You Need To See “Equus”

Peter Shaffer’s “Equus” may be outdated psychiatrically but it remains a great bit of theater because of the story and its conflict.  It’s a conflict between psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Vincent O’Neill) and disturbed young patient Alan Strang (PJ Tighe).

Strang has been sent to his second-rate psychiatric hospital in Southern England by a local magistrate, Hesther Salomon (Wendy Hall), who sits on the board of the hospital.

Strang has apparently gone into a local stable and blinded all six horses, a horrific event in the small town and Dysart recognizes this is well beyond the usual crowd which has overwhelmed and ground down his performance and abilities.

It takes time for Dysart to wade through his own troubled marriage and his fixation on classic Greece to discover Alan isn’t just screwed-up, he’s really screwed-up.

It’s only when he meets parents Frank (Gregory Gjurich) and Dora (Margaret Massman) that the shrink begins to understand the roots of Alan’s problems, heavily in the religious divide between his parents.

This is psycho-sexual dysfunction, allied with his job taking care of horses and taking care of Jill Mason (Kelsey Mogensen), the young and beautiful daughter of a stable owner.

Only when we watch those two in a dark and shadowy and naked scene under Brian Cavanagh’s lighting, accompanied by Tom Makar’s creepy sound design, do we begin to understand how deranged Alan Strang is.

That’s after Dysart hypnotizes him and re-creates a little of what happened.

It’s really weird.

What makes this show work is the equine cast, the six guys who wear the metal framework which turns them into horses, courtesy of “dialect coach & horse movement choreographer” Gerry Trentham.  You have to see the six of them prancing around in the horse’s heads, with the movement of horses to make the show work, especially Dudney Joseph’s Nugget.

When this show opened in a production I saw in London, this was breakthrough theater in still Puritan and censored British entertainment.  Now, it’s outdated in most ways, but director David Oliver still has a great story to work with and a strong conflict of characters between patient and doctor and he does well with it.

Here, the show’s core is a really strong performance from O’Neill and from Tighe.

The major problem with the show is inherent in the script, the slow start as playwright Shaffer’s story begins to roll out and all the complicated pieces of the script begin to settle into place and the gears whirl.  This is a Swiss watch gearing of a play, built beautifully to place the conflict center stage in the Irish Classical’s pit.

Oliver does something unusual in this production, keeping up the pace of the show by having the entire cast sitting on benches around the stage so they can come on and off quickly so nothing slows down. Even the six horses are right there, as are their horse’s heads.

Keeping up the pace means we don’t lose the central thread of Shaffer’s script, the interplay between the doctor and the patient, O’Neill and Tighe.  They are the best part of the show, although there are strong performances from Hall, Mogensen, Joseph and Gjurich.

The stalk the stage, circling each other and seeking solutions to each’s problems, all in front of the audience.  That’s why the show moves so quickly to frame the collision between mental illness and mental doctor and why you need to see “Equus.”

Review by By Augustine Warner | www.speakupwny.com


Be prepared to be Blown Away!

All this Sex and Sensationalism is all right because it comes from a disturbed mind.  And is given big intellectual saddlebags.  So now Come to the Secret Pounding Copulations of the Centaurs! Yeeaaaaah!!!

Here we are in a town in southern England, farm country, near the coast.  At Rokesby Psychiatric Hospital, we are in the office of Dr. Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist.  Hesther Salomon, a Prosecutor, stops by to ask him to please take a remanded prisoner for her.  She can’t think of anyone else who could handle it, it’s a teenager who has committed a horrible and strange act of violence.

This is a very appropriate play for Halloween, what with All Souls rising in white mist cemeteries, and with All Saints rounding in screams and tortured fires.  You may be a rational creature with no credence for religious faith or the peaks and valleys it can explore and plunge in human perception.  You are thus lucky. And you would agree that the young man should be cured, that his pain and terror should be taken away.

