Check out this librarian – a review of “The Music Man”

By Michael Buzzelli

There’s trouble in River City (Trouble with a Capital T), but Harold Hill (Charles Esten) who points his finger at the alleged trouble is the actual cause in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

Hill is a calm and charming con man with a clever con. He talks the townies into buying musical instruments, band uniforms, and expensive instruction books and hustles to the next whistle-stop before the kids learn to play the music. For the scheme to work, Hill must win over the local librarian and piano teacher,  Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels), but she’s on to him.

Marian lives with her mother, Mrs. Paroo (Cissy Rebich) and her little brother, Winthrop (an adorable Emmett Kent) and shuttles between her home and the library (big, beautiful set pieces by Scenic Designer James Fouchard).  Despite the fact that she suspects that Hill is up to something, she falls for his patter.

Mayor Shinn (E. Clayton Cornelious) also suspects that Hill is up to no good, but Hill continues to elude the malapropping mayor.  The mayor has other problems. He’s planning River City’s Independence Day celebration, appeasing his wife, Eulalie Mackeckie Shinn (Christine Laitta), and he’s trying to keep his daughter Zanetta (Kammie Crum) away from a young troublemaker,  Tommy (Nick Alvino).

But the plot isn’t important…it’s absolutely nonsensical when you think about it too much. It’s the music that makes “The Music Man,” and the music is wonderfully infectious.

Harold Hill (Charles Esten) dances with Marian (Nikki Renée Daniels) in “The Music Man.” Photo Credit: Kgtunney PhotographyDaniels is incredible as Marian. She oozes with star power. Every move. Every note. She’s a delight to watch. Plus, she looks like she’s having a blast on the Benedum stage.

Esten does a good job. He has a terrific singing voice and gets some of the best numbers in the show. Esten is excellent. His only flaw is that he isn’t Robert Preston. While its not fair to compare, Preston made the role his own and no one has topped him since, but Esten comes pretty darn close.

While there are a lot of kooky characters and zany side plots, “The Music Man” is about the love story between Hill and the librarian. The two have a wonderful chemistry together.

There are, however, several players who deserve a round of applause.

Alvino’s time on stage is short, but he shines in every one of those quick scenes. He is filled with exuberance.  With crisp, sharp movements, he is the best dancer in the production, even though there are some amazing dancers up there.

Laitta is a delight. She also makes the most of her moments on the stage.

While the song, “Shipoopi” makes no sense whatsoever, and sounds like a “Beavis and Butthead” parody song (heh heh, he said, ‘Shipoopi’),  Ryan Cavanaugh knocks it out of the park. It also featured one of the most stunning dance numbers thanks to brilliant choreography by Mara Newberry Greer.

Director Sara Edwards does a fine job with an American classic. It’s hard not to hum along when “The Music Man” is in town.

-MB

“The Music Man” runs from July 9 to July 14 at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here. 

Rascals Gone Rogue – a review of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”

By Lonnie the Theatre Lady

In this 2004 musical based on a 1988 film, two swindlers are competing for territorial  rights, to carry out their elaborate swindling schemes, in a swanky casino, ( lavish set designed by Rob Hockenberry), located in the French Riviera. Lawrence (Jeff Boles) is an experienced, somewhat suave conman who is unimpressed by Freddy (Thomas McQuillan), an American, new to the con game.
Boles is delightful in his smarmy, yet somehow charming portrayal of Lawrence. Boles character runs into a problem when Jolene (Aimee Lambing), one of the women he has swindled) demands, at gunpoint, that he marry her. Lawrence and his “police officer” assistant,  Andre’ (Ross Kobelak) enlist Freddy to assist them to “uncharm” Jolene. This scheme has Freddy posing as Lawrence’s (fake) repugnant, disgusting brother Ruprecht.
 McQuillan is absolutely hilarious as Ruprecht. He engages in wildly inappropriate, uproarious  behaviors. No spoilers here—use your imagination!  His comedic timing is stellar in other scenes as well—imagine a self inflicted Heimlich maneuver, that proves to be ineffective over an extended period of time. Very comical! Not to mention, he can sing, too! His “Great Big Stuff” number is a vocal and comedic standout. It highlights the clever, amusing, sometimes ribald lyrics.
After Lambing’s brazen, aggressive, humorously depicted Jolene is successfully driven out of town (by Ruprecht),  Freddy wants to work with Lawrence and learn the tricks of the con game. Lawrence decides that the French Riviera isn’t big enough for both of them. They make an agreement that the first one to swindle $50,000 from an unsuspecting woman will be allowed to stay in the area and the loser will immediately move to another location. That’s when this slapstick farce takes off. The competition between the two escalates into more and more ridiculous situations. As they work to outsmart each other, one incident is funnier than the other.
Freddy (McQuillan), Christine (Nadler) and Lawrence (Boles) scheme on the French Riviera.

