Thursday, November 19, 2009

OLIVER at The Walnut Street Theatre

WALNUT STREET THEATRE'S “OLIVER”: Individual brilliance but unfulfilling as a whole.

While the production elements of The Walnut are of genuine Broadway quality, these parts do not create a compelling whole for “Oliver”.. Part of the issue is Director Mark Clements parsing of the script thereby creating awkward segues from scene to scene and making for an uneven production.
We all know the story of Charles Dickens' “Oliver Twist”. After Oliver falls in line with The Artful Dodger and Fagin, he is sent out to 'pick a pocket or two'. After our fair haired boy is accused of thievery, the next scene (of this production) miraculously shows him at his grandfather's house. Wow, that was fast. There was scarcely a reason why he went from street urchin to the safe confines of his beneficent grandfather.
Fagin (Hugh Panaro) was the star of the show and came very close to the quintessential Fagin of Ron Moody in the classic movie. The makeup - especially his gnarl y teeth – surely was an hour ritual nightly. Fagin may be the most lovable con man and thief in Broadway musical.
His renditions of “You've Got To Pick A Pocket or Two” and “Be Back Soon” sung to his band of rapscallions, is the perfect concoction of rapacious rascal and loving mentor. “Reviewing The Situation”, a reminiscence of his life and deeds, is poignant. His characterization is worth the admission price alone.
Nancy (Janine DiVita) has many Broadway credits and looks the part of the sensuous lover of evil incarnate Bill Sykes. Her 1830's working class London accent is done to perfection and her songs are delivered with laser true diction. Her voice can hit every octave known to man but she was directed to belt Nancy's signature song “As Long As He Needs Me” whereas a more plaintive, longing interpretation would have been more agreeable. There was “no place to go” in the second act reprise when the belt would have been more logical.
Director Clements interpolated two songs in the show heretofore unsung or unheard. He gave undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (Peter Schmitz) an appropriate ditty, “Where's Your Funeral”; a song that did not deserve its exhumation and should be ceremoniously buried.
The poster for the production featured the face of the movie's Oliver, a move I considered a bit strange. Aisle Say loves kids; he loves kids in theatre. He just did not love this particular Oliver (Gregory Smith). While Smith hit all those high notes a boy can hit before his voice changes, he had neither the charisma nor the innocence nor the naivte that one expects in the role. He looked like he was acting.
The set design by Todd Ivins was superb. He studied the gray, foreboding oppressive nature of the book and the times. The scene at Fagin's hideout was something out of Les Mis and the Tower of London in the final scene appeared as if one might reach out and touch those century old stones.
The Walnut's Ensemble dancing is constantly electric and exciting. In the glorious production numbers “Consider Yourself” and “Omm-Pah-Pah” choreographer Mary Jane Houdina created some enlivening and athletic moves right out of Houdini.
There are two childrens' casts for the show, owing to school responsibilities and the duration of the run. Delawarean Sonny Leo is in the Ensemble and shakes and bakes in that jaunty baker cap of his.
Til January 10. 215.574.3550


