Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"How To Succeed" succeeds

How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Writers: Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert,
based on Shepherd Mead's 1952 book of the same name
Music and lyrics: Frank Loesser
Director: Lenore Grunko
E.O. Smith Theatre
10 February 2013

This production at E.O. Smith is a united whole, not a conglomeration of disparate elements.  The musical, and especially this production of it, reaffirm our faith in human courage and its ability to face both the external trials of making a living in a dog-eat-dog world, and the internal tribulations of remaining true to the ideals of love, honesty and perseverance.

Director Lenore Grunko brings a sense of justice and idealism to the production as she juxtaposes the collection of claw-your-way-to-the-top-at-any-cost characters with the idealism that lies just under the surface.  The casting seemed spot on.  EOS High School students were entirely believable as adults.  The cast is huge but the leads had a chance to demonstrate their skills; vocal performances were excellent. There was separation among characters and the various voices revealed character.  The very large cast played together seamlessly.  This kind of production should be encouraged.

Kyle Schoeplein made a perfect J. Pierrepont Finch.  He managed to cover a wide range of emotions and worked well with the other actors.   He acts with his body as well as his voice.  Every move and gesture was filled with energy and meaning.
Rosemary Pilkington plays the tenderhearted ingénue secretary to Mr. Biggley with sweetness of voice and demeanor.  Her voice is beautiful and she has that rare quality in actors, the ability to listen and respond to those on stage with her.  Both the actress and the character are sensitive and responsive to their environment.

Caitlin Briody is a born actress; her sense of comic timing is impeccable.  Her characterization of Hedy LaRue as a brassy broad with a Brooklyn accent is wide open and over the top.  The trick when you go that far out on a limb is that you have to be able to maintain the character without ever backing down.  Briody nails it.  But bold and brassy isn’t the only note she can play.  When JB Biggley (played by Marc Trotochaud with a great look and a great voice) seems that he is about to get serious about their relationship, she turns her emotions on a dime and gives him a look of tenderness that could melt a heart of stone.  Briody had fun with this part and the audience had fun watching her.

Aiden O’Brien played the Nephew Bud Frump with just the right pitch of frumpiness, greed, and spoiled sense of entitlement.  Gemilath Mama as Smitty showed us her terrific voice as well as her sense of humor.  She has the range to carry an even larger part than Smitty and she filled the stage with her personality.

Tristan Bock-Hughes has a great stage presence.  When he steps forward he seems to take command of the space.  As Bert Bratt, his singing and acting have a self-assurance that tells the audience that they are in good hands and can relax and enjoy the show.  When ballet dancer Maya Shieber went from a shoulder sit to a fish dive into the arms of Bock-Hughes everyone in the audience caught their breath.  Shieber seems to have been tripling in several parts as an actor, a stage technician, and a ballet dancer.  She handled them all with aplomb, but her dancing was especially charismatic.
The whole cast showed a sense of character development, pathos, humor, and timing; Paul Ference, Scotty Duval, Emma John, Matt Sibley-Jett stood out among many other excellent performers.

It seemed that there were no pre-recorded sound effects, but all music and sound effects were done by the live orchestra of 20 Musicians.  The pit orchestra, conducted from the piano by Ken Clark, played with skill and did a good job of supporting the singing, dancing and acting. There was considerable collaboration, concentration and cooperation among the actors, musicians and crew.  I mention the crew here because crew members would occasionally step into character as part of the cast.

The show’s choreography was very good and the tap dancers were an especially smooth unit.  Props were simple, appropriate, moved the story along and revealed character.  The set was a powerful evocation of New York in the 1960s.  Costumes were good, funny, evocative, an important part of the story of the play.  Direction, acting, and singing, were all of the highest caliber.
The audience was Wow’ed and so was I.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Ed Koch Performs Mayor of New York

Zasuly, Gardner, Chibeau at Waldorf Astoria

Ed Koch had a direct no nonsense rhetorical style.  He sounded and felt like he was talking directly to you, not making a speech.  I remember interviewing the mayor and covering many town hall meetings and the floating town hall meetings in each borough with the Time Inc. MCTV crew.  He also blew a conch shell for us on the Spring Solstice event carried on PBS in 1987.  The solstice was produced by Charlie Morrow and featured Al Roker among many others.  The MCTV crew covering City culture and politics included Peter Zasuly, Keith Gardner, Dena Crane, and Mike Harlow.  This was shortly after Dena showed her video at MOMA but before Keith went to work for WNBC at 30 Rockefeller Center, and Peter started producing in Hollywood, and Mike won an Academy Award for his documentary on homeless people living in the West Side railroad tunnel.    Ed Koch was right for those times.  He performed the city he lived in.  He spoke the language of  the city that was his home.