The Whispering of Words at MLT
Actors returned to the stage of the Murfreesboro Little Theatre this month with a haunting and disturbing tale. The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman chronicles the destruction of two women’s lives by the fabrication of a single rumor. Directed by Wayman Price, this production was a fantastic way to begin the month’s theatrical offerings. The show was powerful, and it left its audience visibly shaken and angered.
Set in the early 20th Century, the story of The Children’s Hour is centered on the events and relationships within a rural girls’ school. The set was split between one room of the school and the sitting room of the grandmother of one of the school’s young students. The juxtaposition of these two settings revealed much about the social dynamics that surrounded the action of the play. The school was seen as spartan and efficient; the sitting room revealed an opulence of wealth that perhaps contributed to a deficiency of character.
Danielle Araujo and Jennifer Grissom were flawless as leading ladies Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, respectively. These two young women presided as headmistresses over the school, and they shared in the pains and pleasures that any educational undertaking can bring. Both Araujo and Grissom were viscerally honest onstage. Each and every reaction was perfect, from the smallest nuance to the most dramatic gesture. The long and deep friendship between the two characters was the foundation of the school and the show, and these talented actors built upon stone. With such a clear picture of the profundity of their relationship, the play’s denouement was an epiphany of pain.
Surrounding the headmistresses were a bevy of pupils, the most notable of whom was Mary Tilford, played with unimaginable brilliance by young Marian Storvik. Storvik was remarkable and energetic—at times bordering on freneticism that made her hard to understand and was yet completely believable—in her blackmailing, rumormongering and abuse of those around her. It was not without effort that many members of the audience, whose whispers regarding Ms Tilford did not go unheard or unnoticed, restrained themselves from climbing to the stage to deliver some form of much deserved punishment to the young woman. The audience was rapt with horror as Storvik terrorized her classmates one moment and then demurely seduced her grandmother, played effortlessly by Sarah Jones-Johnson, with half-truths and outright lies regarding the events at her school. Jones-Johnson was excellent in her role; her vacillation between stoicism and righteous indignation fueled both the play’s drama and the audience’s rage.
As the rumor of an inappropriate relationship between the two headmistresses resulted in the loss of all their students and the failing of the women’s meager fortunes, the audience was confronted with the utterly destructive power of words, and the confrontation was uncomfortable. As Araujo and Grissom fought against the erosion of their friendship, the audience was forced to recall the betrayals in their own histories. Such recollections were inevitable, so powerful was this show. With every painful glance and every harmful word, the audience ached against the darkness that they knew would fall by the end of the play. In being powerless to prevent the coming end, the audience felt the same impotence that Araujo and Grissom brought to life.
The Children’s Hour was a remarkable presentation, and I look forward to seeing future endeavors from these actors and this director.
Center for the Arts Wows Audiences with a Classic
To the intense delight of audiences, the Center for the Arts presented the classic Rogers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! this month. For first-time director Candilyn Ford, this was an ambitious undertaking, and she proved more than capable of the task. The show was lively and colorful, and each element of the production seemed well-considered. The choreography for the show, crafted by Julie Wilcox, was exceptional; the dream sequence ballet—a major component of the show’s history—was one of the production’s highlights and my favorite moments. Especially to be commended are dance captain Josh Ball and Miranda Vaque.
A very talented group of musicians took to the stage for this show. Hayley Orozco was great as Laurey, the young woman whose romantic dilemma provides the impetus for the show’s action. Her singing was beautiful, and she was obviously comfortable on the stage. Garrett Troutt provided humor and talent as Laurey’s would-be suitor, Curly. His voice, too, was melodious and full. While the duo is unquestionably talented, their chemistry did occasionally seem flat as they struggled with their burgeoning relationship.
Stealing the show in the romantic sub-plot was the duo of Kinsey Brewer as Will Parker and Kaylie Hackett as Ado Annie Carnes. Brewer proved again that he can sing, act and dance with the best of them. Not to be outdone, Hackett matched him antic for antic with Annie’s irrepressible buoyancy and incorrigible nature. The two made a most memorable and adorable couple.
An incredibly strong supporting cast filled the Center’s stage and brought the full force of homestead living, with all its varied characters, to fantastic life. Fran Gebuhr as Aunt Eller, Daniel Garner as Jud Fry, and Bill Stewart as Andrew Carnes—the seemingly protective father of Ado Annie—were phenomenal in their roles.
The music for the show was excellently developed by musical director Tim Smith. His care in working with the actors on the show’s often difficult harmonies was quite apparent. Unfortunately, his work was occasionally undermined by the use of microphones by the lead actors. When an actor with a microphone sang opposite of one without, the balance was never quite right, and it called into question the decision to use microphones at all.