Meanwhile Andre’ and Muriel are engaged in a steamy romance. Kobelak with his delightful French accent (think of Peter Seller’s as Inspector Clouseau) has a chance to shine and make use of his  physical comedy talents while he demonstrates highly  exaggerated seductive poses.  He and Cloutier have a (presumed post coital) scene that highlights both of their comedic talents. Their  tantalizing interaction is nothing short of hysterical!

Christine (Sarah Nadler) needs to be applauded for her wonderful, melodious voice—her vocals are a true standout in this cast of vocalists with varying degrees of  vocal talent. Every one of her numbers is a sheer delight. Gorgeous, wonderful rich voice. Wow!
The musical score and lyrics are sometimes surprising  (strong, salty language) and nearly always funny. The entire cast and ensemble sing and dance well, The beautiful, luxuriant costumes (J. Childe Pendergast, designer) amplify the overall feeling of the extravagant lifestyle that one expects on the Riviera.
Ponny Conomos Jahn, director, gives her talented cast the free reign to develop their characters while embracing and amplifying their idiosyncrasies.
This frothy, laugh filled, farcical, yet sometimes sophisticated show is the perfect antidote to the often predictable day to day routine. Need some hearty laughs? This is the show for you!

-Lonnie

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” runs from June 27 to July 13 at the South Park Theatre, at the corner of Corrigan Drive & Brownsville Rd, South Park, PA 15129. For more information, click here

A Joyful Noise – a review of “The Color Purple”

By Michael Buzzelli

Life is battering Celie (Kayla Davion) around hard until she takes agency in her and demands love and respect in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel gained popularity in 1985 when Steven Spielberg turned it into a film. Even though it’s been a book, movie, musical, and movie musical, be warned. Spoilers abound.

Celie and her sister Nettie (Danyel Fulton) are under the ever-watchful eye of their stern Pa (Brady D. Patsy, playing heavily against type). After the death of her mother, Celie, at fourteen, becomes pregnant by the man who is allegedly raising her. He gets rid of the two babies she has and sells her off to Mister (Akron Lanier Watson).

Celie runs herself ragged tending to Mister’s every need and caring for his children.  Her only joy is spending time with Nettie. When Mister tries to rape Nettie, she runs away and the sisters are seemingly forever parted.

Her life of squalor and servitude seems relentless until her husband’s former lover, Shug Avery (a magnetic Tamyra Gray), belly flops into her life. Mister brings her home in a drunken, possibly drugged, stupor and demands that his wife clean her up. Celie tends to the needs of her husband’s mistress. Because Celie is bright, kind and hopeful, she and Shug fall in love.

Shug finds a stack of letters from Nettie that Mister had hidden from Celie. The fuse is lit and Celie realizes she needs a new life – one without her husband.

Kayla Davion and Tamyra Gray in “The Color Purple.”

“The Color Purple” has a stacked cast of performers. The show has some prominent belters in it gloriously singing Brenda Russell, Alle Willis and Stephen Bray’s lyrics.

Davion is magnificent as Celie. Her voice is powerful. When she performs the show-stopper, “I’m Here,” she literally and figuratively stopped the show with a standing ovation on opening night.

Gray is delightful. Shug is a messy character, but Gray handles her strengths and her flaws with aplomb.

Maiesha McQueen is another one of the aforementioned belters. She gets several moments to shine. She gets some of the best laughs in the show.

There are a lot of excellent performances.

Saige Smith plays a high-pitched dingbat aptly named Squeak.

Jason Shavers plays Ol’ Mister, Mister’s cruel and intimidating father wherein we learn that peaches, like apples, don’t fall far from their trees.

Savannah Lee Birdsong’s Darlene is part of a Greek Chorus of Church Ladies  who spills the tea in song.

P.S. “The Color Purple” can be a little preachy, but you don’t have to believe in God to listen to the glorious Gospel music and jumping jazz.

