The hills to the east are teeming with a summer onslaught of theatrical venues. Whether it’s Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Berkshire Theater Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare and Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, all in the Berkshires, or Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, Columbia County, there is something to entertain everyone.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
A bad night at Williamstown is still a good night of theater. That holds true for the current production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The season opener, directed by the festival’s Artistic Director Roger Rees is quite entertaining on some levels. It’s a delightful summer evening filled with camp, mugging actors, great costumes and lovely voices.
The problem with this production falls with the lead, Sharon Lawrence. Lawrence, best known to television audiences for her role in the series `NYPD Blue,` acts well, is a joy to look at and has a pretty voice. Unfortunately, she is painfully miscast in the role of the gutsy Reno Sweeny.
Many actors’ careers are defined by the roles they have played; occasionally, a role is defined by the performer who brought it to life. This is the case with the character of Reno, the gutsy gal with a heart of gold originally created on Broadway by the late Ethel Merman and later in the New York Lincoln Center revival by Patti LuPone. Both of these women brought loud brash bombastic singing voices that made such songs as `Blow Gabriel Blow,` `Anything Goes,` `You’re the Top,` and `Friendship` become Cole Porter standards for singers of the `belting` variety. Lawrence just doesn’t have the power and gusto to get it out there. One feels as if the music has been `dumbed down` in order to accommodate her soft melodic approach. It just doesn’t work.
The rest of the cast is outstanding. Malcolm Gets of the 1990s television series `Caroline in the City` is perfect, albeit a tad young for the role of Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Remy Auberjonois, Matt Cavenaugh, Catherine Brunell, and Nikki RenEe Daniels all have strong singing voices, and are perfect in their roles. Kaye Voice’s costumes hone in on the feeling of the 1930’s on board ship perfectly. Particularly well played out are her black, white and gray opening scene costumes on the New York docks as everyone is boarding the ship, creating the appearance of black-and-white newsreel footage. While Lawrence is an unfortunate choice, the rest of the cast more then makes up for the evening and the Theatre Festival still offers an enjoyable evening in the mountains.
In Columbia County’s Chatham, Mac-Haydn Theater has brought Fanny Brice back to life in the stage production of `Funny Girl.` This production is strong, well-packaged and a joy to watch, all two hours and 45 minutes of it. The `Funny Girl` role is another that’s an icon ` both Fanny herself and the depiction of her that projected Barbra Streisand to superstardom. They leave very large shoes to fill. Melissa Giattino is not Streisand, though here, her rendition of Brice works well. Her interpretation hampers neither the show nor the character, though she lacks the ability to get into some of Brice’s schtick with any sense of believability. Her voice is strong in a pretty way, and her dancing is superb.
A strong supporting cast ` Richard Weidlich as Nicky Arnstein, Elizabeth Dowling as Fanny’s mother and area favorite Brandon Davis as Flo Ziegfled ` all captivate the audience with their strong voices and acting acumen.
This show’s standout is Richard Schwartz, in the role of Brice’s confidante, Eddie Ryan. Schwartz steals the stage every time his feet start to move his tap dancing is flawless, his voice strong and he alone is worth the trip to Chatham. Jimm Halliday’s costume designs have pushed this theater to a new level.
The show is unique in that it isn’t a typical musical comedy, leaving you laughing after the big splashy grand finale. Rather, the very quiet, down ending leaves you pensive and thinking well after the house lights have come up. Great costumes, Jule Styne’s wonderful score and Melissa Giattino, Richard Schwartz and a stage filled with great voices make this one show not to be missed this summer.
`Anything Goes` at Williamstown Theatre Festival runs through July 16. For information on tickets or the remainder of the summer schedule, contact the box office at 413-597-3400 or go online at www.wtfestival.org.
`Funny Girl` plays at The Mac-Haydn Theatre through July 16. For ticket information or the remainder of the summer schedule call the box office at 392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org. “