Howling at Sherlock’s Hilarious ‘Hound’

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Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog Beyond Broadway  

BY BRUCE APAR

When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel
By Steven Canny and John Nicholson

Directed by Mark Shanahan

Through May 13, 2017 (weekends)

Whippoorwill Hall Theatre at North Castle Library
Kent Place, Armonk, New York 10504
(914) 271-28811

Order Tickets on Website
or
Call 1-800-838-3006


In the gut-busting production of The Hound of the Baskervilles now doubling over audiences at Hudson Stage in Armonk, there are some 20 characters on stage–but only three actors.

How does that work? Like clockwork! More precisely, like a crazy, cuckoo clock with sleight of hands that move at lightning speed–forward, backward and wayward. 

Review continues below photo…

 

 

Baskervilles trio

FUNNY GUYS (From left) Denis Lambert as Sherlock Holmes, Joe Delafield at Sir Charles Baskerville, Matt Ban as Dr. Watson. The trio of actors play some 20 characters in all.                               All photos by Rana Faure

This raucous confection not only makes bloody good fun of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth and his sidekick Dr. Watson. The farcical play makes fun of its own clever contrivances. It even mocks its actors, who occasionally step out of character as themselves. Oh, don’t feel sorry for them. Not for one minute. In fact, it’s difficult at times to discern who is having more fun: The people on stage or the people in the audience. No matter. Fun it is, from beginning to end, and back again.

HEY, LET’S RE-RUN ACT I… IN HIGH SPEED

As Act II begins, the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes and a host of other characters (quick-change whirling dervish Denis Lambert) insists to his incredulous castmates that they re-run the first Act… in high-speed. Why? Because, complains the indignant Lambert, a supposed member of the audience during intermission tweeted that the actor slowed down the hijinks with his sluggish performance. To redeem himself, Lambert exhorts his sidekicks to race headlong through the highlights of Act I. And they oblige him. (It reminded me of the show-stopping musical number in Broadway hit “The Producers” that recaps the entire plot to that point. The music here is the melodic notes of laughter.)

Denis Lambert’s partners in crime-solving are Joe Delafield (Sir Charles Baskerville and others) and Matt Ban (Dr. Watson and others). They form a tight, nimble comedy troupe that performs with vaudevillian brio, donning and doffing headwear and outerwear, plus smoothly transporting props on and off stage to create the illusion of a much fuller cast of characters and settings. The fancy feet work they do is no easy feat, , and their collective efforts are to be vigorously applauded and admired, especially by other actors who amply can appreciate the challenging tasks at hand. The transformative costumes that constantly morph are a real stitch, the seamless handiwork of Jeni Schaefer and Charlotte Palmer-Lane.

Baskervilles 2

                                        SHERLOCK, YOU JEST! These guys get around, don’t they?                                             All photos by Rana Faure

KNOCK, KNOCK! WHO’S THERE?

“What can you deduce about that knocking?” asks Holmes of Watson, who replies, with unerring instinct, “It’s coming from the door.” That’s just a very light taste of the silly yet puckishly authentic repartee and gags that trigger guffaws aplenty.

If all this sounds veddy Monty Pythonesque, there’s good reason. The co-writers of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” – Steven Canny and John Nicholson, billed as “adaptors” to pay due homage to their muse, Sir Arthur – have extensive credentials as comedy writers for England’s BBC TV network. Whether it’s Monty Python or Benny Hill, the Brits love their comedy dry, punny and slapsticky, and they love their literature immortal, from Shakespeare to Sherlock to, well, Harry (Potter, not Prince).

Throughout the fast-paced romp of the Baskervilles, the suspenseful storyline somehow stays intact, providing a sturdy, timeless framework for tongue-in-cheeky wordplay, non-stop physical comedy, and whimsical winks at the audience, which winks back by gleefully going along for the joy ride.

The case they must crack is simply stated: Members of the wealthy Baskerville clan are being hounded to death by a rabid Rover. Holmes and Watson wend their way through the moors and the mire and some slippery sorts to solve the mystery. And the game’s afoot.

WHAT A HANSOM CAB THAT IS!

Kudos to director Mark Shanahan and choreographer Stephanie Card, who do a masterly job of keeping the action throttling forward at breakneck speed. That includes putting the actors through some bouncy paces as they ride in a horse-drawn, hansom cab and on a train. 

As is standard operating procedure for Hudson Stage and its producing team of Denise Bessette, Olivia Sklar and Dan Foster, the production is expertly staged, with tender loving care assigned to every aspect of stagecraft.

The sensual sound design, by Sean Hagerty, credibly creates a sense of place, whether it’s a howling hound or an ominous wind or a creaking door or mooing cows. The visual effects are fun to take in as well. For example, with the right balance of imagination and artistry, a household object placed on stage by the actor – such as a pail billowing steam — can adequately signify a sauna.

 

Baskervilles-11

WHO’S FRAMING WHOM? (From left) Matt Ban, Denis Lambert, Joe Delafield as… oh, who can keep track of them all. All photos by Rana Faure

THROWBACK THEATER

Before the play began, a smile came over my face at the sight of the elaborate set, another hallmark of Hudson Stage’s consistently tony style of theater. This time it is a gorgeously rendered recreation of an early 20th Century proscenium arch theater with carved wood columns and burgundy red curtains flanking the stage (scenery by David Arsenault.)

