Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Playwright/actor Ed Dixon first met George Rose when, as a callow youth, he was cast in a touring company of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince. “I was young, pretty and could hit the high notes.” The British performer, 30 years his senior, was a respected character actor and unabashed homosexual – rare in the day. Dixon’s first impression? Underwhelming. Then Rose took the stage as Lutz, a typically vaudevillian turn. “He was outrageous, ridiculous, hilarious…with an uncanny ability to break through the fourth wall…” Captivated but “wary he might put his hand on my knee,” the nascent performer visited Rose in his dressing room. No such attempt occurred.
This is Dixon’s intimate story of the powerful relationship that supported early endeavors and made his life more colorful while teaching him about both theater and life. It’s an illuminating, warts-and-all portrait of the talented artist that became Dixon’s idol, then fell from a great height with dire consequences to both men – as told, it should be noted, with love.
The playwright is a terrific storyteller. We learn about Rose’s habit of calling all his dressers Lisette, attiring them in French maid’s aprons; of having mountain lions “in the second bedroom of an ordinary apartment on an ordinary street in Greenwich Village” and, later, after their harrowing demise, an ocelot. There are priceless quotes and song snippets enacted as if Rose whose comments knew no social boundaries and who used blue language like a truck driver queen. And oh, the alligator joke!
A roster of iconic British actors come briefly to life. Ralph Richardson leaned over Rose at the makeup table and advised, “When you’re all finished, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, is it human?” We hear Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov…
If Dixon looks at something not there, we see it. When words deny, while his body language does otherwise, we get it. Joy and surprise are infectious. Flamboyance is never quite over the top. Moving around the stage with grace, energy and precise gesture, now a character actor, he’s a pleasure to watch. “One by one I played all of George’s repertoire.”
The saga’s last chapter is empathetic horror. It’s as if something sat on our collective chests. Breathing slows as scenario becomes unspeakable. Dixon’s honesty not only about what he observed and felt but its personal aftermath is striking. We’ve been on his journey. The play ends with moving perspective.
Director Eric Shaeffer helms complete focus, visual variety, a sense of confiding, channeling rather than imitation, and excellent pace.
Dixon is simply wonderful. As is this play which is both entertaining and heart-rending.
Nearly a decade after the musical Titanic docked in New York’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Arlington’s Signature Theatre brings to the stage a production that is everything the original was not. Although it won the Tony Award for Best Musical, the Broadway production earned lackluster reviews. Nevertheless, Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer remained a fan. “I’ve always loved the musical Titanic and I have felt that Signature should reinvent this musical for our audiences in an exciting new way,” he has said. With creative staging, an uber-talented cast, deft direction by Schaeffer, choreography by Matthew Gardiner, and an outstanding 17-piece orchestra (conductor, James Moore, musical coordinator, Jon Kalbfleisch), Signature has given new life to this musical.
Signature’s “ship of dreams,” is a three-story set in the center of the MAX Theatre with metal stairways rising from the stage to the rafters. Paul Tate Depoo III’s innovative scenic design arranges seats on all four sides of the stage so that the audience is never far from the action. While the story is well known – an ocean vessel that was regarded as a technological marvel meets a disastrous fate due to human error – Schaeffer manages to keep the tension high.
Sam Ludwig and Stephen Gregory Smith (Photo by Christopher Mueller)
As the passengers begin to file in, there are looks of amazement on their faces as they glimpse the Titanic’s majesty. In“How Did They Build the Titanic?”, Sam Ludwig as third class passenger Frederick Barrett, runs down the amazing stats for the ship. Forty-six thousand tons of steel/ Eleven stories high! /She’s a great palace, floating… /Quiet as a lullaby There’s no attempt to outdo the lavish sets that dominated James Cameron’s film version. With one crystal and gold chandelier showcasing the ship’s elegance, much is left to the imagination. It works.
