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'Mary Poppins' offers technically superb theater experience

The summer is quickly drawing to a close, and the children will be back in school in a matter of a few days. MARY POPPINS is a perfect way to cap the lazy days and introduce the transition back to structure. z-theater-withee

The Ogunquit Playhouse offers a dazzling production of this classic tale and one last walk on the beach or the Marginal Way shouldn't be undervalued either. MARY POPPINS certainly is a show where the entire generational family structure can share laughs, hear familiar songs, see a few dance numbers and leave the theater a tad wiser on how we interact with loved ones and neighbors. The technical aspects will also keep young jaws on the floor. What child isn't amazed by flying nannies?

Shaun Kerrison has created a mesmerizingly slick production with many wonderful attributes. The design team has mastered the spectacle that a production of MARY POPPINS must be. Lisa Donmall-Reeve is splendid as Mrs. Corry in the "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" segment, while the scene is given such incredible power through the costume design of Rachel Berchtold & Dustin Cross and the wigs of Britt Griffith & Trent Pcenicni. The red motif, visually, was one of the most interesting aspects of the production.8-22-14-HW-OP Mary-Poppins 02 Joseph-Hall Gail-Bennett Siara-Carrillo-Tracey Tony-Mansker-photo-by-Julia-Russell

I also enjoyed the collaborated talents of Lighting Designer Richard Latta and Christine Peters' Set Design, underscoring my favorite scene in the play, "Feed the Birds." Animation was used to produce the illusion of birds flying into and out of the scene, landing on the surrounding buildings and disappearing once again. The one major technical drawback was the overall sound quality the evening I attended. Microphones seemed to only bring forth the treble with the children, making them almost impossible to understand. I few times microphones were not turned on when a character was speaking and also had a couple muzzled moments.

The role of Bert is undertaken by Tony Mansker, bringing to the stage charming, intelligent and insight sensibilities. Energy exudes from this actor, and he was noticeably nimbler on his feet beside his very talented cast members. Mr. Mansker commands the stage with ease and is the steady force moving the story forward. Mr. Mansker was a member of the original Broadway cast.

The title role is placed in the hands of Gail Bennett, a role she performed during the first National tour. Ms. Bennett's portrayal is certainly not a sugar and spice rendition. Ms. Poppins is allowed to have a mature feminine side, mischievous and just a pinch of darkness. The darkness isn't about evil, but pragmatic, realism of how the world works and the unbending approach of raising children who are enveloped with love, acceptance and understanding. Of course, much is expected in return, the realization that we are part of something larger; and our true worth at the end of the day rests within the attributes of how we treated those with less money, power or physical beauty. True happiness stems from giving of ourselves to others, most important of all, our time.

The ensemble was highly talented and not a note or dance step was ever out of place. Lisa Stevens' choreography, though, seemed timid. This summer I have witnessed some amazing dances and dancers. I never felt the talent was tested and was disappointed with the complexity of the numbers. Perhaps I'm being greedy, but when the talent is on the stage, use it, impress me, leave me wanting more.

The audience was wowed the evening I attended, and with the great cast and over the top technical wizardry I should have been as well. I wasn't. "Practically Perfect" is a number in the show and also is a good description of this production. The issue for me is the "slick" replaced the one element I need to be satisfied from an evening attending the theater, an emotional connection. I was left feeling empty. I was highly entertained, I suppose, but when the show ended so did my involvement.

The one major exception was the "Feed the Birds" scene, showcasing Sandy Rosenberg. I still speak of her uproarious performance from last season and was thrilled to see her once again. Ms. Rosenberg was able to bring the show to a halt with the beautiful simplicity her interpretation of Bird Woman brought forth onto the stage. I longed for the same reaction when the curtain call arrived.

MARY POPPINS is playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse through Aug. 30. For information and tickets, call the box-office at 646-5511 or www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

(Promotional photo by Julia Russell)

Last Updated on Friday, 22 August 2014 02:10

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Monmouth's 'What the Butler Saw' delivers laughs, adult humor

August is here, meaning all productions are now up and running at the Theater at Monmouth.

