Dogfight

Appleton, Wisconsin

I had the pleasure of seeing the inaugural performance of the newly formed theatre troupe, The Next Chapter Actors, in their production of Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight.  Delightfully performed at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s Kimberly Clark Theater, the amenities weren’t too shabby for audience members.  Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are some of Broadway’s most sought after talents.  With the recent success of their musical Dear Evan Hansen and the award winning lyrics for the film score in La La Land it’s no surprise the music of Dogfight is golden as well.  The harmonies between Bernstein (played by Nick Schommer), Birdlace (played by Tyler Hietpas), and Boland (played by Next Chapter’s founder, Kyle Weidman) in “Some Kind of Time” were tight and filled the theatre with wonderful energy.

The highlight of this show for me was found in the performance of Amanda Meo portraying the role of Rose Fenny.  Not only is her acting ability fluid but her vocals are simply stunning.  Her rendition of “Pretty Funny” at the end of Act I left the audience speechless with her vulnerability and vocal technique which is pretty close to flawless from the chest voice to the beautiful floaty top.  She has the rare combination of impressive comedic timing in addition to a depth of dramatic range.  It is worth noting that she was also the choreographer for this production.  I absolutely loved how she had all of the Marines line up during the first number of the show as they changed into uniform.  It visually set the stage for what was to come.

Other highlights included Tyler Hietpas’ portrayal of PTSD after Eddie returns from the war.  The physicality in your acting brought tears to my eyes and created a deep empathy in me that I believe live theatre was created for.  Powerhouse vocals from Lauren Meidl in “Dogfight” and very entertaining lounge singing by Derek Olson in “It’s Just a Party”.  Emma Knick did a wonderful job of believably playing many years her senior in the role of Mama.  Her singing for the opening of the act 2 quartet, “Give Way” was breathtakingly beautiful.

The pit orchestra was flawless under the brilliant musical direction of Marty O’Donnell featuring piano, drums, cello, violin, guitar, and bass.  The set reminded me a bit of the Broadway revival of Violet especially with the greyhound bus station simulation.  The timing of the lighting of each sign accentuated the drama as it unfolded so my kudos goes to Scott Manteuffell and whoever helped to light the Vietnam war scene.  I really felt as if I was in the marsh with them and it completely took my breath away.

If the excellence and attention to detail that Mr. Weidman and his creative team have given to this debut production is any indication of what’s to come, I am beyond excited by what will be next for The Next Chapter Actors.  My only complaint would be the sound design.  The mics were a bit too hot and the overall blend suffered at times because of unbalanced levels.

It’s also worth noting that they gave the proceeds from this production to The Wounded Warrior Project.  I love the heartbeat behind this theatre company and wish them the best of success as they move forward with more performance endeavors!  For more information on The Next Chapter Actors, go to @nca2018 on Facebook.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Play for the Ages

Second in Lanford Wilson’s cycle entitled The Talley Trilogy is Talley’s Folly, a story of love and all it’s complications.  Set in 1944 rural Missouri, Matt Friedman and Sally Talley meet in a boathouse to once again consider their feelings for each other and life in general.  Although Matt seems to be convinced that they should be together, Sally appears to be annoyed by his affections, at least a first.  The play won Wilson a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 along with a plethora of drama awards including 1980 Tony Award for Best Play.

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center is located in Metuchen, New Jersey.  This company is fairly new, having gotten their start in 2014.  According to their website, mission statement reads: “We believe in quality productions, compensation for artists and craftspeope, and an organization that straddles–no, erases–the line between community and professional theatre.  We’re here for pre- and post-Equity actors; for actors who were unable to pursue acting full-time; for audiences hungry for quality entertainment without having to go to New York; and for students and educators who see the performing arts as the best way to learn.”  I believe that community theaters like this one are extremely beneficial to cities that surround the Manhattan area, where many actors have made their home.  I also love the fact that they offer theater and improv classes for people with social disabilities in a partnership with Disability Allies.

Mutuchen Reformed Church was the performance venue for this show, although from my understanding, they intend to take this production on a tour in the future.  I was immediately greeted by a friendly usher and the seating was spacious.  The set is basic, on a small stage but with such a captivating script, who needs an elaborate set anyway?

Sally Folly (Anna Paone) ends up enjoying a dance with Matt Friedman (Markos Kandilis)

Sally Folly (Anna Paone) ends up enjoying a dance with Matt Friedman (Markos Kandilis)

There are only two actors in the play, Markos Kandilis in the role of Matt Friedman and Anna Paone in the role of Sally Talley.

