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Extinction is the right ending

After the altruistic Autobots defeated the evil Decepticons in the Battle of Chicago, the American government had enough of alien warfare. The military ended its alliance with the Autobots, and both Autobots and Decepticons were declared illegal immigrants.
    So you can bet that the junked semi-truck found by broke robotics inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg: Lone Survivor) is more than it seems. In repair, he discovers that the wrecker is actually Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Yeager plans to fix up the Transformer to sell to the government.
    The CIA, led by the nefarious Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer: Think Like a Man Too), is running a black op, hunting down Autobots and Decepticons. Military units rend the Transformers into scrap sold to tech company KIS. Led by CEO Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci: Muppets Most Wanted), KIS is attempting to reverse-engineer the Transformers into a fully automated American army.
    Key to the plan is the recovery of Optimus Prime. So Yeager’s discovery brings in blazing guns. As death threatens, Yeager realizes the government might not be on the right side of the law and helps Prime escape. Now fugitives, Yeager and his family help Prime rebuild the Autobots and fight a new alien threat.
    Can Yeager and his family survive? Will Americans ever learn that robots that look like cars are our friends? How many IQ points are you willing to waste on this flick?
    Tortuously long and completely incomprehensible, Transformers: Age of Extinction is an exercise in endurance. Director Michael Bay (Pain and Gain) has set the cinematic bar so low you’ll need a deep-sea probe to find it.
    Avoiding plot at every turn, Bay fills the film with explosions; confusing action sequences; low-angle shots; esteemed actors belittling their craft and career for a paycheck; and female characters with no agency and even fewer clothes. Impressively, Bay has managed to include a half-naked woman, product placement or an American flag in just about every sequence of this two-and-a-half-hour car commercial.
    To make bad worse, Bay has taken time out of the movie’s busy explosions schedule for the dullest family drama ever committed to film. Yeager doesn’t want his sexy daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz: Bates Motel) to date because he feels he owns her body. When Tessa reveals a secret boyfriend, Yeager and the boy fight bitterly about who gets to tell her what to do.
    Mark Wahlberg has made a lucrative career vacillating between terrible and inoffensive performances. He seems at the mercy of his costars, who either elevate or expose him. When his costars are CGI hunks of metal and equally vapid humans, Wahlberg is lost. His skill extends to flexing his biceps and grimacing while shooting a gun.
    Veteran actors Tucci and Grammer add little. In campy performances that prove once and for all that acting is a job first, art form second, these actors debase themelves for paychecks.
    Transformers: Age of Extinction is the cinematic equivalent of a concussion: It’s difficult to stay awake, painful and you’ll feel slightly duller for a few hours if you survive the brain trauma.

Painful Action • PG-13 • 165 mins.

Five women seek balance between domesticity and independence, birth control and motherhood, drugs and responsibility in 1960’s London

