Saturday, August 18, 2012

NSMT's 'All Shook Up' had them standing up

BEVERLY -- Starting a musical with a parcel of Elvis Presley hits is like a baseball pitcher starting an at-bat with an 0-2 count on the hitter.
Now that that is settled, it’s time to move on to something else. For instance, what are we going to call the show and what’s it going to be about?
Does it matter? For the record, the name of the musical now playing at the North Shore Music Theatre is “All Shook Up.”
Twenty five -- count ‘em, 25 -- of Elvis’ greatest hits are included. Some of the song placements are a little awkward and not quite as seamless as, say the use of Abba’s songs in “Mamma Mia!”

Ryan Overberg and the ensemble in the North Shore Music Theatre's
"All Shook Up." Photo: Paul Lyden
And sure, there’s a story, by Joe DiPietro, a funny, pleasant and upbeat one that in some ways resembles the old Elvis movie plots and borrows liberally from “Twelfth Night,” among others. DiPietro, of course, got his start towards two Tony Awards and a slew of other baubles when he wrote the book and lyrics for “Memphis,” which had its world premiere at NSMT in 2003.
Here, there’s love, unrequited and otherwise, mistaken identity, a bit of cross-dressing and a slew of misunderstandings that DiPietro manages to tie up in a bow at the end. There are also subtle messages about social justice and tolerance that were also part of his book for “Memphis.”
“All Shook Up” is set during a 24-hour period in the summer of 1955 in a small Midwestern town, where a guitar-playing roustabout named Chad (Ryan Overberg) -- who, strangely enough, resembles a young Elvis -- arrives in town on a motorcycle to shake things up. Overberg has played variations of the same character three times this summer -- he was very strong in Speakeasy Stage Company’s roller skating extravaganza “Xanadu” and looked more comfortable in this production that he did as Conrad Birdie in “Bye, Bye Birdie” at the Reagle Music Theatre.
Chad is enamored of the tall, sexy museum director Miss Sandra (Colleen Sexton), and brushes off the advances of Dara Hartman as Natalie Haller, the spunky female mechanic who longs for an adventure on the open road with Chad. Dennis (Paul Sabala) has long had a thing for Natalie, but has never had the courage to tell her.
In a bid to become closer to Chad, and with the aid of Dennis, Natalie decides to become “Ed,” a real “guy’s guy.”
Former “Three’s Company” star Joyce DeWitt is Mayor Matilda Hyde, the moral arbiter of the town, and has some nice comic moments with J.T. Turner as Sheriff Earl.
There are a series of subplots involving Natalie’s dad Jim (John Hillner) and Sylvia, the local bar owner (Jannie Jones), Sylvia’s daughter Lorraine (Laquet Sharnell) and Matilda’s son Dean (Eric Hatch).
Jones get her chance to shine with a rousing “There’s Always Me” that stops the show in the second act.
Director Russell Garrett’s inventive staging allows a a talented ensemble of dancers to strut their stuff. It’s all about the music and the dancing, and you won’t be disappointed in either.
A cast filled with fine voices puts their own touches on The King‘s greatest hits, and an energetic band led by Anne Shuttlesworth does justice to them, too.
The audience at Wednesday’s performance was not only all shook up, but by the end they were standing up as well.
“All Shook Up,” through Aug. 26, at the North Shore Music Theatre, Dunham Road, Beverly. For Tickets, go to or call (978) 232-7200.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reagle is accustomed to Pfisterer's face