The psychiatrist can do this.  And will do this.  But has reluctance, he himself is jealous of this experience, of this terror and pain and exultation he glimpses in his patient’s world, of the wild joy, of the Dionysian extremes which are to be destroyed.  So the boy can live a peaceful if diminished life, so the animals can graze in peace.

Now there’s a theosophical idea that postulates that if you conjecture a god, define and refine the idea of this god, worship this God, that you may actually bring it into being.  Pull it from the cloud of nothingness where it was just murkle, put it on an altar, hand over power to it, and it may come to rule you, at least recognize you.  If you leave it behind, if you no longer believe in it, it may yet still exist, may still exercise Power in the Firmament, may yet cause harmony or mayhem, and is likely Jealous.  And keep close in mind that Man was given Dominion over the Earth in Genesis, but that Horses and Dogs were exempted and given their own Stations in Leviticus.

And so, a horse and rider appear thundering swift along the beach.

This is a most amazing production.  You need to go just to see the horses galloping around the ring of the stage, the rising excitement in the hooha, the incredible sex enacted right on stage in the furious flying dust!  And that’s just the First Act!

At the end of the play, my companion Miss Pickwicker was in stunned amazement- at the play, at the ending, at everything that occurred here.  How long has this been going on! she wanted to know.  Are all the plays this great?!  She couldn’t believe what she just saw!  And to be so close to the stage!

This was Directed by David Oliver, he will be acclaimed for this.  Among the large cast, Vincent O’Neill played the psychiatrist Martin Dysart like it was his favorite role of all time, easily, holding the audience in his palm.  PJ Tighe climbed around in the pains, pleasure, and silence of the young man Alan.  Dudney Joseph played Nuggett and led the other equine wonders: Adam Hayes, Brett Klaczyk, Jordan Levin, Joshua Ranallo, and Lamont Singletary.

Tom Makar was Sound Designer, Gerry Trentham was imported to be Dialect Coach & Horse Movement Choreographer, Brian Cavanagh was Lighting Designer and Technical Director.

Great Clarity of the Text, withal.  And Equus remains to be called upon.  What an amazing play by Peter Schaffer, and what a Powerful Presentation Irish Classical Theatre Company has given it.  Be prepared to be Blown Away!

Review By: Willy Rogue Donaldson | Night Life Magazine


“Superb…you NEED to see this production.”

One of my bigger regrets in my theatrical life was not seeing “Equus” on Broadway. Luckily for myself and all other Buffalo theatergoers, there is a Broadway caliber production being performed at Irish Classical Theater. Now those who regularly read my reviews (thanks if you do) know that I am not one to mince words. This production is, to be brief, superb. Occasionally it is difficult as reviewer to find a way to constructively criticize a work of theater that people have poured their hearts into. Luckily, this review will not be a struggle, as there is truly nothing to criticize in this streamlined production.

This production is, to be brief, superb. . .If you have any interest in theater at all, you NEED to see this production.

“Equus” deals with a psychiatrist charged with uncovering the motivation of a young, psychologically disturbed young adult who is convicted of mutilating six horses in one evening. It is a challenging piece of theater for audiences, and contains mature subject matter and adult language. It might as well be the paragon for modern British “dramedy.”

Credit is first and foremost due to ICTC, for endeavoring to produce such a challenging and demanding piece of theater, and doing it with appropriate respect for the text and its author. The ensemble is immediately placed in the thick of the story, with actors entering along with audience members and seating themselves around the action on the stage. The audience almost immediately feels a sense of a tribal atmosphere, and this observational approach makes the piece even stronger. David Oliver and his team are to be commended. Trevor Copp, who is tasked with coordinating the mimed action in the piece, supplements the world of the play with his brilliance, executed flawlessly by the entire company.

As always, Vincent O’Neill is a treat to watch. His narrative voice aids the audience understanding of the piece. His turn as psychiatrist Martin Dysart is almost certain to be Artie nominated, and rightfully so. He approaches the role with intellect, honesty, and a certain reverence for the dialogue. It is an approach that is beyond effective.

