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Articles by Jim Reiter

Peter Pan’s fantastical origins — with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, flatulence and actors in drag

“If you like your Peter Pan with crackling one-liners, slapstick staging, actors in drag and flatulence, then Peter and the Starcatcher is for you. The one-liners are no surprise, since the children’s book on which this 2012 Broadway Tony-winner was based was co-written by humor columnist Dave Barry. What is a surprise is that the broad humor of this production works well, even though the story is a prequel to the angst-filled Peter Pan we all know and grew up with. That’s a testament to the fine cast that 2nd Star Productions and director Mary Wakefield have assembled.
    The Broadway production featured adults playing the kids’ roles. 2nd Star has a dozen age-appropriate actors, with most playing many roles in this nicely paced and cleverly staged version. It’s all convolution and fun, providing a clever telling of how Peter Pan came to be, from the dark — quite literally — first act at sea to the bright second act on an island where the characters’ ties to Peter Pan unfold.
    As Molly, the intelligent and courageous 13-year-old girl set adrift in 1885 on the rickety ship Neverland, Kelsey Meiklejohn anchors the production with an authority that belies her age. She commands the stage with a physicality and vocal power that keep things moving apace. The well-traveled, precocious Molly is aboard with her nanny (a witty yet nicely underplayed Zach Roth). When she spots one of three nameless orphan boys sold to a seaman, we begin to see the future story take hold.
    As the boy soon to be named Peter, Michael Bannigan is also compelling, bringing us the angst of a young Peter whose mistreatment by grownups leads him to never want to … well, you know. Molly’s mother, Lady Aster, is a very effective Jeanne Louise. Steven Kirkpatrick gives us the wildly clumsy yet funny pirate Black Stache, the precursor to you-know-who in the future Pan story.
    The real stars here are the ensemble, who do everything the less-is-more script calls for, from holding up rope as a door to carrying two model boats that illustrate the pirate ships in the story, to wearing yellow dishwashing gloves to indicate birds. At one point we watch Molly fly, and while we can see the two cast members acting as a lever, we don’t care because it works. It’s all highly synchronized with nary a glitch to be seen, which in turn keeps the humor coming and the story moving.
    This is not a musical in the traditional sense of the word, but there are songs, and they are very nicely delivered. At one point the cast gives us just a glimpse of a beautiful choral number that leaves us wanting more. That’s where the intelligence of this show lies: It keeps moving.
    So, bring the kids? Sure, if they’re, say eight or nine or older. What kid doesn’t like Peter Pan — or a fart joke?


Costumes: Mary Wakefield. Set design: Jane Wingard. Music design: Patrick Hughes.
 
About 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission. Thru Feb. 24: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus Feb. 25 3pm, Bowie Playhouse, Whitemarsh Park, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Taking on the rise and fall of your political ideals

