Hello Jerry! Revue of Broadway Titan’s Work Now at The Wick

By Mary Damiano

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Lauren Sprague, Susan Anton, Julie Kavanagh and Klea Blackhurst in Jerry’s Girls

Hello, Dolly!

If Jerry Herman had decided to rest on his laurels never compose another score or write another lyric after that show, his place in musical theatre history would have been firmly cemented.  Luckily, Jerry Herman isn’t that kind of guy.  His shows, from the cultish Dear World and Mack and Mabel to the beloved Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, are, simply, legendary.

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Lauren Sprague

Herman’s final show, Jerry’s Girls, now on stage at The Wick in Boca Raton, is a loving tribute to the career of a Broadway giant.

Jerry’s Girls began as a cabaret revue to showcase songs from Herman’s shows, especially Mack and Mabel, which was deemed a failure in its original run. After La Cage Aux Folles  premiered on Broadway, Florida impresario Zev Buffman approached Herman about expanding the cabaret revue, and Jerry’s Girls premiered at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Royal Palm Beach in 1984 before moving to Broadway the following year.

Director Lee Roy Reams, who has starred in two of Herman’s musicals at The Wick, La Cage Aux Folles and Hello, Dolly!, in which he made history but becoming the first man to play the titular role in a professional production, wanted to give Jerry’s Girls an update. So, instead of chorus girls, the leads are backed by Jerry’s Boys, including new Carbonell Award winner Elijah Word.

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Susan Anton

The star here—and The Wick loves to have a star—is Susan Anton, the tall blonde entertainer who gained fame in the 1970s through commercials and talk show appearances and notoriety in the 1980s for her relationship with diminutive British actor Dudley Moore.

Anton is joined onstage by Klea Blackhurst, Julie Kavanagh and Lauren Sprague. Word is joined in the chorus by a talented bevy of local boys, Anthony “AJ” Cola, Joshua Conner, James Giordano, Hugo Moreno and Mark Williams.

It’s a real treat to have a live band, musical director James Followell on piano, Julie Jacobs on drums and Rupert Wiawinski on bass—having the musicians on stage with the performers injects a lot of energy into the show. Emily Tarallo’s choreography is inventive and tailored to the needs of the cast. Jim Buff’s elegant costume design makes each woman look like a million bucks.  Randel Wright’s streamlined scenic design of  repeating rings and arches harkens to a simple club allowing the performers to shine.  The lighting design by Ginny Adams picks up nuances in the costumes and complements the setting of the songs.  The sound, by Justin Thompson, seems muffled at times.

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Julie Kavanagh

The show retains its cabaret roots.  The performers greet the audience as themselves and take the audience on a musical journey through Herman’s career, aided by tasteful projections by Josieu Jean, Jerry’s Girls is a primer on Herman’s work for newbies and a chance for seasoned theatre buffs to reminisce.

Most of the first act is devoted to Hello, Dolly! and Mame, the original two Jerry’s girls.  The second act begins with songs from Dear World but mainly features Mack and Mabel and La Cage Aux Folles.  Clever bits include a photo montage of performers who have played the iconic Dolly Levi over the years, which invites audience participation.  Another is a bit about the diverse things the song Hello, Dolly! has been used to sell, including Oscar Meyer products  (Hello Deli) and a president (Hello Lyndon). There is also a wonderfully staged homage to silent movies, which captures the essence of Mack and Mabel.

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Susan Anton and Jerry’s Boys

Anton is an affable performer who blends well with the other leads. Regarding solos, she is at her best on ballads—her rendition of And I Was Beautiful is lovely.  Her upbeat numbers include the title song to La Cage Aux Folles, which she does well, though her impressions of Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich mid-song fall flat and feel like the show has morphed into her own personal nightclub act rather than Georges’ emcee duties in the original musical.

Sprague delivers a beautiful version of I Won’t Send Roses from Mack and Mabel.  The lyrics have been tweaked to He Won’t Send Roses and offer a poignant female counterpoint to the original song. And Sprague’s duet with Blackhurst onKiss Her Now is stunning—their voices blend to form one gorgeous sound.  Kavanagh is terrific in Tap Your Troubles Away, accompanied by that bevy of boys and Look What’s Happened to Mabel.

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Klea Blackhurst

Blackhurst is the standout in Jerry’s Girls.  She and Anton have great chemistry in their duets, and her powerhouse voice wows.  Other singers reach for the rafters, but Blackhurst raises them.  She possesses both charisma and stage presence and fully inhabits whatever character she plays.  And when she sings the iconic I Am What I Am, she makes you believe the anthem was written especially for her.

The show is uneven—the pacing is off, some songs seem slowed down, and it doesn’t always sparkle as it should—but the good and great moments definitely outweigh the fair and flat ones. Negatives, though, can be put aside. Sometimes it’s dazzling and sometimes it’s cheesy, but this production of Jerry’s Girls is always entertaining.

Jerry’s Girls runs through May 13 at The Wick in Boca Raton.  For tickets and more information, visit TheWick.org.

Take Me To Church: M Ensemble Delivers That Old Time Religion

By Mary Damiano

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Joseph Long in God’s Trombones

Can I get a Hallejulah? Can I get an Amen?

The M Ensemble, the company that won five Carbonell Awards at the recent April 2 ceremony, is back with its second show of the season, God’s Trombones.

While God’s Trombones seems different from Kings of Harlem, the play about a 1930’s Harlem basketball team, which won four of those five Carbonell Awards, the two bear some similarities.  M Ensemble styled both shows as immersive experiences, and both plays feature an important part of Black history and culture.

