Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bobby Rydell talks about his life, his music and is passionate about organ donation

I had the most amazing conversation with Bobby Rydell who will be performing in Pottstown March 29. It was like catching up with an old freind. He talked about his life, his career, his family and friends and organ donation.
Having received a new liver and kidney in 2012, he is passionate about the subject. Check out his story at
http://www.pottsmerc.com/arts-and-entertainment/20140313/bobby-rydell-hits-pottstown-march-29-with-music-and-a-message-about-organ-donation

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Steel River's 'August: Osage County' is up-close-and-personal theater

I saw the play, "August: Osage County"  at Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown. I deliberately did not see the movie beforehand -- and I'm glad I made that choice.  There's nothing like live theater. The show runs through March 23. My review is up at
http://www.pottsmerc.com/arts-and-entertainment/20140312/steel-rivers-august-osage-county-is-up-close-and-personal-theater

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Get captivated by 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' at Genesius Theatre in Reading




By Cheryl Thornburg
cthornburg@pottsmerc.com

The opening scene of Genesius Theatre’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is undoubtedly the most dramatic I have seen in my 25 years of reviewing theater.  With powerful music, strobe lights and chaotic staging, it set the tone for what was to come – a dynamic musical with dark undertones that captured and held my attention from beginning to end.
The show was new to me, but knowing that it was written and composed by John Kander & Fred Ebb, the team that created  “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” I was hopeful for an energetic and entertaining afternoon, and I was not disappointed.
“Kiss of the Spiderwoman,” however, is not like its more famous brethren. Its setting and themes are very dark and complicated. It tells the story of two men held captive in an Argentinian prison during the time that has become known as the “Dirty War” when thousands of citizens “disappeared.”
The men are a study in contrasts, Molina, a gay window dresser, who has been imprisoned for allegedly making sexual advances to a young boy and Valentin, an intense young revolutionary, whom the prison warden is trying to force to give up his comrades.
The storyline is also full of contrasts, with scenes of torture and violence juxtaposed with the upbeat fantasy world of Molina who is obsessed with an actress named Aurora whose movies include, “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Irving Gonzalez is mesmerizing as the flamboyant, seemingly self-absorbed Molina, whose fantasy world helps him drown out his dismal reality. His flair for comedy and exquisite vocals make him the perfect choice to play Molina. He particularly shines in “Dear One,” with his Mother, Marta and Valentine;  in “Mama, It’s Me”  and “Only in the Movies,” the rousing finale.
Jon Browning is intense and at times, explosive, as the idealistic Valentin, who endures all sorts of torture from the prison guards, but remains true to his cause. His vocals are strong throughout, but his performance in the stirring “The Day After That” in the second act is powerful, memorable theater – the kind that makes the hair on your arm stand up when you remember it. The entire cast delivers this revolutionary anthem with such passion, it will remind you much more of “Le Miz” than “Cabaret.”
Weaving her spell as the Spider Woman and various other roles as the actress, Aurora, is Jennifer Parker Scott.  With some fabulous costumes and spidery props, Scott is convincing as the deadly seductress, particularly in the final act when she sings, “The Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Some of Berks County’s best vocalists add their talents to this production, including Anita Lewis as Molina’s mother and Meegan Gagnon as Marta, who deliver haunting interpretations in “Dear One.”  Lewis’ “You Could Never Shame Me” and Gagnon’s “I Do Miracles,” a duet with Scott, are highpoints of the show. Another standout is “Gabriel’s Letter” delivered with an exquisite tenor by Bo Irwin.
Carl Wolfe is chilling as the ruthless warden who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. By persuading Molina to spy on his cellmate, he sets everyone on a path that ultimately leads to the evolution of both prisoners.
Some of the most vivid scenes involve the entire cast. “Over the Wall,” which is reprised twice, features powerful harmonies, poignant vignettes, and complex staging and choreography.
Choreographer Michael Roman also had to switch gears for the fantasy scenes with jazzy scores that required showgirl numbers reminiscent of other Kander and Erb shows.
The cast includes Randy Gerber, Joey Lovello, Emily Madden, Sara Moyer, Becca Snyder, Jessica Reber, Kaitlyn Reber, Peter Bourey, Briana Christie, Alex Krick, Eli Noll, and Michael Roman.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” is directed by L J Fecho and music directed by Kevin Cooper. With its superlative cast and orchestra, spectacular lighting and staging, the show is the complete package and worth the trip to downtown Reading.
The show continues Oct. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m., Oct. 11, 12, at 8 p.m., and Oct. 13 at 2 p.m.  Tickets are $15 for Wednesday and Thursday performances and  $25 ($20 for seniors) for other performances. To purchase tickets with all major credit cards visit the website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call 610-373-9500.  Credit card fees apply. Tickets are also available at the door.
For more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking aside of the theater (limited spaces available). This production is rated PG for adult situations and language. Genesius Theatre is located at 10th & Walnut streets in Reading.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Improve auditions in Reading

