Animal Crackers – A Laugh Riot at the Garfield

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Horatius Jamison, secretary, and Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, with Hives the butler and Mrs. Rittenhouse, the hostess. Landskroener is picture-perfect as Groucho Marx, voice, mustache and all.  (Ian Ellison, Jim Landskoener, Brad Chaires, Diane Landskroener)     Photo by Jane Jewell

Fans of the Marx Brothers–and of vintage comedy in general–have a treat waiting for them at the Garfield Center. The musical version of Animal Crackers – directed by Jennifer Kafka Smith – is one of the funniest shows to appear on the local stage in recent memory.

Animal Crackers began as a 1928 Broadway musical with a book by George S. Kaufmann and Morrie Ryskind, starring the Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s long-time comic foil. It was the brothers’ second Broadway hit, running for 191 performances. It was also the brothers’ last stage show since the advent of talking pictures made it possible to transfer their fast-talking brand of comedy to film. The play has been revived several times, starting in 1982, with various changes – notably the substitution of some better-known songs for those in the original musical and the removal of material that today’s audiences are likely to find objectionable. The Garfield’s production is based on a 2009 version produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

The musical became the Marx Brothers’ second film in 1930, with most of the principals from the stage show reprising their roles. Lilian Roth took the role of Arabella, the romantic lead. The movie, which is probably the best-known version of the show, was shot in Astoria, New York, where Paramount Pictures had an East Coast studio. And with the film censorship of the Hayes Code still four years in the future, the film was much racier than later Hollywood productions – giving the Marx Brothers a chance to show off their zany brand of humor, including a fair quota of double-entendres. And while several characters and some subplots from the stage version were cut, the movie retained many of the best tunes from the stage show, including “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” which later became Groucho Marx’s TV theme song.   And in case you were wondering, “schnorrer” is a Yiddish word meaning moocher or con artist.

The cast of Animal Crackers in a dance choreographed by Kimberly Stevens.    Photo by Jane Jewell

The plot involves a large party given by Mrs. Rittenhouse, a Long Island society matron. The party features the appearance of Captain Spalding, an African explorer and international celebrity, and the first American exhibition of a famous French painting. Mrs. Rittenhouse is anxious for her daughter, Arabella, to meet a suitable husband. She also wants to reestablish her place in society, which has been eroding since the death of her husband. Guests arrive, including a rich New York businessman, Roscoe W. Chandler, and Mrs. Whitehead, a social rival.

At last Captain Spalding (Groucho’s character) arrives, followed by an Italian musician, Ravelli (Chico’s character) and the Professor (Harpo). And much hilarity ensues, including chases, wisecracks, slapstick, double-talk, puns, songs and dances – and oh yes, a couple of love stories and a plot to steal the painting. None of it makes much sense – really, did you expect it to? – and this production makes no attempt to tie it all together. It’s just one heck of a lot of fun.  Enjoy the ride and forget about the destination.

Capt. Spaulding and Ravelli examine the forged painting as the two lovers look on, Photo by Jane Jewell

With so little story, the play depends heavily on the casting, and the local theater community has risen to the occasion. Jim Landskroener takes the role of Captain Spalding, complete with a painted-on Groucho mustache, and he gives a brilliant performance. Whether he’s reeling off a string of nonsense, mugging at the audience, dancing, or delivering a patter song, he’s a thoroughly believable Groucho, right down to the accent. This role is the key to the whole production, and it’s right on target.

Kirby Powell is hilarious as the Professor, the Harpo Marx character. It’s a role that calls for a wide repertory of physical schtick, and Powell does it with verve – all without saying a single word.   In grand Harpo style, the Professor toots his little hand-held, squeeze-bulb horn and chases women up and down stairs.  And it wouldn’t be Harpo if he didn’t play the harp at least once.  This performance really has to be seen to be believed.

The Marx Brothers live at the Garfield!     Photo by Jane Jewell

Ravelli, the con man/musician of the play, is played by Zac Ryan. His character, originally played by Chico Marx, is a variation on an age-old comic theme, the conniving servant who lives by his wits. Ryan does a great job with the character, including the Italian accent and the physical schtick for some of his bits with the Professor. Very nicely done.

Diane Landskroener, a fine comic actress in her own right, has a juicy role as Mrs. Rittenhouse. A stereotypical social climber, this character gives the actress plenty of opportunity to mock the upper classes and their pretensions. And as a foil to Groucho’s absurdities, Mrs. Rittenhouse has a full platter of double-takes, sputtering outrage, and shocked decorum to deploy – and Landskroener does it all in fine style.

Another key role is Hives, the butler – well played by Brad Chaires, who deploys a formidable deadpan while trying to preserve decorum and delivering straight lines. And when he steps out of the role, it’s even funnier. A good bit of casting!

There are two romantic subplots, featuring Dan Guidice and Gretchen Sachse, and Natalie Lane and Bee Betley. The young lovers get to deliver some of the better songs in the show, including “Three Little Words” (Lane and Betley) and “Watching the Clouds Go By” (Guidice and Sachse).  All four have good voices that are showcased nicely by their duets and ensemble numbers.