I was expecting SHOUT! The Mod Musical to be smashing, and it is. With hits by the likes of Petula Clark, Lulu, Shirley Bassey, Mary Hopkin, The Seekers and The Association plus a phenomenal cast of singer/dancers plus a superstar director (Jerry Vess) from seven previous Summer Garden productions, how could it be anything but?
    What I didn’t expect was relevance.
    SHOUT!, which debuted in 2006, revisits the Swinging Sixties in London through the eyes of five women in different stages of life as they discover women’s liberation. Seeking a balance between domesticity and independence, birth control and motherhood, recreational drugs and responsibility, they strive for the glamorous autonomy of superstars like Dusty Springfield even as her music counsels them to wear their hair for him, do the things he likes to do. It was a confusing decade of change, so thank God that Shout Magazine, the U.K.’s answer to Elle, had an advice columnist. Gwendolyn (Ginnie White) guides them through each life crisis with dismissive beauty and fashion tips: all hilarious — until they’re just not, anymore.
    The girls are as anonymous as their letters, each identified only by the color of her frock. There’s Orange Girl (Jamie Erin Miller), the tippling housewife who is completely contented and completely in denial; Blue Girl (Kara Leonard), the vain and lonely sophisticate who can’t find a chap she connects with; Green Girl (Brittany Zalovick), the commitment phobic good-time gal; Red Girl (Mariel White), the baby and a hopeless romantic mess; and Yellow Girl (Katie Gardner) the loud and emotional American.
    They sing in harmonies that approximate the originals without disappointing. Some, like the anthems Windy and Georgy Girl, are delivered in duets; some, like White’s touching rendition of To Sir with Love are solid; and some, like Downtown, are ensemble pieces that eclipse the originals. Nancy Sinatra never sang These Boots Were Made for Walking as well as these skirts. White also sells Those Were the Days and How Can You Tell. Gardner wows with Son of a Preacher Man and Shout. Zalovick rocks One, Two, Three and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. Leonard stuns in You’re My World and Don’t Sleep In the Subway, where she flirts with the crowd. And Miller shines in I Only Want to Be with You and Don’t Give Up. Some of the music, like Coldfinger is just fun.
    Interspersed with the music are comedic vignettes à la Laugh-In, poking fun at the French, the Brits, the Royals, fad diets, Twiggy, orgies and asbestos dresses. Leonard’s skin cream commercial in which she contorts her face to look like Munch’s The Scream is a scream, as is Gardner’s stalking of Paul McCartney. Your Fashion Horoscope is an eye-popping trip back through the rack.
    A musical revue needs more than just the right sound and jokes, though. Looks matter, and this production is spot-on from the Mary Quant minis and Vidal Sassoon bobs to the white Go Go boots and frosted lips. The girls speak in accents that echo the ubiquitous Union Jacks decorating the stage and costumes as they swim, jerk, shrug, frug and otherwise dance their way to psychedelic bliss.
    This show is technically tight with custom voice-overs and few glitches on opening night. The fine musical combo grooves in balance with the singers. Only the pre-show entertainment, perhaps a Dionne Warwick medley, was regrettably inaudible.
    SHOUT! is rated PG-13 for sexual and drug references, but those are sedate by modern standards. So go downtown, where the lights are bright. Everything’s waiting for you at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

By Philip George and David Lowenstein. Director and set designer: Jerry Vess. Musical director: Anita O’Connor. Choreographer: Jason Kimmel. Costumer: Julie Bays. Dialect coach, hair and makeup designer: Emily Karol. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra Conductor and pianist: Ken Kimble.
Playing thru July 19: Th,SaSu July 3, 5 & 6; Th-Su July 10-13; and W-Sa July 16-19. 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. $20: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.

Teen players give you hope in youth and humanity

An all-teen cast draws a fine line between the real and unreal in Twin Beach Players’ Harvey. We’ve known Elwood P. Dowd since 1944, when Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened on Broadway, but most notably in James Stewart’s 1950 movie incarnation.
    In all those years, nobody has ever seen Dowd’s best friend and constant companion, a six-foot-three-inch tall white rabbit named Harvey.
    Dowd describes Harvey as a pooka, a benign but mysterious creature from Celtic mythology who is especially found of social outcasts — like Dowd.
    The word comes up several times in the play, always with a mysterious air as if it’s too taboo to be spoken. Nobody else wants to think like Dowd, who is either a nut or a drunk.
    Or is he?
    Twin Beach Players give us glimpses of Harvey — a fedora hat with two holes poked out for rabbit ears, a door that mysteriously opens when Harvey is invisibly passing through, Dr. Chumley sideswiping by Harvey and Elwood’s conversations with his imaginary friend.
    As Dowd, 14-year-old Cameron Walker does such a believable job of talking to Harvey you’d think the oversized rabbit was in the room next to him.
    Dowd’s family doesn’t share his wide-eyed guilelessness. Prim sister Veta (Marina Beeson) is as much put out by his dinner invitations to people he’s just met as she is to his constant opening of doors for invisible lapine friends.
    And how will she ever find a husband for her daughter Myrtle Mae (Abby Petersen), with an uncle whom most of the town regards as a nutcase.
        Myrtle Mae and Veta join forces to have Dowd committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Chumley (Jeffrey Thompson). Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
    Twin Beach Players keeps the set simple — a cushioned chair, a phone, a bookcase and a desk and chair. All three acts take place in either the library or Chumley’s Rest, the ­asylum.
    The only sound effects are a ringing telephone and the one-time sound of a large rabbit hopping across the stage.
    The elaborate costumes, made to order by Dawn Denison, suit an era of propriety.
    The teen actors playing grown-ups are mature in roles and dramatic skills. No one missed a beat — or a line.
    Veta is dramatic and loud, overbearing to her brother but not to her audience.
    Newcomer and first-time actor Danielle Heckart, who plays Judge Ophelia Gaffney, shows the audience that even a fourth-grader can pull it off.
    Asylum orderly Wilson (Matthew Konerth) adds humor with impromptu actions and one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see him pop back on stage and hear his next crack.
    Dr. Sanderson (Dean Stokes) and Nurse Kelly (Olivia McClung) are believable in their roles as medical professionals: He, the stoic psychiatrist with a secret crush on her and she, the obedient employee with an underlying twist of sarcasm.
    Camden Raines keeps her duel roles — Betty Chumley and Ethel Chauvenet — separate and ­successful.
    Cab driver E.J. Lofgren (Ethan Croll) is true to his role as a cabbie, complete with New York accent and toughness. Despite his short time on stage, he resolves the conflict with his worldly view of patients with mental illness.
    You leave this quirky comedy about human oddities and outcasts feeling pretty good about yourself and everybody else, including large rabbits.

