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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Plenty of solid hits light up nine innings

     Colonial Players’ One-Act Play Festival has been a biyearly summer event since 1999. This year’s installment, THIS AND THAT, presents nine plays across two slates, THIS and THAT, running on alternating dates. The Festival is an occasion for novice directors, production staff and actors to produce known and unknown works under the tutelage of seasoned mentors. Thus, such talents as Rick Wade, past Colonial  Players president and author of the company’s classic A Christmas Carol, appear alongside theater newbies or actors who are cutting their directorial teeth.
    This year’s directors, in the order their shows are listed, include Dave Carter, Timothy Sayles, Rebecca Feibel, Robin Schwartz, Cseni Szabo, Scott Nichols, Dave Walter, Mark T. Allen and Lelia TahaBurt. Their stories range from comedy to tragedy, yet a theme in all but one is that things are not as they seem.

THIS, playing July 25 and 27
     Jerry Casagrande’s Among Shrubs and Ivy, which debuted in 2011 at Silver Spring Stage, follows John (Robert Eversberg) through a decade of vacations at a seaside campground owned by crusty Korean War vet Frank (Martin Hayes). With few but powerful words, they bond over their shared love of the property, their families and the value of continuity in a changing world. With Laurel Kenney, Gregory Anderson and Chloe Kubit.
    Me and My Shadow is a riotous look at duplicity when two classmates reunite with inner voices in-tow, speaking unspeakable thoughts. Playwright Rich Orloff’s forthright comedy follows an insecure writer, Susanne (Bernadette Arvidson), and her Super Ego, Susie (Rosalie Daelemans), to a luncheon with Susanne’s successful publisher friend Jacqueline (Kathryn Huston), and her Id, Jacquie (Peggy Friedman). Even the waitress, Andrea (Laurel Kenney), is funny as Andi (Kubit) expresses her candid thoughts about her customers.
    Sure Thing by David Ives is a take on the dating game reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Bill (Brandon Bentley) and Betty (Sarah Smith) grapple with pick-up lines and small talk, rejecting each other’s overtures with a game show buzzer until they stumble on the right formula for starting a relationship.
    James H. Wise’s comedy Mugger in the Park, voted an Audience Favorite at last year’s Watermelon One-Act Festival in Leonardtown, continues to delight with Kathryn Huston’s portrayal of Selma, the stereotypical little old lady who is stuck up by a thug (Jason Vaughan). Selma prevails with her retinue of complaints, kvetching and clever one-upsmanship. Martin Hayes and Robert Eversberg play Selma’s husband and a second thug.
    In Tough Cookies, by Brett Hursey, a date fizzles when the waiter (Jason Vaughan) can’t supply an entitled jerk, Chaz (Brandon Bentley), with a fortune cookie worthy of its name, while his date, Roxanne (Kenney), racks up paper compliments and blessings.

THAT, playing July 24 and 26
     Queen of the Northern Monkeys, by Jason Vaughan, presents a snippet of life from the 1957 Roman holiday of Danish Baroness Karen Blixen (Carol Cohen), aka Isak Dineson, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa. This lovely episode of her life, exploring her friendship with American literary titan Eugene Walter (Kevin Wallace) and her secretary Clara (Erica Jureckson), feels more like an excerpt from a larger work than a complete work in itself.
    Jeff Stolzer’s award-winning satire Emergency Room pokes fun at the broken healthcare system, pitting a patient (Kim Ethridge) against a corrupt hospital where the doctor and billing clerk (both played by Erica Jureckson) and security guard (Richard Atha-Nicholls) conspire to keep her captive. The exaggerated premise would be funnier if not for the frustration and sick humor.
    Rick Wade’s Foxgloves is a smart intrigue that takes place at an airport bar where widower Dennis (Danny Brooks) and his traveling companion Jerry (Atha-Nicholls) discover how much they have in common. Bernadette Arvidson plays the sympathetic waitress.
    Alien Love Triangle, by Katherine Glover, is a hilarious sci-fi thriller starring Richard Atha-Nicholls and Erica Jureckson as two astronauts studying life and finding love with K’Sh, an amoeba-like creature with three heads (Kubit, Sam Morton and Brooke Penne). 
    Some productions are more polished than others, but each slate offers at least a couple solid wins. It’s summer fun for sultry nights with a seed of surprise.


