Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

A Great Review of THE ADDAMS FAMILY from Joel Taylor of The Column by John Garcia

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Joel Taylor of The Column by John Garcia has given THE ADDAMS FAMILY at Plaza Theatre Company a solid recommendation. The show is playing thru November 14th and tickets are going fast! Congratulations to our exceptional cast and crew on a fine review. Read on for a great review then call 817-202-0600 to make your reservation.

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Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

Plaza Theatre Company continues to produce shows during the Halloween season that have a playful sense of the macabre and absurd. In 2014, during the Halloween season, Plaza performed LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which received a COLUMN Award nomination for Best Musical last season. For the 2015 Halloween season, Plaza chose to share the musical comedy THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Those that remember the original comic strip, the television series, or the more recent feature films based on the same characters as well as those that appreciate a sense of the absurd, irony and humorous macabre will enjoy this family friendly show.

TAF-familyEvery year, around Halloween, it has become increasingly common to see films and shows that focus on slash and slice and rely heavily on an abundance of blood, guts and gore, improper use of a chainsaw, axe, viral strain and long pointed metal fingernails. Unlike the slash and slice films and shows that are especially common around Halloween, The production of Addams Family uses satire and the macabre to bring humor to expected social expectations.

Charles Addams, created the fictional Addams Family, as an unrelated group of 150 single panel cartoons that made their debut in 1938 in the magazine, The New Yorker. The core of the Addams family has traditionally included Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley Cousin It and Thing. The Addams Family was created to be a satirical inversion of what was perceived to be the ideal American family. They are an eccentric American family that delight in the macabre and are unaware, or simply do not care, that other people find them bizarre or occasionally frightening

Although most of the humor comes from the fact that the family shares odd interests such as collecting torture devices, practice sword play throughout the house, detests bright colors, enjoys flowers without the actual flower petals, and wanting to go on the romantic vacation of a lifetime through the sewers of Paris, the family is not typically evil. Instead, they are close family that rely on the Addams Family values for keeping them together. Morticia is an exemplary mother. She and Gomez remain passionate toward each other. By merely speaking a few words of French, any French words will do, Morticia can provoke Gomez into kissing her arms. Both parents are supportive towards each other and their children. The family is friendly, hospitable and charitable to visitors, despite the visitor’s horror of the Addams lifestyle.

TAF-Wednesday and PugsleyThe Addams Family television series ran from September 1964-April 1966 and starred John Astin as Gomez, Carolyn Jones as Morticia, Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester, Ted Cassidy as Lurch. Lisa Loring as Wednesday, Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley, Blossom Rock as Grandma, Felix Silla as Cousin It, and Ted Cassidy’s hand as Thing.

Subsequently, the Addams Family characters and story lines were included in episodes of SCOOBY DOO, the animated television series and more recent feature films such as The Addams Family (1991) that starred Angelica Houston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci as Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Judith Martin as Grandma, Carel Struycken as Lurch, John Franklin as Cousin It, and Chrisopher Hart’s hand as Thing.

This was followed by The Addams Family Values in 1993 and starred most of the same actors as the 1991 film, with the following changes; Joan Cusack played the Black Widow, Carol Kane as Grandma, and included cameo roles by David Hype Pierce, Peter Graves and Nathan Lane, who went on to play Gomez in the stage version of The Addams Family musical,.

Fester-ancestorsPlaza Theatre Company performs plays in the round. Which means the performance takes place in front of an audience that literally surrounds the actors on stage. This necessitates creative use of space and action for moveable set pieces, props, cast members and dancers. Using a limited space for a large production can be a challenge. However, the production staff at Plaza Theatre, has a history of using this space to maximum benefit to bring to make each production feel intimate. Despite a few instances when during a dance number including all of the ancestors, Gomez (Aaron Lett) had to momentarily hesitate as he navigated between dancers to traverse to the other side of the stage as well as a scene that took place in the dark, when Gomez (Lett) and Mal (Jay Lewis) almost ended up in the lap of an audience member, the space is well used for maximum enjoyment.

