view counter

Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

These talented kids will get your laughs

Annie Get Your Gun is a classic musical based on real people in the days of America’s western expansion. Buffalo Bill’s traveling performance entertained people from all walks of life with the best shot around, Frank Butler. That is, the best shot around other than Annie Oakley.
    The story of the girl who could shoot better is brought to life by Talent Machine, a local theater company that has been getting kids on stage since 1987.
    Talent Machine’s president Lea Capps believes in her young troupe, so there’s no “dumbing down” anything — as youth theater companies may do, performing junior versions of famous plays and musicals.
    Capps’ dedication to performing the authentic plays and musicals pushes her pupils further, allowing their talent to grow. Talent Machine’s Annie Get Your Gun delivers belly-busting laughter, foot-tapping music and talented actors to boot.
    “There’s no business like show business,” proclaims the fame-hungry Wild West ensemble. The message resonates with the budding thespians, children from ages seven to 15.
    “It’s my favorite song in the musical,” says eighth-grader Thomas Crabtree, who plays Mr. Adams.
    Talent Machine cultivates kids’ interest in theater into real talent with the help of dedicated volunteers who for this show created costumes and sets that seemed to step right out of the sharpshooting days of Annie Oakley.
    Michelle Nellum, who trained the spotlight on the young stars, had never planned to get involved. When she and her family moved locally a decade ago, a cousin invited her to one of Talent Machine’s extremely popular Easter breakfasts hosted by Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs. When daughter Maya, then around three, saw what kids not much older than her were doing, she wanted to join them. Maya wouldn’t be satisfied with dancing in the aisle. Now Maya and her mother encourage other friends to join.
    “As it’s 100 percent volunteer, Talent Machine keeps costs low for everyone,” Nellum says.
    On stage, actors and actresses lose themselves in their characters. From Annie’s rustic accent to the mesmerizingly perfect tap dancing and the children’s ability to push through sound equipment malfunctions, Talent Machine knows how to prepare its actors for their big night. Off stage, the actors were more than happy to meet new fans.
    Nine-year-old Lucy Dennis, answered my questions about the musical as though she was regularly hounded by the paparazzo. Lucy, who has been in seven Talent Machine productions, was also inspired to join after watching a breakfast show. Much as she loves acting and dancing, she aspires to be a vet.
    If you have a free night this weekend and want to change up the usual Netflix routine, see Annie Get Your Gun before Talent Machine moves onto its second summer performance.
    Remember, there’s no business like show business!


Thru July 17: ThFSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15, rsvp: ­www.talentmachine.com.
 

