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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

There's A Marvelous Party at ACT Theatre

Also see David's review of Namaste Man

A Marvelous Party
Mark Anders, Anna Lauris and David Silverman; Richard Gray (piano) and Chris Monroe (drums)
Just how often do you see an entire audience gaily transported to a world of musical comedy bliss for two hours, wiping away the cares of the real world? A quick glance at my fellow playgoers during the opening of A Marvelous Party: The Noël Coward Celebration revealed exactly that. It is a heady mix of droll, sophisticated lyrics, alternately jaunty and haunting lyrics, and niblet sized kernels of the wit and wisdom of Coward himself, performed by an ideal cast of Seattle talents at the height of their powers. As one of Coward's peer lyricists Ira Gershwin wrote, "Who could ask for anything more?"

Devised (with permission of the Coward estate) by David Ira Goldstein, Carl Danielsen, Mark Anders, Patricia Wilcox and Anna Lauris, A Marvelous Party has deservedly won kudos and awards across the country. Mr. Anders and Ms. Lauris are also two of the four splendid Seattle lights gracing the production, alongside David Silverman and Richard Gray. Devilishly well directed by David Ira Goldstein, the quartet not only delivers the expected Coward classics such as "Mad Dogs & Englishmen," "Mad About the Boy," "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and "If Love Were All," but also romps through several more obscure Coward gems, including "The Stately Homes of England," "Sail Away," "There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner" and several delicious comic ditties from Coward's Broadway bust The Girl Who Came to Supper. Co-creator Wilcox has given them just enough droll musical staging to keep the show light on its feet, with Silverman and Lauris the primary beneficiaries of the snazzier steps. Anders is nearest the personification of Coward's wry and biting humor, and Gray is the mainstay at the piano but given great spotlight numbers befitting his own winning way with a musical number.

Everyone onstage has at least one or two ripping solo moments. Anders' renditions of "Mad Dogs & Englishmen," "There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner" and especially an increasingly giddy "I've Been to a Marvelous Party" pay gleeful homage to the style in which Coward himself would put across these numbers. Silverman is rollicking on "What Ho, Mrs. Brisket" then unbearably poignant in his delivery of "If Love Were All." Gray insinuates every naughty implication of "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" and engages in a hilarious piano battle with Anders. Yet it is Anna Lauris, always a solid and engaging performer, who blossoms here into the full blown, scene-stealing star of the show.  As the sole lady on the stage, Lauris manages to conjure a Betty Boop madcap quality on "Would You Like to Stick A Pin in My Balloon?," torch her way through "Mad About the Boy" and be soothing yet never saccharine on "I'll Follow My Secret Heart." But it is her tour-de-force performing the 15-minute mini-musical "The Coconut Girl" with which her performance really knocks one out of the ballpark. And, whether it is Silverman, Lauris and Anders chiding "Mrs. Worthington" or asking "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?"; Anders and Silverman's vaudevillian "Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?"; or the full company finale to "I'll See You Again," the ensemble cast seem to love each other as much as they love the material they have been given. And the audience loves them right back.

Bill Forrester has created a posh, elegant and inviting scenic design, and Rick Paulsen's lighting is all sinewy shadows or music hall garish, as required. The cast look exceptionally winning and dapper in the ample array of festive costumes designed by David Kay Mickelsen. Richard Gray's musical direction is beyond reproach and, thanks to his efforts and a top-notch sound design by Dominic CodyKramers, not a single delicious Coward lyric is lost.

Noël Coward could be quite the critic, but one feels certain that he is watching this production from some chaise lounge in the sky, and when Gertie or Bea asks him his opinion, he replies "I couldn't have liked it more."

A Marvelous Party runs through July 13, 2008 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street at 7th Avenue, in downtown Seattle. For more information go to the ACT Theatre web-site at www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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