Operating under a LORT Letter of agreement, this professional company is incredibly unique in presenting classical pieces of theater within a repertory schedule. The feat equates to juggling five teacups from your mother's inherited, impossible to replace, antique English bone china collection during the whole hot month of August. z-theater-withee

The drive into the lake region is actually quite close, through Lisbon, via 295 north. The area is calming compared with the coastal human jam; and with five shows rotating through Aug. 24, escaping to a Maine historical theatrical tradition should be on every theater lover's agenda before the summer winds down. I suggest planning a day trip with a matinee, lunch, evening performance of a different show in the evening, all in Monmouth and then a late snack in Freeport at one of my favorite restaurants, Petrillo's, on the way home. A full day of cultural vacation in our beautiful interior will be good for the soul.

Shakespeare is always the main course at Monmouth, offering AS YOU LIKE IT and ROMEO & JULIET. Highlighting British theatrical contributions this season, Oscar Wilde's A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE is sharing billing with Joe Orton's last play, WHAT THE BUTLER SAW. A few other surprises are scattered about, and for younger families, matinees of TALES FROM THE BLUE FAIRY BOOK. Cumston Hall is a 1900 architect's artistic achievement, and it is stunning to behold the intricate, ornamental indulgence associated with the late Victorian era.
"Naughty" is a word English comedy has leaned heavily on since the rumbles of the sexual revolution. Honestly, the English are masters, turning "naughty" into dry-witted humor injected with social commentary. Laughter was in order when the evening menu offered WHAT THE BUTLER SAW. Needless to say, leave the tweens at home. A play written in the mid '60s still has the ability to cause blushing and nervous laughter, as it's tackling sexual identity issues, nudity and social normalcy within the understood framework that human normalcy is a cruel mirage.

Theater at Monmouth wonderfully weaves talent from across the United States into their productions, many residing within the state of Maine's boundaries. Theater Chair of the UMO Department of Theater Dan Bilodeau, is the Scenic Designer. Keeping in mind the sets are taken down and put back up for every showing, Mr. Bilodeau creates a very functional playing space for the actors. I very much enjoyed the sound design of Rew Tippin, capturing a 1960s essence of sexual liberation and the musical contributions from this transitional period.

Directed by Good Theater's Brian P. Allen, six actors are put through a workout of physical and cerebral comic hurdles. Timing is the key to this production and timing was a bit off for this extremely talented cast the evening I attended. The show had just opened and hadn't quite settled into the effortless, manic romp the show should be. Portland Equity actor James Hoban leads this cast, bringing life to the unethical Dr. Prentice. Mr. Hoban has a wonderful, dry approach to the character, playing the straight guy at the center of the chaos his sexual urges put into play. Big Brother and inept bureaucracy are embodied within the character of Dr. Rance, portrayed by longtime Monmouth favorite Mark Cartier. Mr. Cartier is perfect as the befuddled, over achiever of rules and regulations. Maine native and Colby senior Anna Doyle is lovely as the big-eyed Geraldine. Another Portland-based actor, Max Waszak, is cast as Sergeant Match. Mr. Waszak's character represents law and order and is quickly overwhelmed by the self-propelling meltdown, catapulted into action through scandal and cover-up.

Remember, folks, as we celebrate 40 years since Watergate, the cover-up is always worse than the initial transgression. One force is truly the locomotive for the evening, driving the action and feeding energy into the cauldron. Denise Cormier portrays the sexually titillating yet emotionally stunted Mrs. Prentice. Ms. Cormier wears the role like a second skin, mining the script for every nuance and playing for laughs with no apologies.
Diction can be tricky in Cumston Hall, especially with English accents and the younger cast members need to keep words crisp and audible. Witty wordplay and puns are no fun when misunderstood or fly by without landing on the ear.

Summer is still in full swing at Monmouth and for a full schedule check out the TAM website or call the box-office at 207-933-9999.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:57

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The Bard deserves our backing

Tradition. The word carries the long history of humanity around it's neck. Tradition. A World out of control, we take comfort in that word. z-theater-withee

Tradition. Within the sphere of theater, a word that is the sole foundation of an ancient craft.

