Tuesday, February 19, 2013

‘Sunset Boulevard’ sheds light on the dark side of fame

Cathy Miller as Norma Desmond

By Cheryl Thornburg

The sun may have set on Norma Desmond’s career, but Cathy Miller’s portrayal of her in “Sunset Boulevard” is brilliant. Miller stars in Genesius Theatre’s current show which is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of the silver screen classic that starred Gloria Swanson and William Holden.
Miller takes Norma from fragility to the edge of madness, evoking the audience’s sympathy for the fallen silent film star.
In contrast to her frailty is the suave confidence of the young screenwriter Joe Gillis, played to perfection by Jonathan Browning. He brings strong acting skills and even stronger vocal talent to the role. His voice fills the theater in his solo, “Sunset Boulevard,” and blends beautifully in duets such as “Too Much in Love to Care” with Katie Ott as Betty Schaeffer, a young studio assistant,
Ott’s Betty is upbeat and enthusiastic, and her exquisite soprano adds eloquence to every number she’s in.

Kevin Cooper plays Max, Norma’s devoted servant, who gingerly guides her through the ups and downs of her life.  Cooper is spot on in this role, as a man who keeps his emotions under control and does whatever he has to to protect and care for Norma. Cooper played the lead in last year’s “Man of La Mancha,” and he again gets to demonstrate his vocal prowess in his solo, “The Greatest Star of All.”

Director Christopher Sperat has put together a strong cast including Ryan Katzenmoyer is totally believable as the likeable Artie Green, Joe’s best friend and Betty;s fiancé and Pete Bourey as Mandrake. Stan Durlak seems to land the big name roles – fresh off his success playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Annie,” he takes on Cecil B. DeMille in this production.

The ensemble cast adds energy and some of Berks County’s best voices to numbers like “Let’s Have Lunch” and particularly  “This Time Next Year,’ which was a real crowd-pleaser.
The ensemble includes Erin Aregood, Bob Aregood, Marissa Bubbenmoyer, Jason Denlinger, Marjory Ewaid, Kyle Feltenberger, Elizabeth Frederick, Chad Heim, Nate Matz, Luis Pagan-Anderson, Pat Rehr, Kelly Schmehl, Gerry Thibou, and Megan Tice.

Great visual effects and perfect accompaniment by the unseen 15-piece orchestra directed by Dave Neel add to the total package of this production,
In addition to Christopher Sperat, other behind the scenes talents include L J Fecho, Spencer Moss Fecho, Kyle Feltenberger, Jenny Parker Scott, Kathi Christi and Nicole Krick.. In addition to playing Norma, Cathy Miller was costume designer for the show.

“Sunset Boulevard” is a study in contrasts with Hollywood as its backdrop, where the surface is the glamour and glitz of the movies versus its darker side with everyone trying to make it any way they can. It runs through Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Tenth and Walnut Theater. Remaining performances are Wednesday and Thursday Feb. 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. (discount nights),  Friday and Saturday Feb. 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.,at Genesius Theatre, 153 Walnut St., (10th and Walnut) in Reading. 
To purchase tickets with all major credit cards and get more information visit the website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call 610-373-9500 to purchase tickets with credit cards only. If you need more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and credit card fees apply. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking next to the theater (limited space available). This production is rated PG-13 – FOR AGES 13 and up.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Genesius brings Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" to Reading

Cathy Miller as Norma Desmond
READING — Genesius Theatre kicks off its 42nd Season on Feb. 15 with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical classic, “Sunset Boulevard,” based on the classic Billy Wilder film of the same name.
The Season Theme, “From The Silver Screen to the Stage” will feature six musicals that originally started as films and then were turned into musicals.
When the cameras stop rolling and the lights go out, that’s when the real drama happens, as Genesius brings to its stage “Sunset Boulevard,” the lush and sweeping tale of Hollywood’s darker side. The show opens on Friday, Feb. 15 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 24, at the Tenth and Walnut Theater. The production stars Cathy Miller, in the classic role of Norma Desmond. 
Three top local talents, also support Ms. Miller, with Kevin Cooper as Max, Katie Ott as Betty and Jon Browning as Joe. The show also features a talented Genesius ensemble of upwards of 25 or more and a 15-piece live orchestra.
It’s Hollywood, 1949, and struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis needs work. At Paramount Studios, all he finds is Betty, a pretty script editor. A near escape from repossession agents finds Joe at the faded, dilapidated mansion of once-great silent screen star Norma Desmond. “You used to be in pictures — you used to be big,” Joe says, to which Norma responds, “I am big ... it’s the pictures that got small!”
Under the watchful eye of her ever-present and devoted manservant, Max, Norma proposes that Joe and she collaborate on the script for her comeback movie to be directed by the one and only Cecil B. DeMille. Each senses an opportunity with the other: room and board for Joe, and a young kept man to make Norma feel young again. Joe soon discovers that Norma is not what she seems to be, and Norma finds Joe may not be the man to bring her back to her “glory days.”
“This production of Sunset Boulevard is truly a great adventure for us,” says L J Fecho, artistic director of Genesius. Christopher Sperat, the director of ‘Sunset…’ said, “It is a musical that captures the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the movies were big and the stars even bigger. But, this is really an intimate account, of two people who want very different things from each other.”
From blockbuster composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Phantom of the Opera”), “Sunset Boulevard” won seven 1995 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Glenn Close); and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (George Hearn). Lloyd Webber’s gorgeous and unmistakable melodies are showcased in such sweeping musical numbers as “With One Look,” “New Ways to Dream,” “The Perfect Year,” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”
“Sunset Boulevard” opens Friday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. and runs Feb. 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., as well. It also performs on Sunday, Feb. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m., and on special mid-week discount nights - Wednesday/Thursday, Feb. 20 and 21 at 7 p.m., at Genesius Theatre, 153 Walnut Street, (10th and Walnut). 
To purchase tickets with all major credit cards and get more information please visit the website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call 610-373-9500 to purchase tickets with credit cards only. If you need more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and credit card fees apply. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking aside of the theater (limited space available). This production is rated PG-13 – FOR AGES 13 and up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

