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: ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ at Lancaster Opera House

Anyone who made it through their high school English class is probably familiar—at least from a 30,000 foot view—of the story of Anne Frank and her family. If you’re like me, your memory of her story is relatively vague: a little girl and her family hide out in a secret annex above an office building during World War II to hide from Nazi forces, and end up living there for over two years.  After seeing the superb production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” currently playing at the Lancaster Opera House, I was reminded of the beauty, humanity, and great sadness of Anne’s story, which was masterfully conveyed through a cast of spectacular actors who brought nuance and depth to their characters. I came to the Lancaster Opera House with only a hazy knowledge of Anne Frank’s story, and left feeling like I had known her for years.

. . .wall-to-wall stellar acting performances. . .

Based upon “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and adapted for the stage by Wendy Kesselman, “The Diary of Anne Frank” tells the story of a young Jewish girl named Anne (Mira Steuer) who—along with her entire family, another family, and a dentist named Mr. Dussel (Ian Michalski)—spend over two years hiding from the Nazi forces in an annex above an office building in Amsterdam in 1942. In this annex, Anne comes of age: she laughs, plays, fights with her mother, and falls in love for the first time. The play chronicles not only Anne and her coming-of-age, but how these families maintained hope and continued to love despite the horrors and atrocities happening outside their walls. It is no surprise to those who have read the book that eventually the annex is discovered by Nazi officers and the Franks, van Daan’s and Mr. Dussel are all sent to concentration camps where–as we learn through a transcending final monologue from Otto Frank (Stan Klimecko)—all the annex’s inhabitants but him are killed, including Anne.

Perhaps the most resonating element of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is how the play demonstrates the persistence of the human spirit. Throughout their two-plus years in the annex the Franks, the van Daans, and Mr. Dussel refuse to let their present circumstances break them. They sing, they play games, they celebrate Hanukkah, and they learn how to acclimate to their new existence; the cast perfectly captured the everyday minutia of daily life. While they all show the signs of strain and stress pretty plainly, it is absolutely captivating to watch eight people (and a cat) live in a cramped attic for over two years and learn how to—within reason and with many concessions—continue day-to-day life. This is a true testament to the talent of this show’s cast.

It’s hard to elevate any one acting performance, because they were all spectacular. Ian Michalski was simultaneously hilarious and irritating as Mr. Dussel; both Stan Klimecko and Caitlin Baeumler Coleman gave masterful performances as the Frank parents; David C. Mitchell and Josie DiVincenzo perfectly captured the marital strain and daily stresses of the van Daan’s; and David Butler demonstrated the frustration and teen angst of Peter van Daan. The tour-de-force performance, however, was from Mira Steuer. Mira was inspiring, completely capturing Anne Frank’s unbreakable spirit. Mira is only a freshman in high school, and is surely goin’ places.

In addition to the wall-to-wall stellar acting performances, enough good words can’t be said about this show’s set and production design. Particularly effective was the use of space, and the choice for each family to be designated to a different level of the stage (annex); it allowed for the audience to view the Franks, van Daan’s, and Mr. Dussel simultaneously and conveyed how cramped and uncomfortable their living space was. The use of original radio broadcasts was effective at transporting the audience back to the WWII setting. The period-era props and attention to the set’s detail is a testament to Director David Bondrow and Set Designer David Dwyer.

The Lancaster Opera House’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is of the highest caliber and truly a Broadway-quality show. You are sure to be moved.

Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

“The Diary of Anne Frank” runs until February 18th and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here

Theatre Review: ‘Over The Tavern’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

Tom Dudzick’s “Over the Tavern” recalls a time when the comedic violence of Woody Woodpecker and the shoot-‘em-up heroics of The Lone Ranger flickered on an absurdly futuristic black and white television set.

. . .impressive and entertaining. . .

A time when juvenile delinquency amounted to crude and simple street graffiti, smuggled and concealed “Playboy” magazines, and experimentation with beehive hairdos.

It is Buffalo, New York, in the late 1950s, and we are at the home of the blue-collar Pazinski family. They live in an apartment above their family owned tavern, Chet’s Bar & Grill.

The family kitchen is stockpiled with an arsenal of sugary breakfast cereals, a cupboard of canned beets, and either milk, Kool-Aid, or beer in the fridge. I don’t know why but it is so Buffalo.

The children’s bedroom is adorned with pictures of favorite TV stars, and the one bathroom and one telephone accommodate only one person at a time.

