Christopher Shin, Loretta Ables Sayre and James Seol

Taylor Quick and Cast

Dan DeLuca and Taylor Quick

Ramona Keller and Cast

Cast of Goodspeed's THROROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE

Thoroughly Modern Millie’- a feel-good show livens up Goodspeed Musicals stage

The Cast of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE at Goodspeed Musicals...Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut opened its 2017 season recently with the light and frothy Broadway hit Thoroughly Modern Millie. This song and dance-filled musical comedy, running through July 2, is a feel-good look at the flapper-era zaniness in1922. With all the modern girls in New York raising their skirts and bobbing their hair, little Millie arrives from Kansas determined to transform herself into a flapper, get a job, marry her boss, and live happily ever after. Taylor Quick (a real-life small town girl) plays Millie with verve, a big belting voice, and lots of sparkle and shine in her high stepping dance numbers.

Instead of immediately finding a wealthy beau, Millie reluctantly falls for a charming but poor lad, and spurns his earnest intentions in a ‘Doris Day indignant’ way - so that she can fulfill her dream of riches. Dan DeLuca plays the enthusiastic Jimmy Smith who is determined to make Millie his own. Likeable Mr. DeLuca dances and sings with effervescent style and grace.

The title song opening number “Thoroughly Modern Millie” sets the stage for the tuneful, dance-filled pastiche to come, and a mixture of standard tunes and new songs with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan are enhanced by the brilliantly enthusiastic choreography of Denis Jones, who also directs the show. (Mr. Jones also directed the Goodspeed and Broadway hit productions of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn).

The story is often fun and convoluted - featuring a runaway heiress (lovely Samantha Sturm as Miss Dorothy); an evil Bloody-Mary-style Chinese landlady (played with a gleefully sinister cackle by Loretta Ables Sayre); and two of her reluctant henchmen, Bun Foo (Christopher Shin) and Ching Ho (James Seol).

The show received the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2002, but the book, by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, with lots of madcap comings and goings, slows the pace of the spirited action whenever the tedious dialogue between Millie and Jimmy drones on and on.  It was easy enough to rest one’s eyes while the actors were forced to babble endlessly reciting Morris and Scanlan’s banal words.

Edward Watts as Millie’s boss Trevor Graydon gives an over-the-top performance, especially in songs in the style of  Gilbert and Sullivan and Victor Herbert operettas. Ramona Keller plays a glamourous socialite/singer Muzzy Van Hossmere, the toast of New York, and her style, delivery and luscious voice have you wanting more.  Lucia Spina plays Miss Flannery, the dreaded office manager, with a tough/funny appeal.

It’s the songs and dances that make this show the fun cotton candy evening that it is. One will leave the theater humming the title song as well as “Forget About The Boy,” “I’m Falling In Love With Someone,” “Mammy” (with the three 'Chinese' in this scene alone worth the price of a ticket) and “Jimmy." The dance numbers are inspired, from the opening ensemble at Pennsylvania Station to the office workers dancing at their typewriters at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. Cheers to the entire cast. (Be sure to consult the playbill that the ushers hand you to see photos and bios of every delightful actor/dancer/singer in this production.)

Not only is the Scenic Design by Paul Tate dePoo III a wonderfully colorful lavender/blue homage to the Art Deco era, but his cleverly designed window ledge set places the action of one scene high atop the New York skyline. When Mr. dePoo and Lighting Designer Rob Denton collaborated on the special illusion of the Hotel Priscilla’s elevator’s quick rise from street level to the 12th floor, they achieved theatrical magic. Equally effective, and adding to the fun, is the “closed captioning” high above the action, simultaneously translating into English the Chinese conversations between Ching Ho and Bun Foo. The Beijing Opera was never like this.

Gregory Gale’s colorful costumes recreate the glamor of the flapper era, in both dresses and headgear – especially in Muzzy’s gorgeous gowns and in Millie’s red frocks. Mark Adam Rampmeyer once again works his magic and skill into his Hair and Wig Design – the bobbed hairdos of the girls are delightfully authentic. And, returning for the 31st season is Sound Designer Jay Hilton, who always skillfully makes certain that every word can be heard, and every note is pleasing to the ear.

Music Director for Thoroughly Modern Millie is the maestro Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 26th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. William J. Thomas once again is Assistant Music Director, while Orchestrations are being provided by Dan DeLange, who has created the orchestrations for over 40 Goodspeed productions.