To someone who’s never been inside North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Theatre – an eminently audience-friendly and actor-friendly performing space — odds are they’d be none the wiser thinking the current décor is the permanent stage. It’s that convincing. I thought to myself, “This is throwback theater!” Go to the Whippoorwill in Armonk, throw yourself back in the comfy seats, prepare to act like a hound, and howl.


Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. Its Adventix division helps performing arts venues, including The Schoolhouse Theater, increase ticket sales. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals, including Westchester Magazine. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


A Lot to Like in ‘Lot’s Wife’

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Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog Beyond Broadway  
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

Lot’s Wife (American Premiere)
by Albi Gorn
Directed by Karina Ramsey
Through March 25, 2017 (weekends)
Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT)
23 Water Street, Ossining, N.Y. 10562
Order Tickets on Website
(914) 271-2811


Albi Gorn started writing Lot’s Wife more than 20 years ago, then recently reworked it in theater workshops . Considering how this pithy parable about survival, faith, assimilation and intolerance resonates today, the prolific and talented playwright either is visionary or an astute student of historical cycles. Let’s call it both.

His work – now on stage through March 25 at the new home of Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT) in Ossining – is not only close to the bone in how it mirrors the prevailing, authoritarian political climate, but also sticks to the bone well after you’ve exited the performance space. (Review continues below photo…)


WHY? Julie Griffin (top) is in the title role in Albi Gorn’s “Lot’s Wife,” with Justina Dieck (c) as Shira and Jessica Hickey as Geula. Photo courtesy Westchester Collaborative Theater

Mr. Gorn has taken the biblical tale of the wayward denizens of Sodom – and their wholesale punishment at the hands of a vengeful God – and has modernized it with his usual deft hand and highly literate sensibility. As in all of his diverse body of work, the award-winning dramatist likes to challenge glib assumptions and look at life a bit askance, with humor lightly salted throughout. (In this version, however, we do not witness Lot’s wife’s lot in life, which is to be a-salted for turning her back on God.)

In the Gornification of the story of Lot, we are treated – and a treat it is – to a female-voiced God, a choice that is refreshing and no less plausible than the age-old conceit that an omniscient spirit is identifiable by any gender at all.

THE MAGNIFICENT 10
The author leaves the Genesis storyline intact: Abraham (Kurt Lauer) is God’s earthly emissary who informs Lot (Ron Schnittker) — along with Lot’s wife (Julie Griffin), and their daughters, Geula (Jessica Hickey) and Shira (Justina Dieck) — that they must find 10 innocents among the unholy populace to spare the entire town a fiery death for forsaking God (the voice of Ms. Griffin).

The Lots themselves have lots to be thankful for, because they are protected by a pair of angelic messengers mercifully dispatched by God, Yael (Michelle Daneshvar) and Ashonael (Jason Fineberg).

The setting of Lot’s Wife still is antiquity, but some of the vernacular invokes today’s idioms, as when 13-year-old Shira giddily tells the angel Ashonael he’s “hot.” Or when the symbolic villain of the piece, 18-year-old Sodomite Horab (Ralph Vandamme) — an appropriately intimidating presence who is dutifully vigilant about rooting out undesirable Hebrews — menacingly avers, “There are some people here who should have their butts kicked.” The strapping young actor is all too convincing that he could do it, too.

DEALMAKER, DEALMAKER, MAKE ME A DEALHe also knows how to balance playful with tasteful. When Abraham pleads with God to reduce to 10 from 50 the number of worthy Sodomites who must be found to save the town, the playwright manages to turn the exchange into a charming, laugh-inducing negotiation, as if the father of the Hebrews had just read “The Art of the Deal.” Not. One of the signal accomplishments of Lot’s Wife is how its author packs a lot of timeless themes rather neatly into a tight, well-paced package:

In 16-year-old Geula (Jessica Hickey), daughter of the Lots, we are reminded how the next generation is given to its own agenda at times, as well as its doubts that can disconnect it from the experience and teachings of their parents.

In Lot, a wealthy man whose “go-along-to-get-along” submissiveness to the Sodomites is in sharp contrast to his wife’s proud and disciplined defiance of their oppressiveness, we are reminded of the wages of sin when more faith is placed in the almighty buck than in the almighty. Sound familiar?

DRAMATIZING, NOT MORALIZING

That kind of gentle nod to current culture places the teachable moments of the story in both a more relevant and a more diverting context. The symbolism in Lot’s Wife – with its pitch-dark overtones of holocaustic witch-hunting and genocide – is readily available to the audience, but in artful brush strokes. We thankfully are not bludgeoned by it, as can occur in theater pieces that veer off into moralizing at the expense of dramatizing. Mr. Gorn proves masterly in the elusive writer’s credo of “show, don’t tell.”

In Lot’s Wife, we empathize with the guilt of survivors — whether it’s a natural disaster, the sudden loss of a loved one, or genocide — and with the unanswerable question they are plagued by the rest of their days: Why?

There are several revelations of this production that are worth savoring for any local theater-goer.

GENERATIONS OF TALENT ONSTAGE

One is the energy and the talent of the four young actors on stage, three of whom are in the drama program at Ossining High, with one a student at John Jay Middle School. Placed alongside accomplished adult actors – all of whom prove their mettle with fine performances – the younger actors hold their own and mesh beautifully with their elders.

In the principal roles, Julie Griffin, Kurt Lauer and Ron Schnittker make a strong trio of veterans who propel the story with conviction and dramatic weight.