Director: Annie Gorenflo. Producer: Matthew Konerth. Light and set design: Sid Curl. Sound: Michael Happell. Prop master: Camden Raines. Music: Bob Snider. Costumes: Dawn Denison. Youth Troupe directors: Rob and Valerie Heckart.

Playing thru June 29: FSa 7pm; Su 2pm at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $5; rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.
 

Answer this call and you’ll think twice about who you ­connect with

With a quirky cast of characters and a script full of great one-liners Dead Man’s Cell Phone keep you on your toes guessing and laughing for most of an hour and a half. The plot draws us in with questions we ask about our own mortality and technology.
    How is technology affecting me socially? Does my cell phone connect me to the world or draw me away? Do I really need to answer my phone every time it rings, even when I’m on the toilet? Is there a heaven? Does everything happen for a reason? What do I want to be known for after I die? Who do I love most in the world?
    The 2007 Helen Hayes outstanding play award winner opens in a café where a customer ignores his ringing cell phone. Annoyed by the ringing, Jean (Heather Quinn) repeatedly asks the man, Gordon (Jim Reiter), to answer his phone. When he does not, she answer for him and takes the message before she realizes he is dead. After calling 911, she keeps the cell phone and injects herself into his life, praying to God “Help me to comfort his loved ones. Help me to help the ­memory of Gordon live on in the minds and hearts of his loved ones.”
    The next scene opens as Gordon’s mother, Mrs. Gottlieb (Mary Fawcett Watko) eulogizes her son. It’s a funeral, but she is funny, keeping us alive and awake with witty lines. After a phone rings in the service, she exclaims “There are only one or two sacred places left in the world today. Where there is no ringing. The theater, the church and the toilet. But some people actually answer their phones” in the latter these days.
    It is Gordon’s cell phone ringing. Jean leaves the funeral to answer and meets the caller, who is Gordon’s mistress (Darice Clewell). To her  and all the people who call the undead line, Jane says exactly what they most want to hear.
    Dead Man’s Cell Phone brings a lot of themes and even some romance to the table. There are slow downs in the script, but the actors keep you involved. Theater in the round makes for four separate audiences, and the play’s six actors reach out to all. The theater is so intimate that you can appreciate even their smirking and grinning. Costuming was archaic compared to the phone, but the sparse set served its purpose.
    About that cell phone: It’s a temptation but finally not a substitute for face-to-face connections.

Director: Tom Newbrough. Set design: Edd Miller. Sound: Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights: Shirley Panek. Costumes: Christina McAlpine. With Jean Berard and Nick Beschen.
Playing thru June 28: Th-Sa 8pm; Su 2pm (also Su June 22, 7:30pm) at Colonial Players’ Theater, Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