Supporting O’Neill is PJ Tighe, who brings to the stage the perfect, and I mean perfect, blend of off-color humor, charisma, and transcendence. Tighe is playing a highly complicated individual, but he isn’t overacting, or forcing it down his audience members’ throats.

As Tighe’s parents, Greg Gjurich and Margaret Messman are equally impressive, if only for their layered performances.

Kelsey Mogensen, as Tighe’s love interest, is irresistible in every sense of the word. The best thing about this production is that the ensemble is as impressive, if not moreso.

The danger with staging “Equus” is getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of the piece. ICTC takes it all in stride and then some. The entire production team is unified in their drive to create a cohesive production, and it shows. The actors have committed their whole selves to the work they are doing, and in some cases are literally baring themselves.

As far as dramatic literature goes, “Equus” is the tops. It would not surprise anyone, then, that Irish Classical Theater is the theater to produce it. If you have any interest in theater at all, you NEED to see this production.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: For Mature Audiences Only.

Review by Nathan Andrew Miller


“Instruments of strife and fate and the gods at play”

Here we are in St. Cloud on the Gulf Coast on Easter Sunday 1956, in a bedroom of the Royal Palms Hotel.  Uh, oh.  Chance Wayne is back in town.  There’s a woman still sleeping in the bed, Chance gets up and moves around, pours himself a drink.

We find out that Chance left town quite a while ago, and no one is expecting him back.  He tried for an acting career, but that didn’t shake out so well, so now he’s escorting women around as a kept man, a gigolo.  He’s still pretty young, in good shape as he moves around the bedroom in his pajama bottoms.

In the bed is the beautiful if aging actress The Princess Kosmonopolis, unaware that she’s been brought to Chance’s home town, unaware of the trouble he’s been in and will get into again.

Chance wants to see his local girlfriend, whom he left here years ago.  Heavenly Finley hasn’t forgotten him, and neither has Heavenly’s papa, Boss Finley.  He’s running for re-election, and the last thing he wants to hear about is Chance Wayne.  And that he is back in town.

A knock at the door, it’s George Scudder, he’s come to deliver a warning to Chance that he’d be better off just taking off again.  And from here on, the play develops like an old Greek play just aheaded for disaster.  It’s foretold, the hero has been warned, the hero has a few chinks in his armor and his honor, but stands his ground, refuses to leave as the clouds overhead get darker and darker.  The hero never kidnapped the Young Beauty, but he left her despoiled when he left town for fame and fortune.  And there’s no grandeur in the avenging forces, just townie thugs following orders.  The hero is warned away by both Artemis and Athena, but he goes on to his destiny.  Thud.

Everybody and everything is sort of tainted, that’s the South that Tennessee put on stage.  Nevertheless, the play has force and beauty, the actors declaim it with skill, the audience gave it a big standing Ovation.  My companion Miss Pickwicker was thrilled, he cheeks flushed with emotion.

The Heckler, a meager chorus if ever there was, was played by Gerry Maher.  Aleks Malejs plays the actress with verve, and Colleen Gaughan plays Aunt Nonnie with charm and delicacy.  Chance is played handsomely by Patrick Cameron.

Supporting photos are displayed on animal skins in the corners, a custom in the Pelopponesus, the Video Projections Designer was Brian Milbrand.  The Lighting Designer was Brian Cavanagh, the Set Design was by Kenneth Shaw.  The Director Fortunato Pezzimenti well polished the instruments of strife and fate and the gods at play.

– Willy Rogue Donaldson, Night Life Magazine


“There’s nothing like a good delusion.”

For theatrical purposes, there’s nothing like a good delusion.  It’s Tennessee Williams and “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

That’s Chance Wayne (Patrick Cameron), good looking and fading, returning to his Gulf Coast home town because he remains in love with the daughter of the area’s political boss, Heavenly Finley (Renee Landrigan).