During the preshow, songs with a Halloween theme are played while the audience is seated. They chose a wide range of Halloween related songs from the 1950’s to current material for use in the pre-show music. Throughout the performance, the musical score is well performed by the cast and works well with the choreography of Tabitha Barrus. She uses the entire performing space for well-designed and executed dance numbers by all of the actors throughout the production. Including the many dance numbers that the ancestors perform throughout the show. In one scene Morticia (Caitlan Leblo) dances a subdued version of the Tango with Gomez (Lett). During the dance, Morticia and Gomez use the entire stage space moving between the ancestors also dancing on stage during the scene.

TAF-grandma and pugsleyCostume Design by Tina Barrus who has an armful of COLUMN Awards for her work, is once again a major highlight of the production. The attention to detail for the costuming is apparent throughout the show. Morticia wears a form fitting, but not too sexy, floor length black dress that hugs her ankles, covers her feet and extends on to the floor giving the impression of tentacles. Gomez is wearing the expected pin stripe, tailored double breasted suit that allows movement to dance with Morticia, as well as practice fencing in a scene with Lurch. Wednesday is also appropriately wearing the basic black dress with white trim, reminiscent of the costume worn by Wednesday in the earlier Addams Family films. An exception to the black and white worn by Wednesday, are the few scenes in which she is wearing yellow that matches the yellow also worn in the same scene by Alice (Susan Metzinger). Pugsley wears short pants and a shirt with red and white horizontal lines, Grandma wears a costume that is shades of grey and is designed to appear as if it is made of rags. Grandma’s unkempt grey hair work well with the costume design. Lurch wears a basic black suit, white shirt and tie. In order to give Lurch (Josh Leblo) the physical height that is expected of the character of Lurch, he wears black platform shoes. Mal Benieke (Lewis) wears a suit and tie that reminds me of the style of suits that I have seen businessmen wear in the Midwest region. The ancestors are in various historically period styles that range from cave man to a contemporary nurse and jilted lover in her bridal gown. With the exception of the caveman, the costumes for the ancestors are in the same off white shades that matches the make-up worn by the actors. G. Aaron Siler as Uncle Fester’s costume is a floor length, grey jacket that looks contemporary and antique at the same time. His costume also includes the light bulbs that light up when Fester places one end in his mouth.

In the past few years I have seen several productions of The Addams Family musical around the area. Rarely, have I seen in previous productions such attention to detail in the costume design as I observed in the outstanding work by Ms. Barrus in Plaza’s production.

TAF-meet bienekesDuring the pre-show and opening scene, four headstones are set around the stage to represent a graveyard. In one corner is what appears to be a large iron gate that leads to the family crypt, from which the ancestors enter early in the show and ultimately are allowed to return. This space is also used in the second act to move on and off stage a large four poster bed that also includes an oversize spider, on which Alice (Metzinger) and Mal (Lewis) use when discussing the consequences of the game during the dinner in the first act. That space is also used as an entrance and exit by Grandma when she pulls her wagon of potions onstage for a scene with Pugsley. In another corner, the entrance and exit area is covered by a wall to wall and ceiling floor length red drape with gold fringe and tassels. Without spoiling a scene, the drapery and tassels are effectively used in a few scenes as sight gags.

TAF-Wednesday Lucas and AncestorsThe actors that make up the characters of the ancestors range in age from early teens to their mid-twenties. With the exception of the cave man ancestor, none of the male ancestors had facial hair or wrinkles. This gives almost all of the ancestors the appearance of eternal youth. The actors playing the ancestors moved well with the often complicated dance patterns created by Choreographer Tabitha Barrus. During the performance, the ancestors assist uncle Fester and help with staging elements in the park scene in which Lucas (played in the performance reviewed by Shreve) and Wednesday are making up from a disagreement and enter into a contest to determine which one is crazier than the other.

Grandma, played by Keli Price, is fun to watch when she is on stage. Even when she has no lines in a scene, she is consistently the cantankerous old lady in all characteristics. Price, steps around the stage as would someone in advanced years, holds and contorts her hands as if arthritis is a major health issue. She brings out a crackling sound in her voice that gives the impression that she really is a spry 104 year old eccentric woman that enjoys her potions and hitting on 90 year old men as in the dinner scene. When she takes command of a scene, she dances sings and quips about hitting on young 90 year old men.

