Theatre Review: ‘Me and My Girl’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

 

 

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The cast of “Me and My Girl” by Niagara Regional Players

The British musical comedy “Me and My Girl” has settled in for a three week run at The Ellicott Creek Playhouse with a production by Niagara Regional Theatre Guild.The show was written by Noel Gay, Douglas Furber, and L. Arthur Rose, and it opened in London in 1939. Over the years, “Me and My Girl” was best remembered for its hit song, “The Lambeth Walk.”

. . .a high-spirited and satisfying show. . .

Almost 50 years later, the show was revised by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent, and it became a hit in London and New York all over again. The tunes are peppy, and there are lots of amusing one-liners. I particularly enjoyed the Stephen Fry touches including “blank rhyming slang,” historical references, and the Pygmalion deus ex machina. Although this is a revision of the original material, “Me and My Girl” still retains the traditional British music hall flavor and it’s fun to watch.

This is a play about the gap between the aristocracy and the cockneys in England. It’s delightful when everyone discovers that, whatever their upbringing, rich people and poor people aren’t so different after all.

Joseph Fratello is strong in the leading role of Bill, a would-be Earl. Mr. Fratello is brash, funny, and good natured with lots of energy and a pleasant singing voice. His performance lights up the stage.

Playing opposite Mr. Fratello is Emily Plotkin as saucy Sally. She is endearing; you can see why Bill would be willing to forgo his new found fortune for her! Ms. Plotkin is a triple threat – creating a three dimensional character, giving the ballads her all, and even tap dancing.

Also noteworthy are Chris Andreana who has an adorable propensity for singing about being an attorney, statuesque Lauren McGowan as the scheming Lady Jacqueline, Adam English as the staunch butler, Dan Zerpa who shines in the Act 2 opening number, Dawn Marcolini Newton as the formidable Duchess, and Chuck Slisz as her stalwart companion.

Nicely rounding out the cast are Tim Goehrig in an amusing turn as an educated policeman, Joanne Perf and Eric Bloom as a doddering lord and lady, Kim Petersdorf giving a warm and believable performance as the cockney landlady, Gary Gaffney as a nobleman with an ear trumpet, and a large hard working ensemble of folks who have lovely singing voices. In the best tradition of community theatre, people of all generational groups are in the production. It’s nice to see a chorus with a diversity of people in it, as opposed to a chorus of look alike Barbies and Kens.

Incidentally, the English accents throughout the production are darned good!

Director Fran Newton keeps this long show moving at a spritely pace and choreographer Dawn Marcolini Newton’s Lampbeth Walk is (appropriately) the highlight of the evening. The number has everything that it’s supposed to have according to the annals of musical theatre history, including duchesses who are surprised to find themselves dancing and people playing the spoons!  It’s a real treat!

A side note: when the script calls for smoking, the actors use unlit cigarettes — a director’s choice that was much appreciated by the audience.

The six piece orchestra is led by musical director Ivan Docenko.

The sets, which were designed by Fran Newton, make prodigious use of a turntable, and the many set changes were well executed and speedy.

Kudos to costume designer Nancy Watts for literally hundreds of lovely gowns! Each member of the chorus must have had a half a dozen costumes! Costume wows include plaid suits and gorgeous wedding gowns. There are lighting quick costume changes, too, and everything went smoothly.

Although I don’t usually include the Stage Manager in these reviews, I want to congratulate Taryn Goehrig who is overseeing a massive production, technically, that was presented without a hitch.

This is a high-spirited and satisfying show, and it’s recommended for the whole family.

The production is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.

“Me and My Girl” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

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The cast of “Moon Over Buffalo” at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild.

Winter in March is one of the worst parts about living in Buffalo. One of our few solaces is escaping to somewhere else, especially through a theatrical production. While Niagara Regional Theatre Guild’s “Moon Over Buffalo” doesn’t take you to a place far from home, it’s filled with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to make you forget about the nastiness outside.

Fewer things are more enjoyable than a well done slapstick comedy, and ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ is a thankfully successful example.

Ken Ludwig’s play centers on George and Charlotte Hay, two flamboyantly overdramatic actors touring with their theater troupe (currently stationed in Buffalo, NY) in hopes of finally becoming successful movie actors. After their daughter Rosalind drops into town, it seems as if their dreams will come true when George receives word that Frank Capra is coming to see their matinee performance. But the reveal of a scandalous secret and constant miscommunication among the cast, including a hard-of-hearing grandmother and fanatic weatherman, lead to some hilarious results.

While Buffalo itself was the butt of many of the early jokes leading to some sassy ooh’s from the audience, they appeared to love being in on the joke that Fran Newtown and Dawn Marcolini-Newton, the well-known “First Family” of NRTG, got to play against each other as George and Charlotte. Their real-life relationship was evident in their good chemistry and made it enjoyable when their egotistical characters battled it out – both verbally and with swords. Newton especially shines in George’s exaggerated monologues and movements, with just the right amount of theatricality to sell the character without annoying the audience.

Sarah Fratello is the Hays’ daughter, Rosalind. Fratello excels at balancing Rosalind’s disdain for working in the theater (which she left along with her ex-boyfriend, Paul, the company manager, in order to lead a more normal life) and her love for her family, which occasionally manifests as a love for the stage.  She especially shines when being forced into a performance of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” hilariously delivering deadpan lines in rehearsal opposite a charming Ryan Morgan as Paul and later deliciously overacting a two-person scene alone onstage.

Amy Jorrisch plays Ethel, the mostly hard-of-hearing mother of Charlotte. She is nothing less than amazing, delivering seething hatred for George and handling some of the funniest moments in the show without cracking a smile. John Szablewski also makes a memorable appearance as Howard, Rosalind’s new fiancé, local TV weatherman and enthusiastic fan of George and Charlotte. When all these elements combine upon his first meeting with the couple, Szablewski is the perfect storm of physical slapstick and facial expressions to make a memorable character.

One of the things I look forward to most at NRTG is how they will make the most of the turntable they installed a few seasons ago. Their sets are often well decorated and feel complete, and despite a more intimate stage setup than other theaters (if you sit on the right side of the audience, you might as well be on stage), they accomplish quite a bit thanks to that impressive turntable.

Fewer things are more enjoyable than a well done slapstick comedy, and ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ is a thankfully successful example. If you’re up for a hilarious night at the theater, I’d hurry up and get a ticket as the remaining matinee performances are already sold out.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Moon Over Buffalo” runs until March 31, 2019 at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.