Theatre Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at O’Connell & Company.

October is the perfect time of year to perform “Little Shop of Horrors,” one of the darkest  yet hilariously entertaining and toe-tapping musicals out there. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote a fabulous score for a rather terrible story and thanks to a dynamite cast at O’Connell & Company, it makes for an unforgettably fun night at the theater.

. . .a killer good production that’s truly out of this world.

“Little Shop of Horrors” follows the plight of  Seymour Krelbourne (a lovable Matthew Mooney) as he nurses a strange plant with an even stranger appetite to life while pining for his coworker Audrey (flawless songstress Jenny Marie McCabe) at a Skid Row flower shop run by the closest thing he’s ever had to a father, Mushnik (a hysterical Dan Morris).

From the moment you sit down in the theater, which was perfectly utilized by Matthew Myers’ spacious set, there’s Halloween-themed music pumping through the speakers. With the “Little Shop of Horrors” logo sign glowing above the curtain, it set the mood perfectly for the show.

Director Joey Bucheker really knocked this one out of the park. The casting was perfect, from the three knockout main characters to the fabulous, sassy and soulful trio of street urchins played by Marta Aracelis, Smirna Mercedes-Perez and Emily Pici. The male ensemble also knocked out a huge variety of roles, with Daniel Lendzian soaking up all kinds of stage time as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello as well as multiple other characters and Jake Hayes giving us a deep, demonic voice for Audrey II.

Mooney and McCabe are one heck of a pair, balancing adorable chemistry and cluelessness with ease and making “Suddenly Seymour” one of the show’s highlights. McCabe masters Audrey’s easily annoying voice perfectly, with every word and note clear as a bell – and boy, can she sing. Mooney is the cutest geeky botanist there ever was, and is at his best sharing the stage with Morris during “Mushnik and Son.” Morris’ cartoonish facial expressions are just perfect and, with Bucheker’s choreography, make for a side-splitting number.

Lastly, no production of this show can be successful without well designed puppets operated by a master puppeteer and Brett Runyon’s various incarnations of Audrey II are out of this world. Just when you think you’ve seen the largest Audrey II… it just keeps getting bigger. Thankfully, the experienced Zachary Haumesser is at the helm to bring Audrey II believably to life with the assistance of Ben Caldwell and Matthew Myers. The final scene has the largest Audrey II that I have ever seen and, coupled with Melissa Leventhal’s costumes, makes for one hilarious final number that leaves the audience in tears from laughter.

“Little Shop” is a killer good production that’s truly out of this world. With plenty of opportunities to catch it this month, make sure it is on your October calendar.

Running Time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.“Little Shop of Horrors” is playing at O’Connell & Company in residence at the Park School of Buffalo through October 28, 2018. There will be a special added performance on Halloween. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Orchard (After Chekhov)’ at The Shaw Festival

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The cast of “The Orchard (After Checkov) at The Shaw Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre is my favorite theater at the Shaw Festival. Its intimacy and ability to draw in an audience in so many different configurations is so interesting and oftentimes perfect for the shows selected to perform there. Sarena Parmar’s exceptional “The Orchard (After Chekhov)” is playing there this year, and it is simply extraordinary.

…an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything…”

Parmar’s spin on Anton Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is based on her own childhood in British Columbia and follows a Punjabi-Sikh family, the Basran’s, who is fighting to maintain ownership of their family orchard in the Okanagan Valley.  Although the story is set in 1975, the play’s focus on the Canadian immigrant experience couldn’t feel more timely, especially for this politically aware American tourist.

The show begins and ends with a transformative audio interlude, wiping away any thoughts or distractions from the audience’s minds and moving us right into the story. The cast, directed by Ravu Jain, is comprised of both Shaw debutees and veterans, all of whom create an endearing and sometimes frustrating family.

The fresh-faced Parmar, in addition to penning an incredible play, stars as Annie, one of the daughters of the farm. She’s incredibly well-spoken and serves as the family peacekeeper, trying to keep everyone from fighting with her mother, who she recently brought home.

Shawn Ahmed’s Peter, a neighbor to the Basrans, is another standout performance. While he initially comes off as a nerdy neighbor, we quickly learn of his quick wit and strong political opinions, which intrigue Annie and challenge the rest of the family.

Krystal Kiran is my other favorite performance as Barminder, battling her family’s potential loss of the orchard, frustrating finances and a seemingly almost-fiance. Not to mention her desire to feel more connected to the ladies in her community, toying with the idea of switching to a new religion in order to fit in.