Betley plays Wally Winston, the intrepid reporter cum gossip columnist who wants to get the scoop on the various celebrities and big-wigs at the party, with an eye to getting a raise and a promotion.  He teams up with Arabella (Natalie Lane), Mrs. Rittenhouse’s flapper daughter who is looking both for a fiancé and a way to raise her family’s social profile.  Wally, handsome and charming, is the perfect candidate for both!  Unfortunately, one of the scandalous tidbits about the various famous guests that she whispers to Wally instead of earning him a bonus puts his job in jeopardy.  But it seems that this romance of opportunity might even survive poverty and obscurity.

On the other hand, true love is the name of the game for Wally’s photographer colleague, Mary Stewart, played by Gretchen Saches.  She is secretly engaged to the struggling artist John Parker played by Dan Guidice.  Together they plot to substitute his painting for the famous painting on display at the party.  Of course, their plot goes astray in the most hilarious way.

The cast of Animal Crackers at the Garfield.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Mike Heffron is convincing as millionaire Roscoe Chandler, and Julie Lawrence displays a nice French accent as Madame Doucet, an art impresario. Mallory Westlund does a good job as Mrs. Whitehead, Mrs. Rittenhouse’s social rival, conniving convincingly with Grace (Brianna Johnson) to bring down Mrs. Rittenhouse. And Ian Ellison, as Horatius Jamison, Spaulding’s secretary, is one of the few characters who manages to fluster Groucho – in a role originally played by Zeppo Marx.

M.G. Brosius, Brooke Ezzo, and Robin Wood contribute solidly, singing and dancing in the ensemble and doing the occasional bit of stage business without a hitch.

Barbi Bedell outdoes herself with the costumes for this production – all period-perfect and all visually stunning. Likewise, the set, designed by Kafka Smith and built by Jim Landskroener, is both striking and functional. The grand double staircase completes the image of a mansion and the provides a perfect setting both for chase scenes and ensemble song and dance numbers.  Michelle Sensenig provides flawless piano accompaniment–with some help from Chico Marx. A couple of the singers/actors were hard to hear, even from the front of the auditorium; and there were occasional pitch problems with a few of the musical numbers but these problems do not spoil the overall performance.

Choreographer Kimberly Stevens deserves special mention for the energetic dance scenes in which the entire ensemble stepped and twirled in the Charleston and other authentic dances of the era.

The social-climbing Mrs. Rittenhouse (Diane Landskroener) greets her rivals Mrs. Whitehead (Mallory Westlund ) and Grace Carpenter (Brianna Johnson). Photo by Jane Jewell

Kafka Smith said she has been a Marx Brothers fan for as long as she can remember, with Animal Crackers a particular favorite. It shows in this production — everyone involved is obviously having fun, and the fun is contagious. She studied old Marx brothers films in order to flawlessly reproduce the various signature bits of “business” that the Marx brothers were known for.  You will love the bit with the cardboard table.

The show would be a good introduction to the theater for young playgoers; the raunchier bits of the movie version have been edited out, while the antics are fully intact – if anything, they’re funnier seen live on stage. This really is one of the funniest shows you’re likely to see any time soon, a laugh riot from start to finish.  Both kids and adults will love the slapstick while older teens and adults will appreciate the outrageous puns and the not-so-subtle mockery of social pretensions.  This show is hilarious. Go see it!

Animal Crackers runs through Sept. 30, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission; $15 for seniors and military personnel; and $10 for students. For reservations, call 410-810-2060 or visit www.garfieldcenter.org.

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Church Hill’s Sisters Rosensweig a Winner

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Two sisters, Pfeni and Sara, relive childhood games. (Colleen Minahan and Melissa McGlynn)      Photo by Steve Atkinson

Theater lovers – do not miss Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig, now playing at Church Hill Theatre.

The play was originally produced in Seattle in 1992, then moved to New York’s off-Broadway Mitzi Newhouse Theater at the end of the year, and after 149 performances, reopened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, where it ran for an additional 549 performances. It was nominated in practically every possible category of the major awards, winning in many.  It was a Tony Award nomination as best play of 1993, and won the Outer Critics Circle Award as best play that same year.

Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the New York production featured Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn and Christine Estabrook in the three title roles. Kahn won the Outer Critics Circle and Tony awards as best actress, and the Drama Desk award as best featured actress, while Alexander took the Drama Desk award for best actress. And Sullivan was recognized as best director by the Outer Critics Circle. The play also brought Wasserman the William Inge Award for Distinguished Achievement in American Theater.