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Dancers interpret the poems in God’s Trombones

God’s Trombones is based on the 1927 book God’s Trombone: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson.  Johnson was an extraordinary man in any era, but especially for what he accomplished in his day.  At a time when the odds were against a man of color having a single professional career, Johnson had many, including teacher, principal, diplomat, poet, Broadway lyricist and lawyer—he was the first black man admitted to the Florida Bar since Reconstruction.  He was an influential leader and held a prominent position in the NAACP.

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Daryl Patrice leads the choir in God’s Trombones

Johnson’s most famous book has been adapted to bring has words to thrilling life.  More than just bible stories, Johnson’s anachronistic storytelling, both humorous and passionate, are fashioned as sermons and accompanied by well-known hymns.

God’s Trombones is reminiscent of playwright Young Jean Lee’s Church, which was produced in 2014 at Thinking Cap Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.  Just as Church immersed its audience in an old time revival experience, complete with outdoor tent and sweltering August heat, M Ensemble’s God’s Trombones immerses its audience in the joyous celebration and raw emotion of a Sunday morning gospel service, with a few twists.

For example, as Joseph Long, playing one of the preachers, recounts The Creation, his words are illustrated by interpretive dancers.  The dancers, led by choreographer Jeffrey Cason, Jr., do excellent work and add another layer to the bible stories recounted in Johnson’s poems.

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Isaac Beverly passionately recounts the The Crucifixion in God’s Trombones

Long plays one of five preachers in God’s Trombones.  Each is a standout in a different way, bringing different styles and personalities to Johnson’s poems.  Long’s approach is steadfast and paternal.  Isaac Beverly’s passionate, heartfelt retelling of  The Crucifixion is humbling, while Ray Lockhart’s The Prodigal Son sears with fire and brimstone.  Jean Hyppolite gives power to Noah Built the Ark.  The lone female preacher, Toddra Brunson, turns her story, Go Down Death (A Funeral Sermon), into a powerful but tender tearjerker.

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The Choir and dancers in God’s Trombones

The preachers are accompanied by a choir whose voices blend seamlessly into one.  But there are soloists who excel, despite having to compete with music so loud it often drowns out their voices.  Brunson concludes her sermon by leading the choir in Peace Be Still.  Long’s rich, clear voice is perfect for Go Down Moses.  And Asher Makeba, Brianna Woods, Deidra Chiverton and Sarah Gracel sing Were You There, creating a sound so rich and pure it may bring a tear or two.

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Choreographer and principal dancer Jeffrey Cason, Jr. in God’s Trombones

 

Director John Pryor has assembled a cast with heavenly voices, whether singing or proclaiming their truth. The simple set of risers and white draped chairs for the choir and a lectern for the preacher all framed by black curtains, leaves plenty of room for the dancers and for Mitchell Ost’s vibrant lighting design.  Shirley Richardson’s costume design is traditional, full dresses in purple spiked with vivid prints and sashes for the choir and pants and dashikis in tones of orange and yellow for the male preachers.  The dancers’ costumes enhance their characters, sometime lithe and body conscious, sometimes flowy dresses that enhance their movements.

God’s Trombones isn’t a play or musical in the traditional sense, but it is a theatrical experience worth having.

God’s Trombones runs through May 6 at M Ensemble.  For more information and tickets, visit TheMEnsemble.org.

Photo Credit: Deborah Gray Mitchell

“Waitress” Serves Up a Heaping Helping of Happiness

By Mary Damiano

Waitress the Musical

Desi Oakley in Waitress

If Jenna, the waitress and pie maker in Waitress, saw the stage incarnation of her life, she might be inspired to create the Magical Musical Pie.

And while the opening refrains of sugar, butter, flour are the basis for every pie Jenna bakes, this recipe also includes soaring songs by Sara Bareilles, a funny, heartfelt book by Jessie Nelson, and powerhouse performances by a talented cast. The result is a deep dish delight that makes the audience savor every bite.

Waitress, based on the 2007 film starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, is one of the brightest shows to hit Broadway—or Broward Center—in some time. A tuneful, tearjerker that is simply terrific, the plot centers on Jenna (Desi Oakley) a waitress and pie-maker extraordinaire in a small southern town. Trapped in an abusive marriage to lazy, possessive Earl (Nick Bailey), Jenna’s only real slice of happiness is baking her imaginative pies at Joe’s Pie Diner, pies with distinctive names like Ain’t You Sweet Potato Pie and Gingersnap Out of It Pie. Jenna was taught early on by her mother to cope with the ugly side of life through baking, and Jenna elevates pie-making to a mystical, magical experience. Life becomes more complicated when she discovers she’s pregnant, and she devises a plan to bake her and her baby to a better life. Plans are further complicated when she and the new guy in town, Dr. Jim Pomater (Bryan Fenkart) form an instant attraction to one another which grows during every pre-natal visit before finally and hilariously turning into an affair.

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Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakly and Bryan Fenkart in Waitress

The plot of the musical closely follows that of the original movie, so while Waitress is technically a remake, it feels fresh and original. There are several subplots that turn the pie place into a Peyton Place, including the complicated marriages of Jenna’s boss Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) and best friend and fellow waitress Becky (Charity Angel Dawson) and the courtship of plain Jane waitress Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and her devoted beau Ogie (Jeremy Morse), as well as the observations of Joe (Larry Marshall) Jenna’s loyal and exacting regular customer. All of that, mixed with a whole lot of heart and topped off with a generous dollop of charm make for one very satisfying show.