In 1964, at the wizened age of seventeen, Andrew Lloyd Webber received the following letter from the then twenty one-year-old law student, Tim Rice: “Dearest Andrew, I’ve been told you’re looking for a “with it” writer of lyrics for your songs, and as I’ve been writing pop songs for a while and particularly enjoy writing the lyrics. I wonder if you consider it worth your while meeting me. Tim Rice.”
So that's how immortality is birthed? Andrew thought it worth his while and a year later the two were commissioned by an English prep school to write an end-of-term religious concert. That begat “Joseph...Technicolor, etc”
The religious concept worked and so on to “JC Superstar”. Their last major collaboration was the stunning “Evita”.
New Candlelight Theater launches a joyous and captivating presentation directed and choreographed by legendary Delaware dance instructor/mentor Sonny Leo.
There could be no better show as an introduction for your children and grandchildren. Not only are pre-teens and teens in the chorus, but the entire assemblage's unassailable delight at entertaining embraces the entire audience.
Melissa Joy Hart's Narrator is the provocateur for the proceedings. Her warm contralto is smooth and rich. Aisle Say did not count her octave range but suffice to say it is considerable, concluding with a belt the likes of Ethel Merman.
Edward Egan's (Joseph) costume budget did not break the bank at New Candlelight. (I'll leave that for the show-goers to ponder). He was at once innocent, starry eyed and comprehending of the power of his ability to interpret dreams. His solo “Close Every Door” was outstanding.
Patrick O'Hara (Potiphar) has become a staple character actor at the venue. His malleable face and dancing eyes bring out the comedic nuances of every character he portrays.
New comer Joe Mallon (Pharoah) has arguably the most challenging role in the production, the Elvis impersonation. If that goes awry, then the entire production is faulted. Of the six or seven “Joseph's” I've experienced, Elvis was lame in two. Argh!
Mallon rises to the task “Thank ya, thank ya very much!”. And oh, that of several donned by Mallon for the show.
Taking the cue from the ...”Technicolor Dream Coat”, Artistic Director and Lighting Designer Chris Alberts continues his mastery of bringing life to the lighting and creating this intangible as an integral player in the production.
I have known Sonny Leo for decades. His infectious personality and his love for 'theatre people' translates to the smiles on the performers faces and their strong desire to please him. Sonny's choreography was both very tight and very creative.
In all the frivolity of the production, however, Sonny as director drew out the poignancy in the scene where Joseph's brothers beseech to save their youngest sibling from death.
This is a wonderful production. A great night out, a great underlying message, a diversity of musical genres as in no other stage show and a great meal!
Til December 20. 302.475.2313

Opera Delaware's BARBER OF SEVILLE

Celebrating their 65th anniversary, OperaDelaware mounts a no holds barred laugh riot of Rossini's “commedia in two acts."

The opera premiered in 1816 in both Rome and Argentina. One of the distinguishing points of Rossini from other composers of opera was his inspired, song-like melodies, which enabled the general populace to remember the tunes. The two best examples of this is “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” from “The Barber” and The Lone Ranger and Tonto's classic opener with the overture from “William Tell."

Rossini was a composer with a sense of humor. Artistic director of OperaDelaware and director for this production, Lee Kimball, milked all the elements of humor of the plot and cast a supremely talented and versatile group of singer/actors to bring the opera down to human terms. Kimball even employed harpsichordist David Christopher to enhance the musical environment.

The leads of the voices were individually thrilling and the ensemble pieces were a beauty to behold.

Count Almaviva (John Zuckerman), making his debut here, had performed the role in Virginia, Ohio and with other opera companies. His is a first in my experience of accompanying himself on the guitar while singing. This makes the mise en scene even more emphatic. He knew when to project and when to pull back. His breath control was excellent and his tenor had a brilliant, edgy quality to it.

Rosina (Misoon Ghim) returned to OperaDelaware after playing in the 2007 “Madama Butterfly”. She brought dramatic sensitivity to the role and dancing eyes and subtle and playful expressions to the remonstrances of Dr. Bartolo, (the man she did not want) and Almaviva (the man she did).

Dr. Bartolo (Donald Hartman) was described in “Opera News” as 'one of the best character singers on any opera stage anywhere.” He lived up to the press in this role. His gigantic bass baritone fills The Grand and I think my contacts were vibrating with his timbre. Hartman's mugging in the comic character he portrays is out of Harpo Marx.

Figaro (Brian Carter) also was in his debut here in Delaware. Kimball directed his introduction by having the character walk down the center aisle, playing to the receptive audience.
Chris Alberts, last week reviewed for his lighting design artistry at New Candlelight, created more mastery with the nuances that created the tone of a scene.

Set designer Peter Tupitza has been a scenic artist for both Martin Scorcese and M. Night Shyamalan. This courtyard/palace set done in light blue, had the feel of a cartoon. It was sturdy and workable and worked as the sixth lead actor in a production whose mission was to produce wonder and awe for the ears and belly laughs for the soul.

The production is completed but OperaDelaware's next venture is March 5,6 and 7 @ Opera Studios on the Riverfront. or 1-800-37-GRAND. OperaDe also has a Youth Opera Program. See the site for details.