Built around three Jewish-American sisters whose lives have gone in dramatically different directions, the play is set in the oldest sister Sara’s London home, where she is about to celebrate her 54th birthday. A banking executive, she is in many ways the most successful of the trio. Visiting to join in the celebration are her two sisters, one a travel journalist, Pfeni, whose home is wherever there’s a good story.  The third sister, Gorgeous, is a suburban Boston housewife who’s become a star giving advice on a local talk radio. They are joined by various friends and boyfriends, each of whom embodies a different aspect of their lives. As the celebration moves along, it becomes clear that Merv, a friend of one of Pfeni’s boyfriends, has fallen for Sara.

There are plenty of laughs to be had throughout the evening, but at bottom this is a play with a very serious focus. Wasserstein described her play’s subject as “being Jewish,” and there is a large element of that onstage – notably with Gorgeous, the most devout of the trio, who has come to London with her rabbi and a group of women from their synagogue. But the others are also keenly aware of their heritage – even the atheistic Pfeni describes herself at one point as “the wandering Jew.” And the plot, rather than a series of “dramatic” events, is basically a story of self-definition and discovery – as all the main characters go through some sort of epiphany during the course of the play. All three sisters have rebelled in different ways against their mother and their traditional upbringing.  Sara’s teenage daughter Tess is carrying on the tradition, resisting her mother’s plans for her and trying to chart her own path.

Director Shelagh Grasso has brought together a strong cast, with no weak performances. This is especially true of the three lead roles, the sisters for whom the play is named. The sisters clearly love one another despite their very different personalities and different choices in life; one of the play’s most affecting scenes is when the three sit together on Sara’s couch, drinking wine and enjoying a rare chance to just be together.

Colleen Minahan, who appeared last year with Shore Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, is outstanding in the role of Sara, who on the surface is the most successful and fulfilled of the sisters. She speaks with a British accent and considers America to be in serious decline. Minahan gives the character–who at first seems distant and even snobbish–an element of tenderness that comes out as we follow her relationship with her family and others in her life.

Pfeni, the free-spirit sister, dances with her boyfriend, Geoffrey. (Melissa McGlynn and John Schratweiser)         Photo by Steve Atkinson

Melissa McGlynn, well known to Garfield Center audiences, plays Pfeni, the peripatetic journalist just in from Bombay and on her way to who knows where? McGlynn does a good job of conveying her character’s high-energy, unconventional lifestyle. She arrives at Sara’s home with a half-dozen shopping bags that Pfeni uses instead of luggage. And when later, the character reveals a more conventional inner core, McGlynn conveys that change convincingly. An excellent performance by one of the stars of the local theater community.

Jen Friedman is perfectly cast as Dr. Gorgeous Teitelbaum – the role could have been written for her. Yet as funny as the character can be, Friedman doesn’t let us forget that Gorgeous is real, with problems and desires that go beyond the easy laughs to make her a sympathetic human being. A wonderful performance with absolutely fabulous fashions!  Gorgeous wears hot pink and longs to own a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes.

Jen Friedman is Dr. Gorgeous who gives fashion and relationship advice on a radio talk show. She knows how to accessorize!      Photo by Steve Atkinson

John Haas gives an engaging performance as Merv, the New York furrier who falls for Sara. Successfully carrying on the business that his father and grandfather established, he can joke about the new era when some customers object to real animal fur — and how he has adapted to this with “artificial animal skin” coats. Hass effectively projects the character’s openness and honesty — and his vulnerability as a recent widower.  Haas portrays both Merv’s warmth and strength as a man who knows who he is and is comfortable in his own skin.

John Schratweiser of Kent County Arts Council is hilarious as Geoffrey, a bisexual London theater producer. Returning to the local stage after several years working on the western shore, Schratweiser brings a facility both with physical schtick and polished delivery of lines to the part. It’s good to see him back on the boards – let’s hope this is the first of many new roles for him.

Bob Chauncey takes the role of Nick, a supercilious Englishman who looks somewhat askance at the sisters’ American roots. According to the director, he came on board for the play with minimal rehearsal – it certainly doesn’t show. A very nice performance in a small part.

The whole family comes together for the birthday party. (Jen Friedman, Nick Carter, Shannon Whitaker, Colleen Minahan, and Melissa McGlynn) Photo by Steve Atkinson

Tess, Sara’s daughter, is played by Shannon Whitaker. Tess is getting ready for her first year of college, to be spent at a proper British university – but she has a strong streak of social activism, and wants to go to Lithuania to take part in that country’s break away from the collapsing Soviet Union. Whitaker is convincing as a rebellious teenager who comes to realize there’s more to her life than rebellion.

Nick Carter plays Tess’s working-class boyfriend Tom, who is dedicated to the cause of Lithuanian freedom. A good job in a part that’s full of one-liners, and an especially nice job with the character’s accent.

The set, representing Sara’s living room, was designed by Grasso and her husband Carmen. Carmen Grasso and Tom Rhodes built the set. As we’ve come to expect of CHT sets, it’s absolutely spectacular, with its elegant ten-foot tall white pillars conveying the essence of Sara’s posh lifestyle.

