The Village Rep on Woolfe’s Production of “Disaster: The Musical” is a Boat Rocking, Earth Shaking, Night of Fun

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By Mark A. Leon

The incredible thing about live theatre is that each performance is a unique one of a kind experience.? Live theatre reaches into your soul and pulls the triggers of your deepest emotions.? It drives you to tears and laughter, warmth and heartache.? Every now and again, a play comes along that just entices you to just have fun.? That play is Disaster: The Musical.

The Village Rep on Woolfe’s latest production is a nostalgic roller coaster ride, sing along, laugh induced parody of the 70’s disaster genre with a little help from the lyrical genius of Blondie, Eric Carmen, Diana Ross, Bay City Rollers and more.

Take the likes of the drama filled, star studded 70’s disaster drama, i.e. Airport, Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, adding in the slap stick parody of Airplane and the musical composition of Grease or Rock of Ages and you have an evening that is sure to make you smile and maybe even try to find those old 8 Tracks.

With a cast from age 12 to 65, Disaster, under the wonderfully crafted direction of Keely Enright, musical direction of Kevin Thorn and choreography of Sarah Callahan Black, brings 1979 back to life with flare, color and excitement.

From the opening number of “Hot Stuff”, to the unrequited love scenes belted to the hits of “Feelings” and “Without You” to the insanely funny dismembered rendition of “Three Times a Lady”, this show will leave you smiling and reminiscing.? No musical taking place in the 70’s is complete without a little Gloria Gaynor.? Spoiler, some did survive.

The ensemble cast were the true show stoppers.? Their overly emotional expressive dialogue and musical numbers lit up each scene.? Complimented by stunning wardrobe selections that either made you yearn for the 70’s once again or remember why those outfits went away, the costumes add to the humor of the evening.

Two performances shined just a little bit brighter in this sky filled with local stars.

Madelyn Knight, as Sister Mary brings a subtle, often out of character humor to the stage.? Her comedic timing, extremely talented vocal range and blend of physical comedy turned that black and white nun’s outfit into one of the most colorful characters on stage.? This range of acting skill has showered the Lowcountry in several performances including Sense and Sensibility, Dogfight, The Wedding Singer and Nunsense.? She is a gifted talent in the Charleston theatre community.

Skyler Waddell, at age 12, alone shows courage and talent performing nightly to a large group.? Skyler takes this role one step further.? He takes on the role of twin brother and sister Ben and Lisa.? It wasn’t enough to take on two roles, with two voice ranges, but he has to be in several scenes as both (mind you a dummy stepped in to help a little).

From children to adults in the audience, it was clear that Skyler played a cherished character(s).? When he was on the floor after the boat rocked and he said, “I can’t find my Light Bright pegs in the shag rug”, it reminded many in the audience of a different time.? This young actor has a promising future.

Individually, there were golden moments of pure laughter.? Kathy Summer (Shirley) whose spasms and vulgar outburst were pure magic and Tamara Delaine Sauders Jenkins (Levora) had a voice that could hold its own on Broadway.

If you want a fun evening, where you will find yourself unconsciously singing along to songs we all know and love, where you will laugh as the performers poke fun at the silliness of life and where you will be swept away by a night of music, love and an earthquake, come to Woolfe Street Playhouse and catch Disaster:? The Musical, playing through May 12th.

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Woolfe Street Playhouse’s “Sweeney Todd” is an Absolute Triumph

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By Mark A. Leon

From the opening number to the last bloody scene, Woolfe Street Playhouse’s newest production, “Sweeney Todd” is a masterpiece.? With exquisite set and costume design, a cast with tremendously penetrating musical range and just the right combination of humor and horror, this play will leave you wanting more.

If you have read the book, seen another live production or got swept into Tim Burton’s theatrical release, throw it all out the window.? This cast has set the bar high.? This play, set in London, 1840’s is an all-encompassing transport through time.? As an audience member, you become part of the story, sitting at old wooden tables, wooed by street peddlers and offered the chance to get a shave with the infamous Sweeney Todd.? Remember, don’t say yes.

Bradley Keith leads this wonderful ensemble cast as Sweeney.? Speaking several weeks ago to Bradley, I learned that this has been a beloved story favorite of his for many years and outside of rehearsal, he ran lines with his young daughter.? This passion and dedication helped transform Bradley into this complex character.? With his subtle humor, pitted anger and emptiness in his soul, you witness the transformation and decline of a man who once was blessed with beauty, a family and a life of happiness and fulfillment.

Though his intentions are noble, his actions and uncontrollable obsession to the destroy those that took his family and life away become a dark path that one can never return.? Bradley’s powerful presence on stage gives the audience a character that you fear and fell empathy for all at the same time.