I could go on and on about the actors, all of whom were purposeful and strong in their characters, but the real star of the show is the story itself. It’s heartwarming, funny and devastating at times, but mostly, it’s frighteningly familiar and relevant to the current political climate. Parmar has written a fresh adaptation that’s sure to grow legs after its run at Shaw, already pegged for a 2019 run in Vancouver.

“The Orchard (after Chekhov)” is an incredibly important story of humanity and the fear of losing everything. If at all possible, take a journey north to open your mind and meet the Basrans. You’ll be glad you did.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

“The Orchard (After Chekhov)” runs through September 1 at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre at Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-the-Lake, Ontario. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Music Man’ at The Stratford Festival

The Music Man – On The Run 2018

Members of the company in The Music Man. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is just one of those classic musicals. There’s comedy, romance, dance breaks, a traditional soprano leading lady and a score full of catchy songs performed by a large orchestra. Thanks to electrifying choreography and phenomenal performances, the Stratford Festival breathes new life into “The Music Man” with its unforgettable production.

. . .simply extraordinary.

The show opens with a group of traveling salesmen complaining about the bad rap they get when they arrive in a town that’s been swindled by Harold Hill, a salesman who claims to sell boys’ marching bands without having any musical knowledge. When he arrives in River City, Iowa, quite possibly the most stubborn group of everymen is there to welcome him. There’s the mayor, the grumpy shop owners, the gossiping group of women and the librarian, Marian Paroo. As Harold begins to work his magic on the townspeople, he raises the suspicions of Marian, who desperately tries to figure him out.

There is not a single part of the Stratford production that isn’t excellent. From the harmonious orchestra and Michael Gianfrancesco’s intelligently designed set to Dana Osborne’s flawless costumes and Michael Walton’s creative lighting plot, all of the technical elements perfectly highlight each amazing performance.

Director and Choreographer Donna Feore has done some incredible work with this production. In addition to stellar direction, her choreography is out of this world. “Seventy-Six Trombones” in particular offers countless unforgettable, show-stopping sequences, showcasing a highly skilled, diverse ensemble of dancers.

Daren A. Herbert is an incredible Harold Hill. With smooth dance moves and an even smoother voice, he brings a long overdue liveliness and new acting choices to a sometimes predictably played character. Herbert especially shines when first charming River City citizens (and the audience) in “Ya Got Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

Danielle Wade is perfect as the strong, independent Marian Paroo, especially in moments of balancing tender conversations with her younger brother Winthrop (an unbelievably good Alexander Elliot) and dishing out the sass with her mother (an endearing Denise Oucharek). Her lovely, rich voice soars on “My White Knight” and “Til There Was You.”

One important update the Stratford team made to the production is one of the musical’s early scenes when the town is celebrating the Fourth of July. In the published production and musical film, Mrs. Shinn leads a band of girls known as the “Wa-Tan-Ye Girls” in a shamefully racist skit. In a long overdue update, Stratford’s Mrs. Shinn glided onto the stage dressed as George Washington, with the girls (known as the River City Girl’s Historical Society) dressed as various patriotic characters, reenacting Washington crossing the Delaware River.

Stratford’s “The Music Man” is simply extraordinary. Thankfully, there are plenty of chances left to catch this incredible production, which is well worth a trip across the border.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 41 minutes including a 20 minute intermission

“The Music Man” runs through November 3 at the Festival Theatre at Stratford Festival. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at Lockport Palace Theatre

The cast of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at Lockport Palace Theatre.

“Singin’ in the Rain” is my all-time favorite musical and my favorite film. There’s a memorable script, catchy songs and so many classic dance numbers. So, perhaps more than most, I walked into the Lockport Palace Theater for their production with lofty expectations. Fortunately, I was very pleased with the production.

…a memorable production of a classic musical.

Christopher Parada directs this lovely production following the rise of talking pictures in 1927 Hollywood. The show starts at a silent movie premiere featuring the hottest stars of the day, Don Lockwood (Bobby Cooke) and Lina Lamont (Kelli Pyle), as they open one film and begin work on the next up against the rising popularity of the first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer.” On the way to the premiere party, Don meets aspiring stage actress Kathy Selden (Katie Merrill), who throws Don for a loop by telling him he really doesn’t act and is more of a shadow on film.

Cooke tackles the role made popular by Gene Kelly with great ease. He’s a thankfully phenomenal dancer, especially shining in the end of Act I with “Moses Supposes” and “Signin in the Rain.” (Yes – it rains on stage) Despite an injury, he delivers a great performance and majorly impressed the audience.