It’s always good to make an audience think. In The City of Conversation, Colonial Players makes us do just that with a story that is well told, emotional and often laugh-out-loud funny — as well as relevant, with its look at how politics can split families.
    Novelist and playwright Anthony Giardina’s script is set in the elegant Georgetown townhouse of Hester Ferris, a left-leaning socialite whose legendary dinner parties are modeled after those of real-life doyenne and former ambassador Perle Mesta. At her soirees, the upper crust from both political stripes discussed, debated and drank with passion but without rancor.
    We begin in 1979. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, but Ronald Reagan is rising. Next we come to the fight over Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, finally to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
    Making his Colonial Players directing debut, Ruben Vellekoop, keeps the action moving through it all — and through Colonial’s theater in the round.
    As Ferris, Kathleen Ruttum anchors the production with authority yet vulnerability. She is a well-regarded woman who can feel her power and effectiveness, and the civility of debate, slipping. The liberal political world that once revolved around her dining room table is falling to neoconservatism. Finally partisanship supersedes civil conversation.
    As Ferris’s liberalism was once the sun around which political Washington revolved, Ruttum’s performance is the one around which the others revolve. Politics turns personal when her son Colin (Josh Mooney) introduces a fiancée (Rebecca Gift). The younger woman is ambitious, conservative and not afraid to challenge Hester’s status quo.
    Mooney is an excellent comic actor known for his superior performances in musical comedies at Annapolis Summer Garden Theater. It is good to see him acting with more depth. He does so successfully, in two roles. First he is Colin, whose politics aligns more closely with his fiancée’s than his mother’s. (When he said, “The President gets to choose his Supreme Court,” the audience laughed in recognition.) Later he plays Colin’s son Ethan, who returns with his boyfriend to visit his grandmother.
    Gift’s Anna, the fiancée, is suitably ambitious and cynical, belittling Hester’s once-lofty position as well as her ideas. Her repartee with Hester takes on the acidity that reflects the changing mores.
    A fine supporting cast is led by a droll Karen Kellner as Jean, Hester’s sister, who also runs the house. Paul Banville is Chandler, a liberal senator and Hester’s longtime partner. Jeff Sprague and Carlotta Capuano make the most of a brief appearance as a senator from Kentucky and his wife. David Foster plays Ethan’s friend Donald late in the play, and young Ian Brown nicely plays six-year-old Ethan (a role he splits with Henry MacDonald).
    Yes, it’s always good to make the audience think. But not so good to make us guess.
    Vellekoop uses empty picture frames to delineate Hester’s home. Nice and effective, until, during their exits throughout the production, the actors each remove a frame and take it offstage. The audience murmurs, wondering — guessing — what it all means and why Hester’s guests are stealing her paintings.
    A letter to reviewers — unseen by the audience and not explained in the program — explains something about the frames representing the masks that characters hide behind. The audience didn’t get it. One playgoer who asked an usher got a word with the stage ­manager. There is no need for this kind of device when a fine cast is telling a good story.
    The music, too, was off. Songs from the 1960s and ’70s seem out of place in a show that begins in 1979. If there is some meaning in the lyrics, it does not come across. The choice to interrupt, with an obscene rap song no less, the very tender final moment of the show, is again, questionable.
    Less is more. Let the moment speak for itself.
    Quibbles aside, The City of Conversation is an enjoyable experience. Funny, emotional and sparked with debate, it received a standing ovation the night I attended.


About two hours with one intermission. Stage manager: Atticus Cooper Boidy. Lighting: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady. Set: Mary Butcher.

Thru Jan. 28: FSa 8pm, Su 2pm, plus 8pm Jan. 26, 108 East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.

