REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar – Castaway Players

A Vision Worth Reviving

Review by Joe Eriole

Castaway Productions’ presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Sean Matthew Whiteford, accomplishes something notable in any revival of a well-known and oft-performed show: it offers the audience something more than they expected. 

Superstar began its life as  a 1970 rock opera album based on the last week of the life of Jesus, with intriguing and modestly controversial perspectives on the thoughts and motivations of history’s most famous protagonist, his loving followers, and his iconic antagonist, Judas. The musical debuted the next year. 
The compositions, while identifiable in the genre of epic rock anthems and glam rock, hold up exceptionally well. So much is asked of the vocalists, and so much musicianship is possible for the musicians, that in the hands of performers who are up to the task, the result is always an impressive aural experience. 

In Whiteford’s production, everyone on stage can really sing, and every cast member brings style and energy to their performance, such that audiences will find themselves watching more than just the leads as they survey the stage.  Likewise, all the players in the pit have real chops on their instruments, are on stage throughout the show, and now and then double as actors. 

If this production was your introduction to the show, the strength of the cast and the band would be enough to commend it. Its real triumph, however, might be among the large number of audience members who already know the show well. Because familiarity can make revivals seem tedious, and indeed, recent stagings of Superstar, even on the Great White Way have lacked the energy and power the show has the potential to deliver. This production is a terrific theater experience.

Whiteford’s director’s notes emphasize his desire to pay homage to the show’s origins as a concept album, and alerts the audience to the notion that the show will seek to capture the energy of the music in it’s raw, organic power. It is unabashedly as much a concert as a play, but that emphasis does nothing to diminish the production as a total sensory experience. The costuming is casual, gritty, and stylish, the set spare but purposeful, and the lighting reminiscent of an intimate music hall concert show; bright, alive and in motion like the cast, but never a distraction.

Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s concept has done much to shape modern popular culture’s view of it’s central characters, Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. Focusing, as it does, on Jesus’ life, rather than taking a position on the theology he later inspired, allows the play to work as a very poignant human drama whatever your faith perspective may be, so long as the heavy water of the Jesus, Joseph, Magdalene triangle can be carried by the performers. Here, Whiteford, as Jesus, Henry George Staats III as Judas, and Jasha Woodall as Magdalene, give us that to be sure.

Jesus and Judas are exceptionally challenging vocal parts, and the show can frankly be unwatchable if these two key roles are not filled by actors who can own every note. Whiteford and Staats are each more than up to task. They are engrossing on stage together. Whiteford’s Jesus is equal parts empathy and passion; Staats’ Judas is full of pathos and rage, and both exude the pain that renders the human story tragic.

As Magdalene, Woodall delivers a performance best described as beautiful. She is a joy to listen to, and an emotive actress throughout, whose plaintive cries at the end the play, in a unique and agonizing take on the final tragedy, are inspired both in concept and delivery. One of the play’s signature songs, I Don’t Know How to Love Him, is strongly performed by Woodard with heartfelt sincerity.

Woodard and PJ Kraus, as Peter, deliver one of the most moving performances of the show on Could We Start Again, Please. this song, during which Kraus plays guitar and and Woodard plays piano, was not on the original studio album, but became part of the lexicon of the show early in its life as a stage and film event. The deep poignancy of the song and delicacy of their performance are a strong counterpoint to the relentless race to the tragic denouement of the play.

Other notable performances are turned in by Dean DiMarzo and Logan Callahan as Caiphas and Annas, respectively, who match the distinctive vocal notes of those characters while also accompanying with menacing guitar.
The two magistrates who passed on Jesus’ fate, Herod and Pontius Pilate, are played by Briana DeVol Cermak and AnnChris Warren respectively, who each give star-turns in their roles. Warren’s Pilate rages and pleads with riveting fervor, and Cermak’s Herod, while sharply offering lyrics no less insightful than any other character in the play, also gives us a welcomed dose of brilliant comedic relief. 

There is a wonderfully staged saxophone duel performed at the highest tier of the set scaffolding by ensemble members Dara Looney and Erin Hebert, which adds tremendous energy to one of the show’s strongest ensemble pieces. The ensemble is nearly always on stage, unfailing in their energy, sharp in their choreography, and powerful in their supporting vocals.
This is a well-wrought and finely performed production. It runs through Sunday September 15 at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck. Tickets are extremely limited and advanced purchase is highly recommended for the closing weekend.

REVIEW: I Hate Hamlet – Clove Creek Dinner Theater

Clove Creek’s Comedic Production of I Hate Hamlet is “Not to Be” Missed!