Costumes are very well done.  The characters wear basically what one would expect the characters to be wearing some 25 years ago in London – ranging from Geoffrey’s dance in his underwear to Nick’s correct formal evening wear and Tom’s scruffy t-shirt and jeans, topped off by a Mohawk hair-cut.  The three sisters’ personalities are shown in their fashion choices–with Sara appearing in expensive business dress, elegant silk robes and white tennis togs while free-spirit Pfeni wears casual, flowing, almost-hippie attire.  And Gorgeous is gorgeous in bright colors with scarves and jewelry to match.  Kudos to the costume crew.

Bob Chauncey is Nick, the millionaire businessman. Photo by Steve Atkinson

Grasso has brought out strong performances from the entire cast, and the play is a wonderful testimony to the strength of the local theater community. Adult situations and language may make this production inappropriate for the very youngest theatergoers, but everyone else should make it a point to see it.

The Sisters Rosensweig continues through Sept. 23, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 apiece for the general public, $15 for CHT members and $10 for students. Call 410-556-6003 or visit churchhilltheatre.org to make reservations.

Tred Avon’s Little Shop of Horrors — A Must-See!

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Florist Mushnik (Bill Gross) and his adopted son Seymour (Mike Sousa) sing of their new-found success. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, performed by the Tred Avon Players, is now playing at Oxford Community Center. Based on an unabashedly schlocky black-and-white horror film by the legendary Roger Corman, the musical takes us to the Skid Row Florist shop, where a low-paid assistant makes a strange new plant flourish – with unexpected results.

Directed by Marcia Gilliam, the Tred Avon production does a first-class job with the show’s musical score, which draws heavily on the sound and ambiance of 1950s’ rock ‘n’ roll. With a strong cast and toe-tapping music, Gilliam and the TAP gang have put on a delightful show, well worth a trip to Oxford for playgoers all across the Shore.

The Corman film, which was produced on a budget of $28,000 in 1960, mixed the story of a man-eating plant with a generous helping of dark comedy and satire. With a cast of B-film stalwarts including Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, and Mel Welles – and a very minor part by Jack Nicholson – the film was reportedly shot in only two days, using a left-over set from Corman’s previous horror-comedy, “A Bucket of Blood.” It gradually gained a cult following, with late-night TV showings helping to build its popularity.

“Feed me!” demands the plant Audrey Two – voiced by Kathy Jones.  Note the feet of Audrey’s latest victim as he slides down the plant’s carnivorous maw!        – photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, the musical, was created in 1982 by composer Alan Menken and script-writer Howard Ashman. Originally an off-off-Broadway production, it moved to the Orpheum Theater where it ran for five years, ending up as the highest-grossing off-Broadway musical to date. However, because it did not appear on Broadway, it was ineligible for the Tony Awards. It finally appeared on Broadway in 2003, in a million-dollar production that ran for 372 regular performances. The musical has also been made into a film in its own right, directed by Frank Oz (of “Muppet Show” fame) in 1986. Bill Murray and Steve Martin play minor roles in the film.

The plot, which is somewhat changed from the Corman film, introduces the Skid Row Florist shop, a failing business in the worst part of town. Mr. Mushnik, the shop’s owner, is ready to close his doors for good when Seymour, his geeky assistant, says he has an interesting new plant that might attract customers. Mushnik is skeptical, but no sooner does Seymour put the plant by the window than a customer comes in and spends $100 on a bouquet of roses.

Down on Skid Row — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik decides the business isn’t washed up after all, and with the strange plant in the window, the shop takes off.  Seymour names the plant Audrey Two, after the shop’s other employee, for whom he has a secret crush.  But there’s a downside to everything, as Seymour learns when he accidentally spills a few drops of blood from a fresh cut into Audrey Two’s “mouth.” The plant has a craving for food – human flesh and blood, to be exact – and that discovery propels the rest of the plot. Seymour must keep the plant, which has grown to enormous size, fed – and it will only accept fresh food.

We won’t give away all the twists and turns – which range from gruesome to outright comic. The play has an infectious momentum, helped along by a likable set of songs that draw on the music of the era in which it’s set. The production also has a fair amount of fun with the social milieu of the late ‘50s, as in the song “Someplace That’s Green,” where Seymour and Audrey pine for a suburban lifestyle straight out of the TV sitcoms of the day.

The TAP production’s strong cast presents Mike Sousa as Seymour, the florist’s assistant. Sousa, who has several other credits at TAP, does a good job of portraying the earnest protagonist as well as a good job with the musical numbers. A nice performance in the key role.

Shelby Swann plays Audrey, Seymour’s love interest, and she brings a strong singing voice to the role, along with a nice New York accent to bring out the character. Most of her work at TAP has been backstage, but judging by her performance here, she should be encouraged to take more onstage roles.

