Great fun & lots of laughs in AST’s big, bold & stylish Lend Me a Tenor

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Peter Raimondo & Darrell Hicks in Lend Me a Tenor – photo by John Meadows

Alexander Showcase Theatre (AST) opened its production of Ken Ludwig’s hilarious romp Lend Me a Tenor at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills on Thursday, directed by Vincenzo Sestito.

Set in 1934 in a hotel suite in Cleveland, Cleveland Grand Opera Company manager Henry Saunders (Seth Mukamal), his daughter Maggie (Anne-Marie Krytiuk) and his assistant Max (Peter Raimondo) anxiously await the arrival of world-famous tenor Tito Merelli (Darrell Hicks), a stellar performer who’s big on wine and women, but not so much on punctuality. Add to the mix a fanboy Bellhop (Steve Kyriacopoulos, doing double duty as producer), Merelli’s jealous wife Maria (Sharon Zehavi, also the graphic designer), the opera company’s resident diva Diana (Nina Mason) and the Saunders’ doting family friend Julia (Michele Dodick), throw in some mistaken events and a comedy of errors – and hilarity ensues.

Lend Me a Tenor is a prime example of a go big or go home enterprise – and the AST cast brings it big time. Krytiuk is adorably feisty as the star-struck, wide-eyed romantic Maggie, a young woman longing for adventure and excitement, away from the watchful eye of her controlling father. Mukamal’s Henry is all business; gruff, bombastic and able to turn a dramatic and moving phrase when called for, his company’s production of Otello a make or break proposition. Raimondo is sweet and humble as the hard-working, put-upon Max; a lover of opera himself, but always toiling in the background, he’s in love with Maggie and wants to prove himself. Kyriacopoulos gives a great comic turn as the persistent and irritating but likeable Bellhop, a fanboy opera lover himself who needs no excuse to insert himself into the action.

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Seth Mukamal & Michele Dodick with Anne-Marie Krytiuk & Steve Kyriacopoulos in the background – photo by John Meadows

Hicks gives a larger-than-life, but warm performance as the brilliant and generous Merelli; mining the sensitive and sensual soul of the famous tenor, he finds the facets of Merelli and avoids a two-dimensional rendering – and he’s got an impressive set of pipes. As Merelli’s fiery wife Maria, Zehavi is by turns sexual and sexually frustrated; fully aware of her husband’s penchant for dalliance, she is ever on the prowl for hidden mistresses – and at the end of her rope with trying to keep up. Mason gives us a sensual, wry-witted performance as the slinky and driven soprano Diana, an ambitious opportunist who’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the Met. And Dodick is a delight as the Saunders’ friend Julia; “Aunt Julia” to Maggie and a big Merelli fan herself, she’s a jovial and positive force to be reckoned with.

With shouts to the design team for the sleek 1930s vintage flare: Gwyneth Sestito (music co-ordinator and costumes), Deborah Mills (props) and Peter Thorman (set).

Everyone loves a tenor, especially the ladies. Great fun and lots of laughs in Alexander Showcase Theatre’s big, bold and stylish Lend Me a Tenor.

Lend Me a Tenor runs at the Papermill Theatre until Dec 5; see the show’s page for dates/times and advance tickets.

You can also keep up with Alexander Showcase on Facebook and Twitter.

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An early holiday treat – Alexander Showcase Theatre’s A Christmas Carol

a xmas carolA wonderful evening of fun and festivity at the Papermill Theatre last night at Alexander Showcase Theatre’s (AST) opening night of their adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a special wine and dine gala that featured a very tasty and highly digestible pre-show Christmas dinner. Directed by Vincenzo Sestito, who adapted the script with Gwyneth Sestito, this version of the holiday favourite is set as a 1940s radio play within a play, much like AST’s 2012 production of It’s A Wonderful Life.

The cast does an amazing job of juggling multiple characters, including playing actors who are playing characters in a radio play of A Christmas Carol. Seth Mukamal’s (as actor Felix Underhill) Scrooge would do Alistair Sim proud, a remarkable balance of curmudgeon and lost boy. Andrea Brown (as actor Amelia Copeland) and Matthew Payne (as actor Allan Flynn) do a great job as the co-narrators, with Payne giving a jolly performance as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, and Brown hilarious as charwoman Mrs. Dilbur, and supportive and no-nonsense as Mrs. Cratchit. The two have some especially lovely moments behind the scenes, as we witness Copeland and Flynn’s burgeoning romance. Tayves Fiddis (as actor Jack Smythe) does a nice job playing Cratchit and young Scrooge, and Michelle Berube is a flirty firecracker as the talented young Foley Artist Jayne Whitley. As their respective actor characters, these two share some adorable offstage (and on) flirtation, which doesn’t get past the watchful eye of Head Foley Artist Beulah Higgins, played with a good-natured den mother vibe by Deborah Mills.

David McEachern’s beautiful bass baritone is perfect for the Announcer, and goes from jovial to menacing as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Steve Kyriacopoulos does a great comic turn as the put-upon Station Manager Gordon Smithers, and gives us a kind and ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past. Nice work from James Phelan, as the morose and penitent Ghost of Jacob Marley, and the comically opportunistic Undertaker; and Eugene Fong-Dere is both jovial and funny as the chain smoking actor Johnny Choi, who plays Mr. Fezziwig, among others. Nina Mason (young Scrooge’s sweetheart Belle, the Laundress, and the Boy who Scrooge sends to purchase the goose for the Cratchits) and Anne-Marie Krytiuk (Scrooge’s sister Fan, Cratchit’s kids Martha and Peter) show some very impressive chops with a wide variety of characterizations, both male and female. And young Michael Speciale is a puckish little rascal and a fine performer as actor Mitchell Rooney, who plays Tiny Tim, among others.