The Reading Theater Project will hold auditions for its Improv Team Sunday, September 15 at 4 p.m. at the TEA Factory at 580 Willow St. in Reading. We are looking for adult actors and sketch comedy writers who are interested in working with a team and performing in the area. Bring a character, a sketch idea, or a scene and be ready to play! Rehearsals will be Sunday evenings 4-7 at the TEA Factory. Questions or reservations: 484-706-9719 or vicki@readingtheaterproject.com. More information at ReadingTheaterProject.com 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Amazingly talented youngsters bring RCP's 'Flat Stanley' to life


The cast of  "The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Jr."                                  Photos by Debbie Goshert

By Cheryl Thornburg

Mom and dad check out Stanley after he
becomes "flat."
Reading Community Players’ “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Jr.” is a well-rounded production showcasing the talents of young area actors ranging in age from 9 to 17. Based on the popular children’s book by Jeff Brown, it tells the story of Stanley Lambchop an ordinary ten-year-old who longs for adventure – and he gets it when a bulletin board falls on him and he wakes up “flat,” but otherwise unharmed. His new ultra-thin physique allows him to travel the world through the mail, setting the stage for somefun locales including Los Angeles, Hawaii and Paris.
The best thing about these “Junior” productions is that you get to see the great things that young people are doing and capable of, instead of what we see in newspapers and on TV on a daily basis.
The youngsters’ talent, dedication and enthusiasm is a reminder that there is hope not just for the future of live theater, but for the world.
Sharon Borkey
as Arthur
Bringing Flat Stanley to life is Nicholas Panase, 12, who will be going into 7th grade at Exeter Junior High this fall. He is a newcomer to local theater, but he is so at ease in this show that you’d think he was born on a stage. His singing and comedic acting is spot-on and there is no doubt we’ll be seeing lots more of him.
But the talent doesn’t stop there — his “family” members have singing and acting skills of their own Alex Goshert plays his mother, Pete Clauser, his dad and Sharon Borkey plays Arthur, his younger brother.  Alex is in 10th grade at Governor Mifflin, Pete is a junior at Exeter, and Sharon, at Schuylkill Valley Elementary.
The show has lots of vignettes, giving each of the cast members a chance to shine.
The scene at the Louvre when Stanley stops a thief from stealing a portrait of Napoleon (Betsy Lucas) and the Mona Lisa (Joanna Fielding) is clever and fun. Who knew that paintings can talk to each other while hanging on a museum wall?
Nina Botvin plays Mrs. Cartero, who acts as the story’s narrator and delivers Stanley to his destinations in ”Travelin’ Through the Mail” with Stanley and the ensemble.  Nina is in 5th grade in the Wyomissing schools.
Stanley visits Hawaii
The ensemble cast members play numerous roles from doctors to thieves to birds and more. Mastering these transformations are Darian Bornmann (4th grade, Muhlenburg), Qwyn Cephus , Joanna Fielding, (7th grade, Antietam), John Fielding IV (10th grade, Antietam), Reese Ganster (Reiffton Elementary), Betsy Lucas (Wyomissing Hills Elementary), Madison Kemp (Jacksonwald Elementary) and Samantha Pinero (Cumru Elementary).
The show is directed by Debbi Silas assisted by Julia Minotto.
The Lambchop family
The music is upbeat and catchy and the show is great family entertainment. If you’d like to take your kids or grandkids to a musical, this is a good place to start. Perhaps they will be inspired to try acting too.
The show continues this weekend at Reading Community at at 403 N 11th St., Reading.
Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday shows begin at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available by calling the theater at 610-375-9106 or www.readingcommunityplayers.com . Free shuttle service is available from the parking lot at The Citadel on N. 12th Street.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Alpha/Omega Players deliver a ‘Memorable’ production of ‘Cats’