Reminiscent of the Supremes, the Little Shop of Horrors trio of “girl singers” does a fabulous job both of telling the story and setting the mood. – photo by Jane Jewell

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, played by Rachel Elaina, Beth Anne Langrell, and Erinne Lewis, respectively, are near the heart of the play.  The trio’s names play on the names of popular “girl groups” of the early ‘60s, and that’s a good hint of the nature of their musical contribution. All have fabulous voices and they authentically re-create the music and mood of the ’60s. But in addition to delivering some of the most infectious tunes in the show, they act as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action and delivering narrative hooks as necessary.  Lewis also created the choreography for the show – a good complement to the overall effect.  They have all the right moves as they shimmy and shake, stepping in time to the music – just like all the popular girl groups of the ’60s.  And their costumes are perfect.  They may live on Skid Row but they are always in style.

Ricky Vitanovec gets the role of the play’s villain, dentist Orin Scrivello – Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend. He makes the most of the role, all but chewing on the scenery – a nice piece of casting.  He is a natural comic and his “death by laughing gas” scene is hilarious. Viranoves also plays several other small roles including the various agents who try to get Seymour to sign contracts with them.   Vitanovec, who has appeared in a number of roles in Shore theaters, teaches theater at Easton High School.

The mad dentist (Ricky Vitanovec) enjoys his work.  Seymour (Mike Sousa) is not so sure. 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Bill Gross, who played the role of Oscar Madison in TAP’s The Odd Couple last summer, takes the role of Mr. Mushnik, the gruff owner of the flower shop. He gives a polish to the likeable curmudgeon who gleefully collects the money as Audrey Two brings in the customers.

Kathy Jones, in heavy makeup and wearing a crown of leaves, voices Audrey Two, the cannibalistic plant, with an appropriately sinister air. An excellent job by one of the regulars at Church Hill and the Garfield.  Her maniacal laughter at the climax of the play is awesome — and chill-inducing

The band for the show is led by pianist Ellen Barry Grunden, who does a great job of recapturing the doo-wop and ‘50s rock feel of the musical numbers. Ray Remesch on guitar and Jon Jacobs on bass add to the mix.

Costumes – including the deliciously period-perfect matching outfits of the trio – are by that fabulous costumer Barbi Bedell. Gilliam and Tom Lemm share the credit for puppet design and construction, and the set was designed by Lawrie Jessup and constructed with help from Lemm.

As already noted, this is a thoroughly enjoyable performance with great music and great acting – kudos to Gilliam and everyone involved.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through August 26, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Oxford Community Center is at 200 Oxford Road, Oxford, MD.  If you come to one of the Sunday matinees, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in the “talk-back” with the actors after the show, meet all four of the Audrey Two plant puppets and their puppeteers, and get a backstage tour.

For reservations or other information, call 410-266-0061 or visit the TAP website.

Photo Gallery by Jane Jewell (with the help of that amazing camera, the iPhone 5)

Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist Shop is very busy since Audrey Two arrived – 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, played by Rachel Elaina, Beth Anne Langrell, and Erinne Lewis, in “Little Shop of Horrors” – Photo by Jane Jewell

Everyone wants a piece of Seymour and the exotic Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik & Seymour celebrate their success and their new father-son relationship – 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Audrey &  Seymour – oh yes, and Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

“Somewhere That’s Green” 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

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Mid-Shore Arts: TAP Takes on “Little Shop of Horrors”

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It’s always a good sign when the director and actress of a new Tred Avon Player production show up for their interview in costume. Not only does it show how committed the cast and crew are but also the pure enjoyment it brings to the project.

That was the case when the Spy sat down with Little Shop of Horrors director Marcia Gilliam and Shelby Swann who plays Audrey, one of the main characters in this crowd-pleased theatrical production. Wearing their newly arrived “beehive” wigs, Marcia and Shelby talk about the history of the play, its music and its sometimes sobering plot line that has made it on to many actors “bucket lists” during their career. 

TAP will be presenting  the beloved musical comedy by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, and based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith. The show opens on Thursday, August 9 and runs through August 26 at the Oxford Community Center.

In Little Shop, Seymour Krelborn is a meek, dejected assistant in a seedy flower shop on Skid Row, who stumbles across a new breed of plant that he names “Audrey Two” after his co-worker crush. This R&B singing, carnivorous plant promises fame and fortune to the down-and-out Seymour as long as he keeps feeding it blood! As Audrey Two grows bigger and meaner, Seymour discovers the plant’s extraterrestrial origins and its intent of global domination, but has he discovered this too late?

The play is directed by Marcia and produced by Leigh Marquess. The cast includes Mike Sousa as Seymour, Shelby as Audrey, Beth Anne Langrell as Chiffon, Erinne Lewis as Ronnette, Rachel Elaina as Crystal, Bill Gross as Mr. Mushnik, Ricky Vitanovec as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., Matthew Keeler as Mr. Bernstein, Kathy Jones as the voice of Audrey Two, and Sarah Anthony and Ed Langrell in the ensemble. Some actors play several roles.