Review by Louisa Vilardi

In Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s I Hate Hamlet, director Brandon Patterson has assembled a cast full of wit and energy that will leave you with a belly full of delicious food and laughs. 

Andrew Rally’s (Steven Bendler) agent has persuaded him to play the role of Hamlet in New York City’s production of Shakespeare in the Park. Rally must battle his hate of Hamlet with his love of the craft of acting, which leaves him indecisive and unsettled. Rally moves to the City to play the role, and is met by Felicia Dantine (Amber Loija Mason), a real estate agent full of gusto, who is excited to show Rally his new place. The property is distinguished by having once belonged to the late John Barrymore (Patrick Spaulding), whose quintessential portrayal of Hamlet years ago set the bar for any actor who followed him.

Laurel Riley-Brown, Tamara Cacchione and Steven Bendler in I Hate Hamlet

Although the apartment is too grand and gothic for Rally’s taste, his agent (Laurel Riley-Brown) compels him to stay in the apartment for the selfish reason that it is the site where she once carried on an affair with Barrymore. Rally is further moved to take the place by his girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey (Tamara Cacchione). McDavey, while modestly saving herself for marriage, thinks the knowledge of the talented Barrymore’s having been resident there might inspire Rally’s performance, and with it, her libido, such that she might have the impetus to finally sleep with him.

Once in the new space, the ghost of Barrymore appears, and assists Rally in battling his demons while Barrymore himself is challenged by a ghost and Gary (Brandon Patterson), a vivacious Hollywood producer. Against these storylines, we are treated to a seance, swordplay, and Shakespearean citations in a side-splitting play.  

The ghost of legendary John Barrymore is played by standout actor and handsome charmer, Patrick Spaulding who has an impressive bravado that fills the theater. Spaulding is a natural, precise in his comedic timing while also leaving the audience welling up in tears during more emotional moments.  

Patrick Spaulding and Steven Bendler in I Hate Hamlet

Steven Bendler’s portrayal of Andrew Rally is stellar and spot-on and he plays Rally as he should, a rambler, a self-doubter, and a true TV actor whose claims to fame are his role on LA Medical and his popular but embarrassing commercial, where he kisses a chipmunk hand puppet on the head. Bendler is a gift on stage and is full of depth and presence as Rally. He succeeds in delivering a true range of emotions as what could have been a very static character. From outstanding comedic chops to emotional poignancy, Bendler shines.

Tamara Cacchione is a pure dream to watch on stage as she plays the flighty Dierdre. She is a true artist and talented actress who evokes a good mix of desperation, sincerity, passion and enchantment. She is melodic and simply flawless in this production.

Laurel Riley-Brown plays German agent Lillian Troy, and is a perfect blend of absurdity and emotion. Riley-Brown plays an older woman with an emphysemic cough who delivers some of the funniest one-liners of the play. The most moving scene of the play is when she reunites with Barrymore and they reminisce about being young lovers, which triggers the audience to remember simpler times in life when a romantic stillness was enough. It’s a credit to the chemistry and performance of Riley-Brown and Spaulding that one wishes this scene lasted much longer.

Amber Loija Mason in I Hate Hamlet

Amber Loija Mason delivers energy and zeal to the stage as Felicia Dantine. Her facial expressions and physicality, especially during the seance, evoke humor which sets the tone of the play from the start. She provides us with comic relief which balances out some of the more emotional moments between other characters on stage. 

Brandon Patterson, who also directed this production, plays Gary Lefkowitz, a slimy Hollywood producer who tries to convince Rally that his time would be better spent on screen rather than on stage. Patterson is BIG from the moment he enters to the last breath of each exit.

Steven Bendler & Brandon Patterson in I Hate Hamlet

Patterson’s direction gives us a production which is sharp, funny, and gritty, with clever staging.

I Hate Hamlet runs through September 22, 2019 at Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY. For tickets and more information, please visit www.CloveCreekDinnerTheater.com 

Tamara Cacchione & Patrick Spaulding in
I Hate Hamlet
Louisa Vilardi

Louisa Vilardi is a writer and theater director who lives in the Hudson Valley.  Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team, and Scary Mommy.  More at www.LouisaVilardi.com

Steven Bendler and Patrick Spaulding in I Hate Hamlet

County Players Presents the Tony Award-Winning Musical Comedy THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE – OPENING September 13th!

Six middle school misfits are thrown into a cutthroat, high-stakes competition, and P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M takes first place.

