Reviews - August, 2019
That's the only for it - exhausted. Having come back from seeing this production, and the monumental amounts of energy generated by this cast, that's the only word left. I'm exhausted.
'Noises Off' is a comedy about the acting side of theater - and all the personalities and quirks contained therein. The cast is putting on a road show of 'Nothing's On' (and bravo to Melon Patch for including in the program a copy of the PlayBill for 'Nothing's On', with the character's bios, play info, etc, etc) and for Act 1, it's the final rehearsal and it's not going well. Hilarity ensues. Or at least planned hilarity ensues. For whatever reason, Act 1 was my least favorite with a few Laugh Out Loud moments, but mostly smiles really. At the first intermission (there are 2, between the three Acts), I was working out the best possible way to spin this because Act 1 wasn't matching my expectations.
Without giving spoilers - Acts 2 & 3 completely overwhelm my expectations and cement this show as meeting the reviews I'd heard.
My timing here was bad, to an extent. The actor playing the show Director Lloyd (J. Scott Berry in the program) broke his arm yesterday; the actor playing Tim (Darren Aklan) stepped up to the role of Director, and stage hand Joshua Rodgers took on the role of Tim. So the performance I watched had two 'newbies' in the role, and the cast chemistry did appear a bit off, but they still put on a heck of a show.
The highlight performer (and they were all good!) was Caitlyn Nicholas as Belinda/Flavia. Her comic timing and expertise was the best on this stage, and she rose to challenge every scene. Aimee Bangle (Poppy) also showed a good range and timing, but was confined by the script in the Act 1 and wasn't given much of a chance to shine until Act 2. Sally Wade's Dotty/Mrs Clackett was marvelously scattered in Act 1, manic in Act 2, and wonderfully snarky in Act 3.
The male cast ranged from somewhat condescending and disconnected (Dustin Layne as Garry/Roger) to horribly goofy and annoying (Jonathan Olsen as Frederick/Phillip) to the dotty alcoholic (also with great comic timing) played by Richard Behrendt as Selsdon/Burglar. While many of those descriptors are negative - their portrayals were well done indeed.
As noted, Acts 2 & 3 were fantastic, and Laney Clark's direction is a Master class in expert direction. How they don't fall faint halfway through or actual damage one another is a miracle.
And the set! The audience applauded during both scene changes during each intermission - which is a first for me. Full credit to Harold Miner for the design of that set.
I'm truly sorry I didn't get to this show before the 6th of a 9 show set. It deserves to sell out the remaining nights, and will only get better as cast changes really lock down their parts.
- EVERY bottle that was used had liquid in it. THANK YOU.
- Set Design and build were well-made to support multiple characters running up and down the stairs, and Dustin Layne tested the strength of the railing (the audience gasped!) and the stairs by rolling down them. Again, WELL DONE!
Rating: A-/B+, family friendly although <12-13 year olds probably won't understand what's occurring. Book your tickets now while they're still available!
'If/Then' tells the story of Elizabeth, who moves to New York City to start a new chapter in life, and hits a fork in the road; from that fork the story continues to show both paths and how they resolve, in back-and-forth vignettes.
The cast is stellar - they're full of energy, sing and even belt marvelously, dance well, are well-rehearsed, well costumed (it's a contemporary piece, so the bar here is pretty low), and there's little to critique, frankly. Ashley Marie Lewis (Elizabeth, in a role originated by Idina Menzel) shows a tremendous vocal range and powers through a number of songs that leave no doubt the microphone she's wearing is unnecessary (more on this later). With the lead role, Lewis is almost always 'on' for the length of the 3 hour show (with an intermission after Act 1, which came in at 90 minutes). Kate (Lillie Eliza Thomas) might not show the strength of Lewis but has more nuance in her singing brings Elizabeth's BFF Kate a presence that might otherwise get lost in the crowd. David Kotary's Lucas has VERY different arcs in the two parallel story lines, and shows the greatest emotional diversity over the course of the play. Josh (Bradley D Gale) plays the love interest in one of the parallels, and sings with emotion and paniche. A special ovation to Danielle Harris as Elena; while Elena's role is minor, Danielle's voice was not shown-off much. When she did sing, it was obvious her microphone was also unneeded, her power and ability somewhat hidden in the role.
So - there's a VERY talented cast; the show was directed well, didn't have any noticeable performance issues, and the set, while minimal, worked perfectly for the production and the venue.
