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Average Rating Given : 2.00000
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REVIEWS

The Producers, by Mel Brooks
We can do it! We can do it! Uh, maybe not.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
2.0
“The Producers” the musical, was created by Mel Brooks when he added music (under the encouragement of his muse and late wife, Anne Bancroft) to his original movie by the same name. Producing “The Producers” is a huge undertaking and a tough act to follow. The 2001 Broadway production won a record breaking 12 Tony awards. Best musical, book, score, orchestration, actor, featured actor, featured actress, scenic, costume, and lighting design, choreography, and director. The show itself gives you a lot to work with, but requires a lot of work. Having seen the show when it came to the Fox Theater and loving it, and on the reputation of past Rosewater productions, I drove out to Roswell to catch their version, excited to see how this community theater group was going to pull off this challenge. It didn’t take long for my excitement to dwindle and expectations to be lowered.

The first act was in their black box theater and the “in the round” configuration left the balance of choral singing less than desired. You heard the part that was standing in front of you. Not a blended sound – not good. Sound for the actors wearing microphones was bad, constantly turning on and off – very noticeable and annoying. The set was amateurish in appearance. Set pieces were cumbersome and slowed the progression from scene to scene. The second act moved to the adjoining theater with a proscenium and curtains. This was a nice idea, moving to a more conventional theater space for the production’s “show within a show”. But the first scene in Act 2 takes place in Bialystock’s office – where much of Act 1 takes place and the continuity was lost. Even in this new space, the scene changes were slow and distracting with the stage crew pulling focus by moving set pieces behind the curtain and dragging the curtain with them. For the most part the costumes were fine (and there were a lot of them). But disappointing were the “Springtime for Hitler” showgirl outfits, Roger DeBris’ dress, and the ill-fitting suit for Leo Bloom. The “Springtime” set was also disappointing. It was boring, unimaginative - completely lacking the “Keep it Gay” mantra of Roger DeBris. The choreography was good. It’s great to see tap dancing in a production, but the lack of precision, especially in simple elements, such as the accountants’ movement when singing “Unhappy”, lowered the visual impact.

Gretchen Gordon as Ulla looked beautiful and sang a difficult song ok. There’s a lot of pressure on a vocalist to rise to the expectations set when the lyrics of your big song announces “now Ulla belts”. She strained to reach and hold her top notes.

“Where did they go right?” Peter Perozzi as Franz Liebkind and Ryan Young as Carmen Ghia both brought much needed energy and life into the slow and tepid first act. Cheryl Rogers, playing multiple roles was terrific. Each character was unique, funny and a joy to watch.

“Where did they go wrong?” Allan Dodson did not fill the shoes (let alone the Prada heels) of the Roger DeBris role. It’s Roger’s performance as Hitler in “Springtime” that accidentally turns the flop into a hit. This is accomplished two-fold: Roger can really sing! However, Roger is a bad actor and it’s his portrayal of Hitler as an over the top flaming egomaniac that wins the audience’s approval. Mr. Dodson’s singing did not have the vocal prowess to “stop the show within the show”, nor did he commit to the gayness and egomania of the Roger DeBris character consistently so that we see Roger (the bad actor) being himself in “Springtime.”

Brandon Wilkinson as Max Bialystock was dismal. His lack of singing ability was almost matched by his lack of comedic timing. The song “Betrayed” was written by Mel Brooks for Max to “stop the show”, not to “kill the show”. Mr. Wilkinson’s rendition was painful to watch, even more painful to hear. The song was intended to joyfully remind the audience of all the wonderful moments they had just witnessed from the beginning of the evening’s production. Sadly, it had the reverse effect. It was a painful summary of a less than desirable performance from what should be the show’s strongest character. Mr. Wilkinson’s Max, left partner Allen Cox in the role of Leo Bloom, with little to play off of.

It’s a big risk and big expense to take on “The Producers.” Did Rosewater “do it”? Yes, they produced “The Producers”. Did Rosewater meet the challenge? My opinion: take the money and run to Rio!

