, slips on some ice and becomes an unexpected and unwelcome guest.
Whiteside, played by the dominating David Moske, is best described as the tart-tongued Simon Cowell of his day.
This man takes insults to a new level, telling the put upon nurse, played by Christy Donahue, “you have the touch of a sex-starved cobra,” and, “by the way, I loved you in ‘Rebecca.’” Pretty esoteric stuff, and the play is loaded with references about the rich and famous of the 1930s.
The character of Whiteside was based on the real-life critic and bon vivant, Alexander Wolcott, whose circle includes Mahatma Ghandi, actors Cary Grant, Zazu Pitts, and Lillian Russell, and the novelist Booth Tarkington.
Some of those names might not come trippingly to the tongue, but they were the Nelson Mandelas, Brad Pitts and Norman Mailers of their day.
Whiteside wastes no time in taking over the house, informing the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley, that they have to stay in their rooms. Whiteside threatens them with a lawsuit of $150,000, which was quite a sum back then.
Being a jerk and charming concurrently is no easy combination, but Moske pulls it off with a booming voice and supercilious sneer.
Whiteside is really a big spoiled baby, and his long suffering assistant, Maggie Cutler, played by the excellent Latoya Williams, finally has enough of the good life of travelling in what she refers to as Whiteside’s “small but vicious circle,” and wants to settle down. She meets and falls for small town newspaper owner, Bert Jefferson, played by the solid Jim Power.
The Victorian living room where the entire play takes place, by director Keach-Longo and Fred T. Blish, is period perfect, with many little details, like the entrance way to the dining room and branch stems above the entrance window. The staircase is as solid and fine as any in a real home.
The big band music set the mood well, with sound by Jim Ryan, and the lighting was seamless, by Jared Towler.
The antique wheelchair that Whiteside uses is quite a find and adds much to the believability of the show.
The costumes by Viviana Lamb are beautiful and numerous, including many fancy ties and snazzy smoking jackets for Whiteside and some exquisite gowns and furs for the glamorous actress on the hunt for a rich Englishman, Lorraine Sheldon, played to the hilt by Christine Gill.
Gill is a campy delight when she gets dramatic and upset, and funny when she tries to squeeze out a tear, to no avail.
Anthony Urillo has the triple role of playing the cockroach gift-giving Prof. Metz, suave actor Beverley Carlton, and a wacky Hollywood operator named Banjo.
Urillo isn’t helped by a bald wig that looks like a bathing cap for the professor and a mop of hair that almost hides his eyes for the famous actor. He has his own hair for the Banjo guy, but Urillo has a strange nervous twitch that makes him seem amped up on cocaine, and a voice that is reminiscent of the stand-up comedians Sam Kinison or Gilbert Godfried — okay in small doses, but wearing after a while.
The large cast does a fine job, with special notice going to the star-struck Mrs. Earnest W. Stanley played by the wonderful Marge Patefield, and the endlessly cheerful Dr. Bradley, well played by Dana O’Neal.
There are some fun facts about telephones then and cell phones today, such as when Whiteside calls the operator to contact someone without a number and tells the operator that it is her job to know it, not his. How some things have changed.
Despite some major changes in how we function day to day, people are still people, and behaving egotistically and selfishly and amusingly is something we can all recognize and enjoy.


Three Stars
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Directed and produced by Joseph Keach-Longo, with set design by Keach-Longo and Fred T. Blish. Stage managed by Tom Goodin. Sound by Jim Ryan. Light design by Jared Towler. Costumes by Vivanna Lamb.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, including one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. through May 23.
Tickets: $16 — $23. Seniors over 60 and students receive a discount. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit their website at
David Moske … Sheridan Whiteside
Latoya Williams … Maggie Cutler
Christine Gill … Lorraine Sheldon
Anthony Urillo … Prof. Metz, Beverley Carlton, Banjo
Marge Patefield … Mrs. Earnest W. Stanley
Doug Stoyer … Earnest W. Stanley
Dana O’Neal … Dr. Bradley
Christy Donahue … Miss Preen
Brain Courtemanche … Richard Stanley
Whitney Quaglia … June Stanley
Keith Giard … John
Jennifer Gresh … Sarah
Anne Goodin … Mrs. Dexter
Joyce Hodson … Mrs. Dexter 5/21
Marilyn Rotondo … Mrs. McCutcheon
Pat Covino … Harriet Stanley
Jim Power … Bert Jefferson
Charles Harvey … Michaelson, Radio Tech, Expressman
Gus Keach-Longo … Radio Tech, Convict, Expressman, Deputy
John Louis … Convict
Matthew Rodgers … Sandy, Convict, Deputy
Bob Morrison … Westcott, plainclothesman, guard
Katie Emery, Tim Estremera, Taylor Madison Gray, Jonathan Keach-Longo, Emily Stoyer … Children’s Choir