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Now Playing:
"Catch Me If You Can," May 5-28, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"Don't Dress For Dinner," May 12-21, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.

"The Producers," May 25 - June 4, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

"Rock of Ages," June 2 - July 1, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Quilters, a Musical," June 9-10, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

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"The Commedia Sleeping Beauty," June 10-18, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"Sex On Sunday," July 7-15, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

"Beauty and the Beast, Jr.," July 23-30, Village Square Theatre, 359-1346.

"Madagascar - A Musical Adventure," July 28 - August 6, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"Black Super Hero Magic Mama," August 4-12, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

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Six Veteran Comic Actors Romp With Abandon Through Workshop Theatre's Don't Dress for Dinner

Review by August Krickel

Promoting his production of Marc Camoletti's farce Don't Dress for Dinner - which Workshop Theatre is presenting in the Market Space at 701 Whaley through this weekend - Frank Thompson jokingly asked me "If you're doing a British sex farce with slamming doors and half-naked women, what director do you hire?"  He was alluding of course to his well-known fondness for the genre, and his many appearances in farces locally, including Noises Off, The Foreigner, and Fox on the Fairway. As a director, he's primarily done big musicals, but with this production - which ran for two years in France under the title "Pajamas for Six," was then translated into English by Robin Hawdon, and ran for seven years in London - Thompson escapes back into the briar patch. His delight, and that of his cast, is clearly evident, as six veteran performers romp through an utterly frivolous yet always hilarious two and a half hours of deception, infidelity, mistaken identities, and mismatched romantic partners.

The premise is a stock scenario: affluent couple Bernard (Ripley Thames) and Jacqueline (or Jackie, regally portrayed by Zsuzsa Manna) live two hours from Paris, and each has a lover on the side. His is the expected vain, self-centered bombshell/bimbo one might expect, Suzanne (or Suzy, played to the hilt by Ellen Rodillo-Fowler) while hers adds an extra layer of betrayal, as it's family friend - and best man at their wedding! - Robert (David Wilhite.) Unexpected arrivals lead to the invention of multiple cover stories on the fly, and complications intensify exponentially. I won't ruin a half-dozen delightful plot twists, except to say that matters become drastically more convoluted when a cook from a catering company, Suzette (also called Suzy, and played by Christine Hellman) is dragged into the mix - unwittingly at first, then reluctantly, and finally gleefully. Additional menace is provided late in the play when leather-clad, motorcycle-riding George (Scott Means) arrives to pick up Suzette. George and Suzette are French locals from the nearby village, while we assume the others are British ex-pats now living a few miles across the channel.

Everyone is at the top of his or her game, and timing is impeccable, which is crucial for the material to succeed. Changes in tones of voice, inflections in phrasing, and even icy glares inspire avalanches of laughter from the audience. It's a talented cast, but credit must also go to Thompson as director, and he ensures that every inch of floor space is used as characters pace in frustration. Manna turns in her customary professional performance, reverting from harsh and accusing with her husband, to flirty and coquettish with her lover. Rodillo-Fowler is one of my favorite local actresses, one who can play almost any type of role on stage, many of which end with her in lingerie - I'm happy to report that this is the case here too. Her character is the most outrageous and least subtle, but that's Suzanne's nature. Thames gets a great role too - technically the romantic lead and protagonist in a cast of equals. His accent - and indeed everyone's - is authentic, and reminds me a bit of Michael Caine. With Bernard tall, solid and bearded, the rules of comedy dictate that Robert be smaller, clean-shaven, and wear glasses, projecting the persona of an otherwise mild-mannered although prosperous accountant. Wilhite and Thames make a great comic team, and Wilhite is up for the play's greatest challenge: explaining a ludicrously complex rationale for most of the misadventures in painstaking detail towards the end of the second act. The wild card is Hellman as Suzette, who often steals the show as she reveals different sides of the character: professional, blunt, mercenary, inventive, vivacious. Ultimately she embraces the silliness with gusto, availing herself of the free-flowing booze with abandon.

Dean McCaughan's set is quite elegant.  Merlot-colored walls alternating with exposed brick, and the appearance of a rich hardwood floor, define the interior of a renovated country farmhouse. Beautiful artwork adorns the walls, but everything is still a little rustic, implying Bernard and Jackie have only recently moved in, which works perfectly with the limited space and budget of a local theatre group. We simply assume that the couple is still roughing it a bit, but have great wealth. The hint of a hallway to the kitchen and dining room offstage, and the bottom of a staircase, are included in the set decoration, adding welcome detail and verisimilitude. Costumer Alexis Doktor has made excellent choices for each performer, with clothing clearly reflecting each character's nature.