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Bryan Fenkart and Desi Oakley in Waitress

Waitress is also beautifully designed and staged. The scenic design by Scott Hask is clever, with sets rolling and flying in and out and a vista through the diner’s windows of highway, telephone lines and rolling green countryside that look like they go on for miles. The lighting design by Ken Billington is also impressive, enhancing both the place and the mood. The band is out of the pit and inventively on stage, amping up the levels of an already energetic show.

Writer musician Bareilles, best known for her pop songs like Love Song and Brave and her recent performance as Mary Magdalene in the TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar, has created a host of infectious, catchy songs that work seamlessly with the story but also stand alone.

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Charity Angel Dawson , Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman in Waitress

Oakley’s strong voice and heartfelt performance is at the center of Waitress. She expertly conveys Jenna’s evolution from pragmatic abused wife to fiercely determined woman. Her solos on What Baking Can Do and She Used To Be Mine are powerful and her star-crossed duet with Fenkart, You Matter To Me is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Every member of the cast gets their moment to shine. As Becky, Dawson is maternal and caustic and the perfect best friend, and her second act solo, I Didn’t Plan It, is a showstopper. Klingaman is perfect as Dawn, the sad sack transformed by her soul mate.

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Desi Oakley and Bryan Fenkart in Waitress

Jeremy Morse’s endearing goofiness and his superb physicality as Ogie brings down the house on Never Ever Getting Rid of Me. Marshall delivers as Joe, the observant voice of reason, especially in his big number, Take It From an Old Man. As Dr. Pomatter, Fenkart doesn’t get a solo, but his chemistry with Oakley is magic.

Waitress is a slice of heaven, from the first bite to the last morsel.

Waitress runs through April 22 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets, visit BrowardCenter.org.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Terrific Cast and Timely Story Make “Gloria” at GableStage a Must-See Show

By Mary Damiano

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Katherine McDonald, Shari Wiesman, Philip Andrew Santiago and Clay Cartland  in Gloria

Who owns a violent experience? Does it belong to the perpetrator, the victims, the survivors or the bystanders? And whose story is the one that matters most to a society that turns tragic events into a television movie event and makes those who lived it the celebrity du jour?

Those are some of the questions explored in Gloria by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, (his play play An Octoroon was produced at Area Stage last year) a fascinating, timely play now at GableStage, although you’d never know it from the first 45 minutes. For nearly the entire first act, Gloria is an innocuous story about the petty jealousies and career ambitions of a group of assistants at a New York magazine. The titular character, Gloria, (Katherine McDonald) is only seen a few times, but her name and situation come up in conversation among the assistants as almost a warning of the career to avoid: Gloria, an editor, has been at the magazine for 15 years, a dedicated employee all but married to her job, whose only circle of “friends” are her coworkers.

When the play begins, Dean (Clay Cartland) stumbles into work, late and hungover, telling everyone about the expensive housewarming party Gloria hosted the night before, which turned pathetic and sad when only he and three other coworkers attended. The other assistants gobble up the gossip as they go on with their morning, which includes little work, some backstabbing, more gossip, and talk of five-year career plans so they they’re not in the same job when they hit 30. It’s a typical day at work. Then, out of the blue, violent tragedy strikes.

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Cubicle life:  Clay Cartland, Philip Andrew Santiago, Lai-Si Lassalle and Shari Wiesman in Gloria

The second act picks up eight months later at a Starbuck’s and focuses on the aftermath and how some of the characters are coping with their experience.   Several have gotten book deals because of their experience and have different reasons for writing their books—catharsis, career move and cashing in. The last scene takes place a few years later and focuses on Loren (Cliff Burgess) a former fact-checker at the magazine, now over 40 and working as a temp for a film production company in Los Angeles.

Gloria is a finely crafted play, both clever and shocking, funny and poignant, the kind of play GableStage is known for.  Director Joseph Adler has assembled a terrific cast—Burgess, Cartland, and McDonald are veterans, while Philip Andrew Santiago, Lai-Si Lassalle, and Sheri Wiesman are making their GableStage debut—and together they form a tight ensemble. The pace is perfect, conveying the energy and boredom of office life, and the big moment is effectively jarring.

Cartland does fine work in Gloria, expertly ricocheting from an affable, dedicated guy in the first act to a mere shell of a man in most of the second act, and then taking on the bored, patronizing demeanor of another character as well. McDonald pulls double duty well, deftly portraying the blah, seemingly mousey Gloria in the first act and then Nan, an aloof former editor in the second act. Santiago is most effective as Miles the young office intern in the first act, but also plays a barrista and executive in act two. Lassalle brings Kendra to life in all her annoying, ambitious, shallow glory, and also makes icy film exec Jenna all her own later on. Wiesman, like Santiago, plays three characters, and makes each dictinctive.

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Cliff Burgess, Lai-Si Lassalle, Philip Andrew Santiago, Shari Wiesman, Clay Cartland in Gloria

Burgess is the one actor who gets to play the same character, Loren, throughout the play, and he is astonishing, Harried and frustrated in the first act, Loren is changed by the violence in a different way.  The last scene belongs to Burgess, and his lovely, understated performance.

Lyle Baskin’s two office sets, nondescript gray for New York and vibrant colors for Los Angeles, are on point, while his Starbuck’s set has everything except a line of customers waiting to order. Both Matt Corey’s sound and Steve Welsh’s lighting are evocative, while Ellis Tillman’s costumes go a long way in illustrating each character’s personality. The one flaw lies in the wigs and facial hair some actors wear to play their other characters, which look more like a bad disguises. Kudos to Waldo Washaw for the jarring special effects.