Without a doubt, Oklahoma! was a thoroughly enjoyable production. The ambiance of the stage and the dedication of the cast made the show a true joy to watch. Even though I often balk at the thought of seeing yet another Rogers & Hammerstein musical, I still left the theater humming a not unfamiliar tune under my breath. Now that I think of it, it took a few days for that to wear off; so if I couldn’t stop thinking about the show, I have to rate it a success.
On the Date of Four and Twenty, Fume, Fume, Fume
The one-night-only performance of The Marijuana-Logues at Out Front on Main was a unique experience. The Off-Broadway comedy was penned by Arj Barker, Doug Benson and Tony Camin; this local production was directed by Leah Fincher. As the program provided names such as Sharon Stoner, Rusty Shackleford and Cheeba McEntire for the actors, I literally cannot tell you who performed in the show.
I can, however, tell you that they were all hilarious.
The presentation was simple; about 20 actors sat in folding chairs facing the audience. When it was time for one of them to speak, he or she would come forward to explain that particular minutia of pot culture that was most relevant at that particular moment. These ranged from acceptable behavior when sharing marijuana with acquaintances to the injustices to which those who partake in the the recreational use of this most misunderstood herb are subjected.
The show was most memorable for the utterly relaxed nature of the performers and their decidedly uninhibited tendency to interact with the audience. It was unexpected, but it became effective as even the performers laughed at each others’ jokes. The entire experience became a collective deep breath of . . . something very relaxing.
Though I do wish I could more properly congratulate all who were involved with the production, I feel obligated to write the following words. Dude in the green cape, you were hilarious. Girl with the hat, you were fantastic. Guy with the mohawk, don’t change a thing. My thanks to Ms. Fincher for a delightful evening.
Siegel High School Brings Down the House (and a Chandelier)
Being too familiar with a show can often be to the detriment of seeing a new production. Having seen more than one professional production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s acclaimed musical The Phantom of the Opera, I was concerned that Siegel High School’s performance wouldn’t live up to my expectations for the show. I could not have been more wrong. I realize that others may have had a similar fear since the show was turned into a motion picture in 2004; fortunately, Siegel’s production outshone the film in virtually every possible way.
The enormous stage at Siegel provided a fantastic space for this production. When the full cast of approximately 60 students filled the stage, the effect was profound. The set was simple, but functional, and all the essential elements for the show—including the infamous chandelier—were in place. The music, provided live by members of the school orchestra, was excellent, though at times it did feel as though the musicians were more focused on their own tempo than that of the actors they were accompanying. Brilliantly choreographed by Richard Browder, the actors’ movement was beautifully musical, and the characters came to life under the talented direction of Brenda Gregory.
William Duke performed the titular role with passion and verve. His beautiful voice filled the auditorium and awed the audience. His loneliness and desire were clear as he longed for the ingénue Christine Daaé, played by Katie Hahn. Hahn’s performance was riveting as the rising star of the Opera Populaire. Her clear, pure voice was absolutely mesmerizing, and the audience experienced with her every pang of grief and moment of elation. She simultaneously conveyed both innocence and elegance, both trepidation and poise as she struggled with her mounting fame and the mystery and danger surrounding her new tutor. To complete the romantic triangle, Alex Hochstetler portrayed Viscount Raoul de Chagny. On several occasions, Hochstetler and Hahn threatened to steal the show with their undeniable chemistry; the pair smoldered together onstage. Hochstetler’s resolute defense of Christine was inspiring, and he approached the role with unwavering resolve and charisma. To be blunt, Hochstetler gave the single best performance of the role of Raoul that I have ever seen.
The ensemble leads provided exceptional support to the production. Some, like Messieurs André and Firmin, played brilliantly by twin brothers Kyle and Philip Boston (admittedly making it difficult to tell them apart), were hilarious in their antics. Others, like the knowing Madame Giry, were mysterious and haunted by their knowledge of the Phantom.
Overall, The Phantom of the Opera exceeded my expectations. It was not simply good, nor was it “good for a high school show.” It was exceptional theater.
The month of May promises more fantastic theatre for the Murfreesboro community. At Out Front on Main (http://www.outfrontonmain.com), Lanford Wilson’s Burn This continues through May 7. It will be followed by A Mother’s Prospective, which opens May 19.
Murfreesboro Little Theatre (http://www.mltarts.com) will present the Shakespearean classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by the very talented Donna Seage. The production will run from May 20-29.
The Murfreesboro Center for the Arts (http://www.boroarts.org) will showcase an evening of dinner theatre with Murderous Crossing, directed by Cyndie Verbeten. The show will be offered from May 6-21.