This and That: One Act Play Festival. Stage Manager: Ernie Morton. Sound: Brittany Rankin and Richard Atha-Nicholls. Lights: Eric Gasior and Shirley Panek. Costumes: Hannah Sturm and Kaelynn Miller. Set: Lyana Morton and Edd Miller.

Playing thru July 27, Th thru Sa at 8pm and Su at 2 at Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $10 per slate or $15 for both; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.
 

The formula for the chemistry of commitment

     I Do! I Do! has been done over and over in community theaters, repertory theaters, dinner theaters and church basements since it closed on Broadway in 1968. One reason is that its two-person cast and simple single set of a four-poster bed make it far easier and less expensive to mount than the typical big-cast-and-chorus musical, thus very attractive to those looking to bring in an audience at relatively little cost.
    That’s not the only reason. The material was lightweight even for the 1960s, and the score produced only one recognizable hit. Yet both bring so much humor and empathy that anyone who is, has been or will be married can identify with Agnes and Michael Snow. It is their union the show follows for some 50 years from the honeymoon night all the way through to the sale of the house they lived in, loved in, argued in, raised kids in and sang to each other in for all those decades. It was written to begin in 1895 and end in 1945.
    Infinity’s production, tightly directed by Tina Marie Casamento and starring Daniella Dalli and Craig Laurie, takes a more modern setting, starting in the late 1950s and ending in the current day. The story is timeless enough that the change is barely noticeable.
    On Broadway, I Do! I Do! was a hit because the personalities and chemistry of stars Mary Martin and Robert Preston raised the level of the material. Infinity’s production is likely to be very popular for the same reason. Both Dalli and Laurie have personality plus, and their vocal chemistry elevates a score that was never one of Broadway’s more popular. Together, they turn the show’s hit, “My Cup Runneth Over,” a pop smash for big-baritone-voiced Ed Ames, into a more real-life paean to growing old together.
    The chemistry between Dalli and Laurie doesn’t stop with their vocals. As wide-eyed young love dims with the passing of the years — and the giggling embarrassment of the honeymoon night gives way to the inevitable vocal sparring of two people wondering years later whether they are where and with whom they want to be — both of these New York actors display an empathy for their characters and each other that remains strong throughout the rises and falls of a long marriage. That arc — from love to frustration to anger to cheating to loneliness and back — is one we’ve all seen on stage and film time and time again. Still, these actors know how to deliver a vocal quip and a physical take in ways that make it all seem fresh. Through it all, they never lose sight of the depth of feeling that must anchor each of these moments, just as it anchors the ups and downs of any long-term relationship.
    Dalli takes Agnes through the decades with a charming and knowing subtlety, gradually aging in body and blooming in attitude but never varying from the personality that makes her the anchor of this production. Her beautiful, rich soprano is the perfect vehicle to carry the emotional ups and downs of Agnes’ songs.
    Laurie is more of a character actor than a leading man à la Robert Preston, so we get a Michael who is a bit broader than one might expect. Laurie pulls it off because of that chemistry with Dalli, because he connects with the audience in a way many actors can’t and because, through it all, he never loses touch with that aforementioned depth.
    Music director David Libby keeps it simple, with pianist Paul Campbell playing a single keyboard in accompaniment because, frankly, that’s all two people singing a nice, relatively simple score really need. A single live keyboard played well is almost always more emotionally satisfying and effective than a recorded and digitized orchestra.
    That simple set with the four-poster bed? Turns out it’s not so simple. Being a professional theater company, Infinity knows how to get the most out of a set, and does so with this one. What appears to be just a big headboard, for example, turns into everything from the altar of a church to a quilt of lights mimicking Agnes’ and Michael’s raised voices in the same ritual married couples everywhere have engaged in since time began: talking past each other from opposite sides of the house.
    It is this, and so much more of ourselves, our parents and our married friends, that we recognize in I Do! I Do! The play is a salute to the institution of marriage, and Infinity carries on the tradition delightfully.


Scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo III; Sound designer Wes Shippee; Stage manager Geoffrey Weiss; Costume designer Tristan Raines; Lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor.

About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Runs through August 3: Thursdays at 2pm and 7pm; Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm; added performances on Wednesday, July 23 at 7pm and Friday, August 1 at 8pm. Advance tickets $35, $40 at the door (seniors $34/$29): call 877-501-8499 or visit www.infinitytheatrecompany.com

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.

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.

 
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.

Gather under the stars for satins and sequins, top hats and tails and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness

It seems only yesterday we were urged to come and meet those dancing feet … on 42nd Street. But the 2001 revival of the 1980 Broadway hit (both multiple Tony Award winners) debuted as a 1933 Warner Brothers film starring Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers. Now Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre brings back this buoyant musical extravaganza, after a 20-year hiatus, in a show billed as a “bold celebration of the transcendent joys of Broadway.”
    Packed with show-stopping classics, it stars several dynamic leads guaranteed to satisfy the strongest nostalgia craving. ASGT’s stage can’t provide the same trademark visuals of Busby Berkeley’s film choreography, but the tapping is complex and tight, highlighting the virtuoso performances of Hannah Thornhill as Peggy Sawyer, the sudden starlet, and Summer Garden Theatre newcomer Nicholas Carter as her friend Andy, the dance captain of her star vehicle, Pretty Lady. Maggie (Allie Dreskin), the show’s wisecracking writer, is equally impressive for her singing.
    Because even the spunkiest musical needs a story line, no matter how flimsy, Peggy the small-town-girl takes the city by storm and wins the hearts of hard-nosed producer Julian Marsh (Brandon Deitrick) and sweet chorus boy Billy (Kyle Eshom).
    Meanwhile, aging diva Dorothy Brock (Allison Erskine) gives Peggy her lucky break, literally, when age trips over youth in rehearsal. Dorothy was due for a change, anyway, having tired of her sugar daddy who is the show’s backer, Abner Dillon (Wendell Holland), and desperate to reunite with her secret love, Pat Denning (Thomas Brandt).
    For a show with two love triangles, there is nary a spark beyond the music. But with hits like We’re in the Money glittering green as a lotto commercial, Lullaby of Broadway with its great male harmonies, and Shuffle Off to Buffalo staged in train cars, the rest is fluff.
    Thornhill, ASGT’s star of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago, has it all: voice, moves, personality and Renée Zellweger’s looks. Carter astounds as an Astaire for the modern age. Dreskin brings a Bette Midler quality to Maggie, wowing early on in Shadow Waltz, and dominating the stage for a third of the show. Newby Erskine’s strong contralto is best showcased in About a Quarter to Nine and I Only Have Eyes for You. Eshom shines in Dames. Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, Lacy Comstock, Amanda Cimaglia and Trent Goldsmith excel in the tertiary lead chorus roles of Anytime Annie, Phyllis, Lorraine and Brent, featured in the big-production numbers.
    From an acting perspective, Aubrey Baden is worth mentioning for his terrific impersonation of a rehearsal pianist, despite the fact that he doesn’t play or speak. All the music, in fact, is provided by a tiny, tinny backstage combo. Holland is a quintessential milksop. Deitrick does a decent job with his famous pep talk, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star,” but he has trouble navigating 42nd Street in his solo reprise of the title song in the finale. Similarly, some dragging tempi and a lighting problem siphoned some of the show’s energy on opening night.
    Still, if you love satins and sequins, top hats and tails, and vocal harmonies with that Merry Melodies brand of manic sweetness, you will thrill to this chestnut.