A remarkable performance.

Katherine Kuckelman, a College of Charleston senior studying Voice Performance, has the voice of an angel as Johanna.? If you close your eyes and listen to her voice, you are transported to a French opera house circa 1820.? The sensuality and emotion she carries is a vocal celebration.? Every chord makes you feel the thoughts, fears and love running through her mind.? Katherine is a true talent that has a bright future in the arts.

It was a pleasure to see Nat Jones and Jimmy Flannery reunite as Judge Turpin and The Beadle.? I had the pleasure of seeing both men perform in Threshold Repertory’s Production “Bent” and they both took a very deeply tragic story and let themselves become vulnerable and stricken.? There is a comfort both men share in each other’s presence which makes for excellent casting as two sinister towns officials.

What can we say about Mrs. Lovett played with explosiveness by Kathy Summer.? She is a carnival ride, stadium concert, fireworks show and a space launch all wrapped into one.? With precision comedic timing, a controlled insanity fueled by dreams of love and a superb singing voice, Kathy Summer owned her role as Mrs. Lovett.

The character of Tobias Ragg is perhaps one of the most complex in the play.? Often slow and lacking in intellect, loyal as a puppy, insightful and incredibly playful, Tobias becomes center stage in scenes where his isn’t even the prominent player.? His jovial musical numbers, playful dancing and knack for physical comedy was a blessing.? Played by Charleston Southern University senior theatre student Justin Borak, Tobias brings a natural balance to the insanity all around.? Justin’s acting technique is nearly flawless.? You are focused on his smile, laugh and unspoken banter with the audience during each of his scenes.

The remainder of the cast and ensemble all portrayed their characters pitted in the seedy underbelly of mid nineteenth century London with expert precision.? The vocals complimented by a beautiful band comprised of Leah Megli on piano, Brandi Manis on clarinet and Vanessa Chamers on cello added to the intensity and flow of the play so well.

“Sweeney Todd” is a theatrical play that will amaze, shock and satisfy you this Halloween season.? A must see.

Ticket Information – Sweeney Todd

‘Santaland Diaries’ Gives the Gift of Laughter at Woolfe Street Playhouse

By Mark A. Leon

The ‘Santaland Diaries’, adapted from the wildly humorous book by David Sedaris, opens this week at Woolfe Street Playhouse and plays through December 23rd.? Before I get into detail about this one act journey of hilarity, personal insight into human behavior and a touch of emotional sentiment, I would like to share a personal story that helped me prepare for this performance.

For those that do not know, Santaland Diaries is a true account of a 30 something who accepts a job as one of the Macy’s Santa Land elves during the holiday season in New York in the 1980’s.? Back in 2002, I suffered a personal tragedy and was unable to face the daily trials of a career let alone people.? I wallowed for a while and slipped into a slight depression, which entailed long days on the couch and a lazy gourmet meal of wine and ramen. After browsing through the print classifieds (some of you may not even know what that means), I saw an ad for an Easter Bunny.? “I could totally rock that,” I said to myself.? After a fine audition, outlining my extensive acting career from second to fourth grade, I got the gig.? One little thing that was not in the ad.? This “gig” was in the center of the Mall of America, the second largest mall in the county.? Don’t fret, I rocked it.? I rocked it so well, I was fired several weeks later.? Not my fault, but I will leave you with these lessons learned:

  1. ?A giant six-foot bunny trying to get onto a roller coaster without paying does not work.
  2. Following a child after he begs to have the Easter Bunny come home with him does not play well with moms.
  3. Hugging the sad looking teenage girl behind the pretzel stand because she seems to hate her job and life will not suddenly make her love her job.
  4. Finally, a giant oversized Easter Bunny outfit with a cute pink bow is hot as the dickens inside – For those aspiring character actors, it is not all glamor.

Based on that experience I was ready.

Robbie Thomas
Robbie Thomas

Village Rep Associate Artistic Director Robbie Thomas stars in this one actor performance and he does not disappoint.? His one man, one act played out like a symphony of drunk friends coming back for their class reunion and thinking they could still play in the recorder club together.? From the moment “Crumpet” (as he character was named during the elf days) entered the stage, the laugh track began.? Do expect some scenes to hit home personally.? From the flirtatious elf, to the controlling mother; crying baby to the obnoxious dad, Crumpet saw it all.? More importantly, he took it in with poise.

We have all had our share of miserable jobs; some more humorous than others.? The ability to become one with the experience, extract life lessons and impart that wisdom onto others is a gift.? David Sedaris’ gift and Robbie Thomas’ interpretation is one worth unwrapping this season.

