Memo To Brandywiners PR staff: Give good seats to theatre reviewers. Certainly not past Row F. This allows the trained eye to SEE expressions on the faces of the actors and to evaluate all the parts of the production accordingly. AISLE SAY has more institutional knowledge of New Castle County theatre than anyone. He is intimately knowledgeable of this group and its 'florid' history, having first performed on Longwood's outdoor stage in the late '60's. He is an advocate of the performing arts. He should not be marooned deep in the alphabet hinterlands. (That goes for anyone giving any organization ink.)
Community theatre by its very nature is asymmetrical. Onstage talent is uneven. This truism is so very evident in this production. (Annie Oakley) Becky Buswell Kotsifas shown incandescent in her role, leaving the majority of remaining cast members in her shadows.
Her character is illiterate and is 'burdened' with a Southern twang. Yet Kotsifas did 'What Comes Naturally' to her and incorporated the character consistently into her many songs. Frank Butler (Robert Welch) on the other hand, did not carve out a distinct character. His voice is good but he declaimed his songs straightforward with little passion. The two played off each other well in the adorable "Anything You Can Do"; Kotsifas leaving little doubt who could sing higher!
Director Henry Porreca cut the cute tune "I'm An Indian Too" and added one never heard before "I'll Share It All With You", assumedly to pad the parts of (Winnie) Carolyn Peck and (Tommy) Ricky Rotandi and the Ensemble. Songs are engineered to move the plot along. This particular insertion, sadly, was similar to the intrusion of Russell Crowe as Javert in Les Mis . Peck and Rotandi, however, did a nice dance together.
In Irving Berlin's only musical comedy, he created the Broadway anthem, "There's No Business Like Show Business". Aisle Say suggests the production team missed an opportunity to pay homage to this tune that everyone recognizes. As the opener, the number could have been extended and it could have incorporated some interesting effects (juggler, acrobat, circus-y feel). It should have created more razzle dazzle and momentum which might have carried through the show.
The blocking and the moving of the minions on this huge stage is a challenge with any show at Longwood. Add to that the inability of a large number of the cast to move in a theatrical way engenders a lot of 'here a clump', 'there a clump'. Perhaps only one with the genius of Busby Berkeley can solve that conundrum.
And speaking of conundrums, this is the first time that Aisle Say has heard (Randy Weber) Sitting Bull with a tinge of an English accent. There was no hint of a comedic inflection.
The kids were cute and I would have liked to have commented on them. However from where I was sitting they looked like specks, precious specks, but still specks.
Purchase of tickets gives you entrance into Longwood Gardens. Arrive early!
Fun Fact: July Garland was to play the role of Annie in the 1950 movie. Busby Berkeley was the director. She hated him. Her career was devolving, addled by drugs and booze. She was fired and replaced by the unremarkable Betty Hutton.
ANNIE is scheduled for next year. Haven't we all seen that enough? Why not KISMET? It was done every ten years or so beginning in 1957. Aisle Say heard a rumor it was dropped from future consideration due to one of the production numbers entitled 'Baghdad'. (Think war in Iraq). If that IS the case, that reasoning is ludicrous.
Thru next weekend. Brandywiners.org 302.478.3355