Design for Murder is a Crafty, Clever, Comedic Nailbiter

Design for Murder is a Crafty, Clever, Comedic Nailbiter

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
October 19, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Erin Gallalee (Martha), James Lorenzin (David), Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

If you’re looking for a whodunit – something crafty, clever and comedic – look no further than Design for Murder. It’s got all the elements necessary to curdle your blood and engage your brain. This nifty mystery has more twists and turns and schools of red herrings than you can count. In fact, no matter who you think is doing the killing, you will undoubtedly be mistaken because it takes until the final scene before all is revealed. It’s a nailbiter on steroids.

Mourning her late husband, is Celia Granger (Kathy Ohlhaber), an elegant châtelaine whose drawing room is center stage for all the chaos. The first to be knocked off is Kathy (Elizabeth Loyal), a flirty maid who is having a fling with David Granger (James Lorenzin), Celia’s son and scion to the family fortune, or what’s left of it. We never meet Eunice, David’s fiancé, a Southern belle with buckets of dough and whom he refuses to marry – much to the dismay of his dear, sweet mother who’s counting on all that cash to bail them out. Louisa Cortlandt (Janice Zucker), Celia’s gal pal and astrology dabbler, has her own kooky opinions which are taken quite seriously because she’s married to a judge which gives the doddering old lady credibility plus favored social standing. Martha Brand (Erin Gallalee), Celia’s sister, mocks the septuagenarian, but all defer to her vaunted status in a town where keeping up appearances is de rigeur.

Elizabeth Loyal (Kathy) and James Lorenzin (David) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

We are soon introduced to Carlin (Brendan Chaney), the chauffeur and terminal Lothario who pitches woo to every woman in the household including the aged housekeeper, Mrs. Hamilton (Patricia Spencer Smith). Maybe he’s just sharpening his chauvinistic skills for the next maid, Nora Taylor (Pete Leggett), a pretty little waif (too pretty according to Celia) who appeals to the Grangers’ sympathy and begs for the job after it’s vacated by Kathy’s untimely demise. For Chrissake! Who would want to work there? Don’t answer that.

Everyone’s a suspect and motives seem to pop out of the woodwork at the old Hudson Valley estate. Enter Detective Carlin (Brendan Chaney), an ersatz Columbo, replete with trench coat and questions for Celia, a woman he knew and secretly loved when she was a girl. Carlin’s on the case like a bloodhound, but will he get to the bottom of it with this hodgepodge of addled suspects? Wait and see. Though it’s a wonder anything gets sorted in a house where brandy is consumed for every shocking revelation.

Janice Zucker (Louisa), Pete Leggett (Nora), Erin Gallalee (Martha) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

Director Jessie Roberts has assembled a fine cast who mesh beautifully with one another, leading the ever-heightening suspense to its ultimate denouément. Especially outstanding are Kathy Ohlhaber, Patricia Spencer Smith, Pete Leggett and Brendan Chaney.

Additional cast member, Frank Cooper.

Produced by Carol Strachan with Hilary Adams as Assistant Producer; Fight Choreography by Stefan Sittig; Set Design by Julie Fischer; Lighting Design by Cleo Potter and Jay Stein; Costume Design by Judy Whelihan.

Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia), Patricia Spencer Smith (Mrs Hamilton) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

Through November 5th 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.

Something Rotten! is a delightfully delicious, farcical musical

Something Rotten! is a delightfully delicious, farcical musical

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
July 26, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Rarely does a non-union, Off-Off-Broadway, local community theater have the guts, the heart and the talent to pull off such a delightfully delicious, farcical musical as Something Rotten!. Welcome to the Renaissance at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. This show is on fire!

Set in 1595 in London down-on-their-luck brothers Nick (Matt Liptak) and Nigel (Jack Dalrymple) Bottom are eager to one-up Shakespeare with a showstopper of their own creation. Noah Mutterperi plays The Bard in leather chaps as a mashup of Elvis and Adam Lambert. Nigel is a playwright and poet falling for poetry-loving Portia (Katie Conn) whose father Brother Jeremiah (Paul Caffrey) is a bible-toting Puritan. Heaven forfend! Nick and his feminist wife Bea (Anna Phillips-Brown) support Nigel’s aspirations.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Pilfering from his wife’s savings, Nick pays Nostradamus (Chuck Dluhy) to divine a fresh idea for a play. The seer predicts it will be musicals. “Song and dance and sweet romance. No talking. All of the dialogue is sung,” he assures.