Also worth noting in smaller roles are impressive thespian Donna James as Abraham’s wife Sarah and Pat O’Neill as an Innkeeper in a flashback scene.

Another revelation is the resourceful use of Westchester Collaborative Theater’s newly-occupied space in a former furniture cabinet factory on Water Street, next to the Metro North station. Considerable kudos are due WCT executive director Alan Lutwin and executive producer and director Karina Ramsey, as well as set designer Jonathan Curns and the rest of the production staff – including costume designer Libby Brennesholtz – for making the most effective and practical use of a compact space. Their efforts evidence a lot of industry and ingenuity that are the saving grace of many a local theater company.


TAKE A BOW! The cast of “Lot’s Wife” takes a bow at Westchester Collaborative Theater’s new theater on Water Street in Ossininig: (from left) Ralph Vandamme, Donna James, Kurt Lauer, Jessica Hickey, Justina Dieck, Julie Griffin, Ron Schnittker, Jason Fineberg. (Not pictured on right) Michelle Daneshvar. Photo courtesy Westchester Collaborative Theater


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency and Certified Google AdWords Professionals. As “Bruce The Blog,” Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers. He also is a contributing writer for Westchester Magazine and an actor. Follow Pinpoint Marketing & Design on Facebook and LinkedIn, and as @Pinpointments on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


A Memorable Play on Memory

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act

 

You Will Remember Me (American Premiere)
by Francois Archambault
Directed by Dan Foster
Executive Produced by Denise Bessette & Olivia Sklar
Through Oct. 29
Whippoorwill Hall (at North Castle Library)
19 Whippoorwill East, Armonk, N.Y. 10504
Hudson Stage Company
HudsonStage.com
(914) 271-2811

As I sat watching “You Will Remember Me,” I found myself nodding. Not nodding off as in falling asleep. Not even close. I was nodding in recognition and agreement with many of the viewpoints being channeled through the characters on stage.

Montreal playwright Francois Archambault has a lot on his mind. He’s interested in ideas. Alas, “people aren’t interested in ideas, they only want to feel,” bemoans his lead character Edouard Beauchamin. The retired professor of history is short on memory but not on grievances about the declining state of culture.  

Cast-You Will Remember Me

Cast and creative team of You Will Remember Me: (from left) Susannah Schulman Rogers (Isabelle), playwright Francois Archambault, John Hutton (Edouard), director Dan Foster, Ella Dershowitz (Berenice), Susan Pellegrino (Madeleine), producer Denise Bessette, Chris Kipniak (Patrick), choreographer Tony Yazbeck, producer Olivia Sklar, script translator Bobby Theodore. Photo by Bruce Apar

 

The author calls ours “an era of extreme intellectual mediocrity,” in part because “being angry and name-calling isn’t thinking — it isn’t even particularly serious behavior.” As we’re all too familiar from fact-free, emotionally-charged social media posts — especially about politics — “you don’t even have to know what you’re talking about.”

He coins a lot of choice lines along those lines. I could fill almost this entire space with the slings and arrows he aims — with unerring accuracy — at our collective foibles.

EDOUARD IS BOUNCED AROUND LIKE A RUGBY BALL IN A SCRUM

All those sentiments are expressed by Edouard, whose frustrating struggles with progressive memory loss, while still in his sixties, are ironic and made more tragic because he is such a conscientious thinker.  He could pinpoint a litany of historical dates and events but, as the cliche goes, don’t ask him what he ate for breakfast.

He also keeps forgetting the identity of the young lady (Ella Dershowitz) in her 20s watching over him, even though her dad Patrick (Chris Kipniak) is dating Edouard’s daughter Isabelle (Susannah Schulman Rogers). Save for Ms. Dershowitz, all the actors are members of Actors Equity.

The twentysomething’s name is Berenice, which connects her in Edouard’s addled mind to a long lost family member whose middle name is the same. As Edouard’s condition worsens, and becomes unbearable for his wife and daughter to handle, he is bounced around repeatedly, and not very gently, much like a rugby ball in a scrum.

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Edouard (John Hutton) isn’t certain about who Berenice (Ella Dershowitz) is, but he is certain about who he wants her to be. Photo by Rana Faure

REMARKABLY CONVINCING AND TOUCHING PORTRAIT OF DEMENTIA 

Patrick’s distracted daughter warms to the task of an attentive nursemaid, accepting the guise he assigns to her of his absent loved one.

Francois Archambault told me at the play’s opening night that he was inspired to write about the subject of dementia by someone close to him who has Alzheimer’s. The person would ask Mr. Archambault what he was working on, and “five minutes later, he would start talking about the same thing. I started making up the answer.” That scenario is mirrored in the play.  

However, other than what the he observed about this person’s behavior, he relied on his own writer’s instincts to conjure the story and its dialogue. “I tried to imagine how it is to struggle with that,” he said. 

Based on what we witness on stage, he did a praiseworthy job of it.

Mr. Hutton is remarkably convincing and touching in the challenging role of a proud intellectual whose joy for life and for big ideas is not about to be dimmed by the ravages of a devastating disease. The cast members who orbit around his star turn form a solid ensemble of alternating emotional connection and mistrust.

A bonus of sorts is an unexpected brief but delightful dance interlude that is used to lyrically illuminate the various relationships. It is choreographed by Broadway’s multi-talented Tony Yazbeck, who was a Tony Award nominee for “On the Town” and was in “Finding Neverland.” There is judicious use in other scenes as well of arresting sound (William Neal) and visual imagery.

