REVIEW: Warmth and humor reign in Company Theatre’s traditional ‘Steel Magnolias’

One of my favorite lines from Robert Harling’s classic comedy drama, Steel Magnolias is stated by sarcastic and dour Ouiser, portrayed here by Ellen Peterson. “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free. And I don’t see movies ’cause they’re trash…and I don’t read books, ’cause if they’re any good, they’re gonna make ’em into a miniseries.”

This type of straight shooting and self deprecating humor is what has made Steel Magnolias thrive over the last 30 years.  Steel Magnolias has been adapted so many ways from stage to screen, but what Ouiser leaves out is her unmitigated opinion about a partial true story.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias

Company Theatre continues with the comedy drama ‘Steel Magnolias’ through Sunday, February 16.  Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias originated as a screen play in 1987 and is based off of real people Harling knew in Louisiana.  In the popular 1989 film (which included a parade of famous actresses including Dolly PartonOlympia DukakisDaryl Hannah,  and Shirley MacLaine), M’Lynn was portrayed by Sally Field and Julia Roberts was Shelby.  Harling based M’Lynn on his own mother and Shelby (whose real name was Susan) on his sister.

In that same vein, who better to direct Steel Magnolias than someone native to this popular play’s southern setting?  Directed with local flair by Natchitoches native Johnny Nichols, Jr, The Company Theatre presents Steel Magnolias through Sunday, February 16 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information and tickets.

Unlike the film, the play is set entirely in Truvy’s Beauty Spot in 1980’s Louisiana.   This bittersweet tale follows a group of vastly different women who find strength in each other through hardships and triumphs with a great deal of understanding, humor, and hairspray.

Director Johnny Nichols, Jr not only adds local attributes unique to the show’s setting such as the voice of local DJ Rick Terrell, but the 80s come alive with music distinctive to the era and various references such as Princess Grace, Cher, and Elizabeth Arden.  Costume designer Paula Ninestein and Wig Master Ryan Barrow emphasize the era with fringe and florals highlighting each woman’s distinct personality while Truvy’s is an expansive salon that includes a boom box and  a wall to wall mix of pastel floral and lace on busy wallpaper and curtains.  However, what was most refreshing about this era is to look back at a time before the internet where people shared time, recipes, and hair tips in person.

Company Theatre Steel Magnolias cast 2

From L to R: Juliana Dennis as Clairee, Ellen Peterson as Ouiser, Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn, Stephanie Wells as Truvy, Hannah Cunniff as Annelle, and Abilgail Chase as Shelby (center) Photo courtesy of Company Theatre

Though other productions have put a daring spin on Steel Magnolias over the years, Company Theatre’s production is traditional, warm, and thrives on the growth between these primarily outspoken southern women.  With her signature blond locks and a gift for gab and gossip, Stephanie Wells depicts fun loving salon owner, Truvy.  As a big fan of the movie, it is hard to imagine this part for anyone other than Dolly Parton, but in a black fringe blouse and pumps, Wells puts her own spin on sweet, welcoming, and confident Truvy.  Her scenes with Hannah Cunniff as mysterious and humble Annelle make for some quirky, heartwarming moments.  Wearing an awkward smile, Cunniff portrays Annelle with quiet unpredictability.

Ellen Peterson’s sardonic and darkly amusing Ouiser delivers some of the most entertaining moments in the show.  A bit softer than other productions but no less amusing, Peterson depicts Ouiser more dramatic than sour.  Ouiser has a casual style, but costume designer Ninestein make an intriguing statement by having her also wear a distinctive string of pearls, showing Ouiser may not be quite who she seems. Her sarcastic facade rings true with the priceless line, “I’m not crazy.  I’ve just been in a bad mood for forty years.”

Widow Clairee, portrayed with warmth and stylishness by Juliana Dennis, is a down to earth perfectionist with an interest in keeping up with the times while Ouiser couldn’t be bothered.  With good intentions and a knowing smile, Clairee amuses herself by teasing Ouiser and their exchanges create their own spark.