'Intimate Apparel' is engaging, compelling theater

Steve Carrasco and Natasha Murray in "Intimate Apparel"

Photos by John Daggett

By Cheryl Thornburg

Carlo Campbell and Natasha Murray
The close quarters of Steel River Playhouse’s Newberry Loft is the perfect place to stage Lynn  Nottage’s award-winning play “Intimate Apparel.”  With the actors just a few feet from the audience, there is an uncanny sense of reality that develops.  I can honestly say I have never cared about characters as quickly as I did with this play. That is a tribute to an outstanding cast and the talented direction of Alana Campbell.

“Intimate Apparel” is set in New York City circa 1905. The story centers around Esther Mills, a 35-year-old African-American woman who is still single.  She makes a living as a seamstress creating fine undergarments for the well-to-do ladies of the city.
Natasha Murray plays Esther with such subtle skill that you are drawn into her world and want to befriend this serious, hard-working, but lonely woman. Her interaction with the other characters is what makes this play so compelling.
The relationships ring true, whether with her wealthy client, her landlady, a Jewish merchant, her friend who is both a pianist and a prostitute or the man that she meets through correspondence.
Each of these relationships adds dimension and depth to the story.
Carlo Campbell plays George Armstrong, the young man from Barbados helping to dig the Panama Canal who starts writing to Esther and eventually comes to New York. Carlo brings an easy charm and sexuality to his George, who seems to be as hard-working as Esther and they seem to be a perfect match. Once in New York, we see a different side to George and Carlo skillfully reveals his darker side without turning him into a stereotypical villain. He’s just human with dreams and flaws like all of the characters in this play.
Steve Carrasco and Natasha Murray in "Intimate Apparel"
In contrast to George’s outgoing swagger is the shy and religious demeanor of Mr. Marks, the Jewish merchant who sells fine fabrics to Esther. Steve Carrasco delivers a finely nuanced performance using facial expressions and body language to create some of the most intimate and memorable scenes from the show. The interaction between the merchant and the seamstress as they discuss fine silks and satins has such passionate undertones that it is palpable, but In 1905 developing an actual relationship was unthinkable.

Monique Mosee and Natasha Murray
Another unlikely relationship is the friendship between the church-going Esther and Mayme, a talented pianist and singer, who makes a living as a prostitute. Monique Mosee brings sass and sincerity to this role making the bond between the two women totally believable.

Carly Fried, who has appeared in numerous Steel River productions, turns her talents to creating a complex Mrs. Van Buren, a wealthy young woman who befriends Esther and helps her write letters to George because Esther cannot read or write. Again the connection between to two seems real – a credit to both actresses.
Carly Fried and Natasha Murray

The last interesting relationship is between Esther and her landlady Mrs. Dickson, the widow who owns the boardinghouse. The two have known each other since Esther came to New York from the South many years before. Faye Wooten’s Mrs. Dickson is  warm, almost motherly, as she encourages and supports Esther – while also dishing out advice that Esther doesn’t always heed. The relationship adds yet another dimension to the portrait of Esther and life circa 1905.

 Natasha Murray and Faye O. Wooten
This is a play that will make you think, analyze relationships and cheer for the characters. Even though the setting is 100+ years old, the people and situations will seem familiar and relevant today.
Nottage’s script touches on race, religion, gender issues and the struggle to get ahead in tough economic times.
Alana Campbell’s skillful direction and astute choice of actors has turned “Intimate Apparel” into a memorable theater experience.

“Intimate Apparel” continues Friday Feb. 8  and Saturday Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. at Steel River Playhouse, 245 E. High St., Pottstown. Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for seniors (65+) and $15 for students/children. There is a $3 discount per ticket for groups of 10 or more.
Tickets are available online at www/steelriver.org or by calling 610-970-1199.