Merrill is just perfect as Don’s love interest, Kathy Selden. Her voice is so sweet and she has a beautiful classic sound, especially in “Would You.” She has great chemistry with Cooke and is truly a delight to watch.

Leading the more comedic roles in the show were Pyle as Lamont and Ricky Needham as musician and Don’s best friend, Cosmo Brown. Pyle is unstoppably funny with a horrifically annoying voice, which makes for an excellent portrayal of Lamont. Needham delivers a very silly “Make Em Laugh” and makes for a great dance partner for Cooke in “Moses Supposes.”

The Palace Theater is a perfect venue for this classic musical. A beautiful large, old theater, it has all the room for big production numbers and showmanship. Some of the set seemed rather bare considering the space, but the colorful and creative lighting design made up for it.

Rheanna Gallego’s choreography bore a little too much resemblance to the film for my liking, but her personal touches were enjoyable. Cooke, Merrill and Needham especially nail it in “Good Morning.”

All in all, it is a memorable production of a classic musical. Be sure to check out this delightful summer show!
Running Time: Approximately 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“Singin’ in the Rain” will be performed through July 22, 2018 at the Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport. Visit www.lockportpalacetheatre.org for more information.

Theatre Review: ‘Murder for Two’ at MusicalFare Theatre

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Joseph Donohue III and Philip Farugia in ‘Murder for Two’ at MusicalFare!

Summer theater faces a unique challenge, in my opinion. Our summers are so short that if the show isn’t outside, regardless of its subject, there’s not a lot of motivation to skip out on a summer afternoon or evening to sit in a dark theater. However, if my budget was limitless, I’d spend every night at MusicalFare’s side-splitting “Murder for Two.

…unforgettably hysterical. Add this to your summer bucket list!”

MusicalFare’s production, directed and choreographed by Doug Weyand, is a two man show following the aftermath of a murder at a notorious author’s birthday party. A loveable Philip Farugia plays the wannabe detective investigating the murder and the wildly talented Joseph Donohue III portrays, well, everyone else. On top of that, Farugia and Donohue take turns accompanying each other on the piano, sometimes resulting in four hands crowding the keys.

Despite many characters and very few actors, the show is incredibly easy to follow. Donohue handles the switches between characters with ease and doesn’t mix up any of their voices, body stances or mannerisms. In addition to it being impressive, it’s also hilarious. The crowd couldn’t stop laughing for the nearly two hour show, soaking in Farugia and Donohue’s excellent comedic choices.

Farugia is a great match for Donohue’s ever-changing characters, never missing a beat. He’s loveable, relatable and an all-around delight, especially when tickling the ivory keys. Farugia also works well with the audience, especially when one member is asked to come onstage when they run out of actors.

There was one moment in particular where the audience especially appreciated the duo, and that was when they handled the unfortunately common issue of a cell phone going off during the show. The scene was moving right along but it became clear that the audience was distracted. Thanks to an earlier gag in the show, Donohue was able to seamlessly add an extra comedic moment, without dropping character, and berate the audience member for having their phone on. Immediately the tension dissented, the phone was shut off and the duo received applause and a couple cheers before continuing on with the performance.

Bravo to MusicalFare on an amazing end to their season. “Murder for Two” is unforgettably hysterical. Add this to your summer bucket list!

Running Time: Approximately two hours including a fifteen minute intermission

“Murder for Two” runs through August 12 at MusicalFare Theatre in Amherst. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘Annie’ at Lancaster Opera House

I’ll be honest – I’ve seen ‘Annie’ more times than I care to admit. Annie is cute, the dog is cute…. it’s all cute. However, I was drawn to the Opera House production based on their renaissance over the past few years. David Bondrow’s development of the resident company has been exciting to watch and it continues to churn out high quality productions – a tradition it continues with its latest production of “Annie.”

This production is definitely worth a trip to the Lancaster Opera House.

“Annie” is based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” and follows a hopeful girl as she dreams of finding her real parents who left her at the orphanage. While she and her friends try to avoid the wrath of Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage, Annie is selected to spend the Christmas holidays in the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, who opens his heart to Annie.

Tiffany Nowak stars as Annie, and boy, is she a star. Nowak effortlessly belts out the musical’s iconic song, “Tomorrow” soon after a rousing rendition of “It’s the Hard Knock Life” alongside some really talented young actors. Nowak is optimistic and beams happiness and hope. Bondrow, who directed the production, made a stellar choice in casting her.