However, the most compelling relationship exists between Karen Cavallo as M’Lynn and Abigail Chase as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby.  Though Sally Field depicted M’Lynn with a tough sadness, Cavallo’s M’Lynn exudes a sweet demeanor and quiet anxiousness. Cavallo is impressive navigating this complicated character.  Chase as Shelby seems cast on the younger side, but exhibits growing maturity as the show progresses.  It is easy to see why they are mother and daughter and not just by their remarkable resemblance.  Cavallo is sensible while Shelby is impulsive and as with any mother-daughter relationship, one minute they exchange nagging barbs and the next, nurturing affection.

Company Theatre photo booth

Company Theatre’s Beauty Spot photo booth in lobby Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Rewind the clock and take a trip south to Truvy’s for Company Theatre’s Steel Magnolias at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through Sunday, February 16.  Click here for more information and tickets, here for details on their upcoming “Galentine’s Day” and here for more on their 2020 season.

 

 

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘Sweet Charity’ has fun, laughs, and the right moves

She’s just a girl in love with love.  Swipe right for the Tony award-winning, romantic musical dramedy instilled with a dose of cynicism, Sweet Charity.  Unforeseen high jinks and adventures find Charity as she makes her way through what can be a harsh reality.  Before Julia Roberts stepped onto the L.A. streets in the popular film, Pretty Woman, Charity wondered Central Park.  Both have a heart of gold.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, book by Neil Simon, and directed by Nathan Fogg, Hingham Civic Music Theatre (HCMT) continues Sweet Charity through Sunday, May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show is for mature audiences and not for young children.  Click here for more information and tickets.

HCMT's 'Sweet Charity' - tap dance

Emilee Leahy as Charity Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

Sweet Charity is one of those rare opportunities to witness a collaboration featuring theatrical icons playwright Neil Simon and director and choreographer Bob Fosse.  Oh yes, and Fosse’s then wife, muse, and dance dynamo Gwen Verdon starred in the musical’s stage debut in the 60s.

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s influence is still as lively as ever as FX continues Fosse/Verdon, a biographical miniseries starring Sam Rockwell as Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon.  Coincidentally, Fosse/Verdon also covers in part the making of Sweet Charity.  Fosse Fever has certainly been evident on the South Shore of Massachusetts as two adaptations of Chicago recently took the stage in close succession.

Perhaps it’s the Neil Simon influence, but Sweet Charity seems to tread on the lighter side of Fosse’s popular works.  It has its edgy moments and not for everyone, but Sweet Charity depends much more on humor than darkness.  Though Pretty Woman might be a beloved, yet formulaic tale, Sweet Charity is less predictable and not a by-the-numbers romantic comedy.  The costumes, by Kathryn Ridder and company, are fitted and flashy and the dialogue is snappy and at times, charming.  At one point, Emilee Leahy as Charity sings, “You’re so strong, you have muscles you don’t need.”

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After portraying resourceful criminal Velma Kelly in Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of Chicago,  Emilee Leahy delivers a breezier performance as coy yet sweet, aware and yet sometimes naïve, hopeful and pensive Charity Hope Valentine.  Charity can be a poor judge of character, but Leahy’s Charity proves to be worth rooting for.  She has a pliable vocal range and is certainly light on her feet as she slips into a spontaneous tap routine featuring the famous number, If They Could See Me Now, decked out with a signature Fosse top hat and cane.

Speaking of dance, Sweet Charity offers an array of Fosse-inspired dance sequences, tinged with retro flair.  Choreographer Samantha-Brior Jones, Music Director Sandee Brayton, and Dance Captain Mary Donahue turn up the heat with sharp and distinctive choreography as the Fan-dango Ballroom dancers perform a fierce, steamy, and hip shaking Hey Big Spender.  The sweeping, sophisticated, 60s-inspired Rich Man’s Frug featuring Pompeii Club dancers in all-black has a classic vibe to it while Rhythm of Life is an outrageous, seemingly spiritual journey.

HCMT Sweet Charity - The girls

Kristen Annese as Nickie and Pompeii Club dancers Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

The characters that Charity encounter seem a bit melodramatic, showing it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  With great New York accents, Kristen Annese as Nickie and Lindsay Warwick as Helene are a plucky, street smart comedy duo.  Their rendition of Baby Dream Your Dream has a lot of reassuring sass and they share playful, if at times mildly-snarky camaraderie with Charity.