TAF-gomez-mortPugsley Addams, played by Henry Cawood, is the younger brother of Wednesday. Theirs is a relationship in which the younger sibling relishes being tortured by his older sister. Cawood plays this role with such enthusiasm that sometimes the character of Pugsley comes across as honest and endearing in an Addams sort of way. Such as the scene when he is stealing a potion from Grandma and the final scene when Gomez is telling Pugsley how proud he is of him. Though, there are also times when the character’s action comes across as forced, which loses the humor and sincerity. Such as an early scene when Wednesday has Pugsley on a rack and causing Pugsley to stretch out, seemingly in pain, when she pulls a lever. In that scene, Cawood anticipates each pull of the lever and overreacts out of synch with the timing of the apparatus. During the dinner scene, Pugsley sneaks away from the table in order to do a prank. During this scene he over-acts in a way that detracts from the full comedy of the scene.

Lurch played by Josh Leblo, has moments when his interpretation of Lurch works very well and at times is too stoic. When he, is on stage as Lurch, he walks in the Lurch manner that is slow and very methodically deliberate. The character of Lurch is stereotypically accepted as a character that is slightly above a zombie. Through most of the production, Mr. Leblo has a facial expression that is void of any emotion or movement, often at the expense of the full effect of the humor in a situation. Such as when he ushers the Beineke’s into the Addams home. In the scene he interacts with the Beinekes without the non-verbal communication that would normally be shown through the eyes, tilt of the head, or any non-verbal action that would convey even ironic communication. His most successful scenes are when he, as Lurch, is slowly and methodically clearing the stage during intermission. The audience applauded and cheered as this scene during intermission was taking place.

Wednesday Addams is portrayed by Meredith Stowe, she is the eldest child of Gomez and Morticia. Stowe plays Wednesday as a young lady that is conflicted with the desire to continue to fit in with her family and her own Family’s peculiar values and the desire to live a life with her new love who is a normal boy. Stowe handles well, the intricacies of playing a character in her late teens to early 20’s that is trying to fit in two different worlds. During a scene in which Wednesday is pressuring her father to do something for her, in this case it is keeping a secret from her mother, she uses the line that every daughter has used to a parent, “if you love me you will…” said with a pouty look that only a daughter can use so effectively. Stowe embodies the daughter so well, that an adult couple seated in front of me, were audibly commenting on the bad behavior shown by Wednesday. Stowe is a joy to watch as Wednesday as a real girl in real conflicting situations. The audience can clearly see the emotions at play in Stowe’s genuine facial gestures and body language.

Mal Beineke, played by Jay Lewis, who is Lucas’s father. Lewis, shows believable emotion and actions as the father and husband that, over time has spent less time with his wife and son and instead focused so much more with his job. During a scene in the second act, in which Alice and Mal are discussing the revelations that happened during dinner, Lewis seems very real as Mal when he is confused as Alice tells him how their relationship has changed over time because he has not been involved with his own family.

Susan Metzinger portrays Alice Beineke (Mal’s wife and Lucas’s mother). Metzinger is a hoot to observe. Metzinger, embraces the emotionally conflicted personality of Alice, a wife, and mother that is always trying to play peacemaker, trying not to make waves and internalizes conflict and then externalizes the anxiety through rhyming. In each scene, she consistently shows, through facial expressions, tone and physicality, the emotion and conflict that the character is feeling at that moment. Such, as when arriving at the Addams home, seeing Wednesday wearing the color yellow, she comes to Wednesday’s defense when it is realized that they are both wearing yellow. Demonstrating that she is good with physical comedy as well as with the comedic timing of the lines she delivers, Metzinger is a comedic riot during the dinner scene where she literally climbs on the table and performs.

The role of Lucas Beineke is double cast. Brandon Shreve played the role of Lucas for the performance reviewed. Physically, Shreve is smaller than Wednesday, which adds to the physical humor of the show. Shreve plays Lucas as a less forceful character that allows Wednesday to take the lead in most of their interactions. During a scene in which Lucas tries to connect with Pugsley by using contemporary slang and attempts a high five, Shreve believably comes across as awkward, geeky and sincere. Later in the show, Shreve becomes much more energized and alive in the scene with Wednesday in the park as they compete with each other to see which one is crazier than the other.