Welcome to the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, where eccentric adolescents (all played by adults!) get their chance to shine as they vie to prove they are worthy of a shot at “Nationals.” A touching and irreverent coming-of-age comedy with a high-spirited, improvised spelling bee, this Tony Award-winning musical is a laugh-out-loud. The cast features the local talents of Lisa Delia, Chole Kramer, Glen Macken. Thomas O’Leary. Dylan Parkin. Amy Schaffer. Jeff Sculley. Jontae Walters, and Irving Zuniga. Director Jeff Wilson says: “Come meet these lovable misfits as they compete for the county spelling bee championship.  Along the way, they share their challenges and joys, deal with the pressures of competing and learn about friendship, family, and self-confidence.  Some audience members may even get the chance to compete in the bee themselves.”

Performances will be Friday & Saturday September 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 8:00p.m. with a matinee on Sunday, September 22 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors/children under 12. Call the Box Office at 845-298-1491 for reservations or order your tickets online at  www.countyplayers.org. Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted. County Players Falls Theatre is located at 2681 W. Main, Wappingers Falls, NY.
Note: the show contains some mild adult humor.

The production is supported by Gold Sponsor is A&R Security. County Players 62nd season is generously sponsored by Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.

County Players is one of the longest running community theatre companies in our area, County Players is an all-volunteer organization which has presented more than 200 productions and has served thousands of theatergoers since 1958. Located in the Village of Wappingers Falls they acquired the Academy Theatre, then renamed County Players Falls Theatre, their home since 1977.

Accessibility:

If you require wheelchair accessibility, please contact our Box Office at 845-298-1491.

Contacts: Jeff Wilson, Director, cell: 914-474-7869   email: wilsonjd@yahoo.com

Joseph Pettignano, Publicity Chair, cell: 845-489-3086 email: jpettignano@gmail.com

PHOTO: The cast of County Players’ 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee CREDIT: Harold Bonacquist

Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre Presents the World Premiere of Michelle Carter’s BETTER September 12 – 22, 2019

A shooting. A séance. Fondue.

In the tradition of Kieron Barry’s THE OFFICIAL ADVENTURES OF KIERON AND JADE, Bridge Street presents the world premiere of yet another brand-new comedy – this one by Michelle Carter, whose HOW TO PRAY was a big audience favorite during BST’s 2017 Season. In Carter’s new play BETTER, coming to BST for eight performances only September 12-22, 20-year-old Emily’s life is turned upside down when her mother commits a shockingly violent act. She leaves school, takes a job at a fondue restaurant, consults a medium, and, like the good student she’s always been, searches for answers. How will she be able to endure her pain? What might she be capable of? Does she deserve happiness? And will things ever get better?

This quirky comedy on serious subjects will be directed by Sara Lampert Hoover (BST’s “Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune”), and features actors Montana Lampert Hoover as Emily, Brian Linden as Emily’s dad Ben, Lori Evans as Medium Molly (a down-to-earth clairvoyant), Carla Lewis-Ruig as Luisa (Emily’s co-worker at The Melting Pot Fondue Restaurant), and Eric Fleising as Emily’s boyfriend Michael. The production will also feature an original musical score composed by Catskill’s Rodney Alan Greenblat! Sets and lighting will be designed by Bridge Street Artistic Director John Sowle, with costumes by Michelle Rogers, and sound by Carmen Borgia. Production Stage Manager is Joshua Martin. Production costs for this world premiere have been underwritten in part by a generous gift from Rachel Lampert.

“Michelle Carter’s plays remind me so much of those unconventional, off-beat streaming comedy series so many of us binge on,” says Bridge Street Theatre Artistic Director John Sowle. “She takes on serious subjects (the aftermath of a school shooting, in this case) and deals with them in such a light-handed, humanizing way that it utterly disarms audiences, helps them let their guards down, and opens their hearts. You never see the violence that drives this play onstage – you merely witness the affect it has on the family the perpetrator leaves behind. And what a privilege to have Michelle here during the rehearsal process and for the first few public performances! We’ll even be holding an onstage Q&A session with her following our ‘Pay What You Will’ performance on Thursday September 12. Folks who saw Michelle’s ‘How To Pray’ at our theatre back in 2017 will need no encouragement to visit her world again.”
BST co-founder Steven Patterson concurs. “Not only is this a terrific new play, but the production has turned out to be a real family affair. We’ve got the great Sara Lampert Hoover, who helmed our production of Terrence McNally’s ‘Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune’ so brilliantly back in 2018, in the director’s chair. When we saw her daughter Montana Lampert Hoover at the NY Fringe last year in ‘The F#@%ing Wright Brothers’ by David Zellnik (whose ‘The Letters’ we premiered earlier this year), we immediately knew she’d be ideal casting as Emily – and she is, she is. And, since we want to make sure we do this incredible new play justice, we’ve hired a larger than usual complement of Equity actors, and THAT was made possible by a welcome donation, specifically for that purpose, from Sara’s sister (and Montana’s aunt) Rachel Lampert, who only recently retired after 20 years as the Artistic Director of the adventurous Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, NY. Our audiences will also recognize Lori Evans from her performance here as Marjory/Mallory in ‘The Moors’. The three remaining cast members will all be making their Bridge Street Theatre debuts, though we’ve known and loved Brian Linden’s work since our San Francisco days. And to have Rodney Alan Greenblat creating an original score for us is simply the cherry on top of the sundae.”

“Better” is recommended for audiences ages 13+ and plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm from September 12 – 22, 2019 on the Bridge Street Theatre Mainstage, located at 44 West Bridge Street, in Catskill, NY, just a block and a half west of Main Street across the Uncle Sam Bridge, which spans Catskill Creek. Eight performances only. General Admission is $25, Students 21 and under are only $10. Discounted advance tickets are available at better.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006. Tickets will also be sold at the door one half hour prior to each performance on a space available basis. “Pay What You Will” performances will be held on Thursday evening September 12 and Sunday afternoon September 15 (“Pay What You Will” tickets are available only at the door one half hour prior to those performances  For more information, visit the theatre online at BridgeSt.org/better/. Don’t pass up the chance to experience this eye- and heart-opening new comedy in its world premiere!

Events at Bridge Street Theatre are supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by Public Funds from the Greene County Legislature through the Cultural Fund administered in Greene County by the Greene County Council on the Arts.


Performance Calendar:

Bridge Street Theatre presents
The World Premiere of
BETTER
by Michelle Carter
with Montana Lampert Hoover*, Carla Lewis*, Brian Linden*, Lori Evans, and Eric Fleising
Directed by Sara Lampert Hoover
Sets and Lighting by John Sowle
Costumes by Michelle Rogers
Original Score by Rodney Alan Greenblat
Sound by Carmen Borgia
Production Stage Manager: Joshua Martin
September 12 – 22, 2019
Bridge Street Theatre Mainstage
44 West Bridge Street, Catskill, NY

Thursday September 12 @ 7:30pm (“Pay What You Will” preview, with a Q&A with the playwright immediately following the performance)
Friday September 13 @ 7:30pm (Opening Night, with reception to follow)
Saturday September 14 @ 7:30pm
Sunday September 15 @ 2:00pm (“Pay What You Will” performance)
Thursday September 19 @ 7:30pm
Friday September 20 @ 7:30pm
Saturday September 21 @ 7:30pm
Sunday September 22 @ 2:00pm (Closing performance)

Tickets:
Advance tickets available at http://better.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006
General Admission $22, $10 for students ages 21 and under
Tickets can also be purchased at the door prior to each performance (on a space available basis) for $25, $10 for Students ages 21 & under.
“Pay What You Will” tickets are available only on the day of performance and go on sale at the door one half hour before curtain time.

Photo Credit: John Sowle

New Deal Creative Arts Center to Hold Free Public Reading of Louisa Vilardi’s New Play

The New Deal Creative Arts Center is proud to present a free public reading of Tough Love, a new play written by playwright Louisa Vilardi. Tough Love is a mix of comedy and drama that explores how much it takes to give up or give in when it comes to marriage and family. 

Louisa Vilardi

Louisa is a writer and theater director originally from Northern New Jersey where she taught high school English and Creative Writing for over a decade before moving to the Hudson Valley. She is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team and Scary Mommy and is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild of America.

This free public reading will be presented at Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY on Sunday, September 29th at 7:30pm. This reading features Steven Bendler, Austin Lightning Carrothers, Joseph Eriole, Teresa Gasparini, David Perez-Ribada, and Laurel Riley-Brown. Join us for the world premiere reading of the play, light refreshments and a talk back following the reading. Tickets are free, but reservations are required. This play is intended for mature audiences only.

For free tickets, please visit: newdeal-toughlove.eventbrite.com

County Players Announces Open Call for Directors

County Players Announces Open Call for Directors for 63rd Season 2020-2021

WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY– County Players, one of the longest running volunteer community theaters is seeking qualified individuals to submit to direct productions for the 63rd Season 2020-2021. Deadline to submit interest form(s) is midnight, September 13, 2019.