Performance dates are August 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26. August 9 is Half-Price Preview Thursday, $10 for adults and $5 for students. Regular performances are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 pm and Sunday shows are at 2:00 pm. The Oxford Community Center is located at 200 Oxford Rd. Oxford, MD 21654. For tickets go to TredAvonPlayers.com or call 410-226-0061.

Cowboy Junkies: Major Concert at the Avalon July 27

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The Avalon is excited to be hosting Cowboy Junkies just 2 weeks after their latest record hits the streets. “All That Reckoning”, will be released on July 13th.

Although they’re famously free-riding, mythically rugged individualists and their music is highly addictive, the four members of the Cowboy Junkies are neither cowboys nor junkies. They make up the hip, hybrid Canadian indie band with a rich repertoire of originals and classic covers wrapped in an aura of mystery. The Cowboy Junkies – the little, but hugely classy, cult band – returns to perform July 27th, at 8p.m. in Easton.

The band is playing great these days, Margo is singing better than ever.

“We’re inspired by the material we’ve recorded for our new album and we’re having more and more fun reaching deep into our catalog.”

At the Avalon, they will be going acoustic and electric, performing new material, classics, deep cuts and fan requests. They’ve recently added David Bowie’s “Five Years” to their repertoire, supplementing the extensive list of covers they can draw from.

When asked what keeps the Junkies’ core group of devoted fans (affectionately called llamas) traveling to all their shows, the band refers to it’s authenticity.

“We hope it’s because we put on a good show, but I think it’s also an authentic performance. We’re a band that’s been performing together for thirty years and there’s a real, honest connection with the audience on most nights. I think that’s a rare thing these days.”

For more information on all upcoming events, visit avalonfoundation.org, or visit our blog, or call 410-822-7299.

Chesapeake Brass Band in Fountain Park July 7

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The Chesapeake Silver Cornet Brass Band in 2016 on their 20th Anniversary.

Come on down to Fountain Park this Saturday, July 7, for the second in Chestertown’s Music in the Park summer concert series, featuring the Chesapeake Brass Band. The music will begin at 7:00 pm and last approximately 90 minutes. Bring something to sit on as only limited seating is available. Admission is free.

Formed in 1996, the Chesapeake Brass Band is comprised of amateur and professional musicians from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Following the brass banding tradition, it is an all-volunteer organization.

The Chesapeake Brass Band was the National American Brass Band Association champion in their division in 2013.

The band has won numerous awards over the years, including placing first in their division at the North American Brass Band Association Competition in 2013. This year the band was Runner Up in their division at the Dublin Festival of Brass in Dublin, Ohio.

The band performs a varied repertoire of contemporary and traditional brass band music throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The concert at Chestertown will feature music from stage, screen, TV, and the circus. Among the tunes will be a “Salute to the Armed Forces”, “Slaughter on 10th Avenue”, “Rhapsody in Blue” as well as Barnum and Bailey’s favorite march. Cornet and Euphonium solos will also be part of the evening’s program.

Dr. Russell Murray -Musical Director of the Chesapeake Brass Band

The band’s musical director is Russell Murray. Dr.Murray earned his Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of North Texas. He has taught music history and directed early music ensembles at the University of North Texas, Texas Wesleyan University, and Rice University. He is currently Professor and Chair of the Music Department at the University of Delaware, where he is the director of the Collegium Musicum and is also on the Core Faculty of the Women’s Studies program. He has been at the University of Delaware since 1991.

For more information, see their website.

If you are an accomplished brass player or percussionist looking for a new challenge, the Chesapeake Brass Band has openings. Contact the band at chesapeakebrass@aol.com or call 302-530-2915.

In case of rain, a concert may be rescheduled or a rain location may be sent to the email list and listed on a sign on the stage in the park on the day of the concert. These free programs are sponsored by the Town of Chestertown with support from The Kent County Arts Council & Community Contributors. To help make these programs possible, please send donations payable to the Town of Chestertown to Music in the Park, Chestertown Town Hall, 118 N. Cross Street, Chestertown, MD 21620.

The Chesapeake Brass Band in concert.

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A Laugh a Minute at “Short Attention Span Theater” at the Garfield Center

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Dan Guidice as Barry and Diane Landskroener as Lois in “Kung Foolery” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The Garfield Center’s Short Attention Span Theater, or SAST, is an eagerly-awaited feature of Chestertown’s summer arts season.  This year’s SAST – the 14th annual–brings eight 10-minute plays onstage and is a real feast for theater lovers.  As usual, the emphasis is on comedy, and this year’s selection gives some of the area’s best actors plenty of opportunities to get the audience laughing.  This is an evening of pure light-hearted entertainment not to be missed.

