Even considering the show's cast and director, if you had told me a week ago that the musical comedy Are We There Yet? would wind up being my favorite Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse presentation over the past two years, I wouldn't have believed you.
I was going to begin by saying that Snowderella is the strangest show I've ever seen at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, but that seemed too limiting; it might be the strangest show I've ever seen. This kiddie comedy, which lasts just under half an hour (!), is so surreal that it's practically Dadaist - a cupcake topped with peyote buttons.
These were among the first words spoken from stage during the opening-night presentation at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre. Yet while this sentiment would've sounded perfectly appropriate coming from one of the characters in the comedic mystery Catch Me If You Can, it was actually a statement by the show's director, Kevin DeDecker, who preceded the performance with an announcement: Actor Mike Skiles had fallen ill, and his role as Inspector Levine would be assumed, that evening, by the production's stage manager, Drew Carter - a young man who would be carrying his script in hand, and would also be making his (accidental) stage debut.
It takes considerable skill - to say nothing of nerve - to steal a show from the likes of Brad Hauskins, Adam Michael Lewis, and Eddie Staver III. But in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Empty Nest, actress Ashley Catherine Schmitt arrives halfway through the production, introduces herself to her co-stars, tucks playwright Lawrence Roman's comedy into her leg warmers, and all but dashes off with it. The play itself is too featherweight (albeit agreeably so) for this to be considered grand larceny, but it's certainly grand; Schmitt is like the guest you don't remember inviting who winds up being the life of the party.
The latest presentation at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse is titled Miss Nelson Is Missing, and as family-oriented stage entertainments go, Miss Nelson is about the only thing that is missing from it. An hour-long one-act based on a pair of popular children's books by Harry Allard and James Marshall, this show - snappily directed by Brad Hauskins, who also co-stars - bubbles with color, personality, and wit. And the people wearing the costumes aren't too shabby, either.
By their very nature, biographical jukebox musicals such as Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story - currently being performed at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse - have to be a little glib. Given roughly two hours of stage time, how can book writers adequately detail a performer's personal and professional arcs without drastically simplifying the experience?
So enough of my opinions already. The following are reflections by Derek Bertelsen, Tyson Danner, Kristofer Eitrheim, Kimberly Furness, Jennifer Kingry, Mandy Landreth, J.C. Luxton, Jackie Madunic, Angela Rathman, Jalayne Reiwerts, Susan Simosky, and Doug Tschopp - local-theatre artisans who enjoyed a memorable 2007.
When the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse last produced A Christmas Carol in 1998, the family musical's daytime performances ran concurrently with evening performances of Miracle on 34th Street. I was a member of Carol's cast at the time, and as I recall, we kind of thought the shows should have swapped positions; the chipper, candy-colored Miracle seemed ideal for kids, while the frequently dark Charles Dickens tale, with its themes of regret and mortality, appeared better-suited to a more mature crowd.
Among those I spoke with during the show's subsequent opening-night party, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's new production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas was superior to the 2006 production, and I guess that maybe, in several respects, it was.
On August 17, the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia marked the last theatrical production I'd see this summer - the 29th show I caught over the span of 12 weeks - and in truth, I'm kind of bummed that the season is over. But it will be nice to have a few days when I'm, you know, not working, so I'm also looking forward to the fall, when instead of 29 shows, theatre-goers only have the opportunity to see ... 38.
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