Andrew Gmoser’s masterly lighting schemes always deserve mention. Guided by cerebral director and stage magician Dan Foster — who is co-producer of Hudson Stage with Denise Bessette and Olivia Sklar — it all adds up to an engaging, compelling theater experience.

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Edouard’s wife Madeleine (Susan Pellegrino, left) informs daughter Isabelle (Susannah Schulman Rogers) of her plans. Photo by Rana Faure

HUMANS ARE LIKE PLANT SPECIES THAT INVADE ALIEN TERRITORIES

I found Edouard an inspiring character from whom I could learn new things. He likens humans to plant species in how both exhibit a natural inclination toward expanding their territories.

His curiosity about ecology lends itself to the elegant stage design, which is a proud signature of every production at Hudson Stage. Here, Steven Kemp earns applause for his striking ingenuity. The monochromatic motif fills the proscenium space with white cylindrical shapes that emulate stalagmites and stalactites, to connote trees in a forest. There also are outbursts of silver flora to represent common phragmites. Even if you’re unsure how to pronounce it (frag-mighties), you’ve surely seen it around northern Westchester. 

Phragmites are tall and slender amber reeds that populate fields or roadsides and sway lazily in the gentlest breeze. Their notoriety for crowding out other plant life reminds Edouard of mass culture killing off high-minded culture, or of superpowers like the U.S. and China bulldozing whatever obstructs their path to world domination.

For me, the strands of the phragmites stood as apt analogs for the frayed synapses tormenting both Edouard and those in his thrall.

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John Hutton as Edouard (l) repeatedly asks Patrick (Chris Kipniak) what he does for a living.                   Photo by Rana Faure

 WE LET NOISE DROWN NUANCE

Edouard’s onsetting dementia, in my mind anyhow, is a metaphor for a self-induced dementia in society at large, as we give ourselves over to simulated reality and ersatz emotions rooted not in passion but in pretense. We bicker over weighty matters we don’t even take the time or energy to fully understand. We talk before we think. We let noise drown nuance. We let superficial party labels dictate who we are and what we think. We don’t work hard enough to distinguish ourselves through rigorous introspection and the humility of self-doubt. We let ourselves down through sheer laziness.

There’s an existential overlay to the goings-on in “You Will Remember Me,” articulated in Edouard’s dismissive declaration that “You are all prisoners of an endless present moment.” On its face, that observation is an indictment of how we mock the substance of ourselves through social media, which glibly devolves character into caricature and ideas into idiocies. What Edouard says doubles as a depressing description of Alzheimer’s patients, who steadily lose their grasp on the continuum of personal content and context.

As we watched the play, my wife Elyse and I happened to be sitting next to a woman from the Hudson Valley Alzheimer’s Association, Jonelle Ward, director of outreach. Afterwards, she explained to us the distinction between the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s. The former is a general term that encompasses many different conditions, of which Alzheimer’s is the most notorious and prevalent. In some cases, said Ms. Ward, other forms of dementia are reversible.

ADVANCED CARE PLANNING

The Alzheimer’s Association hosts free informational sessions in cooperation with Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS). The next is Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 7:30-9 p.m. at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners. It will offer “advice on how to handle tough topics when a loved one has dementia.” For more information, visit Alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

Another free opportunity is offered on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the offices of elder law attorney Salvatore A. Di Costanzo in Yorktown Heights. He is hosting an informal “Fireside Chat” for adult children who want to learn more about such topics as estate planning. Additional free Fireside Chats are scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 29. For more information, contact Melanie Harrison at mharrison@mfd-law.com or (914) 245-2440.                      

ADDITIONAL PRODUCTION CREDITS

Translated by Bobby Theodore
Costumes by Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Stage Managed by Katie Kavett (Actors Equity)
Casting by McCorkle Casting Ltd.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency and Certified Google AdWords Professionals. As “Bruce The Blog,” Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers and PennySaver, and a contributing writer for Westchester Magazine. Follow Pinpoint Marketing & Design on Facebook and LinkedIn, and as @Pinpointments on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Lives as Fragile as Origami

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act

 

Animals Out of Paper
by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Stephen Nachamie
Through May 14
Whippoorwill Hall
19 Whippoorwill East, Armonk, N.Y. 10504
Hudson Stage Company
HudsonStage.com

Who would dare to hinge a stage drama on the exotica of origami? (which the dictionary describes as “the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures.”) Only a writer with the confidence, skill and rigor to employ it as a metaphor for the fragility and myriad twists and turns that define every life.

Meet playwright Rajiv Joseph, whose “Animals Out of Paper” holds us in thrall as it unfolds to reveal the inner workings of its three strongly delineated characters. Thanks to first-rate acting and direction, Mr. Joseph’s clever and insightful play is well worth seeing in a splendid production by Hudson Stage Company at North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Theater in Armonk (HudsonStage.com). It runs through May 14.

As the play begins, we are inside the apartment of origami guru Ilana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens, Actors’ Equity). Brought to life by Broadway-quality set design, it’s a living space that is as much of a mess as the life of its occupant. Ilana’s in divorce mode and her toothless, earless, 12-year-old three-legged dog has run away. Ilana, by her own admission, is not a people person.

Eccentrically engaging Andy (MIchael Guagno) finds that out quickly enough when he comes knocking and Ilana doesn’t bother to disguise her discomfort when this garrulous stranger lumbers clumsily into her reclusive world.