Stellar, but still shocking after all these years

When Jonathan Larson’s rock opera Rent, loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme, debuted 20 years ago to a Pulitzer and Tony for Best Musical, it felt so edgy, so raunchy, so shocking with its cast of young radicals: the addicts, the drag queen, the bisexual, the stripper. Despite evolving societal norms and newer crises eclipsing the AIDS epidemic, this blockbuster still has power. With a pulsing beat and haunting earworms, it follows an unforgettable cast of characters for one year as they wrestle with the seven deadly sins and private turmoil only to realize that happiness lies only in living each moment as if it were their last.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a stellar cast of singer/dancers for this production, starting with Tim German as Mark, the videographer who records it all and learns the price of success when his creative genius meets corporate TV greed. At issue is his coverage of a housing firestorm surrounding former roommate Benny (Matthew Walter), who has turned ruthless landlord since marrying into money. When Benny padlocks the building and a tent city sprouts up, the cops and the media are there. So is protest artist Maureen (Loghan Bazan), Mark’s attention-whore ex who left him for an attorney named Joanne (Andrea Greenwald).
    When Mark’s old friend Tom Collins (Christian Gonzalez), a mathematical genius, rolls back into town, he is rolled by gangstas on the street and rescued by a cross-dressing Angel (Nicholas Carter), who becomes the love of his life (Today 4 U). As both men are HIV positive, their support group plays a large role as the story progresses. Mark’s other roommate, guitarist Roger (David Colton), is similarly afflicted and spends the whole show composing his magnum opus (One Song Glory and Your Eyes) before the virus that killed his girlfriend claims him. Roger is a content loner until he meets Mimi (Athena Blackwood), an exotic dancer (Out Tonight) and Benny’s sometime girlfriend. It’s complicated, but Roger and Mimi’s affair is the catalyst for most of the show’s greatest hits, including Light My Candle, I Should Tell You, Another Day and Without You.
    Momentum is slow to build, especially regarding a secondary plotline that has Angel killing Benny’s dog by drumming. But once things get rocking, they don’t stop.
    Greenwald is dynamite with German in Tango Maureen and with Bazan in Take Me or Leave Me. Bazan’s bizarre protest piece, Over the Moon, way eclipses the film version. German and Colton’s Living in America is raw and driving, while Gonzalez and Carter slow the pace in the dreamy Santa Fe and I’ll Cover You. The ensemble impresses with powerhouse solos by Kylie Airin Sjolie and Gabe Taylor (Seasons of Love), Kyle Gonzalez (Will I), Wesley Williams (No Day but Today). Amy Matousek, Katie McCarren, Elizabeth Pittman, Lilibeth Rabang and Brian Shatt provide solid backup.
    Details are fun. Remember the Lycra and shredded denim invasion? Pay phones and bricklike cell-phones? Technological innovations like flashlights serving as spots lend poverty-chic, and the onstage band feels as natural as your noisy neighbors. Best of all, live footage of Mark’s films projected onstage provide intimacy and immediacy.
    The take-away is this: Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.
    If you fly the rainbow flag and like your rock intellectual and irreverent, don’t miss Rent. Runs two hours and forty minutes with intermission. Rated R for adult themes and language.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Paige Austin Rammelkamp. Choreographer: Casey Lynne Garner. Stage manager: Jen Schiller. Set: James Raymond and Jeff Huntington. Costumes: Kristina Marie Martin. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Rob Glass. Video: Babs Weiss. Musicians: Rammelkamp, Ken Kimble, Kevin Hawk, Jeff Eckert and Declan Hughes.
Playing thru July 23, Th-Su plus Weds. July 13 & 20, 8:30pm, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22 rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.

An impressive troupe of young people takes on one of the most challenging races in theater

Producing a Shakespeare play is similar to running a marathon. It’s grueling, frustrating, thrilling and exhausting — and that’s just training.  Maintaining forward motion through the entire course is an accomplishment for any age.
    Twin Beach Players youth production of Much Ado About Nothing has taken on that challenge with great success. 
    Framed at the end of World War II, Twin Beach Players’ Much Ado is a largely festive story made even more spirited by the smart and snarky banter between the fiercely independent Beatrice (Neha Chawla) and the perpetual bachelor Benedick (Cameron Walker). There’s a shadier side as well involving a malicious scheme by the military leader’s illegitimate brother (reimagined here as a sister), Don Jon (Olivia McClung). The ne’er-do-well sets her plan into motion to spoil the wedding of young Claudio (Conor Reinold) and their host’s daughter Hero (Ashley Venier).
     Teeming with elements of trust and deceit within families, friends and romance, the storylines lead to both triumph and disaster. 
    While fondness for Shakespeare and familiarity with the story are helpful, they are not necessary to enjoying this aspiring production. Actors Chawla and Walker set the over-arching tone for the exuberant physicality that helps keep the plot moving when the language — at times challenging for even experienced actors — threatens to bog the performance down. The two offer laugh-out loud moments and engage the audience. The central romantic story is sweet and its actors expressive.
    Other notable performances come from Travis Lehnen as Leonato, E.J. Roach as Don Pedro, Olivia McClung as Don Jon, Aaliyah Roach as Friar Francis and Andrew Brinegar as Antonio. 
    The mood of the era is well set with the sounds of Glenn Miller-esque tunes on a tinny radio, complemented visually by military uniforms, Hepburn–style slacks and charming vintage dresses. Some of the best-staged scenes were teamed with excellent lighting choices, for instance when the entire backdrop glowed in twinkling lights as the full cast launched into a joyful swing dance.  All is supported well by a young tech staff who keep the show rolling at a decent clip.
    Without question this is a teen production and at moments the mark was missed. But those moments were, in a way, appreciated. Otherwise, we might forget we are watching an impressive group of young people taking on one of the most challenging races in theater.