If it sounds like there's a 'but' coming - there is. A great cast and crew cannot make up for script issues, and unfortunately, even with all this talent, I just didn't CARE about the characters. The situations and characters themselves felt shallow, in many cases self-absorbed, and so I was never able to make the leap to being emotionally invested in them. One scene in Act 2 was, I believe, the emotional high point, and Lewis' Elizabeth made every possible effort to bring that home - and succeeded. but it was too little (or too easy, considering the story at that point - sorry for being obtuse, I'm not providing spoilers!) and so too late. The script needs a rewrite to shorten the runtime, and to make the separate story lines more obvious; I know I was confused at some points where Elizabeth's career path was in which story line, and I'm certain I'm not the only one. It was more than a little frustrating at the end of the night to realize how much effort this entire cast and crew put in to bringing this life, only to live the theater glad to have witnessed the talent but also glad the show was finally over.
- This is a big one for me -if the character with a glass/cup/tumbler is NOT a bartender who's currently cleaning the thing, PUT LIQUID IN THE GLASS. I know spills are a concern, but add water to the bottle, let the actors not have to pantomime pouring and drinking. In this theater, we're 5 feet away - we can see the glass is empty!
- One table gets used fairly frequently in the show. For the love of all that's good in theater, LEVEL THE LEGS OF THE TABLE.
- As I mentioned above, two actresses in the show (and many more, no doubt!) could sing from the STREET and be heard in the theater. It's a concrete floor, brick back wall and metal ceiling, in a room that's 40x50 at best; an actor standing stage center is 30' from the back row. Mics just aren't necessary! I understand they provide for a level of nuance and makes sound design easier, but without a compressor on the mic feed the powerhouse singers can (and did) blow out the house.
- One more script complaint. It's a 'modern musical'. This means that the playwright (book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey) believes that by having the characters say 'f*ck' repeatedly it's somehow better or more 'real'. Frankly, while some the intended audience probably does feel that way - let's face it, theater patrons skew older, and those folk don't feel that way AT ALL. I know several people who'd walk out of theater at the repetition.
The Theater West End did a great job bringing a flawed script to life. I frankly can't wait for the next show, with hopefully a better script.
Rating: B-, not family-friendly due to language.
Mimi's performances are held in the Montverde Town Hall. Knowing that, I wasn't quite sure what to expect on arrival, and was pleasantly surprised to discover they have a very cozy theater area. Seating holds about 80, with an elevated small-ish stage.
You're greeted on arrival at a ticket table, and then tonight by two cast members selling 50/50 raffle tickets, and a concession stand offering some sodas and popcorn. This set the tone for the evening - simple and enjoyable.
"Fairy Tale Misfits" is a story of young girl (Ellie - played by the adorable Ember Davidson) who has her homework stolen by the Groundhog and taken to the Land of Rejected Fairy Tale characters. The Groundhog, played by Jason Montilla, brings 75% of all the energy this show possesses and completely carries the first 20 minutes of the show. Jason's passion on stage should be infectious, and it was a shame several cast members were immune.
Notable performances stood out because of the actors energy, and their willingness to push the absurd. After all, these are rejected fairy tale characters; if you can't have fun with the 'Little Inverted Mermaid' - top half fish, lower half woman - as Dawn Davidson did, there's something wrong with your approach to acting! The chief villain is 'Queen Whiteout' portrayed by Jaime Queen with scene-chewing ablomb; Hunter Custer's Sleepless Beauty was a study in hyperactivity with a twinkle, and Terran Davidson's 'Origami Pork' really needs to be seen to be believed, and generated most of my non-Groundhog-related laughter.
The negatives were few, but ran through the entire show and fall at the feet of the director (Lorraine Patria, the founder of Mimi's). Several actors have little to no energy on stage at all, two actors speak entirely too fast and mush-mouthed to the point of incomprehension, blocking is awkward (although the stage is fairly small, and there really is only so much that can be done when you have 10 people in tiny area), line pickups were slow, with several 30+ seconds pauses on stage (Opening night jitters?), and long, LONG scene changes with the curtain closed and only background music being played. It's a cast of 20 - WHY does it take more than a minute to remove a table and four chairs?!
So yes, the production isn't perfect. But it was worth the trip and introduced me to a number of actors I'll be watching for in the future. My cheeks are sore from laughing, and I had an enjoyable time even with those negatives.
Rating: C+, good but not great, has room to improve. Great for families with small children.