Red, White & Tuna Channels Hee Haw ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 7, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l to r) Stephen McDonnell as Amber Windchime and David Wright as Star Birdfeather - Photos by : Matt Liptak

(l to r) Stephen McDonnell as Amber Windchime and David Wright as Star Birdfeather – Photos by : Matt Liptak

In a series of pastiches that harken to Hee Haw days, actors David Wright and Stephen McDonnell take on ten roles apiece beginning as two aging female flower children returning for their high school reunion.  From there it’s a dizzying escapade filled with twenty crazy characters who enter and exit with lightning speed.  Along the way you’ll meet Didi Snavely of Didi’s Used Weapons Shop, “If you can’t get yourself killed in a small town in Texas, yer not really tryin’,” a pair of radio announcers, Thurston and Arles, who invite townsfolk to upcoming events like the Pest Fest and the Rattlesnake Roundup, Stanley a former juvenile delinquent now artiste, and Helen and Inita owners of Hot to Trot Catering whose country cooking nearly poisons the whole town.

Stephen McDonnell as Arles Struvie ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Stephen McDonnell as Arles Struvie ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

And that’s just a smattering. There are enough characters in this Ed Howard, Joe Sears, Jaston Williams comedy to fill a jailhouse, or perhaps a Baptist meetinghouse.  Racism comes easy in this tiny hick town where people’s opinions are driven by “Christian values” and the shadow of the KKK is ever-present.

 David Wright as Star Birdfeather ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as Star Birdfeather ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Director Michael J. Baker, Jr. revives this 1998 classic like a fine tuned ’55 Chevy truck with tons of belly-laugh lines aimed squarely, and satirically, at the provincial denizens of the Texas town of Tuna – from whence the title.

Among others, McDonnell plays the cat-eye glasses wearing Vera Carp, the high priestess of Tuna society who is a dead ringer for Dana Carvey’s morally superior character the “Church Lady”.  McDonnell’s version of Vera, the fearless leader of the ever-vigilant Smut Snatchers Society who are always on the lookout for racy songs and lewd activity, is hilarious.

David Wright as R.R. Snavely ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as R.R. Snavely ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

One of Wright’s characters is Aunt Pearl Burras, an aging chicken farmer who brings to mind a cross between Jonathan Winters’ Maude Frickert, Vicki Lawrence’s Thelma Harper (Mama) on The Carol Burnett Show and Tyler Perry’s Madea.  “I was not born in a Blue State,” she declares unapologetically.  It’s a brilliant mash-up – classic vaudevillian schtick with one-liners and country colloquialisms that flow like moonshine whisky on a hot, Southern night.

There are critters in spaceships, of course, a side-splitting scene in the Starlight Motel with a sex manual and a lot of misunderstandings, and Vera’s line to the fresh-from-prison Baptist preacher, Reverend Sturgis Spikes, calling him “a born again has-been”.

 David Wright as Leonard Childers ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

David Wright as Leonard Childers ~ Photos by : Matt Liptak

Costume Designers Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword deserve praise along with their six wardrobe assistants for getting the actors in and out of their umpteen costume changes.  And kudos to Wig and Makeup Designer Howard Kurtz for the instant transformations.

Get ready to praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

Through June 24th 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 Fabulous Lipitones ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(L-R) kneeling in front is Gurpreet Sarin, back row, Jerry Hoffman, Peter Halverson, John Brown (walker). Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) kneeling in front is Gurpreet Sarin, back row, Jerry Hoffman, Peter Halverson, John Brown (walker). Photos by Howard Soroos

Chuck Leonard’s LTA directorial debut has gotten off to a rousing start thanks to a last minute casting choice of Gurpreet Sarin in the role of Baba “Bob” Mati Singh.  Sarin, a graduate and semi-finalist on American Idol, apparently turned up at the same moment final casting decisions were being made and became the clear choice to play the role of a Sikh who auditions for a barbershop quartet.  Does life imitate art, or what?

Playwright John Markus (accidentally omitted in the playbill) is an accomplished veteran of TV comedy shows, selling jokes to Bob Hope before going on to write for Gimme a Break!, Facts of Life and The Cosby Show where he was part of the comedy writing staff for six years.  With Hollywood street cred like that, you know it’s gonna be a zany show.

