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Wolf Trap Filene Center - ARCHIVE
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August 29 - September 7, 2008
Les Misérables
Reviewed August 30 by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:55 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a substantial mounting
 of this mega musical

Click here to buy the CD

This is the first major re-staging of the mega-ist of the mega-musicals that took the theater world by storm in the 1980s - the sprawling musicalization of the sprawling Victor Hugo novel. It reveals few new facets of the original while delivering many of the original pleasures. When at its best, it is very good indeed. Even the less-than-best moments have their own pleasures. Most notable to those who have seen the original once, twice or a dozen times, will be the absence of the turntable stage that contributed such fluidity to Trevor Nunn's original staging. Here the floor doesn't rotate, but Jean Valjean still has to carry his future son in law Marius over his shoulders from one side of the stage to the other and still have the breath to sing with gusto. New director Fred Hanson solved the problem through casting. He has barrel bodied Rob Evan heft both the boy and the tunes, both of which he can lift with impressive power. The absence of the revolve makes the song "Turning" focus more on the meaning of its lyric than on its reference to the staging which is a good thing, but it also makes the blocking for the famous scene on the barricades a bit awkward as the French troops have to be arrayed in front of the rear of the rebels lines. To compensate, however, scenic designer Matt Kinley has Zachary Borovay provide an evening-long supply of impressionistic projections which give the production a unique feel.

Storyline: The central plot of Victor Hugo’s massive novel of France between 1815 and 1832 has been streamlined to cover the story of a prisoner set free after serving time for stealing a loaf of bread. He assumes a new identity, rises to wealth and position and takes on the role of guardian for the young daughter of one of his employees. She grows into a young woman and falls in love with a student involved in the revolution, who, with her guardian’s secret help, survives the slaughter of the revolutionaries on the barricades.

The original staging of the musical with its glorious score by Claude-Michel Schönberg (with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer based on the original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel) is still going strong on London's West End where it originally opened in 1985! The Broadway version ran for fifteen years and has even been revived once. Now Fred Hanson, an old hand at mounting traveling versions of big shows, devised this re-staging for Atlanta's Theater of the Stars with stops here and in Houston and Kansas City. It is a solid-looking production using a large projection screen as a back wall surrounded by a frame providing doors, balcony's and windows while large set pieces such as segments of the barricade and the gate of the Mayor's house slide quietly into place. Some of the projections move to create effects. This works nicely for the sewers of Paris, but seems wasted and confusing when the big moment of Javert's suicide arrives. And, a show curtain with a blob obviously intended to look like the loaf of bread the hero stole to feed his sister's child is, unfortunately, used again and again in semi-darkness, becoming a confusing image at times. The intent of the designer became clear, however, when one woman in the audience was seen wearing a tee shirt bearing the legend "All this over a loaf of bread?"

The cast is strong of voice as well as body. Rob Hunt's work as Police Inspector Javert is impressive all night long and his solo, "Stars," before one of Borovay's loveliest projections is the highlight of the show. It isn't the only highlight, however. There's Deborah Lew's work on the song "In My Life," Rob Evan's tender "Bring Him Home," Jenny Fellner's big moment at the lip of the stage belting out "On My Own," Anderson Davis' touching rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" and Edward Watts' full-throated portion of "Red and Black." Even smaller roles get some nice work. Joseph Dellger sings the solo for the Bishop that really starts the vocal delights with sensitivity and clarity. The role of the young Gravoche is better blocked by Hanson in this re-staging than it was on Broadway and was ably performed by Jake Schwencke on the night we reviewed the production. Only the roles of Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, the crooks who appear at many key points in the story, are disappointingly performed. Laurent Giroux singing is often out of balance with the orchestra and Cindy Benson's broad comic bits seem to lack setup.

The glories of Claude-Michel Schönberg's score are given fine treatments, not only in vocals of power and beauty, but in the playing of the thirty-member orchestra in the Filene Center's cavernous pit. With 3,766 seats under cover and room for an additional 3,100 people on the lawn, the show naturally relies on amplification of both voices and instruments. Peter Fitzgerald and Erich Bechtel provide a fine system for this, capturing the lushness as well as the brighter details of the orchestrations by John Cameron who did the originals lo those many years ago. The Broadway revival had new charts for a pit band of a mere 14. How nice that this production returns to the fullness that Schönberg's score demands and deserves.

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Additional materials by James Fenton. Directed and choreographed by Fred Hanson. Music direction by Dan Riddle. Orchestrations by John Cameron. Design: Matt Kinley (scenery and images) Zachary Borovay (projections) Robert Fletcher (costumes) Cookie Jordan (hair, wigs and makeup) Ken Billington (lights) Peter Fitzgerald and Erich Bechtel (sound). Principal cast: Cindy Benson, Nikki Renee Daniels, Anderson Davis, Joseph Dellger, Rob Evan, Jenny Fellner, Laurent Giroux, Kylie Liya Goldstein, Rob Hunt, Deboarah Lew, Jake Schencke or Jimmy McEvoy, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Edward Watts.

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August 28 - September 2, 2007
West Side Story
Reviewed by Brad Hathaway

Running time 2:50 - one intermission
A solid traveling production on the occasion of
the classic's 50 anniversary

Click here to buy the original cast CD

The last stage musical of the summer for Wolf Trap is the Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondhiem, Arthur Lauents, Jerry Robbins classic in a solid staging under the direction of Alan Johnson, who has a track record with the show going back over more than half the history of this 50 year-old musical, including directing the European tour of the show in the 1990s. Here he recreates much of the staging and choreographic work that has deservedly gone down in Broadway history as ground breaking. This production is at its most exciting when the dancing is going on. When the leads are singing, it is enjoyable. Most notable is the performance of Natascia Diaz as the feisty girlfriend of the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, Anita.

Storyline: This 1957 transformation of the Romeo and Juliet story to the streets of New York City sets an Italian American street gang (the Jets) against a Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks). Tony, the former leader of the Jets, who is growing up and trying to break out of the gang life by working in Doc’s drug store, meets Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks. Tony and Maria fall instantly in love and, at Maria’s urging, Tony tries to prevent a rumble between the two gangs. Things go wrong, however, and in the ensuing knife fight Tony ends up killing Maria’s brother. In the explosion of hatred and prejudice that results, Tony, too, is killed.

West Side Story continues to grow in legend even if it wasn't an instant classic. When it opened on Broadway after an out of town tryout at the National Theatre in Washington in 1957, it got mixed reactions - in part because it was so unlike most other musicals that it was hard to see its strengths on first glance. (The Music Man was the Tony Award winner that year.) But it had its proponents from the start for its success at blending music, lyrics, script and dance into a unified whole telling a story that was at once contemporary and timeless. Dance tells more of the plot than had ever been the case before and lyrics carried the character while music unified it all. The movie version in 1961 solidified the success of the work and has made it a long-lasting staple of the American musical theater. Any quality production is sure to be satisfying and this one, mirroring the original direction and choreography quite closely, is certainly at that level. It doesn't rise above the rest of the revivals but it holds its own, providing a satisfying evening of theater. 

