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theatre reviews

Volume 15/Issue 13

Trodding the Boards.GIF


The Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre began its three-musical season in grand style, with Peter Pan, the musical based on the play by James M. Barrie, cobbled together by a veritable committee: lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Music by Mark (Moose) Charlap, Jule Styne, Trude Rittman & Elmer Bernstein, shoehorning their contributions into Barrie's original play. This is an unwieldy vehicle in three acts and 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The kids, and many of the adults, loved it.

Director Michael Howard amassed a formidable cast of pirates, indians, lost boys, the Darling family, Peter Pan and a laser light Tinkerbell to tell the story of the boy who won't grow up and his effect on Wendy, the oldest child of the Darlings, who grows up to pass on this delightful story to her own daughter.

Liz Argus as the petulant, flighty Peter gives it her considerable all-she's the closest thing we have in New Orleans to a young, vibrant Mary Martin-which is to say she acts and sings this role with consummate artistry. She flits, she flies, and she affects a certain butch charm; unfortunately, she's just a tad too large for this role-she's no 5' 5" Maud Adams. But when she must rally the audience to the aid of a dying Tinkerbell, we were, to a child, overcome with grief and applauded heartily, once again, to show our heartfelt belief in fairies.

This was a superlative summer stock production. Set designer David C. Potter is to be commended for his four enormous colorful sets; Elizabeth Parent's costumes are a kaliedoscope of color; Martin L. Sachs' lighting casts wonderful shadows; and, Pamela Legendre's musical direction is stupendous-the large orchestra literally overflows its pit.

As both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, Marc Embree swashes his buckle hysterically, aided and abetted as he is by the rotund, skaggy Smee of Eliott Keener. Jorinda Junius is a peppy sprite of a Tiger Lily. The three Darling children, Adam Sodofsky as John, Bryan Wagar as Michael, and especially Magaret Prat as Wendy, are darling to a fault and are kept under tight rein (until Peter spirits them away to Neverland) by Mat Grau III's St. Bernardish Nana. Susan Barrett Smith's Liza the Maid is charming, especially in her Neverland Waltz. Dee Moody, as Mrs. Darling and Wendy Grown-up makes us look forward to her Marion The Librarian in The Music Man, which will be the final offering of the summer (July 31 thru Aug. 3, after Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, July 10-13).

Alton Geno's spirited, energetic choreography contributes mightily to the evening's festivities and absolves him of all blame for Promises, Promises (see below).

Promises, Promises is a musical from the 1960's-1969 to be exact. With songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and a book by Neil Simon based on Billy Wilder & I. A. L. Diamond's Oscar-winning film The Apartment, Promises, Promises was another show set in the business canyons of the Big Apple, like How To Succeed ... and How Now Dow Jones, other 60's musical comedy creations. Its freshness was predicated upon its quirky, un-Broadway sounding music crafted, as it was, by non-theatre writers of pop tunes for the likes of Dionne Warwick or B. J. Thomas ("Raindrops Are Fallin' On My Head"). This sound ceased when Bacharach and David ended their collaboration.

Presently, the Rivertown Repertory Theatre is giving this unsentimental take on the corporate world of adultery a perfunctory, cold-eyed revival at the hands of director/actor Kenneth W. Risch, a drama teacher at Tulane. Mr. Risch continues to cast and (mis)direct himself in his community theatre efforts, thus undermining his own work.

In the case of this production, he has been given what appears to be a healthy budget in the setting department, with a multi-level unit set (designed and executed solidly by Robert Self) composed of Plexiglas that unfolds to reveal a detailed apartment-the focal point of the jokey Neil Simon comedy about an ambitious corporate ladder-climber who lends the use of his apartment to his superiors for clandestine trysts, only to discover the object of his affections, a co-worker, in his own bed.

With adultery in the military and the White House very much on our minds, one would assume this theme would play well today and thus one could also assume that updating the dialogue and the scenic elements would be a wise choice.

The only problem in this updating is that bouncy, syncopated music that seems to scream " 60's!!" The other problem with this production is the imbalance in the level of sound-the brass-heavy orchestra under the baton of musical director Barbara Moras drowns out the miked performers. This could easily have been avoided had the director been in the auditorium before opening night, instead of onstage where he could not possibly judge the sound level accurately.

Essaying the Jack Lemmon role, that of Chuck Baxter, the man with the apartment, is young Eric Haston, a Loyola music major with an excellent baritone and an ingenuous naivte that would be perfect as Bud Finch, if this were How To Succeed in Business....

His innocence belies his actions and thus weakens the tension between him and his superiors, one of whom is J. D. Sheldrake, his boss (and director), played, and sang, with gusto by Risch. Cynthia Owen Holmes, returning to her home town from Sacramento, where she now resides with husband Jim, is wasted in the role of Fran Kubelik, the company cafeteria worker (in the movie a perky young Shirley McClaine was an elevator operator). Even though she delivers her two songs with customary gusto, they are nevertheless quite insignificant. There is no chemistry between her maturity and Eric Haston's callowness.

Susan Domangue, in the role of Marge MacDougall, a drunk New Year's pickup, which won its originator, Marion Mercer, a Tony award, shines; and John Lovett, as Dr. Dreyfuss, whose apartment is across the hall from Chuck's, adds the only naturalness and humor to this otherwise drab, serious enterprise.

The "choreography," by both the director and Alton Geno, reflects over-direction and a lack of a clear purpose.

Elizabeth Parent's costumes are adequate-Daniel Zimmer's lighting is below par.

In directing musical comedy, the director should learn the cardinal rule-a smile is worth a sheet of Plexiglas.

Le Petit has finally hobbled to the end of its thirtieth season. The good news is that it is still in business, though barely.

The sad news is that its final offering, Neil Simon's "farce" Rumors, although excellently directed and cast by theatre doyen Stocker Fontelieu, is yet another piece of theatrical dross.

One major improvement over the last several productions was the completion of the set in time for opening-new managing director Keith C. Briggs saw to that, and credited himself accordingly.

Set in the living room of a large Victorian home in ritzy Westchester Country, NY, the action hinges on a party being given by the home's owner, who never appears, having shot himself in the ear (lobe) upstairs. Two early arrivees learn of this action, speculate on its motive, and try to hide this event from the other (slowly) arriving party-goers. Exaggerated double takes, slamming doors and general confusion do little to titillate in this insipid play. Simon should have studied Feydeau a little bit more before committing this abortive effort to paper.

Of course, he is Neil Simon and anything with his name on it is bound to attract an audience.

Kathie Taafe, Leon Contavestesprie, Janet Shea, Walter Bost, Adrian C. Benjamin, Jr., Pauline Prelutsky, Marc Belloni, Gemma Denmark, Michael Ray Ernst and Christopher Kurt Fritz-the entire cast-are to be congratulated on executing Fontelieu's crisp direction with great finesse. Too bad it was all to such little effect.

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