The Odd Couple

“I don’t think two single men living alone in an eight-bedroom apartment should have a cleaner house than my mother!” – Oscar Madison…

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            This requires a little back story. Don’t worry, I don’t mean voluminous amounts like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, more like the beginning of Season 3 of Agents of Shield or Sleepy Hollow or the usual modern-day TV drama … it won’t take long.

Spring 1981 – my High School drama club tried to put on the farce “Murder in the Magnolias”. I tried out for and got the part of Cousin Thornbird Chickenwing. Two girls tried out for the main part. Both girls had earlier in the school year also tried out for the hand of an eligible young man. The same girl won both parts. The other girl’s BFF (a term in use now, not in 1981) also got a part of “Murder …” and there was much yelling, hair-pulling and thrown punches.

Add more raging hormones: the part of Colonel Chickenwing, whose monolog opens the play, was given to a young man who felt the need to leave practice after his one-and-only-yet-pivotal scene to go to his girlfriend’s house to ooo and aaa sycophantically over her. Said young man not realizing that it is possible, indeed likely, that we might need to go over his scene more than once.

Add a drama club coach fresh out of college and only four-or-so years away from these very issues herself and it added to uncontrolled rehearsals and cast members walking out with three weeks to go. Not that by this time anyone had known their lines or marks yet.

So they cancelled the play that spring.

Fall 1981 – the Sparta (IL) Community Chorus is known for putting on lovely and very professional musicals! This year they selected “Oklahoma”. I tried out for and was given a small part with one line. George was the character and his line was “sounded like a shot!” I was also in the dream ballet. You read that right. About five years later it was announced the SCC would begin doing plays as well as musicals.

Spring 1982 – in our senior year of high school we put on “The Odd Couple”. I tried for and won the part of Felix Unger (or Ungar in the play). My best friend Scott tried out for and won the part of Oscar. It was typecasting at the time, and it was a wonderful play. It was also well-received. Drama clubs from schools as far as Benton came to see us. We had articles in the papers and reviews on local radio shows. It was probably the second-best show the school put on next to “Arsenic and Old Lace” from 1978. Oh, and the girl who won the part main part in “Murder…”? She was one of the Pigeon sisters in “Odd Couple”.

Winter 2014 – I am Facebook friends with the girl (now grandmother) mentioned above in “Murder…” and “Odd Couple”. She has been involved with the SCC for decades by this point and announced that she would direct “Murder in the Magnolias” for their Winter Play (rehearsal in January and February with the play in early March). I posted that I would love to try out for it but the dress from Act Two probably would not fit me anymore.

She asked me to try out for it anyway. Try-outs were the weekend of our family Christmas party and the day after my wife and I went to see Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas concert in St. Louis. My daughter spent the night at my sister’s and her four children.  It was her first time away from us and they ate nachos and “camped” in the living room. We needn’t have worried.

At the auditions the director asked if I were trying out for my old part, Thornbird. Yes, I was. Would I also be interested in trying out for the Colonel? Sure, I said. This has since turned into a comedy routine: “Are you dumb enough to take two parts – er – I mean are you will to do two roles?”

I worked in radio for ten years and also did stand-up during that time. Both require a bit of acting but not the kind you really do on a stage. “Oh that this too solid flesh would melt” is light years ahead of “two Jews walk into a bar”. But by the time my family and I drove home the director called to say I got both parts! Both she and I got to finish a part of our youth. The circle was complete. Hakuna Matata! Plus I made lots of wonderful new friends!

Fall 2014 – The SCC announces that its fall musical would be “Legally Blonde”. They usually “begin” the season in the fall with a musical, followed by a kid’s cabaret at Christmastime, then a play, then a musical review. They asked if I would try out and respectfully declined. It was a wonderful production! It would have played well at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. Excellent stuff from a bunch of so-called amateurs.

Winter 2015 – The SCC announces its play in December 2014 – “Unnecessary Farce”. The director – who played the part in “Murder…” that “Murder…”’s director played with me in high school (are you still following this?) asked me to try out for the Scottish hitman. Can I do a Scottish accent? “Och, ye needn’t wurrah ‘bout dat, lassie!” I said. In December I tried out for and won the part of Todd, the Highland Hitman. It was a big hit with the audience in stitches!

Fall 2015 – the spring musical review was the music of Michael Jackson. They asked if I would be interested but said no thanks. The playhouse was an hour-and-a-half drive from home – although I could stop off to visit with my father and/or sister for an hour or so each time. That much driving really takes a toll on me and my car, but so far the plays have been worth it. Brilliant fun! But doing a review so close to finishing a wonderful-but-very-complex comedy would be too much of a strain.

They had yet to announce the fall musical (remember they did musicals in the fall). Unless it was something that knocked my socks off – like “1776” or something equally fun or silly – I would probably not try out for it.

The announcement was made on the SCC Facebook page. It was not a musical! That was not unprecedented but it was still odd …

… that adjective was intentional …

In July the SCC held auditions for their October production of “The Odd Couple”. I asked for an audition packet. On a lark I emailed Scott to see if he were interested in trying out as a team – reliving our old glory days. He declined (actually he never answered …). So in July I tried out for Oscar and Felix.

Was I crazy? They were both huge roles in the play with hundreds of lines. I would be driving three to four days a week again! Getting home at eleven o’clock if I was lucky then getting up for work and/or court again!

But it was the Odd Couple – one of my favorite plays/movies/TV shows. Of course I would try out for it. There were about ten men trying out for the six male roles that Saturday. Fortunately, only two women showed up to audition for the two female roles. That would be easy, eh?

It wasn’t until Monday night that I heard from the director – she also had a part in the 2014 “Murder…” play. She offered me Oscar. I told her how happy and thrilled I was. I told her I played Felix in high school, but didn’t mention it earlier. I was afraid I’d get a “you’ve-had-your-chance” response. I should not have worried

I wanted Oscar more than Felix. Felix would have been great fun – joking about 33 years between the roles, beating out Jack Lemon by three years! But something inside me wanted the role of Oscar more. Maybe it was the challenge of being on the other side of the fence – how many people can say they’ve played both parts?

I spent July until the first read-throughs in mid-August watching the plays online and reading the script I still had. It’s a lot of lines, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating trying to get a head start. Plus work was light in August (I had both my staff members off on vacation and other things and I was in the office alone for a full week – plenty of time to shout out my lines in an empty office at lunchtime and between appointments).

And now we are practicing. The drive is a drag, but rehearsals are wonderful; the cast is wonderful and I enjoy working with each one of them. It is a mix of new friends and old comrades from previous plays.

As they said on the Simpsons, “perhaps we are all a little mad, we who don the cap and bells and tread beneath the proscenium arch”. For the second time this year to spend three hours a day/three days a week for two –plus months driving to perform in an amateur production for no monetary gain – only for accolades? Only for the sounds of laughter and applause?

Is it worth it?

Are you kidding?

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Original material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

 

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Unnecessary Farce, Act Two

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               Winter storm Uvula dumped a whopping three inches of snow in town. Some towns up north and to the south got 8-10 inches; enough for my boss to close the offices. It reminds me of my college days when youthful citizens of a certain megopolis in the northeast reaches of my state mocked local schools for closing when there were only a few inches of snow and ice.

                I could do a whole blog ranting about naming winter storms to give the drama queens that are weather forecasters better ratings.

                I could also do a whole blog ranting about northerners not realizing that school busses taking kids to school in the Ozark foothills have a little more to worry about than their fellow flatland metro bus drivers who might bump into another bus or a pole at 3 miles an hour … tumbling sideways into a creek bed comes to mind…

                But this gives me a chance to blog about the upcoming play I am performing in: “Unnecessary Farce”. It is put on by the Sparta Community Chorus and performance dates are February 27th, 28th, March 1st, 6th, 7th, & 8th.

              Last year I tried out for and was given a part in their 2014 Winter Play “Murder in the Magnolias”. I met a lot of new friends and finally performing a play we had to cancel in high school brought back a lot of memories and I blogged extensively about it then.

                This year it is wonderful to connect back with my old new friends and make new ones. It also helps this is a hilarious play – funnier than last year’s, I think.

                The Facebook page and website of the play itself provides some fun stuff – here are two posters of performances recently in Singapore and Iceland. I wonder if they did the play in English. I wonder how the actors handled the thick Scottish brogue of two of the characters.

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              “Unnecessary Farce” has a great premise and I will try to tell you without any spoilers. There are a few fun twists and turns – all is not as it seems – and I won’t ruin it for you.

                Two cops, Billie and Eric, are given their first real assignment that doesn’t involve pushing pencils behind a desk. Karen, the city accountant, has found discrepancies in the city budget – someone is milking the city for millions of dollars. All evidence points to the mayor.

                Mayor Meekly is meeting Karen in a seedy motel room where Eric and Billie set up a sting. Karen’s job is to video-tape the Mayor confessing to embezzling the money. Easy, right?

                Nope, it seems the Mayor is a bit of a dope. Eric and Karen, while not incompetent, are very inexperienced. And Eric and Karen fall passionately in love with one another.

                The head of town hall security, Agent Frank, shows up in the midst of Karen’s interview with the mayor and stops it. To ensure the security of the motel room, he says. When the Mayor leaves, he warns Karen that the real reason he is there is to inform her that the Scottish Mafia, who REALLY runs the city, knows what she is doing and is sending a hit man to stop her.

                The hit man shows up. So does the Mayor’s wife, just as silly and clueless as her husband, looking for him (he tends to wander off, you see).

                Will the hit man take out Karen? Can the two young police officers fight off such a vicious killer? Will the mayor be exposed as the embezzler?

                It is a fun and wonderful script. With about ten days to go before the opening night, everyone is nervous – there are a lot of lines and a LOT of choreography with the motel doors. One person leaves just as another enters. Our lines depend on the verbal and physical cues of others. A few times my character doesn’t enter until I hear (or see if I peep out the slightly-opened bathroom door) others leave or hide. If I don’t hear/see the door shut, the other actors will have to wait until I appear.

                Fortunately we have a wonderful cast who have been in dozens of plays and musicals. They needn’t be nervous – we will all know our lines and cues and it will be rollicking fun.

                I’ve been performing in plays since before all but two of my cast members have been born, starting in 1979, but I am still the only “newbie” on the cast. This will only be my second time performing in play since 1982! But our director has picked a perfect cast! I was amazed at the first rehearsal I attended how the script flowed out of everyone so naturally. When you come see the play, compliment her on her perfect casting.

                Hopefully even that heavy-set fellow in the kilt…

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Unnecessary Farce, Act One

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             This year’s Sparta Community Chorus’ winter play is “Unnecessary Farce” by Paul Slade Smith. The play was announced last fall and I considered trying out for a part. I watched the few versions of the play on YouTube and thought it was funny.