Timeless ideals well told and beautifully sung

“Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere,” wrote a scholar on Arthurian times. Fortunately for us it resides until January 22 in Annapolis at Compass Rose Theater.
    Director Lucinda Merry-Browne’s rousing revival takes a scaled-down approach to this Broadway blockbuster, proving that less is more. A cast of 10, a seven-foot grand piano grandly played and a spare set bring this passionate and humorous classic to life.
     The final collaboration of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Camelot is a timeless story. Its message of optimism and hope, despite betrayal, is as clear and needed in 2016 as it was on opening night in 1960. Personifying that message is the boyish King Arthur, determined to create a kingdom where “violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness.”
    This is a “musical” in every sense of the word, with Lerner’s beautiful lyrics carried by Loewe’s memorable melodies. Compass Rose focuses on those songs, with a cast of wonderful voices accompanied by that lone piano so expertly played by Sangah Purinton. The piano is on stage but hidden from the audience behind the set, giving us the perfect mix of music and voices in Compass Rose’s intimate space.
    Carl Pariso is a boyish but effective King Arthur whose initial banter with Merlyn (Tim Garner) is humorous but meaningful. Pariso’s take on “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” is a very funny assumption —that he is all his subjects think about. It makes quite the juxtaposition to his “Finale Ultimo,” the title song, when Arthur tells Tom (a small yet animated role made quite compelling by Sarah Grace Clifton), a young knight, to share the story “that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
    As Guenevere, Anna DeBlasio charms her way into Arthur’s heart with a coquettish love that gives way to a deeper passion for Lancelot and the betrayal that crumbles Camelot’s ideals. Deblasio’s beautiful soprano toys joyfully with “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” and soars with the lovely “I Loved You Once in Silence.” She and Pariso are endearing as a couple, but her performance is so honest and compelling that her betrayal of Arthur seems understandable rather than disappointing. As Lancelot, Joe Ventricelli equals Arthur’s early humor with the boastful “C’est Moi.” But his baritone pierces the hearts of all when he delivers one of the most lasting songs of this score, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
    The supporting cast is impressive as well, with most playing several roles, including the aforementioned Garner as the diabolical Mordred, Joe Rossi playing Pellinore and an in-drag Morgan Le Fey. Special mention must be made of Jaecob Lynn, whose clear tenor reaches to the skies during “Guenevere,” when, quite operatically, the trial and rescue of the queen are narrated.
    Costumes are beautiful and appropriate, the lighting is subtle yet effective and the movement across the two-story stage is clever. But the highlights of this production are its simplicity: A good story, well told and very well sung that transcends time and space and fits beautifully on the Compass Rose stage.


About two-and-a-half hours with one intermission.

Music director: Anita O’Connor. Costume design: Renee Vergauwen, Katie Boothroyd, Beth Terranova, Elizabeth Holt and Mary Ruth Cowgill. Light design: Jason Lynch. Choreographer: Tim Garner.

Thru Jan. 22 FSa 8pm; SaSu 2pm; Th Jan. 19 7pm, Compass Rose Theater, Westgate Circle, Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.

Midshipmen take on Shakespeare on youth, war and relations between the sexes

Megan Geigner, the new director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipman theater group The Masqueraders, grabbed the helm with deft touch and a focused vision, staging a delightfully energetic version of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. She chose the play because it’s about young people, more specifically young people coming home from war, and about gender relations.
    Instead of the Bard’s Messina, Geigner has cleverly changed the setting to New Mexico just at the end of World War I. Changing Shakespeare’s setting can come off as artsy and presumptuous, but in this case it works well. The very nice southwestern-themed set by Andrew Cohen frames a production that, without changing Shakespeare’s meaning, opens up ample opportunities, most especially for some hilarious constables turned cowpokes.
    The Bard’s story of love, mistaken identities, gender conflict and status moves at rapid pace with crisp characterizations. Hero, the daughter of a nobleman, is in love with Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman. Her cousin Beatrice is in love with the sharp-tongued Benedick, whose witty and insulting repartee can’t disguise his love for her as well. Their back-and-forth banter, and Beatrice’s independence, wit and intensity make her perhaps the first suffragette ever to be included in a Shakespeare play, perfect again for this setting.
    As Hero and Beatrice, Clara Navarro and Julia Kalshoven brilliantly play two tough, strong-willed women. As Beatrice’s beloved Benedick, Jonathan Mendez adds nice comedic touches and confused patter to the befuddled character. Nick Hajek convinces us of Claudio’s willingness to sacrifice love for ego when faced with hearsay about his betrothed’s unfaithfulness. The chemistry between each couple is made nicely palpable by the actors.
    The real laughable foolishness comes with Shakespeare’s comic characters, the constables. Evan Wray is a hilarious Dogberry, the Master Constable whose smug self-satisfaction in most productions is replaced here by a frenetic, animated cowpoke in charge of a sad-sack cast of watchmen. Wray stops moving only long enough for his constantly falling cowboy hat to be replaced by a deputy. His performance as he instructs his charges how to do their jobs— sleeping on duty is fine, and never touch a criminal lest you become defiled by association — is a tumblin’ tumbleweed of  fun.
    The rest of the 17-person cast provides solid support and keeps the comedy flowing and the story unfolding apace, though in a few places more volume and projection would help the audience follow along. Lights by Jake Potter, Tony Wolfe and David Ogden nicely highlight the actors, set and moods, and Jacy’s Barbers’ costumes — especially the beautiful off-white period dresses of the ladies — work very well.
    The Nothing in Shakespeare’s title is the subject of debate: Some believe it refers not to the emptiness ascribed to it in the modern vernacular, but to the word noting, which in Shakespeare’s time was pronounced nothing but was a verb meaning to gossip, to spread rumors and to overhear. If this was Shakespeare’s intent, it makes sense because his play was not about nothing, it was about … well, something. And the USNA Masqueraders’ production is quite something.


