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15 December 2008

Bernstein Bros.


Review: "Bernstein Brothers Christmas Spectacular" not typical holiday family show

Jim Cavener

ASHEVILLE - Enthusiasm and able stagecraft are the hallmarks of "The Bernstein Brothers' Christmas Spectacular," by one of the the area's new production companies, In The Moment.

The material is all original, either for this production or by company members from earlier forays into holiday mayhem. This is not your traditional year-end entertainment, trying to please everyone with sappy and saccharine nonsense. The first act of this zany romp is equal opportunity offensive material. No one is safe or spared.

Basically a spoof of the 1950's TV 'Holiday Special' genre, the hosts, fictional Jack and Jimmy Bernstein, are in Christmas-colored tux jackets, or plaid blazers, with an ever-present martini glass in hand. Think early Rowan and Martin, Perry Como, or Dean Martin. Even Pat Boone it isn't. However, the then ubiquitous cigarettes are blessedly missing.

"Christmas Spectacular" is a refreshing take on the season, with some excess in the first act. Using actual sponsors of this stage show in "commercials" is a clever twist.There are sketches based on randy reindeer, efforts to unionize Santa's elves and a way dysfunctional family who make a landmark video greeting for their friends.

The language and situations in this act are not for youngsters, nor many oldsters. This audience is the 20-something crowd, and those wishing they were still there.

The second act's "A Twisted Carol" variant on Dickens is simply brilliant in its different perspective. Knowing the frequently performed original, or condensations thereof, will enrich appreciation of this twisted "A Christmas Carol." All the familiar cast members are here: Scrooge, Cratchit, Marley's Ghost, the Sprits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, along with a puppet Tiny Tim. It works very well this way. The skit is focused, incisive and brings this dingy Dickens within reach of the most limited literary lion.

This over-the-top send-up of holiday entertainment is the work of husband-and-wife Karen Strobbe and Mondy Carter who moved from Milwaukee to Black Mountain a couple years ago. They have teamed with Jonathan Frappier and Chall Gray to bring off this high energy romp. Carter and Frappier are the Bernstein Brothers, plus random other outrageous roles. David and Karri Ostergaard joined with equally able regional actor John Crutchfield, plus Trinity Smith and Vivian Smith (no relation), and Darren Marshall to round out the cast. Strobbe directs.

Fast-paced and loud are characteristics of the production. The effort to gross out the audience in the first act was easily accomplished. Still, with some patience even the most traditional theatergoer would be reached by the creativity of the second act's new take on the immortal Dickens' expose of greed and redemption. Authentically written and convincingly delivered, "Christmas Spectacular" is a tribute to theater skills and daring aspirations.

Jim Cavener writes on theater for The Citizen-Times.

04 December 2008

Wonderful Life

Don't know if we'll get a local review, with the show only in Asheville a few days, but here's one from Concord of NCSC/ITP's It's A Wonderful Life

‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ with a twist

November 18, 2008

By Lee Ann Sides Garrett
For the Kannapolis Citizen

George Bailey would have been proud. The story of his life, a holiday mainstay, was performed live, in a slightly different style, at the new Davis Theatre in Concord on Saturday.
The play, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” delighted the audience with the story of George Bailey’s efforts to help his community and his brush with near disaster, as told in Frank Capra’s original classic movie.
The setting was WBFR in New York, where five actors played some 30 characters, depicting a live radio broadcast as it would have been performed in 1946, complete with sound effects, on air and applause lights.
Audience members were amused with the different methods and items used to make the effects and the many voices used by the actors to play so many characters.
“It was interesting to see how they did the sound effects,” said Mona Barnhardt. “They all worked together like clockwork.”
Barnhardt referred to the fact that all five actors took turns doing sound effects while the others were speaking.
“I thought it was as true to the storyline as you can get,” said Karen Elmore. “It really captured the essence of the original movie and the holidays.”
The play was produced by Asheville’s North Carolina Stage Company. The Davis Theatre performance kicked off a tour of the southeastern United States for the drama.
It is only the second event performed at the new Davis Theatre, created from a former courtroom in Cabarrus County’s historic courthouse. With room for only 227, the theatre provides an intimate setting for professional touring productions.
The theatre provides only events involving professional touring productions and plays, so it does not compete with local talent. Saturday’s play is the only such production in the theatre’s season, the rest consisting of a wide variety of musical reviews.