Though it seems like the set is simple wooden platforms, spartan and utilitarian, it contains a certain je nais sais quoi. Britton Mauk’s scenery blends wonderfully with Paul Miller’s lighting design melding into a work of art.

Glorious colorful costumes by Claudia Brownlee, particularly in the African sequence and in Celie’s dress shop.

Christopher D. Betts did a fantastic job bringing “The Color Purple” into the full spectrum.

Go down to the Benedum and listen to this cast make joyful noises. Catch it quick, like all Pittsburgh CLO shows, its a limited engagement.

-MB

“The Color Purple” runs from June 25 to June 30 at the Benedum Theater and Concert Hall, 237 Seventh Street (at the corner of Seventh and Penn), Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here

In the Trenches – a review of “A Life in the Theatre”

A friendship between two actors is tested as they work together over a prolonged period of time in David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theatre.”

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), an older actor, befriends John (Joseph McGranaghan) after a performance. The friendship waxes, and wanes over a series of sketches immersed in theatrical tropes. It’s not deep but it’s delightful.

They play soldiers, sailors, tinkers, and spies. There’s a Chekhovian moment when the actors stare out the window and contemplate the coming season. There’s a silly moment when both actors stare at the phone waiting for the sound cue (a scene written decades before “The Play That Goes Wrong”). At one point, they are literally ‘in the trenches’ together in a World War I drama.

Mamet known for his ribald language is restrained here. It’s not “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but it never tries to be.  It is a romp with subtle explorations of character.

Spoilers beyond this point.

There is a subtext to the friendship. Robert seems too curious about John’s  romantic phone call. John, in turn, masks the call by only revealing that he was talking to ‘a friend.’ If there is more between the two, it’s hinted, but never fully explored.

Robert (Sam Tsoutsouvas), and John (Joseph McGranaghan) stare off into the distance in “A Life in the Theatre.” Photo Credit: Rocky Raco

Both men are exceedingly talented.

Tsoutsouvas is wonderful as the crotchety older actor.  Robert struts across the stage seemingly full of self-confidence, but, in reality, the character is vulnerable, frightened and insecure.

In this sly two-hander, the men battle wits in ways both furious and mild. McGranaghan matches his scene partner’s energy.

The assistant stage manager, Cameron Nickel, is almost a third character in the play, popping up frequently, dressing, undressing the set and the actors.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a showcase for the two actors, and Director Andrew Paul gives them a wide berth.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is simple, but elegant and utilitarian.

“A Life in the Theatre” is a fun, little diversion for a summer evening.

-MB

“A Life in the Theatre” runs until June 30 at the Richard E. Rauh Theatre, Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For more information, click here.

Unraveling – a review of ” The Animal Kingdom”

By Michael Buzzelli

A fractured family is forced to reconcile a myriad of issues in “The Animal Kingdom” by Ruby Thomas.

In an unnamed treatment facility, Sam (Greyson Taylor) meets with his therapist Daniel (Juan Rivera Lebron) prepping him for the inevitable, a group session with his mother (Daina Michelle Griffith), his father Tim (Darren Eliker) and his sister, Sofia (Alexandra Casey).

The five gather in a star-shaped circle of chairs, five points of light struggling in the darkness. Think of it as an Escape Room, but instead of puzzles and clues the only way out is through revealing the truest version of self.

Thomas lulls us into a false sense of complacency with some witty dialogue and then pounces on us with pathos.

The family therapy session gets complicated in “Animal Kingdom.”

The key descriptive word for this play is “intense.”

The intimate space is filled with intimate emotions, heightening every move and gesture. The upheavals of emotion are powerful, shocking. The pregnant pauses are disconcerting. When a droll remark, a witty anecdote or a funny personality trait arises, the laughter erupts. An escape valve letting out the pressure.

Director Patrick Jordan is also listed as the set designer, created a claustrophobic space for his actors, but gives them just enough room to move.

The acting is superb. “The Animal Kingdom” is a lesson in the craft. . The dialogue feels fresh and exciting as if the actors are saying the words for the first time. Every actor feels authentic and in-the-moment.

Taylor is exquisite as the young adult struggling with his psychological issues. He projects emotions with every withering look, heavy sigh,  and controlled gesture. His best moment comes when Sofia shares her perspective on his monumental decision.

In a tense moment, Griffith makes asking for a glass of water hilarious. She is divine as Rita, the mile-a-minute talkative mom who more than makes up for her non-verbal ex-husband, Tim.