Two and a half hours long with one intermission. Final performances Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19 at 8, Sunday Nov. 20 at 2, $13, rsvp: ­https://navyperforms.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=35

This comic opera sparkles like sunshine on the sea with all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago

You may have never heard of Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, but you’ve certainly heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. The two had a run of comic opera hits in England whose popularity propelled them across the pond to America, where that popularity was magnified. Because Gilbert’s father was a naval surgeon, life on the seas and the politics of power were often themes of the librettist. That’s certainly the case with H.M.S. Pinafore, the light yet acerbic jab at patrician politics and love that 2nd Star Productions in Bowie has brought to seafaring life.
    Gilbert’s propensity for detail took him to the seaside of Portsmouth to measure and record every detail of a real ship so that his sets would be as realistic when the play opened in 1878. His could have been no more lifelike than 2nd Star’s. Director Jane Wingard has designed a nearly life-size two-level ship so real it makes us feel we’re bobbing along the waves with the crew. The detail is impressive, down to other ships far off in the background.
    The gorgeous set anchors (ha, see what I did th… oh never mind) a production that is brisk as a sea breeze. Josephine (Emily Mudd), the captain’s daughter, is in love with Ralph Rackstraw (James Huchla), a lowly deckhand. But she is expected to marry The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Paul Koch), First Lord of the Admiralty. Porter’s lack of actual seafaring experience is revealed in his admonitions that each order be accompanied by a friendly “If you please.” So does his insistence that class hierarchy has no place on a ship, as all are equal. Which of course leads Josephine and Ralph to believe it’s clear sailing ahead (uh-oh, I did it ag… never mind) for their love.
    As Josephine, Emily Mudd is as bright as the North Star. One second she is perfectly and hilariously melodramatic and camp; the next she is regaling us with the beautiful and haunting ‘Sorry the Lot Who Loves Too Well.’ It’s as professional a performance as you’ll see on any stage. Her vocal chemistry with Huchla’s soaring tenor is thrilling, especially when the two square off on ‘Refrain, Audacious Tar,’ as she pretends to play hard to get when he professes his love.
    Huchla in fact leads a male chorus whose harmonies brilliantly permeate the show’s group numbers but are especially in evidence on the a capella sailors’ boast ‘A British Tar.’ 
    As Porter, Koch is quite funny, and his musical explanation of how he rose to his position through sheer ineptitude, ‘When I Was a Lad,’ is a comic delight as well — if only we could hear all of it. In giving his refined fop a constricted manner, Koch, at least on opening night, allows that manner to impede the rat-a-tat of so many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s staccato lyrics, thus forcing the audience to strain to understand what’s being sung. I hope he can crank the volume a bit; his performance is too good to miss. 
    Brian Binney brings a pleasant baritone to the role of Captain Corcoran, and to the captain’s reluctant flirtation with Pam Shilling’s beautifully sung Little Buttercup, the dockside vendor who harbors (there I go …) a deep secret. As the humpbacked, twisted-legged, one-eyed Dick Deadeye, Nicholas Mudd is so in character that the deformed leg maintains its twistedness even during the dances.
    Music director Joe Biddle understands that lyrics are key in a comic opera, so he ensures that his very good orchestra plays a less-is-more supporting role. There’s even a nice glossary of nautical and other terms in the playbill to help us track the language of the day.
    2nd Star’s H.M.S. Pinafore sparkles like sunshine on the sea. It’s a funny and very well-sung comic opera that gives us all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago.


