A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 21, 2020
Special to The Alexandria Times

Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are the ones in which a show exceeds all expectations.  Shows that excel in all facets of production from onstage to backstage.  I had a clue it would be a must-see show when I heard that Frank D. Shutts II was directing.  But it wasn’t till I cracked open the playbill on opening night to reveal that Matt Liptak designed the sets, Stefan Sittig was the choreographer, Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley designed the costumes and the crack team of Ken and Patti Crowley did the lighting.  This is a formidable crew of multi-award-winning pros whose productions consistently dominate the WATCH Awards.  Producer Mary Beth Smith-Toomey sure knows how to pick a winner.

Drew Goins as Monty and Katie Weigl as Sibella Hallward in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

What I wasn’t sure of was if the acting, singing (and some hoofing) would be up to snuff.  The musical has a lot of moving parts – 193 lighting cues, 40 scene changes, and scads of props.  A few of the actors were familiar to me from the LTA stage, but not many.  Most notably Chuck Dluhy whom we saw in last year’s award-winning production of The Nance and God of Carnage, Derek Marsh who was outstanding here recently in The Producers, and longtime LTA supporter and actor, Margie Remmers.  Leads were played by actors either new to the stage (apart from university stage work) or new to our area and several of them emerged as serious challengers to area actors with top notch vocal chops.

If you crossed author Edward Gorey, filmmaker Wes Anderson and composers Gilbert & Sullivan you might be able to describe this eccentrically charming musical set in the Victorian Era.  Based on Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal”, it’s a story of a down-on-his-heels clerk living with his mother who has been disinherited and forced to work as a charwoman.  At her funeral, an old family friend arrives with proof that Monty is related to the D’Ysquith family giving him claim to a title and a royal estate.  The only glitch is our lovable hero is eight times removed from becoming the Earl of D’Ysquith.  Hmmm…

Alexandra Chace as Phoebe D’Ysquith in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

This quirky tale of retribution opens with Monty already imprisoned for murder and writing his memoir.  It then toggles back and forth from the young man’s cell to explain how he got there – eight murders, a rising career in a tony brokerage house led by his D’Ysquith uncle, who has taken pity on him, plus two mad love affairs.  However, do not despair for this once painfully shy, now increasingly bold, chronically endearing, murderer.  He’s got more than few defenders who will happily take the fall to see him take his royal seat at High Hurst Castle.

Eleven actors, some in multiple roles, succeed mightily in bringing this fast-paced Tony Award-winning musical to a crescendo of laughter and sophisticated wit.  Credit everyone, but this reviewer was gobsmacked by lead actor Drew Goins as Monty Navarro, Alexandra Chace as Phoebe D’Ysquith, the hilarious Chuck Dluhy in NINE roles! and Katie Weigl as Sibella Hallward.

An eleven-piece orchestra, led by Conductor Christopher A. Tomasino with Concert Master Steve Natrella, perform 22 numbers ranging from comic operetta to love songs.

Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak.  With Kristin Jepperson as Miss Shingle; Audrey Baker as Miss Barley; Jordan Peyer as Tom Copley; and ensemble members Devin Dietrich and Allison Meyer.

Dazzling and dastardly.  Race to the box office STAT!

Through February 8th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703.683.0496.

The Producers ~ A New Mel Brooks Musical ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 28, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

The ProducersThe Little Theatre of Alexandria didn’t seem so little last night with its super-sized production of The Producers, the Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan musical comedy.  The tremendous cast is led by four stellar comic actors – Steve Cairns in the role of the flamboyant producer Max Bialystock, newcomer and up-and-comer Ryan Phillips as the hapless co-producer Leo Bloom, Sirena Dib as the Ulla, the adorable Swedish cream puff, and WATCH Award-winning actor Brian Lyons-Burke as the drag queen Broadway director, Roger DeBris.

Max (Steve Cairns), Ulla (Sirena Dib), Leo (Ryan Phillips) ~ Photographer: Matthew Randall

Famed Broadway producer Max is down on his luck and his dough, when Leo, an accountant comes to his office to do his books.  Leo tells Max he’d make more money if he produced a flop, so Max hatches a plan to tap his coterie of little-old-lady backers for a coupla mil and abscond to Rio with Leo and the cash.

Leo (Ryan Phillips), Max (Steve Cairns) ~ Photographer: Matthew Randall

The pair set about to find the worst director, Roger DeBris, the worst actors, and the worst playwright discovering Franz Liebkind, a Bavarian loony and pigeon fanatic who has written a dreadful play called “Springtime for Hitler”, that features the Nazi SS and their minions.

Thinking it will be their ticket to salvation they assemble the worst crew in showbiz to execute their convoluted plan.  But when the reviews come in calling it “a satirical masterpiece”, they can hardly believe it.  The musical is a hit.  In the tune “Where Did We Go Wrong?” sung by Max and Leo, they bemoan their fate.  When Max gets arrested for scamming his backers, lovebirds, Leo and Ulla, hightail it to Rio with all the dough.  Of course, that’s not the half of the hijinks nor of the big numbers backed by an exceptional 22-piece orchestra.

