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Now Playing:
"Motherhood Out Loud," May 8-23, Chapin Theatre Company at Chapin Firehouse (May 8-9) and Saluda Shoals Park (May 21-23), 240-8544.

"Spamalot," May 8-30, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"Other Desert Cities," May 8-23, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Rachel Rizzuti: Light Up the Night," May 22-23, On Stage Performance Center.

"Bill W. and Dr. Bob," May 29 - June 13, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

"Brer Rabbit," June 12-21, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"9 to 5, The Musical," June 19-20, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

"Into the Woods," June 19-28, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"Dreamgirls," June 26 - August 1, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

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Town Theatre Steps Out of Its Wheelhouse With Monty Python's “Spamalot”

Review by Jillian Owens.

Two play/theatre combinations have left me me a bit perplexed this season. The first was Trustus Theatre's rather conservative choice of Godspell.  But I was even more surprised when I discovered Town Theatre would be mounting Spamalot.  I was also slightly worried.  This bawdy & campy adaptation of the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail seemed an odd fit for a theatre that is known for presenting conservative fare for conservative audiences.  Trustus Theatre or even Workshop Theatre (save their temporary workspace woes) seemed a much better fit.  But I commended Town for trying something unusual for them.

As I mentioned above, Monty Python's Spamalot is loosely based on the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail which is a silly and irreverent adaptation of the tales of King Arthur.  It's one of the Monty Python boys' best and most-beloved works.  When Eric Idle (book, lyrics, & music) teamed up with John du Prez (music) to create this musical adaptation, they did a great job.  The writing, much of which is borrowed from the film, is hilarious and clever.  The songs are silly, fun, and incredibly witty.  Spamalot won 3 Tony awards, including one for Best Musical of 2004-2005.

Unfortunately, this production, directed & choreographed by Town Theatre Veteran Shannon Willis Scruggs, doesn't do the work justice.  As a huge Monty Python fan, I must say I was disappointed.  From very simple, but yet somehow sloppily-executed choreography, to an underwhelming vocal presence by the ensemble, to lackluster performances, to accents that wavered from southern to cockney, this show was reminiscent of Waiting for Guffman. 

I initially found the sets and lighting by Danny Harrington to be impressive (as is most of his work). But as the show went on, very noticeable gaffes, such as a huge air tank that somehow didn't get covered on one of the set pieces, set pieces not functioning properly, and clearly being able to see the bare plywood backs of several flats that should have been camouflaged – or at least painted – became distracting.

The performance I attended was also plagued with curtain and scrim problems.  Watching someone from backstage reach their arm out to help pull these down only deepened the unintentionally Christopher Guestian vibe of this production.

Fortunately, this show isn't without its bright spots.  Frank Thompson was a terrific choice for Arthur, and played the role as being much more gangly and naive than Graham Chapman, but it worked and it was an interesting adaptation of what could have been a pure copycat performance.  Rebecca Goodrich Seezen (The Lady of the Lake) has a very strong & lovely singing voice.  Travis Roof delivered a hilarious and frisky performance as Prince Herbert, as well as filling in for the absent Will Moreau as Not Yet Dead Fred.

Perhaps the cast and crew of this production of Monty Python's Spamalot were just having an off night.  Perhaps as this show enters its last performances, tweaks have been made and it's at production level.  This reviewer certainly hopes so, and also hopes Town Theatre will continue to try to push out of their comfort zone in future productions.

"Spamalot" runs through May 30 at Town Theatre. For reservations call the box office at 799-2510. For more information visit our Press Release page.


Comic Tone and Manic Pace Make for Delightfully Silly Lend Me a Tenor at Workshop Theatre

Review by August Krickel.

Doors are slamming, scantily-clad beauties are hiding in closets, and identities are being mistaken - this must surely be the work of Ken Ludwig, the ridiculously successful master of the ridiculous. Lend Me A Tenor was Ludwig's first major hit (with nine Tony nominations and two wins), and has become a popular staple of regional. community, and dinner theatre. Ostensibly set in 1934 (but really a timeless story, with virtually no topical references to place it in any one era) the plot concerns a famous Italian tenor making an appearance the Cleveland Grand Opera, and the resulting mischief and shenanigans that are bound to occur. Closing out Workshop Theatre's first season at the 701 Whaley Market Space with a bang, director Jocelyn Sanders finds the right comic tone and manic pace to create and sustain a delightful two hours of silliness.

Ludwig is often hailed - but also derided - as a skilled practitioner of farce, the comedic form that dates to Menander and the "New Comedy" of ancient Greece. Recognizable character types (the dirty old man, the young virgin, the conniving servant) are thrust into outrageous situations, and the goal is to generate as much laughter from the audience as possible. Weighty themes and deep characterization fall by the wayside, which generally means either one likes farce, or hates it, but sometimes there are elements of satire that skewer differing levels of society and their interactions. At its best, that can take the form of vintage screwball comedies from film, like Bringing Up Baby or My Man Godfrey, with assorted issues of gender. class and sexuality explored, or perhaps exploited, for maximum comic effect. But then usually someone drops their pants, or a chase scene takes off, and you don't dwell too much on details or believability. 