Even when appearing disengaged, Eliker incites tension.  Tim is more nuanced, and Eliker plays him perfectly.

Casey gets fewer moments than her castmates, but when she does it’s in an explosive revelation. It is heartfelt, touching and beautiful.

Rivera Lebron has to temper his performance as the therapist, but he does a marvelous job despite the restraints.

Andrew David Ostrowski illuminates the cramped office and throws the surroundings into pitch black.

Note: Spoilers are coming in the form of a warning, a trigger warning.

The show discusses suicide, and it can be disturbing.

If you are experiencing or contemplating suicidal thoughts, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day and the help provided is free and confidential. 
Pittsburgh theater is at its peak with a plethora of must-see shows. Add this to the growing list, but do not miss it.

-MB

“Animal Kingdom” runs from June 14 – 30, 2024 at the Bingo O’Malley Theatre, barebones black box theater, 1211 Braddock Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104. For more information, click here.

There’s a Place For Us – a review of “West Side Story”

By Michael Buzzelli

The Shakespearean tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” is reimagined for the modern age (or, rather, a less distant past) and set to song in the iconic musical, “West Side Story, where the Jets and the Sharks are the Montagues and Capulets. The language isn’t Elizabethan, but it is archaic. You might have to decipher a little 50s street slang, but the underlying message is clear; love is love.

Two gangs on the West Side compete for the same territory in 1950s New York, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (Giuseppe Bausilio), and the Jets, led by Riff (Davis Wayne).

A Jet, Tony (Spencer LaRue), just met a girl named Maria (Sabina Collazo), and suddenly the name doesn’t mean the same to him. Maria is Bernardo’s sister, and everything is about to change for the Jets and the Sharks.

“West Side Story” premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1957, and, as mentioned, was a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” but there might be spoilers ahead.

The Jets get ready to rumble. Photo Credit: Matt Polk

 

Maria (Sabina Collazo) feels pretty after meeting an Italian kid. Photo Credit: Matt Polk

Collazo’s voice is fantastic, operatic.  It’s easy to fall in love with this Maria.

LaRue is a likable leading man. As the gang’s lone goody-two-shoes, he doesn’t get any of the funny lines or angry diatribes, but he is solid. He projects kindness and politeness, characteristics the gang lacks.

Wayne’s Riff charismatic. It’s easy to believe that a gang would follow him into the gates of hell.

Action may very well be “psychologically disturbed (distoorbed),” because Harry Francis sure plays him that way. The man is seething with rage in every scene, except when he is dancing. He dances elegantly, beautifully.

Anita is one of the show’s best characters and Adriana Negron performs a marvelous rendition of the character.  She aptly puts Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) in her place during “America.” Negron gets to show a gamut of emotions. Her scene in Doc’s drug store is powerful. It’s the scene where the Jets lose sympathy.

Side note: Del Valle sings “Somewhere” as a voiceover off stage, and its a shame she’s not on stage during her solo because she deserves the applause.

Ken Bolden’s Doc is the lone voice of reason in a horrific landscape of hate and perpetual violence. When Doc isn’t scurrying about his store like a mother hen, he pops out some droll one-liners, expertly delivered by Bolden.

Dixie Sherwood appears in one scene, but steals said scene as the over-the-top social worker, Gladhand.

Allan Snyder’s Lieutenant Schrank is menacing, but his sidekick, Officer Krupke (J. Alex Noble), is comic relief.

Leo Meyers scenic design, enhanced by video designer Brad Peterson and lighting designer Paul Miller,  elevate the show to Broadway standards. The sets are magnificent.

While this production has great acting and singing, Baayork Lee’s choreography enlivens “West Side Story.” The choreographer mimics Jerome Robbins in all the best ways, with swift, graceful forms in colorful costumes by Robert Fletcher. While it would be unusual to see pirouettes and arabesques in a street fight, it is stunning on stage.

While the language is dated, “West Side Story” still resonates. It’s a story star-crossed lovers whose misadventures are caused by racism, fear and paranoia, and, unfortunately, we still have too much of that.

-MB

“West Side Story” runs from June 11 to 16 at the Benedum, 237 Seventh Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, For more information, click here.

The 11th Commandment:  Don’t Mess with a Nun – Review of “Sister’s Summer School Catechism:  God Never Takes a Vacation!” 

By Claire DeMarco.

