Arts » Performing Arts

Icebound Perfume

She Loves Me Stuck in Ice Storm

by

comment
When Jim Hill sang the title song of She Loves Me, the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical, all the problems of Theatre Charlotte's current production crystallized in less than three minutes of the opening night performance. Upstage, behind Biff Edge's woefully boxy set, the curtain had been carelessly left open, giving us intermittent views of cast members scurrying behind the scenes. Down in the pit, Bill Congdon's combo was pitifully underpowered as it delivered the score's jubilant climax, comprised of two keyboards, a wee xylophone, and an upright bass.

Centerstage, the problems began when we spied tinsel from an earlier scene still dangling from Georg's overcoat. When Hill sang "...and to my amazement, I love it, knowing that she loves me," there was no visible amazement or enthusiasm. Director/choreographer Ron Chisholm coaxed a couple of nuances from his star, but no powerful emotion of any kind. Unless you count anxiety.

Losing two precious rehearsals to the ice storm in the final days leading up to opening night had obviously taken its toll.

The untidy set changes will be cleaned up by the time doors open again at the Queens Road barn this week. Hill will gain some confidence as Georg and shed some inhibitions. But the set will still be criminally boxy for the posh cosmetics shoppe where the action takes place, the orchestra will still be low on instrumental octane, and it's doubtful whether Hill will add a broad range of powerful emotions to his acting repertoire. That's a shame because Susan Roberts Knowlson's vivacious Amalia is somebody to be absolutely nuts for -- with vocal skills to beat the band.

You have to marvel as the initially disdainful Amalia develops such a heartfelt crush on this terminally bland Georg, particularly when Knowlson blandishes her breathtaking coloratura flourishes upon "Vanilla Ice Cream." She's absolutely giddy with glee. Joe Masteroff's adaptation of Miklos Laszlo's Parfumerie (the same comedy that spawned You've Got Mail) still retains a quaint lapidary charm after 40 years. The main story of two bickering co-workers who are unknowingly conjoined as soulmate penpals is embellished with a bevy of subplots that add much-needed twists and color.

There's Maraczek (William Penfield), the moody owner of the parfumerie, who harbors an unexpected grudge against Georg. The knickered delivery boy, Arpad (Ashby Blakely), yearns to park his bicycle and take his place behind the counter at Maraczek's as a sales clerk. And there's Ilona (Lisa Smith), a cashier who has been lax in her education and indiscriminate in her choice of men. Exhibit A would be the Lothario of the parfumerie, Kodaly (Steve Martin).

Smith solidifies her position among Charlotte's elite musical performers, bringing a rare flash of brilliance to Act 1 paired with Knowlson in "I Don't Know His Name." Penfield infuses Maraczek with oldtime continental charm, and Blakely gives Arpad fresh comic appeal in a promising debut. Martin was often endurable.

The lingering effects of the ice storm seemed to somewhat wear off after intermission when Penfield and Blakely had a comical scene together in a hospital and Smith breathlessly recounted "A Trip to the Library." We ended anticlimactically, however, when Georg and Amalia finally proclaimed their love. Romance, chemistry, and perfumed comedy were still icebound.

Queen City Jazz Company arrived last week at Booth Playhouse with a splash that's unusual for new performing arts companies in Charlotte. They nearly filled the balcony Friday night for An Evening of Short Works, their maiden program of concert jazz dances.Their artistic director, Melanie Sullivan-Coyle, has a keen eye for talent and a hyperkinetic flair for choreography. Energy for her two first pieces, "Unrequited" and "Renewal," sustained levels I've seen in championship aerobics -- with more imagination and less gratuitous athletic display. We were told that preparation for QCJC's premiere was an 18-month process, and it showed. Synchronicity of the ensembles was easily as tight as North Carolina Dance Theatre's -- often tighter.

As the company develops, I'm assured that male dancers will be added. We did see one male dancer, distinguished guest Michael Taylor, formerly principal dancer at the influential Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Taylor performed a solo midway through the evening, "Gotta Get Thru This," and choreographed the finale, "Upswing."

That last piece, set to a medley of Paula Cole and Jan Arden songs, was the first time dancers touched one another all night or performed lifts. Those ingredients figure to become more prominent when OCJC goes co-ed.

Joanne Jemsek, Britni Stitt, Sonshine Allen, and associate artistic director Justin Tornow were the most exciting newcomers. Tornow's choreography for "Focus: Think of Everything: Pledge Nothing" was perhaps the edgiest of the night. And her "Take Five" was easily the most playful -- with a brief Charlie's Angels tableau that broke up the house.

Notwithstanding the jazz label, QCJC leans toward an eclectic musical mix. Contemporary sounds included Radiohead, Afro Celt Sound System, Steve Reich, and Daniel Beddingfield along with the more predictable nods to Billie Holiday and Dave Brubeck.

Even more encouraging than the quality of last Friday's concert jazz initiation was the size and enthusiasm of the audience. Charlotte's appetite for dance is growing rapidly, nowhere close to being satiated. Apparently, the dance and choreographic talent are here in sufficient abundance.

While Charlotte Rep awkwardly regroups -- again -- under its befuddled board, Greensboro's new Equity company, Triad Stage, continues to achieve wonders in just its third year. Named one of the 50 Best Regional Theatres in America by the Drama League last year, Triad has just premiered its first commissioned play at its funky downtown storefront theater.The work is a dandy rip-roaring farce, Debunked by Alexander Woo, running through February 15. Real-life Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who settled down and married in Wilkes County in 1839, are the springboards to Woo's inspiration. In Woo's wild retelling, the stuck-together twins are innocent virgin sisters kept in seclusion by their eccentric mother with the assistance of an insane physician.

Momma Kincaid's aspiration for her daughters, marriage, is at radical cross-purposes with Dr. Beauregard's, which is pure showbiz. Using medical technology that existed only in the mind of Mary Shelley's fictitious Frankenstein, Beauregard re-outfits the twins' body with the heads of two reluctant Oriental suitors. Before the night is over, heads and bodies of seven people -- plus the odd dog -- are severed, switched, and stitched in a dizzying fugue.

You'll probably never see a farce that's more absurd or creepy. Preston Lane directs a superb cast in a supremely quirky work. Woo doesn't quit amping up his silliness until he delivers an unforgettable scene with a disembodied head. Worth the trip.

Add a comment