Tony and Maria here are Nathan Scherich, a handsome and virile young man who looks like one who might just be outgrowing his teenage gang years, and Sarah Darling, a pretty, even younger looking young woman. Both sing well and there is a hint of the appropriate chemistry for them as star-crossed lovers. The pair of Michael Balderrama, who carries himself with the prideful strut of a leader with more than just a chip on his shoulder, and Natascia Diaz as Bernardo and Anita provide a contrasting strength. Balderrama moves with ferocity. Diaz' work in the Potomac Region has included the pre-Broadway appearance of Man of La Mancha, the Sondheim Celebration's A Little Night Music and the Kennedy Center production of Carnival! Joey Calveri does a fine job as "Action" combining the anger and intensity of the early scenes with the fierce comedy of "Gee Officer Krupke."

The often glorious score is supported by an orchestra of 22, most of whom are local musicians hired for the week. The show does travel, however, with trumpeter Jeff Willfore whose contribution to the "Cool" ballet is notable, and drummer Don Yallech who lays down a solid beat under Mr. Bernstein's highly complicated and convoluted rhythmic compositions. The size of the Filene requires electronic amplification, of course, even for those in the front orchestra seats and the system in use for the show captures most of the rhythm, reeds and brass nicely while the strings fare less well even with five violins and two cellos. At times the vocals overtax the system as well and the muffling of wireless microphones during embraces is a bit distracting.

Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins. Mr. Robins original direction and choreography reproduced by Alan Johnson. Musical direction by Janice Aubrey. Design: Leo B. Meyer (set) Kansas City Costumes Company (costumes) Ken Billington (lights) Peter Fitzgerald and Erich Bechtel (sound). Principal cast: Jack Aaron, Michael Balderrama, Joey Calveri, DJ Chase, Sarah Darling, Natascia Diaz, Leo Ash Evens, Stephanie Fittro, Kurt Kelly, Logan Keslar, Josh Montgomery, Dale Radunz, Nathan Scherich, Jay Scovill, Christopher Sergeeff, Vanessa Van Vrancken, Donald Warfield.

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August 29 - September 3, 2006
Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Running time 2:35 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a bright new production of the popular musical
Click here to buy the CD

If you’ve seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, or at the Kennedy Center or National Theater when the Disney touring production came to town, you will immediately notice a difference in the look of this new staging, but the strengths of the show - the story, the characters and, most importantly, the music - are all still here and all still just as enjoyable. The set design it is still quite colorful but it is simpler and relies more on painted flat set pieces (some of which sway in the breeze). New costumes are hardly different enough to draw your attention. Alan Menkin's music is given the full sounding performance it deserves by an orchestra of nearly the size being used on Broadway. The performances are all top notch with Patti Murin making a charming Belle and Michael Halling a powerful and yet sensitive Beast. The most distinctly different characterization is by Ray DeMattis as Belle’s Father. His take on the role is more comic, and at the same time, more human than the overly peculiar inventor that Tom Bosley created on Broadway.

Storyline: Disney’s 90 minute animated feature about a prince turned into a beast until he can learn to love and be loved in return has been fleshed out, expanded and given half a dozen additional songs in this full musical theater version.  There is added depth and detail in the relationship between the prince/beast and the perky girl who has the temerity to read, think and dream for herself.  This version retains all the palace staff, who, as a side effect of the spell, are slowly turning into utensils.

Linda Wolverton, who wrote the script for the movie and then the book for the musical, made the beast a more sympathetic character than in the cartoon movie. In a deft piece of plotting, she added a touching element to the movie’s sequence in which the Beast gives his library to the book-loving Belle. She has him reveal that he never learned to read. Belle reads her favorite book to him. His "I never knew books could . . . let me forget who – what I am" gives a poignancy to his character that is delicious and a depth to their burgeoning romance that is much more understandable. It lets us see just what she might have seen in him.

Murin brings both a clear voice and a youthful beauty to the role of the beauty Belle. Her big moment is the second act song that was added during Toni Braxton’s turn in the part, "A Change in Me." Her Beast is Michael Halling, who, among other notable claims to fame both on Broadway and in regional theater, was one of the two actors who served as standbys for Hugh Jackman who never missed a performance during the run of The Boy from Oz. Halling's voice is given an unnecessary reverberation through the sound system which harms some of the more tender moments like the marvelous “If I Can’t Love Her” but certainly makes his roar as a beast impressive.

This Gaston is Tony Lawson, who played the role in the national tour of the Disney production. He is very good in the conceited oafishness with such fabulously mocking lines as "We shall be the perfect pair - - rather like my thighs." Among the household staff who are becoming household objects under the witch’s evil spell are James Young as the the suave Lumiere who is becoming a candlestick, and Michael Fitzpatrick as the officious butler well on his way to becoming a clock. Bernardine Mitchell, who was so good in the title role in last year's bio-musical at MetroStage, Mahalia, is in equally fine voice for the role of the teapot, Mrs. Potts. It is a shame the part doesn't have more songs for her work on the title song is beautiful.

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Drew Scott Harris. Choreography by Norb Joerder. Musical direction by Michael Biagii. Design: J. Branson (set) Tiia E. Torchia and Shawn-Adrian Decou (costumes) Katie Ward (hair and make-up) Ben Pearcy (lights) Peter Fitzgerald (sound) Scott Suchman (photography). Cast:  Ray DeMattis,  Michael Fitzpatrick, Markelle Gay, Michael Halling, Nancy Johnston, Tony Lawson, Bernardine Mitchell, Patti Murin, Paige Price, Courter Simmons, James Young.

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June 27 - July 2, 2006

Running time 2:45 - one intermission
A "Family Friendly" musical proves surprisingly threatening for "little girls"

Click here to buy the CD

Ever since then-fourteen year old Andrea McArdle first belted out "Tomorrow" on the Kennedy Center Stage in the pre-Broadway tryout of what became the 1977 Tony Award winning Best Musical, audiences have been charmed by the little red headed kid (and her dog,) delighted at the schmaltz of the story of the melting of the billionaire's heart,  and have enjoyed the bright, tuneful score by Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse. The over-the-top selfishness of the tippling, child-hating headmistress of the orphanage and the plot she hatches with her sidekicks, which happens to include the threat to kill little Annie, always came over the footlights as so outlandishly comic that no one, not even the youngest in the audience, really felt threatened. Perhaps that is a tribute to the skill of the original "Miss Hannigan," the late Dorothy Loudon, and to those who have followed in her footsteps - until now. This new touring version has Alene Robertson in the role. Not only is she often unfunny, the absence of a comic feel for her scenes deprives the show of the cushion of comedy, exposing the threatening underbelly of the plot. Kids still cavort, fortunes are bandied about and the President of the United States still forces his cabinet to sing along - but there's a chill in the air for the younger audience members.