Criteria for submission for individuals who have not previously directed at County Players:

  1. Be experienced directors, (directed at least 3 full-length productions.)
  2. Be willing to adhere by all guidelines and expectations of County Players.
  3. Submit a County Players Directors Form by September 13, 2019 for each piece they are interested in directing.
  4. Submit a resume of directing experiences, including pieces, theater, and timeframe.
  5. If requested, be available to meet with the Play Reading Task Force prior to November 1st for an interview that would also serve to help assess qualified candidates.
  6. Provide references upon request.

The 2020-22021 Season productions are scheduled for July, September, and November 2020, and February and May 2021. The deadline to submit director interest form(s) is midnight, September 13, 2019.

For information on submitting to direct, a directors form, the company, the proposed list of shows for the 2020-2021 season, current season, and past productions please visit countyplayers.org.

About County Players

County Players, one of the longest-running community theatre companies in the region, was founded in 1958 and in that time has presented over 200 productions and served thousands of theatergoers, and still manage to keep prices at an affordable level following the mission to “delight, educate, and challenge the community and to nurture creative expression, through theatre and the performing arts of the highest quality.”

Contacts:

Christine Crawfis

President and Play Reading Task Force Chair, email: ccrawfis@hvc.rr.com Cell: 845-380-0155

Joseph Pettignano, Publicity Chair, email: jpettignano@gmail.com, cell: 845-489-3086

REVIEW: Steel Magnolias – Clove Creek Dinner Theater

Review By Josie Grant

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”  – Truvy, Steel Magnolias

Life is a contradiction. Bitter and sweet; awfully good; its storms survived and then made beautiful in their aftermath by steel magnolias. Comedy and tragedy are not a part of life, but are life; a paradox which must be embraced if it is to be overcome. What better way to show this delicate balance of navigating and surviving life’s ups and downs than through the story of six strong women and their fierce determination to support one another?

Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias after his sister died of complications of diabetes in 1985. It opened Off-Broadway in 1987, was adapted into a film in 1989, and made its Broadway debut in 2005. In order to come to terms with the loss, he focused on the humor and lightheartedness his family used to cope with the seriousness of the situation.

Photo credit: Louisa Vilardi Photography

The play, set in small town Louisiana in the 80’s, centers on a group of southern women powerfully bonded by their shared experiences. Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s production tackles the daunting task of assembling a group of women who capable of portraying the bond established by the characters in the span of decades, in a matter of weeks. The play opens in a beauty salon, where advice is dispensed like hairspray. The story unfolds entirely within the salon, with each character stopping by not only for the cosmetology services the events of life require, but also, indeed probably more so, for the camaraderie of friends who have become family. The single set works nicely with Clove Creek’s stage and the dinner theater gives the intended moments of connectedness the pleasant, familiar “informal therapy session” feel you might get from a wise barman – or a good hair stylist.

Through thoughtful casting, Director Teresa Gasparini, who has served as the Artistic Director of Clove Creek since its inception in 2015, enables each member of this strong ensemble to shine by letting each one bring their own unique touch to the characters.

Laurel Riley-Brown, complete with the big hair of the 80’s, effectively plays kind hearted gossip and salon owner, Truvy. Her newly hired assistant, Annelle, played by Maddy M. Murphy, has a wide character arc. Ms. Murphy’s portrayal is believable every step of the way, and in the play’s closing moments in particular, quite moving.

Photo credit: Louisa Vilardi Photography

Patricia Holzhauer, as Clairee, the sophisticated widow of the former mayor, and Stephanie Hepburn, as her long-time friend and wealthy curmudgeon Ouiser, successfully strike the love-hate relationship indicative of an old friendship with their portrayals.

Rena Gavigan, who plays the kind-hearted strong willed Shelby, and Kit Colbourn, who plays M’Lynne, her passionate but stubborn mother, are both perfect in their delivery of what each would be feeling as a young woman facing a limiting disease, and as the mom who only wants what’s best for her.

As the contradiction in its title suggests, Steel Magnolias is both art imitating life, and life imitating art; and Clove Creek’s production will have you laughing through the tears.

Steel Magnolias plays through Sunday, August 18th at Clove Creek Dinner Theater, 18 Wastage Business Center Drive, Fishkill, NY (845) 202-7778; www.clovecreekdinnertheater.com

Photo credit: Louisa Vilardi Photography