Chet, husband and father, is a gruff, complaining, hard-nosed provider, and his wife Ellen, is a working-class version of “Leave it to Beaver’s” June Cleaver. Except that Ellen has a more budget minded wardrobe, and you won’t find June snapping off a beer cap alone in her kitchen at the end of a long hard day.

Their concern is their kids who offer them no end of adolescent trouble. Daughter Annie is on the verge of womanhood and is convinced that she will never be desirable to boys, even in her forbidden beehive doo.

Oldest son Eddie is sleeping at the “Y” after an explosive argument with his father, and Rudy is demanding to know exactly what a “soldier for Christ” is on the eve of his Catholic Confirmation. He is not sure he wants to be a “soldier” at all.

Least trouble of all is Georgie, who gleefully shouts out his newly learned “dirty” word at the most inappropriate moments.

Intruding upon this domestic squabbling and sitcom premise, is Sister Clarissa, Rudy’s parochial school teacher who seems part corporal punishment advocate and part devout religious believer. When she visits the family unexpectedly, they scramble and hurriedly mount a picture of Jesus Christ on the refrigerator.

And there you have it. A domestic comedy ripe with familiarity and laughs. Especially if you’re Catholic. But this play is surprising in its dosage of equal parts humor and something approaching anguish. The comedy earns big deserved laughs from the audience, while the drama gets very close to genuine discomfort.

It’s as if the Woody Woodpecker cartoons and the pop-gun sounds of The Lone Ranger have spilled from the TV and have manifested themselves as verbal and physical violence.

Sister Clarissa’s habit of smacking Rudy on the head and rapping his fingers with a wooden ruler is unsettling. Even more disturbing are both Rudy’s and Eddie’s heated proclamations of hatred for their father.

These are genuine moments that are played out as passively as Ellen reaching in the refrigerator for a beer or Georgie clicking on the TV. And before you can absorb these alarming developments, or ponder the state of Catholic School doctrine, the family tumbles into another comedic spin and tragic notions are obliterated.

Dudzick’s play reflects family life honestly, and sometimes darkly, but mostly sweetly, all while Woody Woodpecker laughs his fool head off.

The adult performances are strong and solid. Greg Reggie (Chet) and Eileen Stevic (Ellen) have portrayed these roles several times, and although there was a slight lack of fluidity from them on opening night, they commanded a parental and matrimonial presence which allowed the stage a huge degree of ease.

Alicia Michielli as Sister Clarissa is justifiably bigger-than-life in a wildly entertaining performance that manages to exceed the bounds of her character’s devout religion to a level of humanity.

It’s the young performers who put this production over the top. Caroline Schettler as Annie, and Samuel Fesmire as Eddie possess a seasoned comedic timing, both physical and verbal, portraying youngsters on the verge of adulthood.

Isaac Fesmire as Rudy, the semi-autobiographical version of the playwright, is outstanding and natural in a lead role that allows him a wide range of childhood angst which he delivers masterfully. And he offers a funny Ed Sullivan impersonation to boot.

Ayden Herreid as the developmentally challenged Georgie, is a wonder. His believable and touching performance can only come from a child actor with a profound grip on performance.

Director Gail Golden and the Lancaster Regional Players have given us an impressive and entertaining “Over the Tavern”. It’s a treat to hear references to Swan Street, Chef’s Italian Restaurant, and beef on weck, in a play that has reached global success.

And a shout-out to Post Cereal’s defunct and maligned Rice Krinkles, featured in the play. It was pulled from the marketplace sometime in the mid-60s, due to its near total lack of nutritional value, and a racist advertising campaign concerning an Asian cartoon character. I remember it fondly. And it was so sweet and yummy!

It seems to fit perfectly on the Pazinski family’s breakfast shelf. Right next to the “Wheaties.”

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Over The Tavern” runs through January 21, 2018, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented  at The Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

 

 

Theatre Review: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

The cast of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

Even if you’ve never seen “It’s A Wonderful Life,” you’re probably familiar with the story, or the memorable “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” line. The stage adaption by Rocking Horse Productions brought back memories of my childhood, sitting in the living room with my family on Christmas week and marathoning holiday movies, but with a better understanding of “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” concepts like money and hopelessness and finding the strength to get through it all.

. . .charming in its simplicity and it’s family friendly quality.