Storyline: In the depths of the depression of the 1930s, a Billionaire by the name of Warbucks sends his secretary to a New York City orphanage to select a lucky youngster to spend the Christmas holiday in his mansion. She comes back with "Little Orphan Annie" who charms everyone in the place - the staff and the billionaire. He decides to adopt her, but she still holds out hope that the parents who left her on the steps of the orphanage as an infant will fulfill their pledge to come back for her. Warbucks enlists the help of the FBI to track them down and offers a reward, which the mean mistress of the orphanage and her brother plot to collect. But no second rate crooks can outwit J Edgar Hoover, FDR, Daddy Warbucks and Annie!

"Never mind Miss Hannigan," many would say, "how's the kid?" Here it's Marissa O'Donnell, and in the fine tradition of the show, she's simply marvelous. She belts out "Tomorrow" with panache, she handles the dog "Sandy" calmly, she plays scenes with other kids (many of whom are talented enough to steal the scenes) and with adults with a sense of assurance, and she bonds with her Daddy Warbucks, Conrad John Schuck, with warmth and humor. Schuck is a fine blustery billionaire and he shows the development of his affection for Annie clearly. His silent reaction to the discovery that apparently he can't adopt Annie because her parents have come to re-claim her (don't worry, the problem is soon dispensed with) is sublimely sentimental. Plus, he's got the chops to deliver "Something Was Missing" beautifully.

The true joy of the show, however, is in the sequences for the orphans. Amanda Balon is a delight as the diminutive "Molly," and all six urchins are good - "It's the Hard-Knock Life" works like a charm, and their parody of the 1930s radio singing commercial "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" is great fun.  Under the baton of Keith Levenson, however, these are probably the only two really sprightly moments in a score that is often filled with them. "N.Y.C. and even "Easy Street" seem slow by comparison and, especially given the rather mushy sound in the cavernous and wide-open interior of the Filene Center, the full orchestra often feels sluggish.

Legendary designer Ming Cho Lee has come up with new sets for this tour which sometimes seem flimsy and at others seem impressive.  His Hooverville under a highway bridge where the homeless of the depression sing out the biting "We'd Like To Thank You (Herbert Hoover)" is striking, and his Christmas Eve snowfall effect, as lit by Ken Billington, makes the world of wealth of Daddy Warbucks seem like the loveliest of souvenir snow globes.

Music by Charles Strouse. Lyrics by Martin Charnin. Book by Thomas Meehan. Directed by Martin Charnin. Original choreography by Peter Gennaro. New Choreography by Liza Gennaro. Musical Direction by Keith Levenson. Design: Ming Cho Lee (set) Theoni V. Aldredge (original costumes) Jimm Halliday (additional costumes) Bernie Ardia (hair) Ken Billington (lights) Peter Hylenski (sound) Scott Suchman (photography). Cast: Alan Baker, Amanda Balon, Taylor Bright, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Julie Cardia, David Chernault, Jocelyn Chmielewski, Kelly Linn Cosme, Richard Costa, Jennifer Evans, Brian Michael Hoffman, Aaron Kaburick, Allen Kendall, Delaney Moro, Marissa O'Donnell, Monica L. Patton, Katherine Pecevich, Brittany Portman, Liz Power, Alene Robertson, Conrad John Schuck, Harry Turpin, Christopher Vettel, Casey Whyland, Scott Willis.

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August 30 - September 4, 2005
My Fair Lady

Reviewed August 30
Running time 2:50 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a glorious production of one of the great American musicals
Click here to buy the CD

Widely known as one of the best constructed musicals of all time, Alan Jay Lerner and Fritz Lowe turned George Bernard Shaw’s comedy into a thing of beauty. Scenes flow into songs, songs flow into scenes, the story proceeds from concept to conflict effortlessly and the pace shifts just often enough to avoid any boredom. It is the pinnacle of the structure of romantic musical comedy of the 1950s, and while the art form has advanced since then and tastes have changed, it remains an enormously entertaining package. This new national touring production demonstrates the strengths that have made the show such a delight for half a century.

Storyline: A misogynistic English linguist believes that "the way an Englishman speaks absolutely classifies him." He takes on a project of teaching a "guttersnipe" flower girl how to speak to demonstrate that it is words like "Aoooow" and "garn" that keep her in her place, "not her wretched clothes and dirty face." Once the project is complete, however, he discovers that he has "Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and fallen in love.

Alan Jay Lerner's book may borrow a great deal from his source, George Bernard Shaw's acerbic criticism of class distinctions, but he softened the harshness at just the right places and came up with a new ending that was more in keeping with the traditions of the Broadway stage. His lyrics shine with a polish, a delight in craftsmanship and a genuine sense of valuing the very language the show extols. The music of Frederick Loewe is never anything less than gorgeous and melds perfectly with even Lerner's simpler lyrics. The loveliness of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and the lilt underlying what reads like a simplistic lyric makes poetry out of "I Could Have Danced All Night." The team transformed a secondary character, that of the flower girl's father, into a role perfect for a music hall headliner to get some contrasting scenes, and came up with highlights such as "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me To The Church On Time," while the plight of the suitor for the girl's hand had the timeless "On the Street Where You Live." 

Marla Schaffel, so fine as Jane Eyer on Broadway, makes a loverly flower girl and a dazzling lady with charm and spunk and just the right sense of self worth that makes her so much more than just the creation of her diction coach. John Vickery, who originated the role of Scar in The Lion King on Broadway, is a precise and meticulous presence as the linguist who takes her in as the subject of an experiment. She comes across as a bit older than her character and he's a fairly young professor, so the age gap between them is less than you might expect, but that creates no real problem for this story. Rob Donohoe sells the music hall routines of the father well and Jim Weitzer is appealing as the besotted young man who would be happy to stay on the street where she lives.

As a traveling company, this production relies on one major set (the professor's study) with painted drops for most of the rest of the locales. This is in keeping with the feel of musicals of the period and the paintings on those drops - forced perspective sketches of Covent Gardens, Ascot park, Wimpole Street and the like - are very good although the drops do ripple in the wind given Wolf Trap's semi-outdoor situation. Only the ballroom setting seems skimpy and that is partially due to the smallish size of the dancing ensemble. However, no touring company could afford the size ensemble from the original (the opening night cast on Broadway was 48 - the tour travels with a cast of 25 which is large by modern standards). The local orchestra nearly outnumbers the on-stage cast with 23 players under the direction of Tom Griffin. They sound very good indeed through Peter Fitzgerald's sound system, with even the lovely harp of Caroline Gregg clearly heard in the softer moments.