In these times of turmoil and trouble, it’s delightful to sit back for a couple of hours and just enjoy sheer bubbly entertainment.  With singing and dancing like this, you’ll forget the outside world -thanks to the team of musical theater professionals at Goodspeed Musicals.

Thoroughly Modern Millie will run through July 2. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are available through the Box Office (860-873-8668), open seven days a week, or online at goodspeed.org. For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events and more, visit goodspeed.org  or follow Goodspeed Musicals on  Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl, Instagram and YouTube.

All photos in this article by Diane Sobolewski, Goodspeed Musicals.

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle, Members Connecticut Critics Circle.

 

Ivoryton Playhouse’s MY WAY is “a fun night out” with great Sinatra songs

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

The Ivoryton Playhouse gets Spring underway with its first production of the 2017 season, My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra. The legendary theater in picturesque Ivoryton Connecticut presents this revue with a cast of four Actor’s Equity Association performers. They sing and dance their way through ten medleys, for a total of fifty Sinatra favorites, in two acts.

The show - a work-in-progress - is co-directed and choreographed by the husband and wife team Rick Faugno and Joyce Chittick. Playhouse audiences will remember their great singing and superb dancing in the 2014 production of Fingers & Toes. Each of their exciting tap routines and memorable musical numbers were greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause by the audience, including us.  (Joyce is currently working on the hit Broadway musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, but is doing double duty collaborating with her husband to help direct and choreograph this tribute show).

Ivoryton’s Managing/Artistic Director, Jacqueline Hubbard, wanted something fresh, apart from the many Rat Pack book shows. Enter Todd Olson and David Grapes to continue developing their My Way. It’s still a work in progress and at least three of the ten medleys could be eliminated– namely Summer, Young Love, and the Loser’s songs – for better pace and 90 minutes of all singing and dancing with no intermission. Easily cut could be the all-too-tired rat-pack-banter that isn’t possible to do well without doing imitations of Sinatra and his show-stopping partners: Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.

But when it comes to delivering the songs and lively dancing that serves to accompany many of the familiar tunes, the show sparkles.  Leading the cast is Rick Faugno, who played Frankie Valli in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys for 3 and ½ years. His own interpretation of “New York, New York” in this show elicits rafter-shaking cheers. He did Sinatra proud.

Joining Rick in this production are Lauren Gire, Josh Powell and Vanessa Sonon.  Ms. Sonon’s big dance number with Rick Faugno in the first act is reason enough to buy a ticket! The audience went wild with applause.

When the singers join in harmony, the music is pure honey.  An especially fun duet is Ms. Gire and Mr. Faugno doing “Something’ Stupid.” There is a little bit of Dean Martin at play with Mr. Powell’s “Nice N’ Easy.” And wackiness prevails in “South of the Border-Down Mexico Way.”

The terrific trio of musicians on stage throughout keep the flow of songs running smoothly. With Musical Director Andy Hudson on piano, Matt McCauley on bass and Gary Ribchinsky on drums, these guys make each number sound like a full orchestra is at play.

This is a delightful night out for theater-lovers. Getting the spring started with live theater at the Ivoryton Playhouse is always a social treat.  And spending an evening or afternoon listening to those familiar Sinatra melodies is an easy trip down memory lane. You will go out humming “New York, New York.”

My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra runs through April 9th, 2017. Performances: Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children. Call the box office at 860-767-7318 or buy at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. (Group rates are available by calling the box office.) And while you’re online check out all the other great shows coming up this year at The Ivoryton Playhouse. The theater is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, CT.

“The Bells of Dublin Part III: A New York Fairytale” by Jacqueline Hubbard premieres Dec. 7 at The Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

Connecticut playgoers who have followed the escapades and adventures of Paddy Bell and his family in The Bells of Dublin at the Ivoryton Playhouse won’t want to miss the third play in the trilogy. And even if you are new to the story, you will enjoy their exploits as Paddy brings the whole family to New York for Christmas. You’ll get your fill of carols and Irish songs and even a little vaudeville to get you in the spirit of the season.