David MacGregor’s “Just Desserts,” directed by Diane Landskroener, riffs on a situation almost everyone has experienced – the co-worker who steals everyone else’s food (especially desserts) from the office refrigerator. One worker Joyce (Jennifer Kafka Smith) decides to take things into her own hands, to the consternation of her office mates, played by Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn.  Everyone denies being the thief but Joyce has a clever plan to unmask the “pig.”  Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn will remind you of all your old officemates as they swing from hot denial to indifference to a chilling desire for revenge followed by sympathy for the thief then back to self-absorption and indifference.  McGlynn’s antics are particularly funny and Phebe Wood is a breath of fresh air as the young, energetic coworker who tries to “understand” the pig and makes you wonder exactly who she is talking about.  A wonderfully absurdist take on the daily office routine.

Jim Landdskroener as Ronald and Brad Chaires as Clarence in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“All Over But the Shouting,” by local playwright Brent Lewis, takes us to a nursing home where two brothers (Jim Landskroener and Brad Chaires), have been abandoned by the staff which has fled from an impending disaster. Facing apparent doom, the two go over all their old quarrels, then gradually, grudgingly, realize their common bonds. Chaires and Landskroener are both believable and amusing as they hash over every prank, every fight, every perceived slight from the past 70 plus years. A comic delight. Mark Sullivan directs.

Kirby Powell makes his directorial debut with “Misfortune,” by Mark Harvey Levine. A couple in a Chinese restaurant opens their fortune cookies with unexpected results. Who writes a cookie fortune like this? The husband demands a new cookie, then another!  The plot builds as the cookies’ messages become more and more unreal – with a surprise ending I admit I didn’t see coming. Nice jobs by Zac Ryan and Georgia Rickloff as the couple and Beverly Hall Smith as their waitress.

Jim Landskroener directs “Kung Foolery,” by Brett Hursey, which takes the stock situation of an awkward visit by an inlaw to the brink of absurdity and then plunges over. Gretchen Saches plays the loving and patient wife, while Dan Guidice is hilarious as the apparently over-reacting husband. But the payoff arrives with the appearance of Diane Landskroener as the mother of all mother-in-laws! The physical humor in this one is wonderful as Barry leaps about the stage, practicing his “moves” in preparation for the arrival of his dreaded mother-in-law.

“Binged There, Done That” is first up after the intermission, and playwright Ken Preuss takes the audience through the history of a relationship that makes “whirlwind” seem like slow-motion.  The ridiculous time-compression of the relationship is explained by the gimmick that the characters are “binge-watching” their relationship, with all the unlikely twists you might expect from a TV soap opera. Lis Engel, Jennifer Kafka Smith, Bryan Betley, Dan Guidice, Bryan Zachowski and Robbie Spray are all highly amusing as the couple nonchalantly and cheerfully describe their first kiss, first fight, first child.  Robbie Spray capers convincingly as the over-grown child Ron-Jon while Jennifer Kafka-Smith is perfect as the maternal yet coyly flirtatious mother-in-law. Hester Sachse is the director.

Jen Friedman and Brianna Johnson with Xocko (on the arm and hand of Thomas Martinez)  in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“The Stand In,” also by Brett Hursey, brings a young actor to an audition for a local theater. Jen Friedman does her usual hilariously over-the-top job as the theater’s ultra-bossy director, while Brianna Johnson plays the increasingly non-plussed actress who finds herself playing second fiddle to Xocko – a sock puppet. As the young actress Mandy at an audition, Johnson is clearly talented, portraying a wide range of emotions from love to anger to grief.   The premise is funny in its own right, and Xocko the puppet (played by Thomas Martinez) definitely hams it up by playing dead, miming vomiting in a bucket, and adding hats to portray different characters. Brad Chaires makes his directorial debut with this delightful spoof on television, Hollywood, and the “thee-ah-tah.”

Theater manager Brian Betley directs “L.A. 8 A.M.,” which shows a brief moment in the lives of two young people as seen by two announcers who know what their future holds. McGlynn and Paul Cambardella act as announcers while Tilly Pelcaar and Kirby Powell play the young couple. Mark Harvey Levine’s script is by a good margin the most serious of this year’s SAST offerings.  The outrageous, campy costumes of the two narrators–flashy fur coats, brightly-colored high heeled shoes, and heavy theatrical make-up–create an almost eerie ambiance and contrast to the ordinary clothes of a young couple getting ready to start their day. This one makes you think – about how we live our everyday lives and how we never know what the future may hold as we casually go through our daily routines.

Lis Engle as Sylvia in “The New Me” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The evening concludes with local playwright Rich Pauli’s “The New Me,” directed by Melissa McGlynn. A woman tells her husband the scientific fact that after seven years, every cell in a person’s body has changed. Since it is their seventh anniversary, she is a new person who has nothing in common with the woman who married him. Lis Engle is appropriately flamboyant as the woman, and Dan Guidice plays the husband – doing a nice job of tracking his gradual acceptance of the situation – that this is not his wife.  The final dance scene and the “new” wife’s costume change add just the right touch to this comedy.

Under the overall direction of Diane Landskroener and Mark Sullivan, the show runs smoothly, with smooth transitions from one play to the next and enough variety to keep things from settling into a predictable pattern. The simple but effective set — a wall with two doors, varied by different bits of furniture to match the different plays — helps make the necessary scene changes fast and efficient. The clever and often surprisingly appropriate music selections between (and during) the separate shows were chosen by Sullivan with input from the directors. Butch Clark does his usual professional job with the lights — and gets an impromptu bit part during one show. (Wait for it!)

SAST runs through July 8, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Audiences at the evening performance get a bonus – a one-minute play festival directed by Tia Glomb. Immediately before the main performance.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; students’ tickets are $5. For reservations, call the box office at 410-810-2060 or visit Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/short-attention-span-theatre-tickets-41830127036?ref=ebtnebtckt) to buy seats online.

“Binged There, Done That” cast – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Curtain Call for Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jane Jewell

L.A. 8. A.M. – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Jennifer Kafka-Smith as The Mother in “Binged There, Done That” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Lis Engle as Sylvia and Dan Guidice as Edward in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield     Photo by Jeff Weber

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“Annapolis Bluegrass” Kicks Off Music in the Park Summer Concert Series

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The Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition in 2017 Photo: Mike Hartnett (fiddle), Larry Conner (guitar), Roger Green (mandolin), Terry Wittenberg (banjo), Jim Duvall (bass)

Bring your dancing shoes for this Saturday’s Music in the Park concert featuring the Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition.  The music starts at 7 p.m. in Chestertown’s Fountain Park and continues until about 8:30 p.m. One of the area’s most popular groups, Annapolis Bluegrass Coalition, combines instrumental virtuosity with close harmonies in a mixture of bluegrass standards, originals by band members and a few “out-of-genre” tunes adapted for the bluegrass style. The band will concentrate on bluegrass standards for its Chestertown set, as well as a selection of originals by band members.  Come join the fun!

The band leader and founder is Roger Green, who plays guitar and mandolin, and sings both lead and harmony vocals. He also writes most of the bands original material.   Larry Conner plays guitar and also sings lead and harmony vocals.  On banjo and vocals is Terry Wittenberg. Rounding out the group are Mike Hartnett on fiddle and Jim Duvall on bass fiddle.

For more information on the band and to hear some of their music, visit the Annapolis Bluegrass website at www.annapolisbluegrass.com

Music in the Park performances begin at 7 p.m. in Fountain Park and run until about 8:30. Annapolis Bluegrass is always one of the best-attended performances of the series and a limited number of seats are available. Audience members are advised to bring folding chairs or blankets.

In the event of rain, the concert will be rescheduled if possible.

These free programs are sponsored by the Town of Chestertown with support from The Kent County Arts Council & Community Contributors. To help make these programs possible, please send donations payable to the Town of Chestertown and designated for “Music in the Park,” to 118 N. Cross Street, Chestertown, MD 21620.

The Chestertown Music in the Park schedule is below followed by the schedule for the three Thursday evening Riverfront concerts sponsored by Washington College.

Chestertown’s Music in the Park:

Saturday, June 23 – Annapolis Bluegrass

Saturday, July 7 – Chesapeake Brass Band – marches, popular and patriotic songs

Saturday, July 21 – Music from Broadway  –  songs from various musicals, movies, and similar popular songs

Saturday, Aug – 4 – Swing City – big swing band era songs – 1930s-40s style

Saturday, Aug 18 – Legacy Day soul band – Soulfied Village – block party 6-10 pm  DJ + Live Music all evening – crafts, exhibits, food, beverages, dancing in the streets

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You also won’t want to miss the Thursday Evening Washington College Riverfront Concerts

Washington College sponsors a series of three Thursday evening concerts during the weeks when there is not a Music in the Park concert.  Theses concerts start earlier – 6:30 pm and go for about 90 minutes.

The three Washington College Riverfront Concerts are:

Thursday, June 28            Sombarkin (gospel/spirituals/acapella vocal trio)

Thursday, July 12              Ultrafaux, Gypsy Jazz on July 12th with special guest mandolinist Danny Knicely.

Thursday, July 26              High & Wides CD Release Celebration (Americana//bluegrass)

The Washington College Riverfront Concert Series takes place on the Custom House Lawn on the riverfront at the end of High Street. Concerts begin at 6:30 pm. Rain dates move to the Wilmer Park Pavilion. All concerts are free and open to the public.  Bring blankets or chairs or just sit on the grass.

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The Bay Country Chorus to Perform at Avalon Theatre June 10

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The Bay Country Chorus is presenting an afternoon of fine music on Sunday June 10.  The Show will be held at the Historic Avalon Theatre in Easton beginning at 2 pm.

The show will have performances by the Bay Country Chorus, Harmony on the Bay, a ladies Sweet Adelines International chorus from Centreville and the Gospel Souls from St. Luke’s church in Cambridge all sung in the a cappella style. Special guests at this event will be the Pride of DelMarVa, an award winning male barbershop chorus from Milford DE.

Tickets are $15.00 and are available through the Avalon theatre box office (410-822-7299) or on their web site the (avalonfoundation.org).