Monday, August 29, 2016

Gypsy and Titanic

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Two Musicals, Two
Both closing on Sunday, Sept 4
Catch ‘em while you can

Sunday, Aug. 28 I arranged a glut of musicals, as different as they can be, both excellently done. Both end their engagements this coming Sunday, so take action if you want some high quality musical action.

Gypsy at Cygnet Theatre

Front: Catalina Zelles. Standing: Josh Bradford, Claire Schepper,
 Giovanni Cozic, Hourie Klijian
                             Photo by Ken Jacques

I reviewed this show for Uptown News shortly after it opened July 23. In my remarks I stated that the part of Rose is a killer, praised Linda Libby for her prowess vocally and dramatically, and expressed concerns over the rigorous, 7-performances a week schedule at Cygnet. Thank God Libby, who became extremely fatigued, had an understudy in Melissa Fernandes, who recently wowed audiences as Dot in ion theatre’s Sunday in the Park With George. Fernandes replaced Libby numerous times and then it was announced that in order to give Libby a weekly rest, Fernandes would perform all remaining Sunday matinee performances.

When given a chance to return in order to hear Fernandes, I jumped at the chance. That two such splendid “Roses” bloom in the same city is a miracle. Unsurprisingly, the two, both heavyweight actors, handle the demanding role differently, though both present studies in what motivates stage mothers and the fallout in their children. Fernandes is less belt and more beauty, with glimmers of amazing vocal lushness breaking through. Her Rose is a bit softer and more likeable. Neither interpretation is wrong or right. They are merely different in subtle ways and we are the richer for having seen both.

The Rose we see on the stage in Arthur Laurents’ book musical (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) is extreme. In both cases, Manny Fernandes (who happens to be Melissa’s husband) is there, dependable and lovable, dispensing advice to the kids over the years, ready to defend and support Rose in any way needed, until finally he sees and is sickened by her ruthlessness, and realizes she can never be a wife to him. Manny Fernandes' performance is absolutely heartbreaking.

The production has deepened and Music Director Terry O’Donnell’s orchestra is even better than on opening weekend. An amazing, quality production, directed by Cygnet Artistic Director Sean Murray. You must see it before it closes.

Gypsy, A Musical Fable
Directed by Sean Murray
Wednesdays though Sundays through September 4
Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town State Park or 619-337-1525

Titanic at Moonlight Theatre
Robert J. Townsend as ship designer Thomas Andrews
Photos by Ken Kacques
I had despaired of seeing Moonlight's Titanic because of my relentless August schedule (as you may know, I write about classical music as well) and my reluctance to drive great distances at night (my eyes are 82 years old). However, two musical theatre aficionados of my acquaintance heard from friends how great Titanic is and asked me if I wanted to go up there with them Sunday night. So yes of course, even though it made a long day of musical sitting. However, for a Wagnerite, it was small sacrifice.

Anything you may have read about Titanic and the singers is true. It is absolutely glorious. Never have I heard more effective and beautiful choral singing outside an opera house, and even there such sounds are rare indeed.
Three Kates in Steerage
Sharia Knox, Katie Sapper, and Sarah Errington
Photo: Ken Jacques

The late Peter Stone (best known, perhaps, for 1776) wrote the book based on interviews with survivors, and Maury Yeston, wrote the music for this 1997 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical (best musical, best score, best book). Despite the awards, reviews were generally poor because the ambitious 
original designs were prone to failure; for instance, at one performance the ship refused to sink. What we see at Moonlight is a sensible re-conception eased by projections and audience imagination.

“Who the hell is Maury Yeston?” you might ask, as did one of my companions. In addition to Nine and Grand Hotel, Yeston wrote a distinctive Phantom (with a book by the great Arthur Kopit) that in my opinion is superior in every way to the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The timing was off (the other Phantom premiered in England first, and Yeston’s Broadway backers melted away). Nonetheless there have been more than 1,000 productions internationally, and I was fortunate to see two of them, one at Welk Theatre.
Jhnson and Stuber as Isador and Ida Straus

Richard Bermudez and Eric Michael Parker
as the Stoker and the wireless operator

For Titanic Yeston scored operatically, especially for the large ensemble company – it is truly an ensemble show that singles out various people whose stories are told. We meet RMS Titanic’s designer Thomas Andrews Robert J. Townsend, the ship’s owner J. Bruce Ismay (Steven Glaudini) and Captain Smith (Norman Large); the stoker, Frederick Barrett (knockout baritone Richard Bermudez, whose singing of “Barrett’s Song” and “The Proposal” are stirring to say the least); three Kates from Ireland (Sarah Errington, Shaina Knox, and Katie Sapper) in Steerage; and Isador Straus (Ralph Johnson and his wife, Ida (Susan Stuber), a long married couple in First Class, who choose, as the ship sinks (“Still”) to die together rather than be separated. And let’s not forget social climber Alice Beane (Bets Malone) in Second Class; Charlotte Cardoza (Christine Hewitt), who invades the men’s smoking room; Harold Bride, wireless operator (Eric Michael Parker), who tries so desperately to find another ship close enough to come to the rescue; First Officer William Murdoch (Johnny Fletcher) and the crow’s nest watch, Fleet (Bryan Banville), who first sees the iceberg destined to destroy the unsinkable ship. 

All these make indelible contributions to the whole, which utilizes 37 singer/actors and an orchestra of 26 conducted by Elan McMahan, all under the watchful and specific eyes of director Larry Raben, who does a truly remarkable job of staging this titanic musical. Lighting designer is Jean-Yves Tessier; sound designer, Jim Zadai; projection designer Jonathan Infante; make-up designer Kathleen Kenna; wig designer Peter Herman; and costume coordination by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone.

Titanic plays Wednesday-Sunday at 8pm or 760-724-2110

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