Executive/Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard once again puts on her playwright’s hat to add her bit of whimsy to what’s become and Ivoryton Playhouse tradition.  The story takes place on Christmas Eve in O’Lunney’s Pub in New York. Settling into the pub’s doorway is Maggie, a bag lady who roams the neighborhood around 50th and Broadway. She weaves a story with a cast of characters from our American shores to the Emerald Isle.

The Bells of Dublin, Parts I, II & III were conceived and directed by Playhouse Executive/Artistic Director, Jacqueline Hubbard, who tell us: “For 345 days a year, we work around the clock here - maintaining this beautiful building and producing 7 amazing professional shows. The holiday show is our chance to have some fun! I wanted to put together a show with some great music – traditional Irish and American – a little bit of magic and a lot of laughs. So – here ‘tis!”

This funny and fantastic tale is filled with songs you know and songs you wish you did – with a wonderful band of local musicians directed by Melanie Guerin, who also arranged much of the music. The cast includes many Playhouse favorites – R. Bruce Connelly*, Michael McDermott*, Maggie McGlone Jennings, Vanessa Vradenburgh, Ted Philips and Norm Rutty (from the local band Save the Train), Jenna Berloni, Nancy and David Cardone, Emma Hunt, Olivia Harry, Alec Bandzes, Vickie Blake, Larry Lewis, Michael Hotkowski, Dylan Vallier and Celeste Cumming. The set for this production is designed by Dan Nischan, costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina and lights by Marcus Abbott.

Experience the true magic of the season Ivoryton Playhouse style with this original Christmas musical – for two weeks only. Give a couple of tickets to this show as a pre-holiday gift to anyone who is young at heart or has a bit of the blarney in their personality!

The Bells of Dublin Part III: A New York Fairytale opens on Wednesday, December 7th and runs thru December 18th.  Performance times are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. There is also a Wednesday matinee on December 14th. Tickets are $35 for adults, $32 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org . (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton Connecticut.  Note:* denotes members of Actors’ Equity Association.

Tour Review: ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ at Bushnell in Hartford highlights Darko Tresnjak’s expert directorial skills

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

The 2014 multi-Tony winning musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, played at The Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall as part of the 2016-2017 Bushnell Broadway Series this week. The show originated at Hartford Stage under the supervision of Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak. The Broadway hit on tour marked a special milestone for producers and investors –the October 25 opening night in Hartford marked the full recuperation of the shows’ original investment.  Quite a cause for celebration.

A Gentleman’s Guide tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro (played with charmingly delicious malice by Kevin Massey) a man of modest means, who discovers that he is a distant heir to a family fortune. He sets out to jump the line of succession, heir by heir, and by any means necessary. He winds up juggling two women - his status-seeking, money-mad mistress Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams) and his cousin, who is also his fiancée (Kristen Hahn), and at the same time stays just this side of the law as he knocks off one relative after the other (all played with over-the-top insanity by chameleon-like John Rapson).  In the end, he becomes lord of the manor, the Earl who gets the girl. Or does he?

Jennifer Smith, who plays Miss Shingle, reprises her madcap role from the original company of the show, and yet another Kristen, this time Kristen Menglekoch, gives a delightfully batty performance as Lady Eugenia.

Darko Tresnjak’s direction proves that he understands exactly what the public wants.  The entire cast flows on and off the stage flawlessly, and with so much zany action going on, he never fails to get everything out of each actor’s performance. It’s a slapstick, baggy pants, British music-hall romp that keeps the audience in stitches from beginning to end.

A hallmark of Mr. Tresnjak’s vision has become unique projections design, as evidenced by his recent Hartford Stage original productions of Rear Window and Broadway-bound Anastasia.  Aaron Rhyne’s projection design for A Gentleman’s Guide had the audience gasping with delight one minute and laughing hysterically the next. And Alexander Dodge’s scenic design is stunningly gorgeous – a Victorian Theater onstage surrounded by the Art Deco design of the Bushnell auditorium. Philip S. Rosenberg’s lighting design ties both the real and imagined theaters together with dazzling illumination.

A Gentleman’s Guide features a book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak. The music is melodious and the lyrics are totally designed to move the story along. Light hearted and comic choreography by Peggy Hickey enhances the music and lyrics.  Linda Cho won the Tony Award for her Costume Design and Dan Moses Schreier (Sound Design), Brian Strumwasser (Make-Up Design), and Charles LaPointe (Wig Design) round out the creative team. Orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick and vocal arrangements are by Dianne Adams McDowell and Steven Lutvak. Paul Staroba serves as Music Supervisor.