Convinced the idea will trump anything the Sultan of Sonnet could pen, Nick imagines a troupe of sexy Rockettes in giant ostrich feathers and gentlemen in codpieces. And, oh what swollen codpieces they sport! The show’s patron Shylock (Peter Fannon) has his doubts that “Ham Omelette: The Musical” will sell to the masses. Notwithstanding Shylock’s cautionary advice, critics agreed when this hilarious musical opened on Broadway nominating it no less than 34 times to garner two Tony Award wins. Here the fine cast is supported by an equally top-notch 12-piece orchestra and crew who handle over 200 light and sound cues. You know because I asked.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Groan-worthy wordplay, over-the-top pastiches and silly costumes abound along with plague doctors carrying scythes who afford a stunning entrance as do eggs who appear as both freshly hatched and prepared as Western omelettes. Egg-cellent, of course. It’s a mash-up of some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines cobbled together with the best of Broadway musical numbers and a tapping chorus line in a wild and crazy plot that fills the stage with ye olde rock and roll and vaudeville razzmatazz.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Broadway babies will recognize snippets from thirty-one of the top musicals of their day like CatsThe Sound of MusicMusic ManWest Side StoryFiddler on the Roof, even Mary Poppins makes the cut. Twenty-three numbers sung and danced by a stellar cast under the brilliant direction of Frank D. Shutts II. You couldn’t do better if you were seeing it on Broadway.

If I handed out stars, which I don’t, I’d give it five stars. This will be sold out in a hurry. (N.B. Shakespeare invented the word “hurry” and I guess he meant get your tickets now!

With Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, and Produced by Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Russell M. Wyland with Musical Direction by Christopher A. Tomasino, and Choreography by Stefan Sittig.

Additional Cast – Paul Caffrey as Brother Jeremiah, Brian Ash as Lord Clapham/Master of Justice, Luke Martin as Tom Snout, Evan Zimmerman as Robin, Daniel Boos as Quince, Andrew Sanchez as Snug, J. P. McElyea, Josh Mutterperl as Horatio/Bard Boy.

Bard Boys – Marcus Barbret, Luke Martin, Josh Mutterperl, Eddie Perez, Andrew Sanchez.

Additional ensemble – Amanda Mason, Mary Rodrigues, Lourdes Tumblom, Julia Hornok (Dance Captain), Brittany Bollick, and Odette Gutierrez del Arroyo.

Set Design by Robert S. Barr Jr., Lighting Design by Ken and Patti Crowley, Costume Design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley.

Through August 13th 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.

Prelude to a Kiss

Prelude to a Kiss

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
Special to the Alexandria Times
June 7, 2022

Brianna Goode (Rita), Smithchai Chutchainon (Peter) (Photo/Matthew Randall)

A nifty little romantic fantasy this way cometh from The Little Theatre of Alexandria. Prelude to a Kiss is the perfect antidote needed to brush away the quarantine blues. For those who remember the film starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan, this will be a fun and lively reprise. The rom-com with a message penned by playwright/actor Craig Lewis tells the story of a young couple who meet and fall in love in a split second. Rita (Brianna Goode) is a bartender at The Tin Market. Her politics drift towards Socialism. Sorta. She’s an incurable insomniac and lifelong cynic. Peter (Smithchai Chutchainon) on the other hand is conservative yet freewheeling. Will it work out? Think James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Jon Radulovic (Dr Boyle), Liz Leboo (Mrs Boyle), Smithchai Chutchainon (Peter) (Photo/Matthew Randall)

Enter Rita’s parents Dr. Boyle (Jon Radulovic) and his wife Marion (Christine Tankersley). Well-off and living in the tony suburbs of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, they welcome Peter into their lives and after a steamy, whirlwind courtship (the production has an Intimacy Choreographer) the young couple wed. At the wedding a stranger appears, an elderly man (Cliff Rieger) who kisses the bride and wishes her well. But the stranger’s kiss takes Rita’s innocent soul and transfers his to her. I flashed back to the Disney film Freaky Friday that employs a similar conceit wherein the mother switches bodies and teenage, angsty experiences with her daughter.

Smithchai Chutchainon (Peter), Brianna Goode (Rita), Amber Kelly-Hevard (waiter) (Photo/Matthew Randall)

On their Jamaican honeymoon, Peter quickly notices that his wife has become both feisty and fearless and resolves to get to the bottom of her peculiar transformation. “It’s as if she had switched channels,” he observes. The “new” Rita tries to convince Peter that she is the same person and when they return from Jamaica, she reads the real Rita’s old journals to mimic her behavior and attempt to regain Peter’s love. How Peter bravely tries to restore Rita to her true self demonstrates the power of love.