Two and a half hours with an intermission. Thru June 26 FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $10 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

(For Friday performance, arrive very early to enjoy the North Beach Farmers Market to ensure decent parking.)

A very good play balancing good ­fortune with bad luck

“To live in poverty is to exist in a war zone,” award-winning Colonial Players director Edd Miller notes in the playbill for Good People. “Not necessarily with bullets and bombs but with situational choices of conscience.”
    Do choices pull people out of poverty? Determine our lot in life? Or is it luck? Or hard work? Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire and Miller ask us not to decide but to ­consider.
    The 2011 drama is set in South Boston, or Southie, in 1998, but its questions are timeless and beyond boundary.
    To help us do that Lindsay-Abaire gives us Margie (with a hard “g”), a middle-aged single Southie mother who loses her job at a dollar store because she’s always late, usually because her adult handicapped daughter can’t be left alone. Margie doesn’t want a handout, just a job that will pay the rent. To find that, she sets aside her ego and reluctantly asks help from her years-ago boyfriend Mikey, an Irish lace doctor who escaped from the neighborhood and got rich because … luck? Hard work? Choices?
    Act I sets us up with the firing by young manager Stevie, with Margie and her friends Dottie and Jean urging her, sometimes hilariously, to look up Mikey. Turns out he has no work to offer. But he has an extravagant birthday party coming up, and Margie invites herself. When she hears by phone that the party is off because of a sick child she believes she is being disinvited lest she won’t embarrass Mikey in front of his non-Southie friends. She goes anyway and is mistaken by Kate, Mikey’s wife, for a caterer picking up dishes that weren’t used because the party was indeed canceled.
    Identities straightened out, Kate invites Margie to chat, much to Mikey’s dismay. Now fly the slings and arrows of good fortune versus bad luck.
    With Miller at the helm, this fine cast navigates the stream of comedy at the surface of much of this show while personifying the undercurrents of deception, despair and distrust. Shirley Panek gives us a Margie who shouldn’t be likeable, but is, thanks to Panek’s deft ability to deliver a stinging yet funny blow to the ego while allowing us to see the pain in her eyes. It is a riveting and emotional performance.
    Likewise, Ben Carr takes Mikey beyond a caricature of a local boy who made good to a finely crafted multidimensional character who relishes his success but, under Margie’s jealous glare, becomes so defensive that his own doubt about luck vs. work show through. Panek and Carr click, so for the audience Margie and Mikey do, too.
    As Kate, Ashley Spooner does some navigating as an elite African-American inexperienced in the past lives of Mikey and Margie. Her Act II performance in a long, yet riveting, three-person scene moves from elitist to understanding as flaws in her husband and their marriage are revealed.
    Karen Lambert’s Jean and Bernadette Arvidson’s Dottie are fine Southie friends, delivering hilarity that resonates with despair. As Stevie, the young store manager whose mother was the women’s friend, Glen Pearson displays the nervousness of a character appearing as the cause of despair.
    Director Miller’s multi-use set cleverly moves from a store alley to a Southie house to a bingo hall to a well-off doctor’s living room all with minimal movement — clear proof that in theater in the round, less is more. His cast keeps the pace moving, and each is clearly invested not only in what we see of their characters but also in what we can feel is so subtly moving under the surface.
    Good People is very, very good.


About two hours, 15 minutes with intermission. Stage manager: Herb Elkin. Costume designer: Dianne Smith. Sound designer: Theresa Riffle. Lighting designer: Frank Florentine.