Music by Frederick Loewe. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Directed by Drew Scott Harris. Choreography by Lisa Guignard. Musical direction by Tom Griffin. Design: Kenneth Foy (set) Costume World (costumes) Ben Pearcy (lights) Peter Fitzgerald (sound) Marc Bryan Brown (photography). Cast: Eric Catania, Rob Donohoe, Adrienne Doucette, Mike Erickson, Jennifer Evans, Timothy Ford, Ellen Horst, Jerrica Knight-Catania, Gannon McHale, Garrett Miller, Christopher Ryan, Natalie Ryder, Marla Schaffel, Larissa Shukis, Melinda Tanner, James Valentine, John Vickery, Jim Weitzer, James Young.

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July 19 - 24, 2005
Peter Pan

Reviewed July 19
Running time:  2:10 - two intermissions
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a notable performance

Click here to buy the CD

Cathy Rigby makes a marvelous Peter Pan. She flits. She flies. She fights. She charms. She makes everyone in the humongous Filene Center and out on the lawn believe in fairies or wish they were kid-like enough to believe. She takes the Darling children (that's their name as well as their description) on a test flight stimulated by fairy dust and happy thoughts. She joins Tiger Lilly in a romping-stomping "Ugg-a-Wugg" that out-stomps Stomp. Now she has announced that this tour will be her last in the role. While the tour is booked through next April, this is as close to our nation's capitol as she is scheduled to fly, so this is the last chance to catch this notable performance.

Storyline: Peter Pan has flown in from Neverland to hear Wendy tuck in her brothers in the London home of the Darling family. He teaches them all how to fly so they can come back with him and Wendy can be the mother for the lost boys who spend their time fighting pirates and Indians. When Peter saves the Indian princess, Tiger Lily, from the pirates, a truce is arranged. The Pirates' leader, Capt. Hook, however, is still on the hunt for Peter who had cut off his hand in a sword fight. Hook has to be careful because a crocodile ate the hand and decided he liked it so much he's searching for the rest of the Captain. Hook tries to poison Peter but the fairy Tinker Bell consumes the poison to save him. He implores all the children in the world who believe in fairies to applaud and the sound saves Tinker Bell's life.

Of course, it is the flying that will linger in the mind, especially the mind of those children who first experience the magic of live musical theater with this timeless classic. All the flying effects during the show are of the up and down, right to left and back again variety. The acrobatic ability of Ms. Rigby - who first came to public prominence as a gymnast (hold on to your hat - her victory in Yugoslavia where she became the first American ever to win a medal in the World Championship meet was thirty-five years ago!) - is put to great use making these lateral swings seem the essence of freedom. She saves the very best for the very last, her curtain call when flight becomes a three dimensional thing as she swoops out into the cavernous space over the heads of those in the orchestra section.

Sir James Barrie's 1904 play has stimulated a number of versions. In 1950 Leonard Bernstein took a crack at it for Jean Arthur (click here to read our review of the recording of this version.) In 1953 Disney made an animated movie with songs by Sammy Fain and Sammy Cahn. Hallmark Hall of Fame had a version in 1976 with songs from Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. Stephen Spielberg churned out a non-musical "Hook" in 1991. For most, however, the version on which this production is based is the one to remember. It is the one that Mary Martin did not only on Broadway but on TV. New orchestrations and vocal arrangements by Crag Barna and a team of four others produce a strong sound. He and Steve Bartosik are credited with the rhythmic explosions of "Ugg-A-Wugg" but much credit for the strength of that number must go to both choreographer Patti Columbo and the work of the entire cast.

The production is clearly intended for kids (and those who wish they either were kids or had some to bring along) with two intermissions to give young and old a chance to "get the wiggles out" and make the relatively lengthy evening go by fairly rapidly. The first act is extremely fast paced and lasts only 35 minutes. The early part of Act II drags a bit but soon that "Ugg-A-Wugg" number sparks thing all over again. Howard McGillin makes a marvelously humorous villain as Capt. Hook playing opposite a delightful Patrick Richwood as his lackey Mr. Smee.

A musical production of the play by Sir James Barrie. Music by Moose Charlap. Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. Additional music by Jule Styne. Additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Directed by Glenn Casale. Choreogaphy by Patti Colombo. Musical direction, orchestrations, vocal arrangements and new dance music by Craig Barna. Flying sequences designed by Paul Rubin. Design: John Iacovelli (set) Shigeru Yaji (costumes) Monica Sabedra (wigs) Tom Ruzika (lights) Julie Ferrin (sound) Craig Schwartz (photography) Michael McEowen (stage manager). Cast: Nathan Balser, Jordan Bass, Omar D. Brancato, Michael G. Hawkins, Tiffany Helland, Janet Higgins, Gavin Leatherwood, Tracy Lore, Theresa McCoy, Lauren Masiello, Ryan Mason, Howard McGillin, Lindsay Nickerson, Patrick Richwood, Kathy Rigby, Elisa Sagardia, Shawn Moriah Sullivan, Tony Spinosa, Luis Villabon.

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August 31 - September 5, 2004
The King and I

Reviewed August 31
Running time 3:00 - one intermission
A Potomac Stages Pick for sumptuous score and staging plus Sandy Duncan

Click here to buy the CD

When Rodgers and Hammerstein set out to musicalize Margaret Landon's novel Anna and the King of Siam in1951 they intended to make a star vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, but they ended up with a star-making role for Yul Brynner who made the King so strong a character that the show felt like it was about him and not her. This sumptuous production quite properly restores the balance (as have some revivals such as Donna Murphy's incandescent version in 1996.) The spotlight never seems far from Sandy Duncan's Mrs. Anna, and her energy level never falters as she gives the part a strength of character that must have been exactly what Hammerstein was looking for. 

Storyline: In the 1860's British widow Anna Leonowens arrives with her young son in Bangkok to assume the post of school teacher for the King's many children. Her western ways intrigue the court, and the King's earnestness and essential goodness within the strictures of a culture that is strange to her captures her heart. Each learns essential lessons from the other in a romance of the intellect.

The King here is local Jeb Stuart High School alum Martin Vidnovic, who gives the part the stage presence and command that it requires, but who doesn't overpower an evening that clearly belongs to Duncan. From her entrance and first song, "Whistle a Happy Tune," when she first demonstrates a semi-conversational way of easing into a song and a fine, full voice for the strong melodies of Richard Rodgers, she owns the role. Her haughty Mrs. Anna melts nicely at the introduction of the King's delightful children, and holds her own in the verbal contests of will with Vidnovic. The release of "Shall We Dance" is a delight. Duncan's charm even extended to the curtain call, when breaking out of the reserve of "Mrs. Anna," she seemed positively giddy at the reception of the audience and very appreciative of the contributions of her colleagues. She even stepped downstage to mouth to the orchestra in the pit "thank you all!" and then led applause for the signers interpreting in sign language from the side of the stage. 

