Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘thomas meehan’

Annie
Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by John Tartaglia
Choreographed by Jessica Hartman
The Muny
July 18, 2018

Cast of Annie Photo: The Muny

It’s strange to think that, considering my personal history, I had never actually seen Annie onstage until the Muny’s latest production. I had seen two of the three filmed versions and almost wore out my LP of the Original Broadway Cast recording when I was a little girl, before any of the movies had been made. Like countless kids then and since, I would sing along with the album and imagine playing Annie someday. Still, despite the proliferation of productions around the country and the world since the original production opened, including several at the Muny (and two since I moved here in 2004), I had never actually gotten around to seeing a stage production of the show. Now, in the Muny’s 100th season, they’ve brought this classic to the stage in a vibrant production that’s got a lot going for it, especially an excellent cast.

Annie is a familiar story to many, following the adventures of the tough but vulnerable title character (Peyton Ella), an 11-year-old girl who has grown up in an orphanage run by the domineering Miss Hannigan (Jennifer Simard), whose imperious, harsh treatment of Annie and her friends drives the orphans to frustration and near-despair. Annie, who still dreams of being reunited with her parents, refuses to give up hope. Meanwhile, wealthy industrialist Oliver Warbucks (Christopher Sieber) tasks his assistant, Grace Farrell (Britney Coleman), with finding an orphan to invite to spend two weeks in luxury at his mansion over the Christmas season. The bitter, jealous Miss Hannigan schemes with her shady brother, Rooster (Jon Rua) and Rooster’s ditzy girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Holly Ann Butler) to get back at Annie and swindle Warbucks out of thousands of dollars. Also, it’s the 1930s, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (John Scherer) is trying to figure out what to do about that. The shows mixture of realism, comedy, and optimism in the midst of uncertainy is a large part of its enduring appeal. It’s got some moments that could be seen as cheesy, but its core is sincerity and heart.

This is the Muny, so it’s fairly easy to assume that there’s going to be a large cast to fill up that great big stage. This production has excellent leads, backed by a strong ensemble, even if there are somewhat jarring moments, such as when Annie and the six “main” orphans (Ana Mc Alister as Molly, Samantha Iken as Pepper, Trenay LaBelle as Duffy, Amanda Willingham as July, Madeline Domain as Tessie, and Ella Grace Roberts as Kate) are about to sing “Hard Knock Life”, only to be suddenly joined by about 30 more orphans who just seem to appear instantly from the wings. The energy takes a while to build in the first act, but by the time Annie arrives at Warbucks’ mansion, the show has found its groove and the momentum only builds from there, highlighted by sparkling production numbers such as “NYC” and the truly delightful “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”. Peyton Ella, as Annie, has an impressive voice and great stage presence, delivering the iconic “Tomorrow” with power, and she has great chemistry with the other orphans and with Sieber, who is in excellent form as Warbucks. There are also strong performances by Coleman as the kind Grace, Rua as the scheming Rooster, Simard as the delightfully hammy Miss Hannigan, and a memorable moment for Abigail Isom in the featured solo as the “Star-to-Be” in the “NYC” number. Scherer as FDR is memorable, as well, along with a large ensemble of adults and kids. There are also a few scene-stealing moments from Sunny, the adorable terrier who plays Sandy, a stray dog that Annie befriends and then makes various appearances throughout the production.

In terms of production values, the show looks great, for the most part. There is some issue with wigs–Annie’s is somewhat distracting at times, and Warbucks’ skull cap is obvious. Still, those are minor issues when the rest of the production works so well, from Michael Schweikardt’s versatile set that makes excellent use of the Muny’s turntable, to Leon Dobkowski’s colorful period-specific costumes, to Nathan W. Scheuer’s striking lighting, to Rob Denton’s vibrant video design. The Muny Orchestra is in excellent form as well, performing that classic score with style.

So, whether this would be the first time you’ve ever seen Annie or the fiftieth, or any number in between, the Muny’s production is likely to please. It’s a big, vibrant produciton that communicates the enduring spirit of a show that’s become such a legendary classic over the past 40 years. When I recently re-discovered that old LP of the cast album, my son noted the tagline–“A New Musical”, thinking that sounded strange for a show that premiered more than 20 years before he was born. Still, even though it’s not exactly new anymore, the show’s vibrancy and hopeful spirit remain timeless, and the Muny’s production is fresh and full of energy. It’s a fun show, and I’m glad I’ve finally had the chance to see it. It’s definitely worth checking out, no matter how old or young you may be.