Boss Finley (Stan Klimecko) has no plan, ever, to let Chance ever get together again with his daughter, based on sexual damage from an encounter years before when she was a teen.
Williams set this play around Easter Sunday in 1956, when sexual discussions were whispered, although the vicious racial politics of the time and the place could be openly discussed.
Boss Finley was typical of the time and the place in the mid-Fifties, as the Civil Rights movement began to gather steam in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation.

People like the Boss, with his background in the red clay soil of Alabama, didn’t like the way Black people threatened his iron grip and that’s why he publicly supports a lynching.
Chance arrives in St. Cloud with an older woman, the Princess Kosmonopolis (Aleks Malejs), who’s really a fading Hollywood star, fleeing the opening of her new movie, an opening she thought was disastrous and went on the road with a new name and a large sheaf of traveler’s checks.  That means her location can’t be found, since this is before the days of charge cards which can be traced.

Wayne is on a downward spiral, fueled by his delusions and bad behavior to the point he meets the traveling star while working at the cabana duties at a resort.
Chance sleeps with the princess and lusts after Heavenly.  While being interested in more than one woman at a time isn’t unusual (just look at Donald Trump’s private life), Tennessee Williams really piles on the eccentricity of a man who never lets reality interfere with his dreams.

Boss Finley comes equipped with an inner circle of thugs who take care of problems and Chance Wayne is a problem to be dealt with.  Besides, he has arranged for Heavenly to marry Dr. George Scudder (Jacob Albarella), who is aware of her sexual history.

This is classic Williams, love, lust, money and power set in the steam of the old South.  You know there will be few redeeming characters and a lot of bad ones.  It’s all doom under a relentless sun mixed with relentless humidity, where you know early on every decision will be the wrong one.

Director Fortunato Pezzimenti has a pretty strong cast, especially Klimecko, Cameron, Malejs and Bethany Sparacio’s Miss Lucy, the Boss’ mistress, and busybody Aunt Nonnie (Colleen Gaughan).  Kenneth Shaw contributed a set which helps tell the story on the Andrews Theatre’s confined stage.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” is from Tennessee Williams’ golden period and it shows in the story and the way it works out.

Although not a great fan of Williams, this is a strong production looking at a time when the country was changing and the old power structure was fading.

It’s worth seeing.

– Augustine Warner, speakupwny.com


Sweet Bird of Youth “highly satisfying”

One of the great plays of the Tennessee Williams oeuvre, Sweet Bird of Youth follows the efforts of Chance Wayne, once the bright star of his generation in 1950s St. Cloud, Florida, to be reunited with the girl he loves.

Chance has returned to town in the company of movie star Alexandra Del Lago, convinced that this esteemed company and a movie contract in hand will, finally, impress the girl’s father, the most powerful political boss in town.  Now approaching 30, Chance is unaware that in his absence, his status in this corrupt little town has gone from deplorable to hopeless. His mother has died, and had been buried by charity. His girl, Heavenly, has sustained a surgery that has left her barren, a consequence of a disease she had caught from Chance. His current employ, as a gigolo to an aging movie star is unlikely to be viewed favorably by anyone. Heavenly’s father, Boss Finley, wants him castrated. (Really!)

The Irish Classical production, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti with Patrick Cameron as Chance Wayne and Aleks Malejs as Alexandra Del Lago is highly satisfying. A first rate acting ensemble explores the desires and contradictions of these characters with clarity and focus.

Cameron is especially affecting as Chance, a young man who does not understand that the corruption of his past cannot be undone.  As Heavenly, played by Renee Landrigan, so eloquently observes, the right doors would not open for Chance, and so he went through the wrong ones.  Malejs, who has impeccable technique and the stage presence of a true leading lady, gets great mileage out of Alexandra’s delicious contradictions, her hard as nails drive and crippling vulnerabilities.

Landrigan is very good as innocent and ethereal Heavenly Finley, establishing a distinct contrast with Malejs’ hardened Alexandra.