This is the only touring musical to visit Wolf Trap this season that is a fully unionized show under contract with Actors Equity, so it is possible to compare and contrast the quality of the cast with that of the shows that came this way before. In general, it isn't a great deal better. Oh, the leads are stronger - Duncan and Vidnovic are a notch or more above Mark McCracken (Oliver's Fagan) or Brandon Andrus and Amanda Rose (Oklahoma!'s Curley and Laurey), but the rest of the cast is at about the same level as the supporting casts of the other productions. All three shows offer thoroughly professional performances across the board although some, of course, are better than others. In this King and I the standouts in supporting roles include Catherine MiEun Choi whose dignity shines through as her voice soars as Lady Thiang, the King's number one wife, and Hal Davis whose elegance and charm as the British government's representative who is an old acquaintance of Mrs. Anna gives a hint of the society she left behind. Among the disappointments was Martin Sola, who, as doomed lover Lun Tha, evidenced no real romantic attachment to the woman he'd risk his life for, Luz Lor's Tuptim. 

Rodgers music is, of course, legendarily beautiful, including such lovely songs as "Hello, Young Lovers," "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "Something Wonderful." Hammerstein's lyrics are similarly marvelous and the book he crafted is a textbook case of storytelling with one significant exception. It was the fashion of the time, based on the successes of the earlier works of these same two men (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific), to have a "dream ballet" or other dance piece featured in a romantic musical. Here it was a fifteen-minute dance version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin which emerged as Jerome Robbins' dance "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." It is a show stopper of the wrong kind, putting a hole in the middle of the second act which is already a bit too long. Of course, you can always just sit back and enjoy the physical splendor of the show. Kenneth Foy's set designs are nothing short of dazzling within the constraints of a touring company, and they look spectacular under John McLain's warm lighting, as do Roger Kirk's opulent costumes. As a result, the show has the lovely look of its original. The sound design is credited in part to a legendary figure in the musical theater, Abe Jacob. As you would expect, that means this production boasts a well thought out scheme, but, at least through Wolf Traps' system, it comes across with a treble heavy tinnyness that gets in the way of understanding some of the voices, most notably that of Martin Vidnovic.

Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Baayork Lee. Jerome Robbins' choreography recreated by Susan Kikuchi. Music direction by Kevin Farrell. Design: Kenneth Foy (set) Roger Kirk (costumes) David H Lawrence and Wanda Gregory (hair/wigs) John McLain (lights) Abe Jacob and Mark Cowburn (sound) Scott Suchman (photography). Cast: Ronald M. Banks, Lou Castro, Daphne Chen, Catherine MiEun Choi, Hal Davis, Sandy Duncan, Scott Kitajima, Luz Lor, Patrick Minor, Martin Sola, Natalie Turner, Martin Vidnovic, Sally Wong.

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July 13 - 18, 2004

Reviewed July 13
Running time: 2:40 - one intermission
t A Potomac Stages Pick for a quality production of a classic musical

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Lionel Bart's musical based on Charles Dickens' tale of an orphan boy taken in by a team of pickpockets in the mid-1800s was a major hit in London and then on Broadway in 1960-63. In 1996 Cameron Mackintosh, the theatrical impresario behind Cats, Les Mis, and The Phantom of the Opera (not to mention the revival of Oklahoma! that sparked the tour version that played here in the Filene Center just last month) remounted the show at the London Palladium with Sam Mendes directing and Jim Dale starring. The revival didn't make it to Broadway, reportedly due to the cost of the production. Now the remnants of that production are touring the US with a non-union cast and without Mr. Mendes' name anywhere to be found. While there are tantalizing hints that it might have been even better than it is, it proves to be a substantial, satisfying presentation with much to commend it.

Storyline: The basic tale of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" is compressed into two and a half hours with sixteen songs. In a London orphanage, young Oliver has the temerity to beg for a second helping of gruel and is summarily sold off to an undertaker who needs a child mourner for his funerals. He escapes that fate only to be taken into a gang of pickpockets run by Mr. Fagan. He's wrongly arrested for picking a pocket when he was only observing the technique of his tutor, the Artful Dodger. In the meantime, barmaid Nancy has difficulties with her abusive lover Bill Sikes. When Oliver's accuser turns out to be a wealthy gentleman who, finding that he wrongly accused the lad, takes him under his protection, Bill Sikes sees a way to profit but Nancy comes to the boy's rescue with fatal results.

Dickens' sprawling story with dozens of major characters had to be compressed and streamlined in order to fit within the confines of a single evening. Bart used the techniques of British music halls with their broad characterizations, simple humor and energetic musical numbers to move the story along briskly. He kept Dickens' horde of urchins, giving a youthful vigor and charm to the piece, with Oliver himself singing the lovely "Where is Love?" and the Artful Dodger participating in the merriment with "I'd Do Anything." Here we have a nine-year-old old bundle of stage presence, Ryan Tutton, as Oliver. Andrew Blau as The Artful Dodger isn't much older, being a ninth grader out on tour.

Fagan is the adult backbone of the story and any successful production requires a strong performance in the role. Here Mark McCracken, whose background includes both legitimate theater and improvisational and sketch comedy, is at his best tossing off music hall gags (at one point in his big act one song "You've Got To Pick A Pocket or Two" he advises the urchins he's singing with that they are so good they "should go on tour"). Later, he gets a bit lost in the convolutions of his big second act number "Renewing the Situation."  The show-stopping numbers are sung by the barmaid, here given glorious voice (and not inconsequentially, gorgeous form) by Renata Reneé Wilson, who holds the big note on "needs" in "As Long As He Needs Me" not once but twice, garnering raucous crowd responses on both the first time through and on the reprise. Unfortunately, the "he" that needs her isn't given such a strong performance. The role of Bill Sikes should be horrifyingly threatening from the first notes of "My Name!" but Shane R. Tanner who plays the role here takes a good while to build up to the level of evil that makes sense of the fact that everyone seems to quake at the mere mention of his name.

This is a solid and substantial production with impressive sets for a short-stop tour, a closet full of great costumes, a number of memorable lighting effects (especially the snowflakes that slowly fall strait down in an early scene while the speaker system incongruously carries the sound of a strong wind), a fabulous sounding orchestra in the pit playing the orchestrations revised for the revival, and fine ensemble singing. The choreography is particularly impressive. The opening effect of the orphans marching up from the pit in search of "Food Glorious Food " builds into a "glorious" scene that kicks off a fine evening.