            The director, Erica, played my sister in last year’s play, “Murder in the Magnolias”. I saw her when I went to see the Chorus’s fall musical “Legally Blonde” – which was excellent, by the way – and she asked if I wanted to try out. I said I would like the part of the Scottish hit man. She said she liked that idea – she doesn’t know anyone that can do a Scottish brogue. I told her she dinnae hae t’worry ‘bout dat, lassie.

            Last year my grade school and high school and childhood neighbor Stephanie directed “Murder” … I blog about that here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/01/04/40/

            In sum, she mentioned this was the play on her Facebook page. I mentioned I still had the script from our attempt to do it in high school. She said I should try out. I said the dress in act two probably wouldn’t fit me anymore. I tried out anyway and got the part! Two parts, really. Actually, four. I explain why in the blog and a bit later here…

            I made a lot of nice new friends in my first play since 1981 and relished the idea of working with them again.  And although it kept me away from my family during half the week, I enjoyed it thoroughly!

            The try-outs were January 2nd and I met a lot of the same people I worked with in last year’s play. This play has parts for only four men and three women.

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            The website for the author describes it thusly:

“Two cops. Three crooks. Eight doors. Go. In a cheap motel room, an embezzling mayor is supposed to meet with his female accountant, while in the room next-door, two undercover cops wait to catch the meeting on videotape. But there’s some confusion as to who’s in which room, who’s being videotaped, who’s taken the money, who’s hired a hit man, and why the accountant keeps taking off her clothes.”

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From the “Unnecessary Farce” webpage:

The play received its premiere at the BoarsHead Theater in Lansing, Michigan on October 27, 2006, under the direction of Kristine Thatcher – and has had over 145 productions to date.

Paul Slade Smith is a writer and actor based in New York and Chicago. As an actor, he will next appear on Broadway in the new musical Finding Neverland, which goes into previews March 15th. His past performing credits include the national tours of Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera, and productions at American Repertory Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, The Goodman and Steppenwolf. Paul is at work on his next play, A Real Lulu. For more information, visit http://www.paulsladesmith.com/

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            I tried out for, and got, the part of the hit man. Todd the Assassin. Also called the Scotsman or the Highland Hit Man. I speak in a thick brogue and some of my lines are complete gibberish. “Aw cripes, fer cryin’ Christmas oon a bike!” “Ye woulds be auld at the horn to teel it fest!” The lines are written phonetically and reading through it the first time was very hard to do. I found it easier to read the “translation” in italics after the line and say that with a brogue instead. It took a few weeks to get the lines down and now I have to practice saying them faster.

            I also have to pay more attention to the dialouge around me. Much more so that the play last year. Last year’s play, “Murder in the Magnolias” was a spoof of “southern” plays ala Tennesee Williams and my characters (I played two – and one had multiple personalities so I was playing FOUR characters, really) said mostly non-sequiturs that had nothing to do with the real dialouge.

            In other words, in THIS play when the character Frank says, “The mayor had an appointment with Ms. Brown…” I say, “The half-naked accountant?” (earlier she was caught indelecto and is still in her slip when I come in). Whereas in “Murder” I would have responded with something like “As I went for my daily constitutional in the garden, a groundhog ran over my left foot!”

            That makes it easier and harder. Easier in that the lines flow like real dialouge and makes it easier to memorize and remember my cues. Harder in that if I flub up a line, I flub other people’s next lines, too!

            We are also discovering how hard it is to find even a prop set of bagpipes! Ebay has a broken set of pipes for $50.00 opening bid. Fortunately we will be able to get a nice Highlander outfit from a costume shop in St. Louis for rent during the show.

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          Later on I can give you more details on how the play progresses. So far I have been to only one rehearsal (my character doesn’t show until late in the first act, so I’ve been able to play hooky the first week and the director was sick for one day…!), but that one rehearsal was a hoot! This will be a very funny play and I so look forward to it!

A Christmas Carol at the Fabulous Fox; a review

A Review of A Christmas Carol

The Nebraska Theater Caravan, Fox Theater, St. Louis, Missouri

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On December 13, 2014 my wife and I attended a performance of “A Christmas Carol” at the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO as performed by the Nebraska Theater Caravan.

“The Nebraska Theater Caravan is the professional touring wing of the Omaha Community Playhouse” says their website: http://www.nebraskatheatrecaravan.org/

“In 1979 the Caravan started touring the Charles Jones adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’ nationally with one company touring the Midwest. Three years later in 1982 another company was added to tour the East Coast and a third to tour the West Coast in 1987.”

It was my second trip to the Fox this year – I went this summer with my sister and nephew to watch the Monkees! That blog/review begins here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/06/09/come-and-watch-us-sing-and-play-the-monkees-live-in-st-louis/

Before that I had not been to the Fabulous Fox since seeing … “A Christmas Carol” as performed by the Nebraska Theater Company back in 1988 (or 1989)!

I don’t remember much of that production. My sister and father remember is being amateurish.  I remember enjoying the music and their handling of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (a huge hulking thing with long arms likely operated by a man inside on a stand with pool cues for arms).

I remember my mother taking our photograph (my sister and I) amidst the holiday-decorated-yet-maintaining-their-Edwardian/Persian splendor of the Fox Theater. That I remember clearly. The play itself? Not so much…

I wonder why I do not remember. In December 1988 I had moved to Carbondale from Springfield ten months prior and worked as an overnight disc jockey. I would have been more looking forward to a solid night’s sleep than an evening’s entertainment. If it were in 1989 I had just started law school and recovering from my first final exams. My lapse of memory is more explicable in that case…

If it were as bad as my sister and father remembered I certainly would have remembered that, too; if only because I would continue to skewer it to this day! I don’t remember my mother discussing it. I imagine she loved it if for no other reason that my father didn’t. And as is always the case with my mother I would give all I have except my wife and daughter to be able to ask her even just that trivial question.

