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.

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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.