Music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart. Directed by Graham Gill. Original musical staging by Matthew Bourne. Additional choreography and musical staging adapted by Geoffrey Garratt. Orchestrations by William David Brohn.  Music direction by Dominick Amendum. Design: Adrian Vaux (set) Anthony Ward (costumes) Jenny Kagan (lights) Peter Grubb/System Sound (sound) Scott Suchman (photography) Victoria Navarro (stage manager). Cast: Josie Andrews, Colin Bates, Gabe Belyeu, Andrew Blau, Deborah Bowman, Nathaniel M. Cherry, Carrie Cimma, Gwen Eyster, Jimmy Flannery, Theresa Fowler, Kelly Marie Furlough, David L.J. George, Mark Ginsburg, Forrest Hedden, Bryan R. Knowlton, Kelly MacGregor, Kimberly Xavier Martins, Mark McCracken, Michael McKinsey, Amanda Lee Miller, Christina Morrell, Matthew J. Rodgers, John Saunders, Connor Senning, Kerry Sensenbach, Nathan Spector, Shane R. Tanner, Clay Thomson, Samuel P. Todd, IV, Mary-Ann Trippet, Ryan Tutton, Christian David VanNasdall, Lauren Verfenstein, Annamarie Vukmanovich, Christian A. Warner, Guy Wegener, Sarah White, Justin Wilcox, Koby Williamson, Renata Reneé Wilson, Tucker Worley.

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June 24 -27, 2004

Reviewed June 24
Running time 2:50 - one intermission

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This revival of the classic of the American musical stage originated in London and gave Hugh Jackman a great success in the role of Curley. It then played Broadway for just under a year and was a great success for Shuler Hensley in the role of Jud Fry. Now, the non-equity tour gives a number of very talented, mostly younger performers a chance to strut their stuff in a substantial and satisfying production of one of the great American musicals. Many of them grab the opportunity and give fine performances. Overall it may not match the quality found on Broadway or London, especially in the quality of the dancing in the big chorus numbers, but even there it is more than acceptable and occasionally is nothing short of a pure delight

Storyline: In the Oklahoma Territory of 1907, cowhand Curley is stuck on lovely Laurey but can't get past his flirting to get up the gumption to actually invite her to the box social. The consequence of his hesitation is her agreeing to go with disreputable hired hand Jud Fry. The competition for Laurey's hand reaches tragic proportions with Jud dead and Curly standing trial for his murder on what should be his happy wedding night. But prairie justice recognizes self defense, freeing the young couple to start their lives in the territory that is about to become the great state of Oklahoma!

Among the performers who deliver the most impressive performances are the leading lovers, Brandon Andrus whose clear voice and easy charm make him an attractive Curley, and Amanda Rose as a nicely spunky Laurey, whose attractive femininity is clear even in farm overalls, and who dances the dream ballet with grace. There is a chemistry between them from the opening moments in the charming "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top." Pat Sibley is marvelous as a feisty Aunt Eller and Tom Lucca gets both facets of the Jud Fry character just right -- he's simultaneously hateful and pitiable.

The couple playing the secondary pair of lovers is almost as good. The dim bulb but ever positive Will Parker who just got back from Kansas City is given a bright portrayal by Daniel Robinson. His girl who "Cain't Say No" is delightfully perky in the person of Sarah Shahinian. Together, they make "All er Nothin'" a real delight. Colin Trahan has less success with the role of the traveling salesman/peddler, but the part has been the most difficult of them all as the decades have gone by since the show first opened in 1943. The ethnic humor and the cheap stereotype of what was once "the Jewish comic" role (even when ostensibly, as here, a "Persian peddler") doesn't translate well after sixty years of increasing awareness of insulting characterizations.

Packing this show up to travel for short stands required some downscaling of the massive set designed by Anthony Ward but the translation was skillfully done and most of the images remain fresh. They travel with their own turntable stage which means that they can't adjust the width of the stage for individual theaters. On Wolf Trap's exceptionally wide stage, the narrow platform seems a bit small but your eye adjusts just as it does when you watch a wide screen movie on your nearly square television. Here there are the open sky with the scudding clouds that marked the original, the single structure that rotates to serve as farmhouse, barn and smokehouse and the field of corn "as high as an elephant's eye." The prairie horizon that was so impressive before, however, looks more like a cheap cutout here, and they dispensed with the actual raising of the barn that opens Act II with "The Farmer and the Cowman." Still, that number is danced with joyous release, clearly the best dancing of the night by the full ensemble.

Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Fred Hanson based on the direction of Trevor Nunn. Choreographed by Ginger Thatcher recreated from the choreography of Susan Stroman. Fight choreography by Malcolm Ranson. Original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett. Additional orchestrations by William David Brohn. New dance music by David Krane. Music supervisor John Mezzio. Design: Anthony Ward (set and costumes) David Hersey with adaptation by Ted Mather (lights) Brian Ronan (sound) Joan Marcus (photography) Trinity Wheeler (stage manager). Cast: Brandon Andrus, Gordon Gray, Tom Lucca, M. Erik Michelsen, Amanda Rose, Sarah Shahinian, Pat Sibley, Daniel Robinson, Colin Trahan and ensemble.

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August 26 – 31, 2003
Thoroughly Modern Millie

Reviewed August 26
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes

Potomac Stages Pick

Sometimes Broadway gets light and frivolous entertainment right, and when it does, it is important to make sure that the touring version is mounted with care so audiences across the country can have as good a time as do audiences in New York. Here’s an example. No deep human insights. No important social commentary. No big name star power. Just a lot of fun. Bright, colorful, jazzy, funny and attractive fun. Thoroughly Modern Millie is thoroughly satisfying entertainment - nothing less, nothing more.

Storyline: Retaining the basic story of the famous movie, the Broadway musical tells of a young woman who comes to New York at the height of the flapper era determined to follow Vogue’s advice to the modern woman – marry money. In the process, she stumbles into a "white slavery" racket that kidnaps unattached young women who come to New York to break into show business and ships them off to China to become street walkers. Naturally, she breaks up the criminal activity while finding true love.

The touring cast is every bit as good as the original Broadway cast. Darcie Roberts gets more out of the physical comedy of the title role than the Tony-Award winning Sutton Foster did while belting the big numbers and tapping away with aplomb. Her acrobatic comic bit in which she gets tangled up under her typing desk earned a round of applause, not just lots of laughs. Sean Allan Krill doesn’t dance quite as well as Marc Kudisch did in the original as the boss Millie sets her sights on, but he’s fabulous at singing the operetta material from lush romantics to patter songs and gets all the comedy just right. Millie’s true love interest is nicely played by Matt Cavenaugh who just closed as the star of Urban Cowboy on Broadway. Hollis Resnik is very funny as the faux-Chinese villain and Pamela Isaacs soars on her two big blues numbers as a wealthy club singer.

The score very properly and effectively lifts material from the original movie and adds some nice new material. There are ten new songs. Some of the show’s best musical moments come from music composed by James Van Heusen (the title song), Jay Thompson ("Jimmy"), Peter Il’ych Tchaikovsky ("The Nuttycracker Suite"), Sir Arthur Sullivan ("The Speed Test") and Victor Herbert ("I’m Falling in Love with Someone"). There’s even a little Offenbach in the orchestra. The songs that were written by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan specifically for the musical are nice and one is even a standout – "Forget About the Boy."