So driving to the theater I worried – what if this thing stinks? I’d be out the cost of tickets, the motel, the cost of gas – just to see a piece of tripe that a high school could do better (to paraphrase my dad)?

I needn’t have worried.

Check the blogs with the Christmas tag and you will see how much I love “A Christmas Carol”.  https://michaelgcurry.com/2014/12/04/christmas-reading-a-christmas-carol/

A multi-blog review of many adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” begins here: https://michaelgcurry.com/2012/12/02/131/

I start reading the book every evening of Thanksgiving, if possible, and can usually finish it by that Sunday night (I used to be able to read it in one sitting pre-daughter); and love watching all the adaptations. Even the stinkers.  I was looking forward to seeing as good stage production of the story – what would they include? Exclude? Did they add anything as so many of the movies/TV specials do?

This version is a musical. Not a musical as in the excellent 1970 movie with Albert Finney and Alec Guinness as Marley (every time I see his entrance I cannot help but say, “Go to Degobah, Scrooge, and learn from Yoda … sorry, wrong ghost…”) in which the lines are sung and/or a song conveys the feeling of the song. This musical is peppered with carols from the time – Victorian England (and before).

The songs were the highlight of the show – it was the only part of the prior production I recall, remember – opening the curtain with “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” – a canny choice (I don’t mean that in a bad way). The main cast rarely joined in the carols – it was the background cast – townsfolk, party guests, etc.

The song list included Gloucestershire Wassail (a song prominent in the pitch-perfect George C Scott television Carol), The Boar’s Head Carol (my wife knew this rare tune from her madrigal days), the usual choices of The Holly and the Ivy and Here We Come A-Wassailing. Dancing Day was a treat – a song one rarely hears on the radio amidst the third-airing-in-as-many-hours of Feliz Navidad … the only time I heard it is when I played it myself as a DJ. Particularly Paul Winter’s version on my NPR show. Lovely tune!).

Coventry Carol was especially beautiful.

The sets were lovely and well-made. There were four basic sets: the curtain opened on the Londontown street on which set the office of Scrooge and Marley and their neighbor, a toy shop. A soup cart and a woolen clothier cart bookended the entryway into the neighborhood. The poulterer was on the backdrop.

Twirling the storefront of Scrooge and Marley revealed the inside of Scrooge’s office. Two tables and chairs were wheeled in.

The toy store was turned revealing Scrooge’s fireplace. The same backdrop was used for Scrooge’s office, the Cratchit’s home and Scrooge’s bedroom. Those were wheeled offstage for Fred’s home and Fezziwig’s office (the tables and seats from Scrooge’s office were wisely recycled.

Sets were moved about the stage professionally and without incident. My sister recalls Marley falling against the fireplace which shuddered revealing its plywood-cheapness – much like the walls shuddering while slamming doors on “Plan Nine From Outer Space”. No such thing happened that night.

And costumes were lovely – pure Victorian splendor. It would fit in with any production of Oliver, a Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper tale.

The story itself was adapted very well considering the limited set. The play opens on the Londontown street, as mentioned, with Fred greeting the other businessmen and women in front of his uncle’s counting house.  This sets up his generous and friendly nature.

The sets twirl and move to the inside of Scrooge’s office. Here we meet Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. Freezing Bob is threatened with unemployment as he sneaks to the coal bin, Fred and his uncle exchange their unpleasantries, and the two Charity Men (as they are called in the Playbill) are unceremoniously booted with all the familiar dialogue. Child carolers invade the office and are chased off by Scrooge. He physically carries one girl and dumps her in the doorway.  “You’ll want the whole day, tomorrow, I suppose …” etc. A twirling of the set allows Scrooge to go outside and demand payment of back rent from the various businessmen and women. “One more day, sir, please.” “It will cost you another half-crown, or I’ll take the entire cart! Sign here…”

To Scrooge’s chambers: Marley’s face appears on the wall thanks to a projection and comes through the fireplace – Scrooge goes to the smoking fireplace and opens the way for his fellow actor. Marley is bathed in keep green. Very well done lighting effect here. They include the toothpick scene deleted from many versions (“… but I see it nonetheless…”).

The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by Kristen Conrad – she is an adult wearing a bright red Victorian dress (she is neither a child nor a crone or a mix as in the book). Young Scrooge, teen Scrooge rescued by sister Fan, Fezziwig’s party (at which Scrooge and Belle become engaged – he gets on his knees at the end of the scene and presents her a ring), Scrooge’s and Belle’s breakup. The only missing bit – and this part usually is – is the “extinguishing” of the Ghost’s light with the huge candle-snuffer.  Like some adaptations, Belle is Fezziwig’s daughter – this isn’t in the book but adds more pathos to Scrooge fall into coldness.

The Ghosts and Scrooge travel on his bed. It is the only piece of scenery not pushed or pulled into and out of scenes by the cast. It must have a small electric motor underneath. It was moved throughout quietly and expertly.