By Cheryl Thornburg
Spectacular choreography and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s incredible music make Alpha/Omega Players current production “Memorable.”
The ability of this company to produce really big shows on a not-so-big stage is sheer genius. “Cats,” with its huge dance numbers had to be a particular challenge, but choreographer and director, Melissa Kauffman more than met the challenge.
The storyline that loosely connects the musical numbers is really a frame for the portraits of various unique “cats,” as envisioned in T.S. Eliot’s  “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The musical “portraits” provide ample opportunities for Berks County’s singers and dancers to showcase their talents.
Maria Damore as Grizabella the aging Glamour Cat, delivers the now-standard “Memory,” with elegance and passion. The song will haunt you long after the show is over – particularly since you hear it more than once. In the second act, Maria is joined by Olivia Damore as Jemima in a reprise of this exquisite melody.
Keeping the spotlight performances in the family, James Damore turns in a rollicking turn as  Mungojerrie with Mandalee Flannery as Rumpleteezer in the appropriately named “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteezer.” The two are a triple threat with singing, dancing and comedy rolled into one just- plain-fun- to-watch number.
Assistant director Mark Drey turns in a dramatic version of Old Deuteronomy, the revered leader of the Jellicle cat clan and shows off his vocal skills in “The Moments of Happiness” and “The Ad-dressing of Cats” in the second act.
Jacob Cowan’s Munkustrap, is at the heart of many of the numbers and deservedly so. His vocal talents are showcased in “”The Old Gumbie Cat,”  “Old Deuteronomy,” and “The Battle of the Peeks and the Pollicles.”
The role of Mr. Mistoffelees, demands a superlative dancer and Josh Bellamy doesn’t disappoint.  On several occasions at Sunday’s performance, the audience burst into applause at his mesmerizing spins and leaps. His duet with Brianna Hafer as Victoria was another highpoint of the show.
Other standout performances came from James Barksdale as Macavity, Chris Weiss as Bustopher Jones, and Stephen Barszowski as The Rum Tum Tugger,
But to be honest, the entire cast gives standout performances, delivering the high-energy, intricate dance numbers with such precision and synchronicity, that it is obvious that countless hours of rehearsals and dedication went  into  this show. They are Sarah Wisser as Bombalurina, Melissa Kaufmann as Demeter, Stephanie Bricker as Jellylorum, Amanda Delbo as Griddlebone, Gordon Joyner as Growltiger, Deb Kasdras as Jenny Any Dotts, Tyler Ravert as Skimbleshanks, Julian Morales as Alonzo, Mary Britton as Carbucketty, Megan Centeno as Cassandra, Amy Swartz as Coricopat, Kirsten Heim as Pouncival, Meghan O’Neill as Tantomile, Meghan Austin as Electra, Krista Grevas as Etcetera, Allison Gieringer as Exotica, Nicole Greenfield as Tumblebrutus and Molly O’Brian Sillabub.
Musical director and conductor of the 16-piece pit orchestra for tis show is Nathan Patton. The unseen orchestra sets the tone for every number without overpowering the singers. The set was designed by Mark Drey, Gordon Joyner and William Eschbach, and the producer is Kerry Drey.
Remaining performances are Aug. 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 11 at 3 p.m. in the Alpha/Omega Performing Arts Center, 301 E. First St., Birdsboro. Due to the show’s popularity, Alpha/Omega has scheduled an additional performance on Thursday Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m.  For more information or to order tickets, call 610-404-4844 or visit www.alphaomegaplayers.org.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Steel River’s ‘La Cage’ is an upbeat romp filled with love and laughter

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Kirk Lawrence as Zaza.  Photo by John Daggett
 By Cheryl Thornburg


POTTSTOWN— Even if you’ve been feeling down and out lately, Steel River Playhouse’s current production, “La Cage aux Folles,” is just the ticket to pick you up.

Robb Hutter, center, as Georges withe the Cagelles. Photo by John Daggett
Filled with the upbeat numbers and tender ballads of Broadway’s Jerry Herman and the witty and wild dialogue of Harvey Fierstein, “La Cage” is a laugh-inducing romp about an unusual family, an older gay couple raising a son (who is the product of Georges’ youthful indiscretion with a show girl).  Their  life may seem unconventional, but at heart it’s just a loving family — even if home is the popular drag-queen night club, “La Cage aux Folles.”

When the son, now 24, returns home to announce his engagement to the daughter of a bigoted, anti-homosexual politician, the stage is set for a modern, guess-who’s-coming to dinner plot that will seem familiar to those who have seen the movie, “The Birdcage,” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

“La Cage” adds great music to the mix, resulting in lots of laughs with some thought-provoking undertones, which has made it one of the most successful musicals of all time, garnering lots of Tonys.

