Pat Launer, Center Stage
“THE MUSIC MAN” – Welk Resort Theatre
There are several essential ingredients for a successful production of “The Music Man”: powerful voices, strong dancers and rat-a-tat timing. Check, check and check. The Welk Resort Theatre has it all.
Director/choreographer Ray Limon moves the show along at a sprightly clip, with especially well-timed, well-articulated work on the delectable syncopated, moving-train opener, “Rock Island,” and the fast-paced snake-oil sales of “Trouble.”
David S. Humphrey, with his creamy baritone, makes for an attractive, seductive Harold Hill, the fast-talking flimflam man, a traveling salesman who goes around the country selling a bill of goods – in the form of a boys’ band. He always takes the money and runs.
But this time is different. When he lands in River City, Iowa, the savvy town librarian, Marian Paroo, isn’t buying. Yet, when Hill’s con transforms the whole town, and he even opens up Marion’s taciturn young brother, she softens and falls. And Hill, for the first time in his life, falls too.
The musical classic is awash in small-town, mid-century, Middle American nostalgia, complete with the requisite gossiping busybodies. And the oft-repeated “chip-on-the-shoulder stubbornness of Iowans.” The little burg needed some shaking up. And so did the reluctant lovers.
The newly married Charlene (Koepf) Wilkinson brings her gorgeous voice and pitch-perfect standoffishness to the role of Marion. The singing, dancing and acting are strong throughout, but there’s no chemistry between the town Bad Boy and the Mayor’s daughter, though they both dance terrifically.
Alex Allen is comical and agile as Marcellus, Hill’s former partner in crime, and Robin LaValley is amusing as the Mayor’s wife. The sound balance could be better. But the sets and costumes are just right.
It’s a shame that the Welk has decided to discontinue live music, but if ever a show called for a big, brassy orchestral sound, it’s this one, so the taped music is less offensive than usual.
Overall, it’s a delightful production of a show that, with its fun story and fabulous Meredith Willson score, never goes out of style.
“THE MUSIC MAN” continues through July 30, at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
Aired: 5/19/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“PICNIC” – Oceanside Theatre
It’s no picnic living in a small town, especially in mid-century Middle America, with its strict conventions and constraints, especially for women. So, when a hunky, handsome drifter struts into town and takes his shirt off to do some yardwork, the whole place holds its collective breath.
William Inge was one of the great, naturalistic chroniclers of simple folk, reminiscent of his youth in Independence, Kansas. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for “Picnic,” and the drama is getting an excellent airing from the Oceanside Theatre Company.
We see two modest clapboard houses, side-by-side, filled with disappointed and unsatisfied women. Depression, repression and despair hang in the air like a storm cloud. The two single matriarchs regret having missed their chances, or made poor choices. The boarder, a self-proclaimed “old maid schoolteacher,” becomes increasingly desperate.
And there are the two young sisters – Madge, the vapid but discontented town beauty, and Millie, a brainy tomboy with Big Plans to be a writer in New York. Both hear that mournful train whistle as an invitation to a life other than their own.
Then, one Labor Day, Hal Carter swaggers in, with his six-pack abs, brazen sexuality and bad boy machismo. He’s nice to all the ladies, but he has a special eye for Madge, who sees him as everything she’s dreams of. Her summer boyfriend, nice-but-bland Alan, doesn’t excite her. But Hal does.
The older women cluck, the middle-aged teacher clings frantically to her beau. Wishes are ultimately granted, but there are no happy endings here. The play offers a grim view of romance and marital satisfaction, not to mention the powers and limitations of beauty – and brains.
Oceanside’s new artistic director, Ted Leib, does an outstanding job with an excellent cast. We feel the heat, and the longing. The set and costumes capture the time and place perfectly. It’s an earlier era, but the hunger and yearning, so credibly conveyed, are timeless.
The Oceanside Theatre Company production of “Picnic” continues through May 21 in the Brooks Theatre.
Aired: 5/11/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“COME BACK TO THE 5 AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN” – Vista’s Broadway Theatre
Denial and self-delusion run deep. But “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” a 1956 drama by Ed Graczyk, is getting a buoyant revival at Vista’s Broadway Theatre.