The Ghost of Christmas Present was dressed in all his green Father Christmas glory – huge beard, fur-trimmed robe, etc. He even had what looked like real candles on his crown of holly! The Cratchit home, Fred’s party. Missing were the usual suspects in this part of the story (Christmas Present certainly gets short shrift during most tales …): the blessing of poor tables, the political “debate” between the Ghost and Scrooge, the men almost fighting in the street, the coal miners, the lighthouse keepers, the ship at sea and Ignorance and Want.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was described previously – the businessmen discussing his death (“…only if lunch is provided…”), the Cratchits mourning the loss of Tiny Tim, Scrooge facing his own tombstone. Instead of the scene with the undertaker, washerwoman and charwoman at Old Joe’s fence, it takes place in Scrooge’s room with only the washerwoman and the charwoman stripping the blanket, the bed curtains and Scrooge’s purse from the body lying on the bed.

Scrooge awakes Christmas morning and asks a girl (not a “fine lad”) to buy the prize turkey. During a musical interlude there is a cute scene of the girl “pounding” on the door of the poulterer’s on the backdrop. The poulterer tosses her out twice before she shows him Scrooge’s money – she’s NOT kidding! Scrooge leaves his office and forgives the debt of the businessmen and women on his street. He offers a huge sum to the Charity Men to atone. He sees Fred walking down the street, meets his niece and finally accepts his invitation to dinner. Scrooge, Fred, his wife and the businessmen and women help Scrooge take all the toys and clothing (purchased from his former debtors) to the Cratchits, where he doubles his salary, vows to make Tim well and God Bless Us Everyone.

Here the scene (and the show) ends. The book ends at Scrooge’s office but all those scenes take place at Cratchit’s home. Because of the limitation of the stage, doing those scenes at the Cratchit’s makes sense – and many movie and television adaptations use that tactic as well. It was a canny move and not unexpected.  Scrooge offers to pay for a doctor he knows to visit Tim the next day. This has been in a few movies, but not in the book – only that Scrooge vowed to help Tim become better.

This adaptation by Charles Jones is quite good. The variations from the book – the things left out and the things included – are not jolting. Only purists also offended by the film and television adaptations will not like it. Plus the inclusion of authentic carols from the period adds to the pleasantries.

I can’t emphasize how lovely the music and singing is. A Coventry Carol was the highlight of the evening.

The acting was very good, too. This is probably the only fault I found, but my lack of utter enjoyment is solely my own. Let me explain:

I should have known I was not about to see a serious treatise of the book. Most of the other media’s adaptations have bits of humor, yes: George C Scott’s mumbling at the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that he is “devilishly hard to have a conversation with…” still makes me laugh out loud. But even then it is subtle.

That this play would have over-the-top humor and that the acting would be melodramatic was a surprise to me. But I soon got over that and once I realized the cast wanted to have fun and wanted us to have fun I enjoyed it. If I wanted to sit in the audience nodding with stern face I would attend Shakespeare-in-the-park.

One issue I could not overcome was the melodrama. The Fox Theater is well equipped with a modern sound system; we can hear you. You don’t have to shout (and in some cases shriek) your lines. There were times Scrooge forgot the sound system and went back to his booming baritone mid-sentence.  The playbill said the actor also performed in “1776”. He would have been great cast in any role in my favorite musical – I wonder what he played? My bet? Delaware’s Col. McKeon or South Carolina’s Rutledge.

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            Scrooge was excellently played by Paul Kerr. He is in the photographs I swiped from Google. I liked his Scrooge! A lot! He wasn’t a miserly penny-pincher. Even the best adaptations make that mistake. Scrooge is not Jack Benny having a bad day. Miserliness is only a part of the problem: coldness of the soul is the problem.

Kerr’s Scrooge is mean, impatient and sarcastic as well as being stingy. Dickens describes Scrooge as having not much wit, but Kerr’s does and it fits the character here. His sometimes over-the-top performance fit the fun times had by the cast and audience. The humor was never inappropriate to the play. There were no nods to a modern audience so prevalent in humorous versions of Carol.

“Merry Christmas,” said the carolers.  “Merry GO AWAY!”  shouted Scrooge from his window.  “Leave me alone,” he barked at a persistent beggar.  In his chambers he faced away from his fireplace, pulled up his nightgown and rubbed his butt to the warm fire. Who doesn’t do that? He groaned every time he sat down to slurp his gruel.

The other cast also performed splendidly.  The Ghosts were glowingly condescending. The Cratchits sympathetic and likable.  The few actors who overacted so much as to shock Shatner  weren’t onstage long enough to grate and overshadow otherwise fine performances.

Primarily here I mean Jon McDonald.  His portrayal of an overzealous Fezziwig (his biggest role) made me tolerate his over-exertion, but his over-the-top silliness as one of the Charity Men made us laugh at him, not his lines.

The screechiness of the washerwoman and the charwoman made their lines nearly indecipherable. If one is not familiar with the story one would have no idea what they were saying.

And I do not know who the character was in the scene at Fred’s house during the party game Yes and No. After many guesses of what manner of undesirable creature Topper was thinking of, an actress took center stage and sang her answer in a high squeal. One presumes she said, “Ebenezer Scrooge” – if only because that was the answer in the story and the rest of the cast reacted as if that is what she said, but her manner of delivery – intending to make me laugh, made me scratch my head at their gibberish.

But as I said, those moments were thankfully few and far between in this lovely performance. It’s the same old story: what’s better than a perfect evening? An otherwise perfect evening with only one thing wrong that I can nitpick the rest of my days…

Children – not small children the age of my daughter, but children old enough to know and appreciate the story – will LOVE it! Even the over-the-top performances (I suspect those are done with the children in mind). And there were lots of youngsters in the audience that night. It was a good mix of ages, gender and social strata in that night’s audiences. Blue jeans and suits and ties all present.