‘Santaland Diaries’ is a fast paced, side splitting seasonal hit.? Set in the back stage of the playhouse, this production offers the audience a level of intimacy we rarely see in local theater.? Through snappy dialogue and quirky facial expressionism, the pace maintains a high level.? Caution, you may find yourself curbing your laughter time to a minimum as not to disrupt the flow.

It reminds us to not get too caught up in the serious side of Christmas.? Robbie Thomas takes on this role with a level of confidence that commands the stage (even if he is surrounded by bubbles, stuffed animals, letters to Santa and a giant bright tree).? From street clothes to tights, Robbie takes you into his world.? He exposes you to the underbelly of the Santa retail world and narrates a story of yuletide splendor.

Sometimes you need to let tradition rest for a moment nestled in a stocking.? Take a day away from the Nutcracker and White Christmas and chuckle your way through the holiday with ‘Santaland Diaries’ at the Woolfe Street Playhouse.? Believe me, once you get your credit card bill in January, you won’t be, so take advantage now.

Ticket Information – ‘Santaland Diaries’

Woolfe Street Playhouse Production of “Rock of Ages” brings down the house in a musical celebration

By Mark A. Leon / Photo by Minta Pavliscsak
By Mark A. Leon / Photo by Minta Pavliscsak

Throw all the rules of theater out the window, bottle up all the fun you can find in Charleston and then unleash it on stage.? Now, envision the quirky appeal of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the Farrelly Brothers in the throwback free spirited years of hair metal bands and you will be transplanted in the world of Woolfe Street Playhouse’s adaptation of Rock of Ages.

This two hour and fifteen-minute joyride with a soundtrack that includes Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Warrant, Steve Perry, Twisted Sister, Poison, Europe, Pat Benatar and Quiet Riot will keep you tapping your feet and lip syncing throughout the entire production.? As the cast puts their own spin on classic 80’s rock songs, you see a story of love, ambition, heartache and triumph unravel.

Picture Sunset Strip circa 1987 where lipstick dreams of stardom alive and well.? Entire a small town girl with a glow in her eyes and fantasies of the big screen in her head.? As she walks away from Dad in his John Deere suspenders and Mom weeping from the distance she knows a future of endless possibility awaits.? We have all have had that dream. Then she meets a Detroit, Michigan bar back on the strip who wants to light up the stage and rock.

Their worlds soon get turned inside out as this musical celebration of life, love, passion and ambition unfolds.

This cabaret style performance was converted into a virtual arena rock show with the audience playing a key supporting role.? With singing, clapping and even a bit of dancing at the conclusion, Rock of Ages literally will bring the crowd to its feet.

From the open lyrics of “Feel the noise; girls grab the boys; we get wild, wild, wild” and “Don’t need nothin’ but a good time, how can I resist.? Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time, and it don’t get better than this” you knew you were in for a ride.

In the final unleashed moment, the entire cast raise their arms with the final burst “Don’t Stop”.? Those final words sum up the true message and that is to live the life you want and never stop believing in yourself and your dreams.

The Bourbon Room is the setting of this love story narrated by the top hits of the 80’s.? Lonny Barnett, played refreshingly by Noah Smith adds his own brand of flirtatious humor and sarcasm as he narrates this rock and roll fantasy.? His over-zealous lust for life and warm-hearted appeal for love adds the perfect mix of insanity and humor to the production.

John Black and Sarah Callahan play Drew and Sherrie, the heart struck lovers who are thwarted by timing and the personal desires as they fight hard to bring their hearts together in the seedy under-belly of Sunset Strip.

Josh Wilhoit unleashes his inner rock star as Stacee Jaxx, the pompous long-haired lead singer of Arsenal who becomes too big for his own britches and learns a number of hard lessons in life.? Even as his career and spirits spiral to the ground, he never loses his thrill to rock.

Robbie Thomas as Dennis Dupree, the old rock star and owner of The Bourbon Club is played harmoniously well as he compliments the ensemble cast serving as the calm voice of reason in a world of musical chaos.

Tierney Breedlove, Scott Thomas and Derek T. Pickens lend a beautiful sub-plot as Regina, Hertz and Franz, a key conflict plotline of this tale.? Hertz and Franz see a future for the Sunset Strip that resembles more of a strip mall than a rock and roll gathering hub.

The energy of the cast and the was brought together harmoniously by the fueled stage direction of Keely Enright and the musical direction of Margaret Coleman.

Whether you want an evening of live musical theater that rejoices in the idea of love, music and a little kinky fun, relive the splendor of your youth or want to experience a place where the only thing in life was a great song and amazing mane of hair, Rock of Ages will sweep you away.

To Purchase Tickets Online – Rock of Ages (May 6 – May 29)

Photo by Minta Pavliscsak