Acting abounded atop area floorboards in 2010
We learned some good things this year.
Broadway star Donna McKechnie, the first Cassie in A Chorus Line, appeared for a weekend spring run at Auburn’s Springside Inn. Approachable and forthcoming, she affirmed that her old pal Thommie Walsh, who uttered the line “Suicide in Buffalo would be redundant” in the original production, never, never would have had his beloved hometown of Auburn in mind.
We learned that show folk can be more given to support than back-stabbing. When architect and set designer Navroz Dabu had his arm and leg crushed in a May 16 auto crash, hearts were opened all over town. Karis Wiggins offered her house for recovery. Dabu responded so well he could play (mostly sitting) the patriotic immigrant in Twelve Angry Men.
It was good to learn that live theater can be so resilient. Two companies, John Nara’s Simply New certainly, and Paul Robeson Performing Arts apparently, may have folded, but three have sprung up to take their places: Not Another Theater Company, Covey Theatre Company and Encore Presentations.
And we’re thrilled when the local product can beat competitors everywhere. Take the scene in Syracuse Stage’s The 39 Steps where the tall, skinny supporting player, Rob Johansen, instantly turns an upturned ladder into a visual pun on the murderous biplane in North By Northwest. The gag was improvised here and did not appear in the London or New York City productions.
Syracuse Stage. Artistic director Tim Bond has found his mojo. Box office up was for both the spring and fall, and Bond smiles more broadly now in his curtain speeches, assured that his choices are hitting the target while remaining projects he appears to believe in. His direction of Arthur Miller’s The Price (January-February), co-produced with Rochester’s GeVa, allowed for equilibrium in a sibling dispute. Self-sacrificing cop Victor (Richard McWilliams) does not necessarily have the moral upper hand against his physician brother, Walter (Tony DeBruno). Barney Miller alumnus Kenneth Tigar shamelessly stole scenes as Solomon, the wry antiques dealer. Watertown-born international star Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises) was spotted enjoying one performance.
Lookingglass Alice (February-March) required importing an entire company from Chicago, with tons of equipment, but it was worth it. David Catlin’s conception recreated the wit, wonder and astonishment of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books with the body language of a gymnastic dance company.
Although the several vignettes of John Cariani’s Almost, Maine (March-April) might have looked like sitcoms, up close they revealed lives of desperation that live under northern snows. This was the least-known item over the year, a risk that paid off and bodes well for future offbeat confections. Bond’s commitment to revive all of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Decalogue” led to a co-production of Fences (May) with Seattle Repertory. First seen here in 1991, Fences is a much-studied text, putting demands of director Bond to make it new.
The casting of John A. Williams as Troy blew away the persistent memory of hyper-sonorous James Earl Jones in the role.
To begin the fall season Bond returned to African-America with No Child, Nijala Sun’s upbeat assessment of the transforming power of art. As portrayed by Rochester Reenah L. Golden, Sun turns an internship at tough Malcolm X High School into an occasion of miracle working. Golden spoke in 16 voices, both genders, with many ages in a medley of accents.
When it came to taking multiple roles, it would be hard to beat three players in The 39 Steps (October-November), a breath-stopping recreation of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie. Lovely Sarah Neilis gave us a series of femme fatales and randy farm wives, while suave male lead Nick Sandys kept his cool no matter what outrage may befall him. Much heavy lifting (and heavy falling) came from Rob Johansen (tall, bald) and Joe Foust (shorter, wider), whose endless magic tricks included walking invisible dogs and descending stairs that weren’t there.
Imported from Cleveland, although not in a co-production, were director Seth Gordon, adult leads Charles Kartali and Elizabeth Ann Townsend as well as the entire conception of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story (December). Putting what had been a movie on stage meant a lot of simultaneous sets sliding with required magical lighting. Nearly every American knows the gags from the 1983 movie, such as hapless Flick’s tongue stuck to the lamppost, or the lamp shaped like a woman’s leg, but they were refreshed when done live. The production boasted seven non-professional locals in speaking roles, all youngsters age 12 and under.