I noted on the way home that it was odd with all the racial trouble St. Louis/Ferguson was facing lately we were looking at an all-white cast, Tim Abou-Nasr as Topper notwithstanding.

And, by the way, Tim did a wonderful job making Topper a pleasant character. In Patrick Stewart’s woefully unloved TV movie version, the producers of the film did something no other version has done with Topper – create a character in “A Christmas Carol” more unlikable than Scrooge. If this were a modern version he would be played by Bill Cosby. But not this version, not played by Tim. Bravo…

My wife said it reminded her of the musical “Scrooge” from 1970. I agree. Scrooge going from store to store collecting the mortgages (I even whispered “Thank you very much” to my wife during this scene); the toys sent to Cratchits on Christmas morning.  Well, why not? If you are doing to emulate and be reminiscent of another version of “A Christmas Carol” they picked a good one!

This troupe plays until December 23rd in Colorado, according to their website. They will tour the US next year as they have for many decades. Will they be in St. Louis or Cape Girardeau as they were this year? I hope so!

There is no guarantee it will be the same actors in the same parts, but go see it regardless.

Take your children.

Enjoy the play, enjoy the music, enjoy the holidays…

And God bless us, every one!!

 tiny tim

Photographs were obtained through Google images and are copyrighted by their respective holders (not known) and used here under the Fair Use Doctrine as commentary and criticism.

Original material copyright 2014 Michael Curry

Oh God! Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Six

Oh God! Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Six
             I’m very sad that it is over. I’m very glad that it is over.
 
           The final performance on March 2, 2014 was canceled due to this season’s monthly snowpocalypse. We ended up getting less than an inch of ice, but I’m glad they canceled – it was not worth taking the chance in case the weather was worse. It was only the second time a production by the Sparta Community Chorus was canceled. The other time was the December 2013’s Christmas production during the first major snow of the season. Only two cancellations ever; and both during the same period.
            The director and I joked about the play being “cursed”! It was canceled en toto back in 1981 and now again! It was the culmination of curses throughout – my forgetting my shoes on the first Saturday performance; the actress playing Lorraine forgetting her shoes on the second Saturday (forcing both of us to hie to the Wal-Mart across the street for shoes. I only found one pair large enough for me and it was still half-a-size too small. They had men’s shoes there size seven. Seven. The WIDTH of my foot is wider than that. Lorraine found lots of shoes for 1/3rd the price I paid…).
            The actor playing Pete Bogg cut his finger on a glass figurine that shattered on the floor (the shattering was part of the play, the cut finger was not). It wasn’t a bad cut and a Band-Aid and some anti-septic took care of it, but at the time he bled quite a bit! Blood was dripping on him, the furniture and the gold coins his character discovered.
            It was always freezing cold backstage.
            Lines were also a problem. There were so many similar lines and even repeated lines throughout the play. My characters used the words “rapscallion” twice. Two separate characters repeated “over here, dear” to Amanda and “are you trying to be amusing” to Pete Bogg. The sheriff had two similar lines when he entered a scene and said the buried treasure was separately a story for children and a myth. Listening backstage, I was unsure which line went where. Blanche had to watch her finances and a few lines later had to watch her pennies. It was confusing and you couldn’t blame anyone for switching lines. During the first weekend, we skipped over the lines about state authorities doing some drainage work. My response was “to dig or not to dig, that is the question”. The lines were lost that first weekend, but said during the second weekend’s performances.
            Some of the cast apologized for missing their lines that first weekend. The rest of us assured them it was fine – we worked around it and ad-libbed our way back to the script. The performances were marvelous! The audience loved them!
            The hoop skirts were a hassle at first – it was hard for any of us to tie it firmly enough to prevent it from falling off.
            There was hardly enough time for me to change from the Colonel to Thornbird between acts without missing my cue. Fortunately the rest of the cast helped me change, put on my spats, touch up my moustache and beard and put up my first costume so that, during the performances, I had plenty of time.
            The stage and auditorium is haunted by a ghost or gremlin, so I was told. It would flicker lights and otherwise disrupt the show. I only saw one example of this: while discussing the Colonel’s portrait that hung over the mantel, it fell with a crash and cracked the frame as we watched it. Other than that, no ghost or gremlin. I once showed up for rehearsal very early. Some patrons were in the auditorium preparing for a children’s show in March and let me in as they left. I spent 20 minutes in the auditorium waiting for other cast members. If there was a ghost, I would have been a tempting target that evening. Nothing. In fact, it was nice to relax and listen to some music on my ipad.
            A rehearsal was cancelled due to bad weather. It wasn’t until the week of opening night that we had rehearsals with the entire cast present.
            One cast member left the show in the first week and was replaced quickly. His replacement was one of the people I auditioned for.
            None of these were long-term problems and all were resolved quickly. If these were curses I could live with them!
            In fact the play could not have gone better. The audiences for each of the five performances were wonderful and receptive. Each audience laughed at different parts of the show, it seemed. There were more children in the audience that first Friday and Saturday night and their laughter was louder than the others. They also laughed at the more silly/slapstick parts. We had an older audience the final Friday and Saturday and they laughed less at the modern references to “twerking” and “Dancing with the Stars”.
            I had to ask the director if the last Friday audience was laughing. They sounded dead from the stage, but she assured me they were laughing.
            And laughing at all the right places.
            Lines we thought were funny barely got a titter. Lines we thought weren’t all that funny got howls from the crowd. Blanche’s line “Gone with the first wind that …” the rest of the line was lost to the laughter. Every time. Blanche’s deliver was spot-on.
            My favorite line from the whole play, also a Blanche line, was “I’m a friend to all animals. I want to be your friend, Stanley,” got no reaction from the crowd. None. Haha.
 
