Cole Porter Echoes Through The CFTA
The month of September brought to the Center for the Arts the wild and often-revived musical Anything Goes. I must admit that this show makes me overwhelmingly nostalgic for the 1980s. Not because I was first exposed to the Cole Porter classic at its 1987 Broadway revival, but rather because I spent the summer of 1984 watching a VHS cassette of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom every single day, and the musical’s title number opens that Spielberg romp, albeit in Mandarin. But enough about me . . .
Playing to packed houses, the cast of Anything Goes certainly did not disappoint. The musical tells of the antics of mistaken identities of two pairs of lovers who spend a cruise from New York to London navigating their taxing personal relationships. Jordan Crenshaw delivered a top-notch performance as Billy Crocker, adrift in the most delicate situation of all. It’s worth mentioning that, according to scuttlebutt, this show was Crenshaw’s first foray into theatre; if this is true, I can guarantee that we’ll be seeing much more of him in the future. His stage presence and vocal talent were both very solid. Playing opposite Crenshaw was Rachel Chase as the evangelist-turned-nightclub-singer Reno Sweeny. Her performance was invigorating and energetic, and her spirited singing had the audience members tapping their feet. Michael Adcock was nearly flawless with his performance as the mind-numbingly naive Brit, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. His comedic timing was spot on, and he cavorted through the show with wit and style. As Oakleigh’s fiancée Hope Harcourt, Sydney Hicks was also delightful to watch. Hicks’s Hope was charming and graceful, and her chemistry with Crenshaw’s Crocker, for whom she eventually rejects Sir Evelyn, was utterly believable.
Supporting these two couples was an incredibly talented ensemble. Every singer, actor and dancer thrust himself or herself into each role, and the resulting cast of characters was quite memorable. There were several stand-out performances, including Anthony Franco as Moonface Martin, a confidence man on the lam, and a quartet of dancing vixens, the backup girls for Sweeny’s nightclub act. The characters were so well developed and engaging that the time simply flew by.
Center for the Arts veteran Dennis Pessar helmed Anything Goes, and his deft touch was evident. The ensemble cast functioned as one smooth machine. The singing was beautiful, and the live orchestra was a needed addition that breathed life into the production. The choreography by Kaylin Davis was demanding to perform and captivating to watch. The show used a modular set that converted from the deck of an ocean liner to the staterooms to the brig, and the design was an ingenious way to utilize the space. Overall, Anything Goes was a delightful production that obviously delighted everyone who saw it.
One-Woman Hilarity at Out Front On Main
The past few weeks have seen a number of comedy acts and shorter productions at Out Front on Main. I had the opportunity to attend the appropriately titled Laugh or Die!, a one-woman show penned and performed by Christy Eidson. This intensely personal performance chronicles the playwright’s horrifically amusing adolescence. Laugh or Die! was an extended buffet of lightly sweetened schadenfreude.
Eidson’s stories, some of which are so fantastical that one would doubt their veracity were it not for her fearless recitation, deal with every aspect of coming of age in the waning years of the 20th century. From death and abandonment to the awkwardness of family connections to the fears of forging ahead on one’s own, Laugh or Die! reminds its audience that life is never without tribulation, but also that humor can be a balm for the soul.
Eidson is obviously a very adroit performer; her spontaneity and wit allowed an hour and a half to pass in what felt like the blink of an eye. She skillfully incorporated banter with the audience into her previously crafted routine. There were a few moments of repetition when the performance gave the impression of being under-rehearsed, but these were easily forgiven as Eidson’s winsome presence continued to hold the stage. I highly recommend that you seek out future performances of Laugh or Die! I assure you that you won’t be sorry.
MLT Diagnosed with a Severe Case of Talent
There’s a not uncommon belief that all thespians are a bit touched, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Murfreesboro Little Theatre gave audiences the opportunity to see just how much this is true. To stage this classic 20th century horror story (make no mistake, though it may feel like a comedy at times, Cuckoo’s Nest is most definitely a tale of terror), MLT was awash in that particular, peculiar asylum green that set the audience on edge as they entered the theater. The institutional feeling resonated throughout the production and enhanced the discomfiting effects of the show.
The amazing cast of Cuckoo’s Nest was led by the incredibly gifted Donna Seage, arguably my favorite director in town. Her attention to the most minuscule of details and her talent for helping her cast members find authentic and moving performances were foundational in this production, and Seage should be proud of the beautiful crafting of the resulting production. I do not doubt that this show will become a personal benchmark for theatre in the future; it was simply exceptional.
Every actor in this production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest dove into his or her role without hesitation. The ticks and twitches that defined each patient in the mental hospital were ever-present, and not a single actor dropped character for a moment, even when not personally the center of attention. The warring duo of Nurse Ratched and Randle P. McMurphy were brought to life by MLT constants Jamie Storvik and Shane Lowery. Both actors displayed their characteristic talent, and the conflict between them often felt real. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to watch a production without comparing it to a previous, iconic performance, and I found myself longing for more of the unbridled and relentless sadism of Nurse Ratched as portrayed by Louise Fletcher in the classic film.
The supporting cast was equally brilliant to the performer. Jack Ryan Denny delivered a passionate and heart-rending performance as Billy Bibbit. Todd Seage, as the habitually silent Chief Bromden, engaged the audience with what was the most moving performance I have ever seen him deliver. Craig Core was hilarious as the patient Scanlon, his delusional outbursts always perfectly timed. Yet the fun wasn’t limited strictly to the patients; Maurice Bullard delivered a delightful performance as Aide Turkle, who facilitated a late night party that proved to the be the downfall of the play’s hero.
Without doubt, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was one of the best shows I’ve seen in many months. I applaud the cast and crew for their marvelous work.
The month of October will have Murfreesboro very well entertained. Opening Oct. 7 and running for three weekends, Pippin comes to MLT. In the spirit of Halloween, the Center for the Arts offers up the classic tale Dracula, which runs from Oct. 13-23, while Out Front on Main brings the modern paranoia tale Bug by Tracy Letts and MTSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Oct. 5-8, 29 and 31. Rounding out the offerings for the month is Tales of the Macabre, a collection of short and chilling productions from Consider This at the Swan Performing Arts Center from Oct. 14-29. It should be a terrifyingly busy and entertaining month.