Originally produced three years ago, Gloria is a timely play ripped from too many headlines that illuminates the perspectives and struggles of those directly effected by violent tragedy. It raises more questions than it answers, and while no one can answer those questions effectively in such a short time, Gloria is bound to raise some thought-provoking discussions.

Gloria runs through May 6 at GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. For tickets and more information, visit GableStage.org.

Photo Credit: George Schiavone

“Be Here Now” at Theatre Lab Finds Meaning in the Mundane

By Mary Damiano

 

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Gretchen Porro, Laura Turnbull and Elizabeth Dimon try yoga in Be Here Now 

Finding meaning in the mundane and getting a new lease on life are just two of the themes running through Be Here Now, a new play by Deborah Zoe Laufer, now on stage at Theatre Lab in Boca Raton.

Bari, (Laura Turnbull) is a middle-aged woman who believes in nothing—she is a former New York City college professor whose subject was nihilism. Forced to suspend her teaching career until she finishes her dissertation on the subject of how nothing has meaning, she has returned to her tiny hometown in upstate New York to sell her parents’ home and work in a gift fulfillment center while she struggles to write.

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Gretchen Porro, Laura Turnbull and Elizabrth Dimon at work at a gift fulfillment center in Be Here Now

Although it’s only two hours north of New York City, tiny East Cooperville is a different world, a small town where everyone is either related or has known each other practically from birth, and hopping in the car and driving one town over is considered an adventure. Bari’s coworkers are Patty Cooper (Elizabeth Dimon) and her niece Luanne Cooper (Gretchen Porro) who are descended from the town’s founders and have spent their entire lives close to where they were born. Patty believes in astrology and met Bari in kindergarten—she recalls how even then Bari was an anti-social child who called her classmates cretins. Luanne is sweet and flighty and thinks nothing of sending boob pix to a guy she’s met online. The Cooper women are both happy and content in their small-town existence, a direct counterpart to Bari’s dour demeanor.

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Laura Turnbull gives Gretchen Porro and Elizabeth Dimon a scare in Be Here Now

Determined to fix Bari and help her be happy, Patty and Luanne arrange a blind date with Patty’s cousin Mike (Desmond Gallant) whom Luane describes as a genius with cute ears. While the Coopers are excited that the date could be a turning point in Bari’s life, she sees it as a chore and, plagued by one of her chronic headaches, talks herself out of following through. But when Bari has a seizure and experiences visions of light and sound, her perspective shifts. She meets Mike, a sweet, loopy guy who rides a bike, has a pet crow, and collects garbage to use in his work. As the seizures continue, Bari begins to question everything she’s believed about her life and the world around her, leading her to an unexpected path.

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Laura Turnbull and Desmond Gallant engage in a wavky lip-lock in Be Here Now

Laufer has a talent for creating unforgettable characters with distinct, quirky personalities—plot aside, it’s fun just to watch these people interact with each other. But she has also crafted an insightful story, one that takes threads of the meaning of life, mindful living, and finding purpose in the forgotten and woven them into a beautiful, thought-provoking tapestry. The play is bookended by two similar scenes, one funny, one lovely, that show how far the characters have come in a short time.

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Laura Turnbull and Desmond Gallant in Be Here Now

Laufer also directed this production, and each member of the cast delivers a winning performance while working together seamlessly, fully immersing the audience in their world.

Porro embodies Luanne’s sweetness, though her delivery hints at an aching sadness beneath her chirpy exterior, adding nuance and dimension. Dimon, who sports a head of spiky white hair with a shock of hot pink, uses her impeccable timing to great advantage, making her pitch-perfect as maternal Patty.

Gallant’s performance is sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching, but always endearing. Like the character he portrays, Gallant wastes nothing—every gesture, every expression, has meaning and purpose—and he brings Mike to life with a quiet, insightful dignity, transforming him from character to fully-fleshed out person.

From the first moment of the play, sitting in a yoga class, cynicism on full display, Turnbull sinks her teeth into Bari and doesn’t let go, making the wild ride of Bari’s evolution all her own. In Turnbull’s skilled hands, Bari’s shift from austerity to awe is a joy to watch.

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Laura Turnbull and Desmond Gallant in Be Here Now

Matt Corey’s subtle sound design is exquisite, allowing the audience to hear through the characters’ ears. Jayson Tomashesky’s lighting illustrates Bari’s personality shift and grounds each locale. Michael McClain’s inventive scenic design visually enhances the play’s themes of meaning and purpose. Dawn C. Shamburger’s costumes complement each character to great effect.

Theatre Lab’s production of Be Here Now features some of the best talent in the region in a tender, thought-provoking play that is sure to resonate with those who see it. Even its title is a reminder to not let the beauty of every moment pass by without notice.

Be Here Now runs through April 22 at Theatre Lab on the FAU campus in Boca Raton. For tickets and more information, visit fau.edu/theatrelab

Photo Credit: Niki Fridh

Actress Soars as Grounded Pilot at Thinking Cap Theatre

By Mary Damiano

NkiArmsThere are two things you need to know about Grounded, the current show from Thinking Cap Theatre at The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale.  There are only two performances left, and you should do whatever you can to see this magnificent production.