The action is set in two timeframes in a tiny West Texas town, not far from Marfa, where “Giant” was filmed. That was the last movie of heartthrob and cult icon James Dean.
In 1955, a James Dean Fan Club was thriving in this little town, replete with disciples, rituals and a ceremonial song. Twenty years later, the members have reconvened to mark the anniversary of Dean’s tragic death-by-auto-accident at age 24.
It’s a rowdy reunion, where masks are ripped off, dark truths are revealed and long-held beliefs are challenged. Amid a boatload of Bible-thumping and beer-drinking, we glimpse flashbacks that show how the bravado of youth has given way to the disappointment of looming middle age. We see the narrow-mindedness, bigotry and homophobia of a hidebound town, and the lengths that every one of these characters will go to, to get noticed.
At the center is Mona, the last holdout in James Dean idolatry. Not only does she maintain a shrine to her idol in the Five and Dime where she works; not only does she make an annual pilgrimage to Marfa to visit the ruins of the “Giant” set; but she insists that, while she was an extra in the film, James Dean chose her to father his only son, whom she named Jimmy Dean.
The price of self-deception and unrealistic dreams is steep. The mid-century constraints suffocate girls, women and boys who are ‘different.’ How each of these eccentrics copes – or doesn’t – forms a fascinating portrait of small-town life.
Director Kathy Brombacher has marshalled an excellent ensemble. Under her expert guidance, each skilled and committed actor carves out a flawed and credible character, in spite of the sometimes strained credibility of the script.
The 1982 film featured an all-star cast. These less-famous actors manage to bring a particular place and time to vibrant, pulsating, gut-wrenching life.
“COME BACK TO THE 5 AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN”” continues through May 21, at the Vista’s Broadway Theatre.
Aired: 5/10/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
“HEATHERS THE MUSICAL” – OnStage Playhouse
Remember those popular mean girls in high school? Well, they’re back, nastier than ever – and not only bullying, but belting!
OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista has snagged the local premiere of “Heathers the Musical,” the 2010 stage adaptation of the 1988 cult film, ‘Heathers.’
The show deals with serious topics like teen suicide, eating disorders and gun violence, not to mention homophobia and ridiculing fat girls. But the quirky stage version is much funnier than the movie, which was considerably darker and crueler.
The musical sports the joint sensibility of its co-creators: Laurence O’Keefe, who worked on the musical adaptation of “Legally Blonde,” as well as the off-the-wall “Bat Boy,” and Kevin Murphy, a collaborator on the musical spoof of that 1936 classic, “Reefer Madness.”
Together, they whipped up a snarky, profanity-laced, often hilarious entertainment that’s getting a highly energetic showcase at OnStage.
Directors Manny and Tony Bejarano underscore the camp and the humor, and provide imaginative staging, including a couple of excellently-executed fight scenes. Shirley Johnston adds some lively, playful choreography. And the costumes are a hoot.
Many of the lines come directly from the film but they’re turned into funny, poignant or off-color songs. “Blue” might be my favorite, but its lyrics aren’t suitable for a family radio station.
The peppy rock score sometimes sizzles, but in a small theater, the three-piece band, especially the percussion, often overpowers or drowns out the singers, so many of the clever lyrics are missed. Some in the talented cast of 15 could articulate more precisely as well.
But they certainly have the look, especially Olivia Berger as the most malicious of the three Heathers; Kay Marion McNellen as Veronica, the good-hearted Heather-wannabe; Elizabeth Jimenez, touching as the overweight, ridiculed Martha Dunnstock, AKA Dumptruck; and M. Keala Milles, Jr. as the psychopathic Bad Boy, JD, who yanks an unsuspecting Veronica into his nefarious plans for student body annihilation.
It’s all way over the top, but it’s one wacky, wicked way to recall the horrors of high school. “Heathers,” as one song puts it, is “Big Fun.”
“Awake and Sing!” has been extended through June 10 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
Aired: 4/27/2017 9:01:00 AM
Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer
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