An animated lesson on the benefits of good pet ownership

It’s been five years since Hiccup (Jay Baruchel: Robocop) convinced the people of Berk that dragons were not the enemy. The Vikings have laid down their arms and picked up saddles, domesticating dragons and racing them for fun. Even Hiccup’s dragon-hating dad Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler: Olympus has Fallen) has converted his dragon-killing armory into a custom dragon-saddle business.
    Peace has brought Stoick and Hiccup closer, but father and son still don’t understand one another. Stoick sees Hiccup’s skill with dragons as a sign that he’s ready to become the next chieftain of Berk. Hiccup is terrified of more responsibility, so he avoids his father for adventures with Toothless, his rare Night Fury dragon.
    While adventuring, Hiccup encounters a group of unscrupulous trappers who shoot dragons out of the sky and sell them to warlord Drago Bloodfist (Djimon Hounsou: Baggage Claim). Drago has found a way to bewilder dragons, gaining control of their minds as he builds an army to take over the world. Hiccup and mysterious dragon-rider Valka (Cate Blanchett: The Monuments Men) are the world’s only hope against Drago and his fire-breathing beasts.
    How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a story about the families we make and the families we earn. The sequel to the wildly popular How to Train Your Dragon, the film expands on the imaginative universe of the first movie but shrinks its heart. Second-time director Dean DeBlois offers great action sequences and soaring chases, but he does little with the characters we’ve come to know.
    Hiccup goes through the standard teen angst of movie characters between the ages of 10 and 25. His body has matured but not his character. He still spurns responsibility. That’s typical teen behavior, but odder is that a boy with raging hormones spends so much time away from his girlfriend. Hiccup’s true love seems to be Toothless, his constant adventuring companion.
    On its surface a film about familial ties, Dragon 2 is more deeply focused on the relationship between pet and person. Hiccup’s connections with his father and his extended family are barely explored, because he is never in the same room with them. There’s a great deal of talking about family and very little interaction.
    Late in the movie, Valka explains to Hiccup that there aren’t any bad dragons, just “good dragons forced to do bad things.” Hiccup learns this first-hand when Drago uses his dragon-controlling powers to force Toothless to betray his beloved master. It’s a crushing blow for fire-breathing beast and boy, and one of the more effectively poignant moments in the movie. Sadly, it’s quickly shoved to the side so that we can go through more dreck about family.
    Though the human dramatics often fall flat, DeBlois is a master of dragon emotion. He gives each dragon a distinct personality. The film works best when the dragons take center stage. They romp, soar, spit fire and act like dopey dogs when they’re with their humans. Who wouldn’t want a dragon for a pet? Seeing this movie will more likely inspire you to give your pet an extra cuddle than to call your parents.

Good Animation • PG • 102 mins.

Two for one: great music plus the life of a talented, tormented man

Lost Highway, at Infinity Theatre gives two exceptional entertainments at once. First, we are treated to great music from a bygone era, authentically presented with superb musicianship. Then, within that broad framework, we see the life of a talented, tormented man. Lost Highway is far more than a musical revue.
    In his day, Hank Williams was the superstar of country music or, as it was then known, Hillbilly Music. (Full disclosure: I grew up in that era; you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Hillbilly Music. As often as not, it was ol’ Hank twanging away.)  
    The faultless musical numbers are alone worth the price of admission. Every number is true to the original Hank Williams rendition — so close that I looked for signs of lip-synching — Not! Every tune (21 of them) has the audience clapping in unison. I especially liked Your Cheating Heart, Jambalaya and Hey, Good Lookin’, although I hasten to add that these are personal likes for every song is as good as every other.
    The arc of Williams’ tragic life is intermingled with the music in such a way that audience emotions are played with as on a rollercoaster ride. That, together with fine acting, makes this play exceptional, for Jason Petty is as close the real Hank Williams as it is possible to be.
    The sheer joy of the musical performance gives way to pity as we watch the collapse of a great talent.
    So for comic relief, we are treated to corny banter of the kind that was de rigeur on country music radio stations.
    Player 1: “My wife says I’m the most handsome man she’s ever seen.”
    Player 2: “I didn’t know your wife was blind.”
    Not so funny here on paper, but stated rapid fire with other corny-isms, it is.
    Hank’s dominating mother supported his musical career, which started when he was 13. He quickly caught the eye, and the ear, of Nashville music executives, and his career took off. But there was darkness in Hank’s life: He was born with spina bifida and became addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He often showed up drunk onstage, and colleagues found it increasingly difficult to work with him. Along the way, he married Audrey, a lady of limited talent who was sure that she had the makings of a superstar. Hank gave her a chance onstage, then fired her. Hank’s mama had a tense relationship with Audrey, with Hank stuck in the middle between mama and wife.
    Hank Williams died at age 29 in the back seat of a powder blue Cadillac.
    All this, and more, is captured on stage. Every performer gives a sterling performance, with Jason Petty as the standout core of the play. Imagine the practice that went into developing the Hank Williams persona. Petty even looks like Williams. The band comprises three kinds of guitar, a fiddle and a standup bass, all played by consummate musicians who are also convincing actors.  
    Audrey Womble gives a fine performance of wife Audrey, a naïve wannabe who nevertheless has Hank’s best interests at heart. Mama is played by Becky Barta, who shows what tough means as she does her best to keep her wayward son in line.
    Infinity Theatre has found the perfect venue for its productions. The theater is roomy with excellent acoustics perfect for a musical production. With shows of this caliber, Infinity Theatre will be around for a long time.