The book that Scanlan cobbled together with screenplay writer Richard Morris has its problems, but the book isn’t the real reason for doing this show and, when it really counts, it delivers. A key factor for any musical playing Wolf Trap’s Filene Center is the quality of the sound design and its execution, for there can be as many as 4,000 people under the roof and nearly as many out on the lawn. Here John Weston’s design is nearly flawlessly executed. The tour’s sets aren’t as brightly colored or art deco-ish as the Broadway version. They seem a tad flimsy and fail to fill the cavernous stage of Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, but set designer, David Gallo, has added a nice touch of an Alexander Calder mobile hanging in the penthouse suite of the wealthy club singer. The set for the sky scrapper ledge on which Millie and her beaux cavort is nicely done (only in musical comedy would breaking into a soft shoe on a sky scrapper’s ledge seem not only sensible but inevitable) and the drop-down screen for the translation of ... well, lets not give away all the gags!

Music by Jeanine Tesori and others. Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan. Lyrics by Dick Scanlan and others. Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreography by Rob Ashford. Orchestrations by Doug Besterman and Ralph Burns. Dance arrangements by David Chase. Music direction by Eric Stern. Design: David Gallo (set) Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) Donald Holder (lights) Jon Weston (sound). Cast: Bradley Benjamin, Renée Monique Brown, Matt Cavenaugh, Jeremy Davis, Juliana Ashley Hansen, Pamela Isaacs, Diana Kaarina, Sean Allan Krill, Rachel Lafer, Joe Langworth, Mark Ledbetter, Darren Lee, Troy Magino Daniel May, Andrew Pang, Heather Parcells, Diane Veronica Phelan, Mia Price, Hollis Resnik, Darcie Roberts, Janelle A. Robinson, Paul Schaefer, Laura Shoop, Steven Wenslawski, Tony Yazbeck. 

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August 27 – September 1, 2002
Some Like It Hot

Reviewed August 27
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes
Price range $18 - $55

Most of the elements of a fine evening of musical theater are present in this national touring version of the musical based on the classic1959 movie comedy. But, somehow, they don’t combine into anything. They just remain elements. The snappy dancing, big jazzy orchestra sound, songs that range from lilting to belting and broad comedy shtick are all in service to a script that makes it difficult to care either about the characters or their plight. Without that, what have you got? In this case, you have a celebrity turn by Tony Curtis making his musical stage debut at age 77. There is a reason he didn’t appear in a musical during his first 76 years. He can’t dance, he can’t sing and he can’t set up and deliver a gag. There is one thing he can do, however, and that is be Tony Curtis. The charm and innately attractive self-depreciatory persona is all there and that is what many in the audience came to see. They left happy.

Storyline: Following closely on the structure of Billy Wilder’s movie that starred Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe and the same Tony Curtis (in a different role than he plays now) the musical inserts songs into the story of two buddies who pick up jobs playing saxophone and bass in speakeasies in Chicago during prohibition. They witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre (yes, there is a massacre in a musical comedy! – the machine gunners tap out the sound of the attack). Pursued by the mob they take jobs in an all girl band leaving for Miami. They dress as "Daphne and Josie" and are quartered with the rest of the girls. One falls in love with one of those girls while the other is pursued by a wealthy "dirty old man."

This musical first appeared on Broadway with the title "Sugar" – the name of the character played in the film by Marilyn Monroe which is now played by a nicely sparkling Jodi Carmeli who satisfyingly belts out her big number "People In My Life" but otherwise seems trapped in a Marilyn Monroe impersonation. It was a hit despite strongly negative reviews. Its success is attributed to the strength of the performers who rose above the material – particularly the script by Peter Stone whose book is not only short on funny jokes but which puts the songs in all the wrong places giving them secondary rather than primary plot points to communicate. As a result, even when some of the best of the music Jule Styne and the lyrics Bob Merrill wrote for the show is being sung, it seems the story has stopped for a song. Even when the songs might advance the story, they are undercut by the script which frequently delivers the message of the song in dialogue.

Styne’s music sounds great coming from the pit where 22 musicians play the charts that Michael Gibson has modified from Philip J. Lang’s originals. Joseph Giorgianni’s wailing trumpet is sharp and clean. Styne, who gave us Gypsy and Bells are Ringing, teamed with his Funny Girl partner Bob Merrill (Carnival, New Girl in Town) for this score. With the songs these two came up with it isn’t clear why this show includes a non Styne/Merrill number ("Runnin’ Wild"). At least, when they included an additional number for Tony Curtis, they chose "I Fall In Love Too Easily" from the film Anchors Aweigh which had music by Styne even if the lyrics are by Sammy Cahn. Curtis talks/sings the number very pleasantly and to good dramatic effect. Director/Choreographer Dan Siretta keeps the dance numbers bright and energetic, using a fairly large dance chorus well on the tap-heavy numbers, especially those featuring William Ryall as the mobster chasing the cross-dressing heroes.

Those heroes are Arthur Hanket and Timothy Gulan. Each is fine in his own way. Gulan has a nice vaudevillish duet with Carmeli ("We Could Be Close"), gets most of the laughs of the evening and works in a number of dance gags. Hanket is smoother in the role that is closer to "leading man" even in drag. But the two don’t spark with each other nor, for that matter, is there much spark between any of the characters. They all seem to be doing their own thing very capably. That may not be enough to make this a great evening but it is enough to provide a frame for Tony Curtis’ celebrity appearance set to music.

Written by Peter Stone. Music by Jule Styne. Lyrics by Bob Merrill. Directed/Choreographed by Dan Siretta. Design: James Leonard Joy (sets) Suzy Benizinger (costumes) David H. Lawrence (hair) Ken Billington (lights) Christopher K. Bond (sound). Cast: Tony Curtis, Jodi Carmeli, Timothy Gulan, Arthur Hanket, William Ryall, Lenora Nemetz, Gerry Vichi.

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August 16 – 17, 2002
Street Scene

Reviewed August 16
Running time 3 hours 5 minutes
Price range $18 - $48

The hot and sticky night air at Wolf Trap will fill with the glories of the lush score of Kurt Weill’s Broadway Opera about people affected by hot and sticky night air for one more night as the Wolf Trap Opera Company ends its 2002 season. This two-night production, using locals as well as performers drawn from the national pool of talent, is "on loan" from the Minnesota Opera.

Storyline: The lives of working class families in a crowded block of New York City apartments in the late 1940 are all on view as everyone seeks some relief from the heat and stifling air in their cramped quarters. All the stories of the families in this melting pot neighborhood of Americans of Italian, Jewish, Swedish and German heritage and a black janitor seem to intersect with the Maurrants. Mr. Maurrants is a hard drinking, intolerant husband whose job takes him on the road. Mrs. Maurrants is having an affair with the collector for the milk company. The Maurrants’ twenty-ish daughter loves a neighbor boy but is being pursued by her supervisor at work. Things come to a head when Mr. Maurrants comes home unexpectedly to discover the milk collector with his wife.