Niki Fridh delivers a bravura performance as a badass, rock star fighter pilot who lives for the moments she’s in the air, in “the blue,” she calls it.  She rhapsodizes about flying, fighting the war in the desert, dropping bombs here and there, unconcerned about the aftermath because she’s always long gone before her target is reduced to dust.  Her world changes when she gets pregnant and is grounded, eventually assigned stateside to the Nevada desert to become a drone pilot.  Instead of her beloved, glorious blue, she’s entrenched in a grey screen of the desert she used to fly above.  While she recognizes the gift of being able to fight the war with the threat of her own death removed, and go home each night to her husband and daughter, being a drone pilot turns out to be much more dangerous than she ever imagined.

NikiFlagNicole Stodard is a visionary, both in her choice of material for Thinking Cap, which she founded, and with her direction and design of her productions.  In Grounded, the use of projections, designed by Cat Del Buono, allow the audience into the pilot’s world and into her head, creating a marriage of style and substance that complements Fridh’s compelling performance without overshadowing it.

The other designers are up to the challenges of the script.  Stodard’s sound design, Eric Nelson’s lighting and Alyiece Moretto’s scenic and costume design mesh seamlessly to create the world in George Brant’s play.

NikiScreenGrounded rests squarely on Fridh’s slender shoulders, and she is strong enough to not only pull it off, but turn it into an edge-of-your-seat nail biter.  On stage alone for 80 brisk minutes, she never falters. With macho swagger, Fridh deftly conveys the pilot’s exhilaration of flying and living the fighter pilot lifestyle, and later the struggle of balancing her profession with her role as a wife and mother.  And when the pilot begins to realize the consequences of her actions, Fridh ratchets up the intensity of her performance, becoming even more riveting and intense as the psychological effects of her job take their toll.

Both Grounded and Fridh’s performance are not to be missed.

Grounded runs through Saturday, April 15 at the The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale.  Visit ThinkingCapTheatre.com for tickets and more information.

Photo Credit: Nicole Stodard

 

Sedaka Is Back? Concert Shows He Never Really Left

By Mary Damiano

NeilSedakaNeil Sedaka taught us that breaking up is hard to do, but breaking up with Neil Sedaka is impossible.

Watching Sedaka perform at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale last night was like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and being reminded of why you like him so much, and wonder why you haven’t gotten together for so long.

Sedaka is now 78 years old, but his voice has not changed—it’s still as rich and steady as ever.  He also looks great.  Sedaka is celebrating 60 years of songwriting and performing, which began with his first hit, Oh! Carol, written for his high school girlfriend Carol Klein—the world knows her better as Carole King.  Juilliard-trained to be a classical pianist—he even included some Chopin in his 90-minute set—Sedaka discovered pop music and the rest is history.

Last night’s concert started with footage of other artists performing Sedaka songs: Frank Sinatra, Connie Francis, The Carpenters, Clay Aiken, showing how Sedaka’s music transcends genres and generations.

NeilSedakaTourSedaka opened with Bad Blood, his 1975 hit which featured vocals by Elton John, and ended with another song from 1975 that’s still timely, The Immigrant.  In between, he sang hits that he and other artists made famous: Oh! Carol, The Diary, Where the Boys Are, Next Door to an Angel, Calendar Girl, Solitaire, Love Will Keep Us Together, Laughter in the Rain, The Hungry Years, and so many others.  One fun segment featured a video of Calendar Girl he made in the 1960s, which illustrated the lyrics with a bevy of beauties in bizarre costumes.  He also performed the original upbeat 1962 Breaking Up is Hard To Do, and for an encore, played the smoky, ballad version he recorded in 1975.

Woven between the songs were Sedaka’s memories of how they came about, writing with partner Howard Greenfield in the legendary Brill Building in an atmosphere which nurtured so many talents who produced so many classic songs, and his own memories of his career.  It was like watching a rock and roll version of Mister Rogers tell stories—gentle, folksy and funny.  And oh, so much fun.

For upcoming Neil Sedaka tour dates, visit NeilSedaka.com

Nothing Rotten, Only Riotous Something Rotten Will Make You Roar with Laughter

By Mary Damiano

SomethingRottenEnsembleYou’ll lose track of all the shows referenced in Something Rotten, a frothy, delightful musical feast for theatre lovers, now playing at Broward Center.

The title, of course, comes from Hamlet—“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”—and while Shakespeare and his canon have been updated and adapted and parodied for centuries, Something Rotten takes that parody and homage to inventive new heights of hilarity.

SomethingRottenAdamIt’s the ‘90s—the 1590s, that is—and William Shakespeare is The Bard, the rock star of writers, the leather-clad idol of the masses, who plays the park (think about it) and draws throngs of adoring, swooning fans with his unique way with a sonnet and deft phrases.  It doesn’t hurt that Will possesses a swagger and an out-sized codpiece that screams walking sex.  Sigh.

SomethingRottenBlakeRobWill’s success is a constant source of consternation to Nick Bottom, a playwright and actor with a struggling theatre troupe.  Nick’s younger brother Nigel, the real poet in the family, is a sensitive soul who admires Shakespeare and tries to emulate him.  The Bottom brothers are at their lowest point—the rent is due, the moneylender needs to be paid, and Nick’s wife Bea wants to get a job to help out (after all, it is the ‘90s.)  In need of a fresh new idea, Nick pays a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus, to look into the future to find him the next big thing in theatre.  What Nostradamus sees is revolutionary: a kind of play where actors sing their lines and dance while doing it—a musical.  When Nick asks Nostradamus to take his look into the future one step further and find out what Shakespeare’s next big play will be, the soothsayer’s visions get a little scattered, resulting in one of the most inventive and funniest Shakespeare parodies ever put on a stage.