Sister’s (Kimberly Richards) task is to conduct a summer school catechism class for those “students” who need that extra push and attention and sit in a classroom when others are on holiday.  The audience is willing (sometimes not) participants in this summer class.  They are called on to answer any questions she throws at them, and, of course, how their answer is delivered is critiqued as well.

Gum chewing is not allowed as Sister passes a tissue to a woman sitting in the top row.  An older man in the front row is told “to sit up straight” and he obliges.  A young girl’s cleavage is a bit much for Sister’s eyes and she’s given a bib to cover up.

Note:  The bib wearer leaves the covering on for the entire show.

Kim Richards plays the irascible nun.

This is an interactive show whose audience plays a key role in its execution.  Many of the stories Sister tells are helpful with a Biblical twist, although she often adds verbiage to a story that most likely never occurred.  Pondering on Christ’s occupation as a carpenter, she wonders if as a youth he might have created a bird house possibly made of popsicle sticks!

Richards is serious and funny, imaginative and to the point.  Much of her delivery and adlibs are spontaneous as she never knows what questions or answers the audience will throw at her.  It is evident that no two performances are the same as the audience is always different and their responses trigger a totally different comeback from Richards.

Tony Ferrieri’s creation of a school room is authentic, complete with two rows of arm desks facing the stage. (Note:  Audience members are encouraged (and do) sit in those seats, facing Sister.)  Every conceivable Catholic statue, religious picture, or rosaries are everywhere, even in the lobby of the theater.

Richards has starred in all seven installments of the Late Nite Catechism comedy series.  This production is delightful, full of fun and it’s apparent from their reaction that she has a huge following here in Pittsburgh.

“Sister’s Summer School Catechism:  God Never Takes a Vacation!” was written by Maripat Donovan.

-CED

 “Sister’s Summer School Catechism:  God Never Takes a Vacation!” is a production of City Theatre.  Performances run from June 6th – June 30th at The Lillie Theatre. For more information, and tickets click here

The Great Work Begins – a review of “Angels in America: Part One: Millennium Approaches”

By Michael Buzzelli

It’s not easy to tackle Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches,” but in his directorial debut, Tucker Topel pulls it off with aplomb.

In 1985, a disparate group of men and women face the AIDS crisis each in their own way.  Prior Walker (Sam O’Neill) develops KS lesions on his arm, back and chest. His lover, Louis (Ben Nadler), is so distraught he can’t function.  Infamous lawyer and former Red Scare McCarthyite Roy Cohn (Nick Mitchell) denies he has a ‘gay disease.’ Cohn is too busy trying to convince a young Mormon attorney, Joe Pitt (Hunter Ventura), to go to Washington to become his inside man. “Inside Man” has as many insidious connotations as you could imagine. Pitt’s wife, Harper (Jamie Rafacz) is busy going insane. She says, quite nonchalantly, “I never imagined losing my mind was going to be such hard work.”

Meanwhile, an Angel (Amari Mae Shakir) has a message to deliver.

While the show is decades old, and has been an HBO movie, there are no spoilers here.

Kushner’s script is acerbic, bright, brilliant, terrifying and sad. It’s easy to see why it was Pulitzer Prize-worthy.  The play is almost three hours, but it zips along. Stand up, do squats at the two intermissions or bring a cushion.

The cast of “Angels in America: Part 1, Millennium Approaches”

Elsewhere Theater’s production of “Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” has some of the finest acting anywhere (not just in Pittsburgh).  The men and women of the shows are phenomenal.

O’Neill shines as Prior. He is marvelous. Every line, every gesture is meticulous.

In the past, Nadler has played a series of walk-on roles. He’s stood in the background of a lot of plays. No more. He exudes a star quality here. He and O’Neill carry a lion’s share of the three act play, and they excel at it.

Cohn is a force of nature, a cankerous wound on Democracy, and Mitchell plays him with zest and verve. The affable actor normally plays bartenders and everyday shlubs, is a powerhouse in the villainous role. His posturing and preening is a controlled rage. It’s an over the top character but the performance is nuanced, filled with subtext. His performance is outstanding.

Kathy Hawk plays Hannah Pitt, Joe’s Mormon mom. Though she’s only in a few scenes, she makes great use of them.  Zachariah Washington also manages to deliver some great lines as Belize, a former-maybe-current drag artist.