Tim Hartman steps in as Oliver Warbucks, commanding the stage with his height and deep baritone. He’s vocally strong and comedically stronger. Though it’s clear by his comfort level in this role that he’s done it a few times before, he paired greatly with Nowak and enraptured the opening night crowd.

Chrissy Vogric-Hunnell is Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ secretary. Her soprano voice soars and she brings a classy, bright performance to the stage. She’s especially good in moments alone with Annie and with Warbucks, bringing a little extra focus to their developing relationships.

And then there is Anne DeFazio as Miss Hannigan. Her Miss Hannigan is loud, unstable and visibly cold-hearted, making her a perfect choice for the show’s main villain. Watching her unravel during “Little Girls” is delightful, as well as seeing her scheme alongside her brother Rooster (a smarmy Marc Sacco) and his dim-witted arm candy Lily St. Regis (a delightfully annoying Meghan Cobham) in “Easy Street.”

The adult ensemble is vocally outstanding, ensuring that the less familiar songs and scenes from the musical are just as worth watching as the iconic ones. Particularly charming is Ricky Needham’s appearances as President Franklin Roosevelt. While I’m not quite sure why his character voice drifts to a British dialect at times, he makes the character larger than life and leads an impressive multi-part harmony in one of the “Tomorrow” reprises with members of his cabinet. Nathan Andrew Miller also transforms a character of few words, Drake (Warbucks’ butler) into a memorable, chuckle-inducing performance.

Before this production, I’ve never bothered to notice choreography in any production of “Annie,” but Heather Reed’s work here is delightful. It is memorable and fun, playing up the best bits of every song.

While initially I wasn’t a fan of David Dwyer’s static set, I soon fell in love with its versatility thanks to the texture and color choices he made as well as the use of the New York City skyline as a frame for each of the doors and wall panels.

Tiffany Nowak’s bright-eyed and vocally impressive “Annie” is surrounded by an incredible ensemble well worth the price of a ticket. This production is definitely worth a trip to the Lancaster Opera House.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and twenty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission

“Annie” runs through June 24th at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ at The Center For the Arts

I’m not going to lie, I was surprised to hear that anyone locally was producing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” David Yazbeck’s busy, flavorful musical based on the 1988 film of the same name by Pedro Almodovar. Despite three Tony Award nominations and raves from Patrick Hinds, host of the Theater People podcast (one of my most trusted sources of Broadway history) it did not pan out with critics and played roughly 90 days on Broadway.

. . . a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops.

Based on this reputation, I was interested to see what UB Theatre and Dance would be able to do with a Spanish score and vivacious characters despite a confusing storyline. Honestly? It was much better than I expected.

“Women on the Verge” covers a 48-hour period in 1980s Madrid where a group of women simultaneously experience tumultuous disruptions to their love lives. There’s Pepa, who’s longing to track down her suddenly distant lover, Ivan; Lucia, Ivan’s wife; Candela, Pepa’s best friend and a ditzy supermodel; and that’s just the beginning.

Selina Iozzo dazzles as Pepa, with a sultry voice and believable balance of being a grounded, determined woman and a hopelessly anxious mess.

Lucia, Ivan’s wife, is played by a powerful Hannah Keller. Keller had large shoes to fill knowing that the other professional incarnation of her character was played by Patti LuPone, and she killed it. Lucia’s mental stability just doesn’t exist but man, Keller knows how to play to the back of the house between hilarious facial expressions and body language and a powerful belt.

Camille Capello tackles arguably one of the show’s most difficult songs, “Model Behavior” as Candela. The tongue-twisting lyrics are no cakewalk but Capello nailed it. Despite her character’s lack of intelligence, she’s endearing and genuine, shining especially in some tender-hearted moments with William Hin, who hilariously portrays Lucia and Ivan’s son, Carlos.

In addition to Rory Tamimie’s velvety pipes as Ivan and Holden Bath and Matthew Rittler’s memorable detective duo, ensemblist Taylor Burrows has a hilarious scene as Ivan’s concierge, who made me laugh so hard in her 2 minute scene that I thought about it long after the curtain call.

The choreography and music is great, but the show’s faults lie in the pacing and flow of the story. Just when the show seems to want to follow a new character and plot point, it shifts gears completely to focus on a new character and plot point. By the end of Act I, you’re thankful all the characters end up in the same room just because it’s much less confusing.