Tradition. Answering the hunger of belonging, understanding.

Tradition. The transfer of cultural wisdom.

Tradition. Explanation of the proliferation of Shakespearean performances throughout the Globe, as well as here in the State of Maine.

Yes, Shakespeare is good here. Theater at Monmouth has been around for decades, offering the Bard nestled within the Lakes Region. Free park performances are being offered in Kennebunk, Bath, and, of course, Deering Oaks here in Portland. The words have been spoken hundreds of thousands of times over the years, yet each generation seems eager to hear them again, laden with insight of why we are who we are.

Theater voices have been silent since the wonderful week of Fringe here in downtown Portland. Fenix Theatre Company fills the Summer void once again with an imaginative production of AS YOU LIKE IT. I'm not writing a review about the show, simply because I have yet to see it with my work schedule. I wanted to spread the news, though, that the place to be is Deering Oaks, to share the tradition of Free Shakespeare in the Park right here in the heart of Forest City.8-1-14-HW-fenix-in-park

Fenix brings together the best talent in Greater Portland, mining from all the companies in town and truly showing a united front of theater professionals interpreting the greatest words ever written for the stage. I have to admit, I enjoy local talent weaving their energy and vision throughout the many companies instead of the insular attitude of exclusivity.

Peter Brown is the Director, using Deering Oaks to simulate the Forest of Arden, central to the storyline. Changing scenes involves moving the audience through the park's tidal basin. Mr. Brown has become a top director in Portland and an affiliate artist with Portland Stage Company. Twenty years ago I was directed by Mr. Brown when he was an intern at Portland Stage Company in a Tennessee Williams one-act. I've enjoyed this Maine boy's growth and contribution to our theater energy. He is truly one of this town's pillar in forwarding the gift of live theater.

Rosalind is being portrayed by another actor I have a soft spot in my heart for, Kat Moraros. Ms. Moraros is an able, intelligent performer, attacking material from a center of confidence. When I first moved back from Boston I was part of the Freeport Shakespeare Festival and the general manager for the Freeport Factory Stage. I stepped into a role that was vacated because of illness one week before the opening. Ms. Moraros was the anchor I could safely attach myself to, solid on lines and interpretation. This past season I was proud to see her on the boards at Portland Stage. Portland Stage would benefit with more inclusion of Portland talent, Union and Non-Union, in building bridges with the local community.

Rob Cameron is the Artistic Director of the Fenix Theatre and works tirelessly behind the scenes to mount this free production. His handsome face is also in front of the audience in this production, I hear something about an enjoyable wrestler. Abigail Killeen is also in this cast and, I must admit, has given me the most pleasure from watching an actor over the past couple of seasons. Ms. Killeen's work in Portland Stage's LOVE/SICK alone has made me a fan and is always worth my investment of time. Portland's best talent coupled with theater's most beloved author is a perfect way to spend an evening outside as the sun wanes.

Let me inject a bit of rambling here. Free Shakespeare in the Park is, of course, far from free. Theater survives through the financial support of donors and local business. Support the business that supports theater and tell them you appreciate them buying advertisement or ponying up the bucks to be a show sponsor. The circle can't be broken. The arts are an important economic force in a vibrant downtown economy, and those who realize this should be rewarded. How we spend our money directly creates the world we live in, spend wisely and always with the knowledge of how you are molding our community.

I'm known for being blunt, so here goes. This company does a great job with casting, interpretation, costumes; and how can one get a better set than the natural beauty that is Deering Oaks? The shows are at 6:30 so no lights have to be used, although, like me, that is early at times to get to from work. Also, the sound isn't always the best with the outside world intruding with motorcycles, trucks and people playing sports within the Park. It is time for these top-rate productions to be supported by microphones at least. Technical support takes money. I know damn well someone is reading this who can help. I've said it before, I have no problem being successful in our society, but money needs to be spread around to enrich. I'll proclaim you a hero right here on this page. Let's work together to keep Portland the magnificent theater town it is becoming and open some check books. You'll feel better about your legacy in the world. Tradition. A word from a Broadway Musical.