The charm of this adaptation lies in the nostalgic radio play production setting, with its period music and holiday tunes, sound effects work (Mills and Berube do a stand-up job with the equipment – and the contraption Berube uses to create the audio representation of the Ghost of Christmas Future is eerily fascinating) – and, especially, the behind-the-scenes rapport of the radio play actors, with all the collegial teasing, hamming it up, romantic intrigue and general shenanigans one would expect from a group of actors.
Adding to the fun of the production is a series of live 1940s-style jingles for the show’s sponsors, with music and lyrics (lyrics by Gwyneth Sestito for The Pilot Tavern) by Robby Burko, who plays the radio show’s pianist, and belted out in true Andrews Sisters style by Brown, Krytiuk and Mason.

Additional music for the opening performance was supplied by special guests, including Supertonic Quartet, who delighted the crowd with some tunes during dinner, as well as a guest number during a music break in the play (they’ll be returning on Nov 29 & Dec 7). And Supertonic member Patrick Brown and cast member Nina Mason (who played the actors playing George and Mary Bailey in AST’s production of It’s A Wonderful Life) performed a fabulous duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” during the show’s music break. Katey Morley is set to perform at the Dec 6 show.

Think it’s too early for a holiday treat? Bah, humbug! Alexander Showcase Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is a delightful way to kick off the holiday season – for kids of all ages.

A Christmas Carol continues its run at the Papermill Theatre until Dec 7. Up next for AST: Sweeney Todd at Al Green Theatre (April 30 – May 10, 2015).

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The Crucible – a moving & haunting cautionary tale

top-bannerTC32-685x269crucible n.1 a container in which metals are heated 2 a severe test or trial (Oxford Canadian Dictionary)

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a drama set during the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s – and a metaphor for the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, when the play was written – is a period piece that maintains its relevance today. The damaging “with us or against us” mentality still rings chillingly true.

Alexander Showcase Theatre (AST) is currently running a moving and haunting production on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage, directed by Vincenzo Sestito. Beneath the social turmoil is a story of personal lies, love and redemption, as the lives of the townspeople are turned upside down by the vengeful machinations of a jealous, grasping young woman. Thanks to her, the local clergy cry “witch” – and the full weight of the witch trials comes down upon their heads.

As a container, the crucible remains unchanged during the process of burning the object inside it. While this is also true of the legal arm of this trial, the same cannot be said of the religious arm. Wielding religious and legal power – and fear – the black and white thinking that is dangerous to any who stand in its path leaves those in ultimate power unmoved.

The Crucible features a fine cast, with some familiar faces from previous AST productions. Stand-outs include Patrick and Andrea Brown, the real-life husband and wife playing John and Elizabeth Proctor. Both give strong, layered performances as an estranged couple struggling to move past John’s extramarital sin to face an even more horrific situation when Elizabeth is accused of witchcraft. The two have some lovely domestic and tender moments as the Proctors fight for their marriage and, ultimately, their lives, when protecting each other becomes foremost in their minds. Sharon Zehavi is striking and sensual as Abigail Williams, the original mean girl, troubled and sly – and merciless in her pursuit of vengeance and her former lover, John Proctor. This is a huge departure from Zehavi’s previous AST role as the wide-eyed rookie actress in the radio play version of It’s A Wonderful Life; she is also part of the graphic design team on the production poster for The Crucible.

Seth Mukamal does an excellent job with Reverend Parris, providing a nice arc to the church leader’s decent from pompous, materialistic cleric to the damaged, shell-shocked man we see during the trials. Matt Jensen, as Reverend Hale, gives a nicely rounded performance of the young, intelligent and energetic clergyman turned disillusioned and desperate when his eyes are pried open to the willful blindness of the Puritan-driven judiciary, looking to find witches no matter what the cost. Shouts to Nina Mason, who gives us a Mary Warren that is a silly girl and a follower, but just really wants to fit in and be somebody; to Doug McLauchlan as the simple, litigious Giles Corey, who provides some much needed comic relief; and to Arnie Zweig, who brings a natural officiousness to the imperious Deputy-Governor Danforth.

Kudos to an excellent design team: Angus Barlow (sound),  Chris Humphrey (lighting), Deborah Mills (props), Beth Roher (set), Gwyneth Sestito (costumes) and Jo-Anne Wurster (original music composition). The minimal wooden furniture, everyday objects and period costumes set us firmly in time and place, while the back-lit scrim painted with black trees, coupled with lanterns emerging from the darkness, and music and snatches of hymns, add to the eerie transformation of a lovely town set aflame by greed and religion running rampantly astray.

Seeing The Crucible is a grim reminder of the dangers of all or nothing thinking – especially when used as a tool of fear and control by an unchecked political leadership.

Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of The Crucible runs until November 24.

Department of Corrections: Due to an error in the Production Team section of the program, the set designer was incorrectly identified here in the original post as Marc Davies. Beth Roher was the set designer for this production; this has been corrected.