Matt Henderson takes on a variety of roles and appears and sounds differently in each. His Trick in the Park is frightening and funny at the same time. At one point he becomes Prior Walker’s great ancestor and it’s a much-needed release of hilarity.

Jesse Chovanec gets dolled up in a great costume and delivers some hilarious lines as well.

The props are sparse and the scenery is spartan, but Topel proves that you only need a good script and good actors to make art, and he has a great script and great actors.

“Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” is a must-see Pride month production.

-MB

“Angels In America: Part One: The Millennium Approaches” runs until June 15 at the Carnegie Stage,  25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.

 

Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads – a review of “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville”

By Michael Buzzelli

Dig your Hawaiian shirt out of mothballs and get on Island Time. We are flying off to “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville,” a jukebox musical set to the tropical rock tunes of the late King of the Parrotheads, Jimmy Buffet.

Tully Mars (Gavin Calgaro), a stand-in for the infamous Gulf and Western crooner,  lives on an unnamed island and likes playing the field (or, in this case, the beach) wooing tourists one vacation at a time.  His best buddy, Brick (Andy Coleman), a bartender in the Margaritaville Hotel and Bar where Tully sings, makes sure the girls don’t miss their plane back to the U.S. by shouting about the shuttle to the airport on cue when anyone says, “Let’s keep in touch.”  After each dalliance, Tully pops them on said shuttle and sends them back home, because he’s got a “License to Chill.”

Meanwhile, in the cold winter climes of Ohio, maid of honor and environmental scientist, Rachel (Tiffany Meyers), is picking up bride-to-be Tammy (Katy Chmura) and whisking her off on a bachelorette vacation and getting her away from her fiancé (Eric Molina), the annoying man-child Chadd (yes, with two D’s).  Chadd has Tammy on a strict diet of carrot juice and sunflower seeds, in hopes that she will slim down into her bridal gown.

Once the girls get to the island, Rachel and Tammy meet Tully, Brick, Marley (Cecelia Staggers),the bar owner, J.D. (Andy Cornelius), the beach bum, Jamal (Harry Hawkins), the bar back, and a cast of tourists and regulars. The regulars consist of a a large ensemble of actors, and there are a bunch of fresh faces in the group.

Rachel wants to collect soil samples at the mouth of the volcano, but Tammy wants to party the day away, because, after all, it’s five o’clock somewhere. The boys take them up the slope of the volcano and romance ensues.

The writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley conveniently wrap the plot around the myriad Buffett songs, including songs about alcohol, cheeseburgers and – just for funsies – an active volcano.  They try a little too hard to wedge every single Buffet song into the show and it’s a bit overstuffed. The show is a little long for a musical comedy, but it is laugh out loud funny.

While downing shots, the cast sings, “Its Five O’ Clock Somewhere” in “Jimmy Buffet’s Escape to Margaritaville.” Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

Calgaro is an affable Tully and a likable leading man. He has a terrific voice.

Coleman gets some of the best lines and delivers them flawlessly. His comedic timing is pure perfection here. He even gets the best slapstick and visual humor (I dare you not to laugh when he reveals his tattoo).

Chmura gets some great moments. Her comic timing rivals Coleman’s. The two of them have a sweet chemistry that brings their character’s romance to life.

Cornelius gets an iconic moment singing a ‘sort of’ love song. Though the song is more about love-making  than love. It stands out and up (that’s a Viagra pun).

Jamal (Harry Hawkins) offers his leg in lieu of his hand to those customers seeking a masseuse. Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

In a sequence near the end, you will want to get up from the audience and punch Chadd in the face.  Molina is delightfully cruel in the most nonchalant way.

“Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” is expertly directed by Patrick Cannon. There are a lot of newbies in the cast, and Cannon does a great job giving each of them a moment in the sun.

The band, mostly hidden in a cabana and porch swing, are terrific.  Ben Brosche leads Chad Dougherty, Kamran Mian,  Alex Kendrick-Kupiec and Aldo Dilani. They effortlessly capture the island sound that made Jimmy Buffett famous.

Grab a wedge of lime,  and pack an extra a shaker of salt. The show doesn’t always make sense (a tiny one-jet engine flies nonstop from the tropics to Ohio, and the heroes mysteriously know where to find their love interests), but the songs and snappy patter are enough to keep you humming and laughing. You will want to book your own Escape to Margaritaville.

It is going to be a hard ticket to get. The first five performances are sold out! But if you’re as persistent as Rachel with a soil sample, you should have no trouble.