Julian DeLeon plays Max, the opera company's "factotum, gopher, and all-purpose dogsbody" (I had to look that last one up, and sure enough, it's a performer of menial tasks.)  So in other words, he's the poor schlep/everyman figure - think Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, minus the high IQ. He aspires to be an actual opera singer, and loves Maggie (Katie Mixon), a traditional ingénue who longs for excitement - think Shakespeare's Celia, or Sheridan's Lydia Languish. Enter Tito Morelli (Jim DeFelice), aka "Il Stupendo," a bombastic tenor in the vein of Pavarotti or Giovanni Jones (the  tenor tormented by Bugs Bunny in Long Haired Hare) and his fiery Italian wife Maria (Melinda Collins), the archetypal shrewish spitfire. Therese Talbot plays a society matron (think Margaret Dumont from assorted Marx Brothers films), Bobby Rogers is a conniving bellhop, Samantha Elkins is a sultry temptress in a towel, and David Reed is the apoplectic company manager (think Gale Gordon as Mr. Mooney from The Lucy Show.) I mention these "types" because screwball comedy and farce both depend on recognition of predictable behavior in assorted plot twists and turns. Director Sanders has chosen her cast well: while Mixon and Elkins often play dramatic heroines, their comic skills are strong, and the result is seven characters actors, able to embody those characters within the context of farce and play them to the hilt. It must be noted that Collins played Maggie in Workshop's previous production of Tenor in 1992;  while she, Mixon, DeFelice and Reed have all done a number of Workshop shows in the past, they have often worked together with the Chapin Theatre Company, and it's nice to see them all together in a different venue. Talbot worked for many years in professional theatre in Georgia, while Elkins, DeLeon and Rogers have all been teaching artists with local schools. Mix all this talent together, and success is bound to happen.  Tenor is Max's show, however, and DeLeon, a prolific actor in many supporting roles in the last three years (including a cross-dressing Wolf in Shrek at Town Theatre and an inordinately happy Happy in The Commedia Snow White at Columbia Children's Theatre) is more than up for the challenge. It's official: like his character, he is now a successful leading man.

Veteran designer Randy Strange, who ostensibly "retired" from Workshop last year, makes a welcome return with a visually appealing set. Ludwig's script calls for nothing more than a two-room hotel suite where you can see both adjoining rooms. Strange has rendered them at a sharp angle, to maximize space on stage, and enables the actors to "cheat" a good bit, inconspicuously using the downstage area as extensions of both rooms. The bedroom has teal walls and a rich vermillion bedspread, while the parlor area features contrasting lavender walls and a pale green sofa. Add to this a somewhat abstract suggestion of a window (that obviates the need for actual glass panes or a view of the city skyline) and the result is simple yet quite elegant. Sanders adroitly maneuvers her cast in and around every door and piece of furniture, using every inch of space on stage in her blocking, and a number of intricately choreographed moves where people have to follow each other around in tight patterns look perfectly natural. Costumes by Alexis Doktor are appropriately elegant - especially a suit worn by Reed in the first act - with Max's simpler attire conveying the right schlubbish impression. Reed also doubles as sound designer, and the show benefits from his background in broadcasting. Sound usually gets ignored, until something goes wrong, but with Dean McCaughan's hand on the controls, phones ring right when they are supposed to, and voices overheard on the other end sound just as you'd expect.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I enjoy Workshop's new space for many reasons. Seating is arranged in front of the stage in a horizontal, landscape style, with only five rows of 30 seats each, 15 on either side of the center aisle. It's easy to hear everything, with no microphones needed. Combined with Strange's diagonal set, two whole rooms are easily depicted, and easily seen. Warm weather makes the front porch space outside an enjoyable place for a cold beverage or snack, and the vintage brickwork of adjacent main 701 Whaley building is just as pleasantly atmospheric as the former Bull Street location. Plus, there must a 500% increase in restroom capacity, which longtime local theatre-goers know is a huge issue at most local theatres.

Lend Me A Tenor is in no way intellectual or profound or symbolic of some greater truth, but in every way it's amusing and entertaining, thanks to the talent of its cast and director. Workshop's production is a spiffy and energetic realization of perhaps Ken Ludwig's most popular work, and is a nice close to a successful season at 701 Whaley. The show continues this week with evening performances Wednesday May 13 through Saturday May 16, and closes with a matinee performance Sunday afternoon, May 17.  For more information, visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/lend-me-a-tenor.html or call 803-799-6551. Note: following the performance on Friday May 15, stick around for Sh*tfaced Shakespeare at 11 PM, in which seven actors, including several of the Tenor cast, turn Romeo and Juliet into the ultimate drinking game - details at https://www.facebook.com/events/766609813456139/.



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