Ilana may be an indifferent host but she’s enough of a renowned origamist that high school calculus teacher Andy beseeches her to tutor one of his students, whose brilliance is blinding.

Michael Guagno-Jenny Stevens-Animals out of Paper

Andy (Michael Guagno) sheds his anxiety to show his feelings for Ilana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens).

THE ‘JIMI HENDRIX OF ORIGAMI’

Like Andy before him, student Suresh (Adit Dileep, Actors’ Equity) barrels his way into Ilana’s apartment, posing with hip-hop swagger, grooving to the music plugged into his ears. He’s a whiz not only at calculus, but, to hear Andy tell it, is also “the Jimi Hendrix of origami.” Flaunting his many-splendored gifts, Suresh milks an opportunity to impress Ilana further by creating freestyle rap lyrics without blinking.

Analogous to Ilana’s escaped canine, this trio resembles a lost, three-legged creature that teeters its way through a progression of naked truths and raw emotions that reveal the vulnerability, confusion and potential for salvation in all of us.

If that sounds oh-so-heavy, leave it to a crafty, cerebral dramatist like Rajiv Joseph to pull it off with the elegance and lightness epitomized by Ilana’s origami, whether it’s an oversize pterodactyl mobile or a heart-shaped mesh that could revolutionize non-invasive cardiac surgery.

Along the way, we witness a clash of attitudes and even cultures (when Ilana comments on how Suresh speaks, he replies, “You think I should sound Indian?”). Each character lives fully within his or her own world, and needs to let others in, but struggles to figure out how.

We also peer in on the various sides of each character, mirroring origami as a geometry of surfaces connected by creases.

Suresh’s outward brio masks his emotional needs and the profound pain he lives with after losing his mother in a fatal hit-and-run accident.

COUNTS HIS BLESSINGS… ALL 8,000 OF THEM

Andy lives in a bubble of blessings, which he literally counts by writing them down in his not-so-secret diary that Ilana ends up reading one night. “When I was 12,” he tells her, “a fortune cookie said ‘Count your blessings,’” and so he does, every day. His obsessive-compulsive tendencies have resulted in almost 8,000 “blessings.”

When Ilana questions how “pain” qualifies as a blessing, as Andy has entered in the diary, he observes, “it’s not pleasant, but it’s real.” That is how Andy, who says he’s never been truly hurt, conditions himself to both feel and to see the bright side of life, even when it’s melancholy. After all, how would we know mirth without knowing melancholy?

Ilana, who hasn’t “folded” since her dog Demba flew the coop, as if in mourning, warms to Andy and to Suresh, almost to her surprise. Sparks start to fly in separate semi-trysts she has with each of the two men, both signs that Ilana finally is returning to the fold. 

Jenny Stevens-Michael Guagno-dinner-Animals out of Paper

Literal-minded Andy (Michael Guagno) gets down on his knee to suddenly propose to Iliana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens) on — what else — Valentine’s Day.

Early on in the proceedings, Andy philosophizes, “Life is short, opportunities are scarce, love is rare.” Suresh tells her, “Meeting you is a blessing.” By the final curtain, all have grown aware of their respective blessings and ready to move on.

“Listen to your heart,” advises Andy. “It’s a reliable narrative.” I felt the same about the enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable “Animals Out of Paper.”

The three actors create palpable stage chemistry throughout, and are well served by the sure-handed direction of Stephen Nachamie. The pacing is as crisp and wise as the dialogue.

As always with Hudson Stage productions, the technical proficiency is first class. Sound design (William Neal) plays a prominent role in this show and it is coolly dynamic, whether hip-hop or Sinatra on the speakers.  Andrew Gmoser’s lighting is as illuminating as ever, maintaining his status as the gold standard.

Special mention also is due the authentically detailed and impactful set designs by Shoko Kambara, and the smooth, efficient set changes governed by stage manager Genevieve Kersh.

Costumes are by Charlotte Palmer-Lane. Executive producers are Denise Bessette, Dan Foster and Olivia Sklar.

Adit Dileep-Jenny Sevens-Animals out of Paper

Adit Dileep (l) as Suresh shows his talent for origami to Jenny Sheffer Stevens as Ilana. All photos by RANA FAURE


 

Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. He writes a weekly column for several periodicals and hosts public access TV series Hudson Valley WXYZ with Bruce The Blog. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Patsy Cline & #1 Fan, Together Again

Cline, Seger
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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


Westchester Broadway Theatre
Presents
ALWAYS… PATSY CLINE
Created and Originally Directed by Ted Swindley (
based on a true story)
Directed by Amiee Turner
Musical Direction by Ken Lundie
Through February 28, 2016
Tickets > www.BroadwayTheatre.com


WBT Patsy Cline program

Cover of the program given to each patron at Westchester Broadway Theatre

One of my wife Elyse’s favorite pieces of music is “Crazy” (maybe because in part it reminds her of me). That beautiful song also serves as a timeless reminder of an extraordinary voice that was stilled at the tragically tender age of 30.

Written by country music maker Willie Nelson, “Crazy” is the signature recording of Miss Patsy Cline, owner of a quintessentially clarion country sound that crossed over to the pop charts in the 1960s, and continues to thrill listeners with its heavenly tonality.

patsy band (2080x1664)

The Bodacious Bobcat Band is part of the cast on stage for the duration of the show as it backs up Erin McCracken as Patsy Cline. Photo by John Vecchiolla

The ardor and admiration that defines Patsy Cline’s legion of fans was on full display at the opening of Westchester Broadway Theater’s current dinner-theater production, “Always… Patsy Cline.” You can see it through Feb. 28 (ticket info: (914)-592-2222; BroadwayTheatre.com).