By Randal Myler and Mark Harelik. Directed by Randal Myler. Music director: Stephen G. Anthony. Lighting designer: Jimmy Lawlor. Stage manager: Laura Perez.
Playing thru June 29: Th 2pm & 7pm; Sa 8pm; Su 2pm at CTA Theatre, Bay Head Park, Annapolis. $40 w/advance & age discounts; rsvp: 877-501-8499; www.infinitytheatrecompany.com.

Actors may flirt with you and filch your food in this frothy romp back in time

With summer comes another season of Molière for moderns, adapted by Tim Mooney and performed by the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern.
    The Schemings of Scapin, playing through July 29, is a frenzied farce in rhyming couplets about well-heeled 17th century fools and their gamesome servants. With a contrived plot about true love and arranged marriages, this play pits fathers against sons while elevating the lowly and poking fun at the idle rich and lawyers — revolutionary stuff for its time, but Louis XIV loved this fluff.
    To wit, Scapin (Charlie Retzlaff), a brilliant trickster and politician, is employed as valet and temporary guardian to narcissistic Leandre (Zachary Roberts) whose father, buffoonish Geronte (Gray West), is away on business. Likewise, Sylvestre (Ashlyn Thompson), an anxious nudge, is similarly employed with simpering Octave (Michael Windsor) while his sour old father, Argante (Joseph Palka), is away.
    Fortunately for the young men, their servants have not kept very close eyes on them. Unfortunately for the young men, each father returns home with a marriage contract for his son. Alas, Leandre is already in love with the seductive Gypsy Zerbinette (Lauren Turchin). Octave is secretly married to darling Hyacinthe (Jackie Madejski), a match arranged by her nurse, Nerine (Roberts in drag).
    What follows is an elaborate scheme to bilk the fathers, transferring money intended to benefit their sons to the support of relationships with the women who threaten to break family ties. But all’s well that ends well.
    Turchin’s Gypsy steals the show, but all of the performers are masterful at physical comedy, word play, improvisation and audience interaction. Don’t be surprised if they flirt with you and filch your food. With interludes of Baroque harpsichord music and costumes ranging from Blue Boy and Bo Peep to bangles, this is a frothy romp back in time.

Director: Sally Boyett. Costumer: Maggie Cason. Stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Running 1:40 with two intermissions.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wednesday) thru July 29 at 7:30pm at Reynolds Tavern Courtyard, Church Circle, Annapolis. $20 w/advance discounts; rsvp. Happy Hour prices until 7pm; dinner menu then available: 410-415-3513; www.AnnapolisShakespeare.org.

 
The land of opportunity is a lie in this stirring drama
When Ewa (Marion Cotillard: Anchorman 2) emerges from the dank hull of an immigrant ship into the gray New York winter, the land of opportunity is cold and foreboding. Crammed into lines at Ellis Island, Ewa is nervous that her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan: Paranoia), who fell ill on the boat, won’t pass inspection.
 
She’s right. 
 
Magda is ushered into a quarantine room while Ewa tries to figure out what’s going on. As a woman alone, Ewa too is an immigration risk, sent to a room with other unsuitables awaiting deportation. Afraid, alone and about to lose her American dream, Ewa glimpses possible salvation. 
 
Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix: Her) is scouting rejects for talent. A pimp and strip show producer, he promises to help Ewa and her sister. But she will work to earn the money he’ll need. Ewa reluctantly joins Bruno and the women he manages. 
 