There are some excellent performances most especially by Radulovic who has a history of performing in some of DC’s leading theaters and shows his pro acting chops here; Rieger who delivers an impassioned soliloquy on Life and Death in Act II; Liz Leboo who came in at the last minute to replace Tankersley and whom I hope we’ll see a lot more of; the shirtlessly sexy and wonderfully intense Chutchainon who shines when he breaks the fourth wall in search of the truth; and Goode who proves to be the perfect sultry and vulnerable complement to Peter.

Smithchai Chutchainon (Peter), Brianna Goode (Rita) (Photo/Matthew Randall)

With Casey Knisley as Taylor; Joey Pierce as Tom; Brendan Chaney as Uncle Fred; Deja Elliott as Aunt Dorothy; Amber Kelly-Herard as Waiter; and Kelly Trott as Leah.

Produced by Carol Strachan and Alan Wray; Directed by Maggie Mumford; Set Design by Peter Mumford; Lighting Design by JK Lighting Design; Sound Design by David Correia; Costume Design by Mary Wallace; and Intimacy Choreographer, Ruben Vellekoop.

Through June 25th 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. Strict COVID protocols are in place for all performances. Check the website for details.

LTA’s quirky comedy ‘Ripcord’ provides a necessary respite

Janice Zucker, Matt Baughman, Kathy Ohlhaber and Marsha Rehns perform “Ripcord” at LTA June 11.

Janice Zucker, Matt Baughman, Kathy Ohlhaber and Marsha Rehns perform “Ripcord” at LTA June 11.

By: Jordan Wright

Special to the Alexandria Times

Originally published June 25, 2021

It’s nearly impossible to calculate the thrill of a live audience when you’ve been deprived of the joy of a shared experience by this interminable pandemic. Hearing live applause, chuckles and guffaws from your fellow theater-goers is a balm for the spirit. So, it’s not surprising that actors received hearty cheers after every scene change during the June 11 Little Theatre of Alexandria performance of “Ripcord.”

For Alexandria’s beloved LTA, the COVID-19 pandemic has been both a challenge and an opportunity, especially when many of us are Zoom-weary. I am pleased to report that the powers that be have come up with a clever solution, as I arrived to find my closest seat mates, a good 10 feet away on all sides, were cats. Cut-out color cardboard heads of cute cats graced the nearest seats.

Attendance has been kept to a minimum as theaters have tried mightily to mount productions in a safe environment. An announcement before the first act gently reminded the audience to keep their masks on – then we were off and running.

Director Jessie Roberts kept the mood light and breezy with a quirky comedy written by one of her favorite, though less well-known playwrights, David Lindsay-Abaire, who gifts us with well fleshed-out characters enveloped in wry humor. Abby (Janice Zucker) and Marilyn (Marsha Rehns), two social opposites, have been thrown together as roommates in a retirement home.

Abby is the snarky one: “I never get scared,” she insists – think Maude from the “Golden Girls.” Whereas Marilyn – think Betty White’s character Rose – is full of goodwill and joie de vivre.

Together they contrive a bet to take ownership of the bed nearest the window. Abby wins if she can get Marilyn angry and Marilyn wins if she can scare Abby. Highjinks ensue when the home’s attendant Scotty (Cameron McBride) tries to intervene and Marilyn’s son-in-law, Derek (Matt Baughman), and daughter, Colleen (Kathy Ohlhaber), get in on the action.

It was hard to choose my favorite scenes among ones that featured a zombie, a rabbit-headed thief, an evil clown and an assortment of other kooky characters who provide comic relief to all the underhanded plots the two women concoct in order to win the prized bed. But I’d have to say, though you can expect a happy ending to the delightful mayhem, it was the oft-fraught interaction between Abby and Marilyn that formed the crux of the play.

Rehns and Zucker are well-cast and do a splendid job of convincing us they are arch-enemies. Expect pathos and humor in their clever contrivances to secure the desired bed. And yes! There is a sky-diving episode (thus the play’s title) cleverly achieved through video projections. McBride, as the referee between the warring factions, is the thespian glue that allows the two to shine.

Adam Ressa performs as Abby’s son. “Ripcord” is produced by Lynn O’Connell and Alan Wray; sets by Jim Hutzler; costumes by Kit Sibley and Jean Schlicting; and sound design and very clever projection design by Jon Roberts.

Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.WhiskandQuill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.

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