IMPROBABLE FRIENDSHIP

The jukebox musical is built around more than 25 of her trademark tunes, including “Walkin’ after Midnight,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Helping to propel the hit parade — which also includes standards like “Stupid Cupid,” “You Belong to Me,” “True Love,” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” — is a lightly-played storyline about the singer’s improbable friendship with a Houston fan, Louise Seger.

The two crossed paths in a honky-tonk one night when Ms. Seger came to see her idol perform. Their warm friendship extended to chatting over coffee in the fan’s home. They remained avid pen pals from 1961 until Patsy perished in an airplane accident in March 1963.

Patsy Opry

When Louise Seger first heard Patsy Cline on the radio, she was star-struck by the singer’s incomparable voice. Photo by John Vecchiolla

As familiar as the Cline catalog is to her erstwhile admirers, it’s a revelation to hear it recreated by the larger-than-life talent of Erin McCracken, who comes crazy close to sounding like the one-and-only original. 

CLASSIC TROUPERS

Close by her side throughout is the thoroughly engaging comic relief and storytelling antics of Susann Fletcher as Louise Seger. These ladies are classic show biz troupers, backed on stage by the high-energy Bodacious Bobcat Band, comprised of piano (Ken Lundie), steel guitar and fiddle (Guy Fischetti), bass (Geoff Marrow), and drums (Ken Ross).

The three-sided dinner-theater stage nicely conveys the down-home ambience and period feel of a Texas bar, with a jukebox and the band upstage, while downstage is a dinette set for the homey kaffee klatsches between the women. One of my favorite set design choices is a sign that reads “Houston Colt .45s,” the city’s national league baseball club that started in 1962, which three years later was renamed Houston Astros. 

This joyful and touching show starts, Grand Ole Opry-style, with a rollicking rockabilly number, “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round,” and rises to a rousing finish with the traditional barn-burner, “Bill Bailey.” Along the way, along with the tasty meals served at WBT, we’re treated to a feast of song and patter that’s free-wheeling and fast-moving.

POST SCRIPT

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Singing star Patsy Cline and Number 1 fan Louise Seger maintained an avid pen pal relationship until Miss Cline’s tragic death in an airplane crash in 1963. Photo by John Vecchiolla

Louise Seger and yours truly are kinda kindred spirits, if several times removed.

More than 35 years ago, rock star Peter Gabriel — he of British group Genesis before setting out on a hugely successful solo career — somehow ended up sitting in my Manhattan living room. He had called me at my office, out of the blue, to ask if he could pick my brain about the new thing called “Video” because he saw me listed as editor of a magazine of the same name.

Alas, unlike the Cline-Seger relationship, I never heard from my pal Pete again. I guess you could say this Gabriel, even though he’s not a trumpet player, blew me off.

Given the estimable success that has resulted from immortalizing the Patsy-Louise connection, it’s astonishing that nobody has been inspired to cash in on the momentous coming together of Peter and Bruce. That’s somebody’s loss (just don’t ask me whose), for I have to believe that buried somewhere in our historic meeting — a dozen stories above the big-city din of Second Avenue and 23rd Street — is the genesis of one sledgehammer of a Broadway blockbuster.

 


Erin McCracken, Bruce Apar, Susann Fletcher

Bruce “The Blog” Apar congratulates stars Erin McCracken (right, Patsy Cline) and Susann Fletcher (Louise Seger) after the press night performance. Photo by Chris Jamison

Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@me.com or (914) 275-6887.


 

 

 


PRODUCTION CREDITS
Set Design, Steve Loftus
Lighting Design, Andrew Gmoser
Sound Design, Jonathan Hatton and Mark Zuckerman
Costume Coordination, Heidi Giarlo
Hair/wig design, Gerard Kelly
Technical Director, Steve Loftus
Production Stage Manager,Victor Lukas
Properties by Grumpy Props
Lisa Tiso, Associate Producer
HELPFUL INFO ABOUT WBT

Westchester Broadway Theatre
1 Broadway Plaza
Elmsford, NY 10526

Reservations  Call (914)-592-2222 -or- BroadwayTheatre.com
Group Reservations  Discounts for groups of 20 or more: call 592-2225.
Luxury Boxes  Call 592-8730 for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, private powder room, and Luxury Box reserved parking. Call for pricing details.
Ticket Prices Dinner & Show range between $56-$84 plus tax, depending on performances chosen. Beverage service & gratuities not included in ticket price. Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances. Also check our website for on-going special offers: BroadwayTheatre.com

Coming to WBT Mainstage
Man Of La Mancha– March 3
May 1
Happy Days – May 5
July 17
Million Dollar Quartet –July 21
Sept 11
Saturday Night Fever – Sept 15
Nov 27

Whatever Happened to Tiny Tim & Scrooge?