Thru June 25: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, Colonial Players Theatre, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Back to the ’80s

To celebrate its 50th season bringing musical theater to Annapolis, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has chosen this summer to stage, in reverse order, The Producers, Rent … and The Wedding Singer. The Producers won 12 out of its 15 Tony nominations, setting the nominations record and joining the short list of musicals winning in every nominated category. Rent was nominated for 10 Tonys and won four, plus the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Wedding Singer … five nominations, no wins and critical yawns.
    The fact that The Wedding Singer was a loveable but mediocre 1998 movie didn’t stop its writer, Tim Herlihy, from turning it into a loveable but mediocre 2006 Broadway show. It is, of course, set in the 1980s, and most of its purpose seems to be to remind us of that fact. Big hair, big music, big money and big names are tossed around like rice at the newlyweds — with results nothing near the quality of The Producers and Rent.
    Yet a game and talented Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre cast answers the call of the decade with talent and humor that in more cases than not rises above the material.
    In case you missed the movie, the plot is basic: Robbie Hart, a wedding singer, lives with his Grandma Rosie in Ridgefield, NJ. He’s engaged to skanky waitress Linda but at a gig meets Julia, who herself is engaged to smarmy Wall Street banker Greg Guglia. Robbie promises to sing at Julia’s wedding, Linda hilariously dumps Robbie at the altar — claiming she wants to marry not a mere wedding singer but a rock star — and Julia pines for Greg to pop the question.
    As Robbie and Julia, Jamie Austin Jacobs and Hayley Briner (who splits the role on alternating weekends with Layne Seaman) generate chemistry and do some nice vocal work together, especially on the delightful Grow Old with You, which is carried over from the movie. Briner also delivers an upbeat, very ’80s-like Someday, one of the few songs in this score you might leave the theater humming. And while Jacobs needs to remember that wearing a body mike doesn’t negate the need to project when speaking, he’s got the personality and presence, and certainly the singing voice, to make you forget Adam Sandler.
    As Linda, Hannah Thornhill delivers attitude, punch and the vocal chops to match. In Let Me Come Home, she doesn’t just beg to be taken back, she demands it … physically as well as emotionally, in a comic highlight of the show. Jeffrey Hawkins plays Julia’s fiancée Glen with the right amount of Wall Street Gordon Gekko (look it up kids) and also displays a very nice voice on the greed is good message It’s all About the Green. As Robbie’s bandmates, Robbie Dinsmore as a wannabe Boy George and Fred Fletcher-Jackson as a wannabe Van Halen show solid comic timing. Ashley Gladden is Julia’s cousin, a sassy, sexy Holly, whose Saturday Night in the City comes with a Flashdance finale. Even Grandma Rosie channels the ’80s, with Phyllis J. Everette breaking into a very funny rap, Move that Thang. Members of a fine supporting ensemble effectively back up leaders with solid vocals, energetic dance and comic characters.
    Director Mark Briner keeps the pace moving, as does the choreography of Becca Vourvoulas, and Ken Kimble’s backstage orchestra hits all the right notes. Andrew Mannion’s set design puts the fun in functional, and Lin Whetzel’s costumes are full of ’80s fun, with big shoulder pads and bigger colors (but why oh why does the Wall Street tycoon walk around in ratty jeans? Not even Guess?).
    All in all, an invested and energetic cast and crew bring you a slick and rollicking evening. You won’t cry at the romance, you might even groan at the references, but you’ll also smile and tap your feet — especially if you lived through the decade that bored many of the people you’re watching on the stage.


About two and one-half hours with one intermission.

Thru June 18. ThFSaSu (plus W June 15) 8:30pm, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.summergarden.com.