Stephen Gregory Smith, Katie McManus (Photo by Colin Hovde)
The social makeup of the cast is on full display thanks to costume design by Frank Labovitz and wig design by Anne Nesmith. We meet the famous names in first class – the Astors (Matt Conner and Jamie Eacker) – as well as those below, like third class, celebrity- obsessed Alice Beane (an amusing performance by Tracy Lynn Olivera). Christopher Bloch plays the captain, who plans to retire after the ship reaches New York. While he’s an experienced navigator, he succumbs to pressure from J. Bruce Ismay (Lawrence Redmond), chairman of the White Star line, which owns the Titanic, to increase the ship’s speed in order to arrive in New York ahead of schedule. That move, of course, would prove to be the first of many mistakes made that doomed both the ship and its passengers.
The cast of Titanic (Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III)
Kevin McAllister conveys military bearing as one of the ship’s officers, going so far as to take responsibility for the ship hitting the iceberg. Christopher Mueller and Sean Burns are touching as young members of the ship’s staff who show incredible courage as they continue to serve the passengers who remain behind. There’s a touching moment in the ballad, “Still,” when Ida Strauss (Florence Lacey) refuses to board the lifeboat, opting to stay behind with her husband, Isidor (John Leslie Wolfe).
Christopher Bloch, Nick Lehan, Lawrence Redmond, and Bobby Smith (Photo by Christopher Mueller)
Bobby Smith, a Signature regular who last dazzled audiences in La Cage aux Folles, plays the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews. His emotional lament is heartfelt in “Mr. Andrews’ Vision” – Just a cursory look at the blueprints here/ Shows the weaknesses that we have missed/ How the water poured in/A three-hundred-foot gash/And caused the bow to flood and to list.
The special effects that dramatize the sinking and the fate of those who died in the water are simply stunning. Who needs CGI when you have the brilliant minds behind this production?
While there are more than two dozen songs in Titanic, Maury Yeston’s musical score failed to produce even one hit. The strength of the Signature production is the large cast’s impressive vocal talents, on full display in the ensemble numbers at the beginning and, thrillingly, at the end of the show.
Top photo: The cast of Titanic, photo by Colin Hovde
Titanic Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Avenue Arlington, VA 703-820-9771 Through January 29, 2017
“We’ve gotta have a great show, with a million laughs… and color… and a lot of lights to make it sparkle! “ Patsy Barton, Babes in Arms
Remember those Hollywood musicals where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland put on shows to raise money for a good cause? Allyson Currin pays tribute to those beloved films with Silver Belles, now playing at Signature Theatre in Arlington. Currin’s book for the production, with music and lyrics by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, uses that launch-a-show premise to create a homespun, holiday treat.
In Silver Ridge, Tennessee, the Silver Belles, a group of close friends, led by the talented duo of Oralene and her husband, Earl, put on an annual musical to fund the local orphanage. This year, however, things will be different. Oralene has died and Earl has sunk into a deep depression. Will the children’s home be saved? Of course, thanks to a talented cast that ultimately comes together with a very enjoyable show that includes laughs, color, and lights.
Naomi Jacobson and Dan Manning
Oralene (Donna Migliaccio) doesn’t stay “dead” for long. As soon as the funeral is over, her spirit watches over her husband and friends. In the past, Earl (Dan Manning), wrote the music, Oralene, the lyrics. Without her inspiration, he can’t compose a note, let alone find the words.
Peggy Yates, Nova Y. Payton, Dan Manning, Donna Migliaccio, Ilona Pulaski, and Naomi Jacobson
Meanwhile, the women discover that they have to come up with seed money to stage the musical. Ruth Ann (Peggy Yates), wins $500 in a baking contest using the same cookie recipe that once helped her become Miss Catfish. Gloria (Nova Y. Payton), raises $89 selling kisses, while Berneice (Ilona Dulaski), donates her animals preserved through taxidermy for the pageant’s manger scene. Bo Jack (Naomi Jacobson) works for the local radio station and keeps the town updated, in entertaining fashion, on local events and on the musical’s progress.
Staged in Signature’s ARK, the production has an intimate feel. In the small space, the actors are not miked, allowing the audience to appreciate the cast’s strong voices. The set design is homey (James Kronzer), as are the costumes (Kathleen Gerard). Under the sure direction of Eric Schaeffer the small space is used well, particularly with regard to the choreography by Karma Camp. Silver Belles runs 80 minutes with new intermission, an enjoyable break from all that holiday shopping.