Tuesday, February 9, 2010

WDL's RENT is passionate

Ah, yes the cognoscenti know them. Those “theatre people”, both professional or community players who enhance both their lives and ours creating entertainment in live theatre. There are some special shows that bond the ensemble into one joyous and selfless entity.
“Funny Thing... Forum”, “The Fantasticks”, “Joseph...Dreamcoat” are three. Add one more... now that “Rent”has become available for licensing. Most definitely this last title has an edgier message than, say Forum, where Pseudolus (the Zero Mostel character) runs around ogling skimpily dressed courtesans. “Rent” deals with AIDS and is set in the '90's when all of us felt the Black Death had converged on the world.
There is no doubt this cast loves one another and will remember this experience the rest of their lives. We saw it in their faces.
Director Chris Turner has done a magnificent job in casting and staging this Delaware premiere. This is rock opera (think JC SUPERSTAR). It is more difficult a task to keep a large cast moving and relating to the lyrics of the music when there is no dialog. Turner kept his cast engaged and credible and made us feel the power of the lyrics and the emotion.
Another interesting element of the direction was Turner's naturalistic approach. Normally actors 'cheat' toward the audience to declaim their lines and sing their tunes. Turner had his ensemble speak directly to one another, no matter even if a back was turned away.
Turner was able to break down inhibitions of his cast; another achievement. To understate, the dancing at times becomes very suggestive and kisses are exchanged between members of the same sex. Yet, it all flowed and was organic.
This is a rock opera. It is loud. This is an enclosed space. The five person on stage band headed by Matt Caserino did a fantastic job with the work. Yes, once in a while the sound overpowered the lyrics.
The back story of “Rent” makes it all the more powerful. Composer Jonathan Larson worked for years on this update of Puccini's La Boheme. The night before opening he died of an aneurysm. That's as substantial a piece of Broadway legend as it gets.
Roger (Brendan Sheehan) had just come off an evocative performance of Anthony in City Theatre's “Sweeney Todd”. He sang beautiful ballads there. The young man not only is a thoughtful actor but exhibited huge rock pipes in an outstanding performance.
Tom (Timothy Lamont Cannon) and Angel (Matt Bennis) even more than the characters Roger and Mimi are the heart of the show. The feeling the two shared for one another was palpable. When Angel succumbs to AIDS, Tom's reaction glazed the eyes of more than one audience member.
Maureen (former Miss Delaware Laura Moss) gives a stirring over the top rock edged rendition of “Over The Moon.”
WDL is to be congratulated for this production. It is a daring and provocative affair. The cast, under Music Director Casarino, handles the shows most popular tunes “Without You”, “One Song Glory”, “Light My Candle” and the most mesmerizing “Seasons of Love” with love and tenderness.
One of the highest compliments that Aisle Say can deliver is that he would see this again.
Til February 13 WilmingtonDramaLeague.org 764.1172

UD's REP Ensemble "She Stoops To Conquer"

Great theater is in the minute detail. Comedy is far more difficult than drama to engage an audience. It takes greater nuance to sell a laugh line than one of emotion. It takes a craftsman to deliver that special 'take' or facial expression to provoke surprise and elicit laughter.
Refer to Lucille Ball on a weekly basis in the '50's or Aisle Say's personal favorite, Sally Fields in “Mrs Doubtfire” in the restaurant scene with her children and her beau, played by Pierce Brosnan. Robin Williams cross dressing Nannie is becoming undone. He just saved Pierce's character with a Heimlich maneuver and his prosthetic makeup dissembles in front of the family.
Sallie's character is unable to consciously process what is going on in front of her bulging eyes. She goes through an incredible series of emotions in twenty seconds; from disbelief, to anger, to embarrassment and back again. Now, there's a comedienne at the zenith of her craft.
Admittedly, a long intro to UD REP's “She Stoops To Conquer”, a vibrant and lush production of the classic comedy of manners written by Oliver Goldsmith and first performed in London in 1773. However, erudite, side splitting and breath taking laughter endures through the ages.
Charles Marlow, an aristocrat, (Michael Gotch) travels from city to country to meet and court landowner Mr. Hardcastle's (Mark Corkins) daughter Kate (Elizabeth Heflin). The venerable Mrs. Hardcastle (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) is a stereotypical snooty and condescending self absorbed lady of leisure; (attired in the biggest bustle and Marge Simpson-like wig ever strode upon Delaware stage.)
Marlowe is obsessively uncomfortable around upper class women; stuttering of speech and unable to make eye contact. Yet he is a rogue and scalawag amongst low class women. Kate elects to 'stoop to conquer', pretending to be a serving girl in order to wed the man.
Gotch is a reincarnated “Rain Man'. His 'takes', along with those of Mrs. Hardcastle, are classic; reminiscent of the Sallie Fields/Lucy variety. In the second act, when he is told that the serving girl (Kate) is actually upper class, he had the entire packed audience involuntarily jump forward in their seats with a spontaneous reversion to his first act neuroses.
Having seen every one of the REP Productions in the past 2 years, Aisle Say's great expectations every opening night are never burst. This specific show has had resonance over the past 237 years because it's simply down right funny. It is not only enjoyable but fascinating to see this talented group of actors don completely different characters.
Often in reviews, the technical aspects of the show are dismissed. One would be 'remiss' not to applaud not only the design creativity but also the textures and colors employed by costume designer Matthew LeFebvre. From his bio, it appears he has made a career in the past ten years of designing for classic theatre.
Special effects also were employed with slap stick results. The prim Mrs. Hardcastle is thrown down a deep well and, upon reaching the bottom, water splashes on stage.
Til February 20 Pttp.udel.edu 302.831.2206

A large selection of Grand pianos, baby grands, violins, guitars, electronic keyboards, etc will be available at very discounted prices this weekend at The Roselle Center for the Performing Arts.
UD does this yearly to rotate into new equipment. 45% of the purchase price is tax deductible.
For info: 731.4137.