SomthingRottenJoshRobSomething Rotten walks a fine line between intellectual and silliness—you can feel the glee creators Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick must have had when conceiving Something Rotten.  It certainly helps if you know a lot about theatre to appreciate all the references, but the book is so well written that even the most basic knowledge of theatre will have you rolling in the aisles.  Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Pippin, The Producers, A Chorus Line, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked—are just a few included, in addition to a comprehensive barrage of Shakespeare’s work.  There is also a thread of the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love running through the show, especially in Nigel’s storyline, as the blocked poet finds his voice and inspiration for his breakthrough work through the forbidden love of a beautiful blonde Portia.

SomethingRottenAutumnJoshThe touring cast appearing at Broward Center is stellar.  Rob McClure is perfection as Nick Bottom, the schlubby underdog with a great voice and endearing quality.  Josh Grisetti is terrific as soulful Nigel, the common-sensical yin to Nick’s manic yang.  He shines in “I Love the Way” his duet with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert) and in a clever scene in which a sonnet takes the place of sex.  Blake Hammond is delightfully madcap and eccentric as Nostradamus—he, McClure and the dazzling ensemble have a real-showstopper in “A Musical” in which the anatomy of musical theatre structure is lovingly deconstructed. Maggie Lakis is memorable as industrious and clever Bea, Nick’s supportive wife.

SomrthingRottenAdam2CropAs Will Shakespeare, Adam Pascal has incredible vocal prowess and charisma to spare—between this character re-imagining and Joseph Fiennes’ portrayal of the Bard of Avon, it’s now hard to picture the playwright as the older, balding man with a goatee.

Something Rotten is the absolute must-see show of the Broadway Across America season is South Florida.  Get thee to Broward Center and prepare to be enthralled.

Something Rotten runs through April 2 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and more information, visit BrowardCenter.org.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel

 

And the Recognition Goes To… Nominations for the 41st Annual Carbonell Awards Announced

By Mary Damiano

The wait is over.

9-me-and-my-girl-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jen-vasbinder

Julie Kleiner and Matt Loehr in My and My Girl

An old-fashioned, splashy musical about a working-class Londoner who discovers he’s nobility and a world premiere play about the consequences of bullying received the most nominations in the musical and play categories for the 41st annual Carbonell Awards, which honors excellence in theater in South Florida.

Me and My Girl, produced by Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, led the musical category with 10 nominations. After, produced by Zoetic Stage in Miami, led the play category with 8 nominations.  Nineteen of South Florida’s theaters earned nominations for a variety of shows produced during 2016.  Maltz Jupiter Theatere in Palm Beach County earned the most nominations of any theater with 18. Zoetic Stage and GableStage, both in Miami-Dade County, earned 13 nominations each.  Slow Burn Theatre Company in Fort Lauderdale earned 12 nominations, the most of any theater in Broward County.  Nominations were spread over 36 shows from theaters stretching from Coral Gables north to Jupiter.

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The cast of After at Zoetic Stage

Palm Beach County theaters and Miami-Dade County theaters tied with a total of 39 nominations for each county, while Broward County theaters earned 22 nominations.

The awards will be handed out at the Carbonell Awards ceremony, which will be held Monday, April 3, 2017 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

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Jeni Hacker and Nicholas Richberg in Passion at Zoetic Stage

Nine performers and designers have double the reason to be happy with the nominations this year.  Jeni Hacker was nominated as Best Actress, Musical for Passion as well as Best Supporting Actress, Play, for After, both at Zoetic Stage.  Laura Hodos is nominated as Best Actress, Musical, for The Will Rogers Follies at Maltz Jupiter Theatre as well as for Best Supporting Actress, Musical, for 1776 at Palm Beach Dramaworks.  Matt Loehr garnered a pair of Best Actor, Musical, nominations for his performances in Me and My Girl and The Will Rogers Follies, both at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.   Michael McKeever received a Best New Work nomination and a Best Supporting Actor, Play, nomination for his world premiere at Zoetic Stage, After.  Stuart Meltzer is nominated for Best Director in both the play and musical categories for Passion and After, both at Zoetic Stage.  Patrick Fitzwater earned a Best Director, Musical, nomination for Spring Awakening and a Best Choreography nomination for Heathers, both at Slow Burn Theatre Company.  Caryl Fantel received two nominations for Best Musical Direction of Slow Burn Theatre Company’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Passion at Zoetic Stage. Gail Baldoni received two nominations for Best Costume Design for Me and My Girl and The Will Rogers Follies, while Marty Mets earned two Best Sound Design nominations for Frost/Nixon and Me and My Girl, all at Maltz Jupiter Theatre.

Gary Cadwallader & Laura Hodos in 1776

Gary Cadwallader and Laura Hodos in 1776 at Palm Beach Dramaworks

This Carbonell year distinguished itself by having more shows recommended by opening weekend panelists than in past years.  Overall, 74 shows were recommended to the judges by opening weekend panelists.  Of those 74 shows, 31 were musicals.  By contrast, for the 2015 Carbonell year, 61 shows received a recommended status and of those, 23 were musicals.

“South Florida boasts a thriving theater scene which continually raises the standard of excellence that the Carbonell Awards seeks to recognize and reward,” said Don Walters, president of the Carbonell Awards Board of Directors.  “Look at the Carbonell nominees for Best Production of a Play—that category alone shows the diversity of theater being produced regularly in South Florida, from classics of American theater to experimental work, as well as a world premiere play.  And there are six nominees in that category, which means our judges simply could not winnow their selections to the standard five and exemplifies the enormous amount of excellent work being produced here in our tri-county area.”