Katherine Metzler’s set design was heavily influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso. Mixed with vibrant costumes by Mary Alice Groat, it proved to be too much in certain scenes while dazzling in others.

However, the show’s flaws are easy to forget thanks to a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops. The actors’ performances are packed with passion and hilarity, making a nearly three hour show feel rather fun and enjoyable to experience.

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” runs through May 6 at UB’s Center for the Arts. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Chicago’ at Niagara University Theatre

There are few musical movie adaptations that are better than “Chicago.” Despite being an incredibly high quality film with both critical and commercial success, it has made many people tougher critics of the stage show because it’s less glamorous. Fortunately, Niagara University Theatre’s sold-out production offers a worthy display of one of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s finest efforts.

. . .a thoroughly entertaining production. . .

The musical is based on a 1926 play by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about the crimes and criminals she reported on. While focusing on the idea of the “celebrity criminal,” the cast performs vaudeville-style numbers to choreography heavily inspired by Bob Fosse, who choreographed the original production.

The cast’s vocals stand out the most in this production. With many iconic tunes spread out among the leading roles, each one was performed with great conviction, diction and impressive belting.

Cassidy Kreuzer is a star-in-the-making. As Roxie Hart, she’s sassy, sexy and strong, bringing a lot of personality to a rather unlikable and occasionally dumbed down character. Her vocals, delivered through an incredibly animated face, are flawless.

Kayla McSorley carries the the darker role of the leading duo as Velma Kelly. While her vocals are stunning and her acting choices spot-on, her dancing had room for improvement, especially noticeable during the finale in a dance duet with the skilled Kreuzer. Despite that, McSorely delivers an entrancing performance of “All That Jazz” and shines alongside Kreuzer in “My Own Best Friend” and Ember Tate in “Class.”

Tate portrays Matron Mama Morton with intoxicating flair. She’s got a killer voice, showcasing her vocal chops from the moment she enters with a boa made of money in “When You’re Good to Mama.” Charles McGregor also delivers a great performance as the sleazy, selfish defense attorney Billy Flynn. His songs require some powerful notes and McGregor’s voice soared.

Other notable performances were Nicholas Edwards’ heartbreaking, innocent Amos Hart and C. Caso’s impressive Mary Sunshine.

Natalie Slipko’s choreography was well suited to the small stage and the talents of the ensemble, giving an appropriate amount of homage to Fosse without choreographing a carbon copy of the existing production. I especially enjoyed “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “Cell Block Tango” as dance numbers.

The only overwhelming criticism I had with the production is the costuming. While well-constructed and period appropriate, they were boring. Velma and Roxie donned a black and grey printed 20’s style dress in the same style as the ensemble women, whose were plain grey. In keeping with other professional productions, no one changed costumes until the end of the show, but the lack of excitement the outfits gave left me wanting some change. For a show that’s known to be dark and sexy, the simple dresses paired with the pants, shirts, vests and ties worn by the male ensemble left a lot to be desired and felt rather conservative given the choreography and style the show is known for. It’s function was okay for the production, but it feels like there was a missed opportunity here.

Vocally impressive and filled with Fosse, ‘Chicago’ is a thoroughly entertaining production anyone with a ticket is lucky to see. Thanks to a well cast troupe, it offers memorable performances by incredibly promising young talent.

Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Chicago” runs through April 29, 2018 at Niagara University. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

Theater that is geared toward children isn’t always enjoyable for adults. Some of the performances, especially when the actors are playing animals, can feel too silly and over-exaggerated.

Thankfully, Rocking Horse Productions’ inventive telling of “Charlotte’s Web,” directed by Leigha Eichhorn, defies that stereotype, offering an innocently fun evening at the theater for all ages.

. . .wholesome and heartwarming. . .

Based on the best-selling novel by E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web” follows the story of Wilbur, the smallest pig in his litter who was saved from slaughter by Fern, his owner’s daughter. As Wilbur gets bigger, he is taken to the Zuckerman’s farm to live until he is fat enough to sell. When Wilbur and Fern find out his planned fate, Charlotte, a spider who lives in the barn with Wilbur, offers her assistance to keep him alive, weaving words like “radiant” and “humble” into her web to attract visitors in hopes that Zuckerman will change his mind.

First and foremost, we have to talk about Danielle Burning as Charlotte. Her voice is gentle and soothing and her body language smooth and calculated. But what makes her performance truly unforgettable is her aerial gymnastic skills. With the use of aerial silks suspended from the rafters, Burning utilizes her strength and grace to mimic Charlotte’s moves through the web, delivering a chunk of her lines while hanging upside down. The audience is in awe every time she does a trick, and adds a layer of magic to the production.