From what I remember as a kid, the play stays true to the 1946 classic. The show opens on George Bailey, standing at a snow covered railing on Christmas day, ready to end his life. We don’t know why yet, until Clarence Odbody arrives, claiming to be George’s guardian angel. Clarence takes George through events in his life, hoping to show George his accomplishments and remind him of the happy life he has lived. We see a young George with big dreams of going to college, being an architect, meeting his future wife, Mary. We see how, as a child George saved his brother from drowning, addressed a medication mix-up at a job he had, and won a decision against the richest man in town, Mr. Potter, from taking his family business. It’s through these flashbacks that we begin to understand who George Bailey is and his impact in the town of Bedford Falls.

The story comes full circle as George’s uncle Billy takes $8,000 to deposit for George’s company the Building and Loan, and accidentally misplaces it right into Henry Potter’s possession. Potter, the main antagonist of George’s life, seizes the opportunity to hide the money and claim a scandal against George and his company, calling the police on him after George desperately runs to him for a loan, unknowing that he has the money. A mess of events follow, and George laments to Clarence that life would be better if he’d never been born. Clarence makes it so, and takes George through a montage of what life would be without him in it. George’s brother would have died because George wasn’t there to save him, his employer would go to jail because of the medication mix-up, and the Building and Loan would have ceased to exist, prompting his uncle Billy to lose his mind.

I won’t spoil the ending, just in case. This stage adaption of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is very well done, reflecting all the original elements of kindness and family that made the film a classic. However, perhaps because of that, the production falls a little flat, it’s tame, safe, unable to stand out or stay with you after the show is over. Sometimes classics are classic for a reason, but there was a missed opportunity to make the narrative of “It’s a Wonderful Life” stand out for a 21st century audience. This is the same story we’ve all heard before, told through awkward stage cues and a chemistry between Mary (Robyn Baun) and George (Angelo Heimowitz) that wasn’t there until the second half.

Some standout performances came from our villain, Henry Potter (Tim Joyce), and exuberant, money grabbing old man intent on making George’s life miserable. And Michael Breen, who plays the guardian angel Clarence Odbody, quietly captures the audience’s attention with a serene presence and calming tone of voice that sounds sincere and helpful. The set (designed by Chuck Ziehl) is simple yet effective, able to be mixed and matched up to establish new locations and settings (my favorite was the Bailey house, decorated in Christmas décor).

In all, Rocking Horse Productions rendition of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” although not unique or daring, is charming in its simplicity and it’s family friendly quality.

Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs until December 10th, 2017 and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘South Pacific’ at Lancaster Opera House

There are few shows as romantic as “South Pacific.” Despite being set near a warzone, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s intoxicating and dreamy score are enough to melt the ice off your shoes and whisk you away to a tropical island.

Lancaster Opera House puts on yet another stellar, professional production.

David Bondrow directs this classic musical at Lancaster Opera House and, with the exception of a few opening night hiccups, offers a largely high-quality production.

Rarely is a set worth mentioning before the acting performances, but David Dwyer’s design and construction work demands it. Considering the most recent, highly acclaimed “South Pacific” revival (broadcast on PBS) at Lincoln Center set the design bar VERY high for any subsequent production, Dwyer nailed the necessary color palate and atmosphere for the show in the incredibly limited Opera House space. Coupled with Nicholas Quinn’s saturated lighting design, the show is visually top-notch.

Andrew Cummings is Emile de Becque, the enchanting, mysterious Frenchman who catches the eye of Navy nurse Nellie Forbush (Meghan Cobham). While parts of Cummings performance ride a fine line between debonair and arrogant, his rich, incredible baritone upstages any criticism. One of the shows most iconic songs, “Some Enchanted Evening,” perfectly suits him and will easily have audience members swooning.

Cobham, on the other hand, has room to grow , especially in scene work. She is an adorable Nellie, perfecting her small-town curiosity and sweet soprano for most of her musical moments. But when the crucial time comes for Nellie to explore the more controversial side of her personality, Cobham shies away from going as far as she needed to sell the scene.

Outside of Nellie and Emile’s relationship, the show hinges on two very important things – the appeal of Lt. Joseph Cable and the comedic strength of Luther Billis. Fortunately, these are two of Bondrow’s best casting decisions. An attractive Johnny Wilson takes on the role of Cable and thankfully brings a strong voice to “Younger Than Springtime” as well as an impressive acting range to a sometimes two-dimensional character. For the brevity of the second act to land, the audience has to fall in love with Cable and thanks to Wilson, they do.

Elliot F. Fox is Billis, undoubtedly the best performance of this production. He fearlessly gives himself over to the good-hearted, adventurous and occasionally idiotic Billis and it’s so much fun to watch. I challenge you to name a more entertaining part of the show than his performance in “Honey Bun.”