About two hours, including intermission. Choreographer: Christine Asero. Costumer: Hillary Glass, Lighting/sound designer: Garrett Hyde.

Thru Nov. 19: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Nov. 19, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Comedy, tragedy and undercurrents of love … just like every family

“You have to soar to fill your soul, but your family is what keeps you grounded,” writes first-time director Dave Carter in the playbill for The Cripple of Inishmaan. That’s the point of Colonial Players’ season opener, a well-crafted comic piece that dips into the reality of sadness and cruelty without turning maudlin.
    Martin McDonagh’s play debuted in 1996 in London and off Broadway in 1998. The wisp of a plot focuses on an American coming to Inishmore, near the island of Inishmaan, to make a film about the locals, who are abuzz.
    Bright performances abound in this dark comedy.
    Teenaged orphan Billy Claven (Jack Leitess), known as Cripple Billy, decides that his fate — and his escape from the cruelties of the island — lies in Hollywood, so he shoves off to join the movies. His two aunts (Mary MacLeod and Carol Cohen) worry about their charge, who spends much too much time reading books and staring at cows. Friend Bartley McCormick (Drew Sharpe) tries his best to understand, and Bartley’s egg-flinging, rough-edged sister Helen (Natasha Joyce) tries to be as cruel as possible.
    Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols), the rough-hewn widower facing his own demons, manages the transit off the island. Tying things all together is the theatrical town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller), whose thirst for attention is fed by his ability to barter news for goods. Lisa KB Rath as Johnny’s elderly sot of a mother and Danny Brooks as Doctor McSharry also shine in smaller supporting roles.
    The star of this production is not one particular character over another, but rather the vast undercurrents of love that ebb and flow through each and among them all together. Thence rises the heartfelt laughter, saving what could have been too dark a comedy. Cripple Billy’s friends and neighbors are his family, and Cripple Billy takes as good as he gets when it comes to understanding and coping with his disability. The directness with which his condition is treated gives us some very lovely, often laugh-out-loud, comic moments. From the aunts’ hand-wringing angst over Billy’s lack of prospects and Helen’s addiction to cursing and kissing, to Bartley’s denseness and Johnnypateenmike’s hilariously childlike need to be first to tell, this cast makes McDonagh’s characters come to life brightly, hilariously and sincerely.  
    It’s not a perfect show, to be sure. In several scenes the pacing needs to be picked up (opening night was two hours and 40 minutes, a bit long for a two-act non-musical). Several scenes are awkwardly staged so that too much of the audience in the round is blocked from the action. In a few spots, the actors’ volume must be turned up.
    On a more positive note, director Carter and his actors take care to ensure the Irish accents are of the less-is-more variety, consistent enough that we know we’re in the Aran Islands, but not so overdone that we lose what’s being said.
    What’s being said is beautiful, funny and often heart-wrenching. The Cripple of Inishmaan rides an undercurrent of love that draws us in, gives us good, hearty laughs and soars into our hearts.


Playing thru Oct. 1: Th-Sa8pm, Su 2pm, plus Sept. 18 7:30pm, Colonial Players Theatre, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Set designer: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Michelle Bruno. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

