THEATER REVIEW: Song and dance fuels tuneful ‘Pump Boys’

“Pump Boys and Dinettes” / Theater Barn

AT THE THEATER BARN the beat goes on and the music steadily roars garage-to-diner and back. Occasionally there is a hint of plot relationship between the people on the stage, but the fun is mainly the sound of music.

The time and place is described as “Highway 57 Gas Station and Double Cupp Diner located somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, NC.” The diner is run by the Cupp sisters (oh cute), and the boys pump gas and repair cars when they get a break from their music-making.

In this production, there are two guitars, a bass, and a keyboard, and six very attractive singing voices. Even someone who is not a rock-country-western fan will love the agile musicality and luscious sounds that overwhelm regional nasality. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Anderson inhabits bard’s Richard II

“Richard II” / Walking the Dog Theater / Hawthorne Valley School

MAKING THEATER is preposterous. Especially making Shakespeare. Making theater is expensive, time-eating, and brain-taxing. When doing it, an author and bunches of people have to merge efforts in order to herd the brains of other bunches of people (audiences) into a complex, specific path. At each performance, for a couple of hours, the audience-bunch has to sit still and shut up. Their brain-engagement needs to be “enjoyable” in some way—especially if the joy is to be some sort of fresh understanding. Then the theater-makers have to keep doing it over and over, night after night.

Some theater-makers are actors.

Shakespeare is lucky that, in Columbia County, NY, 2018, he has David Anderson. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Thump thing limits ABBA’s ‘Mamma’s’ minor merits

“Mamma Mia!” / Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham

THE MUSIC OF ABBA seemed innovative in its day. It was, in a way.

But, of an evening, can a listener get tired of Abba music in minor modes? (Yup. And I love minor modes.) It’s when the whole first act of a theater piece such as “Mamma Mia!” offers song after song after song in minor. And if the songs all have similar meters, tempos, and harmonic progressions, with lots of percussional um-thump, um-thump, um-thump, um-thump, the sequence may be enough to make you long for a waltz, or a dirge, or even a snobby piece in seven-eight. How about a small helping of C-major?

You probably already know that it’s about a feisty mom and a young girl who is trying to find out which of three men is her father. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Game cast wrings a few giggles from Barn’s ‘Nerd’

IF PLAYWRIGHT LARRY SHUE were still alive, he might have decided that he no longer wants to confess to having created “The Nerd.” But beyond that, one may wonder why his name appears nowhere on the title page of Theater Barn’s program. Hmmm.

The plot of his play involves an extremely peculiar person who 1) moves into an architect’s home, 2) ruins his life, and 3) will probably never leave—unless whacky, desperate measures from the architect’s friends ensue. They ensue. And those desperate measures take the term “whacky” to new depths and high decibels.

In this production, the extremely peculiar person is played by Brett Epstein. Epstein has one of those wonderful faces that leaps off the stage and could, if asked, zoom to the last row of an amphitheater. The actor makes full use of it to make a nice/irritating, reality-based cartoon out of his character. For the role, he has also adopted the body language of a seven-year-old girl. If this were a solo gig, it could really work. But Epstein has six other actors on stage with him—actors who are obviously striving for more naturalistic characterizations, and the conflict of styles can be difficult to watch. The play does in fact strain that theater axiom: to have fun, audiences must be able to suspend disbelief. This watcher had difficulty suspending. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: This ‘Funny Girl’ Fanny leads cast of strong voices

“Funny Girl” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

“NICE” IS NICE. But probably real-life comedienne Fanny Brice, subject of the musical “Funny Girl,” was both something more and something less.

In any case, this woman’s story inspired some of the classiest musical theater songs of the sixties and beyond: “Who Are You Now?” “Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the amazing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” (Of course, there was also “People,” which became ubiquitous and mildly nauseating in endless radio and cabaret repetitions.)

At the Mac-Haydn Theatre, Lauren Palmeri is Fanny. The woman can sing. The eyes in that face are stunning, belying the show’s complaints about “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty….” Read more…