-MB

“Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville” runs from June 6 to June 23 at t Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA 15317 For more information, click here.

South Park Theatre Rivets with The Revolutionists

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Knight Raymond, PhD

Lauren Gunderson’s 2017 play The Revolutionists assembles the female Avengers of the French Revolution – and South Park Theatre casts them perfectly.

Weaving together a quartet of badass women circa 1793, Gunderson’s play is a what if and a homage rolled into one. The play’s girl power squad of contemporaries include 1.) playwright Olympe de Gouges (Amanda Weber), 2.) Haitian revolutionary Marianne Angelle (Olivia Long), 3.) Marat’s assassin Charlotte Corday (Elizabeth Glyptis), and 4.) the queen herself, Marie Antoinette (Stacey Rosleck). Angelle’s essence is real, but she’s a composite character, whereas the other three are all based on individuals.

The play is reminiscent of watching Titanic. You know the ship will go down, yet you stubbornly cling to the hope that somehow won’t be the outcome. In this case, the guillotine is the foregone story ender. In both cases, it’s the people we meet, their stories, and our desire for their stories to continue that make us hope for alternate outcomes.

Set designer Sabrina Hykes-Davis works miracles with South Park Theatre’s compact stage. Her guillotine looms large both literally and metaphorically. Hykes-Davis creates a raised platform that dominates upstage. Atop the platform is a towering guillotine. Its perpetually raised blade hovers high, nearly grazing the theatre’s rafters. These stacking elements create an ominous, persistent visual threat of the repercussions of disobedience for these four women.

Stacey Rosleck & Amanda Weber Photo credit: South Park Theatre

Instead of bookcases, props designer Alex Keplar has piles of books carelessly shoved under a period couch in Olympe’s apartment where the play takes place. It’s a visual metaphor for the value assigned to women’s stories – hidden. However, the white brocade couch they rest under is luminous, so it’s also a beacon of light foreshadowing the emergence of these stories.

Director Jeff Boles finds balance among these four stellar actresses. Marie Antoinette is immediately the least sympathetic with her “let them eat cake” reputation, which is referenced when she’s condescendingly called “Citizen Cake.” However, we immediately question our perception of her when Marie enters the room and demands from Olympe that she’s “here for a rewrite.” After all, if history was written by men, why should we assume the accuracy of Antoinette’s representation?

Lorraine Mszanski Photo credit: South Park Theatre

With strongly asserted lines, Rosleck finds Antoinette’s humanity. Yet, costumer designer Darien O’Neal’s lacy pink dress with a hoopskirt acknowledges the inherent frivolity of royalty. Like an 18th century fidget spinner, Marie nervously strokes ribbons in the colors of the French flag, but the separated colors suggest an already fractured nation.

As Olympe de Gouges, Weber is the play’s keystone. Each woman seeks her out with a writing request. Boles has Weber enunciate crisply and speak deliberately, befitting a writer. Olympe wants her unfinished play to be the “voice of revolution without hyperbole.” She knows didacticism will repel her audience, yet she is desperate for her work to incite action, and negotiating the paradox is paralyzing.

Elizabeth Glyptis vibrates with urgency as Charlotte Corday on her quest to murder Jean-Paul Marat. While Corday seeks de Gouges’ help to craft her last words, she’s also there to psych herself up for the act. Glyptis is almost prayer-like as she asks for “enough guts and cuteness to pull this off.” She’s self-aware that her gender will not only mask her intent but allow her access to commit the deed.

Olivia Long is forceful and commanding as Haitian revolutionary Marianne Angelle. She is the first woman to approach de Gouges to seek her help writing a pamphlet. None of the trio of literary requests correlate to de Gouges’ profession of playwright. As a female writer in a male-dominated world, de Gouges represents a safe haven for women seeking to have their story told, regardless of the form.

On opening night of The Revolutionists, former president Donald Trump had just been found guilty on 34 felony counts. Watching four women of the French Revolution face the guillotine, there was a sense of poetic justice floating across the centuries. Olympe declares, “Theater is democracy” as that’s where one gets to craft righteous endings, particularly for women. Yet, that night, the attempted suppression of a woman triumphed over a man in power. Seeing democracy reign within the legal system is a satisfying complement and a testimony to progress over time.

-TKR, Ph.D.

The Revolutionists runs through June 15, 2024 at South Park Theatre. Purchase tickets online here

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