Yeah, so this isn’t my norm, but for those of you who don’t know, I started my life in theatre. I majored in it for about half my time in college, and have performed both at the collegiate and the community theatre level. A friend of mine from some of my online voice acting work has been making waves in the live-action theatre scene and I’ve promised a review. (Since I failed to review the last play there I saw, Of Mice and Men, I had to do this one.) And since this is both Shakespeare and…decidedly not, it’s a good thing for a storyteller to talk about. This isn’t the traditional telling.
And that’s awesome. (My disclosure is that I do know a member of the cast, but I have endeavored to ensure my review is not weighted by that member’s performance.)
First of, let’s talk about what the play is. Yes, this is the Bard’s comedy in all its bizarre glory. The lovers, the faeries, it’s all there. But what Jeanne Haynes (the director of the show) has done is taken the 5-act show we know, boiled it down to 2 acts, and pieced in musical numbers to reflect each scene. Some are popular songs, others are from different musicals, and some are original pieces written by a late colleague of Haynes’. There’s a real chance for “if we shadows have offended” here, if you’re too much of a purist.
But I walked in with an open mind and no expectations–and I was blown out of the water. Much of the music I recognized: “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde, “If I Can’t Love Her” from Beauty and the Beast, “When I Look at You” from The Scarlet Pimpernel, Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me,” Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” …I mean the list goes on. The pieces I didn’t know–original or otherwise–fit just as well. It’s remarkable taking the Beast singing about Belle and suddenly changing it over to Demetrius singing about Helena…and having it work. (At least one original song had snippets from Annie, A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Oklahoma, Fiddler, Guys & Dolls, Anything Goes, Brigadoon, Les Miserables, Pajama Game, and a few others I missed. SERIOUSLY.)
The cast has a solid handle on the choreography, for community theatre standards. (Again, I’ve been in their shoes. I don’t expect a lot because I remember how hard it was to pull off what little we did.) The choreographer was a cast member as well, which I think helps matters–and did well with the pieces. Nothing overwhelming, nothing useless. Exactly as it should be. Across the board the actors did well with their projecting and singing; they were miked, but clearly didn’t require them.
Standout performances from the cast, in order of appearance according to the program:
- Jeanne Wayman was a phenomenal Puck. She captured the essence of the character with her own flair and brought to life everything that character needs to be.
- Richard Kingston as both Theseus and Oberon – a logical pairing of characters, and a nice dichotomy seen from the actor. Where Kingston’s Theseus is sedate and regal, Oberon is powerful and flashy…as the faerie king ought to be. Kingston has the benefit of being both a powerful figure on the stage vocally and physically (from what I could tell, he’s got to be at least a foot taller than I am) and there was no questioning his authority in either role.
- Matching Kingston was Nina Law as Hippolyta and Titania. Again, regal and sedate Hippolyta…and strong, fiery, and passionate Titania. Dressed all in white to contrast to Oberon’s blacks and browns, she was a perfect foil for Kingston to play off of. (And, as a benefit, was an extremely strikingly lovely woman, with two of the most gorgeous costumes in the show.)
- Cynthia Grayson as Paula Quince, who took what could have easily been a throw-away role and turned it into a hysterical and memorable performance. If I could bottle her energy and tuck it away for future use, I’d do it in a heart beat.
- And then…there was the incomparable Tim Kirk as Bottom. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed harder at any performance. Kirk was an absolutely quintessential Bottom, who could have stepped into Kevin Kline’s shoes from the movie portrayal with ease. His performance of the song “Versatility” still makes me think of Danny Kaye and “Choreography” from White Christmas. I can’t throw enough praise at this performance. He walked on stage and blew everyone else away. (Which was usually the character’s aim, so.)
All four of the lovers performed admirably, and with their own unique fortés. Steve Kumke as Lysander particularly shone any time his character started to be over-the-top silly with his fawning, and Caitlin Reed as Hermia delivered a heartbreaking rendition of “When I Look at You” along with some fantastic comedic acting. Jackie Smith’s Helena was the perfect border between forced civility and comedic flouncing, and John Comegno’s Demetrius was a stalwart match for her.
Combine all this with a solid performance from a relatively minimal pit band, and some stellar work on lights and set, and I walked away from the performance incredibly impressed. (And listened to both Jekyll and Hyde and Scarlet Pimpernel on my drive home. I had to.) If only I didn’t live so far away, I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.
The show runs from September 30th until October 15th, with (future) shows on the 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th at 8 pm and Sundays the 2nd and 9th (no Sunday show the final weekend) at 3pm. The theatre can be found at the Broad Street United Methodist Church, at 36 East Broad Street, Burlington, NJ 08016. Tickets are $20 and are available in advance online here, or available at the door.
I’d very much recommend you go check it out, if you can.