A sure bet for a good time

From auditions to curtain, every theater production is a gamble, but 2nd Star Productions’ Guys and Dolls beats the odds. A period piece lampooning its own subculture, this 1950 Tony winner for Best Musical still feels funny and frisky from the opening Call to Post to the classic Fugue for Tinhorns. It grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go as Nicely Nicely Johnson (James Hulcha), Benny Southstreet (Nathan Bowen) and Rusty Charlie (Daniel Starnes) vow I Got the Horse Right Here.
    Ya gotta love characters like Nathan Detroit (Brian Mellen), who runs The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York, and his adorable doxie, Miss Adelaide (Jamie Erin Miller), who headlines at The Hot Box nightclub. Never was there a sweeter, more devoted couple, even after 14 years of engagement.
    Then there’s suave Sky Masterson (E. Lee Nicol), a high-roller on the sticky end of a sucker bet whereby he must convince prim Sister Sarah (Erica Miller) of the Salvation Army to go out with him — to Havana. Despite their professed disdain for each other, it’s an offer she can’t refuse when he promises to deliver 12 certified sinners to a critical prayer meeting where General Cartwright (Carole Long) will determine the mission’s fate.
    Broadway is crawling with sinners. There are gamblers: Big Jule from Chicago (Steve Streetman), Harry the Horse (Julian Ball), Brandy Bottle Bates (Eric Meadows), Liver Lips Louie (Stevie Magnum), Angie the Ox (Joshua Hampton), Society Max (Tyler White), Scranton Slim (Andrew Gordon), Li’l Pete (Michael Mathes), Jimmy Two Bags (Jerry Murray) and Black Jack Jolly (Brian Jollie).
    And the Hot Box dolls: Mimi (Lucy Bobbin), Betty Lee (Debra Kidwell), Penny (Allison Baudoin), Lily (Victoria Brown), Josephine (Emily Morgan), Ruby (Christa Kronser), Charlie (Genevieve Ethridge) and La Rue (Sarah Williams and Angeleaza Anderson).
    Despite Sarah’s daily sermonizing to Follow the Fold and Stray No More — complete with a band of Uncle Arvide (Dave Robinson), Agatha (Hillary Glass), Calvinette (Alice Goldberg) and Martha (Kimberly Hopkins) — the sinners see the mission as just another potential gaming site where they can hide from Police Lt. Brannigan (Gene Valendo).
    It’s all so suspenseful! Will the sinners find salvation? Will Sarah and Sky find each other’s arms? Will Adelaide drag Nathan to the altar?
    Jamie Miller is phenomenal as the old-fashioned girl in fishnets, whether spouting her mother’s homespun wisdom or performing at the Hot Box.
    Brian Mellen makes it easy to see why she loves such a weasel as Detroit in his Sue Me.
    E. Lee Nicol (recently of The Music Man) charms in such hits as Luck Be a Lady and I’ve Never Been In Love Before. Erica Miller is flush in the campy If I Were a Bell and her Marry the Man Today duet with Adelaide.
    Dave Robinson delivers a tender More I Cannot Wish You. James Hulcha and Nathan Bowen are Aces in the title song and dance. Hulcha’s jackpot of Pentecostal fervor, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat, brings the house down.
    From barbershop to choral extravaganzas, the harmonies are always true and the clever lyrics clear to the back row. The choreography is kitschy and tight with several big dance numbers such as Havana and The Crapshooters’ Dance spotlighting the eye-popping moves of choreographer Andrew Gordon alongside Bobbin, Kidwell and White. The Hot Box chorus girls, under the management of the Emcee (Mangum), turn burlesque into burlee-cute whether dressed in short coveralls for I Love You a Bushel and a Peck or undressed in lacy corsets for Take Back Your Mink.
    With a live pit of 12 musicians, five winning sets and at least 60 period costumes, this is spectacle to beat all spectacles. For a little action, Guys and Dolls is a sure thing for all ages.


Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Director: Debbie Barber-Eaton. Music Director: Sandy Melson Griese. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Producer: Nathan Bowen. Stage Manager: Joanne D. Wilson. Set Designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes, Makeup and Hair: Linda Swann. Lights & Sound: Garrett R. Hyde.

Playing thru June 25, F & Sa at 8 pm, Su at 3pm at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., Bowie. $22 with discounts, rsvp 410-757-5700; ­www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Catch the second weekend of fun and frivolity