 
            At intermission of the last performance we had the cast thank-yous. I did not know what that was and thought it was something we did onstage to the audience. But we gathered backstage to thank the director, the assistant director, the light and sound people, and each other. The director Stephanie told the story of why the play was never done back in 1981 and we all gave our appreciation to each other for a wonderful show.
            I posted this on Facebook on Sunday March 2nd. I posted it about two in the afternoon – the time we were to begin what would have been the final show:
I’m very sad it’s over; I’m very glad it’s over. I auditioned more or less on a whim and, to be frank, if Stephanie had not directed I probably wouldn’t have. I am so glad and grateful you took a chance and allowed me to play not one, but two roles on someone whose only real experience was during the last days of the Carter Administration. The cast and crew were at all times friendly, helpful and kind to me and made me feel quite welcome! It encourages me to try out again in future productions! Thank you to all my new friends and have a wonderful rest of the year! Thank you for wonderful new memories!
            And it is all true! It was a wonderful two months ending in a fun and entertaining time for us and our audience.
            Oh, and the title to this blog? The Voodoo Woman’s opening line for each appearance is an invocation of the Voodoo male fertility god Ogoun Bodagris. In 1981 that was transliterated to “Oh God, Body Grease”. I knew it was gnawing at you!
 
 
 
Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
             

 

 


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Oh God, Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Five

Oh God, Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Five
   

         Ten days before the first performance I was hit by a particularly virulent sinus infection. I gave it to my wife, my daughter and my secretary – who in turn gave it to her family. It was something out of Stephen King’s “The Stand”. Fortunately there were no more rehearsals for that week and I had seven days to recover.

            And recover I did, although my voice was still scratchy and hoarse from the drainage and coughing. At all times I had cough drops and taffy in my mouth to keep it moist.
            Fortunately my years as a radio announcer taught me how to care for my voice. When I speak to you it may sound raspy, but when performing you can’t tell.
            The Tuesday we returned from our week-long break we had our first dress rehearsal. I switch characters and costumes between the Prologue and Act One, Scene one.  I couldn’t change in time. I was still dressing when my cue came.
            We had it figured out by the next rehearsal and had it down pat by the first weekend performance: Put on my ascot and button the shirt to my neck to hide it. Put on my string tie over the ascot. Put on my black pants, roll the pant legs up and put on my white pants and white suit coat. Buttoning the top two buttons hide the black pants. Put on my black moustache and soul patch and glue/tape the white beard and moustache over it.
            Between acts I peel off the white beard and mustache, the string tie and the white suit and pants. A fellow actor touches up the black mustache and goatee, another helps with the spats. I switch glasses, fluff up my ascot, put on my Panama hat and I have been on time every since.
            I have plenty of time for the other costume changes between the other acts.
            
 

             The performances have been wonderful. We hope for an audience of fifty for each performance and the first weekend beat that! I’ve seen lots of family and old friends each night – or the parents of old friends! My sister and two of her sons went the first night. My nephews, 10 and 6, enjoyed the show. The six-year-old couldn’t stop giggling at the slapstick. My father, sister and her new boyfriend were there Saturday night and my cousins attended the Sunday matinee. This Saturday my wife and other cousins will watch the show and my sister will be back Sunday.
            The three audiences have all enjoyed the show. Funny how each audience laughed at different jokes. Some routines fell flat one night and then met with laughs and applause the next. Lines that I did not think were that funny are getting the biggest laughs of the night. This is why I’m not a playwright…
 
            We have a “brush up” rehearsal this Thursday and then another weekend of performances before it is all over. Some cast members were upset over missing or misreading lines. I think we’ve all been doing fine. We cover for each other and if a line is missed we move on! We’re doing splendidly and I hope the local papers give us good reviews.
            I introduced my sister to Heidi, who plays the Voodoo Woman. If we had performed the play in high school my sister was to have also played the Voodoo Woman. At one performance, I talked with the mother of the girl who was to have played Lorraine Caruthers.  I had not seen her mother in 33-plus years. I think the boy who was to play Billy Jerk will be there Friday.
            It is tremendous fun and I am so happy to have screwed up my courage and auditioned.
            The only real problem is the befuddlement of my daughter. She saw the photos of me as Thornbird’s sister and has asked six times this evening why I wore a dress. “Boys don’t wear dresses! Boys don’t wear wigs! Why do you wear a dress in your play?” I guess I should be grateful we’re not doing “Some Like it Hot” …
            Hopefully some reviews and more photos in Act Six!
 

                                                                                                 Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
             

 

 


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Oh God, Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Four