Uncle Fester, played by G. Aaron Siler, is the very eccentric brother to Gomez. Siler portrays the role brilliantly. Directing a show while also performing in the show is challenging and not often successful. Siler does both well. He clearly has delicious fun as Uncle Fester. In each scene that he is on stage, the audience sees the facial twitches and shrugs, such as seen in the opening number. In this production, Siler becomes is the Uncle Fester that has been enjoyed by audiences since the early 1960’s. Siler embodies Fester with a childish joy that is contagious. It is also delightful fun to see Siler place a light bulb in his mouth and it lights up…just as it did on the original stage version, television shows and feature films.

Caitlan Leblo is the elegant Morticia Addams. Morticia is the strong willed matriarch of the Addams Family. The character, played notably in the TV and film versions by Carolyn Jones and Angelica Houston, respectively, is stern with her children, oozes sensuality with Gomez and the primary influencer of all decisions that involve her family. One of the strongest characteristics from Ms. Leblos’s performance is her ability to deliver lines, scolding, praises and almost every conversation with an almost completely stoic appearance. I said almost, because the stoic appearance was usually followed by a slight raise of an eyebrow, or tilt of the head, or a unique tone in her voice. Caitlan Leblo is fantastic as Morticia. In fact, she portrays the character so much better than most that I have seen over the past few years. She does an excellent job with the physicality of Morticia, whether walking, crossing her arms in the way that Morticia always did and has the stoic sometime unexpressive look that Morticia in the films usually had. Though, lacking is the slight twitch of the eyebrow, tilt of the head or body posture that emphasizes the irony of a situation.

In the role originated by Nathan Lane in the Broadway version is J. Aaron Lett . This is the first production in which I have seen Mr. Lett and I hope it is not the last. Gomez, the patriarch of the Addams family is a difficult role to not only play but to play it well. The Addams lineage and heritage comes from Spain. Traditionally, the role of Gomez is played with a Spanish accent. A challenge is keeping the accent consistent. Lett succeeds in this challenge. This talented actor successfully portrays Gomez and completely understands the comedic timing, delivery the role demands. Lett is very energetic and is able to understand as he applies the dry humor, allowing the comedy to be funny and not try to force it to become over the top. Lett demonstrates a clear understanding of the role and character of Gomez consistently throughout the show. Beginning with the opening song, Lett takes charge of the show with his boundless energy and connection with other characters on stage. During scenes, alternately with Wednesday and Morticia, in which Wednesday wants her father to keep a secret and Morticia demands that no secrets be kept, through, his line delivery, and physicality, such as allowing the frustration of the situation to be visible through his face and physicality, Lett is consistently brilliant.

I grew up watching the television series in the early 1960’s as well as the animated series and later the feature films. Over the years watching the shows on television, film and on stage, I have a developed a sense of how to expect the characters to act and display the characteristics that have made the Addams Family the loveable, creepy, spooky, and kooky family that many have grown up with. I have seen the characters played by talented and professional actors as well as students in high school. Each actor over the years has given their unique flavor and style to the characters being played. Sometimes, the interpretation works so well that I felt like a little kid again watching the television series after school. Or, as an adult, giggling and guffawing at the wit and delivery of the actors in the feature films.

Sometimes the interpretation of the character by the actor does not have the maximum desired impact. With a few exceptions, the actors in this production consistently presented characters that resonate with the audience. If you, like me, grew up experiencing the Addams Family from the 1960;s to the present, you will get many of the references to the lines, situations, and the tongue-in-cheek humor. You will appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the characters and nod your head in appreciation to the wit and humor. If you were not fortunate to have had the Addams Family as a part of your life experience before now, you will still enjoy the show for the jovial wit, well timed delivery of lines, droll sense of humor, or like the elderly couple sitting in front of me, have comments when one spouse does or says something that will invariably land the person committing the error in hot water that even an Addams would not enjoy.