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


Westchester Broadway Theatre
Presents
Tim and Scrooge: A Carol for a Later Christmas
Music by Neil Berg
Book and Lyrics by Nick Meglin
Directed by
Nick Corley
Musical Direction by Patrick Hoagland
Through Dec. 27, 2015
Tickets > www.BroadwayTheatre.com

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(Front) Marissa McGowan (as Allison) & Justin Scott Brown (as Tim). (Back, from left) George Lee Andrews (as Scrooge) & Kevin Ligon (as Marley) Photo by John Vecchiolla

Last we left Ebenezer Scrooge — best known for popularizing “Bah! Humbug!” as the anthem of cynics everywhere — the miserly moneylender had a change of heart, warming to the spirit of Christmas, and actually acting charitable toward Bob Cratchit and family, including Tiny Tim.

In the clever and entertaining musical Tim and Scrooge, at Westchester Broadway Theater through Dec. 27, we catch up to both of them a dozen years after Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” ends. 

THE SAGA CONTINUES

As the synopsis goes, “Scrooge (Gerge Lee Andrews) has died a changed man and lovingly bequeathed the Scrooge & Marley Counting house to Tim Cratchit (Justin Scott Brown). Tim, while away at university, has fallen in love with a beautiful orphan girl named Allison” (Marissa McGowan).

About to turn 21, Tim on that day will take ownership of the Counting House. But he has a more noble profession in his heart: teaching.

“I find it no coincidence,” says Tim, “that the word numbers begins with numb.”

Idealist that he is, the no-longer-tiny Tim transfers the business to a couple of shady characters. That triggers confrontations that threaten to turn into a calamity. Scrooge wants to help Tim, but his dead partner Jacob Marley hovers to warn Ebenezer that he can interact with the living, but cannot intervene to change their actions.

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(From left) Justin Scott Brown (as Tim) & George Lee Andrews (as Scrooge). Photo by John Vecchiolla

A CLASSIC STORY CASTS ITS SPELL

This is a sweet, simple production — the stage remains spare with minimal props to shine deserved emphasis on the story, characters and tastefully-staged musical numbers by choreographer Jennifer Paulson Lee and director Nick Corley.

As soon as Scrooge opens the show, he gets into his archetypal spirit with a song titled “Humbug!” Speaking of spirit, he soon is joined by the ghost of Marley. At various points, the pair of apparitions inhabit “A Celestial Environment” that is signified by smoke wafting across the stage.

We are cued that Scrooge now is a good guy by the resplendent all-white outfit he wears. Marley is in white save for a black vest festooned in chains.

The story, by Nick Meglin, who also wrote the lyrics for Neil Berg’s music, is lively, witty and smartly crafted.

HEAVENLY VOICES

By turns lovely and forceful, the songs are done full justice by the heavenly voices throughout the cast, under the musical direction of Patrick Hoagland. WBT productions are know for their showcasing of outstanding vocal chords, which is to say, you won’t find better singing north of Broadway than at Westchester Broadway Theater.

Justin Scott Brown and George Lee Andrews make commanding presences who work well together and lead a uniformly talented ensemble of energetic performers.

Needless to say, all ends well, with the shady duo of Harold Hall (Fred Inkley) & Henry Hastings (Daniel Marcus)  coming to realize, “there’s earning in learning” and talk of backing “Ebenezer Scrooge School of Business and Academic Education.”

Come to think of it, that’s not such a Bah!d idea.

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The cast of Tim & Scrooge. Photo by John Vecchiolla


Reservations:  Call (914)-592-2222. Also at:  www.BroadwayTheatre.com
Group Reservations:  Discounts for Groups of 20 or More: Call 592-2225.
Luxury Boxes:  Call 592-8730, for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, private powder room, and Luxury Box reserved parking. Additional cost, call for details.
Show Times:
Wednesday, Thursday & some Friday Matinees: Lunch: 11:30 am & Show 1 pm. Thursday, Friday, & Saturday Evenings: Dinner: 6:30 pm & Show: 8 pm.
Sunday Matinees: Lunch: 12 pm & Show: 1:30 pm
Sunday Evenings: Dinner: 5:30 pm & Show: 7 pm.
Ticket Prices Dinner & Show range between $56 and $84 (plus tax) depending on the performances chosen. Beverage Service & Gratuities are not included in the ticket price. Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances. 

WBT Mainstage
Showboat returns Dec. 30
Jan. 31, 2016


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Peekskill’s Magic Show Is Simply ‘Fantastick’

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


Embark and The Flatz
Present

The Fantasticks
Directed by Katie Schmidt Feder
Through Dec. 19
The Flatz
1008 Main Street
Peekskill, NY 10566
EmbarkPeekskill.org
Tickets >
 http://m.bpt.me/event/2473934
or at Big Bang Coffee Roasters (at The Flatz).

There are a lot of entertaining reasons to hang out in resurgent Peekskill, but — even in this hot spot of a Northern Westchester river town that knows how to sing, swing and sizzle — there is nothing like The Fantasticks.

The musical runs one more weekend (through Dec. 19) at The Flatz, 1008 Main Street.

If there were a Mount Rushmore of the American musical theater, this show surely would sit atop it as one of the iconic faces.

Filled with a timeless, ear-pleasing score — who doesn’t remember the pop standard “Try to Remember”? — and a feathery love story everyone can embrace, The Fantasticks played off-Broadway for a world-record-setting 42 non-stop years, at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.

The Fantasticks stage

The Fantasticks can be seen in an intimate, Greenwich Villagesque space at The Flatz in Peekskill at 1008 Main Street. Erik Contzius (left) is The Narrator/El Gallo and Suzi Tipa is The Mute. Photo by Bruce Apar

 

To put that unmatched longevity into perspective, when the remarkable musical debuted, our president was Dwight D. Eisenhower; when it closed, more than 17,000 performances later, the White House occupant was George W. Bush.