Kitchen Theatre Company. The big news at the Ithaca outfit, upstate’s only off-Broadway theater, was a sparkling new facility around the corner and three blocks west from the old one. Intimacy is retained, with 99 seats instead of 73. Uncertainty about the completion of the new place, however, meant some shifting around in the spring, such as the almost overlooked revival of Lee Blessing’s one-man show Chesapeake with the redoubtable Mark Boyett, while the new venue opened with a boisterous production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives (September), with a winning Brian Dykstra wildly cast against type as Elyot and Carol Halstead as a rare, rare Amanda.
The year began in the old facility at the Clinton House with a reprise of artistic director Rachel Lampert’s best original musical, Precious Nonsense (January), a new take on Gilbert & Sullivan. Stephen Karam’s drolly titled Speech and Debate (March) gave us dark comedy about three high school drama misfits who can barely stand the sight of each other but connect through texting. Ain Gordon’s In This Place (April) was a one-woman show about upright, property-owning blacks who bucked white supremacy in Lexington, Ky. Rachel Lampert’s other original show, Losing Myself (May-June), was an autobiography recited on a treadmill (punning on the word “lose”). The theme was self and place, kind of a female Fellini 8 1/2, without the self-aggrandizement of confessions of infidelity.
The new theater brought the area premiere of one of the most talked-about new playwrights, Tarell Alvin McCreaney. The Brothers Size (October- November) brought an entirely new sensibility to the stage, kind of a combination of street riffs of Richard Pryor and the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Drawing on elements of Yoruba mythology, stalwart Darian Dauchan was the strong, constant brother, impish Samuel Smith was the wastrel brother who would not reform, and insinuating Mack Exilus was the tempter. The season ended with a revival of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries (December), with Karl Gregory, the Syracuse University Drama Department graduate who’s a company favorite, reliving the nightmare of 34th Street.
Rarely Done Productions. We’re always aware of the pun in the name of Dan Tursi’s company: “Rarely” can mean uncommon, and, sure enough, all of this year’s shows were area premieres, some from major artists and others from the fringe circuit. Yet the shows are also “rare” because they’re never overcooked.
“Astringent” is the word for Roy van Norstrand’s direction of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things (March), a gender-reversal of dramas of cruel and controlling personalities, this time female. Imperious artist Evelyn (an icily unsettling Erin Williamson) seeks to remake schlumpy museum guard Adam (Nathan Young) to suit her vision. Her effort brings the most uncomfortable bedroom scene ever portrayed on local stages. Leonard Bernstein’s early modernist opera Trouble in Tahiti (April) was the riskiest venture from any regional company in the last 12 months. The unhappy day-to-day abrasions of a suburban couple (Phil Eisenman and Melanie Brunet Relyea), are reputed to be based on Bernstein’s parents. Angst, even when punctuated with humor and sung in tuneless strains, will attract only a niche market, but with Tursi’s direction and Nadine Cole’s musical direction, audiences willing to embrace the unfamiliar were richly rewarded.
Falsettos (May), Rarely Done’s box-office sensation, ran only six performances, half of which were in the Art Rage gallery on Hawley Avenue, for which it was a fund-raiser.
Two-thirds of the William Finn-James Lapine trilogy, Falsettos is a mordantly urbane treatment of gay-straight interactions. Music director Jeff Unaitis first brought this to town 26 years ago, and his ardor for it has, if anything, increased. Company stalwart Peter Irwin achieved a career high as lead performer as Marvin, the central character, with strong support from Dana Sovocool as his lover, Whizzer, and Josh Mele as the shrink, Mendel. Katie Lemos Brown’s “Trina’s Song” strikes back for women.
For the June slot of outrageousness Scott Martin’s Scream Queens more than filled the bill. The premise looked like a down-market spinoff on Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, where over-the-hill horror film actresses let down their hair—and defenses. Part of the fun was seeing women playing against type, like Erin Williamson as the frizzy-haired Bianca or Korrie Strodel as the bosomy Tonya. In an unexpectedly poignant turn, Aubry Panek had a Sondheimian showstopper with “Still in Demand.”
Rarely Done renewed its commitment to local playwrights with a September staging of Donna Stuccio’s new play Elegy in Blue. Developed in workshop with Armory Square Players, which Stuccio now heads, Elegy draws in part on the author’s earlier experience as a police officer, and is a sequel to her Blue Moon (1999). The lead provided a powerful role for Maureen Harrington, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s [title of show] (October) was a pocket musical about writing a pocket musical. Shaun Forster and Dana Sovocool constantly drew sparks from one another as the odd-couple collaborators. In a show centered on two gay characters, there was still plenty to do for two gorgeous women, Julia Berger and Aubry Panek.
Three antic leads, Lou Leonardo, Jordan Glaski and Josh Mele, were constantly changing voices, costumes and roles in the madcap Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some) (December). Some of the targets in the first act were easy (Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch), yet the much tighter second act rode on the ingenious device of merging the narratives of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
Wit’s End Players. David Witanowski’s company cut back to two productions this year, both artistically ambitious. The music and lyrics for Star Wars: The Musical (a February-March co-production with Rarely Done) from Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Nolen already existed, but Todd Panek, much associated with Rarely Done, and David Kwiatkowski gave the score a dramatic setting.
The script displayed two conflicting tastes (which might have existed within each writer), with fanatical devotion to the 1977 movie on one hand and riotous travesty of its pieties on the other. Golden-clad Peter Irwin as C- 3PO and close-to-the-ground Binaifer Dabu as R2D2 were up for the Frank Gorshin-Rich Little award for inspired mimicry.
Witanowski’s direction of Cabaret (June) at the New Times Theatre hewed to the darker interpretation introduced on Broadway by Sam Mendes in 1998. Experienced player Garrett Heater responded well with the kinkier, more insinuating Emcee, more Mephistopheles than Joel Grey. The peachesand-cream beauty of Danielle Lovier, a skilled comedienne, as Sally Bowles, was less wellserved. Rob Fonda thrived in the central but usually thankless role of Clifford, and Bill Molesky was effective once again as the doomed fruit merchant Herr Schultz.
Salt City Center for the Performing Arts. The death of company founder Joseph N. Lotito a year ago, and the persistent lack of a performing home, has not deterred widow Pat Lotito, who soldiers on. A gala two-night revival of the company’s signature show, Jesus Christ Superstar, was an all-star reunion that nearly filled the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse- Hinds Concert Theater on Easter weekend in April, with Bob Brown directing and playing Jesus on Friday and Tallon J. Larham on Saturday. Word got around that this might be the last time ever to see this Syracuse fixture, but at year’s end came the announcement that Superstar would be back in 2011.
The other Salt City Center production appeared at the Civic Center’s Carrier Theater, Terrence McNally’s Master Class (November), about opera diva Maria Callas in her declining years. Poorly publicized, Master Class, directed by Frank Fiumano, was one of the strongest shows of the year, and represented a local career high for Cathleen O’Brien. As she knows more about opera than any players we have, she did not sing, strange to say. Authenticity was provided by the importation of what sounds like three master operatic singers, Robin Lounsbury, Richard Koons and Crystal Sikora.
The Talent Company. The two productions from the MGM of local companies were uncharacteristically raucous but did great box office. All Shook Up (July-August) was an Elvis musical without, blessedly, Elvis impersonators. First-time director Shaun Foster really knew how to make other people act funny, and choreographer Michael Groesbeck deserved his laurels again. Gorgeous but game Danielle Lovier smeared her chin with motor oil so that she might pass as a guy (an idea borrowed from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), and Tom Warner played the lead more like Brando in The Wild One than the Tupelo truck driver.
The revival of The Rocky Horror Show (October) meant the return of John DiDonna as Frank-N-Furter because he owns that role. Surprising newcomers kept this show jumping, especially body beautiful Michael Groesbeck in the title role and scene-stealing Bill Ali (yes, that’s all his hair) as Eddie. Rob Fonda and Korrie Strodel willingly accepted kinky abuse as Brad and Janet.
Appleseed Productions. Unlike other companies, community or professional, Appleseed does not try to brand its shows. By allowing individual directors to pursue their own visions, one Appleseed show can look entirely different from another and attract contrasting audiences The musical version of The Wedding Singer (June) drew some of the biggest audiences in the company’s history, while the downbeat though excellent A Night With Israel Horovitz (March) had to scramble for any audience at all. It is not clear how the abrupt and unexplained July departure of artistic director Jon Wilson will affect this policy. Mark Allen Holt, known for Shakespearean roles, has replaced him.
The year began strong with Lanie Robertson’s The Insanity of Mary Girard (January-February), directed by Deborah Pearson about the ease with which an imperious husband could dispose of an inconvenient wife in the early days of the American Republic. As much a lesson in legalism as feminism, playwright Robertson (a male) reminded us that the original intent of the Constitution was to deny women’s rights. Katharine Gibson, already one of our most admired performers, was thoroughly wrenching in the title role. Jon Wilson had admired playwright Israel Horovitz in college and so brought us two of his one-act plays. The Indian Wants the Bronx pits a street bully (Daniel Rowlands) mindlessly against a timid immigrant from India (Novroz Dabu in his first role). In It’s Called the Sugar Plum two brainless Cambridge intellectuals, played by Daniel Rowlands and Wendy Sikorski, overlook matters of life and death to obsess about reportage.
Sharee Lemos’ mounting of To Kill a Mockingbird (April-May) took note of the 50 years that have passed since the novel’s publication as well as our familiarity with the story.
She had a hard time getting cast members to hurl the racial slurs that were once commonplace, and, in view of the outrageousness of the verdict, allowed Joe Pierce to turn Atticus Finch into a gadfly rather than a saint. Jesse Pardee’s lying would-be rape victim was a model of sliminess, but her blustering father, played by John Brackett, scared the bejesus out of people sitting in the front rows. Lucy DiGenova’s Scout, the autobiographical character, was wise beyond her years.
Director Dustin Czarny established the tradition of a big summer musical a few years ago and concluded it with The Wedding Singer (June-July) before leaving Appleseed to found Not Another Theater Company. Terence Lacasse, long a romantic boy lead, has matured doing the classics at Le Moyne College and really came into his own as the title character. Katie Lemos Brown, otherwise a model of grace, generated laughter with pratfalls. In his final performance, Jon Wilson went out leaving us smiling as a grasping two-faced yuppie.
The esteemed Alfred Uhry-Jason Robert Brown musical Parade (September), about the lynching of an innocent man in Georgia a hundred years ago flopped on Broadway but has acquired a cult on CD. Novice director Meghan L. Pearson (daughter of Deborah) turned it into a personal triumph, one of the most thrilling shows seen anywhere all year. Not only did that mean a cast of 30, but mostly new faces in the leads. Ryan Benz as the victim Leo Franks, was strong and unbeaten, and SU music faculty member Bridget Moriarty, as Lucille Frank in “Doing It Alone,” resourcefully fought back. William Edward White, usually Appleseed’s most adventuresome director, flew under the radar this year with a one-weekend run of Jerome Bixby’s Man from Earth (September-October), which felt like a lost Twilight Zone episode. The heavily allegorical name of Jim Uva’s character, “John Oldman,” gave away the conceit.
Dan Tursi of Rarely Done Productions came over for John Osborne’s heavyweight drama Luther (October-November), a most suitable show for a company housed at the Atonement Lutheran Church. Leaving aside the dated and lengthy first act, Nathan Young was riding high on one of the greatest dramatic roles of the last 50 years and delivered everything he had in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts. His achievement is even more impressive when measured against his other big role this year, as the disabused museum guard in The Shape of Things for Rarely Done. Dynamic support came from Bill Molesky as Tetzel the demonic huckster indulgence seller (Molesky’s best outing for the year), and Steven Braddock as the scarlet-clad Cardinal Cajetan, whose creampuff entrance conceals a vise of iron.
Lastly, Sharee Lemos returned to celebrate Christmas with William Gibson’s Butterfingers Angel (December), whose world premiere in Syracuse she helped to guide 36 years ago. Lynn Barbato’s tough but quite real Mary upended centuries of doe-eyed Madonnas.
Simply New Theater. John Nara’s muchlauded company, the dominant player at the Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Live Theater (SALT) Awards, ended a smashing three-year run with Neil LaBute’s chic dark comedy Fat Pig (February). The attractive but zaftig Jenn DeCook wins the heart and body of Josh Canfield, but his cruel and shortsighted co-workers Katheryn Guyette and Wil Szczech are locked in superficial judgments. Edgy, entertaining works by significant playwrights were Simply New’s forte, but this came to an end when the sour economy forced Nara to leave the area. A frequent actor and director for Simply New, Garrett Heater, tried to pick up the pieces (see next entry).
Covey Theatre Company. Although founder Garrett Heater had long been active with the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild, his recent work with Simply New revealed a taste complementary with John Nara’s. To express that he wrote his own play Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (November), and staged it in Nara’s favorite venue, the BeVard Room of the Mulroy Civic Center, directed by Nara’s last leading lady, Jenn DeCook. In a play about a double murder with intimations of incest, Garrett reveals character subtly and slowly, giving intimations of Chekhov. Jodi Bova was the wounded butterfly in the title role, with strong support from Kate Huddleston, Carmen Viviano-Crafts, David Witanowski and Jodie Baum. Heater will not reveal what “Covey” means.
Not Another Theater Company. Dustin Czarny’s outfit features a logo of a man slapping his forehead incredulously with his palm, but that note of seeming apology is uncalled for. NATC draws from Czarny’s long association with Appleseed and is substantially influenced by his improv company, Don’t Feed the Actors. Such an approach invited three comedies not treading on the turf of any rival company and an evergreen courtroom drama, just to show NATC could get serious.
Opening with the bigamy farce Run for Your Wife (January-February) was leading with one’s chin, given that so many other door-slammers have been so dismal (no titles, please). Instead, Run established credibility with reliable British accents of the right class and disciplined double-time pacing. David Vickers as the sinning and running husband looked more bewildered than lecherous. His two wives, the supposedly dowdy Anne Freund and the voluptuous Rachelle Clavin, generated laughter by yearning to impersonate the opposite type. A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia (April-May) was the very play Czarny proclaimed he had founded his company in order to do—because he’s a dog lover. The joke that makes it a comedy is that Manhattan Greg (J. Brazill, cast against type) thinks his dog is his mistress. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Romping around with cups on her knees, Heather J. Roach had hilarious fun in the title role, one of her best-ever performances. Gerritt Vander Werff Jr. supplied three supporting characters of different genders.
In summer Czarny turned over direction to Deborah Pearson for Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies (July-August), kind of a double spin on Charley’s Aunt. Two hucksters, Daniel Rowlands and Matt Nilsen, show up in drag in small town Pennsylvania, hoping to get their hands on an inheritance. Neither one of these guys could be hired by our cross-dressing bars north of downtown, which is the spur to Leading Ladies’ laughter. Finally, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (September-October) allowed Czarny to exploit the intimacy of his space at the Locker Room on Hiawatha Boulevard. It really felt we were in the room with the jurors. Czarny called in both familiar and new faces to individualize each juror with a distinct personality, so that the usually irrepressible Lanny Freshman became a cool patrician. The real conflict, however was between the bearish bully John Brackett and the pillar of liberal decency, played by Joseph Pierce.
Syracuse Shakespeare Festival. Ronnie Bell’s company explored new venues this year, with happy results. Macbeth (February), at the New Times Theatre, was the most finished production of the company’s history. Veteran actor-director Dan Stevens had clearly given much thought to staging and different ways to present his wife Nora O’Dea as Lady M. Importing dark-browed Robert DeLuca from Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre for the title role was a bold stroke that paid dividends. Moving to the lush paneling of Crouse College’s Setnor Auditorium, the festival staged the area premiere of Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen’s Shakespeare’s Will (June), a one-woman show that ran only one weekend. Nora O’Dea appeared as Anne Hathaway, who despite being eight years older married the Bard. The company’s annual August production in Thornden Park was Much Ado About Nothing, with strong, confident Kate Fahey as Beatrice and an arrogant, snooty Mark Weatherup as Benedick.
Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. In anticipation of the great summer musical festival, still not named, coming in two years, artistic director Ed Sayles, served up a combination of personal favorites, recent hits, anticipations of Broadway revivals and the offbeat. Sayles scored with his revamping of the Canadianmade The Drowsy Chaperone (June); his casting of former Syracuse Stage honcho Robert Moss as the narrating Man in the Chair changed the tone from sticky campiness to wry wit. The real treasure, however was Bruce Warren as Adolpho, the incompetent lothario. With the kind of astuteness that keeps MGR so strong, Sayles had slated Burt Bacharach’s previously neglected Promises, Promises (July) before the opening of its smash Broadway revival. The astringent book for Billy Wilder’s 1960 movie The Apartment and the complex score mean it’s never going to be a chestnut. Director Paul David Bryant was on top of the abrupt changes of tone, from yearning sweetness to acidic darkness.
Meet Me in St. Louis (August), based on the 1944 Vincente Minnelli movie, was the lushest production of the summer, with costumer Garth Dunbar giving MGR the look of MGM. All the women in white for a ballroom scene was a show-stopper. Big-voiced Kimberly Burns easily matched the variety of a young Judy Garland with the bouncy “Trolley Song” and the deep longing of “The Boy Next Door,” as if we had never heard it before. And in one of the most demanding child roles ever written for a major musical, Alizabeth York, imported from Rochester, gives you hope for the next generation.
Coming after the opening of the New York State Fair, Man of La Mancha (September) felt like an anticipation of the music festival that is to come. Richly produced with a dark, foreboding set by Czerton Lim, Man looked different from this popular work. Maybe it was the collaboration of a female director, Jen Waldman, and choreographer, Lori Leshner, that put an elegant, Shakespearean-trained actress Esther Stilwell, in the role of the guttersnipe Aldonza. Or that the humiliating rape was moved offstage, so that we only learn about it through mime. David M. Lutken in the title roles was also changed, putting aside the full-throated “Dream the Impossible Dream” in favor of introspection and tentativeness. His Sancho Panza (Patrick Riviere) was a sweet-tempered enabler.
When lead baritone David M. Lutken turned up next for Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash (September-October), it looked as though he had taken a great leap from Broadway fare. But it was the other way around. He had long been associated with Ring of Fire and co-directed it with Sherry Stregack. No one ever impersonates Cash, but there is much evocation of his world of Southern poverty, prisons, truckers, and loneliness, as in “Let the Train Whistle Blow.” The season closed with the Minnesota favorite, Greta Grosch’s Church Basement Ladies: A Second Helping (October). Set in the late 1960s, Ladies aspires to be a Lutheran version on Nunsense with broad humor about feminine hygiene, repression and cold weather. Company favorite Sandra Karas could do no wrong as the irritable Vivian Snustad, but Second Helping was about 10 percent as much fun as the first and wears out the welcome for the franchise.
Cortland Repertory Theatre. Still boyish Kerby Thompson, 10 years on the job as artistic director, has a winning formula: 1. a mystery, preferably by Agatha Christie; 2. a farce; 3. two big musicals, and some offbeat items no one else does. He only occasionally casts himself and always hits the mark when he does.
Written when Dame Agatha already had two hit shows running in London, The Spider’s Web (June) becomes a self-spoof. She exaggerated and mocked her own conventions, and one character opined, “This sounds like a variation of the Ten Little Indian Boys.” Another sedate English country house provided the setting for Philip King’s breathless farce See How They Run (June-July), directed by Thompson. None was speedier than English actor Richard Hollis as the Reverend, his velocity increased by shedding his trousers.
The joys of repertory casting aided Bert Bernardi’s direction of Jerry Ross’ The Pajama Game. Sonya Cooke turned up again as Babe Williams, a worker in the Sleep-Tite pajama factory. Comic relief was supplied by the reliable Dominick Varney, appearing as the hated but Paul Lynde-ish efficiency expert. The romantic second lead, Gladys, played by Shirley MacLaine in the original and by razorthin Amy Desiato here, got more than her share of top numbers, especially “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”
With 34 speaking, singing and dancing roles, Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon (July- August) was an even bigger show. Porcelainskinned, flame-haired Emily Beth Brockway as Fiona came with a voice for operetta, which the show nearly is. As the American visitors, hunky Peter Carrier was the idealistic Tommy, while director Jim Bumgarner gave more weight to Dustin Charles as the cynical sidekick. Kerby Thompson cast himself against type as the tough-talking ex-chorus boy in Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (August). A distant cousin of Driving Miss Daisy, Lessons brought together opposites: Thompson’s gay, Italian dance teacher, and a perfectly respectable wife of a Baptist minister, Mary Poindexter Williams. Once again, the object was not romance but rather the probing of each other’s strengths and (mostly) weaknesses.
Thompson’s other discovery this season was Milwaukee-based Roger Bean, a man with a genius for constructing comic jukebox musicals from vintage pop songs. (Bean’s The Wonderful Wonderettes will be produced twice locally in 2011.) Thompson hired Bert Bernardi to stage Bean’s The Andrews Brothers (September), with three guys, Gordon Maniskas (Lawrence), Andrew K. Moss (Patrick) and Sean Riley (Max), stuck in the South Pacific at the end of World War II and forced to impersonate the Andrews Sisters for a USO show. Lovely Peggy Jones provided the relief of real feminine beauty, not the drag kind.
The Redhouse. Live theater was prominent at the founding of the multipurpose arts facility near Armory Square six years ago, but it flagged a bit this year. Artistic director Laura Austin, an actress, resigned in March, only to return in April. This was before the departure of executive director Natalia Mount, all without explanation. No explanation was given for the cancellation of Christmas with the Calamari Sisters (November), an attempt to import the popular drag comedy team from Rochester. The decision was made in Rochester, not Syracuse.
More promising was an alliance with the Spanish language company, Autopista del Sur (Southbound Highway), which staged the North American premiere of the Argentine play Ella in March. Dialogue was in Spanish with summaries projected in English. Accessible to wider audiences was the English translation of Ricardo Monti’s Asunción (October), which dealt with love, violence, mysticism and power in Paraguay at the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Also originating in Latin America was Jose Miguel Hernandez’s one-man show, From Cuba to Cuse: Stories of My Life (October). The playwright won a lottery to leave Cuba in 1995 and eventually found himself here.
The big sellout show of the year was produced independently by a Cicero-raised singer who has gone national, Andrea Marshall-Money’s The Best Friend, the Ingenue & the Vamp (June), was a red-hot cabaret with saucy comedy. Marshall-Money, one of the biggest voices on local stages before bigtime prominence, brought Liz Power, once a poster girl for Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round, and Megan Flaherty.
But wait, there’s more: 2010 yielded many other floorboards footnotes.
• Gifford Family Theatre continued with the female Jekyll & Hyde series, Miss Nelson Has a Field Day (May-June). When blonde, angelic Miss Nelson (Marissa Rae Roberts) goes missing, she’s replaced by doom-andgloom Viola Swamp (Roberts again). It divided loyalties for youthful audiences; they say they want Miss Nelson back but Viola is more fun. A chatty cafeteria lady in a red wig (Carmen Viviano-Crafts) sounded a lot like Ann B. Davis on The Brady Bunch.
• What may have been the swan song for the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company gave us familiar faces looking their best. Director Sonita L. Surratt determined to revive Emily Mann’s Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (June). All words spoken on stage, both witty and waspish, came from Sadie and Bessie Delany, two African American civil rights pioneers who grew up in relative privilege. Annette J. Adams-Brown was the easy-going older Sadie, who constantly bumps into the younger and harder-edged Bessie (Karin Franklin King), who barks, “I’d rather die than back down.” Syracuse University dropped funding for the company in April, and Robeson did not announce plans for the 2010-2011 season.
• There’s no stopping Jack and Doris Skillman now in the 23rd year of their annual Onondaga Hillplayers dinner theater. This year it was a reprise of Marc Camoletti’s G- rated sex farce, Don’t Dress for Dinner (October-November). A married professional couple (John Seavers and Karen Alexander), both engaged in extramarital liaisons, suffer the misfortune of trysts with lovers (Carly Colbert and Tallon J. Larham) at the same country inn. Mary Kate Migdal stole scenes as the interfering cook. Tank Steingraber directed.
• Possible sexual mistaken identity is what drives Diana Son’s Stop Kiss (November), the launch of Encore Presentations and the team of director M. Marie Beebe and husband Stephen, one of our top technicians. A chance kiss in a public between bumptious brunette Sarah Reid and fawn-like blonde Danielle Valeriano brings on an attack from homophobic thugs and disrupts relations with boyfriends Joshua James and Mike McKay. It was a highly ambitious venture for a start-up company.
• Now in its 14th year, Bob Greene’s interactive ACME Mystery Dinner Theatre, often performing at the Spaghetti Warehouse on North Clinton Street, is the only one running with completely locally written material. In 2010 ACME revived hits from previous years, including Dan Stevens’ Dead Pull Hitter and Edward Mastin’s Hijacked Holiday. Now the leading interactive comedy troupe in the state, ACME also performed this year in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Lake George and Manhattan.
• Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre, traditionally a strong competitor at the SALT Awards, offered the originally commissioned drama Penelope, of Ithaca (July), by Kenny Finkle, and directed by company head Peter Flynn. Finkle was much favored by previous artistic director Kevin Moriarty, and Finkle’s Indoor/Outdoor (2004), greatly resembling A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, was one of Moriarty’s better world premieres. Penelope draws on the Odysseus story but is set in modern-day Ithaca. There were lots of local references, to the Commons, the different falls, Cornell, Carl Sagan and, inevitably, Wegmans (biggest laughs). Rumored to be troubled when some preview performances were canceled, the final production, with wonderful Kelly Hutchinson as the woman waiting for a husband to return, was disappointing. A work in progress, perhaps.
• And we lost big names in 2010. Murray Bernthal founded Famous Artists and brought the best and the brightest to Syracuse. Edith Basile won a SALT Award as a Non-Performing Person but performed miracles backstage for several companies. Larry Goodsight founded the short-lived but classy Cazenovia Theatre Company in 1999. And Mark Wright was one of the wisest people at the Cultural Resources Council; he also acted with different companies and founded his own, Theatre Unbounded.