With its over-the-top setting, it would be easy for the characters to become cookie-cutter caricatures, but director David Gram has skillfully guided the actors to create fully-rounded people that are not only funny, but have depth and heart. It takes a gifted cast to pull that off, and Steel River has rounded up some of the best from the region and beyond.

At the heart of it all are Georges and Albin, the gay men who have been together for more than 20 years. Robb Hutter as Georges and Kirk Lawrence as Albin and his alter-ego, Zaza, have a warm and believable chemistry, that has the audience quickly realizing they are just like any other couple with their jealousies, squabbles, and misunderstandings, but underneath it all is a longstanding and still strong love for each other.

Kirk Lawrence transforming into Zaza. Photo by Carceri Gingrasso
Lawrence delivers a memorable performance as Albin/Zaza, switching from the insecure, but big-hearted Albin to the exuberant and flamboyant Zaza with ease. In a scene where he puts on make up as he gets ready to go on stage at La Cage, he literally slowly transforms from one to the other as he sings, “A Little More Mascara.” His powerful “I Am What I Am” at the close of the first act is stunning and leaves the audience squarely in his corner.

But it takes two to make this work, and Hutter is the perfect other half of this dynamic duo.  He is the “plain” one as he declares, but then, anyone is plain compared to Zaza. Hutter instead creates a finely-nuanced Georges, who struggles as he tries to tell Albin/Zaza, that their son doesn’t want him to attend the meet-the-parents dinner. His guilt is palpable as he tries to accommodate the two loves of his life, Albin and their son, Jean-Michel. That love permeates the ballads he sings, “Song on the Sand” to Albin in the first act and “Look Over There” to Jean-Michel in the second.

David Landstrom plays Jean-Michel, the young man so in love, that he doesn’t realize how much his request has hurt the man who has essentially been his mother. Landstrom’s delivery of “With Anne on My Arm” in the first act epitomizes young love as he exuberantly sings and dances with Ann, played by Josephine Patane. He slows things down a bit in the second act with a poignant reprise of ‘Look Over There” as he realizes how deeply he hurt Albin.

Wearing some of the most outlandish outfits in the show, Adam Newborn steals every scene he’s in is as Jacob, the butler who insists he’s a maid. Newborn is a born comedian and he has the audience laughing at every turn.

“La Cage” couldn’t be La Cage without the Cagelles, the most flamboyant, over-the top-show “girls” in Paris or Pottstown.

Delivering high-energy hijinks as  “Les Cagelles” are James Barksdale as Hannah, Troy Cooper as Mercedes, Taylor Helmers as Nicole, Brett Kenna as Dermah, Deedee Mann as Angelique (the role was played by Michelle Wurtz on June 7) Zach Reynolds as Chantal, Robb Russ as Monique and Will Scantling as Phaedra. Watch out in particular for Hannah, the whip-cracking Cagelles. The costumes, makeup, and some first-rate comedic acting leave everyone guessing “is she or isn’t she?”

Rounding out this fabulous cast are Jen Dinan as Jacqueline, Brent Adams and Sharon Sigal as Anne’s parents, the Dindons; Hal Holzer as Francis, Burt Merriam as Messr. Renaud, and Sharon Brown Ruegsegger, Drew Carr, Kendal Conrad, Charles Delaney, Sean Hafer, Randy Miller, and AJ Sermarini .

Adding to the ambience of the entire production are Michelle Wurtz as choreographer, Barbara Newberry and the orchestra, Carcheri Gingrasso as scene designer, Ally Boughter as costume designer, Chinere Wright as wig, hair and make-up designer and countless others.

Fine-tuning the music for the production is Deborah Stimson-Snow who managed to bring out the best in everyone, especially in the rousing, handclapping, “The Best of Times,” in the second act. Lead by Lawrence and Dinan, this number had the audience joining in and wanting more, which is the best recommendation for any show.

“La Cage aux Folles” continues Thursdays through Sundays through 23 at Steel River Playhouse, 245 E. High St.,  in downtown Pottstown Tickets are $15 to $26, with special cabaret seating at $68 for a table for 2 (includes complimentary beverages and snacks). Tickets are available online at www.steelriver.org or by calling the box office at 610-970-1199, or at the door when available,

"La Cage" contains some sexual references, and some parents may perceive aspects of the material to be inappropriate for young children.