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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Man of La Mancha and
Little Shop of Horrors


Sonny Leo and Peter Schmitz
Photo by Bill D'Agostino
Act II Playhouse's production of Man of La Mancha reconceives one of Broadway's biggest hits for a small theatre. The results are hit and miss: the production is full of fine acting and crafty musicianship, but this version of the classic tale of Don Quixote lacks the majesty it needs to inspire its audience.

Since there's not enough room for an orchestra at the Ambler venue, director Aaron Cromie has cast his show with nine actor/musicians who play everything from accordion to cello to mandolin to toy xylophone. (This approach is highly reminiscent of director John Doyle's popular actor/musician adaptations of Sondheim musicals.) The percussion-heavy arrangements (by guitarist Christopher Colucci, who appears onstage throughout the show) are clever and, at their best, they give the music a propulsive rhythm that adds to its power. But at their worst, when all the instruments but the guitar drop out, the arrangements sound awfully thin, unable to give sufficient support to the voices (especially during the finale).

It doesn't help that the two leads don't have the vocal firepower to do justice to the gorgeous Joe Darion/Mitch Leigh score. Peter Schmitz and Maria Konstantinidis both have the right looks for their roles—Schmitz's noble aspect is perfect for Don Quixote, and Konstantinidis' fierce gaze is a good match for Aldonza, the servant girl whom the befuddled Quixote mistakes for his dream woman Dulcinea. But Schmitz's voice, while pleasant, is not commanding; his version of "The Impossible Dream" doesn't come close to stopping the show. And while Konstantinidis has a good belt, her high notes tend to be strident. The other actors are all fine singers, with Jake Blouch and Brian Anthony Wilson making the deepest impressions. (Act II deserves credit for not using any amplification, allowing the audience to appreciate these voices in their purest form.) And Sonny Leo's cuddly Sancho Panza is a perfect comic counterpoint to the show's otherwise serious tone.

Dale Wasserman's book is full of pithy, quotable lines that are designed to motivate the audience to pursue their goals. But in a production that lacks grandeur, that message gets diluted, and Wasserman's words sometimes ring hollow. And Cromie's production is too lackadaisical to be rousing. Cromie does use some of his trademark puppetry to amplify the story, but it's used so briefly, and introduced so late in the show, that it seems an afterthought. Maura Roche has designed a gloomy but appealing dungeon as the setting for Quixote's adventures.

Act II's Man of La Mancha still has a lot of affecting moments and good music, but in general, this minimalistic production needs, well, something more.

Man of La Mancha runs through June 8, 2014, at Act II Playhouse, 56 East Butler Avenue, Ambler, Pennsylvania. Tickets are $33 - $39, with discounts available for students, seniors and groups, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 215-654-0200 or online at www.Act2.org.



Laura Giknis & Andrew McMath
Photo by BRT Staff
Things are a lot more cheerful—and a lot more morbid—at Bristol Riverside Theatre, where there's an upbeat production of Little Shop of Horrors. Sure, the central character is a potted plant that lives on human blood and is bent on taking over the world. But Howard Ashman's witty lyrics and Alan Menken's blend of doo-wop, soul and soaring balladry make even a man-eating plant seem palatable and lovable. And director Susan D. Atkinson's production makes it all work splendidly.

Laura Giknis gives an affecting (and beautifully sung) performance as the heroine Audrey, and she's well-matched by Andrew McMath as Seymour, the suitor who goes way too far to make her happy. There are good comic turns from Daniel Marcus as their frazzled boss and Danny Vaccaro as Audrey's brutal boyfriend, and Carl Clemons-Hopkins sounds like he's having a lot of fun as the sassy voice of the plant. As the three "urchins" who serve as the show's Greek chorus, Lindsey Warren, Candace Thomas and Berlando Drake make a terrific team. Jason Simms' finely detailed Skid Row set is appropriately seedy.

But it's not a flawless show. Stephen Casey's choreography consists mostly of repetitive steps for the urchins, and the decision to have Giknis stand motionless on the side of the stage during her big ballad "Somewhere That's Green" robs the song of much of its power. All the voices are annoyingly over-amplified, even during the dialogue scenes (Adam B. Orseck did the sound design). And Ashman's book (adapted from a low-budget 1960 horror movie) spends too much time making jokes about Audrey being abused by her vicious boyfriend, leading to a lot of uncomfortable laughter.

Nevertheless, this is a show that manages to be uplifting despite its dark humor. Come to BRT and see how they do it.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through June 8, 2014, at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, Pa. Tickets start at $42, with discounts available for students, military and groups, and are available by calling the box office at 215-785-0100 or online at www.BRTStage.org.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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