Peyton Ella, Jennifer Simard, Britney Coleman Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Annie in Forest Park until July 25, 2018

Read Full Post »

Young Frankenstein
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Choreographed by Josh Rhodes
The Muny
July 13, 2016

Cast of Young Frankenstein Photo: The Muny

Cast of Young Frankenstein
Photo: The Muny

“Fun” is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the Muny’s latest production of Young Frankenstein. Based on the classic Mel Brooks movie, this production sends up and pays homage to old-time horror films in general and the Frankenstein story in particular, with great production values and a lot of energy and humor. The well-chosen cast members seem to be having the time of their lives on stage, and that energy translates well for the audience.

Although this show is essentially the film on stage with songs added, the story is expanded upon slightly as well, and the jokes are plentiful, with an emphasis on innuendo and some physical comedy. The show has also amped up the “song and dance” elements, making the most of the musical comedy genre. The story’s central figure is Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Robert Petkoff), grandson of the infamous monster-creating Victor Frankenstein, who has recently died, leaving his Transylvanian estate to his grandson. The younger Frankenstein is a respectable scientist, insisting on pronouncing his last name “Frahnk–en-steen” so as to distance himself from a troubling family legacy. Frederick boards a ship overseas, bidding farewell to his physically averse fiancee Elizabeth (Jennifer Cody), and finally arriving in Transylvania, where he meets his assistants Igor (Steve Rosen) and Inga (Stephanie Gibson) and the mysterious housekeeper Frau Blucher (Vicki Lewis), whose name is always accompanied by the sound of horses neighing, as in the film. Although Frederick initially resists, he’s soon drawn to “Join the Family Business” (according to the song) and revisit his grandfather’s experiments with reanimating the dead. It’s an exaggerated “dark and stormy night” type of atmosphere throughout, as the suspicious villagers seek to find out Frederick’s plans, and Frederick hopes to bring to life a creature with intelligence and heart along with his giant stature and brute strength.

As a show, this production is carried by the strength of its cast and seemingly boundless energy. Everyone seems to be having a wonderful time on stage, and it shows. Although some jokes occasionally fall flat, and a few of the songs are essentially just extended gags, this production simply works. The casting is excellent, from Petkoff’s overly determined Frederick, to Rosen’s delightfully goofy Igor who interacts delightfully with his fellow actors and with the audience, to Timothy Hughes’s charming, tap-dancing Creature, to Lewis’s melodramatic Frau Blucher (cue horse sounds), to the excellent comic performances of Frederick’s competing love interests, Gibson as the enthusiastic Inga, and Cody as the overbearing Elizabeth. There’s a strong ensemble, as well, serving the production well during the group numbers, such as the Act 1 ending “Transylvania Mania” and the inventively choreographed large-scale tap performance of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz”, the only song in the production that wasn’t written by Brooks, used here ostensibly because it was in the film. Here, it’s been hammed up delightfully, filling the huge Muny stage and providing one of the highlights of this production.

The set and special effects add much to the spirit of this production. Paul Tate dePoo III’s set provides the ideal backdrop for the action, with a suitably creepy castle that rotates to display Frankenstein’s laboratory, using the Muny’s turntable to excellent effect. The costumes, originally designed by William Ivey Long with additional design and coodination by Tracy Christensen, appropriately suggest those of the film while being ideally augmented for the stage. The movie was filmed in black and white, but this production is in full color, evoking the gloominess of the Transylvania setting with excellent effect. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Rob Denton and creative video design by Matthew Young.

This isn’t an all-ages show, really. In keeping with the raunchy, innuendo-laden tone of the original film, this production is more suited for adults and older teens than for children. Young Frankenstein at the Muny is an energetic, joke-filled, hilariously hammy production. One of the best things about it is that the cast members seem to be having just as much fun presenting the show as the audience is watching it.

Timothy Hughes, Robert Petkoff Photo: The Muny

Timothy Hughes, Robert Petkoff
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Young Frankenstein in Forest Park until July 19th, 2016.

Read Full Post »

Hairspray
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Directed by Dan Knechtges
Choreographed by Dan Knechtges and Jessica Hartman
The Muny
June 23, 2015

Bryan Batt, Ryann Redmond, CHarlotte Maltby Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Bryan Batt, Ryann Redmond, CHarlotte Maltby
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

Welcome to Tracy Turnblad’s Baltimore! Hairspray, the second production in the Muny’s 2015 summer season, has been brought to life with style and humor on stage in Forest Park. With a strong cast and stylish, evocative production values, this is a fun show with an important message and lots of heart.

Based on John Waters’ original 1988 film, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy (Ryann Redmond), a perky teenager in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy’s immediate ambition is to dance on a local hit TV show, The Corny Collins Show, which she watches every day after school with her geeky best friend Penny Pingleton (Charlotte Maltby)  She lives with her loving goofball father Wilbur (Lara Teeter), who runs a joke shop, and her reclusive seamstress mother, Edna (Bryan Batt) who, like Tracy, is overweight but lacks Tracy’s self-confidence. When Tracy gets a chance to audition for the show, her ambition is initially thwarted by the show’s villainous producer, Velma Von Tussle (Heather Ayers), whose aim to to further the celebrity chances of her selfish daughter Amber (Taylor Louderman), who’s popular on the show but isn’t a great dancer. Tracy is also attracted to the show’s teen heartthrob, Link Larkin (John Battagliese), who is ostensibly dating Amber.  When Tracy is sent to detention at school, however, she gains a new reason for getting on the show. She meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (Gerald Caesar), a talented African-American dancer who features once a month on the show’s “Negro Day”, which is hosted by his mother,  Motormoth Maybelle (Liz Mikel), who owns a local record store. After befriending Seaweed and his family and friends, Tracy makes it her goal to integrate the Corny Collins Show so all the dancers, black and white, can dance together. Meanwhile, her mother Edna is brought along on her own journey to regain her sense of self-worth, supporting her daughter’s cause. Along the way, romantic entanglements, trouble with the law, and the schemes of the self-serving Von Tussles complicate the proceedings.

I haven’t seen the original film, but I don’t think that’s necessary in order to enjoy this immensely entertaining show. Tracy is an extremely likable character, as are her family and friends. The villains are a bit cartoonish, but that’s kind of the style of this show. It’s a show that sheds light on some of the more unsavory aspects of this country’s history, with a message that is still relevant today, but the overall emphasis is on hope, as Tracy and her friends fight for the cause of integrating the show and don’t back down. Everything is big, bright and full of energy, and although the story and its ultimate conclusion are fairly predictable, the show communicates its message of acceptance with heart, infectious energy, and the great 60’s styled songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with modern musical theatre classics such as “Good Morning Baltimore”, “Welcome to the 60s”, “I Can Hear the Bells” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”.

The Muny’s production has assembled an excellent cast to tell this story. Redmond, as Tracy, has just the right amount of bubbly energy and charm, along with a strong singing voice and good dance ability. She’s thoroughly believable as a dreamer who goes after her dreams, bringing her family and friends along on her mission. Equally engaging is Batt, best known from TV’s Mad Men, as Tracy’s mother, Edna. He admirably doesn’t overplay the role, but brings verve, substance and heart to Edna and displaying excellent on stage chemistry with both Redmond as Tracy and Teeter as the sweetly goofy Wilbur. Their duet, “You’re Timeless to Me” is a sweet highlight of the show. There’s also excellent support from Maltby, a scene-stealer as the quirky Penny, and Caesar as the charming Seaweed, who is a terrific dancer. Mikel as Motormouth Maybelle also turns in a memorable performance, particularly in the second act delivering the powerful song “I Know Where I’ve Been”, and young Kennedy Holmes is delightful as Seaweed’s little sister and fellow dancer, Little Inez. Battagliese gives an amiable performance as Link, as well,  the show’s villains, Ayers and Louderman, are appropriately villainous, and Christopher J. Hanke is suitably suave as TV host Collins.

 Visually, this show is a nostalgic treat. With a vibrant color scheme of bright pinks, bold greens, oranges, and blues, costume designer Leon Dobkowski (basing his designs on the orginals by William Ivey Long) has brought an appealing 60s atmosphere to the show, featuring some eye-catching outfits for the dancers, Tracy and Edna particularly. Robert Mark Morgan’s set is whimsical and evocative, featuring a giant TV set as the centerpiece, and live video (designed by Matthew Young) during the Collins Show segments. It’s a stylish, visually pleasing production that reflects the energy of the show itself.

 Although I had seen the 2007 filmed version of the musical, I had never seen Hairspray on stage before. I think the Muny’s production is an ideal introduction to the show. Tracy Turnblad is a young girl with a dream and with aspirations to change the world, starting with Baltimore. The Muny has brought us into Tracy’s world with humor, drama, music and style.

 

 

Cast of Hairspray Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Cast of Hairspray
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny 

 Hairspray runs at the Muny until June 30th, 2015.

Read Full Post »