Mel Brooks’ mocking masterpiece

To end its 50th season, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has challenged itself with one of the biggest and most popular musicals ever to hit Broadway: Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Winner of a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001 and running for more than 2,500 performances, the show sought to hilariously offend everyone — Jews, producers, actors, homosexuals, Nazis … the list goes on. Brooks’ blockbuster set the stage for the kind of hard-to-get ticket that is being matched only by the current hit, Hamilton.
    It’s a big musical, with choreography, music and acting that have to be over the top to work; have you ever seen subtlety in any Mel Brooks movie? Annapolis Summer Garden Theater smartly turned the reins over to local directing veteran Jerry Vess, who strikes a nice balance between the bigness of Broadway and the limits of community theater. A tight, seven-piece band led by Ken Kimble sounds bigger, the original choreography is nicely adapted by Emily Frank, and Anita O’Connor’s music direction helps a talented cast confidently deliver on such songs as It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Opening Night.
    Costumer Jocelyn Odell brings Brooks’ wacky German vision — think pretzel heads and beer-stein jewelry — brilliantly to the stage. The costumes emulate those that helped make the original so memorable.
    The plot is simple: Down and out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (B. Thomas Rinaldi) ropes in straitlaced and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Nathan Bowen) to stage a purposely horrible musical, Springtime for Hitler, and abscond to Rio with the money they raised when it closes after one night. The wrinkle, of course, is that it becomes a smash hit.
    Rinaldi hits all the right notes as Max, and his body type, voice and attitude are perfect for the role — though opening weekend tentativeness zapped some of the zing from Brooks’ zingers. Late in the second act, when he reviews all that’s happened while sitting in a jail cell, he makes Betrayed masterful: funny, even a touch emotional. 
    Rinaldi and Bowen work well together, evoking a Laurel and Hardy dynamic. Bowen’s baritone lends itself well to I Want to Be a Producer. As actor, he allows Leo’s uptightness to be comical but not unbounded — for that would mean competing with so many unbound characters that Brooks has in store for us. Characters including —
    • Franz Leibkind, the Springtime for Hitler playwright who, on his rooftop with his Nazi pigeons, reminisces about his past (In Old Bavaria), forces Max and Leo to sing along to Adolf’s favorite song (Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop) and has them swear to never dishonor Adolf Elizabeth Hitler. Josh Mooney, complete with liederhosen and Nazi helmet, is hilarious as Franz, his bright smile and energy surpassed only by his sidesplitting seriousness when tending to the fuhrer’s honor.
    • Roger DeBris, the flamboyant “worst director in New York,” whom Max attempts to sign to ensure the show flops, and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia. Pete Thompson as Roger and Kevin James Logan as Carmen are brilliant together and apart, and bring one of the most popular numbers of the show, Keep it Gay, to hilarious life. Logan’s flaccid fluidity is so beautifully comical that the audience has no choice but to laugh. Playing Hitler during the show-within-a-show, Thompson’s Roger romps mischievously and riotously as he sings Heil myself!
    • Ulla Inga Hansen etc. etc. (a long long name, pure Brooks), the tall, beautiful Swedish blonde who auditions for Max’s next show and becomes his “Secretary-slash-receptionist.”
    Max lusts, Leo longs and Ulla titillates in a complete 180 from Max’s older women benefactors. As the always smiling statuesque Ulla, Erica Miller gives us a syllable-chewing faux Swedish accent that works to perfection in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It, which gives her body, Max’s libido and Leo’s heart quite the workout.
    • The Usherettes, Ashley Gladden and Amanda Cimaglia, musically narrate, and a fine ensemble provides wonderful voices, dancing and characters, none more uproariously than almost the entire cast in Along Came Bialy, better known in theater circles as the little old lady walker song.
    While there was that tentativeness on the second night, accompanied by some screechy microphone levels, little details like that always work out as a run progresses. Here’s the important thing:
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has gone all out for its 50th birthday. With Jerry Vess’ perfectly paced adaptation and a cast that’s having a blast, the company fits Mel Brooks’ comic genius and this big Broadway show onto a local stage. It’s the audience that gets to celebrate.
    Act quickly … several dates are already sold out.


About two hours 50 minutes with one intermission.

Thru Sept. 4: Th-Su 8pm, $22, rsvp: ­www.summergarden.com.

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.

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.