by Jan Davisson
PALM BEACH DRAMAWORKS
A SUMMER OF SONDHEIM
Who says that there are no theatergoers during the summer months? Not the two theatres that have provided outstanding summer productions to a delighted audience!
Palm Beach Dramaworks
Deliciously scary and filled with more twists and turns than a country road, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a musical thriller that turns up the summer heat at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre on Clematis Street. Presented by Palm Beach Dramaworks, Director Clive Cholerton has created a magnificent stew… or meat pie. The recipe is as follows: Take a plot set in 19th century England; stir in a cast of magnificent voices to sing the Stephen Sondheim score; add a clever stage design by award-winning Michael Amico; garnish with costumes by Brian O’Keefe that reflex a modern genre trend called steampunk and then bring in the big guns (Shane R. Tanner and Ruthie Stephens) for the leads, and Voila!…a scrumptious concoction guaranteed to please even the most discerning theatre palate.
By the way…Not being familiar with the genre, steampunk? It’s a subculture of speculative fiction set in a quasi-Victorian, alternate history setting…a kind of blend of science fiction meets Victorian old England. And it definitely worked for this production.
From the brilliant opening, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, with the dastardly villain rising from below stage to the complete cast of voices fit for the grandest opera, it was spectacular. Through the Sondheim lyrics, the story line unfolds. A tale of an unscrupulous judge’s obsession for a young girl (Sweeney’s wife). So, to possess her, he sentences Sweeney to the Australian penal colony. After sixteen years, Sweeney escapes and returns to London bent on vengeance, especially when he hears that the judge has transferred his evil obsession to his daughter, who is now a young lady. No wonder he concocts his plot of revenge! He is encouraged by his landlady, a not too successful pie maker, Mrs. Lovett.
Actress Ruthie Stephens creates a character that you know you’re supposed to hate, but she makes Mrs. Lovett so cheery and does her evil deeds with such relish that you can hardly wait for her to get back on stage. Poor Sweeney doesn’t stand a chance against her vile plotting. Jim Ballard as The Beadle, a security person, is outstanding. His larger than life presence on stage and fantastic voice prevents him from getting lost in the Sweeney story. As for Shane R. Tanner (Sweeney Todd), there aren’t enough words to describe his performance, from his hulking frame to his beautiful baritone voice, he is thrilling to watch.
The night we attended, there were many younger people in the audience. William Hayes, Producing Artistic Director, has created a ticket price to encourage young people to experience live theatre. It’s based upon your age (up to 40 years old). My twenty-year-old grandson paid $20 for his ticket and adored the production. Educators, with proper I.D., receive a 50% discount on tickets. Sweeney Todd only runs through August 6, so get your tickets fast.
Palm Beach Dramaworks 201 Clematis Street West Palm Beach FL 33401 Tickets: (561) 514–4042 Ext. 2; www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.
MNM Productions, Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse
A place called home, the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center, that’s what Michael Lifshitz and Marcie Gorman-Althof now consider to be the MNM Productions performance venue. In the past several years, they have put on several successful productions and built up a loyal following. So much so, they’re increasing their number of productions to four.
Currently on stage through August 6 is an updated musical comedy from the ‘70s, Company, with book and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a character study, with music. Unmarried, thirty-five-year-old Robert/Bobby (Robert William Johnston) tries to decide why his group of five married couples chose marriage. Seems that every time he’s invited to dinner at one of the couple’s homes, a serious conflict erupts. Everything from a karate demonstration that turns into a power play for one couple to a confused bride Leah Sessa as Amy, who tries to call off the wedding. Sessa is a versatile actress/comedian and provided a great display of this talent, definitely one of the high points of the show. Each vignette just leaves Bobby with more questions on how they go through such conflicts and still, their love keeps them together.
Bobby has a bevy of girlfriends that he’d like to consider as a future wife; however, each has major personality problems. Mallory Newbrough, Jinon Deeb and Nichole Kinzel band together as they sing, You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Sondheim is a master at continuing the story line with a descriptive song, and the ladies do justice to his words.
Erika Scotti as Joanne, an extremely depressed woman with a drinking problem, tells the story about all the ladies in The Ladies Who Lunch. She gives an outstanding performance; so much so, you feel her pain.
Director Bruce Linser has brought in some of the best talent in South Florida. Each actor has appeared throughout the area and are recipients of Carbonell nominations and awards: Laura Hodos (Sarah), seen last summer in the Palm Beach Dramaworks production of 1776; Wayne LeGettea (Harry); Amy Miller Brennan (Susan), Clay Cartland (Peter); Lindsey Corey (Jenny); Joshua McKinney ((David) Josy Kolb (Paul); Larry Alexander (Larry). The entire talented cast have credits from theatres ranging from the Gables Stage in Miami to Palm Beach Dramworks in West Palm Beach and the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter. It could be called “the best of South Florida’s talent.”
Next up for MNM Productions is La Cage aux Folles Oct. 6-22. Company only runs through August 6, so get your tickets.
MNM Productions, Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd, West Palm Beach, Tickets: (561) 832-7469 or www.kravis.org.
Maltz Jupiter Theatre
Skye Alyssa Friedman will portray Anne Frank in the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s Youth Artists’ Chair production of the drama The Diary of Anne Frank. The perfect show to get a student’s mind set back to school. The upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank on Saturday, August 12. It’s usually required reading in middle school so it’s an easy way to bring it to life…page to stage. The story of eight people hiding in an attic in Amsterdam from the Nazis. For two years, young Anne Frank kept a record of daily happenings during those trying years. The Diary of Anne Frank is by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. This is a new adaptation and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman. Please note that this piece explores mature themes. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for students and $25 for adults.
Season tickets for 2017/18 are now available for the Maltz Jupiter Theater’s exciting upcoming season. More about that in September Curtain Up!
Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Rd, Jupiter, Tickets: (561) 575-2223; www.jupitertheatre.org.