Counting the seconds until her indentured servitude is over, Ewa continues to hope to free her sister from Ellis Island isolation. 

Bleak, pensive and beautifully shot, The Immigrant is a fascinating look at the dark side of the American dream. Writer/director James Gray (Two Lovers) explores how easy it was for predatory men to force desperate women into sex work. Gray’s Prohibition-era New York is dirty and grey, filled with filthy people and dark corners. This is an unwelcoming world to foreign people, who must learn the rules of this new corrupt society fast or be swallowed by exploiters. Gray pairs his strong script with carefully considered camera work. Frames filled with action and detail enhance the story. 
 
Luminous even with minimal makeup, Cotillard is fantastic as a woman who sells herself piece by piece for hope. Her beauty and solemnity set her apart from the chaotic crowds swirling around her. Her Ewa is never helpless, even when victimized. She accepts what’s happening to her stoically, remaining focused on her goal. Her mix of vulnerability and steel makes her a compelling heroine. 
 
As Ewa’s mercurial pimp, Phoenix swings wildly between terrifying and pathetic. He gives Bruno a wild look, as if he’s clinging to sanity with his fingernails. Indeed, he has deluded himself into believing he’s a savior to the women he uses. Chalking his mood swings up to “artistic temperament,” Bruno becomes obsessed with Ewa, seemingly the only woman repulsed by his behavior. 
 
Troubling, brutal and sadly beautiful, The Immigrant won’t appeal to a mass audience. But it’s part of the truth of the Land of Opportunity.
Great Drama • R • 120 mins. 
It would be a shame for one seat to go empty during this run.
Debuting to 10 Tony Awards 50 years ago, Hello, Dolly! is a rarity among musicals: song and dance blend seamlessly with story, its buoyant innocence saving it from contrivance. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, it’s a perfect vehicle for 2nd Star Productions, long recognized for outstanding musicals. The combination of strength in show and talent makes this the best amateur musical production I have seen in 13 years of reviewing. 
 
Dolly Levi (Nori Morton), as charming as she is perceptive and manipulative, is a marriage broker who, after a long widowhood, has set her own matrimonial sights on Horace Vandergelder (Gene Valendo), the half-millionaire from Yonkers who also happens to be her client. Horace is set to marry Irene Molloy (Pam Schilling), a lovely widow and milliner from the city. But his quest does not end as he — or six younger romantics — anticipated, as Dolly lets drop some slanderous rumors about Irene’s character.
 
Horace’s two clerks at Vandergelder’s Feed Store — Cornelius (Nathan Bowen) and Barnaby (Daniel Starnes) — close the store without Horace’s knowledge to follow him, intent on sightseeing and kissing a girl — all on two dollars. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Freeman), meanwhile, steals off to the city at Dolly’s urging with her forbidden love Ambrose (Josh Hampton). Dolly enters the pair in a polka contest at the swanky Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where Horace will dine.
 
In the city, Cornelius and Barnaby spot their boss and take refuge in Irene’s hat shop, where Horace discovers them and abandons Irene. She and her assistant Minnie (Colleen Coleman) then fall for Cornelius and Barnaby. Dolly next sets up Horace with a mannequin, then with Ernestina (Rebecca Feibel), a crass floozy, interrupting their miserable tête à tête so that he will fall for her in desperation. Horace’s employees, meanwhile, are trying to entertain the milliners on a pittance in an adjacent booth when an accidental wallet swap saves their day but causes Horace to be arrested for not paying his bill. The polka contest turns into a riot. Everyone is hauled to court, but Cornelius saves the day with a speech on the power of love that moves the Judge (Mark Jeweler) to free everyone but Horace. Dolly, of course, is there to save his day.
 
There is not a clinker in this cast. The leads, all well cast, know how to sell their songs. With hummable hits like Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Takes a Woman and It Only Takes a Moment, the singing is pitch-perfect and the dancing precise. Morton is every inch the marvelous meddler; Valendo delivers just the right blend of tightwad anxiety; Bowen charms with naïve sincerity and energy to burn; Starnes is an impressive presence as the teen playing a teen; Schilling sings like a lark in Ribbons Down My Back and Coleman is her perfect ingénue foil. Tim Sayles is hilarious as Rudolph, the maître d’ who barks orders like a German drill sergeant in the Waiters’ Galop, a stunning ballet of  tuxedoed servers. Feibel wrangles the laughs with her bumptious shenanigans. There are even children — two talented girls — always a welcome sight in community theater choruses.
 
Sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes with half a dozen ornate set changes and two dozen beautiful ensembles complete with parasols, plumes, boaters and bonnets. The robust nine-piece orchestra sometimes overpowers the soloists, but never a word is lost. 
 
Money is like manure. It isn’t worth anything unless you spread it around, Dolly is fond of saying. The same is true for talent. It would be a shame for even one seat to go empty during this run. So buy your tickets now, Before the Parade Passes By.
 
 
Hello, Dolly! by Stewart and Herman. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. choreography: Vincent Musgrave. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. With Heather Jeweler as Mrs. Rose and Brianne Anderson, Aaron Barker, Rosalie Daelemans, Austin Dare, Genevieve Ethridge, Samantha Gardner, Ethan Goldberg, Ann Marie Hines, Julie Hines, Amy Jones, Crista Kirkendall, Brigid Lally, Erin Lorenz, Rebekka Meyer, Spencer Nelson, Malarie Novotny, Sharon Palmer, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, CeCe Shilling, Jordan Sledd, Deb Sola and Sarah Wessinger.
 
Playing thru June 29. F & Sa at 8 pm; Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions: Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $22 w/discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Can you change the future with a few super powers?

The future isn’t very bright for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart: American Dad) and his X-Men. Machine sentinels have been created by a fearful human population to exterminate mutants. Excellent hunters, the sentinels are able to adapt to any mutation, taking on their targets’ powers and finding a way to vanquish them. Only a handful of mutants remain, running for their lives.
    The most successful group of fugitives is a scavenging team led by Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page: The East). When the sentinels attack, Kitty uses her powers to transport the consciousness of a teammate back in time to warn the group.
    Impressed by Kitty’s success, Xavier believes he can use this trick to send himself back in time — to 1973, when the sentinel program began — and avoid the mutant war. The problem with the plan: Sending a mind that far back in time will rip it apart. Fortunately for the X-Men, a teammate with the power to heal rapidly might be able to withstand the journey. Unfortunately, this teammate is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman: Prisoners), whose volatile personality is unsuited for a delicate mission of diplomacy to change the political tide and the future.
    But beggars can’t be choosers. Wolverine’s mission is to reunite a despondent young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy: Filth) with his best friend and nemesis Magneto (Michael Fassbender: The Counselor). If he’s successful, X-Men will have a brighter future. If he fails, everyone will die. No pressure.
    Think of X-Men: Days of Future Past as a dark retelling of Back to the Future with Wolverine in the Michael J. Fox role. The film has lofty goals and metaphors. But its jumble of odd performances and logic gaps make you wonder how the X-Men survived so long in the mutant wars.
    The biggest mystery may be Wolverine, who is always the most entertaining character in these ensemble films but is consistently terrible when taking the lead in an X-Men origins movie. Here Jackman is in his element, snarling, flexing and quipping with aplomb. Jackman uses his natural charisma to make Wolverine a fun fish out of water, exasperatedly dealing with the younger versions of his friends and enemies.
    As the mercurial Magneto, Fassbender is a cunning villain. However Magneto’s inevitable turn to the dark side, now a third-act staple of the X-Men series, makes Fassbender’s character work moot. Magneto will always choose to kill humans, given the opportunity, so it’s mind-boggling that Xavier (supposed to possess the greatest mind in the world) and the rest of the good guys continue to trust him.
    Mutant motivation aside, director Brian Singer (Jack the Giant Slayer) packs the movie with some impressive action sequences. Who has time to wonder why Xavier and Wolverine would trust a mortal enemy who has betrayed them at every turn when we’re watching a mutant lift a stadium and zoom it around Washington, D.C.? Unfortunately, Singer is so busy with these tricks that he shortchanges the plot, which had some possibly interesting things to say about politics and weapons.
    Singer is now adept at superhero franchises that are light on logic and heavy on effects. So X-Men is a diverting film that offers great spectacle at the cost of a good story.

Good Action • PG-13 • 131 mins.