Leah Shiels as Ursula and Rob Buckel-Gillis as Vittorio make an exotic celebrity pair, decked out in shimmering attire.   Buckel-Gillis delivers a beautiful rendition of Too Many Tomorrows.  Tony Light is comical as Oscar, a panicked claustrophobic.   Shirtless and in suspenders, Rylan Vachon delivers a wildly energetic, off-the-wall performance as zany preacher Daddy Brubeck.  Mike Warner as Herman also delivers some laughs, but keep an eye on his T-shirts.  Trust me.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Sweet Charity on Saturday, May 4 and a Sunday matinee on May 5 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central Street in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: One con deserves another as South Shore Theatre Works continues with lively ‘Chicago the Musical’

With the recent premiere of the highly-anticipated FX biographical miniseries, Fosse/Verdon about the sizzling creative and romantic partnership between legendary filmmaker and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and spectacular Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), it seems Fosse and Verdon’s influence is still everywhere.  So, it is not surprising that South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) is taking on what SSTW’s Executive Director and President Richard Bento called, “a dream production of mine to direct,” Chicago the Musical continuing through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School in Weymouth, MA.  This show is not for young audiences.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of Fosse’s most popular creations was a dark satire dealing with corruption and murder during the Jazz age called Chicago the Musical.  This Tony award-winning production continues to thrill audiences as one of the longest running Broadway musicals and its most recent 2002 film adaptation was the 2002 Academy award-winning film starring Renee Zellwegger (Roxie), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma) and Richard Gere (Billy Flynn) garnered a few Academy Awards.

SSTW's 'Chicago the Musical' cast

The cast of ‘Chicago the Musical’ Photo by Annabella Valle/South Shore Theatre Works

How has Chicago the Musical earned its longevity?  The proof is in its clever, satirical storytelling that isn’t afraid to occasionally shock, its sizzling choreography, memorable characters, catchy music, and its frank, timeless message about humanity.  With an impressive, semi-interactive fifteen-piece orchestra led by conductor Doug Gerber that elevates the action onstage plus additional songs not featured in its most recent film adaptation, this darkly humorous production is off to a good start.

With a modest set featuring vintage theatre lights that illuminate the stage, director Richard Bento keeps this production in classic Fosse form dressing his dancers in black. The close-knit, tight choreography by co-choreographers Richard Bento and Amy Valle Wallace includes some dance crazes of the Jazz Age that make for some visual sizzle.  Though the classic number Cell Block Tango needs a bit more snarl, clever Razzle Dazzle boasts some sleek staging.

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Headlining this colorful cast is Stephanie Wallace as desperate, hot tempered and fast-living Roxie Hart.  With a great scowl and energetically navigating Roxie’s myriad of emotions, it is easy to see how Wallace relishes this character.  She is never better than during her natural and engaging signature song, Roxie Hart.

Jaclyn Cleary lends a mix of sharp sophistication and mayhem to Velma Kelly, a former dancer turned criminal.  Her wild, light eyes reveal a smugness and unsteadiness that will keep you guessing her next move.  Having seen Chicago the Musical quite a few times, I admire Jaclyn Cleary’s sleek vocals and not so by-the-numbers rendition of All That Jazz.  She and Matron Mama Morton, portrayed charismatically by Hanna Ford, have great chemistry.  They are two sides of the same coin in their rendition of Class.

Staring down her glasses with an ironically sophisticated air is Hannah Ford as Matron Mama Morton.  With a belt that certainly packs a punch, her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama clearly shows she knows how to pull some strings and depicts Mama in a different and refreshing way.

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Wielding a cane, Aaron Stolicker masterfully navigates the cast and the audience as suave, shrewd, and debonair Billy Flynn, sharply dressed in a black tuxedo.  He’s full on smirking charm in the number, All I Care About is Love and quite the storyteller in his rendition of They Both Reached for the Gun, a complex, energetic number with strong choreography.  J. Merlo adds some humor and some serious pipes as journalist Mary Sunshine.

South Shore Theatre Works continues Chicago the Musical through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School, 89 Middle Street in Weymouth, MA.  Click here fore more information, tickets, and how to support South Shore Theatre Works, an organization that recently celebrated its third anniversary.  Click here for more information about South Shore Theatre Works and its Executive Director and President, Richard Bento.