ON CT & NY THEATRE
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
CT Critics Circle / ctcritics.org Sept/2015
Westport Country Playhouse, Wspt. CT
A prolific, British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn is noted for amusing, contemporary, ensemble works that feature clever dialogue and interactions between various classes of English society. Although this play pokes fun at human nature rather than social status, if you’re a fan of the clever, British, TV comedy series “Keeping up Appearances,” “Bedroom Farce” at Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) is certainly for you.
This situation play takes place on one Saturday night, in three bedrooms that are in separate homes. Each room, nicely designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, reflects the personalities of the couples who occupy them. To our left, is a formal, English bedroom complete with period furniture, and a heavy, maroon, coverlet set. The elderly couple who belong in this setting are “Delia” (Cecilia Hart) and “Ernest” (Paxton Whitehead), who are set in their ways.
The second bedroom is unmade. It contains a bed with a modern, bookcase headboard, a crumpled, blue blanket, and half finished wallpaper. This space is occupied by an energetic, fun-loving couple, “Kate” (Claire Karpen) and “Malcolm” (Scott Drummond). They like to tease and to hide each other shoes and kitchen tools among the bedding.
The third modern bedroom contains “Nick” (Matthew Greer) and his wife “Jan” (Nicole Lowrance). Nick is in bed trying to recover from back pain, while Jan is preparing to go to Kate and Malcom’s house warming party by herself.
The older couple in the first bedroom has a son, “Trevor” (Carson Elrod) who was recently married to “Susannah” (Sarah Manton). These two, young, social misfits have no onstage bedroom but float between all three rooms and take turns occupying the other three couples’ beds.
The trouble begins when Kate and Malcom invite the two young couples to a party at their house while knowing that Susannah and Trevor spell trouble. The problem is that they each have their own insecurities to battle, and frequently argue in public. In addition to Susannah and Trevor’s marital problems, there was a previous attraction between Jan and Trevor, which has not faded completely. That’s one of the reasons why Jan is anxious to leave her back-injured husband and attend the party alone. Well, you can guess what happens when this volatile love triangle meet and clash at the party. Do you recall a time when company came and piled their coats on the bed? Well, picture a heated argument amidst a huge clothing mound, plus a variety of hard tools.
In an effort to seek consolation after the blow- out, Jan ends up at Trevor’s parents house sleeping in their bed, and Trevor seeks help by lying on the beds in the other two bedrooms – each of them causing a commotion wherever they happen to be. Before things settle down, tempers flare, furniture is broken and husbands are dispossessed. On top of all this action is a heap of hearty laughter.
John Tillinger, who is an expert in directing Ackbourne’s plays on Broadway and WCP, is in charge of this splendid cast. This is the fifth Ackboune play presented in Westport and audiences may recognize the popular actors who were featured here before.
Plays to Sept. 13 Tickets: 203-227-5137
BACKWARDS IN HIGH HEELS
Westchester B’way Theatre, Elmsford, NY
This musical is based on the life of Ginger Rogers, an Academy Award-winning film star and popular dance partner of Fred Astaire during the 1930’s – 40’s. If you know who she was from TV film revivals, or took ballroom dance lessons at a Fred Astaire studio and/or are into tap dancing, you may recognize her name. The TV series, “So You Think You Can Dance,” recently featured a spoof of Ginger and Fred dancing to Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” so the couple’s popularity continues. For those who still may be dancing in the dark -- better ask your grandparents to clue you in before you attend Westchester Broadway Theatre’s (WBT) current production.
Interestingly, the title of the musical comes from a 1982 “Frank and Earnest” cartoon which stated, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he (Fred Astaire) did – backwards and in high heels.” It sounds funny, but that’s not always the case. While the man always leads, his partner usually shares the difficulty of the steps.
Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin’s songs are featured, while Christopher McGovern, who along with Lynnette Barkley conceived the musical, also composed a number of original pieces.
The show successfully debuted at West Palm Beach Florida in 2007. Jeremy Benton, who appeared as Fred Astaire in the original production, revives his role and also directs and choreographs this revival at Westchester Broadway Theatre. Darien Crago, who has had extensive, musical theatre experience, plays his dance partner, Ginger Rogers here.
Unfortunately, for those who grew up seeing early, black and white films in movie theatres, the characters who play Ginger and Fred in this musical do not even resemble these stars. Ginger Rogers’ was a beautiful woman with stylish, blonde hair and shapely curves. Her dancing, famously depicted with feathers flying off her elaborate, ball gowns, was lyrical and soft flowing. Fred Astaire was very slim, and not at all handsome – in fact, he resembled a bald-headed grasshopper dressed in black tails. However, he was so light-footed that his feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. So, in this production, you will have to imagine the dance couple’s black and white silhouettes as spotlighted on WBT’s program’s cover.
While her tap dancing technique is superior, Crago’s short hairstyle, sharp, facial features, angular body, thin arms and pointed elbows are unsuitable for the role of a warm, sexy, film beauty. Ginger Rogers may have had a strong, determined personality off-stage, but this singing/dancer’s interpretation was a bit too harsh.
Benton’s dance-steps capture the smooth, recognizable, Astaire style, but he does not have Fred’s lean likeness. Erika Amato as Ginger’s mom is perfectly cast for her role, and Avital Asuleen livened the show with her outstanding interpretation of Ethel Merman, and other famous personalities.
This is a typical, Hollywood story about the rise of a starlet who was greatly influenced by her self-sacrificing, backstage mother. What is unique is that Rogers made history when she fought for her equal rights. The actress was so much in demand, that she was eventually given the same contract considerations, and pay scale as the top male stars. In this highly competitive business, Rogers rose to the top of her career and paved the way for other female movie stars. Her tempestuous relationships and many husbands are side issues that are inserted for human-interest purposes.
Precision, tap dancing abounds and Benton’s choreography is tops. The ensemble is perfection, and the male dancers are particularly outstanding. The live orchestra, directed by Jose Simbulan, adds to the period’s flavor.
Speaking of flavor, this is a dinner theatre. A varied menu is included as is free parking. You can even book a special party in one of the private, luxury boxes.
Plays to Sept. 20
Followed by “Show Boat – Sept. 24-Nov. 29
And Dec. 30 – January 31, 2016 Tickets: 914-592-2222