(L - R) Jerry Hoffman, John Brown, Peter Halverson, Gurpreet Sarin. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L – R) Jerry Hoffman, John Brown, Peter Halverson, Gurpreet Sarin. Photos by Howard Soroos

The story centers around four aging high school buddies who have been performing together in a barbershop quartet called The Fabulous Lipitones – aptly named after the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.  When their lead tenor drops dead with a major competition looming, the remaining baritone, lead and bass have to decide whether to find a replacement or disband.  During a speakerphone conversation with a garage mechanic pal, they hear an unknown in the background and decide to audition him.  When “Bob”, a turbaned, sword-carrying (the kirpan is an article of faith) Sikh shows up to Howard’s basement these small town, a capella amateurs must face their prejudices as well as their cultural ignorance.  “Everybody is new until there’s someone newer,” Bob gently reminds Phil Rizzardi (Peter Halverson) who insists Bob’s a terrorist.  Ever the peaceful philosopher, Bob counsels the group to understand that, “Music is the opposite of anger.”

(L-R) Jerry Brown, Peter Halverson. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) Jerry Brown, Peter Halverson. Photos by Howard Soroos

Auditioning before the three men, Howard (Jerry Hoffman), Wally (John Brown) and Phil, Bob, in a hilarious bit, is forced to alter his classic Indian style of vibrato singing to dovetail seamlessly into the sound of “Wait ‘Till the Sun Shines Nellie” and they’re off and running.  Eventually Bob’s influence has the gang dancing to Bollywood tapes, “You look like holy rollers getting tasered,” he teases, as they prepare for the finals competition in Reno against such groups as The Sons of Pitches and The High Colonics.

(L-R) Gurpreet Sarin, John Brown, Peter Halverson, and Jerry Hoffman. Photos by Howard Soroos

(L-R) Gurpreet Sarin, John Brown, Peter Halverson, and Jerry Hoffman. Photos by Howard Soroos

Between fourteen classic numbers sung in abridged form in the tradition of American barbershop harmony and with standards as varied as a “Yankee Doodle Dandy” medley, “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” and “Delilah” that caters to Phil’s obsession with Tom Jones, the motley quartet gets off plenty of clever one-liners.

Lots of surprises keep this sweet story humming.  See it if you’re looking for a fast-paced laughfest done to the tune of barbershop classics.

Through May 13th 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

Key for Two ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

 Charlene Sloan as Harriet, Peter Harrold as Gordon, and Dana Gattuso as Anne - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Charlene Sloan as Harriet, Peter Harrold as Gordon, and Dana Gattuso as Anne – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

What’s more fun than a British farce by LTA?  It’s the theater’s stock-in-trade and each season they get more masterful at this vehicle.  Written by John Chapman (no relation to our current City Councilman) and Dave Freeman, it is a hoot in the grand tradition of delightfully naughty drawing room comedies.  Freeman began his writing career on The Benny Hill Show and Carry On TV series, later writing for Peter Sellers and other notable British comedians.  Chapman was best known for a slew of British sketch comedies in the 70’s and 80’s.  The writers collaborated on Key for Two, winning “Comedy of the Year” in London’s Society of West End Theatre Awards for their efforts.

Dana Gattuso (Anne), Elizabeth Replogle (Magda) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Dana Gattuso (Anne), Elizabeth Replogle (Magda) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

In Key for Two, Harriet (Charlene Sloan) is mistress to two married men, successful adman Gordon (Peter Harrold) and ship owner Alec (Cal Whitehurst).  They each are unaware of the other, as well as the existence of Harriet’s estranged spouse.  In order to keep the charade alive, the pretty polygamist cleverly concocts a balancing act to entertain them on alternate days.  The fun begins when Gordon twists his ankle, leaving him bedridden in her Brighton flat.  To add to the confusion, her best friend Anne (Dana Gattuso), smarting from a recent separation, arrives unexpected.  Anne’s husband Richard (Justin Latus), a taxidermist, soon shows up drunk as a skunk and still carrying a torch for Harriet.  The two women quickly join forces creating hilarious excuse after excuse to explain away the untenable situation.  “It’s been a very busy year for kept women,” Harriet complains to Anne as the two conspirators attempt to keep the men from bumping into each other.