With Samantha Curbelo, Ashley Gladden, Debra Kidwell, Maureen Mitchell, Erin Paluchowski , Aaron Quade and D.J. Wojciehowski.
By Stewart, Bramble, Warren and Dubin. Director and choreographer: Kristina Friedgen. Musical director: Julie Ann Hawk. Dance captains: Nick Carter and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan. Set designers: Friedgen and Dan Snyder. Costumes: Miriam Gholl. Lights: Alex Brady. Orchestra conductor/pianists: Hawk and Laura Brady.
Playing thru June 21. Th-Su plus Wed. June 18 at 8:30 pm @ Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.
 

Take an intimate look at private lives affected by corporate callousness.

Colonial Players has kept audiences engaged in a season that has swung from the ridiculous to reality: from a time machine to Death Row, and now from a tabloid fantasy to the Industrial Revolution. In Melanie Marnich’s These Shining Lives, a fictional treatment of a factual tragedy, we meet four victims of radium poisoning whose plight spawned a landmark Supreme Court decision on corporate responsibility and workers’ safety. Despite the legalistic dénouement, this story is less Erin Brokovich than an intimate look at the private lives affected by corporate callousness.
    If you’re a fan of television’s Big Love or The Big C, you’re already familiar with Marnich’s work. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to catch this show’s 2008 debut at Baltimore’s Center Stage. Regardless, this touching chronicle of friendship and suffering will arouse your anger and sympathy for Catherine (Sarah Wade), Charlotte (Krissy McGregor), Frances (Josette Dubois), Pearl (Aricia Skidmore-Williams) and thousands like them who, for over a decade, decorated watch faces with a paint composed of radium powder and their own saliva.
    From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, these working girls were heady with newfound freedoms and “easy money” thanks to the newly discovered element thought to impart a healthy glow and beneficial side effects. They got $8 a day; they lost teeth, jaws, limbs, their jobs, their good names and their lives.
    Through it all, the men around them tiptoed around the obvious. Mr. Reed (David Carter), the supervisor, kept a watchful eye on their degeneration even as he denied the hazards of the job. The company doctor (Eric Hufford) prescribed aspirin and rest. Catherine’s adoring husband Tom (Ben Carr), suspicious from the start, nevertheless grew resentful of and dependent on his wife’s work even as she
withered before his unbelieving eyes.
    The powerful story could have been more affecting with a more elaborate set. For despite luminescent designs on the floor and walls, the recycled kitchenette and worktables are ineffective substitutes for a deathbed and courtroom, and even those pieces remain unchanged throughout the production. Period costumes add a colorful touch to an otherwise drab environment, as do the scratchy recordings. But a vintage cathedral radio and more period embellishments would have added a whole new dimension of ­reality and interest.
    From a performance standpoint, Wade glows as Katie, from her first ecstatic entrance to her dying breath, meshing with Hufford with palpable chemistry in last weekend’s fine understudy performance of husband Tom. Carter brings a charming smarminess to the role of the calculating boss. McGregor, Skidmore-Williams and Dubois construct a decent rapport as the smart aleck, the jokester and the moralist. Yet beyond a couple limps and a sling, they are less convincing than Wade in their personas and their frailties. Where are the crutches, the bruises, the pallor, the blacked-out teeth and the physical manifestation of persistent pain? Without them, the tragedy feels less immediate than it should.
    Still, this show does a good job of reminding us that precious time is ticking and we should never take a moment of our shining lives for granted.

Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Set designers: Mummey and Laurie Nolan. Sound: Keith Norris. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Beth Terranova.
 
Playing thru May 31. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis; rsvp: $20 w/discounts; 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.