Ulla (Sirena Dib), Leo (Ryan Phillips), Judge (Brandon Steele), Ensemble (Courtney Caliendo), Max (Steve Cairns) and Ensemble ~ Photographer: Matthew Randall

The big budget production features sixteen amazing costume changes that go from glitz-and-glam to lederhosen-and-dirndls.  Throw in a stage-ful of Nazi uniforms, sequined prison stripes and over-the-top drag courtesy of Roger’s assistant, Sabu (Brandon Steele).  The 15-member ensemble of hoofers and songsters belts and taps to nineteen numbers that had the audience roaring with approval on opening night.  Even the props were funny, including a rooftop scene with a cage filled with nodding pigeons.

Highly recommended.  Kudos to all for a terrific night of hilarity, crazy wild theatrics and a standing ovation.

Produced by David Correia and Mary Beth Smith-Toomey, directed by Kristina Friedgin with original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, Set Design by Dan Remmers, Lighting Design by Ken and Patti Crowley, Costumes by Jean Schlicting and Kit Sibley, Choreographer by Stefan SittigProperty Design by Kirstin Apker, with Colin Taylor conducting.

Through August 17that The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

A Fox on the Fairway ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 9, 2019 

“Golf and sex are the only things you can enjoy without being good at them,” announces Pamela, a sophisticated member and perennial sexpot of the Quail Valley Country Club.

: (L -R) Patricia Nicklin as Pamela Peabody, Ken Kemp as Henry Bingham and Cameron McBride as Justin Hicks ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

When we meet Richard Bingham, the urbane manager of Quail Valley, it’s tournament weekend and the mood is dire.  Quail Valley has never won the annual golf tournament against their rival Crouching Squirrel.  And to make matters worse, their ace player has defected.  But the debonair club director, Bingham, has plans for a reversal of fortune with the entry of its newest member with a pro’s handicap.  Unfortunately, Bingham’s counterpart and nemesis from Crouching Squirrel, Dickie, has a surprise of his own and the old archenemies bet a king’s ransom, including Bingham’s wife Muriel’s antique shop, on the outcome.

(L-R) Cameron McBride as Justin Hicks and Raeanna Larson as Louise Heindbedder ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Dickie is a veritable Mr. Malaprop sporting garish golf attire and mixing his metaphors with clueless aplomb.  The champagne-swilling Pamela of the multiple spouses, claims, “I would drink water but there’s so much fish in it.”  She is sharp, witty and fiercely snide.  In a swipe at her ex-husband, Dickie, she snarks, “Never use box tops to buy wearing apparel.”

(L-R)  Raeanna Larson as Louise Heindbedder and Cameron McBride as Justin Hicks ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Our young romantics are the club’s emotionally fragile waitress Louise and her hapless beau Justin, the club’s latest hire and Bingham’s ringer.  Their on-again off-again engagement keeps them in a dither as their breakups mount and the club’s chances for the cup dwindle.

(L-R) Cameron McBride as Justin Hicks and Ken Kemp as Henry Bingham ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Enter Bingham’s wife Muriel, full of frustration at her husband’s extra-marital flirtations with Pamela, plus the potential loss of her shop.  Written by internationally-acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig, this production is in line with his long-running Broadway play, “Lend Me a Tenor”, as a sophisticated farce full of high anxiety.

(L-R) Patricia Nicklin as Pamela Peabody and Raeanna Larson as Louise Heindbedder ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Unfortunately, the pace and the funny bits are thwarted by uneven casting, proving even a terrific comedy can miss the mark when it’s not done right.

Still, kudos to Cameron McBride, a newcomer to acting, whose timing and physical comedy is expert and Ken Kemp, who is a pearl among the pebbles.

Directed by Scott J. Strasbaugh, Set Design by Marian Holmes, Lighting Design by Jeffrey Auerbach and Kimberly Crago, Costume Design by Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword.

With Raeanna Nicole Larson as Louise, Patricia Nicklin as Pamela, Brendan Chaney as Dickie and Lorraine Bouchard as Muriel.

Through June 29th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

The Fantasticks ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 15, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Back row left to right: Ilyana Rose as boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as girl Mute Front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The greatly beloved The Fantasticks has been taken on by Director Eleanore Tapscott as LTA’s latest endeavor.  This quirky musical with a dreamy score by Harvey Schmidt has a long and storied history.  Its first New York incarnation was off-Broadway at the now shuttered Greenwich Village’s Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960 where it lured avid theatregoers to venture far beyond the Great White Way to enjoy its charms.  Loosely based on the play, The Romancers (Les Romanesque) by Edmund Rostand, the musical incorporates a number of theatrical styles.  Thanks to its enduring popularity, in 2006 it enjoyed a revival, later drifting uptown to the Theater Center where it saw its final performance two years ago.  Notably, it is the world’s longest-running musical.