Markos most recently comes from a series of shows with Royal Caribbean Productions.  He is endearing as he tries to get Sally to open up to him.  Kandilis is a capable and intriguing actor but does not quite get away from youthful physical movement (after all, he is in his twenties and this character is meant to be played by a gentleman in his forties).  His Lithuanian accent is poignant for coming across as the immigrant who so boldly loves a Southern American girl.

A University of Michigan graduate, Paone shows audiences why the U of M theater and film departments are a growing force to be reckoned with. Many of the current Broadway shows that I have seen also sport U of M graduates to no surprise.  Paone has a  depth to her acting that transcends how young she physically looks. Her Missourian accent was one of the most consistent I have ever heard. Her movements are subtle and with intention, drawing the audience in with every line.

The highlight of the production for me came unexpectedly in the plot when Sally reveals her tragic past after questioning Matt about his mysterious one.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but I must say that Anna Paone truly shows her capability as a comedic actress with a surprising dramatic depth in this monologue.  Talley’s Folly is a play that so many people can relate to that is filled with rich history throughout.  Dragonfly’s production of it left me wanting to see the other two in Wilson’s cycle.  I hope they will take them on at some point in the future.

To find out more about the tour of the show visit: http://www.dragonflyartsnj.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mazel Tov!

Chava (Madelyn Brunvand) pleads with her father (Brandon Waldenmayer) to listen to her reasoning for choosing to marry Fyedka. Photo Credit: Debby Ash

I found myself in Canton, Michigan unexpectedly this past weekend and saw that Forever After Productions was doing Fiddler on the Roof so I decided to attend.  From my understanding, they cast only school age children in this production with the exception of the role of Tevye.  It is a bit strange to see someone so young in the iconic father role.  At times, he almost seemed like an older brother but for this being a youth production, it was understandable that twenty something Brandon Waldenmayer was put in the role.  He is a capable actor with outstanding comedic timing, gaining laughter from the audience over and over again.  His vocals shone brightest on “If I Were a Rich Man” and left me grinning ear to ear.  I would pay good money to see him play this role again in twenty years.

Overall, this was an enjoyable production and I am writing this review because I would like to highlight a few of these young actors. Anirudh Keshamoundi consistently shone in the role of Motel.  His rendition of “Miracles of Miracles” was delightful.  His portrayal of the young and humble tailor is endearing and makes you feel the joy when he and Tzeitel (played by Julia Salloum) get married.  Another standout is Jonah Stephans in the role of Perchick, the Bolshevik revolutionary who falls in love with Hodel (played by Sophia Szczotka).   Mr. Stephans brings a fresh energy to the stage, whether he is the main focus or not.  His beautiful singing accents the boldness of his character to take a stand for what he believes in.  Justin Muse, in the role of Fyedka, is a vocal highlight with wonderful high notes in his featured singing.

Tevye’s five daughters were well cast.  All of them had a clearly developed character and lovely voices.  Jordan Dermondy and Abby Hawkins were adorable as the youngest sisters.  The “Matchmaker” trio, sung by Julia Solloum (who has an impressively healthy music theater belt), Sophia Szczotka, and Madelyn Brunvand was a lighthearted moment with fun broom throwing (with successful catching!)  Szczotka’s rendition of “Far From the Home I Love” is a beautifully vulnerable moment that becomes even more touching with the well done lighting and stage snow.  Kudos to Lighting Designer, Katie Hoolsema and Technical Director, Stuart Selewski for giving us moments like this throughout the show.  I was blown away by the fact that one person was responsible for the impressive set and costume designs!  Norma Polk, what a treasure you are to the Canton community for giving this show such a splendidly authentic look.  There are so many details that add to the quality of this show, my favorite being the functioning well pump outside Tevye’s house.

Golde, played by Hannah Rhode, seemed a bit stiff when the show opened up but quickly started making strong acting choices.   I was glad that her voice is featured since she is of the strongest singers in the entire production.  The height of her performance occurred during her duet with Waldenmayer, “Do You Love Me?”.  I am not sure if Vaughn Louks, in the role of Lazar Wolf, is under the age of 18 because his acting chops read as much older and well developed.  Abigal Randolph, in the role of Yente, should be congratulated for her efforts to keep a consistent accent throughout.  I am not sure the names of the two youngest boys in the cast who were featured but they impressed me in both their featured moment and while with the ensemble.

The strongest part of this production, without a doubt, is the ensemble singing.  Music Director, Kim Gnagey has done an excellent job preparing even the youngest of cast members to sing out with the confidence of professionals.  The opening number of “Tradition” sets the bar extremely high with powerful and well balanced harmonies.  This same energy returns with “Sabbath Prayer” and “Sunrise, Sunset”.  Choreographer Deb Ash gave the cast ambitious dance numbers throughout the show that really add to the understanding of Jewish traditions.  My favorites were the bottle balancing dance during the wedding scene and the unique dream scene with a spinning bed.