The production highlights an exquisite divide in the script, whereby the women can still see the former innocence and promise in Chance Wayne, even in his corrupted state. Heavenly, Aunt Nonnie, even Miss Lucy and Alexandra try to save him. As in all great tragedies, it will be impossible.

Bethany Sparacio is fabulous as Finley’s kept woman, Miss Lucy, as is Colleen Gaughan as Aunt Nonnie, creating endearing but conflicted women who contrast with each other as do Heavenly and Alexandra.

Stan Klimecko, who seems to specialize in monstrous characters of American post-war realism, creates a particularly vivid Boss Finley.

Visually, the production seems to have shifted gears at some point, and still bears the remnants of an expressionistic staging with video projections by Brian Milbrand. I found these to be merely distracting, not enriching as in a similar treatment of another Tennessee Williams classic, Streetcar Named Desire at Torn Space Theater. Costumes by Dixon Reynolds are excellent as is light by Brian Cavanagh and sound by Tom Makar.  Kenneth Shaw has done the set.

– Anthony Chase, ARTVOICE


Irish Classical mounts an enthralling “Sweet Bird of Youth”

The flame of youth burns hottest just before it dies, and everyone in range of Tennessee Williams’ heart-wrenching play “Sweet Bird of Youth” gets scorched. In Fortunato Pezzimenti’s sultry and doom-drenched production that opened Friday night in the Andrews Theater, that flame shoots bright and straight from the mouths of Aleks Malejs and Patrick Cameron. These two extraordinarily gifted performers play – and at points become – an addled and faded actress grasping at the imagined glory of her youth and a washed-up hometown hero desperately clinging to last days of his sexual prime.

It’s hard to settle on what’s saddest about the story. It could be the power of the human imagination to render one’s youth far better than it actually was. It could be the heartbreaking impossibility of reclaiming even a shred of one’s lost optimism and hope. Or, most likely, because this is Tennessee Williams, it could be each character’s grim realization that after tasting and losing success, the only solution is to quit while you’re ahead. Those infinite variations of sadness swim in Malejs’ eyes, hidden as her character would hide them behind a flimsy film of affected confidence. Her performance anchors and elevates the production and its performances. Each of them, from Cameron and his tortured Chance Wayne to Stan Klimecko’s despicable Boss Finley, build upon the baseline of intensity she sets.

As with any Williams play, there is an element of surrealism to the whole affair, as if we’re watching some strange dream. Kenneth Shaw’s simple set works well with Brian Milbrand’s mercifully unintrusive video projections, Tom Makar’s masterful sound design and Brian Cavanagh’s typically subtle lighting design to hint at the play’s semi-subconscious seetting. Pezzimenti’s direction strikes a delicate balance between the languid sensuality of Williams’ Southern setting and the manic regrets of his conflicted characters. Those two things, like Williams characters and himself, are always at odds, always irreconcilable and always beautiful.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” 3-1/2 stars (out of four)

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com


Perfect mix of laughs, laments in “A Little Night Music”

by Colin Dabkowski, The Buffalo News
3-1/2 Stars (out of 4)
Five times a week through Oct. 18, theatergoers will make their way into the Andrews Theatre on Main Street, the orchestra will strike up a waltz and the outside world will melt completely away.

In its place arose Chris Kelly’s light, lithe and beautifully performed production of “A Little Night Music, ” Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s dreamy, three-quarter-time fantasia on the foolishness of love, the fickleness of devotion and the difference between the two.

Though set in turn-of-the-century Sweden and performed in period costumes, make no mistake that the 1973 show, based on Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” is thoroughly contemporary in at least one important way: Nearly all of its characters want sex, and they’ll lie their three-piece suits and corsets off to get it.

For the most part, those characters are timeless archetypes to be found in any stubbornly patriarchal society, from the insecure if apparently irresistible lawyer Frederik Egerman (Matthew Witten) to his naïve young wife Anne (Renee Landrigan) and the faded actress Desiree Armfeldt (Jenn Stafford) to whom Frederik is truly drawn.