Pete 'n' Keely, by Mark Waldrop and James Hindman
Strong Cast and Crew Making the Most Out of a Weak Script
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
3.5
Stage Door’s production of “Pete ‘n’ Keely” is good fun entertainment. What else would you expect from a 1960 television program?

The audience is part of this show as the action takes place on a television sound stage for the “live” broadcast of the “Pete ‘n’ Keely Reunion Special.” The show starts where “boy has lost girl”. Pete and Keely have been divorced for some time. Through the songs of their reunion special, “Pete ‘n’ Keely” takes the audience back in time, telling how “boy meets and gets girl”. It was obvious that once we got past the typical “fat” wife and “cheating” husband jokes, we were in for “boy gets girl back”.

Under the direction and choreography of Ricardo Aponte, “Pete ‘n’ Keely” moves efficiently though time and space, the actors finding all the highs and lows to be found in this (not so dynamic) script.

Robert Egizio and Marcie Millard portray the demanding roles of Pete ‘n’ Keely with energy, enthusiasm, and commitment. Mr. Egizio’s singing was stronger when partnered with Ms. Millard than during his solo moments – sometimes slightly under pitch. Ms. Millard has a powerhouse voice! A rich lower register, strong, confident belt, and a sparkling soprano voice, all on display. Her performance of “Black Coffee” was a highlight of the evening. Also Pete ‘n’ Keely’s rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” had me laughing to the point of tears, though some of the audience didn’t seem to find it as humorous as I did.

Accompanying Pete ‘n’ Keely onstage was the “NBC Orchestra”. Four musicians, led by musical director Linda Uzelac, created a beautiful, full sound and moved together through tempo and dynamic changes as one. They were a joy to watch, as they looked like they were having as much fun as the two featured performers. (Really, they were having more fun, since Pete ‘n’ Keely spent a lot of time fighting with each other.)

Details in the show were not missed by Stage Door production staff. Starting with the call-board in the lobby filled with pictures of Pete ‘n’ Keely posing with other stars of the era, pre-show music consisting of 50, 60, and 70’s TV show themes, and a clever, colorful set designed by Chuck Welcome, complete with “applause” signs, all added to the 60’s ambiance. Lots of the great color was added by lighting designer, Bradley Bergeron. Outstanding, fun costumes, (and there where numerous costume changes) were designed by Jim Alford. Loved the humongous white and pink boa-trimmed cape, and Pete’s ruffled tux shirts, colored coordinated to match Keely’s various outfits. Even Marty, the seldom seen stage manager, ably played by Eric Miller, was appropriately dressed for part. Also, the album covers - very creative. One small critique - there was a moment where the seating configuration (an “L” shape), set design (a side wall forming the orchestra pit area), and blocking (Pete’s final moments and song) converged together to hide the action from the audience seated on the stage left side of the house. Could the wall forming the orchestra been angled out more offering better sightlines?

Over all this is a very nice production, but, as alluded to above, a script that is predictable. I will be looking forward to other productions by Stage Door, and any productions with Robert Egizio and Marcie Millard.

Cabaret, by Kander and Ebb
"I DON'T CARE MUCH"...for this production
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
0.5
What good is going to a Broadway show – let alone a musical – and not being able to understand any of the dialog or sung verse? As for Atlanta Professional Theater’s production of CABARET - “What good is sitting alone in your room?” In this case, it is a good thing. It will save you $22-28 and a disappointing and frustrating night at the theatre.

AtlantaProTheatre, “Where are your troubles now? Outside?” “Nein!” They are inside your theater and this production. The sound was atrocious! Even with the lead characters wearing microphones, you could not understand dialog. It might as well have been in German (and may have been- wer kann sagen?). The band was so loud and overpowering that singing voices were just lost tones, only distinguishable when, with increased volume, they became distorted over the speakers. So, lost was any connection between dialog and verse, which led to lost emotional connection to the song and character, and, inevitably, the loss of the audience. It was obvious after 5-10 minutes of the audience struggling to follow dialogue, lyrics and action, unable to understand and respond, that the actors responded in kind, giving lackluster performances.