Camoletti's script is much talkier, and therefore more intellectual, than one might expect - there's definitely some physical comedy too, but most of the humor is to be found in the wordplay among the characters as everyone tries to keep their stories straight. Since much is made of who is going to be sleeping in which room, the author helpfully allows the characters to refer the rooms' former incarnations as "the cow shed" and "the piggery," which makes logistics vastly easier for the audience to follow. The same is true with the character's repetition of the details of their assorted lies, enabling the audience to be reminded of who thinks what about whom. By the show's end, the characters are so exhausted from their assorted charades that it's easier for them to just go with the flow than to try to unravel matters further, and the audience may well think the same thing, as the play runs 20-30 minutes longer than this sort of show needs. Still, as long as one enjoys the genre, this is an excellent way to spend an evening, and an excellent choice with which Workshop closes out its 49th season. Don't Dress for Dinner returns Wednesday, May 17 for four more evening performances, then closes with a 3 PM matinee on Sunday, May 21. Call the box office at (803) 799-6551 or visit https://www.workshoptheatre.com/dont-dress-for-dinner.html for more information.

A Clever Con Artist, Fearless Feds, Saucy Stewardesses, and Naughty Nurses Featured in Town Theatre's 
Catch Me If You Can

Review by August Krickel 

Town Theatre's production of the musical Catch Me If You Can is as slick, smooth, energetic, and appealing as its engaging young protagonist, and the bevy of flirtatious beauties who back him up. The story of teenage runaway-turned-master forger and con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. was the subject of a 2002 Steven Spielberg film with Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank, and Tom Hanks as Agent Hanratty, the G-Man hot on his trail. This might seem like unlikely source material for a Broadway musical, but the adaptation by multiple Tony-winner Terrence McNally - with music and lyrics by Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman - works nicely, with Frank narrating most of his escapades in flashback just as he is finally caught by Hanratty.

We learn that Frank (Casey Berry) never sought a life of crime, but was blessed with a flair for improvisation inherited from his entrepreneurial, wheeler-dealer dad (Clayton King.) With his parents' marriage on the rocks, Frank runs away, describing his anguish in "Someone Else's Skin" - an intriguing explanation for how someone wanting to no longer be himself so easily began impersonating others. Forging checks with ever-increasing proficiency leads to a life on the run from the law, with Frank adroitly adopting the roles of airline pilot, ER doctor, and attorney, although mainly as a way to impress girls. Those girls - an ensemble of the sassiest dozen chorines you could imagine - figure prominently in the show's promotional material, including the cover of the program, which features Frank in pilot's attire with the reflection of enticing young women seen in his sunglasses; that's not gratuitous however, as their allure turns up in the lyrics of most of the songs, including gems like:

I got a story about fame and money, and it's got more curves than a Playboy Bunny....
I got a tale of a great romancer, and it's got more moves than a go-go-dancer

Swedish, Greek or Japanese, a stewardess is trained to please...
Come out and play boy, cruise the world to find your perfect playmate

Baby I need the antidote you’re hiding under that white lab coat
Yes I’m ready to take doctor’s orders

Given such lyrics, it will come as no surprise that choreographer Tracy Steele follows suit, with almost every ensemble number staged like a television variety spectacular from the early 1960's, the era in which the story takes place. Many of the ladies have extensive experience on stage at Town and elsewhere, including plenty of ringers who have played lead and featured roles and indeed choreographed shows on their own, but here
they're clearly relishing the chance to play naughty nurses and sexy stewardesses, coquettishly winking and shimmying like Marilyn Monroe at every chance. They're a teenage boy's fantasy come to life, which is of the point, given that's from whose viewpoint we're seeing the story unfold. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and their constant movement keeps the show's pace on track. I was pleased to see an nifty little trick:  while Frank sings, and the setting is about to jump ahead a few days/weeks and/or to some other location, someone often will inconspicuously bring out a new jacket or hat or pair of glasses for him to don, meaning that the lead doesn't have to leave stage for a costume change, and there's no interruption of the speedy narrative. Lori Stepp's costumes perfectly channel the era, including authentically vintage floral print dresses and some dapper suits in khaki and seersucker for a scene set in Louisiana. That said, the FBI agents are literally men in black drab, and I do wish their suits had varied a tad, just in style and cut if not color.