Time-travel nearly 350 years from the court of King Louis XIV of France to Twin Beach Players’ version of Molière’s 1668 comedy of manners, L’Avare. The Miser, as English has it, completes performer/director Jeff Larson’s production of a Moliere trilogy, including Tartuffe and the Imaginary Invalid, spanning 14 years of theatrical performances by Twin Beach Players. Through all, he’s teamed with company president Sid Curl.
    Colorful and convincing characters embroiled in a twisting plot make up The Miser’s world. In two acts, we witness what happens when Harpagon, the miser, obsessed with adding to his sizeable fortune, secrets away his wealth. To add to these riches, he plans marriages for his two children. Those around him, however, are equally determined to carry out their own plans.
    These are familiar characters. Comedic archetypes we recognize had their roots in Moliere, including the bumbling Inspector Clouseau character of Pink Panther fame, first imagined as the Miser’s Inspector ­Sansclou. The characters use slapstick, physical humor and clever banter to keep us entertained.
    As in Moliere’s time, some characters break through the imaginary fourth wall that separates the audience from the performers onstage to engage with us directly. The technique is visually interesting and involving as well as revelatory of a character’s private thoughts.
    Larson’s blocking uses stage space wisely, helping to focus our attention toward or away from imposing character action or dialogue, especially when multiple characters share the stage simultaneously.
    Overall, acting is solid with some outstanding performances, including Luke Woods’ commendable physical and verbal character choices as Harpagon.
    Annie Gorenflo’s Elise balances youth and experience. Aidan Davis adds strength to Valere with a pleasing and resonant vocal tone. Tom Weaver’s Cleante is sincere and believably love-struck, while Jenny Liese’s Marianne is bright and affable. Jim Weeks shows commanding physical agility and range as La Fleche.
    Jeanne Louise as Mâitress Jacqueline Ze Chef is animated and excitable; her French accent is believable and her movements charmingly gazelle-like. Stage veteran Helenmary Ball is delightful as marriage broker Madame Frosine, offering impeccable comic timing, hilarious facial expressions and rich vocal variety. Kevin McAndrews masterfully performs his roles of Maitre Simon and Inspector Sansclou, shaping subtle nuances between them. Curl entertains in his cameo as Senor Anselme, drawing comparisons to the chameleon-like talent of actor Tim Conway in physical appearance, comic ability and vocal diversity.
    The production staff skillfully executes their technical responsibilities, giving legitimacy to time and place. Music designer Robert Snider’s selection of pre-show, intermission and post-show music is consistent with the Baroque era. An able stage crew professionally and discreetly transforms the sparse set in Act I to a more fully furnished set in Act II. Costume design and makeup include period wigs, curls and costumes accented with bolder hues to enhance characterizations.


Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission; light refreshments available for purchase.

Th-Sa 8pm, Su 3pm thru April 17 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave. $15 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Spread the word about this haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul

“I’m sure there is magic in everything,” says the invalid child Colin in The Secret Garden, “only we have not sense to get hold of it.”
    If you want to believe in magic again, see Colonial Players’ production of the children’s classic that has been delighting musical theater audiences for 25 years. With award-winning songs, clever staging and an animated cast, it delivers all the haunting magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edwardian original and then some. Like a dream in black and white, this show blurs the line between this world and the next in spinning the tale of headstrong Mary Lennox (Madi Heinemann), orphaned in India and shipped home to her miserable Uncle Archibald’s (Justin T. Ritchie) English estate. It’s a haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul.
    Colonial’s tiny theater-in-the-round is perfect for the show’s musical narratives enhanced by sharp choreography and an imaginative set. Dance takes center stage as a plot device in the seamless prologue when a scarlet silk handkerchief passed among dancers illustrates the cholera epidemic that orphans Mary. One by one the victims fall, starting with her parents, Captain and Mrs. Lennox (Heather McMunigal and Kory Twit).
    Accompanying the dance is a sterling chorus of neighbors who provide back story and commentary on life at Misselthwaite Manor: Major Holmes (Cory Jones), Alice (Kaelynn Miller), Betsy/Mrs. Winthrop (Erin Branigan), Lt. Shaw (Kyle Gonzalez), Claire Holmes (Kaitlin Fish) and Lt. Wright (Greg Anderson).
    The manor is crawling with ghosts, primary among them Archibald’s wife, Lily (Lindsay Espinosa), who worries over him and their invalid son Colin (Reid Murphy), despite the ministrations of Archie’s jealous physician-brother Neville (Kevin Cleaver). But Mary has the company of a sympathetic maid, Martha (Ella Green), her young brother Dickon (Samuel Edward Ellis) and the gardener, Ben (Danny Brooks). With their help, she discovers Lily’s secret garden and brings its healing power to all the sick and restless.
    With just one piece of furniture, some tissue clouds and myriad special effects, this show conveys a better sense of time, place and action than more opulent productions I have seen. Innovative lighting evokes a full moon, thunderstorms, a skyline of minarets suggesting Mary’s homeland and a robin flitting overhead, symbolized by migrating red chaser lights. Three projectors broadcast films around the theater to simulate actions from the mundane act of opening the curtains to a bucolic train ride and the inner sanctum of the garden beyond its imposing walls.
    The costumes range from drab English earth tones to the tropical whites and lacy gowns of India’s ruling class, where only the turbaned Fakir (Aubrey Baden) and sari-clad Ayah (Fish) dazzle in color. Attention to detail is evident from the housekeeper’s (Cristina Shunk) magnificent key belt to the red trim incorporated into Mary’ dress as she warms to her surroundings.
    Among a cast of talented singers, Ritchie and Espinosa thrill in A Bit of Earth and How Could I Ever Know, and Green delights with her fine Yorkshire accent in A Fine White Horse. Cleaver’s duet with Ritchie (Lily’s Eyes) is unforgettable, and Ellis delights in Wick with a presence that feels metaphysical. Heinemann’s signature song, The Girl I Mean to Be, is charming but difficult to hear over the taped accompaniment — a dilemma common to the other children’s soli and the sole technical problem of this production.
    See this chestnut with someone you love, young or old, and bring a hanky.


By Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, based on the novel by Frances ­Hodgson Burnett. Director: Lois Evans. Musical Director: Wendy Baird. Choreographer: Carol Cohen. Stage Manager: Andy McLendon. Set: Laurie Nolan. Sound/Effects: Julien C. Jacques. Lights: Eric Lund. Costumes: Jean Carroll Christie. Dialect/Vocal Coach: Nancy Krebs. Musical Accompaniment by Right on Cue Services.

Runs two and a half hours: Thru May 8, Th-Sa at 8pm, Su at 2, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

Life, love and inspiration from a humble hiding place

The miracle of Anne’s work is that no matter our background, it feels like she is talking directly to us. Indeed. Those are the words of Steve Tobin, the director of Compass Rose’s beautifully constructed production of The Diary of Anne Frank. In the playbill’s director’s note, he goes on to say, “The triumph of her story is that more than 70 years later we are still telling it, and still being inspired to be better members of the human race.” The wit and wisdom generated by a young teenager stuck for two years in the crowded upper rooms of her father’s workplace in Amsterdam as the Nazis surrounded city blocks to ferret out Jews still resonate today because Anne’s energy love for life and intelligence are timeless. But it was, of course, the extraordinary circumstances that make her diary, and its recovery, close to a miracle. At Compass Rose, Tobin and his cast and crew completely commit themselves to the universal truths of this story, and the result is an emotional, suspenseful and sometimes funny tale of life, love and inspiration. Mia Goodman is young, but her acting credentials are impressive even for an adult: Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage and Signature Theater, to name a few. Goodman pours every ounce of that impressive pedigree into her portrayal of Anne. She’s a typical young teen, but with a depth of understanding of her situation that manifests itself not so much in fear as in optimism. When Hanukkah threatens to slip by uncelebrated but with a prayer, Anne comes to the rescue with a special homemade gift for each of her compatriots. In this scene and others, Goodman gives us an Anne whose buoyancy and love cannot be contained by her circumstances. When she writes in her diary she talks directly to the audience, and Goodman’s depth as an actress, combined with her youth, make us believe she is indeed talking directly to each of us. Goodman’s performance is, in a word, captivating. Her supporting cast achieves the same standard. As Mr. Frank, Steve Lebens is wise, understanding and brave in a very impressive performance. Alicia Sweeney gives us a Mrs. Frank who displays an inherent love and generosity that cracks when one of the other adults is caught stealing food. Jenny Donovan does a fine job as Anne’s sister Margot. As Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, the guests whom the Franks generously offered hiding, Bryant Centofanti and Jill Kyle-Keith are suitably contentious. Their son Peter is very nicely played by Eli Pendry, who subtly allows Peter’s teenaged nervousness and awkwardness to wane as his friendship with Anne grows. Edd Miller is impressive as Mr. Dussel, the latecomer whose demanding crankiness melts into an acceptance of his situation and a love for the family who have taken him in. And Rachael Murray is effective as Miep, everyone’s connection to the outside world. Helping transport us into a cramped 1940s hiding place are the multi-level set by Tobin, appropriate costumes by Beth Terranova, props by Joann and Mike Gidos and lighting by Alex Brady that is so emotionally effective it almost acts as another character. Anne Frank’s words on the page are inspiring. In the hands of these outstanding performers, they, and we, are transformed. We understand how, despite her circumstances, she could write: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”


