All during the weekend, the elements were in an uproar, turning drives to and from local theater events into booming, flashing, hydroplaning adventures. Why, the ruckus Saturday night was so violent that motorists along I-77 were actually driving within the speed limit!
Indoors up at Davidson or here at Central Piedmont, action onstage often belied the calming or raging skies outside. At Hodson Hall on Friday, yonder off Exit 30, lights flickered sporadically all through the evening, long after John Barrymore was summoned by séance from the grave. Yet the heavens yielded little more than a drizzle on the return trip.
Saturday night, the seething cloud canopy burst with a fury after CP's intermission. Yet at stately new Halton Theater, there wasn't the slightest hint that the building -- or its theatrical electronics -- were under thundering siege. The College's drama chair, Tom Hollis, strode onto the stage after the performance and informed us that our favorite pets were pouring down outside.
Make no mistake, though, lightning has struck on both of these stages. Few other flickers of imperfection besides those wayward lighting fixtures are marring Davidson Community Players' current production of I Hate Hamlet. With a supporting cast that includes 1996 Actress of the Year Jill Bloede and 2002 Actor of the Year Mark Scarboro, this comedy piloted by three-time Director of the Year Lon Bumgarner is still an overachievement, worth the trek to Davidson College in any weather.
That's largely because Brian Lafontaine and Spencer Lee, as daytime soap hero Andrew Rally and the palpably immortal Barrymore, go beyond the comedy of clashing generations and philosophies. They capture playwright Paul Rudnick's lighthearted indulgence toward theater artifice and convention -- and they're attuned to his underlying dialectic. Behind the shtick and the bluster, there's a passionate advocacy for the enduring value of theater. Slowly, Rally realizes that live theater is more rare and more precious because of its precarious existence amid a culture dominated by TV, Hollywood, outrageously big salaries and alarmingly short attention spans.
Lafontaine really does seem overmatched by the stature of Hamlet -- totally incapable of the diligence and immersion the role requires. His journey toward mastery takes him from ersatz Brando at the start of Rally's learning curve to an end point that's startlingly real and natural. Lee complements Lafontaine's cowering hero beautifully, truly a Barrymore he can be inspired by -- after episodes of awe and intimidation. Supersized chunks of Barrymore ham are judiciously seasoned with telltale wisps of Olivier.
As Andrew's chaste girlfriend, Deidre, Dana Childs gives us a finely calibrated barometer of our hero's progress to manhood -- in a delightfully fey package. But in many ways, Rudnick's most powerful cannonades come from Scarboro as Andrew's promoter. This wheeling-and-dealing Gary is a lethal concentrate of all the slickness, superficiality and pizzazz that makes LA so ridiculous to NY. Rudnick's assault on the Left Coast, as delivered by Scarboro, is the comedy equivalent of the San Andreas Fault.
Shameless jive-ass scene stealing you should not miss.
Bloede doesn't really get to shine until late as Lillian Troy Andrews, Rally's theatrical agent.
With Biff Edge's monastic, flambeaux-flavored set design, coupled with some nifty (and uncredited) sword-fight choreography, Bumgarner's staging scores nearly as high in mood and action as it does in comedy and message. A palpable hit.
Last month, we had a joyous reaffirmation of what CPCC Summer Theatre can become at Halton Theater as its 33rd season began with The Wizard of Oz. Now as the first Halton season closes with 42nd Street, we're getting an electrifying reminder of what CP Summer has always been, a launching pad for promising young regional talent fresh out of college.
Undoubtedly, a prime reason why the CP ensemble is proving itself so decisively is its strong identification with the story -- and the dream. Any questions you might have will be quickly answered as soon as the Halton curtain rises, maybe three feet off the ground, and we literally "meet those dancing feet." The tapping of Eddie Mabry's choreography thunders, and the unison of the ensemble dazzles. When the curtain rises all the way, and the ensemble adds equally precise and demanding arm gestures, it's like icing on the cake.
I found myself sitting bolt upright within seconds, partly because I had to see those tap shoes hitting the wood and partly because I was lifted by the energy. This was the stuff they had been waiting to show us since the season began.
Unlike "Pretty Lady," the musical-within-the-musical that climaxes with the star-making title song, the success of 42nd Street doesn't fall exclusively on the youngster who portrays Peggy Sawyer. Somebody may have neglected to tell that to director Carey Kugler. His shaping of Elizabeth Stacey's performance as Peggy is so detailed and meticulous that Stacey must have felt at times she was surrounded by two hyperdriven Julian Marshes, one fictional and one very real.
It didn't matter whether Stacey had the stage to herself or if she shared it with Marsh or juvenile co-star Billy Lawler. Even when she deferred to Dorothy Brock, the aging diva she was destined to replace, or buried herself in the ranks of chorus, Stacey aptly registered every mile of her mythic roller coaster journey.
She arrives from Allentown for auditions -- late -- with a bounty of talent that doesn't yet equate to confident, overpowering charisma. Kugler makes sure that Stacey truly rises to her big moment, and Mike Collins as Marsh connects with Sawyer to exactly the right degree without surrendering his steely toughness. That is unexpectedly touching in the denouement.
Terrain can get pretty tricky when our Marsh becomes particularly corny, and Kathryn Stamas as Brock faces a similar challenge navigating episodes of egotism and inflamed jealousy before dropping her guard -- momentarily -- and becoming Peggy's 11th-hour counselor and confidante. At times, Collins and Stamas seem to stonily steam roll through their inconsistencies. The prevailing mantra seems to be, let's get to the next big tap number ASAP.
There's no arguing with that strategy when we reach the mother of all finale. Youth triumphs as the obsessive beat and clatter of "42nd Street" are unleashed with all their glittery, balletic and tragic trimmings. The impact is as visceral as you could wish, spiked with a heavy dose of Times Square vulgarity.
Morgan Rose gets to personify a hefty chunk of that midtown vulgarity as Anytime Annie, the slut of the chorus, earning extra kudos as dance captain. Matthew deGuzman acquits himself well in the thankless role of the juvenile, and Olivia Edge gets some sly licks in as songwriter Maggie Jones. Just when "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" seems bound to Saccharine County, Edge steers us on a welcome detour to Cynical City.