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Stage Door Players1
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Average Rating Given : 2.50000
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REVIEWS

Ain't Misbehavin', by Music of Fats Waller
Terrific Cabaret-style Theatre
Friday, March 26, 2004
4.0
While I usually do not "gush" about many productions, Stage Door Player's latest production, AIN'T MISBEHAVIN', is certainly worth a flow of rave comments.

Four of five performers (I'm being diplomatic here) are simply first-rate and deliver each Fats Waller composition with style, intelligence and creativity. The singular voices mostly are both powerful and sensitive--the caveat being one performer who needs to work on her diction and perhaps some phrasing. Dance-wise, the cast makes hearty attempts at some nicely showy steps. However, this is primarily a singing show, and the cast is far more adept here than at complicated movement.

Standouts include Ken Robinson's rich voice and performance, both of which grew even stronger as the night wore on. Melissa Youngblood also sparkled in every number she performed--here's hoping her recent move from Florida is a permanent one for Atlanta audiences.

A big KUDOS to director/choreographer Robert Egizio and musical director Linda Uzelac--both of whom are among the Atlanta area's top creative talents. The staging is inventive and interesting. The choral singing--all intricate, five-part harmonies--is superb, possibly better than any individual solo. Even the opening of the set revealing a Cotton Club-esque saloon and bandstand received warm applause on its own!

I have no hesitation in recommending this production to anyone hungry for some great music and some fine entertainment.

Guys and Dolls, by
Let's be Frank...Loesser? (I know, bad punn)
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
1.0
I wished I might have been able to post a review of GUYS AND DOLLS prior to reading other published opinions and the many comments that have been posted re: said opinions. As an outsider to all of the varying positions (and apparent turmoil) among those who have been or are currently involved with The Cobb Playhouse, it appears that much of what has been written has been inspired more by personal emotions/relationships than by what was actually presented onstage.

Before going further, I would like to note I have not seen many previous productions at The Cobb Playhouse, so I cannot say whether GUYS AND DOLLS compares favorably or negatively to past endeavors. My observations are based solely on comparison to local community theatre within the Atlanta area.

One further point to make: let us not forget the primary purpose of these collected reviews, which is to serve as an informational resource for interested patrons looking for recommendations (or warnings) about a particular piece of entertainment and to answer a few key questions: Is the show worth seeing? Are there notable performances? If a known piece, is there an interesting, new interpretation being presented?

The Atlanta market offers quite a few theatrical options most nights of the week, so I believe people would like to know what might be worth spending some of their hard-earned money to enjoy.

That said, I'm afraid I must echo the chorus of those who've expressed disappointment in this most recent production of GUYS AND DOLLS. As an avid supporter of community musical theatre, I'm quick to forgive production values that don't reach a more professional level. But at $16/ticket, a theatre-goer should not expect to hear gratuitous backstage noise throughout multiple scenes, or be subjected to prolific ad-libbing by clearly uncomfortable actors waiting either for a scene change to be completed or a key character to make an overdue entrance.

Most importantly, however, one should expect to hear musical accompaniment that doesn't stumble through notes on a piano or rely upon the soundtrack of the most recent Broadway revival. My immediate questions were (1) is this a legal use of the CD recording?, (2) did the producers secure permission to do this?, and (3) with all of the local pianists available, could they not have hired someone to play this score accurately?

While many companies cannot afford more elaborate sets, costumes, lighting or full/partial orchestra, there really is no excuse for not finding someone to play reliable live piano accompaniment for a show. I'm not certain of this, but several numbers sounded as if the piano had been pre-recorded, which made no allowance for personal interpretation by the actors onstage. For a musical, particularly a well-known, beloved property such as GUYS AND DOLLS, I believe the music must come first, before choreography, staging or even acting.

Which leads me to these three elements. Overall, I found the choreography serviceable, if not entirely imaginative. If you don't have true dancers in a company--and this production did not appear to have anyone with real training--there's much that can be done to move people about with simple steps and patterns onstage to keep the visual interesting. Note to choreographer: try not to give overly complicated steps to those who cannot successfully execute them. Still, some nice surprises appeared in "Take Back Your Mink" and the Havana, Cuba scene, but the remaining numbers lacked the inventiveness these two enjoyed.

Staging all too often fell into the trap of creating a single line or semi-circle across the stage. The director might have considered trying for more levels and/or groupings. Also, key scenes between Nathan and Adelaide might have creatively opened up to extend out onto the mainstage, but instead were confined to far stage-right. I appreciated the attempt to cover long scene-changes with chorus members crossing the stage, but much of this simply confused the audience.

Acting-wise, most of the leads gave a fine performance, with the notable exception of the actor playing Sky Masterson. Poorly miscast, he found little of the romantic lead in his portrayal, and I fear he received little help from either the director or the costumer. Habits such as not looking directly in the eye of any other actor onstage, mugging while singing musical phrases--to say nothing about questionable pitch (and a truly unrecognizable "My Time of Day")--should have been attended to immediately. Also, if he was to have only one suit throughout the show, it should have been tailored to fit properly.

On the other hand, the actresses playing Adelaide and Sarah were both fine examples of local area talent. Each presented their songs and dialogue confidently, tunefully and with much style. Similarly, the actor playing Nathan had a good grasp on his character, as did Nicely-Nicely Johnson. Unfortunately, they just didn't have reliable support around them. I firmly believe that if more of the company were up to their level of these four, if the director had been willing/able to offer more than basic staging duties, and if the music had been played by a competent pianist, I believe this production would have surpassed the regrettable hurdles that bogged it down.

I plan to make a point of catching more Cobb Playhouse productions, primarily to see if the management recognizes the important steps they need to take to improve their product. I wonder if they might need to break free from what commonly occurs in community theatre--relying upon a small inner circle of volunteers that randomly assign themselves directing duties. If that's the case, how then can they grow? If they can make a habit of seeing other theatre company productions, learning from those successes/failures, and strive to build more relationships with outside artists, they'll soon be able to mount quality shows they can be extremely proud of.

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