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Ryan George, Gregg Weiner, Angemange Clay and Andre Gainey in The Royale at GableStage

The ceremony will take place Monday, April 3 in the Amaturo Theater, at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets for Nominees and Groups will be available starting January 28 through March 6th.  Visit CarbonellAwards.org and click the TICKETS link for full details. Single tickets priced at $25 plus service fee will go onsale to the public on March 13 and can be purchased at the Broward Center’s Box Office by calling 954-462-0222 or visiting www.browardcenter.org. Day of show tickets will be available for $30 plus service fee.

A complete list of the 2016 nominations and a breakdown of nominations by county, theater and production follows.

Carbonell Award Nominations, 2016

Best New Work (play or musical)

After, Michael McKeever, Zoetic Stage

Middletown, Dan Clancy, West Boca Theatre Company

Three Sisters of Weehawken,  Deborah Zoe Laufer, Theatre Lab

Unlikely Heroes, Charles Gluck, Family Pool Productions

 

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The cast of Hand to God at GableStage

Best Production of a Play 

After, Zoetic Stage

Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Hand to God, GableStage

Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

The Royale, GableStage

 

Best Director/Play 

Joseph Adler, The Royale, GableStag

Barry Lewis, Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Stuart Meltzer, After, Zoetic Stage

Nicole Stodard, Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

Paul Tei, The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre

 

Best Actor/Play (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Aygemang Clay, The Royale, GableStage

Chris Crawford, Buyer and Cellar, Actors’ Playhouse

Peter Galman, A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, Thinking Cap Theatre

John Jellison, Frost/ Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Wesley Slade, Hand to God, GableStage


Best Actress/Play (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Rita Joe, The Submission, Island City Stage

Margery Lowe, Hand to God, GableStage

Mia Matthews, After, Zoetic Stage

Elizabeth Price, Reborning, The Theatre at Arts Garage

Avery Sommers, The Devil’s Music, The Theatre at Arts Garage

 

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Conor Walton and Seth Trucks in The Normal Heart at Outre Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor/Play 

Alex Alvarez, Stalking the Bogeyman, GableStage

Kristian Bikic, Hand to God, GableStage

Michael McKeever, After, Zoetic Stage

Tom Wahl, After, Zoetic Stage

Conor Walton, The Normal Heart, Outré Theatre Company

 

Best Supporting Actress/Play 

Elizabeth Dimon, Three Sisters of Weehawken, Theatre Lab

Christina Groom, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Jeni Hacker, After, Zoetic Stage

Shein Mompremier, The Royale, GableStage

Lourelene Snedeker, It’s Only a Play, GableStage

 

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Bobby Cassell and Matthew Korinko in The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Production of a Musical

1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Passion, Zoetic Stage

Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Director/Musical 

Clive Cholerton, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

James Brennan, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Michel Hausman, The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

Patrick Fitzwater, Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Stuart Meltzer, Passion, Zoetic Stage

 

Best Actor/Musical (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Gary Cadwallader, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Bobby Cassell, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Matt Loehr, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Matt Loehr, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Nicholas Richberg, Passion, Zoetic Stage

 

Best Actress/Musical (cannot be for a role in a cast nominated for Best Ensemble) 

Jeni Hacker, Passion, Zoetic Stage

Laura Hodos, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Julie Kleiner, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Stephanny Noria, Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Jenna Pastuszek, Evita, Broward Stage Door Theatre

 

Best Supporting Actor/Musical 

Matthew Korinko, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Chaz Mena, The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

Dominique Scott, Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

Dominic Servidio, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Christian Vandepas, A Minister’s Wife, GableStage

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Leah Sessa, center, in Heathers at Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actress/Musical 

Laura Hodos, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Isabelle McCalla, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Jessica Brooke Sanford, Sister Act, The Wick Theatre

Leah Sessa, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Mary Stout, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

 

Best Musical Direction/Musical

Eric Alsford, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Craig D. Ames, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Caryl Fantel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Caryl Fantel, Passion, Zoetic Stage

Helen Gregory, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Choreography/Musical 

Patrick Fitzwater, Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Ron Hutchins, West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

Dan Knechtges, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Kelly Shook, I Love a Piano, The Wick Theatre

Shea Sullivan, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Best Scenic Design/play or musical 

Michael Amico, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Jodi Dellaventura, The Nether, Area Stage

Paul Tate De Poo III, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Michael McClain, After, Zoetic Stage

Sean McClelland, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

Best Lighting Design/play or musical 

Paul Black, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Jeff Quinn, The Royale, GableStage

Eric Nelson, Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

Giancarlo Rodaz, The Nether, Area Stage

Donald Edmund Thomas, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

 

perfect-arrangement

Kim Ostrenko, Christina Groom and Arlette Del Toro in Oerfect Arrangement at Island City Stage

Best Costume Design/play or musical 

Gail Baldoni, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Gail Baldoni, The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Peter A. Lovello, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Brian O’Keefe, 1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

Rick Peña, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre Company

 

Best Sound Design/play or musical 

Matt Corey, The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

David Hart, Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

Marty Mets, Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Marty Mets, Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

Shaun Mitchell, Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

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Gretchen Porros and Christian Vandepas in Mud at Thinking Cap Theatre

Best Ensemble Production (play or musical) 