Oh God, Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias, Act Four
 
                We are in our fifth of seven weeks of rehearsals. Starting next week we add Monday practices to our Tuesday and Thursday schedule.
                Stephanie, our fearless leader and director, gave us until February 1st to learn out lines. I think we have, for the most part. The cast at the least now know their characters and have a feel for what they would say, if not what they should say.
                It’s tough. Erika, who plays the lead Amanda, said on her Facebook page how strange the lines are. Very true. “Murder in the Magnolias” is a broad spoof filled with cracked characters. To say the bulk of the lines, especially in the first two acts when the characters are being introduced, are off-beat non-sequiturs is being kind.
                It is not until the third act that there is anything resembling realistic conversation. It’s easier to memorize lines when there is a flow to them. If one line is “How are you?” and the next “Fine, thank you, yourself?” – that has a flow and makes sense. If nothing else you can wing it.
                But “Murder in the Magnolias?” Yeek…
                The opening scene has the Colonel complaining about his sister Amanda’s botanical garden. He says a few lines about vicious and despicable weeds. Amanda tells him to hush, now. The Colonel says the plants are the unnatural and morbid. Amanda talks about how hot it is this evening. This at least feeds me the line about favoring prickly heat; but it’s a strange path. Perhaps as we practice it will seem more natural.
                Another great example is with my other character Thornbird. In between an argument between Amanda and Pete Bogg about excavating around the house I mention there is something odd about the “O” on my typewriter: a line completely out of the blue with no relation to the current conversation. It defines the character, sure, but I have to remember where it fits – what is my cue line? I’ve missed it a few times now during rehearsal. There’s not much cadence to dig into.
                Odd and obtuse lines – we have to memorize our cues and then get the cadence right to make it funny.
                As I said, it’s tough.
                In the third act is gets better. Most of the lines (mine anyway, I pity the actress (Britney) who plays Blanche – her non-sequiturs never seem to end. At one point her character literally stands up, holds up her hand and says “I would like to stop the drift of this conversation.” (I paraphrase) Talk about left field.
                But the lines and character quirks are starting to gel. Now that the lines are down we are working on the physical part of the show and blocking more effectively. You stand there. When he says this, you move over there. We’ve added some physical comedy during segments where characters are otherwise simply talking to one another. One cute segment between Blanche and Bubba: Blanche is demonstrating how she trains dogs; Bubba thinks he is talking to him. “Sit up!” He stops slouching. “Off the table!” He moves his leg from the coffee table. “Play dead!” Umm, what?
                The set is coming along nicely, too. Most of the walls are painted and the windows and doors are in. Over the mantel is a painting of the Colonel. Stephanie took my photo in almost-costume a few weeks ago and will print it out using a photoshop program that makes it look like a painting with brush strokes, etc. It will hang with pride on the stage wall!
                Here is a photo:
 


                  On Thursday, January 30th I was in court most of the day and still had my briefcase in the car along with my I-Pad. I was the first one at practice and shot a few photos of the set.

    
            I also took some pictures of rehearsal, but I do not want to show them right now in case any of the actors object. When we start releasing any “official” cast photos I may post them in a future blog.
 
 



 
               The costumes for the play are mainly street clothes. Pete and Bubba can wear blue jeans; Bubba could wear a t-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve. Lawyer Possum could wear a sports coat. Pete Bogg, a construction vest and a utility belt. Sheriff Billy Jerk could get away with street clothes and a badge and a brimmed hat – a full uniform would not be necessary. Facial hair for these male rolls is completely optional.
                Lorraine, Lotta and Blanche can be dressed business-casual.  Blanche later appears in a Southern-Belle-like dress, though. So does Amanda. “Cousin ‘Manda” also has a scene in which she comes straight from her disgusting mess of a weed pile. She decided to dress in boots, gloves and an apron.
                But the Colonel and Thornbird, my characters, are the exception. That hadn’t occurred to me when I auditioned. Oh the pain…
                Colonel Rance Chickenwing is (obviously) a spoof of southern colonels and our director wants him to look like Colonel Sanders. White suit, mustache and beard. Black-rimmed glasses and black string tie. He’ll wield a cane. I have the white suit – all the better to cosplay John Lennon – and other than the string tie his costume is complete – and a long, thick black ribbon can be used for the tie.
                Thornbird will wear a frock coat with a frilly shirt and ascot/cravat. I have those, except the cravat, but a fru-fru lady’s scarf will do for that. He’ll have a dark mustache and soul patch under his bottom lip – which will remain on for all three of his personalities. I see Thornbird wearing spats (he and the Colonel will wear the same dress shoes and socks, I’m afraid), gaudy rings, Panama hat, granny glasses and a cane – different from the Colonel’s cane.
                I hope to avoid anyone thinking Thornbird is the Colonel in disguise – ready to pounce on his greedy relatives. I’m trying to keep their mannerisms and voice different. The Colonel has a throaty growl and Thornbird a higher-pitched smoother voice (having sinus trouble over the past month makes it hard to avoid the rumbly growl, but now that it has somewhat passed I will try to pull it off).
                They have Thornbird’s sister’s dress ready: a dark-green-hooped skirt with mid-sleeve blouse. I presume I will still be wearing my frilly shirt underneath. They have a pig-tailed blond wig and a pink parasol for me. The theater isn’t heated well, so the warm wig feels nice, haha!
                Rufus T. Chickenwing’s costume is complete at well: a Confederate officer’s uniform, hat and saber. Esther has kindly lent me her toy plush parrot for the bird scene. Here’s the bird with my Panama hat (actually a wide-brimmed trilby, but it still looks the part).
 

 

 
                I should have enough time in between scenes to change. Going from the Colonel to Thornbird then Thornbird to his sister will be a rush; but if I get changed right away and don’t fool around watching the other performances, I should be okay. We only have one or two dress rehearsals to practice my quick-change-act. I will certainly let the director know if time is my enemy.
***
                It’s evolving into a fun show – the cast seems to like it and laugh at its silliness. We get along – or at least the people that DON’T get along are keeping it to themselves – a nice change of pace from 1981, I must say.
                Because of snow/sleet we had to cancel our practice on the 4th, which leaves only seven more rehearsals left.
                Seven.
                I think I’m going to be sick…
 

 

Copyright 2014 Michael G Curry                
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 
 
             

 

 


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