Weill’s score includes operatic arias, swinging dance pieces, 1940’s pop songs and pure Broadway numbers  that cover much more than just the central story of the Maurrants. But this production is clearly most interested in the operatic values of the piece, right down to the practice of keeping a spotlight on the conductor throughout the show which is common in opera houses but rare in musical theater. The concentration in this production on the operatic values may emphasize the beauty of the musical content but it is frequently at the expense of the understandability of Langston Hughes’ colorful lyrics. It is lucky, then, that the script which playwright Elmer Rice adapted from his own Pulitzer Prize winning play delivers a good deal of the plot information in dialogue rather than in the lyrics which more often are devoted to character revelation and atmosphere creation. Still, those not familiar with the show are well served by the brief synopsis of the plot printed on page 39 of the program. A few minutes reading it before the first act begins and a few more re-reading the final two paragraphs during the intermission should be a big help.

The cast is a first rate operatic ensemble with standout performances by precisely those whose roles call for such prominence. Carolyn Betty and Angela Fout as the two Maurrant women fill the night with lovely music and create characters about whom it is easy to care. Oren Gradus, the heavy of the piece, has a marvelously deep voice. There are less operatic elements well served by cast members with more traditional Broadway talents. Anne Hawthorne and Stephen Gregory Smith sing the hot swing number "Moon-faced, Starry-eyed" with pizzazz and then sell Karma Camp’s snappy and sexy choreography. Poor Ryan Taylor does a nice job with the light and lively "Wouldn’t You Like to Be on Broadway" but has to cope with the dual distractions of having a cute dog being walked by a neighbor right in the middle of his song and a strange lighting effect at the end of the alley drawing attention away from his big finish. To top it off, the script then has him sit and listen to Fout sing the most beautiful song in the score "What Good Would the Moon Be?"

The towering shallow set gets its own ovation when the curtain first rises. As all the action takes place either out on the sidewalk before these apartment buildings or in the windows where the occupants seek a breath of air, scenic designer Adrianne Lobel pushes everything to the lip of the stage but compensates with architectural details that make you feel the New York City block has been magically transported to the Filene Center’s stage. The only depth is the narrow alley separating two of the buildings and it dead-ends in a blank brick wall. No sky is visible as the buildings continue up beyond the proscenium. And, in a nice touch to enhance the feeling of realism, the street slopes down just a bit from left to right. The windows, front stoops and the side walk are crowded with as many as fifty characters in sweat stained costumes milling around seeking a bit of air or companionship. The stark reality of the visual image meshes well with the formal musical conventions.

Music by Kurt Weill. Lyrics by Langston Hughes. Book by Elmer Rice. Directed by Garnett Bruce. Conducted by Richard Bado. Choreographed by Karma Camp. Design: Adrianne Lobel (set) Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) Tom Mays (lights). Cast: Carolyn Betty, Angela Fout, Oren Gradus, Anne Hawthorne, Stephen Gregory Smith, Ryan Taylor, Angela Gilbert, Joel Snyder, Miranda Rowe, Terri Eschul Malone, Adriana Zabala, Stacey Rishoi, Eugene Galvin, Joyce Lundy, Elizabeth McNamara, Alan T. Reed, Josh Hawkins, Patrick Marques, Jason Ferrante, Carleton Chambers, Marty Lodge, Ross Hauck, Leslie Luxemburg, Elisha Hipólito, Benjamin Winnick, Emily James, Linda Kirk, Jennifer Blades.

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June 25 – 30, 2002
West Side Story

Reviewed June 25
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes

The start of a national tour of the new production of the Bernstein / Robbins / Sondheim / Laurnets classic began Tuesday night at Wolf Trap in a performance that showed great good taste, strong performing talents and high potential although there were some first-time-out rough spots which should be worked out as the cast and crew gains more experience. One would assume that, with practice, the scene changes won’t drag on beyond the music composed to cover them, and that they won’t need to have a crew of stage hands holding up the chain link fence for the rumble scene. These and other distractions might have done great damage to a less satisfying production. But when the show itself is going as well as this one was going, its strength earns some leeway from an audience that really wants to enjoy the show.

Storyline: This 1957 transformation of the Romeo and Juliet story to the streets of New York City sets an Italian American street gang (the Jets) against a Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks). Tony, the former leader of the Jets, who is growing up and trying to break out of the gang life by working in Doc’s drug store, meets Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks. Tony and Maria fall instantly in love and, at Maria’s urging, Tony tries to prevent a rumble between the two gangs. Things go wrong, however, and in the ensuing knife fight Tony ends up killing Maria’s brother. Tony, too, is killed in the explosion of hatred and prejudice that results, but the shock on both sides brings the groups together if only for a moment of shared remorse.

West Side Story was a landmark in the use of dance to tell the story of a Broadway musical and the choreography of Jerome Robbins is recreated here with a fresh eye by director, choreographer Alan Johnson. The show is at its best when the Jets and the Sharks are dancing, although it is a bit thin when the girls are cavorting to the music of (I Love To Live In) "America." The "Prologue," "Cool" and most particularly the "Rumble" are impressively angular explosions of emotion in motion.

With a score that includes the excruciatingly beautiful balcony scene’s "Tonight" and the wedding shop’s "One Hand, One Heart," the emotionally complex quintet reprise of "Tonight" as well as famous numbers like "Maria" "I Feel Pretty" and "Gee, Officer Krupke" the vocal talent is as important as the skills of the dancers. Drew Niles is a fine Tony and Natasha Harper’s voice soars on the high points even if it is a bit weak when soft. Both Andy Blankenbuehler as Riff and Shane Kirkpatrick as Action have the look and the sound of their roles well in hand while, as an ensemble, this young team works quite well. What is more, they are backed by a large, grand sounding orchestra conducted by Donald Chan. A non-singing Dale Radunz is quite impressive in the hateful role of the police detective while Neal Hemphill makes the most of his moments as over-the-hill beat cop Krupke.

The set construction is a bit flimsy, obviously designed for ease of touring. But the overall design itself is interesting and effective, adopting a wide-screen ratio of height to width reminiscent of a "letter boxed" video. While the slide on, slide off rooms shimmy and shake, the total effect including the lighting and color schemes work very well. Lynn Bowling’s costumes are particularly effective in their use of different colors to clarify allegiances.

Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Entire original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Directed and choreographed by Alan Johnson. Design: Leo B. Meyer (set) Ken Billington (lights) Lynn Bowling (costumes) Abe Jacob (sound). Cast: Drew Niles, Natasha Harper, Andy Blankenbuehler, Dale Radunz, Neal Hemphill, Ricky Cortez, Lynn Sterling, Dennis Stow, Jack Aaron, Stephanie Fittro, Shane Kirkpatrick.