The most celebrated musical of the 2013-14 Broadway season, A Gentleman’s Guide received ten 2014 Tony Award nominations, eventually winning four awards: Best Musical, Direction of a Musical, Book of a Musical, and Best Costume Design. In addition, it won the Best Musical prizes from the Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, and received a 2015 Grammy Award nomination for Best Musical Show Album.

The only critique as we left the theater was that we missed a good deal of the Gilbert and Sullivan-paced lyrics, and much of the rapidly spoken dialogue was also hard to hear.  Too much treble? Not enough bass?  As often happens when shows are on the road, there is limited time to check and double-check the variety of technical aspects in so many theaters across the country.

With director Darko Tresnjak in the opening night audience, we’re confident that by the second performance in Hartford the gentlemen (and ladies) in the sound booth and lighting board had tweaked the misguided equipment so that perfection was achieved. 

If you missed A Gentleman’s Guide in Hartford, go to www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com to discover when the tour is coming to a city near you.  It will be worth every shilling, pence and pound of the ticket price to see such a dazzling and delightful musical.

Look at our slideshow and then click on the Video Icon below and enjoy a preview of the action and great musical numbers in this fun show!

Tickets and information about future shows and events are available online at www.bushnell.org, by phone at 860-987-5900, or at The Bushnell box office, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford. 

(All images provided by Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and A Gentleman's Guide Broadway On Tour) 

A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER - ON TOUR!

After a successful run in Hartford CT thru October 30, the First National Tour of A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER will be coming to a city near you. Read our article to click on the website and find out where. You'll have a killer of a time!

"Chasing Rainbows" - a new musical about Judy Garland from child vaudevillian to Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz"

Judy Garland’s adult life has been well documented, but not too much is known about her fractured childhood as part of a family vaudeville team. Her struggling early years are now revealed in a new musical, Chasing Rainbows, The Road to Oz.  It’s at Goodspeed Musicals, the first regional theater to win two Tony Awards, in East Haddam, Connecticut through November 27.

Although the show is still in development there are many outstanding reasons to see it now: the cast, especially Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland (born Frances Gumm) in a show stopping all singing all dancing, all outstanding comedic and dramatic turn. Through extensive research and practice, practice, practice Ms. Rakos sounded astonishingly like the young Judy, and her performance of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is alone well worth the price of a ticket.

Of course, if you’re Judy Garland, on or off screen, Mickey Rooney won’t be far away. Two pals in a pod that made up a memorably dazzling team. Michael Wartella as Mickey proved to be as good a performer as MGM’s golden boy in every way. He is a remarkably talented performer who lights up the stage with his near-manic infectious energy.  The “All Ma’s Children” number is as flamboyant as any Micky-Judy film scene. Definitely an equally great reason to see this show.

As movie buffs know, Louis B. Mayer, long-time head of MGM, was the studio’s lion that roared and his secretary (aka formidable executive assistant, Kay Koverman) was the legendary lioness with the golden horn to LB’s ear. These two key people in Judy’s life are superbly written characters and played to perfection by Broadway veteran Michael McCormick and award-winning cabaret star, Karen Mason. She also broadly plays “Ma Lawlor” the over-the-top school teacher on the MGM lot. This duo of charismatic and gifted actors adds to the plethora of reasons to see the show.

Judy’s parents, Frank and Ethel Gumm, are exceptionally well played – singing, dancing and acting - by Kevin Earley (a memorable Frank Butler in Goodspeed’s Annie Get Your Gun) and Salley Wilfert, who plays an ambitious stage mother with whom you can have empathy.

The delightful cast has Gary Milner (as legendary Roger Edens and Georgie Jessel) and Lea Mancarella as Shirley Temple, Piper Birney (ensemble, Judy’s sister Virginia), the irrepressible Ella Briggs (ensemble, Baby Frances Gumm), Claire Griffin (ensemble, Deanna Durbin/Young Mary Jane Gumm), Lucy Horton (ensemble, grown up Mary Jane Gumm), Andrea Laxton (ensemble, grown up Virginia Gumm) and Jesse Sharp (ensemble, Bill Gilmore).

The other ensemble members must be mentioned because they are fine singers and dancers and when just standing in the background they were always completely in character. These wonderful performers include Lissa deGuzman, Colby Dezelick, Jennifer Evans, Berklea Going, Jordana Grolnick, Michael Hartung, Dan Higgins and Bryan Thomas Hunt. The swings are Joseph Fierberg and Elise Mestichelli.

The show is directed by Tyne Rafaeli who was Associate Director for the recent Broadway revivals of Fiddler on the Roof and The King & I (Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical).

Choreography is by Chris Bailey, whose has stellar Broadway and West End credits, including The Entertainer starring Kenneth Branagh.

Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson and costumes are designed by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward whose credits include the West End production of Women On the Verge. She won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Costume Design for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Cymbeline.

Lighting is designed by Ken Billington, who has designed nearly 100 Broadway productions, including, Chicago (Tony Award for Best Lighting Design), Sweeney Todd and the recent A Sign of the Times at The Terris Theatre. Sound Design is invariably and wonderfully executed by Jay Hilton, who is in his 31st smash season at Goodspeed.

Hair and Wig Design are by Mark Adam Rampmeyer, whose work can been seen at The Goodspeed in the recent productions of Bye Bye Birdie, Anything Goes, La Cage aux Folles, Guys and Dolls, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, and The Most Happy Fella, to name a few.   

The Music Director for Chasing Rainbows is the multi-talented Michael O’Flaherty, who is in his 25th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. Bill Thomas is Assistant Music Director. Orchestrations by Dan DeLange who has orchestrated dozens of musicals for Goodspeed including this season’s Anything Goes and Bye Bye Birdie. The 8 piece orchestra sounds as big and lustrous as that of any Hollywood studio. The perfect casting for this show and many other Goodspeed shows is by Paul Hardt of SH Entertainment.

Chasing Rainbows was conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby with a book by Marc Acito. The music was adapted by David Libby, a music director, arranger, composer, and pianist. Well-known Judy Garland historian and author John Fricke serves as Creative Consultant and Historian for the project. Executive Director of Goodspeed Musicals is Michael Gennaro who oversees three musicals each season at The Goodspeed in East Haddam, Conn. and additional productions at The Terris Theatre in Chester, Conn.

Performances: Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).  Tickets: Start at $29.00. All prices subject to change based on availability. Call the Goodspeed Box Office at 860-873-8668, or go online to www. goodspeed.org

(Photos Courtesy Goodspeed Musicals and Diane Sobolewski)

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

Don Church and Tony Schillaci, the Critics On The Aisle, at the Westport Country Playhouse for a showing of OUR TOWN, celebrating the life of Paul Newman. Photo by Pat Dombroski and Art Minardi

“The Impossible Dream” comes true in Ivoryton Playhouse’s extraordinary MAN OF LA MANCHA

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

The Ivoryton Playhouse has once again proven that the team at this iconic theater in bucolic Ivoryton, CT consistently stages brilliant productions. On the opening night of MAN OF LA MANCHA on September 9th, the audience stood and cheered throughout the performance for a show that is infused with stirringly melodic music, powerful singing and acting, and a message that goodness, hope and dreams are the only way to survive in a world gone mad. A much-needed message for our troubled times.

The show itself has Connecticut roots. It was the Goodspeed Opera House which took a TV adaptation of "Don Quixote" by Dale Wasserman and turned it into MAN OF LA MANCHA with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion in 1965.

One of the world’s most popular musicals, and winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, MAN OF LA MANCHA is based on Miguel Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote. It follows the imagined adventures of a mad, aging nobleman who embarrasses his respectable family by his quest for knighthood.  With his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, he duels windmills believing they are giants, and defends a serving wench, Aldonza, renaming her Dulcinea, and picturing her to be his perfect heroine. His madness knows no bounds, and his impossible dream takes control of his mind.

This is a play-within-a-play starring the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Cervantes/Quixote. He commands the stage with his strong presence, and when he sings “The Impossible Dream” near the end of the first act, he has the audience on its feet in adulation for his magnificent voice and powerful delivery. Mr. Pittsinger describes the character of Don Quixote by boldly singing the stirring title song “Man Of La Mancha,” and then with deeply felt tenderness he woos Aldonza in the sweet and touching song “Dulcinea.”

Don Quixote’s adoring servant and companion, Sancho Panza, is played as a gentle soul by Brian Michael Hoffman with perfectly understated and well-timed humor as well as his finding the truth in dramatic scenes. And when Sancho is accused of blindly following Quixote by Aldonza, he so sweetly sings “I Really Like Him,” that the audience spontaneously responds with such thundering applause to express it really likes Mr. Hoffman’s characterization as well.

Aldonza/Dulcinea is magnificently portrayed with fiery passion by Talia Thiesfield, who puts every nerve in her body into this brilliant interpretation of a woman who has been beaten but not defeated by life. She shows her contempt for the lascivious men with whom she has been imprisoned with the sarcastic “It’s All the Same,” and when Quixote continues to woo her relentlessly she poignantly sings “What Does He Want of Me?” showing the gentle side of Aldonza.  Ms. Thiesfield and Mr. Pittsinger have a strong and believable chemistry on stage which enables their characters to be curiously at odds and enraptured with each other at the same time.

David Edwards, not only directs this show with an expert hand, but he also brilliantly plays Dr. Carrasco/The Duke – infusing each with his strong stage presence and deliciously timbered voice. Additional applause goes to Jimmy Van Treuren as the Innkeeper, Amy Buckley as Antonia, and Melissa McLean as the Housekeeper. Ms. Buckley and McLean shine in the comic scene “I’m Only Thinking of Him.”

We’d be remiss by not singling out the beautiful vocals of Matthew Krob as the Padre (“To Each His Dulcinea”) and Stephen Mir as Anselmo (“Little Bird, Little Bird”).  And Brian Binion, as the Barber, imaginatively creates a scene-stealing performance when Quixote steals his shaving bowl hat, and renames it “The Golden Helmet of Mambrino.” 

The additional motley crew of prisoners, guards and muleteers played by Ryan Cavanaugh, AJ Hunsucker, James Ludlum, Conor McGiffin, add greatly to this exceptionally cast production – none of the people on stage ever show that they are ‘acting’ but believably come to life as their individual characters.

Choreographed by Todd Underwood, the show has no ‘dancing’ as such, but the movement throughout and the fight and rape scenes are expertly and fluidly depicted. The fantastic one-piece set is designed by Daniel Nischan who has created, with the simple addition of saw horses, planks and a few props, a space that converts easily from a prison cell to an inn to a country road to a manor house. Marcus Abbott’s lighting doesn’t fail to create the essence of the horror of the Inquisition, while brightly changing the light to illustrate the fantasy of Quixote’s mind as he blithely goes on his quest. The costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina are perfection. She not only captures the grubbiness of the prisoners, but the majesty of the armor of the Spanish soldiers, and with just a few touches - the elegance of the Duena and nobility of the Duke. 

With the actors almost never leaving the stage, production stage manager James Joseph Clark is really up on his game making sure that every minute element of the action flows seamlessly and that every prop is perfectly placed. Keeping track of Quixote’s lance alone must be a full-time job.

With a small orchestra of music makers – Michael Paglione, Seth Bailey, Jaime Thorne and Cathryn Cummings, Daniel Hartington and Ron Reisner – conductor and musical director Paul Feyer interprets Mitch Leigh’s music without missing a beat.  Coupled with Tate R. Burmeister’s sound design, every lyric is heard, every spoken word clear as a bell, and the orchestra never overwhelms the players, but lovingly performs the beautiful score.

MAN OF LA MANCHA runs at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 2nd, 2016. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. There will be two additional Saturday matinees on September 24th and October 1st at 2 p.m.
 
Tickets, $50 for adults, $45 for seniors, $22 for students and $17 for children, are available by calling 860-767-7318 or at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton and ample $5 parking is available across the street.

(All photos to accompany this review by Photographer Anne Hudson, Ivoryton Playhouse)

Talia Thiesfeld as Aldonza/Dulcinea admonishes the predatory male prisoners in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of MAN OF LA MANCHA

David Pittsinger as Don Quixote faces his own fate as he is forced to see his real self in the mirrors. MAN OF LA MANCHA at the Ivoryton Playhouse

David Pittsinger and Brian Michael Hoffman as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of MAN OF LA MANCHA

As the Inquisition calls Don Quixote to testify, the cast of MAN OF LA MANCHA at Ivoryton Playhouse gives him courage while singing "The Impossible Dream"