If the characters sound familiar, the songs are something else entirely. In few other musicals does Sondheim display such simultaneously witty and unsparing lyricism, which manifests itself in such peerless songs as “You Must Meet My Wife,” “Every Day a Little Death” and “Send in the Clowns,” to which Stafford brings every ounce of required pathos.

Nearly every moment in the musical is infused with a tension between sexual desire and emotional well being, which Sondheim and Wheeler seem to suggest are irreconcilable except through a great deal of painful soul searching. That most of the show is in waltz time emphasizes the idea that this negotiation is a constant dance, and that the dance itself may be the best we can hope for.

The show presents an enormous challenge for a director and his cast who could easily lose themselves in its period trappings or in the existential despair that lies at the heart of this and most Sondheim shows. Kelly and his excellent cast dispense with that challenge like the professionals they are, and solve it by turning up to comedic volume on the production to a few decibels below camp.

In Sondheim’s universe, after all, comedy and hubris are thin scrims barely obscuring a depthless source of existential dread and insecurity. By stressing the former from just the right angle, you deepen the audience’s understanding of the latter.

This effect is on full display in Witten and Stafford’s consummate performance of “You Must Meet My Wife,” a storytelling masterpiece in which Frederik inadvertently reveals the shallowness of his relationship with his young trophy wife and Desiree overtly expresses her incredulity and disgust at his self-deception. They both know the score, but insist on doing a beautiful dance around the issue instead of addressing it directly.

In “Every Day a Little Death,” Michele Marie Roberts is masterful as the world-weary Charlotte, so many times wronged by her philandering husband Carl-Magnus (Anthony Alcocer) that she has resigned herself to a life of small victories in the face of huge disappointments.

Though the women in the show are by no means innocent, it does carry a definite and potentially off-putting whiff of the patriarchal. It makes you cringe a bit, for instance, to listen to Carl-Mangus and Frederick explicate their impossibly high standards for beddable women in “It Would Have Been Wonderful,” but Sondheim and Kelly make it easy to view the song as a critique of machismo run rampant.

Under music director Allan Paglia and his excellent orchestra, the cast acquits itself wonderfully. In addition to Witten, Stafford and Roberts, fine performances come from Pamela Rose Mangus as Madame Armfeldt on the cheeky song “Liaisons,” the slightly-too-campy Alcocer on “In Praise of Women” and Amy Jakiel as Petra on the heartbreaking if extraneous song “The Miller’s Son.” Charmagne Chi, Robert Cooke and Faith Wahl also excel in minor roles.

The show, though for the most part expertly plotted and paced, runs a bit long and suffers from afew too many pieces of musical comic relief. The comedy, after all, is everywhere in Sondheim’s score and in his lyrics. On the Andrews stage as in life, the comedy is inextricable from the pain – an understanding that makes this show, and especially this production, a remarkable success.


“A little Night Music” – Send in the clowns

SEND IN THE CLOWNS, a review by Anthony Chase, ARTVOICEA Little Night Music beautifully played at Irish Classical Theatre Company

Elegant and sophisticated adults behaving like children on a Scandinavian night is the set up for A Little Night Music, the musical now being performed by the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Composer Stephen Sondheim has said that when he, book writer Hugh Wheeler, and director Hal Prince staged the original production in 1973, they had one thought on their minds: “A Little Night Music was all about having a hit!”

Sondheim and Prince’s previous Broadway collaboration, the artistically triumphant Follies, co-directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, had been a box office flop in 1971, despite winning seven Tony Awards.

With A Little Night Music, the team would have their hit, and Sondheim would score the only pop hit of his celebrated career with the Judy Collins recording of “Send in the Clowns,” which won a Grammy as Song of the Year in 1975.