It is rare to find a production of “South Pacific” in this area, especially a good one. Thanks to incredible vocals, full orchestra and perfect set, Lancaster Opera House puts on yet another stellar, professional production.

Running Time: Approximately 2-Hours 30-Minutes including a 15- minute intermission

“South Pacific” runs through November 26, 2017 at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Dracula’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

Sometimes, a playwright will adapt a novel into a script that just is too large to condense into a story that an audience will be able to understand in two and a half hours. The author of the novel has time to develop their characters and can allow for the story to build. A playwright has to tell a story, and tell it fast to keep the audience on their side. Adapting a story form a novel, especially a long novel, is a very tedious process and quite frankly, is a process that is not usually done well. Steven Deitz’s ‘Dracula’ has that problem. It is a heartless adaptation of a dark novel from the 1800’s.

. . . if you are a fan of the Bram Stoker novel, and are looking for a great night out during this Halloween season, go see this show!

Lancaster Regional Players takes on the monumental feat of mounting the Deitz version of ‘Dracula’ – the story that has made it’s mark on popular culture with countless film versions and stage adaptations. Telling the tale of the aristocrat, Count Dracula, as he moves to London and slowly begins taking control of helpless victims who each have what he was needs. . .their blood. This version is one of the best stage adaptations of the Bram Stoker novel, yet it still leaves large holes in the story that are confusing if you are not fully familiar with the tale. This, of-course, is not the fault of Lancaster Regional Players, as they must perform the script as written, but it still should be said that if you find yourself, lost at certain points of the story, you are not alone.

Directors David Hall and Joel Murphy take on this challenge, and make some great artistic choices for this production that make the weak script watchable. The set is one of the most intriguing and fascinating ones that I have seen in a long time. It is extremely versatile and it keeps the audience’s interest, even when Dietz’s script does not. The art design of the set is very impressive and the cast interaction with the set is one that positively assists in telling this story.

It is interesting to note that Hall and Murphy enlist the use of background actors to assist in scene changes, and while they were a little clunky during the opening night performance, the thought behind them is admirable. Opening night is always a nervous time, so I can only imagine that these will be smoother as the show continues it’s run.

Jamie Nablo (Lucy) and Kara Lynn Harris (Mina) take on the leading lady roles and play them very well with admirable chemistry. Dietz does not give these roles very much to work with in the area of three-dimensionality, but Nablo and Harris bring great artistic choices to their parts and work with what the script gives them.

Trevor Dugan does a nice job playing Dr. Seward in this show. Dugan is a great character actor and takes on the challenge of playing the manager of an asylum and does so very well. When it comes to being over taken by Dracula himself, Dugan takes some unique artistic risks but his portrayal is enjoyable overall.

Christopher Fire takes on the title character in this piece, and is very intimidating while doing so.  He brings a feminine sex appeal to the role that caused a few audience members to coo in giddy excitement. He performs well as the creepy aristocrat. 

Overall, this production has some very positive pieces that make it work, but the script is just difficult to stay interested in. It’s a long show, and it feels long. That being said, if you are a fan of the Bram Stoker novel, and are looking for a great night out during this Halloween season, go see this show!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Dracula” runs until October 15, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players, and is presented at Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.

Lancaster Regional Players Brings ‘Dracula’ Back To Life

For the literary gurus out there, one horror novel stands the test of time when it comes to thrilling your mind and that is Bram Stokers’ 1897 story called ‘Dracula.’ This novel, written as letters and diary entries, tells the story of the infamous aristocrat as he pines for youthful life and. . .blood. The story has been adapted into several films, and live plays, and the title character was made famous by Bela Lugosi, who portrayed Dracula, numerous times, both on Broadway and in the film directed by Tod Browning.

“I had always wanted to do Dracula,” says David Hall, who will be co-directing the Steven Deitz adaptation for Lancaster Regional Players, “I had been talking back and forth between the executive director of the Lancaster Opera House, and we had a few shows in mind, and finally, we were able to settle on this version of the story.”

Along with Hall, Joel Murphy co-directs this retelling of the classic tale. “David had approached me in 2015 with the idea to pitch the show,” says Murphy, “ he wanted to get a bunch of artists together to create the visual effects needed for it. I was really intrigued by this idea.”

“I think most people think of Bela Lugosi when they think of Dracula, and I wanted to try something different,” says Hall, who is known for taking classic shows and putting unique spins on them, “I always felt that the character was a little hokey when portrayed and that adds a campy feeling to the story that turned me off.”