That spans two generations, and the beat goes on. Even today, at a theater on Broadway named for its original star, Jerry Orbach, the indestructible entertainment continues to perform its unique magic, 20,000 curtains and counting.

But no need to bust your budget on dinner and a show (plus a king’s ransom to park) in the big city, when The Fantasticks is casting its spell right in our backyard’s own city.

LIKE A LIFE-LONG FRIEND

In the smoothly-produced Peekskill edition, the musical is as fresh and fun as ever, like a life-long friend who always makes you feel warm and fuzzy. This show, in fact, is my life-long friend. I’ve known it intimately for as long as I remember — the vinyl cast album I’ve owned since the Sixties is like a talisman I always can turn to, as a comforting muse.

Among the life-affirming lyrics that lift the score into immortality is “without a hurt, the heart is hollow,” from signature song “Try to Remember.” I have my own intensely personal reasons that bring the sentiment home. When talented actor Erik Contzius, as The Narrator, beautifully sang the phrase, in his rich baritone, a tear spontaneously appeared in my eye. That is the power of this show to connect with each audience member.

Every song note and lyric, from the mischievous and insightful wit of “Plant a Radish” and “It Depends on What You Pay” to the gently infectious lyricism of love songs “Metaphor” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” is ingrained in me.

I didn’t think I could loveThe Fantasticks any more than I already do. Boy, was I wrong. This is the first time I have seen it on stage, and I can’t get it out of my head, or my heart. It’s a show for the ages that has found a loving home in Peekskill.

Presented by Embark Peekskill and The Flatz, this endlessly engaging local production of The Fantasticks is a perfect marriage of talent and space. In addition to the canny direction of Katie Schmidt Feder and her homegrown cast, the show has the good fortune to be staged at The Flatz, whose Greenwich Villagesque interior oozes charm and cool and coziness. With business partner Sol Miranda (who can be seen in Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Ms. Feder is co-founder of Embark Peekskill, which will be based in The Flatz starting January 2016.

A CLASSIC MUSICAL THEATER SCORE

At the core of the show’s near-perfect proportion and compelling composition is a book and lyrics by Tom Jones (no, not the “Delilah” singer!), complemented brilliantly by the captivating music of Harvey Schmidt. Everything is so of a piece, there’s not a false note to be detected.

The mirthful, magical musical’s single biggest asset may be its powerful compactness.

That doesn’t mean it is easy to produce. Rather, it takes ingenuity and savvy stagecraft, not mere money, to nurture a vision into a theater experience that transports us fully for a couple of hours, which in this case go by in what seems like a few minutes. Ms. Feder deserves an ovation — and full houses — for her admirable achievement.

Exemplified by this lovingly-mounted version, the immortal The Fantasticks is a testament to the beauty and virtue of simplicity. There happens to be a chandelier gracing the space in front of the stage, but this ceiling fixture, thankfully, doesn’t come crashing down, as it does famously in a certain Broadway spectacle that leans operatically on special effects and bloat. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

The Fantasticks team.

The Peekskill team behind The Fantasticks: Embark co-founder Katie Schmidt Feder, director; The Flatz co-owner Monica Flaherty, co-producer; The Flatz co-owner Erik Contzius, co-producer and actor; Embark co-founder Sol Miranda, co-producer, and her husband David Roach. Photo by Bruce Apar

TELLING A UNIVERSAL TALE

The virtually split-level stage that has been custom-built for The Fantasticks as you enter The Flatz gives away nothing in entertainment value. If anything, it focuses your attention squarely on what matters most: the music and the performers telling a universal tale that is easily relatable and palatable. 

The Fantasticks proves more than any other show that you don’t need scale to scale the heights of classic musical theater.

In addition to Mr. Contzius — who is co-owner of The Flatz with wife Monica Flaherty — the talented cast features the hilarious Tom Campbell, a local theater veteran, as a ragtag Shakespearean actor, and his equally loopy sidekick, played by Stephen Velichko. The pair pratfall all over the stage to very humorous effect.

Melody Munitz (The Girl) and Torian Brackett (The Boy) each bring considerable pathos and polish in their singing and acting. They are adolescent lovers whose fathers, a vaudeville-like duo in the persons of Luis Alonso Guzman and Frank Reale, pretend to feud to join their children in matrimony. Things don’t go exactly as planned, but of course, they live happily ever after.

UNSUNG HERO IN THE CAST

One cast member who might literally be tagged an “unsung” hero is Suzi Tipa, whose character, “The Mute,” does not speak throughout. She does plenty of other things, though, that are vital to the suspension of disbelief and that create a visually romantic motif. Ms. Tipa, a dancer as well as actor, is ever so graceful and ethereal as she goes about her stage business.

The story behind The Fantasticks is based loosely on The Romancers by Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac. It carries important messages, presented with a deft touch, about the human condition, and how we should keep our eyes, and our minds, wide open as we travel through this life to get the most out of it.

“What happened to you? The Boy is asked, after he has seen enough of life to better appreciate its ups and downs.  “The world happened to me,” he answers. 

As a bona fide lifelong fan of The Fantasticks, I admittedly am biased, but also feel blessed to know this show. It has that kind of heart-warming effect on people.

If you see me with a big smile on my face, please ask what happened to me–just so I can tell you, The Fantasticks happened to me.”

Let it happen to you too.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.