WALTHAM -- Broadway actress Sarah Pfisterer has become closely identified with the Reagle Music Theatre, shining in a long succession of roles over the past decade.
Think David Coffee and George Dvorsky at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, or Will LeBow, Tom Derrah, Karen McDonald and Remo Airaldi when they were the heart of the American Repertory Theatre.
Pfisterer is reprising her role as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl transformed into a lady, in “My Fair Lady” at the Reagle through Sunday, Aug. 19. Pfisterer first played the role at the Reagle nine years ago. Actors and actresses routinely play characters much older or younger -- that’s why they call it acting.
And it still works here, most of the time. It’s just now that her scenes with, say, Robert St. Laurence as the young suitor Freddie Eynsford-Hill hint at more of a May-December type of relationship than that of two contemporaries.
Pfisterer still hasn’t met a show tune she couldn’t sing, and she still does both the role and the lush Lerner-Loewe score justice, as does the music direction by Don Rodriguez and the orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Leonard.
As Henry Higgins, Pfisterer’s equally-talented husband, Rick Hilsabeck, a skilled singer, dancer and actor, has to scale back his formidable voice to the “speak singing” style required by the role, but he is spot-on in his portrayal of the professor and language expert whose exterior begins to crack as he “grows accustomed to her face.”
His early, unfeeling arrogance towards Eliza is nicely balanced by the warmth of R. Michael Wresinski as Col. Hugh Pickering and Higgins’ household staff, led by Beth Gotha as the exasperated Mrs. Pearce. Donna Sorbello’s Mrs. Higgins provides both comic relief and a solicitous shoulder for Eliza.
Longtime Reagle favorite Harold “Jerry” Walker is in his element as the incorrigible Alfred P. Doolittle; there is a lot of Walker in Doolittle and vice versa and he brings the requisite energy to the show-stopping numbers “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get me to the Church on Time” and also shines in his scenes with Hilsabeck as the two “negotiate” Eliza’s future.
The Ascot racing scene is also cleverly staged in the “Ascot Gavotte” number.
             Harold "Jerry" Walker as Alfred Doolittle and Rick Hilsabeck as Henry Higgins
                                in Reagle Music Theatre's "My Fair Lady."
 The Reagle still does what the Reagle does well. Large casts, Broadway-quality costumes, the kind of spectacle you rarely see on an All-Equity stage because of the costs, and highly-skilled production numbers featuring the kind of dancing that you would never think you might see from a dance troupe of almost all amateurs.
It’s a tribute both to the actors’ love of theater and the talents of director Larry Sousa and choreographer Rachel Bertone, reproducing the original choreography, and their ability to wring the very best effort out of their hard-working troops.
Pfisterer, who along with husband Hilsabeck has recently opened a performing arts school in Connecticut, probably won’t be playing Eliza in Waltham again. But she has left some warm memories behind.
“My Fair Lady,” through Aug. 19 at the Reagle Music Theatre at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham. Tickets or by calling 781 891 5600.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Company One's 'Chad Deity' is a grand slam

BOSTON -- Company One‘s production of Kris Diaz‘s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is an entertaining, funny and heartfelt two hours about what happens when you put yourself -- and your body -- on the line for something you love
As a wrestler for THE, the preeminent pro wrestling organization, Macedonio "Mace"  Guerra (Ricardo Engerrman) is just a guy with some skills, but without a gimmick or the charisma that would make him stand out and be worthy of extra attention -- and the money that comes with it. Still he’s pleased to be making a living doing something he dreamed of doing as a kid in the Bronx, watching TV on Saturday mornings with his brothers while chomping on his Frosted Flakes.

 Ricardo Engermann, Chris Leon and Peter Brown in a scene from Company
One's production of "The Elaborate  Entrance of Chad Deity." Photo: Liza Voll

Chad Deity (Chris Leon) is the champ, handsome, buff and charismatic. The “elaborate entrance” referred to in the title is his grand entry into the ring, with the screaming fans, the booming music, and the huge video screens projecting his every move. He only has one major drawback as THE champ -- he can’t wrestle. That’s where guys like Mace come in, making other wrestlers look good before losing at the end.
It turns out Mace has never given up his dream of one day making a mark on his own on the wrestling world -- if he were to find the right guy and the right angle.
His brothers tell him about VP, the rapping, trash-talking basketball player from the playground. Jacob Athyal as VP is Indian-American, but dark and swarthy enough to plausibly play an array of nefarious characters, including any number from the Middle East.
Peter Brown is a slimey sensation as the craven wrestling promoter Everett K. Olson. Think the WWE’s Vince McMahon with even less charm and wit. The more cynical the approach, the more he gets excited about the cash to be made selling it.
On Mace's advice, he signs VP to a contract and his new charge becomes “the Fundamentalist,” a -- you guessed it -- Muslim whose signature move is the “sleeper cell.” It is determined that Mace will be his manager and advisor, mentoring the young phenom and cultivating him into a contender.
In a previous life, I worked part-time for 20 years at the old Boston Garden and saw hundreds of pro wrestling matches. It may sound like an oxymoron, but wrestling fans can smell a fake a mile away, and “Chad Deity” gets its street cred from the athletic wrestling moves performed by the cast, with help from wrestling trainer Brian Phillips and fight captain Mike Webb.
Webb also contributes mightily, playing several wrestlers, “the Bad Guy,” “Billy Heartland” and “Old Glory,” the last two wrestlers that VP climbs over on the way to the title shot.
The Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts is one of Boston’s most versatile theater spaces, and it lends itself perfectly to Jason Ries’ creative staging, which includes theater-goers on three sides surrounding an actual wrestling ring, combining with Jen Rock’s lighting, Arshan Gailus’ sound, Olivia Sebesky’s video and projections and Kendra Bell’s costumes to create the grand theater and raucous atmosphere of a pro wrestling match.
Director Shawn LaCount deserves a huge amount of credit -- especially given  the perils of seeing your leads slammed to the canvas several times each night -- for going ahead and doing something both difficult and different, and doing it well.
You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” But if you don’t, you might just need a slap upside the head.
Company One‘s production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, through Aug. 25 at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets, call 617 933-8600 or go to