There are countless versions of “Dracula” available for licensing rights, but choosing the right version is important to the director’s vision and design. “I liked the Dietz version the most because there was better character development,” says Hall.

“The story starts earlier, and both of our leading ladies are still alive,” adds Murphy.

The novel, in which the show is based, is very detailed and playwrights sometimes need to take liberties to condense the exposition. Usually, playwrights will not include all the characters from the novel because it can get a little confusing when trying to create a two hour stage play. In this version, Mina, and Lucy, are both still alive. Typically, one is not.

“I always loved ‘Dracula’ and I’ve always thought that the story was very sexual, and that the character was very intriguing,” says Hall,” You root for him. And you have to remember that he didn’t ask to be a vampire, he became one.

Lancaster Regional Players casts actors of all experience types in their productions. “The cast really stepped it up a notch. We have many different actors at different points in their careers and I think that they all intimated each other to be the best that they each can be,” laughs Murphy.

In modern times where vampires are mainstream, Murphy believes that the show has the potential to wrangle in an audience who will completely appreciate it. “We have an opportunity to expose a new generation to the story, who isn’t as familiar with it, and make it memorable,” says Murphy.

“Dracula” opens on October 6, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players, and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

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The cast of “9 to 5 The Musical” by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House.

Yesterday evening, I went to the Lancaster Opera House to see “9 to 5: The Musical,” presented by Rocking Horse Productions. Music and Lyrics are by Dolly Parton and the book is by Patricia Resnick. The musical is based on the popular 1980 movie by Resnick and Colin Higgins which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda as office workers who are tyrannized by their lecherous boss.

. . .a pleasant production. . .

This is a story about employees who are being treated so unfairly by their boss that they kidnap him, hold him captive for a month, and take over operations at work themselves. It’s very farfetched and mostly played for easy laughs. Perhaps my sensibilities have changed over the years. This premise seemed entertaining when the film came out. Over time, since sexism in high places is still such a serious and relevant issue, this lighthearted, over the top approach made me feel uneasy.

The strongest suit of this production is the musical direction by Eric J. Van Pyrz – including his terrific nine piece orchestra and the consistently good singing by both the chorus and the leads. The only challenge with the singing is lyrics are sometimes difficult to understand. As good as the chorus’ vocal work is, however, in most of the musical numbers, the chorus’ role is pretty extraneous and sometimes even a distraction. It is no fault of this production; this is just not a well integrated book.

Susana Breese is perfect as Judy, the Jane Fonda role. Ms. Breese is pert, pretty, and genuinely funny and she gives a fully realized performance. Her rendition of the transition song “Get Out and Stay Out” is a wow and the high point of the evening.

Anne DeFazio and Emily Styn, who play Judy’s partners in crime, are also strong singers. Ms. Styn is a blonde bombshell in the Dolly Parton vein and Ms. DeFazio plays it more Bea Arthur than Lily Tomlin.

Derrik Reynolds, as the evil boss, oozes the requisite oily passion in his big number, “Here For You.” And Lauren McGowan, as his camel-hunched, knock kneed lovesick assistant, is an absolute hoot! Under that business suit, she’s a tiger and, when she roars, she brings down the house!

Sound by GB Audio is good, although sometimes the chorus drowns out the soloists. And there’s nice scenery by Chuck Ziehl, especially the beautiful bookcase backdrop in the boss’s office.

“9 to 5: The Musical” is a long show – two and a half hours – but director Leigha Eichhorn keeps things moving along.

This is a pleasant production with solid vocal work and the Opera House audience had a good time.

Running Time: 2 Hours and 30 Minutes with one 15 Minute intermission.

“9 to 5 The Musical” runs until September 24, 2017, is produced by Rocking Horse Productions, and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Light In The Piazza’ by Second Generation Theatre Company at Lancaster Opera House

Che bella.

Absolutely everything about this production of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ – a Western New York premiere – (it played at the Shaw Festival a few years ago) is simply beautiful. The starkly elegant set, the period perfect costumes, the casting, direction, and the music create a romantic and poignant night in Italy.