Brian Clowdus, the Emcee, delivered his performance by rote, marking his way through the production. I will say he is a fine dancer (his high kicks were better than most of the Kit Kat girls), but his execution of songs like “If You Could See Her” were completely lacking any emotion. Be it sarcastic or not, you have to set up the fact that you really love her to give the ending its intended punch. “I Don’t Care Much” has such a huge impact if the underlying message is YOU DO CARE, and you’re just trying to deceive yourself. Mr. Clowdus didn’t seem to care, nor did the audience care that he was singing.

Kelly Cusimano, in the role of Sally Bowles: I wish I could have heard her sing. The instances that I could distinguish her voice over the noise, led me to believe that there is real quality there. But she, too, suffered from audience apathy and rushed through songs with a “why should I bother” attitude. And I’m not sure I can blame her or Mr. Clowdus, because by the time we got to the finale song “Cabaret”, I just wanted it to be over as well.

The character of Cliff, played by Nick Morrett is full of subtleties, but you could not understand what he was saying or singing outright, so who could find the subtleties? Jason Meeks (Herr Shultz), Kayce Grogan-Wallace (Fraulein Schneider): if you don’t know the show, you won’t know the conflict between these two characters, and it is only the central theme of the stage version of “Cabaret”. All lost in this production. As was Amanda Shae Wilborn (Fraulein Kost), whose voice was literally lost in the noise, and, in her one solo moment, was visually lost in the darkness of the lighting.

Which brings me to the physical production aspects of this show. As mentioned above, the lighting was below expectations. Poorly lit scenes, actors in shadows, follow-spot missing actors or cutting them below the waist. The only visually stimulating effect was the marquee-lit frame around the band (an idea borrowed from the Broadway revival).

The costumes were also below expectations, consisting of plain white slips, non-period dresses, completely lacking in imagination and character. Sally Bowles singing “Maybe This Time” in a boring white slip? Ach! Lieber Gott! Nein! Nein! The onstage band dressed like they were on their way to a Harley-Davidson gathering, completely out of period. If they are onstage, part of the ensemble, interacting with the Kit Kat Girls, why are they not costumed?

The props were interesting: the suitcases, beautiful old victrola. But what was with the modern day chairs used in the dance numbers?! The chairs looked like they came from the Ramada Inn Conference Room furniture collection.

The set was functional, although not much to look at. No theme, no color, no purposeful lack of color, just pieced together. Given the horrible sound, the visual aspects of this show became even more important, so set design, too, fell below expectations.

The 7 piece band, led by Margi Pietsch, was excellent (although overpowering singers), so what was with the recorded music for the big dance number (“Kickline”) at the opening of Act 2? And why have the Emcee make an entrance in the middle of that number. It’s the fact that it starts with him as an anonymous dancer, and the audience is shocked when he’s revealed, that they realize he has tricked them again into his world of deception and illusion. One more (and important) point lost in this production.

The world of “Cabaret” is nothing if not illusion, deception, and manipulation, most evident in the character of the Emcee. He never seemed to be in control of the evening, as he is written to be--master of ceremonies. He simply showed up, sang or danced, and disappeared. That is a major point missed by co-directors Chris Hall and Katie Rouse. Ironic that two directors created a one-dimensional interpretation of a multi-layered script, compounded by an amateurish combination of lighting, set design, and costumes, exacerbated by the audience’s inability to hear and understand what is there in the script.

And herein lies the ultimate failure of this “Cabaret”: How did a music director, Jason Meeks, two directors, Mr. Hall and Ms. Rouse, and unknown producers deceive themselves into thinking that any visual or performance aspect of this production could negate the totally unacceptable sound quality, and offer this as a professional production and an acceptable product for the Atlanta theater community?

If you go to this show, take a copy of the script, so that you will understand why “Cabaret” has endured and captured audiences with its powerful message for decades. Besides, you’ll be glad you had something to read…ja? Ja!

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