AS YOU LIKE IT is being performed free in Deering Oaks through Aug. 9.

(Harold Withee is a member of Actors' Equity and SAG/AFTRA.)

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:43

Hits: 731

The Delta Generators delve deep into the blues

The Delta Generators opened for Miner at One Longfellow Square Saturday night, but the hard-rocking blues band was really the main attraction. Miner is a band from Los Angeles that's been getting some airplay lately, and the DG's didn't mind the earlier set.7-25-14-TG-review-Delta

The O'Neal brothers comprise half of the Delta Generators, and they wanted to visit their father, who lives in Old Orchard Beach. Rick O'Neal plays bass guitar. Charlie O'Neal plays guitar. Craig Rawding sings and writes lyrics, and Jeff Armstrong is on drums.

The band name came about in 2008, when the guys were looking to generate some extra money from their various side projects and pulled together a new group.

They had planned to call themselves The Generators, but a punk rock band from California already had the name, so they prefixed Delta to their moniker to convey the source and inspiration for their sound.

The band members are all from the Massachusetts area, but their musical roots are in the Mississippi Delta, and playing the blues brings them joy. One of their first songs on Saturday was "Home of the Rustling Chain," which is a "depressing song," according to Rawding. "But depressing songs make me feel good."

The band first met years ago, at a Massachusetts record shop. Rick and Charlie were teaching lessons at Music Unlimited when they met Jeff. The trio started a funk-jazz fusion band called Tizzy, but it fizzled out before long.

Their manager, however, also worked with Benjamin Orr from the Cars, who was looking for a couple of new musicians. Charlie, then 21 years old, got a gig touring with Orr's new band for two years. Rick joined them as well; Orr was the bassist but was looking for someone to replace him as he focused on vocals. Charlie later played with Must, a London band with each member from another country. They toured with Aerosmith, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Kid Rock.

Next up, Charlie joined for Joshua Tree, a U2 tribute band with Rawding and John Perkins, the Delta Generators founder and first drummer who left after just a few songs to start a family in 2008. That connection led to the decision to start the Generators, and Armstrong stepped in for Perkins on percussion.

Regarding their songwriting process, Rawding pens the lyrics, but the band has a four way split for rights. Rawding has performed with Heavy Metal Horns, a national touring band with funk, soul, and jazz roots.

When he creates new songs, he sometimes will be playing guitar and his band mates will take the riff and build on it. Other times, the lyrics come first, and they drop some music on top of them.

"Sometimes, the words and the music come at the same time," Rawding said.

They have played in Portland before, at The Venue on Forest Avenue, as well as OLS two years ago, "on the hottest day of the year," Rick said. "Not a big audience."

The O'Neal brothers got an early start in their song lives when Ken Reback, their step-father, took them to bluegrass festivals and gave them their first guitars — Rick at age seven and Charlie at 12.

The Delta Generators have come a long way since 2008. They won the Boston Blues Society's Blues challenge that year, which earned them a spot in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis in 2009. The band finished as a Top 10 Finalist out of more than a hundred bands. Their debut album, "Devil in the Rhythm," won an Independent Music Award for Best Blues Album in 2009.

Their second album, "Hard River to Row," was selected by the Blues Foundation as a Top 5 Finalist in the Best Self-Produced CD competition at the International Blues Challenge in 2011.

Their third release "Get on the Horse," which is out now, was mixed by Grammy-winning producer David Z. and then mastered by Dave McNair, who has worked with David Bowie and Bob Dylan. The songs from "Get on the Horse" range from roots rock to slow blues, Americana to funky soul, and the compilation is a finalist for Best Blues Album of the Year.
In the last couple of years, the Delta Generators have shared the stage with such acts as Robert Cray, Three Dog Night, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Winter, and John Lee Hooker Jr. Despite all their success and big-name stage-sharing, they know the musical road can be a long one. On Saturday night, they blasted through several hits like, "The More I Find Out, the Less I Want to Know" and "Canebrake." Before launching into "It's Been Hard," Rawding predicted that the song would be their "beer commercial, if we have one."

Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 00:05

Hits: 868

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