Cal Whitehurst (Alex) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Cal Whitehurst (Alex) and Charlene Sloan (Harriet) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

There’s a lot of leaping in and out of bed as Harriet pretends to be married to Anne’s fictional husband the women dub “Bob the Murderer” in order to keep Gordon at sixes and nines.  But it’s Anne who has to go the extra mile pretending to be married to Gordon in order to preserve Harriet’s charade.  It begins to unravel when Anne, now pretending to be a caregiver at Harriet’s “nursing home”, claims that Alec has “polygamist palsy” and believes he is married to Harriet.  Are you still with me?  If you can keep that much in mind the rest is a snap…that is until Gordon and Alec’s wives, Magda (Elizabeth Replogle) and Mildred (Liz LeBoo) turn up and all hell breaks loose.  Richard’s brief love affair with Magda’s fox stole is classic.

Liz LeBoo (Mildred), Charlene Sloan (Harriet), Dana Gattuso (Anne) and Cal Whitehurst (Alex) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Liz LeBoo (Mildred), Charlene Sloan (Harriet), Dana Gattuso (Anne) and Cal Whitehurst (Alex) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photograhy

Director Eleanore Tapscott (Caught in the Net, Noises Off and I’m Not Rappaport at LTA) corrals a talented cast and puts them to work tickling our collective funny bones with snappy repartee, double entendres, puns and malapropisms.  And to our delight, they never stop.

If you like silly British slapstick comedy, this is the one to see!

Through March 18th 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

Anything Goes ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 17, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Director Stefan Sittig is no stranger to big song-and-dance productions, and awards committees are no strangers to his considerable talent.  He’s directed and/or choreographed all the major blockbusters from Chicago to Evita, Showboat to Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line to West Side Story, and many more of our favorite Broadway shows, winning countless awards for his efforts.  But a show is only as good as its performers and thrillingly LTA’s Anything Goes has got a super cast of singers and hoofers – the most indelible being Mara Stewart as Reno Sweeney.  The young Stewart, a recent arrival to our area from Chicago’s stages, is a spectacular singer (think Liza Minelli, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand rolled into one) and comedian (conjure up Lucille Ball’s antics, and delving into the archives of vaudeville, Fanny Brice).  She is utterly captivating and surely destined for a stellar career.  Catch her here and you can say, I knew her when.

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Set in 1934, a disparate bunch of passengers and gangsters is sailing aboard a luxury liner to England.  Wall Street nabob Elisha J. Whitney (played deliciously by Dick Reed) is just one of the dupes being conned by Moonface Martin (Ken Kemp, a wickedly funny scene stealer) and his cohort, Bonnie (Jaqueline Salvador).  Billy Crocker (Marshall Cesena) is Whitney’s assistant, a starry-eyed boy wonder hopelessly in love with Hope Harcourt (the beautifully voiced Tori Garcia), a girl about to give her hand in marriage to the witless British lord, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (James Maxted).  If that doesn’t keep it lively enough, there’s the splashy celebrity diva and former evangelist, Reno Sweeney (the aforementioned Mara Stewart) and her four “Angels” – Chastity (Ashley Kaplan), Purity (Katie Mallory), Virtue (Elizabeth Spilsbury) and Charity (Caitlyn Goerner) her backup chorines.

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Coward drew inspiration from the rarefied circles he traveled in, peppering his tales with the gangsters and crooks who plied their cons on the fringes of high society.  With his incomparable talent for witty repartee, Anything Goes is filled with bon mots and zingers on the SS American, where crooks are hapless and gold diggers are adorable.

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

In typical Coward fashion, there’s mistaken identity and hilarious disguises, especially when Billy, in hot pursuit of Hope and against her mother’s wishes, becomes a chef, then a sailor and ultimately a nobleman, “Are you French or Spanish?”, Hope’s mother (Allie Cesena) wonders after he changes into a count with a phony beard cut from a swatch of her fur jacket.  “Neither,” he quips.  “I’m Chinchillian!”.

