Rollicking Revue and Corny Comedy at Cape Playhouse
Throw woes to the winds and enjoy
Jonathan Brody (seated at the piano) and Michael McGrath. Photo courtesy of Kathleen A. Fahle.
By Libby Hughes, Cape Cod Today's Drama Critic
It's a double whammy at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis for the next two weeks. There are two one acts as different as the sun and moon, but they scored high on entertainment value. The first is called "A Day in Hollywood" and the second one, after intermission, is "A Night in the Ukraine." Although cramped on stage for the ensemble of eight and somewhat ragged around the edges on opening night, the pace and energy never sagged. Give them a few more performances, maneuvering around scenery, two grand pianos, and a steep center staircase, and all will be fine. It is perfect summer fare--dazzle dancing and Marx-Brothers-style comedy. Be aware of some clever staging throughout.
"A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine" originated in London at the Majestic Theatre in 1979 and moved to Broadway in 1980 for a substantial run. Dick Vosburgh, who wrote the book and lyrics, was an American who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and stayed in Great Britain. He passed away in 2007. Frank Lazarus was the composer. Wikipedia and Google did not yield very much about him. He is either a mystery man in the UK or a US academic with credentials as an art connoisseur or both. Take your pick.
The Hollywood plot is a musical revue from the 1930s, full of 19 songs from the past, as well as "shuffle ball change" with slapstick and Vaudeville tricks thrown in the mix. Some of the Oldies are "Cocktails for Two," "Two Sleepy People," and "Over the Rainbow." The Ukraine romp takes a while to sort out, but basically, a lawyer wants to con a rich Russian widow into giving him 1,800 rubles, so he doesn't have to go to jail. The daughter is looking for the ideal young man ,whom she finds. Gino the gardener is like Charlie Chaplin and never speaks. The spoken lines are terse and stinging in true Groucho Marx style.
Grand Piano Duo
The Playhouse's own Evans Haile played out his astounding personal talents on a grand piano opposite Matt Castle, musical director, on the second grand piano. At one point, a third, black, upright piano was moved center stage and three pianists played musical benches--moving from one piano to the next, never missing a note. Incidentally, the grand piano became a stage prop for hiding all sorts of things, including dancers-very clever.
This is an astonishing ensemble. A number of them have worked together before. In fact, Nancy Anderson played the part of a dog in "Sylvia" here at the Cape Playhouse. It was an incredible performance. She has a keen sense of comedy and tragedy, plus a special connection with audiences. Her plight as an actress trying to be the "best in the world" was touching. Her toddler costume and song "On the Good Ship Lollipop" as Shirley Temple couldn't have been cuter. Her rendition of the Chaplinesque Gino in "A Night in the Ukraine" couldn't have been funnier. She can even play the violin. She can do it all.
Michelle Dyer was a convincing young girl searching for love. Susan Cella made an excellent, imperious Madame Pavlenko.
The male actors/singers/dancers were all strong. Jeffrey Denman played all the leading man roles with conviction and passion--even humor as the Russian Constantine who sings out "Again" again and again and again! Michael McGrath had the plum role of Serge Samavor, an amalgamation of the three Harpo Brothers. It took him time to settle down in the part and get his timing, but once he was in the swing of it, he milked the lines for all they were worth. My theatre companion and I remarked how much he looked and moved like the actor Nathan Lane. He even cracked some ad-libs of his own. Jonathan Brody really shined as Carlo in the "Ukraine" piece. Not only can he play the piano and sing, but he was a great foil to Samovar and Gino.
James Brennan did a skilful job in directing and choreographing the two pieces. The half-mast curtain upstage showed the dancers from the waist down for a dance number called "Famous Feet." A variety of tappers, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, paraded across the narrow strip of stage.
Paul Favini created costumes that reflected the Chinese theme at Grauman's Theatre in Hollywood. The men wore gray tails and red trousers with gold stripes down the sides. The women wore gray blouses and red skirts. The Russian costumes were reflective of the period. Daniel Meeker produced an elegant gold and white set for the "Ukraine" with a crystal chandelier. Somehow the set managed to embrace the stairway at the back.
Once everyone settles down in their stage surroundings, these back to back one-act plays should be a delightful ménage and a sell-out at the Cape Playhouse along 6A in Dennis Monday through Saturday at 8:00 pm with matinees: Wed. at 2:00pm; Sat. 7/12 at 4:00pm; Thursday 7/17 at 2:00pm. Call 508-385-3911.