The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre Company

It’s Only a Play, GableStage

Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

The World Goes ‘Round, MNM Productions

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By County

Miami-Dade    39 nominations

Broward          22 nominations

Palm Beach     39 nominations

 

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By Theater

Miami-Dade County

13  GableStage

13  Zoetic Stage

7  Actors’ Playhouse

2  Area Stage

2  Mad Cat Theatre

2  Miami New Drama

Broward County

12 Slow Burn Theatre Company

5  Thinking Cap Theatre

4  Island City Stage

1  Broward Stage Door

Palm Beach County

18  Maltz Jupiter Theatre

11  Palm Beach Dramaworks

2  Theatre at Arts Garage Arts Garage

2  Theatre Lab

2  The Wick Theatre

1  Family Pool Productions

1  MNM Productions

1  Outré Theatre Company

1  West Boca Theatre

2016 Carbonell Award Nominations, By Production

10  Me and My Girl, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

8   After, Zoetic Stage

6   The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Slow Burn Theatre

6   1776, Palm Beach Dramaworks

5   Passion, Zoetic Stage

5   The Royale, GableStage

4   Frost/Nixon, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

4   Hand to God, GableStage

4   Mud, Thinking Cap Theatre

4   The Will Rogers Follies, Maltz Jupiter Theatre

3   Heathers, Slow Burn Theatre

3   Million Dollar Quartet, Actors’ Playhouse

3   The Night of the Iguana, Palm Beach Dramaworks

3   Perfect Arrangement, Island City Stage

3   Spring Awakening, Slow Burn Theatre Company

3   West Side Story, Actors’ Playhouse

2   The Flick, Mad Cat Theatre

2   The Golem of Havana, Miami New Drama

2   It’s Only a Play, GableStage

2   Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Palm Beach Dramaworks

2   The Nether, Area Stage

2   Three Sisters of Weehawken, Theatre Lab

1   A Minister’s Wife, GableStage

1   Buyer & Cellar, Actors’ Playhouse

1   Evita, Broward Stage Door Theatre

1   The Devil’s Music, The Theatre at Arts Garage

1   A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,

Thinking Cap Theatre

1   I Love a Piano, The Wick Theatre

1   Middletown, West Boca Theatre Company

1   The Normal Heart, Outré Theatre Company

1   Reborning, The Theatre at Arts Garage

1   Sister Act, The Wick Theatre

1   Stalking the Boogeyman, GableStage

1   The Submission, Island City Stage

1   Unlikely Heroes, Family Pool Productions

1   The World Goes ‘Round, MNM Productions

“The Producers”: Lackluster Leads Mar Maltz Production

By Mary Damiano

1-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-alicia-donelanMaltz Jupiter Theatre’s new production of The Producers is a head-scratcher.  How did this theatre that does things so right end up doing so much wrong with this show?

The Producers is Mel Brooks’ hilarious, splashy musical about theatrical producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom, who scheme to put on the worst musical ever, because, with some creative accounting, there’s more money to be made on a flop than a hit.  Bialystock and Bloom find a script, “Springtime for Hitler” written by furhur-loving Nazi  Franz Liebkind, hire flamboyant director Roger Debris.To gay it up, and then hire the worst actors available.  They figure with that with so much bad, they’ll close the show on opening night and run off to Rio with $2 million.  What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot, in this musical within a musical.

6-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jeffery-barryFirst, let’s start with what goes right in the Maltz production.  The ensemble is terrific, singing and tapping and dancing their way through big production numbers and oodles of costumes changes.  The costumes by Gail Baldoni are over-the-top and fabulous.  The scenic design, by Paul Tate DePoo III, with its odd angles and forced perspective, gives the show a quirky, whimsical quality.  Shea Sullivan’s choreography is energetic and fun, and for the ensemble, often dazzling.

Roland Rusinek is the cast standout as Franz Liebkind.  He milks every bit of humor out of his Franz, and seems to be the only one with an understanding of the tone The Producers needs to make it work.

3-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-alicia-donelanSo what goes wrong in the Maltz production?  First there’s the scale.  The Producers is a big musical, and this regional, scaled-back production doesn’t achieve the spectacle it should. One of the most famous numbers, “Along Came Bialy” which features a big dance number of little old ladies with walkers, feels small.  And that’s the feeling of several of the big numbers—they simply lack the volume needed to pull them off successfully.

But the biggest problem with The Producers lies with its leads.  Lenny Wolpe possesses none of the mania needed to make Max Bialystock work.  Sure, he’s got a good voice, but his lack of energy brings the show way down.  His big number, “Betrayed,” should be a tour-de-force solo that builds to a climactic finish, but Wolpe invests so little into the song that those few minutes are easily spent admiring Paul Black’s jail cell lighting design than being enthralled by Wolpe’s performance.

7-the-producers-at-the-maltz-jupiter-theatre-photo-by-jeffery-barryMark Price fares a little better as Leo Bloom.  Price comes off as a schlubby Tony Randall in posture and voice.  He exhibits more energy, but his delivery is too slow and quiet, even toward the end when Leo should have grown a backbone.   His best number is shared with his love interest, Swedish bombshell Ula (Elyse Collier) in the lovely duet “That Face”.

Maybe this production of The Producers will improve over the course of the run. Maybe Wolpe and Price will find their footing and let loose so their performances match the tone of the show.  Maybe they can nail the leading man luster that this production lacks.  But since none of that was evident on opening night, that’s a big maybe.

The Producers runs through January 29 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.  JupiterTheatre.org