Based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film comedy, Smiles of a Summer Night, the musical tells the story of a middle aged attorney, Fredrik Egerman, married to a teenaged virgin who is reluctant to consummate their marriage. In his frustration, Egerman visits his former lover, Desiree Armfeldt, a famed and glamorous actress, now reduced to touring to minor towns. Sensing that Egerman’s sexless marriage provides an opportunity to reignite her former romance, Desiree asks her mother, the spectacularly wealthy Madame Armfeldt to invite the Egermans to her chateau for a weekend in the country. Complications ensue when Desiree’s current lover, an intensely jealous and not very bright count arrives by surprise, with his wife; and when Fredrik’s grown son, Henrik reveals that he is in love with his young stepmother.

The intertwining complications are hilariously tangled but very easy to follow. The score, comprised entirely of waltzes, is luscious and propelled forward by a chorus of servants who comment on and punctuate the action.

The Irish Classical Theatre production under the direction of Chris Kelly and musical direction of Allan Paglia with choreography by Robert Cooke is entirely delightful—elegant, charming, and wonderfully humorous at every turn.

The cast is uniformly appealing. Matt Witten, as Fredrik Egerman is the rock that serves as a solid foundation for the production. He sings beautifully. His acting is, as ever, perfection. As Desiree Armfeldt, Jenn Stafford has a genius for making audiences fall in love with her. She, too, possesses a lovely singing voice which she deploys for maximum emotional and comic impact on this occasion. These two singing, “You Must Meet My Wife” is a highlight among many highlights.

Michele Benzin is particularly satisfying, giving one of her finest performances ever as Countess Charlotte Malcolm, a woman who cannot help but love her louse of a husband. When the frustrated spouses, Witten as Fredrik and Benzin are Charlotte are paired, the chemistry is hysterical.

Pamela Rose Mangus is surprisingly good as Madame Armfeldt, a role for which she is too young, but which she assays, nonetheless with expert finesse and perfect comic timing. She is particularly adept at landing the grand old lady’s withering one-liners.

As jealous and conceited Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Anthony Alcocer—who specializes in cartoons of the irredeemably evil and the cluelessly arrogant—easily reaches into the latter bag of tricks on this occasion, resurrecting some of the crowd-pleasing antics of his similarly clueless Aldolpho from last year’s The Drowsy Chaperone.

Renee Landrigan and Ben Caldwell are very enjoyable and appealing paired as young and inexperienced Anne and Henrik. Young Faith Walh acquits herself capably as Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika Armfeldt.

Amy Jakiel gives a strong and lusty performance as the knowing and determined maid, Petra, landing “The Miller’s Son,” an anthem to personal fulfillment through marriage, resoundingly.

For the most part, the production staged by Kelly and choreographed by Cooke, moves graciously through the circular space of the Andrews Theatre. There are moments when the dead ends of a theater in the round elude them, as in the staging of Madame Armfeldt’s “Liaisons,” which fails to conquer the challenge of a wheel chair, for a solo number, in the round. On the whole, however, the fluidity of the round space proves to be an asset for this elegant and lovely production. With a set by Kenneth Shaw and costumes by Lise Harty, the production looks appropriately beautiful.


Elegant night music

Stephen Sondheim’s A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC elegantly opened the Irish Classical Theatre’s 25th season. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” this production of the 1973 Tony Award winning musical demonstrates everything that is right about this well established company. Attempting a large musical can be vexing in the relatively small space of the Andrews Theatre, but any worries of being pared down can be cast aside. The immediate intimacy of the theatre worked beautifully for this romantic tale.

Director Chris Kelly has triumphed in seamlessly weaving his finessed stage direction with Robert Cooke’s lilting choreography. Staging a musical in the round is quite a challenge, and Kelly has a great eye for stage pictures, so no seat in the audience is ever looking at someone’s back for long. His direction was graceful and had the actors looking fantastic in their movements. The opening “Night Waltz” introduced us to the entire cast, effortlessly waltzing while interchanging partners, thus offering a glimpse of the drama that would unfold.

