Theatre Mirror Reviews - "My Favorite Year"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"My Favorite Year"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at Bishop Hendricken's Summer Stage is "My Favorite Year", the musical. The show's book is by Joseph Dougherty with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens who also wrote "Ragtime" and "Seussical". The Broadway version opened on December 10, 1992 and is based on the film of the same name from 1982. It is set in 1954 and centers on Benjy Stone (Steinberg), a sketch writer for a television variety show starring Sid Caesar-like King Kaiser. Signed for a guest appearance is Errol Flynn-like Alan Swann, a one-time movie idol whose career was disrupted by his addiction to alcohol and loose women. The task of keeping sober and celibate until airtime falls to Benjy, who soon finds himself involved in a sequence of shenanigans unlike any he ever experienced before. This 42 member cast does an excellent job singing, dancing and acting in this show. Under the fabulous direction of Brian Codeiro, musical direction of Ritchie Sylvia and choreography by Teresa Pearson, this multitalented cast make this one of the must see shows of the summer season.

This is a show with comedy and pathos mixed together that will tug at your heartstrings as Benjy struggles with having been deserted by his father as a boy and Alan Swann misses his daughter, Tess who he hasn't seen in over 3 years. Brian makes his performers hit all the right moves to make you laugh out loud or cry at all the right places. Ritchie and his orchestra also do a great job leaving you humming the songs all night long while Teresa creates many dances including the shimmie, a kick-line, a waltz among many others. The wonderful lighting is by Tyler Perry who I directed in "Lost in Yonkers" in 2002 when he was a young boy, now he is headed to Ithica College. Leading the cast is High school junior, Graham Duff as Benjy Stone. He has a fantastic tenor voice which he uses to lead the chorus in an energetic opening dance number about New York called "Twenty Million People". He then sings about his idol, Alan Swann who will be a guest on the television show in "Larger Than Life" a touching song. (Benjy secretly hopes Alan is really his long lost father.) Benjy has a crush on one of the girls in the office, K.C. Downing played by the talented Nicole Cayer who I reviewed when she was a little girl in "Annie" and many other shows. She gets to show off her voice in "Funny/The Duck Joke" with Alice played wonderfully by Kendra White (the Imogene Coca character) and with Graham in the romantic "Shut Up and Dance" while they do a waltz together which culminates into a kiss. High school senior, James Patefield successfully plays the role of Alan Swann. From his excellent singing voice to his dynamic acting, he creates a memorable character. He moves the audience to tears when he chastises Benjy in "If the World Were Like the Movies" (this is because Benjy only had the movies to occupy his time after his father left them) and also in a song called "Exits" as Alan laments having failed being a good father to his daughter. Playing the conceited TV host, King Kaiser is Joe Fielding, a recent graduate from Hendricken. His dynamite delivery of his lines, his berating of his staff and his comic antics as this hard boiled host is right on the money. He, James and Chris Maymon are hilarious as the Three Musketeers. Sy Benson, the coffee addicted writer with an ulcer played by Mike Squittiere, claims the sketch as his own creation not giving credit to Benjy and when King finds out there is hell to pay. Kendra gets her revenge on King during their song "Professional Showbizness Comedy". She has the chorus girls tie him up and gag him. The mute writer, Herb Lee is well played by Domenic Dion who gets back at Sy when King finds out the sketch is really Benjy's.

The asthmatic producer of the show, Leo Silver is played wonderfully by Conor O'Rourke as he enters almost every scene with his inhaler. The biggest scene stealer is Malari Martin as Benjy's very Jewish mother, Belle May Steinberg Carroca. She is a Lainie Kazan look alike. Her voice soars in "Rookie in the Ring" and the group number "Welcome to Brooklyn" when she and her family meet Alan for the first time. She eventually reunites Alan with his daughter leading to a happy ending after all the tears. The joyous ending leads into a fabulous and catchy tune called "My Favorite Year". Her second husband who was a boxer and is now a topnotch chef, "Rookie" Carroca is played by Matt Davey. (Malari towers over Matt which is hysterical.) Two other funny performers in this gigantic cast are Jerald Kaplan as Uncle Mort and Rebecca Rosenberg as Aunt Sadie. (He wears a bald pate which is hilarious and their antics will leave you in stitches.) Other outstanding chorus voices belong to The Cavalcade Singers, Casey Cook, James Morgan and Luke Doyle who have gorgeous harmonic blend as well as Tessa Ricci, Julana Forsberg-Lary and Marina Ferri who play the Andrews Sisters. A funny dance is by Maxford House Coffee Dancers, Annalisa Carmosino, Billy Cavanagh and Aly Petteruti who's coffee cup outfits were too big for them, leading to much sustained laughter. So for a fantastic look back at the 1950's be sure to catch "My Favorite Year" at Summer Stage this year.