Left to right: Matt Liptak as Mortimore & Fred Lash as Henry. Photographer: Michael deBlois

This is a tender story of two young lovers who meet in secret outside the prying eyes of their respective parents – the boy’s mother, Hucklebee (Janice Zucker), and the girl’s button-maker father, Bellomy (Stephen P. Yednock), who have forbidden them to see each other.  Unbeknownst to the children, this denial of their love is a ruse concocted by scheming parents who are secretly plotting their nuptials.  The story cribs from the classics with a pair of mute harlequins, an idiot Indian (this characterization should be jettisoned ASAP), a criminal narrator, a Shakespeare-quoting actor for hire (Fred Lash), a swash-buckling bandit (Christopher Overly), the father who is pure schtick, and a dotty mother whose pastime is clipping hedges.  For an added note of whimsey, this hodge-podge of characters is joined by a band of traveling performers known as the Compagnia Gelosi Zanni.

Ilyana Rose as the boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as the girl Mute. Photographer: Michael deBlois

As Luisa (Rachel Hogan) and Matt (Luis “Matty” Montes) woo and squabble, it becomes clear that, despite their parents plans for them to wed, they are on the verge of breaking up.  Bellomy and Hucklebee cook up an abduction of Luisa so that Matt can appear to be her hero.  But their nefarious scheme awry in a heartbeat when it is revealed to be a ruse, and Luisa falls under the spell of El Gallo, the bandit.

Christopher Overly as El Gallo. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The music is unforgettable, lyrical and off-beat with some of the better-known tunes, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “Try to Remember”, all-time classics.  Unfortunately, the performances are uneven at best and the staging is uninspired, despite the vocal chops of Montes and Hogan, the wonderful character interpretations of Matt Liptak, and the clever comic talents of Yednock who milks his vaudevillian character for all its worth.

In front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

With Ilyana Rose and Lauren Sutton as the Mutes, Paige Rammelkamp as The Pianist, Kristen Jepperson or Laura Stokes as The Harpist, and Marque Nelson as The Percussionist.

Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones, Choreography by Jason A. Ellis, Set Design by Michael deBlois, Lighting design by Marzanne Claiborne, Costume Design by Juliana Cofrancesco, and Sound Design by Alan Wray.

Through February 2nd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Dracula ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

 “We are all of us invented – cobbled together from cartilage and dust.”  Thus, speaketh Renfield, who finds himself chained to the wall in Dr. John Seward’s lunatic asylum.  Seward struggles to explain the young man’s sudden madness and thirst for blood.  “I will solve the mystery of your mind,” he claims forebodingly.

Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray and Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Tis the season of the witch and the spellbinding legend of Count Dracula of Transylvania… the time for telling ghostly tales and spreading terror in the hearts of our dear citizenry.  To that end, Director Jennifer Lyman gives us a horror story with a soupçon of laughter… all the better to cheer you up and frighten you half to death.

Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra and Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Two young women, Mina Murray, betrothed to Jonathan Harker, and her childhood friend, Lucy Westenra, live together in Lucy’s London home.  Lucy has three suitors, in particular Seward, who is eager to wed her.  But it is the unknown man who visits after all are tucked in their beds that has the most sway over Lucy’s sleepless nights and terrifying dreams.

Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Soon Harker, who has been brokering a deal with the Count to purchase an estate in London, and Seward join forces to solve the mystery.  Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a man with serious street cred for driving out vampires, comes to their aid and the three sail to Transylvania and the castle of the Count hoping to drive a stake through his heart before the Count, aka ‘Nosferatu’, arrives in London to terrorize the city.  As a vampire of note, this Dracula is no ordinary neck-obsessed villain.  In his quest for victims, he is fearsome yet funny with a thick Romanian accent that delivers plenty of hilarious double entendres.

Jeff Elmore as Renfield ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

This creepy pot-boiler is jam-packed with thrills and chills and plenty of vampire paraphernalia to lift your ‘spirits’ – stakes, crypts, mirrors, strings of garlic, harpies, bats, crosses, clanking chains and more.  Most impressive are the production values – the aforementioned props, atmospheric lighting and billowing fog (Gratefully hyper-allergenic!), eerie music, ghoulish makeup and sinister sound effects.  Even the clever set design of a two-story castle with multiple entrances and exits commands high marks. 

Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, and Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

With Jeff Elmore as Renfield, Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, Chris Anderson as Dracula, Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing.

Director Jennifer Lyman, Assistant Director and Fight Choreographer Michael Page, Set Designer Matt Liptak, Properties Designer Michelle Hall, Lighting Designer JK Lighting Design, Sound Design Janice Rivera, Special Effects by Art Snow, with period Wardrobe Design by Shannon Robichaud.

Kudos to Gothic novelist Bram Stoker’s Victorian vampire and LTA’s cast and crew.  You’ve given us a monster of a ghoulish show this Halloween.

Through November 3rd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.