Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Hansel and Gretel
The heroine of our story is a plucky young lady they call Little Marie (Rachel Brennan) who lives near Dock Street in South Philadelphia with her parents Big Marie (played by the inimitable Kathy Deitch) and Banjo Eddie (John Monforto). Daddy likes to sing and sew with his fellow mummers at the clubhouse and mama is getting tired of waiting for grandkids, but Little Marie knows she wants something more out of life. Little Marie's job as a secretary in City Hall gets kicked into high gear when Queen Marie of Romania (Mary Martello) decides she is going to visit the city of brotherly love. With a bit of help, Little Marie plans to drop her local drawl and dress to impress the visiting royalty, but things get complicated when she catches the eye of Queen Marie's charmingly awkward cousin Count Fredrick (Jeffrey Coon).
The cast is impressive and it is great fun to watch this energetic assembly bring Ogborn's terrific score to life. Brennan is like a tap dancing Tina Fey, sweetly funny and with just the right amount of plucky boldness. She and Deitch have the whole house in hysterics with "The Diction Lesson" (I will never walk into a Wawa again without hearing Deitch ask for "a Coke and a Hoagie to go"). Ensemble numbers "Shine on the Line" and "Mummer's Strut" are also too funny to hear without cracking a smile. Martello is delightful as the dignified but down to earth Queen and when she sings about sticking out her butt for the toe-tapping "Mummer's Strut" the crowd goes wild. The reed, string, and percussion combination that defines the mummers sound is happily well represented in the upbeat 1920s style score. The banjo solos are a special highlight, but the whole score is fun, polished, and fast paced.
The book needs some work, particularly in the second act where there is no real suspense or conflict relating to Marie and Fredrick's burgeoning relationship. The entire plot between Little Marie's boss Mr. Waterhouse (Paul L. Nolan), Dorcas Waterhouse (Deirdre Finnegan), and Penny Wanapacker (Mindy Dougherty) also feels contrived. That plot line needs to be thoughtfully fleshed out or removed entirely, perhaps to be replaced by more focus on the happenings in City Hall or the work Little Marie needs to do in preparation for the Queen's big visit.
Despite its flaws The Three Maries is a rollicking good time and a special treat for Philadelphia residents new and old. The strong cast and excellent original score outshine the problems with the book. When those problems are addressed, future productions of The Three Maries have the potential to become the sort of long running local favorite its producers are hoping to create.
The Three Maries runs though January 10, 2016, on the Mainstage of the Prince Theater at 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets call the Prince Theater box office at 215-422-4580 or visit www.princetheater.org.
Franklin Anthony; Ensemble