The Cabarrus Arts Council moved into the old courthouse in 2005, and the theatre officially opened Sept. 15. The new theatre is named for Roy and Sue Davis, the chairman emeritus of S&D Coffee and his wife, who is active in the Concord community.
The building also houses four galleries downstairs with the state-of-the-art theatre on the second floor and dressing rooms on the third.
The play included radio commercials for S& D Coffee and CESI, Concord Engineering and Surveying, who sponsored the performance, portrayed as they would have been in a 1940s radio broadcast.
“This is how it would have been listening to the radio at the time,” said Vince Brezovic. “It leaves you in the right spirit for the holidays."


From the C-T, of course

Theater review: 'Nuncrackers' is heavenly fun

ASHEVILLE – The Little Sisters of Hoboken are back in Asheville Community Theatre's good-hearted and hilarious Christmas musical comedy, “Nuncrackers.”

Dan Goggin's sequel in the fabulously successful “Nunsense” franchise about a small convent of nuns' zany fund-raising antics is directed by Jerry Crouch, who also honchoed ACT's blockbusters “The Music Man,” “Annie” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

This time the good nuns have gone high-tech, televising their annual Christmas concert from their new cable access studio built in the convent basement.

Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Ruth Butler) has her hands full trying to maintain the proper convent decorum while marshalling her disparate crew to put on an entertaining show.

Streetwise Sister Mary Robert Anne (Lisa J.S. Ross) is a perennial show biz wannabe, yearning for the bright lights of Carnegie Hall. Spaced-out Sister Mary Paul (Mandy Phillips) is a former country music singer, and Sister Mary Leo (Heather Taft) aspires to be the first ballerina nun.

It doesn't help that Revered Mother herself grew up in a circus family and can't resist a turn in the spotlight. The audience has assembled and the show must go on, but everything that can go wrong does.

Father Virgil (Bradshaw Call) tries to do a cooking segment but drinks too much of the recipe's rum. Sister Mary Leo gets injured just before her big dancing scene in “The Nutcracker.” Sister Mary Paul, also called Sister Amnesia, keeps teaching the children the wrong lyrics for songs such as “Here We Come-a-Waffle-ing.”

Even the convent's Christmas presents go missing. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the Little Sisters of Hoboken rise to the occasion with escalating mirth and mayhem. They are aided by five talented young cast members - Lexie Moore, Summer Nordmeyer, John Norlin, Milo Norlin and Emma Stoneberg.

It is hard to single out exceptional individual performances in a production that is full of them, but Bradshaw Call nearly steals the show in the very touching “The Christmas Box.” And Lexie Moore brings an unbelievable poise and fine singing voice that are really exceptional for a child actor.

Mandy Phillips has wonderful comic timing as the ditzy but good-hearted Sister Amnesia, and Ruth Butler is hilarious as the stodgy Reverend Mother trying to restore order amid chaos. It is worth going just to see her and Father Virgil in tutus as “dueling” Sugar Plum Fairies or she and Sister Mary Hubert (Eileen Kennedy) singing the joys of a nun's life “In the Convent.”

Musicians Chuck Taft, Jessica Miskelly, Nora Vetro and David Bruce deliver a full sound that keeps the merriment contagious.

Fans of earlier “Nunsense” productions will find this one a worthy successor, and first-time viewers will become quick converts to the charm of the Little Sisters of Hoboken.

Crouch, who is known for packing the house in some of the most successful shows in ACT's history, has apparently done it again with “Nuncrackers,” which is sure to be a big hit this holiday season. Better get your tickets early.

Tim Reid reviews theater for the Citizen-Times. He can be contacted at timreid4@charter.net.