Thursday, July 19, 2012

Youngsters come to fore in NSMT's 'Annie'

BEVERLY -- The old actor's saw applies here: never act opposite children or animals.
That's because they frequntly steal a scene -- or in this case -- your heart.
A talented crew of pre-teens and teens upstages an accomplished crew of professionals in the North Shore Music Theatre's warm and winning production of "Annie," now at the theater through July 29.
The band of orphans inhabiting the New York City Municipal Orphanage are on their game from the opening bars of "It's the Hard-Knock Life."
Sudbury's Lauryn Weintraub, 13, leads the way as Annie, the 11-year-old orphan convinced her parents will one day return to reclaim her, aided and abetted by  Piper Birney as Kate, Heather Buccini of Winthrop as Pepper, Maggie Budzyna as Tessie, Elena Carmichael as Molly, Jessica Lewis as Duffy and Joanna Rosen as July. Oh, yes, we can't forget Mikey, the former rescue dog who plays Sandy.
The orphans brought down the house with their excellent dancing, ensemble acting and comic timing worthy of much older actors in the second act's "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."
Lauryn Weintraub as Annie and Raymond
Jaramillo McLeod as Oliver Warbucks in the
North Shore Music Theatre's "Annie."
(Photo: Paul Lyden)
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan of Lynnfield   has morphed effortlessly from from the elegance of Dolly Gallagher Levi in the previous "Hello Dolly" to the booze swillin,' burnt-out Miss Hannigan, who oversees -- if that word can be used -- the orphanage. Donovan gives the orphans as good as she gets and shines in "Easy Street," as she schemes with brother Rooster (John Schiappa) and Lily St. Regis (Shanna Marie Palmer) to take Annie away and bilk Warbucks out of $50,000.
As the billionaire Warbucks, Raymond Jaramillo McLeod is a  bear of a man with a booming bass baritone that you may recognize from a string of Disney movies. He has excellent chemistry with both Weintraub as Annie and Jessica Tyler Wright as Grace Farrell, his warm-hearted aide who brings Annie into Warbucks' home.
Local favorite Cheryl McMahon of Marblehead plays several roles as a member of the ensemble.
Timothy R. MacKabee uses a series of drop-down marquees to give the stage a Times Square feel in "NYC" and the other production values are up to NSMT's usual high standards, including Charles Coes' sound design, with the music led by Nick DeGregorio in perfect balance with the singing.
Director and choreographer James Brennan keeps the energy high in all of the production numbers.
In the years before the theater closed and in the time since it was reopened by Bill Hanney, North Shore Music Theatre has presented a summer show geared to family audiences, and Wednesday night's performance was  heavily tilted towards mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, a wonderful sight as theater struggles to build young audiences.
If this is the first production your child or grandchild sees, well, Leapin' Lizards! You've made a good choice.
"Annie" will be at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through July 29. For more information, go to

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

At times, Reagle's "Birdie" flys high

WALTHAM -- The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is celebrating its 44th summer season, no mean feat as area theater companies sputter, cough and disappear.
Founder Robert Eagle's formula has included shows that are proven winners, a familiar name or two to head the cast, and then filling in with a sprinkle of Equity actors butressed by up-and-coming talent from college theater programs and veteran amateur players.

      Ryan Overberg as Conrad Birdie with the female teen ensemble
      in “Bye, Bye Birdie” from July 14-22 at Reagle Music Theatre,
617 Lexington Street, Waltham. (Photo by Herb Philpott)
   That has enabled Reagle to stage productions with 50 or more players at a time when Equity shows might be lucky to have 15-20 performers for the same show, with each actor playing multiple roles.
It also means that there can be performances that are uneven within the same production.
The Reagle is currently staging "Bye, Bye Birdie,"  a musical loosely based on the craziness that erupted over Elvis Presley going into the army back in 1958. Singing sensation Conrad Birdie (Ryan Overberg) has been drafted, and that, coupled with his onerous contract, may be enough to sink the music firm owned by Albert Peterson (Jacob Sherburne). But Peterson and his aide/long-suffering girlfriend, Rosie Alvarez (Carman Napier) concoct a scheme that will send Birdie off to the army with a huge splash of publicity, enough to save the day for Peterson.
Napier is a sassy, sexy Rosie, and has both the acting and vocal chops to handle the role. Unfortunately, she doesn't have believable chemistry with Sherburne, who struggles to keep up with her.
Old pro Anita Gillette heads the cast, but in truth her Mae Peterson, the wise-cracking mother of Albert, is a supporting role. She has sharpened her comic timing over the years in some of TV's finest sitcoms, and her exchanges with Napier and Sherburne are some of the best moments in the production. Director Larry Sousa smartly inserts a song written for the TV version of the show -- "A Mother Doesn't Matter Any More" -- into this production.
Gillian Gordon is fine as the love-struck teen Kim MacAfee, and yes, Bard Walters is supposed to be a buffoonish caricature of a father as Harry MacAfee, but he should rein it in just a bit.
As Birdie, Overberg basically has to look good, preen and show off his pipes, and that he does to strong effect, especially in "One Last Kiss."
Sousa, who doubles as choreographer, has gotten the most out of the well-staged production numbers, which are energetic and splashy.
Two talented musicians -- music director Dan Rodriguez and conductor Jeffrey Leonard --  give the bouncy Charles Strouse-Lee Adams score its proper due in numbers such as "Put on a Happy Face" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do."
Sherburne never quites reaches the level of the other leads, but with  performances such as Napier's and   Gillette's and the production numbers, there's plenty of value for the theatrical dollar here.

"Bye, Bye Birdie" runs through July 22 at the Robinson Theatre at Waltham High School. For ticket information, go to

OnBostonStages Makes its Debut

OnBostonStages will be an in-depth look at the theater scene in Eastern Massachusetts with mini-reviews, features, essays, and interviews. I will endeavor to give honest, informed, fair opinions along with profiles, notes and information about what is going on and what needs to be seen. Comments and discussion are welcome.
The goal of the blog is to alert theater-goers to actors and productions they might otherwise bypass, as well as recognizing excellence where found.
Let me know how I'm doing.