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.

August: Osage County ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 9, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

In the time-tested tradition of portraying dysfunctional families as a device, playwright Tracy Letts gifts us with a slyly engrossing gem about the Weston family – their children and their spouses.  Set in a country home in Osage County, Oklahoma, Violet Weston holds her extended family emotionally hostage… and it’s riveting.  I mean, who doesn’t want to witness another family’s meltdowns?  It’s the stuff Shakespeare (and soap operas!) are made of.  Schadenfreude – the perfect prescription for diminishing our own problems.

Katarina Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston
Photographer: Matt Liptak

Beverly Weston is a man of letters – published, pedantic and alcoholic – the poet patriarch of his large family.  When he goes missing and family members arrive to help in the search, Violet is free to wreak havoc.  Armed with a battery of opioids and anti-depressants, this pill-popping drama queen gleefully bullies and guilts her three daughters into disinheriting themselves.  Divorce is a popular theme too.  Within a mere three acts Letts throws every accusation and guilt trip on one and all.  Expect a delectable bouillabaisse of toxicity in every caustic remark.

Gratefully, a superb cast subsumes our angst at their hair-raising conflicts delivering some of the funniest lines ever.  I wanted desperately to memorize a few of these snarky barbs.  You will too.  They might come in handy at your next family gathering.  In one particularly funny/crazy/menacing scene at the supper table, as all the members are gathered around bemoaning Beverly’s fate, Violet toys with her knife, twisting it gleefully while alternately threatening and accusing each one in turn.  Think Nurse Ratched, Virginia Wolfe and Miss Hannigan rolled into one tyrannical villainess.  Fun, right?

Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Mattie Fae Aiken, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Diane Sams as Violet Weston, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Balancing out the madness is Johnna Monevata (Katarina Frustaci), a soft-spoken Cheyenne girl, Beverly hired as housekeeper before he disappeared, and who proves to be the heroine of the whole psychologically damaged lot.

Director Susan Devine is skillful at extracting a wide range of conflicting emotions from her cast as their respective characters veer wildly out of control from love to hate to sympathy. 

Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Notable performances from Diane Sams as Violet, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as her bossy sister-in-law Mattie Fae Aiken, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Mattie’s browbeaten husband, and Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, one of Violet’s three daughters and a central character in the conflicts.

With Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham, Paul Donahoe as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht and Greg Wilczynski as Little Charlie Aiken.

Set Design by Dan Remmers, Lighting Design by Franklin Coleman, Sound Design by Alan Wray and Costume Design by Beverley Benda.

Highly recommended – especially for those with perfectly behaved families.

Through September 23rd 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