Listening to the lavish opening number, "Live in Living Color," I jotted down "this sounds just like Hairspray!" - which is a good thing - before realizing that it actually was written by the Hairspray composers, once again homaging the various musical styles of the pre-Beatles 1960's. Most of Frank's numbers reflect the sort of light pop rock one might have found on American Bandstand (or for that matter, the Corny Collins Show) while songs featuring the older Hanratty (Gil Young)  or Frank, Sr. have a distinct Rat Pack vibe. "Seven Wonders," a sweet duet between Frank and love interest Brenda (Katie Glatch) has vague echoes of a country ballad that someone might be crooning on The Voice, while songs sung by Frank's French-born mom (Jordan Harper) are reminiscent of a sultry singer in a Parisian cabaret. Frank's culminating solo "Goodbye" has a more contemporary sound, like a hitherto unknown bonus track from Miss Saigon. In other words, the composers are musical chameleons, proficiently penning tunes in multiple genres from the period, creating clever rhymes - "Paris" with "Roger Maris" - yet never stooping to parody. I especially liked the authors' tendency to insert stretches of spoken dialogue within the middle of many songs, making the song lyrics an extension of the conversation, and thus more integral to the plot. I also enjoyed the way that characters speak their lines naturally, but then open up the floodgates of emotion when singing, as if these are internal monologues.  For example, the peppy, swing-influenced "Don't Break the Rules" allows Hanratty to show a little soul, revealing much more passion than the straight-laced "just the facts, ma'am" cop would ever allow to be seen by anyone. His duet with Frank (with some pretty backing harmonies from King and Harper) "Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year" sounds almost like a love song, except it's a lonely kid turning to a surrogate father figure. Lines like "I hope we meet again - when you're serving 8 to 10" are awfully witty, but often reveal underlying sadness or irony. Another good example is Brenda's soulful lament when she learns the truth about Frank, which could be the flip side to Gladys Knight's "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," featuring the refrain "Now I wanna see him fly, fly/ I'll be your alibi, my baby/Fly, fly, fly away."  Not only are there interesting choices with internal rhyming, assonance, and alliteration, but here, in song, the straight-laced young lady calls him "baby," divulging a level of intimacy not found in her spoken lines.

Can you tell I really enjoyed the score?  McNally's script, however, is pretty much by-the-numbers, and a world away from his intense early work like Love! Valour! Compassion!, although this is the sort of frothy, jubilant musical which that play's characters would have embraced with glee.  As Frank, Berry has the right level of youthful bravado balanced with naiveté that the role demands; his voice is rich and his acting charismatic. King channels the same sheisty persona he used as Nathan Detroit in the recent Guys and Dolls at Village Square - Frank. Sr. could really be an older version of Nathan, finding that making an honest living is harder than he thought - and his Frank and Dino-style numbers with his son and with Hanratty are enjoyable. Young gets a terrific part to play, all business as he leads a contingent of sad sack career agents from the boring bank fraud division on their first sexy international case, fatherly as he tries to counsel Frank, and amusing when he adopts the persona of a film noir protagonist. Director Jamie Carr Harrington has cast her show well, with great voices that surely made musical director Amanda Hines's job gratifying, and in tandem with choreographer Steele creates a fast-paced crowd-pleaser. There's even some choreography for two men in handcuffs, surely a first for this stage. Danny Harrington's set doesn't try to replicate the many settings and locales of the story, but instead relies on a basic construct of stairs, railings, and an upper level, rendered in interesting geometric shapes and patterns - they reminded be a little of Mr. Worf's bat'leth - and enhanced when lighting floods particular areas with color. Props are usually limited to a single piece - a sofa, a bar with stools, a bed, a desk with chairs - to define specific locations. It's by no means fancy, but it's a great example of how a musical doesn't need a dozen clunky scene changes when you're supposed to be focusing on the performers. I do wish that the blank backdrop for the upper level and for the FBI office had something visual to make them more interesting, possibly simple projections, which Harrington has had much success with in the past. The actors perform to a recorded score, which I normally am leery of, but I must say that this one works very well, with no discernible glitches. Plus, whoever those session guys were on sax and trumpet were on fire the day it was recorded. Head microphones are used, and again, I have to say that they were almost invisible; sitting literally on the front row, I never noticed them until a few performers were standing only a couple of feet away from me, and there were never any annoying feedback issues. It should be noted that there are severally very loud gunshot effects, one right when the lights go down and the show opens, so be forewarned.

Catch Me If You Can was never a huge hit, running for a modest yet respectable 6 months on Broadway, and garnering four Tony nominations, with the Hanratty actor the only win. It doesn't explore too many deep themes, but those it does are universal - the innocence of youth, the malaise of mid-life failure, and humanity's natural need for love and acceptance. Yet it provides great singing, dancing and acting opportunities for its cast - directors looking for a big splashy show that is at most PG-rated and could be done without too much expense at the community or high school level would be wise to take notice of this one. And did I mention how much I enjoyed the score?  Sure, it's derivative, by intent, which I think is a great accomplishment, much like the score for another Hanks film, That Thing You Do. My guess is that while the original leads on Broadway are popular and respected performers within the world of stage, they may not have had the same marquee value as the names Spielberg, DiCaprio, and Hanks. I'll go out on a limb here - if the show had starred Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman, I think it would still be running today. For that matter, I'm also imagining an 80's incarnation with Matthew Broderick and Jerry Orbach in their prime, or even a 60's version with perhaps Frankie Avalon or Ricky Nelson as Frank, and Old Blue Eyes himself as Hanratty. Ah, we can dream. Catch Me If You Can runs through May 21 at Town Theatre; call 803-799-2510 or visit www.towntheatre.com for information.










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