A lack of overall polishing was evident but nothing major.  I believe this was due to it being opening night.  At times actors had to break character a bit to visualize a cue from the conductor or to make sure spacing was set for the choreography.  Ms. Gnagey does a fine job of keeping everyone together throughout the numbers.  I do hope as the run continues that they will speed up the tempo of the dialogues, as the first act dragged a bit because of it.  As mentioned in his Director’s Note in the program, this is Connor Rhoades directorial debut and one he should be proud of.

Fiddler on the Roof is playing through February 8th, 2015 at The Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, Michigan.  Tickets are $17 and I would recommend this show for children 10 and up.  Go to iheartforeverafter.com for more information.

Perchick (Jonah Stephans) thanks Tevye (Brandon Waldenmayer) for giving he and Hodel (Sophia Szczotka) his blessing to get married. Photo Credit: Debby Ash

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forever After Productions: A Christmas Carol The Musical

People have been asking me for years why I don’t have a blog.  I live in NYC where I perform throughout the year and see Broadway and off Broadway productions several times a month.  I also travel the country coaching artists and whenever I have the chance, I try to support local theater.   Most of the time community theater productions are very rough or just down right terrible.  Every once in a while, however, you find a diamond in the rough.  That’s where this blog comes in.  I think there are quality community and semi-professional theaters all across the US and that they deserve to be recognized and promoted.  My experience last night was community theater at it’s finest and thus I was inspired to finally start my blog.

I am in Michigan for the weekend and was offered tickets to Forever After Productions’ A Christmas Carol The Musical.  My schedule has never allowed for me to see the musical version of this Charles Dickins’ classic until last night.  I am so glad that this particular production was my first viewing of the musical.  I was told by audience members that this is the third year they have done this production.  If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?  My hat is truly off to Director Brandon Waldenmayer.  The blocking choices for this production are absolutely fantastic.  The energy is constantly kept going and the artistic choices made by Mr. Waldenmayer for scene transitions preventing even mere seconds of dead time from occurring.  I thought for sure that he must be a well seasoned director but upon further research, I discovered that he is in his undergraduate studies at Eastern Michigan University.  I have to say that I cannot wait to see where his career goes post graduation.  He is also the highlight of the cast playing the ghost of Jacob Marley.  He has the ideal balance of a great vocal technique mixed with character speak-sing moments.   His comedic timing is also wonderful.

The other stand out for me is Sara Garczynski as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Ms. Garczynski’s voice is supreme.  A clear tone with a beautiful timbre.  Her acting is the icing on the cake.  Her costume is also of Broadway quality.  Costume designer Linda Braken is to be commended.

Rennie Kaufman shows great stamina as Ebenezer Scrooge.  While his acting is his strongest suit, he truly is a triple threat (as we say in music theater).  Amply taking on constant choreography and showing great vocal control.   He did a wonderful job showing growth of character as the show progressed.

The cast is huge but other performers definitely worth noting include Connor Roades (his Ghost of Christmas Present has us grinning from ear to ear), vocal powerhouse Linda Venable as the Blind Old Hag, and Brendan Kaiser as Tiny Tim.

Choreographer Deb Ash provides incredible ensemble dance numbers, particularly a Rockette type number with the gals dressed as British soldiers.  The featured dancers were wisely utilized throughout the show.  This production is truly for the whole family.  The set design (Brian Kessler) is quality and the use of projected video (thanks to tech director Stuart Selewski) is genius.  There is truly never a dull moment and it holds the attention of kids of all ages.  The use of the fly system is definitely a highlight.  The orchestra, though small, is high quality, under the music direction of Brian Rose.

The thing that makes me say that this is community theater at it’s finest is that while there are some very talented people involved, there were all some people on stage who are clearly beginners to the theater world.  The way they were utilized, however, did not take away from the quality of the production but rather enhanced it.  There is something to be said for allowing new actors, singers, and dancers to get their feet wet as they are surrounded by more seasoned performers.  They rise to the challenge!  A big congrats to Stage Manager Riley Conlon for flawless set changes and prompt entrances.  I have never seen a community theater who clearly has done their prep work as well as this one has.  The time their creative team has given this show is evident by seamless tempo of dialogue, music, and set changes.  Kudos!

I thoroughly enjoyed this production.  There are moments that are at a Broadway level and the story line is always respected.  I also commend the Canton community for supporting such a wonderful facility.  The seats are comfortable, the stage is a decent size, and the ushers are excellent.  The next time I’m in Michigan, I will for sure check out Forever After Productions again!

A Christmas Carol The Musical has two more showings TODAY, Sunday, December 7th at 1pm and 4pm.  Tickets are $22 and can be purchased by going to http://www.iheartforeverafter.com

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment