We've had some damn good summer seasons in the past, but I can't remember any that started out with so much quality at so many places. The first wave included Charlotte Shakespeare's The Tempest, Actor's Theatre's The Marvelous Wonderettes, a funkalicious Rhyme Deferred from On Q, a vicious 8 Misbehavin' from the Charlotte Squawkers, and a CAST quad up in NoDa — four simultaneous productions, highlighted by the not-to-be-missed A Steady Rain.
CPCC Summer Theatre is usually in the first wave, but 2012 is a tough budget year, so CP's 39th season began later with one less show in its lineup. Tom Hollis directed a beautifully sung, respectably mounted Guys and Dolls that only intermittently betrayed its straitened finances. Scenery by Gary Sivak was best for the Hot Box nightclub, the cityscapes, and the climactic sewer scene where Sky Masterson rolls the dice for his soul and his soulmate. Sarah Brown's Salvation Army mission, however, and the Havana hideaway where Sky takes her to win his bet with Nathan Detroit were both properties deserving to be condemned.
Surprisingly enough, the guys wore better threads than the dolls in the big ensemble dance numbers, but costumer Jamey Varnadore raised his game for Miss Adelaide, the Hot Box headliner, and her backup floozies. The comedy couple, Michael Moore as Nathan and Charity Ruth Haskins as Adelaide, were better-dressed — and better-presented — than the romantic couple. Ross Neal had some swaggering charisma as Sky, besting Brando vocally in his rendition of "Luck Be a Lady," and Haley Henderson had more than sufficient starch as Sarah, softening with traces of giddiness for "If I Were a Bell."
More personable were Haskins' "Bushel and a Peck," Adelaide's eponymous laments, and the climactic Moore-Haskins duet on "Sue Me," somehow managing to follow Eddie Mabry's gritty crapshooter choreography. Also upstaging the lovebirds was Beau Stroupe as Nicely Nicely Johnson, who made banquets out of the title song and the righteous "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Stroupe simply has the mileage on him that makes him better suited for this classic adaptation of Damon Runyon's gallery of ne'er-do-wells.
On the other hand, Henderson, Neal, Haskins, and Moore will all be more age-appropriate when CP's season winds up with Legally Blonde next month.
The Odd Couple (Female Version) was another second-wave success at Theatre Charlotte, with Darlene Parker far beyond peak form as Olive Madison, even though she had to deliver most of the role from a wheelchair. Ashli Stepp certainly made Florence Unger irritating and pesky enough, but she only occasionally opened the vein of Florence's neurotic, hypochondriacal comedy as she imposed upon her best friend. Jill Bloede directed with an obvious zest for the Neil Simon script, reserving her most inspired excesses for the Costazuela brothers, who double-dated the title players in Act 2. Mustaches worn by Vito Abate and Hank West as the siblings will presumably be returned to Desilu Studios and the wardrobes of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz.
Lastly, Queen City Theatre Company kicked off their first annual Queen's Fab Fest with a concert version of Falsettos that totally eclipsed my expectations. As impressive as Glenn T. Griffin was when he directed himself in Chess last year, his performance as manchild Marvin, discarding his dyspepsia as he divorced Trina and struggled with his gay lover Whizzer, was markedly better. Steven Martin was rock-solid in the difficult William Finn score as Whizzer, but Brianna Smith and Ashby Blakely were nothing short of sensational as Trina and her analyst Mendel, who usurps Marvin's place as her husband.
Fab Fest continues no less gaily with Coco Peru on Wednesday, Pandora Boxx on Thursday, a Twisted Broadway cabaret on Friday, and a Wizard of Oz sing-along on Saturday.