"My Favorite Year" ( 25 July - August 2)
2615 Warwick Avenue, WARWICK RI
1 (401) 739-3450 ext. 172 The second show of Reagle Players' 40th season is the 1977 hit musical, "Annie". Based on Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie", it won seven Tony Awards and ran for 2,377 performances. This high energy show is a hit again with this audience. It has excellent and insightful direction by the original Rooster, Bob Fitch who was 43 years old when the show first opened, top notch musical direction by Dan Rodriguez and Jeffrey Leonard who is also the conducter (Leading a fabulous orchestra) and fantastic choreography by Mary Jane Houdina. This multitalented and hard working cast turn it into one of the must see shows of this summer season. Completing the mix are stunning scenic design by Matt Rudman, excellent lighting design by David Wilson and gorgeous costumes by Costume World Theatrical.

Having starred in the original production, 73 year old Bob Fitch not only directs the show but plays the sinister, Rooster perfectly once again. Having seen the show back in 1977, he doesn't miss a beat in reprising his role of this slimy and sleazy guy. Knowing the show so well, he obtain the best out of his entire cast that the audience can savor. My favorite song is the Hooverville number. Jeff's music is beautiful and the orchestra does a wonderful job with all the numbers. The show is choreographed wonderfully by Mary Jane who adds special touches to the servant numbers and especially "Hard Knock Life", "Fully Dressed With a Smile" (especially the orphan's kick-line and dance which stops the show.) Miss Hannigan is played by Sally Struthers a two-time Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner for her performance in the ground breaking series, "All in the Family". She steals the show by giving a new turn to this role and slipping in the raspberry and referring to the girls as youse, Archie Bunkerisms. Sally is fabulous as the harridan who mistreats the orphans and Annie, constantly swilling down her "medicine". Her "Little Girls" number is a hoot as she twists off a doll's head, arms and legs. Her antics in "Easy Street" are priceless, too. Leading the cast is 11 year old Isabelle Miller as Annie. She shows off her strong belting voice in "Maybe", "Tomorrow", "NYC", the two servant songs and in the duet "I Don't Need Anything". She handles her comic moments wonderfully and makes you choke up in her poignant ones. (She looks like a young actress from RI called Rachel Miller-Sprake. Didn't know if it was a relation?)Oliver who plays Sandy in the show is best dog I have ever seen. He is well behaved and responded perfectly in all his scenes.

Veteran actor, Terry Runnels who has played the role of Daddy Warbucks 12 times commands the stage in this role. His comic touches are wonderful but his dramatic turn when he realizes he needs to adopt Annie will tug at your heartstrings. His transition from hard-boiled businessman to adoptive parent are done with ease and his strong voice sells his numbers including "NYC" where he and Grace show Annie the sights of the Big Apple, and the touching, poignant ballad "Something is Missing" where he realizes that Annie is a wonderful addition to his life and the joyous duet with Isabelle called "I Don't Need Anything". (Their cakewalk dance steps are fantastic in this number.) Warbuck's secretary, Grace is excellently played by the gorgeous blond haired, Sarah Pfisterer (who was fabulous as Julie Jordan in "Carousel", Anna in "The King & I" and Maria Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" all at Reagle) does an excellent job as this tender hearted, compassionate woman. Her fantastic soprano voice soars in "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here", "NYC", "You Won't Be An Orphan for Long" and "Annie".(Playing the Star to Be in "NYC" is Lauren Tempesta who shows off her strong belting voice) Playing Rooster's girlfriend is the multitalented Beverly Ward who is another gorgeous blond in real life, wears a brunette wig in this show. Her not to bright bimbo is topnotch as is her high pitched voice as the dumb Betty Boop. Her transition to Shirley Mudge the fake mother of Annie is also well done. Beverly's excellent voice is used in "Easy Street" where she, Bob and Sally show off their singing voices and dancing skills. Another scene stealing performance in Act 2 is by Scott Wahle who plays FDR and gets to show off his voice in "Tomorrow" and "New Deal for Christmas" with Terry and Sarah.

The singing and dancing orphans in this show are excellent, too. They show off their skills in "Hard Knock Life" and "Never Fully Dressed". These talented girls are Lauren Weintraub ( who plays the youngest orphan, Molly and she steals many scenes she is in) Charlotte Horan, (great job as Pepper, the sassy orphan, boy has she grown up since I first saw her as Brigitta in "Sound of Music" 3 years ago), Mei Lu Barnum, Madeline Snow, Jessica Bodner, Madison Kornbliet, Victoria Blanchard, Kimberly Lombardo, Brianna Maguire, Emma Nardi and Whitney Sanford. Rich Allegretto is Drake, Warbucks' butler while Christoper King gets to show off his tenor voice as Bert Healy doing "Never Fully Dressed" and in the chorus of "Tomorrow". (Excellent actress who has won many IRNE awards, Maryann Zschau appears in this show and played one of award winning roles as the evil Mrs. Mears in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Reagle. This fall she will be in "Follies".) Since this is huge cast, there isn't enough space to mention everyone. So for a splendid show stopping rendition of this well known show be sure to run to the box office at Reagle Players. Bravo!

"Annie" ( 10 -19 July)
617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1(781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide