Travel Through Time with New City Players’ “It’s a Wonderful Life”

By Mary Damiano

When I was a child growing up in Jersey City, we would go to Manhattan and do touristy things. One such trip involved a tour of Rockefeller Center and the NBC Studios. A highlight was being in a studio for a demonstration of how old radio plays were performed, and all the tools they used to create the sound effects that complemented the radio actors’ performances, giving the plays a rich, cinematic quality.

New City Players’ latest production, It’s a Wonderful Life, transports 2022 audiences back to the late 1940s, to be part of the studio audience for a radio play just like it would have been done then.

I first saw the film It’s a Wonderful Life as a teenager. Watching it late one night a week before Christmas, I felt an immediate kinship with Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey, a man whose bank account is poor but whose life is rich with friends. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Everyone who is lucky enough to have wonderful friends carries a piece of George Bailey in their hearts.

It’s a Wonderful Life is now one of my holiday traditions. It still speaks to me, and I still cry at the same moment every time, when Harry Bailey raises his glass and says, “To my big brother George, the richest man in town.” I get choked up quoting that line, and I welled up with tears typing it.

After seeing the New City Players production, my companion and I had dinner at Cooper’s Hawk in the Galleria, where we were served by a young woman named Bailey. We commented on the serendipity of the show we’d just seen and her name, and discovered she’d never heard of the film. So, for the Baileys of the world not yet exposed to this classic story, here’s how it goes: George Bailey has lived his whole life in the charming town of Bedford Falls. George dreams of adventure—going to college, traveling the world, exploring, and building things, and he’s got a plan for all of it. But time and time again, George sacrifices his dreams for family obligations. He marries and he and his wife Mary have four children. Then, one Christmas Eve, George is faced, through no fault of his own, with scandal, financial ruin, and a possible prison sentence. He’s suicidal, and convinced the world would be better off without him. That’s when an angel named Clarence comes to save him and show him what the world would be like if he’d never been born. It’s heavy stuff, but don’t worry. George gets his happily ever after.

New City Players sets the mood perfectly. Audiences arriving at the theatre are greeted by a sign on the door that reads, “You are now entering Bedford Falls.” The lobby is festively decorated with old-fashioned holiday decorations and there’s complimentary hot chocolate.  Scenic designers Casey Sacco and Arlette Del Toro reproduce a radio studio on the stage, complete with the sound effects props and applause and on-air signs.  The costumes, also by Sacco and Del Toro, are terrific and period appropriate.

Although there are a few changes, the radio play of It’s a Wonderful Life follows the film’s story rather faithfully. Director Timothy Mark Davis and his design team have done a beautiful job of creating a mood and maintaining it throughout the audience’s entire time at the theatre. The cast members voice multiple characters and also perform corny commercials from the show’s sponsors. It’s like traveling through time. The actors all play lead and supporting characters and perform the sound effects used in the show. Sometimes, this means that actors perform the impressive and delightful feat of carrying on conversations with themselves as different characters. Carlos Aleyto is perfect as radio show host Freddie Fillmore and as villain Mr. Potter. Marlo Rodriguez is lovely as Mary. Caroline Dopson is a standout as Josephine, the supervisor of angels who narrates of the story. Noah Levine embodies the innocence of Clarence. Unfortunately, the weak link is Marcos Fuentes who plays George Bailey. On the opening weekend Saturday matinee, it was clear that Fuentes had not yet found the essence of George’s complex character, a man torn between his dreams and his obligations. Perhaps his performance will improve over the show’s run.

Still, It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit and experience an old story in a new way. And if you’re like me, bring some tissues for Harry Bailey’s end-of-show toast to his big brother George, because it still reduced me to a puddle.

New City Players production of It’s a Wonderful Life runs through December 18 at the Island City Stage space in Wilton Manors.  For tickets and more information, visit

Photo: Noah Levine and Caroline Dopson. Photo by Ryan Arnst

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot to See “Hamilton” at Broward Center

By Mary Damiano

Four years after Hamilton first came to Broward Center, I was finally in the room where it happened.

It’s rare that any cultural phenomenon lives up to its hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic musical Hamilton does. It’s not just a show, it’s an experience.  On opening night at a pre-show dinner at Chimney House, my companion and I were seated next to a table of Schuyler sisters—not the actresses who play Hamilton’s wife Eliza, and her sisters, Angelica and Peggy, but a trio of Hamilton devotees dressed in colonial garb, each gown in the pastel of the corresponding Schuler sister. Hamilton isn’t just a show people dress up for, it’s a show they dress up as, and that’s unusual outside of Disney shows and Wicked.

Edred Utomi and Josh Tower. Photo by Joan Marcus

My first visual of Hamilton was when the cast delivered a dazzling, thrilling performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. I watched it on Disney + when it premiered July 3, 2020, with my Hamilton-inspired dinner, a biscuit with baked ham, American cheese, and carmelized onions, and a red, white, and blue dessert of blueberries—they’re the state fruit of New Jersey—topped with whipped cream and a raspberry.

But none of that compares with seeing Hamilton live. From the first song, “Hamilton”, which tells our hero’s backstory, to the last pure, transcendent moment, Hamilton is a linguistic marvel, a hip history lesson, an electrifying experience. 

The bulk of Hamilton takes place from 1776 to 1804 and is bookended by Alexander Hamilton’s first meeting with Aaron Burr and his last, during which Burr shoots Hamilton in a fateful duel in New Jersey. In the 28 years in between, the American Revolution is fought and won, the United States of America is born, and Hamilton, an orphan from the Caribbean, establishes himself as a brilliant statesman, economist, and founding father. And although the saying goes that history is written by the victor, Hamilton has a musical and is on the ten-dollar bill, while Burr, a vice-president, is remembered for killing Hamilton and a milk commercial.

Edred Utomi is a compelling Hamilton, and deftly portrays each part of Hamilton’s journey, from an ambitious but unsure young man looking for guidance to a wise, weary man haunted by loss. Alysha Deslorieux portrays Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife. The two have real chemistry and their on-stage love story feels genuine. Deslorieux has a lovely voice, and her performance, especially on songs like “Burn”, is gorgeous.  The final scene of the show, including that last, breathtaking moment, belongs to her. Because everybody knows from history and the first song in the show that Aaron Burr shoots Hamilton, Burr is a villain from the get-go, and Josh Tower plays him as an over-confident cock-of-the-walk. But his villain shows several shades of complexity, especially on “Theodosia”, in which he pledges his devotion to his newborn daughter. It’s a beautiful moment.

The rest of the cast is equally excellent—this is a show with very high standards, and there are no weak links in the chain.  Standouts on this tour include Carvens Lissaint as Washington, whose performance of his final song, “One Last Time”, is spine-tingling, especially the last note, which garnered thunderous applause from the opening night audience; David Park as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, who portrays his characters with swagger and humor; and Bryson Bruce as King George, who brings considerable comedy to his three appearances, singing arguably the most earworm-worthy tune in a musical full of memorable refrains.

Kudos to the sound at Broward Center, which is so pristine it allows the audience to hear every word, crucial to Hamilton, as the musical is almost entirely sung and rapped.

Watching Hamilton on Disney + is fine, and you do get to see the original cast.  But it does not, cannot, compare with seeing the most influential musical of our time live and in person. Do whatever you can to get to Broward Center to see Hamilton and be in the room where it happens.

Hamilton runs through December 11 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.  For tickets and more information, visit

“Dorothy’s Dictionary” Explores the Magic of Books

By Mary Damiano

I love books. My earliest memory is of guests arriving at our home, and three-year-old me sitting in a big chair with a big, grown-up book, not being able to read it but hoping our guests would think I could, because to me, reading was the greatest thing in the world, and I wanted people to think I already had that super-power. 

The library where I grew up in Jersey City had a wall of glass windows and a staircase inside in front of those windows. I never tired of the view of the city as I ascended that staircase, a perfect view for a library, which put the entire world at my five-year-old fingertips. It was a proud day when I got my first library card—that little blue piece of cardboard was my passport to the world. When we moved to Hollywood, Florida the summer I was eleven, I sought out two places—the movie theater and the library—and spent much of that summer ensconced within their walls. They were my haven, my refuge, my escape to other places and other lives.    

The magic of books is celebrated in Dorothy’s Dictionary, a lovely play by E.M. Lewis, now getting its world premiere at Theatre Lab in Boca Raton. The play opens with Zan (Elijah Moseley) telling the audience about an incident at school that got him arrested. The judge sentences him to three months of community service at a convalescent home, where he is to report three times a week to a woman named Dorothy (Karen Stephens) and do whatever she says.

Dorothy is a patient in the home, a wise librarian whose room is filled with stacks of books. Zan’s assignment is pretty simple; he is to read to Dorothy and keep her supplied with library books, but even that is foreign to Zan, a sullen, withdrawn 15-year-old who has never been to a library and never read a book for pleasure. The first book he reads to Dorothy is The Old Man and the Sea, which he chooses because it’s the slimmest volume he can find and it has a boat on the cover. As Zan fulfills his community service, he not only discovers the world of books, but forges a friendship with Dorothy that changes and sustains them both in unexpected ways.

Moseley is perfect as Zan. His body language, and the way he initially avoids eye contact with Dorothy, illustrates his anger and the sadness that has permeated his young life. As Dorothy opens Zan’s mind through books and her no-nonsense life lessons, Moseley beautifully portrays that awakening. Stephens, a veteran performer who has appeared on stages throughout South Florida, delivers another layered, nuanced performance. Dorothy has been dealt a tough hand, but Stephens’ performance concentrates on Dorothy’s innate dignity and strength. Her Dorothy is a combination of straight-forwardness and sass, but some of Stephens’ most interesting moments are when there is no dialogue, and we feel her pain, her gratitude, her relentless light.

Michael McClain’s scenic design gives the story an ethereal quality, while Matt Corey’s sound design and Thomas Shorrock’s lighting enhance a crucial scene toward the end. Dorothy’s Dictionary is another gem from director Matt Stabile and his team, the kind of production that has helped Theatre Lab become a force in South Florida in a relatively short time—a well-written, character-driven play with terrific performances, excellent design elements, a show with real heart that inspires and makes you think.

Today, I have my own library, a room in my house with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with novels and biographies and books about movies and other subjects that interest me, collected over a lifetime. I haven’t been in a public library in some time, because I have all these books here at home, but Dorothy’s Dictionary makes me want to go back, to revel in the stacks and expand my world in new ways.

Dorothy’s Dictionary runs through December 11 at Theatre Lab, located on the FAU campus in Boca Raton.  For more tickets and more information, visit

Note: Theatre Lab has partnered with the Literacy Council of Palm Beach County and is conducting a book drive during the run of Dorothy’s Dictionary, so please contribute your new or gently used books.

Photo: Karen Stephens and Elijah Moseley in Dorothy’s Dictionary. Photo Credit: Morgan Sophia Photography.

Thinking Cap Theatre’s Shiny, New “Oscar” is a Triumph

By Mary Damiano

Sometimes the allure of a theatre production is who’s in it.  Sometimes it’s the piece itself. And sometimes it’s the theatre and the director helming the production.

For me, Thinking Cap Theatre falls into that third category. It doesn’t matter what show they show do, I’m more interested in what artistic director and company founder Nicole Stodard does with it. Stodard is an underrated force with endless vision and talent that she pours into every production.

Thinking Cap Theatre’s latest production is no exception. Written by Michael Mac Liammoir as a solo show which he performed more than a thousand times, Stodard has reimagined The Importance of Being Oscar into a funny and dark three-person show with vaudevillian sensibilities.

Ronnie Larsen, in a rare appearance outside of his own theatre, The Foundry, plays Oscar Wilde. Larsen is a terrific actor, and here at Thinking Cap, he gets to show even more of the range he exhibited in his own shows, An Evening with John Wayne Gacy and the more recent hit, The Actors, two plays Larsen wrote.  As Oscar Wilde, the famous and infamous Irish novelist, poet, and playwright who was tried and jailed for “gross indecency” over his relationship with another man, Larsen takes the audience on Oscar’s journey, from a young man arriving in London with child-like awe and wonder at the big city, through his own witty delight in his many successes, to his tragic downfall, a victim of societal mores, and his post-prison years when he sought to find a place for himself in a world that failed him. Larsen’s portrayal is elegant and funny, but also moving and heartbreaking.

The first act of the show is played broadly, with a wink to the audience, but the tone changes in the second act, when Oscar is on trial and eventually imprisoned. That shift echos Oscar’s change in circumstance. Larsen’s monologue of De Profundis, a long letter he wrote in prison to his former lover, is especially chilling, with Larsen’s plaintive performance of Oscar’s words set against a grim, shadowy projection of prison window bars. Stodard’s staging circles back to vaudeville in the final moments, with Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol set to bouncy music.

Travon Pierre and Bree-Anna Obst, who also designed the excellent sound and projections with Stodard, are terrific, playing all the other characters in the show, Oscar’s friends, lovers, colleagues, family, and jailers, as well as characters from The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. They change characters on a dime, with onstage costume changes from two armoires that flank the stage.

The Importance of Being Oscar is another feather in Stodard’s impressive Cap.  I can hardly wait to see what she does next.

The Importance of Being Oscar runs through Sunday, October 30, at MAD Arts, 481 S. Federal Highway, Dania Beach, For tickets and more information, visit

Photo: Ronnie Larsen as Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Oscar at Thinking Cap Theatre.

Photo Credit: Ashley Brooke Miller.

“Fun Home” at Lake Worth Playhouse Is Fun and Compelling

By Mary Damiano

Michael Coppola and Kaia Davis in Fun Home at Lake Worth Playhouse. Photo: Bad Hair Day Photography

I thought I’d been to the Lake Worth Playhouse before, but walking into this grand old theatre, originally designed as a cinema, I realized it was my first time there. It’s a great venue for Fun Home a fun, insightful show that mostly takes place in the past, although its dysfunctional family dynamic is timeless.

Based on cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the autobiographical musical examines Alison’s struggle to understand her family life growing up, especially her relationship with her dad, her growing awareness that she’s gay, and her dad’s death when she was in college. The title comes from the slang term for her family’s funeral home. 

Fun Home features three versions of Alison—Small Alison, played Kaia Davis at the performance I saw; Medium Alison, played by Jenna Brooke Bellinato; and adult Alison, played by Jamie Mattocks. Each Alison gets a spotlight song. For Small Alison, its Ring of Keys, which describes her sudden awareness of her attraction to a woman.  Davis, who possesses true stage presence, belts out the song like an old pro. Exuberance shines through Bellinato’s performance of Medium Alison’s big number, the adorable, playful, Changing My Major.  And Mattocks beautifully illustrates Alison’s understanding of her family with Maps.

Aaron Bower is heartbreaking as Alison’s mom Helen, especially on Days and Days, one of the best moments of the show.  Michael Coppola’s portrayal of Alison’s dad Bruce—creepy, loving, abusive, and controlling—is spot on.

The three child actors in Fun Home are double-cast, and the night I saw the show, Small Alison’s young brothers were played by Ava Anger and Violet Segal, who ably portrayed the boys.  The kids’ big number, Come to the Fun Home their “commercial” for the funeral home, is delightful.

Sabrina Lynn Gore, a Carbonell Award nominee this year for her superb performance as the queen in Head Over Heels at Slow Burn Theatre Company, proves herself to be a skillful and imaginative director. The production design is cohesive and compelling. She keeps the pace brisk and the 90-minute show flies by.  She deftly moves her cast around Ardean Landhuis’s heavy, clever multi-level set, highlighted by his vibrant lighting.

This is your last weekend to see this terrific production. Don’t miss it.

Fun Home runs through October 16 at Lake Worth Playhouse.  For tickets and more information, visit

Are There Coincidences? Not a Chance in “This Random World”

By Mary Damiano


Robert Fritz and Melissa Almaguer in This Random World

Conversations with family and friends and chance encounters with strangers that show how individuals are connected is the focus of This Random World by Steven Dietz, now on stage at Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes.


Through about a dozen two-person meetings and conversations, Dietz shows how each individual can have an effect on someone’s life. There are no coincidences here; it’s two degrees of separation up close and personal.


Laura Marrero and Robert Fritz in This Random World

The play opens with practical and pragmatic Beth (Melissa Almaguer) reading her obituary to her brother, Tim (Robert Fritz) and giving instructions for her death. Beth isn’t dying of some terminal disease, but she does love statistics and has run the numbers on the chances of her dying on a bucket list trip to Nepal.  Beth’s obit talk leads Tim to a meeting with Claire (Laura Marrero) his high school sweetheart and the one that got away, while Beth ends up stuck on a freezing mountain with Claire’s ex-boyfriend Gary (Zack Myers). Meanwhile, Scottie (Fern Katz) is planning a trip to Japan with her aide Bernadette (Rita Joe), who wants her sister Rhonda (Brianna Hart-Cox) to go in her place.



Melissa Almaguer and Zack Myers in This Random World

Over the course of 90 minutes all of these characters merge in some unexpected ways, with no two characters having an in-person conversation twice. The result is a series of seemingly random vignettes that show the intimacy of this great big world.


This production, directed by Robert Coppel, brings Dietz’s story to life with mixed results.


Robert Fritz and Briann Hart-Cox in This Random World

The biggest issue  is the scenic design by Amanda Sparhawk and the lighting design by Marcel Ferreira, which are a distraction rather than an enhancement to the plot. Wrinkled silver fabric behind black-framed screens hangs as a backdrop and on either side of the stage at the wings, creating a three-sided box for the characters. Chairs, tables and a few other set pieces are brought in and out by stagehands. The lighting design bounces off the shiny silver fabric creating an unfortunate garish look to most scenes. Projections of tall, spindly trees to represent an overgrown forest don’t make sense. Neither the set nor the lighting do anything to anchor the time and place of each setting, which includes an apartment, a restaurant, an airport, outside at sunrise, a mountain, a Japanese garden, a funeral parlor and a waiting room.



Fern Katz and Rita Joe in This Random World

Katz has some nice moments as Scottie, a wise old woman determined to not to be a burden on her children. Fritz delivers an understated, measured performance in refreshing contrast to Myers, who either yells his lines or shows anger percolating just below the surface. And Almaguer, Hart-Cox and Marrero? Keep moving, folks, nothing special to see here.


Joe is the standout, infusing her character with a quiet integrity and delivering the kind of trademark performance that once again makes her the best part of a show. If only other performances and design elements of this production approached her deft skill, the overall result might have been a success.

This Random World runs through May 6 at Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes. For more information, visit

Photo Credit: Dennis Lyzniak

New Season at Island City Stage Includes a World Premiere Musical

By Mary Damiano


Martin Childers, managing director, and Andy Rogow, artistic director, of Island City Stage at Pier Sixty-Six

Island City Stage could not have ordered up a more picture postcard perfect afternoon to unveil their 2018-2019.

The luncheon, held today at the rooftop lounge at Pier Sixty-Six on the intracoastal, which offers a 360-view of Fort Lauderdale, was a gorgeous setting to make the announcement to the press, board of directors, season subscribers and friends of the Wilton Manors theatre.

Andy Rogow, Island City Stage’s artistic director, revealed the season, which includes a drama and comedies, as well as a world premiere musical about two icons of the LGBT community, written by Michael Leeds, the theatre’s associate artistic director.

First up is Buyer and Cellar by Jonathan Tolins, a one man show about the curator of the mall Barbra Streisand created in the basement of her Malibu home.  The play will feature Matthew Buffalo, who teaches acting at New World School of the Arts in Miami.


Carbonell Award winning actress Mallory NewBrough, who will play Bette Midler in a world premiere musical next year

Next up is that world premiere musical by Leeds, Bette and Barry: From Bathhouse to Broadway, about—who else—Bette Midler and Barry Manilow.  Mallory Newbrough, who won the Carbonell Award for Best Supporting Actress, Musical, earlier this month, will play Midler, and Carbonell Award nominee Michael Ursua will play Manilow.

Then there’s From White Plains by Michael Perlman, a play about a screenwriter who, while accepting an Oscar, outs the bully he believes pushed his gay best friend to suicide, and explores the long-lasting effects of bullying from different perspectives.  The play was brought to Andy Rogow’s attention by South Florida native Alex Weisman, an actor based in Chicago.  Weisman was set to star in the play at Island City Stage but is currently making his Broadway debut in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Rogow called From White Plains the play next season he was most looking forward to doing.

Next is Veronica’s Position, a comedy about a Broadway diva who’s about to marry a conservative Republican politician.  The play is by Rich Orloff, whose short plays have been featured in South Florida theatres. Rogow characterized Veronica’s Position as a sophisticated comedy along the lines of The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane, which Island City Stage produced in 2015.


Angel Burgos, president of the Island City Stage board of directors, with his partner, David Jobin

And speaking of short plays, Rogow said that while Island City Stage and City Theatre will partner again to present its sixth edition of Shorts Gone Wild this summer, the future of the evening of short, LGBT-themed plays is undecided, leaving Island City Stages’ summer 2019 production up in the air.

“Have we told all the stories we can tell in short form?” was the question Rogow was pondering in deciding whether or not to produce Shorts Gone Wild next year.

A highlight of today’s luncheon was entertainment by Newbrough who sang two Midler songs, the sassy One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show and the wistful ballad Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, giving the crowd a taste of what they can expect from her portrayal of the Divine Miss M.

Flex Passes for Island City Stage’s next season will be on sale in a few weeks.  For more information on Island City Stage, visit








Fab, Fun and Frothy, Hairspray is a Musical with a Message

By Mary Damiano

2 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleEnding segregation through dance—that’s the basic premise of Hairspray, the rollicking, beloved musical now on the stage at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

Based on the John Waters movie starring Ricki Lake and Divine, Hairspray concerns Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teen who, through her simple desire to dance on a local American Bandstand-style TV show, leads a crusade to end segregation.

It’s a pretty big deal when Tracy, who is not as skinny as the more popular girls, gets cast on The Corny Collins Show.  In addition to getting to dance on TV, Tracy gets to be close to her crush, teen idol wannabe Link Larkin.  But Tracy learned the dance moves that got her the gig from the black kids she meets in detention, and she doesn’t think it’s fair that they only get to dance on “Negro Day”, so she sets out to open hearts and change minds.

1 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleThe overall production is just as colorful and over the top as you want Hairspray to be, although somewhat scaled down.  The big opening number, for example, “Good Morning Baltimore”, is devoid of the street scene of everything Tracy encounters on her way to school.   Other set pieces look awkward, such as the circular platform with steps that serves as the home of both Tracy and her best friend Penny.  For some reason, the Maltz stage looks cramped and truncated.  Hairspray lacks the lavish touch exhibited in most Maltz productions.

Perhaps more resources were funneled into the costumes and wigs, which are spectacular.  Costume designer Kathleen Geldard keeps the wardrobe colorful and wonderfully on point for each character.  Velma Von Tussle’s angular outfits enhance her wicked edge, while Maybelle Motormouth’s clothes have a sexy softness.  Edna Turnblad’s post-transformation costumes are vibrant and refreshingly tasteful, better-suited for a woman with a new attitude.

5 - Hairspray - photo by Alicia DonelanWig designer Gerard Kelly went all out with his intricate, sky-high, delightfully cartoonish hairstyles.  His bouffants and beehives are divine, and he modernizes his designs in fun ways, like adding a shock of pink to Mr. Pinky’s ‘do.

This production features a slimmer Tracy Turnblad than Hairspray fans are accustomed to, but Mary Digangi is a triumph in the role.  She expertly conveys Tracy’s feisty spirit, her teenage vulnerability, and her strong sense of right and wrong.  She is also a terrific singer and dancer.  And if anyone thinks she doesn’t physically fit the role, perhaps the message here is that one doesn’t have to be too far outside the mold of conformity to be ostracized.

Michael Kostroff is terrific as Tracy’s mom Edna Turnblad, the laundress who rediscovers her own confidence and regains her life through Tracy’s fight to follow her dreams.  Kostroff makes Edna’s transformation from drab to fab realistic, and gives her journey nuance.

11 - Hairspray - photo by Alicia DonelanAltamiece Carolyn Cooper, as Motormouth Maybelle, makes every scene she’s in her own.  Cooper has charisma to spare, and when she belts the gospel-tinged  “I Know Where I’ve Been” you can’t help but feel a few tears welling up as well as hope for the future.

Mia Matthews, won won the 2017 Best Actress Carbonell Award for her dramatic performance in After, shows both her versatility and her vocal prowess.  She is delicious as the villainous, Velma Von Tussle, the racist producer and stage mother who will do anything to get what she wants for herself and her mean-girl daughter Amber.  Matthews’ flair for hurling an insult, her satisfied panache when carrying out Velma’s schemes, her comic timing—these things should all make directors consider her for more musicals.

7 - Hairspray - photo by Jason NuttleThere are many musical standouts, including “You’re Timeless To Me” the sweet duet between Edna and her ever-loving hubby Wilbur (Philip Hoffman), “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now” the classic teen plea sung by Tracy, Amber (Chelsea Turbin) and Penny (Taylor Quick) to their worried moms, and the hopeful anthem for the future, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”.

On the surface, Hairspray is a fun and frothy show, but it’s a musical with a message: Segregation is wrong.  Discrimination is wrong.  And while Hairspray is set in 1962, among the signs in the protest scene is one proclaiming the more modern slogan Black Lives Matter.  It’s a sad reminder that the fight against discrimination is still being fought.

Hairspray runs through January 28.  For tickets and more information, visit 





Get Wrecked on TBS with Lela Elam

By Mary Damiano

So, I was having lunch at New York Grilled Cheese in Wilton Manors two weeks ago with The

Lela Elam

The Fabulous Lela Elam

Fabulous Lela Elam—yes, that’s her official title, at least as far as I’m concerned—when she caught me up on her current project, the TBS TV series Wrecked.  I had been seeing Lela’s Facebook posts about Wrecked for some time, but I thought it was a movie she’d done.  Lela being in a series makes me happy at the opportunity to see her on a weekly basis, because she’s so talented—she could sit on a stage and read the phone book and it would be entertaining.

I found all the episodes available through TBS and Sling through my Roku box and embarked on a binge.

Wrecked is a sitcom send-up of Lost, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  In Wrecked, just like Lost, the plot centers on passengers who have survived a plane crash and must find a way to survive on a mysterious island.  Some of the characters on Wrecked pay homage to characters on Lost, some are composites, some are original.  The first shot of the show mimics the first shot of Lost, and the plots sometimes mirror Lost, and other times portray the what ifs that Lost fans probably asked while they watched the show.  But you don’t need to have ever seen an episode of Lost to understand or be entertained by WreckedLost may have been a jumping off point, but the show is forging its own identity.

Todd Wrecked

Todd Allen Durkin

Lela plays Diane from Toledo. Just the idea of getting stranded on a desert island with The Fabulous Lela Elam is appealing.  She gets some good lines and scenes.  So far Lela’s most pivotal scenes have been in the episode Always Meant to See That, which asks this question:  If you had to choose what could possibly be the last movie you will ever see, would you choose something wacky or something big and important?  Does it come down to entertainment or a moral imperative? Stupid fun or political correctness?

That’s the kind of stuff Wrecked explores. Other episodes have dealt with hoarding food, meting out justice and the question of attempting to escape or forming a society on the island.

Wrecked 109- 25333_010

Wrecked Cast

Wrecked features other talented actors based in South Florida, including Mike Benitez and Todd Allen Durkin, who plays the unfortunately monikered Kurt Turdhole—pronounced, according to Kurt, Tur-doh-lay—who ends up as the constant butt of jokes, pun intended.

Wrecked is a fun show and definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of Lost or a fan of The Fabulous Lela Elam.

New episodes of Wrecked air on Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.  Catch up on older episodes on On Demand.

Theatre at Arts Garage Gets New Artistic Director

Keith Garsson and Genie Croft Form the New Creative Team at Delray Beach Venue

By Mary Damiano

Alyone Ushe, Keith Garsson and Genie Croft

Alyone Ushe, Keith Garsson and Genie Croft

When news that Louis Tyrrell was leaving his position as artistic director of Theatre at Arts Garage in Delray Beach, many wondered if that was the end of theatre at the popular downtown venue.

Wonder no more. Keith Garsson, artistic director of Primal Forces in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton Theatre Guild, has been named artistic director of Theatre at Arts Garage. Genie Croft, artistic director of the now-defunct Women’s Theatre Project, has been named resident director.

“I am so excited to begin this new partnership with Keith,” said Alyona Ushe, President and CEO of Arts Garage. “Our music programs consistently break new barriers exposing our audiences to diverse forms of artistry, and now I am proud to say our theatre program will explore new realms of emotions and relationships.”

While Primal Forces will be effectively absorbed into Arts Garage, the company may also perform in other venues. Garsson plans to produce shows that explore darker themes, beginning with the new season in October.

“The dark-themed material of Primal Forces is a natural fit for the off-Broadway feel of Arts Garage,” said Garsson. “Boca Raton Theatre Guild and the Willow Theater served us well for many years, but it’s time to move on from our standard fare at the park into a venue more attuned to the material we’ve presented at Primal Forces.”

“The move to the Arts Garage will allow us to unleash new artistic visions as we create imaginative, and thought-provoking plays and musicals” says Croft. “We look forward to new energies and rhythms on the stages of Arts Garage.”

Theatre at Arts Garage 2015-2016 Season

Sex with Strangers by Laura Eston
October 24 through November 15
From one of the writers of House of Cards, Laura Eason, the comedy Sex with Strangers opened in New York in 2014 to great acclaim. When twenty-something star sex blogger and memoir writer Ethan tracks down his idol, the gifted but obscure 40s novelist Olivia, he finds they each crave what the other possesses. As the attraction turns to sex, and they inch closer to getting what they want, both must confront the dark side of ambition and the near impossibility of reinventing oneself when the past is only a click away.

Reborning by Zayd Dohrn
January 23 through February 14
This 2010 psychological thriller tells the tale of a sculptor with an unusual specialty. She meets a woman desperate to recreate her past leading to some frightening revelations. Art and life become disturbingly interchangeable in this dark comedy that takes an unsettling look at work, latex and the power of creation.

The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith by Angelo Parra and Joe Brancato
February 27 through March 20
A dramatization of the turbulent story of the legendary “Empress of the Blues,” whose life was as large and as outrageous as her talent. The play re-imagines Bessie’s final electrifying evening after she and her band are turned away by a whites-only theatre. It all takes place in 1937 in a Memphis “buffet flat,” where the partying, laughter, and bawdiness all come together to deliver an entertaining, unforgettable, and surprisingly touching evening.

Smoke by Kim Davies
March 26 through April 17
A thriller, set in New York City, where Julie an entitled college student and John, a jaded wannabe artist – with more in common than they thought – engage in a series of mind games, both erotic and humorous. But who gets the last laugh on whom?

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