About two hours with one intermission.

Thru April 17. Th 7pm; F 8pm; Sa 8pm (and 2pm April 9 & 16); Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis, $38 w/ discounts: www.compassrosetheater.org; 410-980-6662.

Colonial Players presents a laugh-filled farce with Boeing, Boeing

French playwright Marc ­Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing made a successful takeoff overseas in 1962, playing for seven years in London. But on Broadway three years later, it stalled after 23 performances. A movie version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was widely ignored. But a 2008 Broadway revival was a hit, and that version has landed at Colonial Players in Annapolis.
    Bernard (Brandon Bentley), an American living near Orly Airport in Paris, is juggling three fiancées, each an air hostess: Gloria (Debra Kidwell), the American; Gabriella (Sarah Wade), the Italian; and Gretchen (Rebecca Gift) the German. Making meticulous use of airline timetables and the complicity of his French housekeeper Berthe (Cece Mcgee-Newbrough), Bernard has managed smooth flying for his ruse.
    Along for the bumpy ride comes Bernard’s old pal Robert (Colin Hood), a nervous naïf from Wisconsin who can’t believe his friend’s luck in keeping “one up, one down and one pending.” Robert finds himself more than a witness when the planes get faster and weather sets in. That’s when the wit hits the fanjet, and the laughs start to soar.
    As Bernard, Bentley knows how to deliver a punch line and lands several. But by overdoing his physicality, he seems to be trying too hard for a cool, calm lothario. His later breakdown as things … well, break down … is more believable, so perhaps he’ll get comfortable with his sexy baritone and good looks and settle into the role more comfortably as the run progresses.
    As Robert, Hood uses his comic chops to perfection, taking his jittery body and voice right to the edge of credulity and then stepping back just enough so that we not only believe him but also share a certain empathy. He lands a nice transition from nervous pal to would-be lothario.
    As Berthe the housekeeper, Mcgee-Newbrough walks a similar comedic tightrope, balancing physical comedy and character without falling into caricature. Her lines are funny. but what she does with those lines is even funnier. Her almost silent but quite physical reaction when she first discovers that two of the fiancées have somehow infiltrated the flat at the same time is 15 seconds of comic angst that alone are worth the price of admission.
    As the stewardesses, Kidwell, Gift and Wade shine. Wearing brilliantly colored stewardess costumes by designer Christina McAlpine, each maintains a credible accent and her own brand of clichéd character — but it’s in the clichés that the comedy works.
    Gretchen is the dominating German whose voice and body are whip smart and just as stinging. Gift maintains the dominatrix attitude with aplomb; a long early scene with Robert flies by as she and Hood circle and collide hilariously. Wade’s cooing Italian and Kidwell’s Betty Boop-like cosmo girl each commands her own entertaining niche, while still being brilliant at the ensemble work that the play demands.
    Director Scott Nichols, who also chose the fun 1960s soundtrack, keeps the timing tight. Even on opening night there was nary a blip.
    So fasten your seat belts, put your tray tables up and fly on over to Colonial for a laugh-filled flight to farce.


ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm & 7:30 thru March 12. 108 East St., Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org. Two and a half hours with intermission.

Stage manager Dave Carter; Set designer Alan Zemla; Lighting designer Eric Lund.