Set in the turn of the 20th century Sweden, we meet a middle aged actress Desiree, her family and her many amours. The sophisticated book by Hugh Wheeler tells us of many tristes, where intertwined love affairs become tangled with family matters. Sondheim’s glorious score is based on the 3/4 time waltz figure and it employs a chorus of Liebeslieder singers who comment on the action, while also acting as servants. Their difficult music borders on operatic at times, and they seemed poised for the challenge.

Although appearing too young for the role of Desiree, actress Jenn Stafford embodied the character with appropriate grand gestures of a great stage actress, and her clear singing voice was well suited for her show stopping “Send in the Clowns.” Her lover of many years ago, Fredrik Egerman, was played by Matt Witten. Witten’s baritone shone in his Act I number, “You Must Meet My Wife,” one of Sondheim’s most brilliant expository songs, with biting commentary supplied by Desiree. The relationship between Stafford and Witten was playful and the two had a palpable energy of their past love.

Frederik’s teen age second wife, Anne, is played by the lovely Renee Landrigan. Her giggly, yet pouty nature was perfect for the role, although the upper reaches of the score sometimes taxed her. Ben Caldwell, as Fredrik’s son Henrik, was convincing as the frustrated young man who is constantly being put off and has problems with his misplaced sexual energy. The ACT I trio of “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon” brilliantly uses Sondheim’s complex writing to communicate the inner feelings of the three. With this challenging music, Caldwell later suffered from some minor intonation problems in ACT II.

Stage veteran Pamela Rose Mangus assumed the role of Desiree’s aged mother, Madame Armfeldt, after playing the part of Desiree in 1993. Written for Hermione Gingold, and in the most recent Broadway revival played by Angela Lansbury and then Elaine Stritch, this juicy role is full of sage wisdom and biting one liners. Mangus delivered the hypnotic “Liaisons” with ease and reminiscence of her past affairs with royalty. With Desiree often touring with theatrical productions, Madame Armfeldt assumes the role of mother to Desiree’s young daughter, Fredrika, played by the charming child actor Faith Walh.

Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Anthony Alcocer) is Desiree’s most recent lover. As his name implies, he is a power hungry ego maniac. Alcocer was hammy and self absorbed, offering good comic timing to his strong vocals. His wife, Charlotte, played by Michele Marie Roberts, is a juicy role of the bitter wife who is not resigned to being cheated upon. Her duet with Anne, “Everyday A Little Death” was well sung and lent pathos to the two ladies despair over their cheating husband. Roberts cunningly guides young Anne towards revenge against her husband’s lover, climaxing in the brilliant Act I finale “A Weekend in the Country.”

Ladies maid Petra (Amy Jakel) is given the 11 o’clock number of “The Miller’s Son.” Jakel coped well with the too brisk tempo of this wordy song and was great as the lusty country girl who makes advances at any available pair of pants.

The simple set by Kenneth Shaw was delicately lit by lighting designer Brian Cavanagh. The visual highlight of this production was the glorious period costumes, designed by Lise Harty. Ms. Harty’s attention to detail was spot on, most notably in the ACT II costumes with the entire cast dressed in shades of white and cream, as well as some handsome car coats for the gentlemen. Also of note were Desiree’s ACT I entrance gown and hat, worn during “The Glamorous Life.” The 4 piece combo, led by Music Director Allan Paglia, was efficient for the small space but could have benefitted from a few more strings to fill out the lush original orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick.

Wheeler and Sondheim’s musical came at a time when the formulaic musical comedy of the 50’s and 60’s was wavering, and theatre scores became more complex due to innovative writing by this composer. Sondheim would write COMPANY(1970) and FOLLIES (1971), both dealing with issues of middle age and coping with challenging relationships. He would ultimately solidify his own distinct musical sound through these 3 seminal works. With Irish Classical Theatre’s high production values, excellent cast, and thoughtful direction, this production of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical is not to be missed.

Review by Michael Rabice | BroadwayWorld.com