The best of British humorists, P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton wrote the book and it’s popping with Brit wit.  Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting bring massive glamour to the costumes – from spangles, sequins and feather boas to sassy chorus girl sailor suits and gowns slit up to there with plenty of leg.  Sibley also does double duty on the terrific period hair and wigs.

Conductor and keyboardist Francine Krasowska leads a nine-piece, onstage orchestra who play a total of fourteen instruments in a glorious bonanza of 17 of Porter’s greatest hits – among them some of his most memorable – “You’re the Top”, “Let’s Misbehave”, “It’s De-Lovely” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”.

Highly recommended.

Through February 4th 2017 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 Cast of "Anything Goes" performing "Anything Goes - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

The Cast of “Anything Goes” performing “Anything Goes – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

A Christmas Carol ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
December 5, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

It’s that jolly, spooky, heartwarming, Charles Dickens time of year again and, like The Nutcracker, many families hold dear the tradition of seeing A Christmas Carol together.  The Little Theatre of Alexandria has been mounting this play for eons, but each year it’s a different version depending on who’s directing and what elements of the story they choose to emphasize.  For Director Michael J. Baker, Jr. it was important to delve into the original book, plumb the depths of Dickens, and cherish some of the best lines.  “Bad lobster in a dark cellar”, in which Scrooge describes the face of Marley during his first ghostly encounter, was taken from the original, but I’d never heard it before.  There’s a certain ominous and indelibly charming alliterative ring to it that sets the tone for shades of things to come.

 Penelope Gallagher (Belle’s Daughter), Eva Jaber (Belle’s Child #1), Clare Baker (Ghost of Christmas Past) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Penelope Gallagher (Belle’s Daughter), Eva Jaber (Belle’s Child #1), Clare Baker (Ghost of Christmas Past) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Clearly Baker has done his homework.  As a veteran of the role of Scrooge (five times!), he brings an actor’s perspective and a director’s experience to the classic tale of the penurious, humbugger, Ebenezer Scrooge.  In one particular instance young Scrooge is abandoned by his family at his boarding school, Baker draws on Dickens’ love of Ali Baba and plunks a parrot outside the window.  It’s subtle but it’s there, as is a reference to “Robin” Crusoe, from Defoe, another of Dickens’ favorite authors.

Eva Jaber (Want), Janette Moman (Ghost of Christmas Present), Morgan Jay (Ignorance) - Photo credit Doug Onlstead

Eva Jaber (Want), Janette Moman (Ghost of Christmas Present), Morgan Jay (Ignorance) – Photo credit Doug Onlstead

Baker and Music Director Linda Wells weave in lots of traditional Christmas carols and Sound Designer Lynn Lacey throws in plenty of spooky effects as the trio of spirits (they’re a new addition too) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Clare Baker), Future (Pat Jannell) and Present (Janette Moman, who does notable double duty as the hilariously crooked Mrs. Dilber) haunt the ‘dickens’ out of Scrooge.

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) and Josh Gordon (Tiny Tim) - Photo credit Doug Olmstead

Tony Gilbert (Scrooge) and Josh Gordon (Tiny Tim) – Photo credit Doug Olmstead

The sets, too, have changed.  Set Designer Mary Hutzler treats us to a charming Victorian village with chapel and schoolhouse and scenes of the streets that include both the poor and the posh sides of London town.

But any production of A Christmas Carol must have its adorable children (and these are as sweet as candy canes and hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day), its grisly ghosts (note well Larry O. Grey, Jr. as he smoothly segues between the dual roles of Marley’s ghost-in-chains and the jolly Fezziwig, two of the most disparate characters in the play) and its courtly gentlemen.  Ryan Phillips shines as both Young Scrooge and Topper and Matthew Fager is notable as the kindly Bob Cratchit.  But the thread that holds the piece together is indeed Tony Gilbert as Scrooge whose ability to go from curmudgeonly to compassionate is absolute perfection.

Find the true meaning of the season here and in your hearts.

Through December 17th 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

Full cast of A Christmas Carol ` Photos by Doug Olmsted

Full cast of A Christmas Carol ` Photos by Doug Olmsted