“Lady” Is More Than “Fair” – She’s Exceptional!

Cast Is Joyous In Broadway Classic

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 22, 2019

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!  She’s got it. By George, I believe she’s got it! Again – The rain in Spain lies mainly in the plain?  And where does it rain? On the plain, on the plain. And where’s that soggy plain? In Spain. In Spain.”

Yes, she’s got it! After weeks of sometimes difficult turmoil, the poorly-educated flower market salesgirl has shown she CAN be educated, and CAN learn to speak like a well-born sophisticate.  The “she” is Hannah Marie Hartman as Eliza Doolittle. And yes, she’s got it! In fact everyone in the cast has “got it” in this masterful Midtown Arts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

More than sixty years have passed since the show triumphed on Broadway.  Curiously, it has maintained its absolute charm and freshness in this MAC wonder.

The excellent skills of Hartman are joined by those of John Jankow as Henry Higgins, and H. Dan Harkins, as Colonel Pickering.  The trio are on stage most of the time as Higgins places a bet with Colonel Pickering that he can turn the guttural persona displayed by the lowly Doolittle into a woman of charm and wisdom.  They are a trio to behold. The two men educate, but sometimes ignore the object of their effort.

The Henry Higgins role was originated on Broadway by Rex Harrison who needed to “speak” most of his songs.  In this production John Jankow is in excellent singing and speaking voice as the professor, as is Dan Harkins as Colonel Pickering.  Harkins had the additional responsibility of welcoming everyone to the theatre with the pre-show announcements on opening night. He was particularly good in that role as well, keeping the audience amused and entertained, and reducing time of the sometimes- lengthy pre-show announcements.

Julie Andrews zoomed to stardom as Eliza in the original Broadway production in 1956.  That show became the longest-running Broadway musical to that time, and went on to similar fame in London.  For the Academy Award winning movie version in 1964 Julie Andrews was overlooked for starring role, with that part given to Audrey Hepburn. The movie’s producers felt that Hepburn would be better-known to the movie-going public.  Andrews got her just rewards at the Academy Awards the next year, receiving the Best Performance by an Actress Award for her beguiling charm as “Mary Poppins.”

Photo Credit to Dyann Diercks

It would be difficult to find a better performer to play the role today than the excellent Hannah Marie Hartman.  She is convincing as the rough Cockney girl with ambitions to “be somebody.”

While Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza Doolittle are center stage, Eliza’s hapless father “Doolittle” is a wonder on his own.  For the opening night performance we saw Robert Michael Sanders as the affable drunken father, understudy to Michael Lasris who normally plays the role.  Lasris will be hard-pressed to fill the boots of Sanders whose performance is beyond “memorable.” I may find my interest in seeing Lasris, however, as my excuse to return to MAC for another look as this delightful event.

In fact, what is not to like about this show?  The set, the costumes, the lighting, the sound, the choreography, and the recorded orchestra accompaniment are exceptional.  (There is no live orchestra.) Where in my bag of adjectives can I find words to adequately report my reaction to this production?  The supporting cast members are as effective as the leads. Many in the ensemble take on several roles – always completely in step to the music and always in tune with their British accents.

Director Joseph Callahan has a long track record of excellent performances at Midtown Arts Center.  This time around he is displaying his remarkable abilities, directing and choreographing this production of “My Fair Lady.”

While “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” ”the cast is vast and….” completely delightful!

“My Fair Lady”
Where:
Main Stage of Midtown Arts Center,
3750 South Mason Street,
Fort Collins, CO 80525
When:
To May 25, 2019
Information:
970/225-2555
www.midtownartscenter.com


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Orphaned Oliver Asks, “Where Is Love?”

Dickens Classic At Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 15, 2019

Indeed.  WHERE is love?  Charles Dickens explored the impoverished lives of London’s lower class in the mid 1800s.  The result was his classic “Oliver Twist.” The tale has received worldwide fame as dramas, movies, and musicals. It is now in a triumphant musical production on the Johnstown stage of Candlelight Dinner Playhouse.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

“Please sir, may I have some more?”   Such is the never-before-made request of eleven-year-old orphan, Oliver, in line for his daily gruel at the parish workhouse.  The request is met with a very loud and angry tirade,”No,” from Mr. Bumble, the greedy workhouse caretaker.  Bumble is so angered that he takes Oliver onto the street announcing, “Boy for Sale.”

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The orphaned Oliver is in an incredibly sad situation.  Eli Emming is convincing as Oliver, plaintively singing “Where Is Love?” early in the show. He is fated to go from one bad situation to the next, as evil and greed reign among the lower caste system of London.

Director Shannon Steele, Choreographer Bob Hoppe, and Music Director Phil Forman have combined their talented forces to provide a wondrous production, bringing enthusiasm and humanity to what could be a dismal event.  The set is a great success, showing the back streets and alleys of old London.  Costumes are another triumph, as are the spot-on performances from an unusually large and effective cast

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Joining Emming’s Oliver, are impressive performances by some newcomers to Candlelight audiences, including Charlotte Campbell and Axel Manica.  Campbell is excellent as the downtrodden Nancy, trying to help Oliver when her own situation is increasingly dreadful.  Manica is a star in his own right as the Artful Dodger, a pick-pocket who takes Oliver under his wing.  Manica’s performance skills are spot-on. Some might say he even “steals” the show.

Well-respected by Candlelight audiences is Kent Sugg, returning to the stage as the fiendishly evil Fagan, who rules his youthful gang of pickpocket thieves with unbridled lunacy.  Many young persons are seen in various roles, portraying everyday London citizens and members of Fagan’s gang.  Perhaps the youngest is Kieran O’Brien who is in his second Candlelight production, and stands out as not only the smallest of the performers, but as a young performer with enormous enthusiasm.