. . .simply beautiful

Director Loraine O’Donnell’s decision to pull the production off the elevated Opera House stage and put it on a thrust stage was inspired. This created a great audience vibe: we were part of Clara and Fabrizio’s love story. And what a love story!   It plays like a contemporary Italian opera with flashes of Fellini cinema Italiano, too, as you’re drawn into this story of starry eyed love and parental protection. Mother and daughter Americans Margaret Johnson (Debbie Pappas Sham) and Clara Johnson (Kelly Copps) are vacationing in Florence in 1953, re-visiting the tourist spots from Margaret’s honeymoon. “It’s a city of statues and stories,” says Margaret as daughter Clara is sketching things that catch her eye. Clara is a “special child,” Margaret explains. To our eyes, Clara is a beautiful adult, but her charming childlike qualities soon appear.  In a moment of theatre magic, Clara’s wide-brim hat flies away, to be caught by Fabrizio (Anthony Lazzaro).  Their eyes meet, halting sweet words are exchanged, and Clara is determined to see him again.

Ah, love. Ah, parental agita over family secrets and cultural differences. The story unfolds as Clara and Margaret meet Fabrizio’s family. Marc Sacco is a hoot as the philandering brother Giuseppe. He has the facial expressions and moves down pat.  Rebecca Runge as his wife Franca tries to warn Clara about life with a passionate Italian man in “The Joy You Feel.” Runge’s rich voice soars. Katy Miner is the matriarch with the spotlight in Act Two’s “Aiutami” (translation: help me). Matt Witten is the solid papa, proud, strong, protective in his own way.

It’s Margaret, Clara, and Fabrizio who win and warm the audience’s collective hearts. Pappas Sham is the stoic Southern mom: her tenderness as she sings “The Beauty Is” is breathtaking. Copps as Clara is that curious combination of innocent and passionate as she discovers love and struggles to claim her maturity. Lazzaro plays Fabrizio with a gentle wisdom and a powerful voice for love.

Allan Paglia led a string-dominated chamber ensemble that was lush and lovely, and stood up well to the powerful vocal talent in the cast.

The show’s music and lyrics were written by Adam Guettel and he lived up to grandfather Richard Rodgers’ roots by including an overture and entr’acte which are rare in contemporary musical theatre. But the whole show is that exquisite and rare moment, where musical styles collide and meld, language barriers are crossed, and true love triumphs.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“The Light in the Piazza” runs until June 18, 2017, is produced by Second Generation Theatre Company and is presented at The Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Run For Your Wife’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

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The best thing in any theater community, especially Buffalo’s unique community, are the organizations made up of local professionals who act for the love of theater. Lancaster Regional Players have been presenting community theater for 52 years, and they’ve collaborated with the Lancaster Opera House to present the British farce “Run For Your Wife.” The play centers around a taxi driver, living a double life. He lives happily with his wife, Mary, in Wimbledon. He also lives happily with his wife, Barbara, four and a half minutes away! When he steps in to stop a mugging, he is hit in the head and taken to hospital. The situation begins to unravel when John gives both of his addresses in the course of the incident’s investigation.

“. . .the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.”

The production definitely stays true to its community theater roots, marking the nonmusical debut of one of the actors in the company. Lancaster Regional Players have picked a play that, in my opinion, is dated in some of its humor, but manage to do a decent job in putting it on. David Hall, the director, does his best with a flawed piece of theater, and does a serviceable job with the difficult style that is farce.

Leading this production as John Smith, Scot Kaitanowski shines. As a veteran of numerous productions here in Buffalo, Kaitanowski has a natural knack for comedy. He handles the fast-paced dialogue with ease, and his organic reactions add the extra flair necessary to make the script work.

Joel Murphy, playing John’s Wimbledon upstairs neighbor and assistant in protecting his double life, is the right combination of charming and quick-thinking. Murphy’s greatest strength is his commitment to the character and the comedy; however, he might learn a bit from Kaitanowski in the art of physical reaction.

Rounding out the cast soundly are Suzie Hibbard as Mary Smith and Amy Feder as Barbara Smith. Both ladies are extremely apt in their roles, rolling with the craziness that ensues from the situation unravelling.

In the roles of the police sergeants, Victor Morales and Jackson DiGiacomo are excellent straight men to the farce happening around them. Chuck Basil rounds out the cast as the upstairs neighbor, a 70s stereotype of a homosexual man. Basil conveys the stereotype well, but is unable to bring any kind of humanity to his, by 2017 standards, offensive stereotype. This seems to me like a script fault, so Basil’s performance can hardly by critiqued for it.

All in all, David Hall’s direction has brought the best parts of the flawed “Run For Your Wife” script forward, but it seems to me most of the actors are working against a dated script, especially as it relates to the homosexuality element of the story. That being said, the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

“Run For Your Wife” runs until May 21, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.