Wilbur is played by an excellent Angelo Heimowitz. With incredible vocal clarity and a vibrant, expressive face he makes for one adorable pig, nailing his pig noises and behaviors in every scene. Coupled with Elissa Neri as Fern, they make for one aww-inducing pair.

All of the animal characters are embraced by their human counterparts who fearlessly commit to whatever vocal stylings or behaviors are necessary to sell their animals. While it is very silly, it is never too hokey or cheesy. Derrick Reynolds gives a standout performance as Templeton the rat, letting his gritty baritone boom to the back of the theater and giving us a little taste of a villain for the story (don’t get me wrong – he’s not really mean, just selfish).

Another interesting technical choice is the absence of produced sound effects for all but one of the background noises for the show. Whether it be birds, fireworks or even a car horn, all of the sounds were performed live by the cast. Some were obviously people and others were impressively deceiving. But most of all, it offered a sort of perfectly homegrown feel to the production.

“Charlotte’s Web” is a wholesome and heartwarming night out for all ages. Even if shows geared toward children aren’t your thing, it is worth seeing just to watch Burning as Charlotte turn tricks on her silky web.

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes including 15-minute intermission

“Charlotte’s Web” plays through March 25, 2018, is produced by Rocking Horse Productions, and is presented at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ at ACTS Alden

Back when I was in third grade, my younger sibling and I watched a recorded VHS of Donny Osmond in a movie version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” every night for nearly a month. The songs are catchy, the mood is fun and there’s a happy ending – what’s not to love? After seeing George Liaros Productions’ version onstage at the Alden Christian Theater Society (ACTS), I can personally vouch that the musical has stood the test of time and is still as fun and campy as ever.

. . .an unforgettably spirited performance. . .

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, follows the story of Joseph found in the biblical book of Genesis. One of Jacob’s twelve sons, he possesses a unique ability to interpret dreams and holds the favor of his father, much to his brother’s frustrations. When he is gifted with a gorgeous coat of many colors, the brothers cannot control their jealousy and sell him as a slave to a traveling party, sending Joseph on a journey that changes all of their lives.

George Liaros, assisted by Jim Coughlin directs an energetic cast led by Ethan Schrodt as the titular character and Kate Francis-Schrodt as the narrator. Both have strong, lovely voices and carry more than half of the score by themselves. Schrodt’s Joseph is honest, devoted and vulnerable and Francis-Schrodt gives the right amount of engagement in every scene. She shines brightest when navigating Lloyd Webber’s most tongue-tying phrases with incredible ease.

While the Pharaoh doesn’t appear until Act 2, he’s typically an audience favorite in “Joseph” and Dan Barone in this production is no exception. Done up in heavy eye makeup, Barone is strong and confident in “Song of the King,” fearlessly shaking his hips and belting out the lyrics. He’s especially enjoyable to watch as Joseph becomes more popular with his posse, as his jealousy makes for some great facial expressions.

Despite being small and lacking the traditional dozen men, Liaros’s ensemble is stellar. They are vocally strong throughout most of the show and are clearly enjoying themselves in every scene and song, especially while performing Sara Johnson’s fun choreography. They’re all great, but it is Mark Jablonski, Bill Baldwin and Dylan Zielinski who steal the show with hilarious physical comedy, exaggerated facial expressions and well-timed comedy bits.

Liaros chose an incredibly ambitious set and technical elements for this production considering the limits and intimacy of the theater. While the runway down the center of the theater provides some much-need space for the actors, there are some moments when the actors are almost on top of the audience. The lighting, however, while also “big” for that specific theater, was utilized at its fullest for all of the right moments, especially during Act 1’s closer, “Go, Go, Go Joseph.”

Some of the orchestrations also get lost in the use of a recorded soundtrack for the show, but that is soon forgotten thanks to the stellar ensemble’s first appearance in “Jacob and Sons.”

While it’s clear Liaros could’ve used more men in the cast, the talented ensemble he assembled delivered an unforgettably spirited performance that will leave you with a smile. “Joseph” is an ideal remedy to our persistent winter and worth the short drive to Alden.

Run Time: About 2 hours including 15-minute intermission

“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” closed March 18, 2018 at ACTS in Alden. For more information on upcoming shows by George Liaros Productions, click here.