Photo Credit RDG Photography

Much of the music is familiar, as Oliver’s life takes several turns for the better and back to the worse, and maybe back again to the better.  An exuberant “Consider Yourself at Home” livens up the show tremendously  Other musical highlights include “Food, “Glorious Food,”  “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,”  “I’d Do Anything,”  “It’s a Fine Life,”  “Oom-Pah-Pah, “Reviewing the Situation” and Charlotte Campbell (as Nancy) singing a gut-wrenching rendition of  “Whenever He Needs Me.”  The choreography is particularly terrific.

Playwright and composer, Lionel Bart, wrote lyrics and music for his version of the tale, opening in London in 1960.  It was highly honored there, and made its way to Broadway in 1963.  When filmed as a movie musical in 1968, it received the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

Photo Credit RDG Photography

The tale continues its heartfelt desire for good to triumph over evil. There is sadness.  There is some violence.  Despite the darker aspects of the story, the result is a heartwarming, but not sugar-coated, production.

“Oliver!”
Where:
Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO
When:
To May 26 2019
Information or tickets:
970/744-3747
ColoradoCandelight.com

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Mirth On The Moors?

Arvada Center Provides Zany Tale Of Life In The Bleakness Of The Yorkshire Countryside.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
February 27, 2019

Regina Fernandez is naively cheerful as Emilie, the young English woman who arrives at a home in the Yorkshire Moors as the family’s newly hired governess.  Although she knows no one in the family, she was impressed with the kindness and love she felt in letters she received during the application process.  She is eager to be of service to the family.

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) and Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Governess beware!  The two sisters, Agatha and Huldey, who greet her, are a duo to behold.  Agatha is stern and tough as nails with no apparent kindness.  The other, Huldey, is an overly-outgoing woman eager to find some cheerful companionship in her dreary life. She wants to have someone in the house with whom she can create a diary of their lives, someone who can make her feel important.  The brother who hired Emilie via the mail is nowhere to be found.  The “child” the nanny has come to take care of is nowhere to be found.  Two unfriendly housekeepers, Marjory and Madeline, want nothing to do with this new governess.

Annie Barbour (Marjory) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Emilie is undaunted, however, and cheerfully asks what she might do for amusement in the area.  She learns that a possible activity might include, “Taking a long walk in the dreary Moors, to be sucked up in quicksand or to be savagely attacked by wild animals.”  Welcome to the Moors.

Fans of the literary works of the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) may have a field day with playwright Jen Silverman’s take on what the sisters’ lives might have included.  Early in her life, Silverman became hooked on the writing of the Bronte Sisters, especially “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre.”  Somewhere along the way she began to fantasize what life might have been like for the sisters in their isolated childhood.  Her imagination has gone rampant, and the very quirky and clever “The Moors” is a result.

Geoffrey Kent (The Mastiff) and Emily Van Fleet (The Moor-Hen) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Announcement about the show claims “Wuthering Heights meets The Addams Family, with a romantic twist.” Well said.  There is unabashed lunacy at every turn.  The entire cast works wonders.  Emma Messenger and Jessica Robblee are both convincing as the two sisters, Agatha and Huldey.  Daniel Crumrine and Annie Barbour are wildly odd as the two housekeepers, Madeline and Marjory.  Come to think of it, “Madeline” played by Daniel Crumrine doesn’t say a word.  On the other hand, Annie Barbour’s housekeeper role is known as “Marjory” when she is handling some tasks in one room, as “Mallory” when working in another room.   She has a lot to say, even suggesting that Huldey might just be happier if she killed her sister, Agatha.  The maid convinces Huldey that if she got rid of Agatha, she would find the world-wide acclaim she so desires, noting.  “Imagine the publicity of being a murderer?” So Huldey lurks around the house, meat cleaver in hand, eager to get Agatha out of the way.

Jessica Robblee (Huldey) Matt Gale Photography 2019

Then there are the two animals: a family dog, and a fallen Moor-Hen.  The dog is wondrously portrayed by Geoffrey Kent who quickly obeys every command given.  He finds a fallen crow (a Moor-hen or a Mud-hen), who was injured in her tumble onto the property.  He wants only to take care of her, and for her to love him in return.  Emily Van Fleet is a near riot in her portrayal of the ditsy Moor-Hen who has no sense, and is cautious of the dog’s wanting to take her under his “wing.”

Regina Fernandez (Emilie) Matt Gale Photography 2019

This is crazy.  A bewildered new nanny, dreadfully unpleasant household employees, a bird and a dog that talk and have ideas of their own, two house-bound sisters – one being especially unpleasant, the other being too eager to find a friend.  And a never-seen brother, and a never-again-mentioned child.  The brother is reportedly locked up in the attic of the home, fed through an opening in the wall’s bricks. And did the stern Agatha plan Emilie’s arrival to provide her with someone to love?  There are some adult themes here not suitable for young audiences.

Director Anthony Powell has done great work in putting together this mélange of activity created by playwright Silverman.  Powell lets Jessica Robblee pull out all the stops as Huldey, finding her ten minutes of fame – not in the English countryside, but as a rock star performer.  The tables are turned on most of the cast, and the audience is kept wondering just what might happen next.

Emma Messenger (Agatha) Matt Gale Photography 2019

No clues given here to “what happens,” but a suggestion that “the Moors” has more going for it than craziness.  There is some clever insight on what makes us tick.  Why do we want to feel important?  Why do we long for friendships?  Why do we need to find love?  Why do we want to be in charge?   And ultimately, what is life truly all about?

“The Moors”
Where:
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When:
To May 18, 2019
Information:
Box Office 720/898-7200
Online www.arvadacenter.org

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