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They’re all together ooky, The Addams Family.

Their house is a museum When people come to see ’em They really are a scream (pronounced Scree um) The Addams Family.

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“Are You Ready For A Wedding?” by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

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PlazaCo’s production of FATHER OF THE BRIDE has received another great review, this time from Paul Gnadt of The Star Group newspapers. Read on then give us a call at 817-202-0600 to come see the show.

ARE YOU READY FOR A WEDDING?
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

A young actor who used to hit set shots from behind the 3-point line is now hitting his lines on the set in the Plaza Theatre Company’s current presentation of “Father of the Bride.”

Michael Sorter, who played basketball for Joshua High School as a sophomore, has a co-starring role in the comedy that is the PTCs 79th production since it opened in 2006.
Sorter decided to take a shot at acting after his mother, Amy, was cast in a few PTC productions. He earned bench-warmer roles in Plaza’s “Dear Ruth,” “Camelot” and “Ragtime,” and liked it so much that he transferred to the Forth Worth Academy of Fine Arts, where he is a senior with a stage presence far beyond his years.

Sorter’s timing, delivery and sincerity come through in Plaza’s intimate 160-seat theater-in-the-round and make him believable as the groom-to-be who doesn’t want a large wedding and would rather elope than go through the hassle.

Sorter isn’t the only “youngster” in the cast. The bride is double cast, played by Tabitha Barrus, a college freshman who is already a veteran of 39 PTC productions and has grown up before the eyes of many audiences, and Rachal Larsen, another FWAFA senior who played the role on the night I attended.

Larsen nailed the giddiness, nervousness and hesitancy of a bride to be.

Parker Barrus (his 14th PTC production) and Nolan Moralez are two other youthful actors who turn in good performances as brothers to the bride.

Holding it together are PTC veteran Luke Hunt, who, in his 25th PTC production, is Stanley Banks, the father of the bride, and Barbara Richardson as Elle Banks, the bride’s mother.
Here’s the deal: While Buckley Dunston (the groom played by Sorter) wants a small wedding, Kay, the bride-to-be, wants to invite all of her friends.

They agree to the guest list will not exceed 50, but soon the invitation list mushrooms to 300 and Stanley Banks, the father of the bride, has visions of going broke.

Those visions become a nightmare of bankruptcy when the Banks realize they forgot to include the guests who will be invited by the groom’s family.

Things get more confusing, and awkwardly funny, when the Banks family attempts to reduce expenses by inviting some guests only to the church and others only to the reception.
The most difficult marriage of all might be the blending by Hunt of the portrayal of Mr. Banks, played in two movies by the great Spencer Tracy and then, years later, by Steve Martin.
Hunt, the theater arts director at Alvarado High School, nicely combines Tracy’s cool with Martin’s off-the-wall intensity.

Pamela Valle as Delilah the maid, Cherie Robinson as Mrs. Bellamy the secretary and Madison Heaps as Peggy, the girlfriend of Ben Banks, give good support and have some funny lines.
Russ Walker is perfect as Mr. Massoula, the pompous caterer who transforms the Banks’ living room into a buffet restaurant.

Co-directed by Soni and Jodie Barrus, with costumes by Stacey Greenawalt, “Father of the Bride” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 11 at the Plaza Theatre Company, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $13 for children age 13 and under — and can be purchased online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Bowles of The Column By John Garcia Delivers A Splendid Review Of FATHER OF THE BRIDE

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FATHER OF THE BRIDE opened this past weekend at PlazaCo, and Charlie Bowles of John Garcia’s The Column has written a lovely review of the show. We are so very proud of our stellar cast and crew for their hard work and hope you’ll take time to come and enjoy it. As Mr. Bowles aptly states, “it’s nice to be reminded that good can prevail and happy endings do happen”. Read on for a great review, then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve.

 

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by Charlie Bowles of John Garcia’s The Column

Throughout the ages, a marriage of a daughter has caused fits and complications to countless fathers. A daughter’s wedding can be a scourge for brave men everywhere, and judging by the wedding reality shows on TV, it doesn’t seem to be going away.

Even Shakespeare knew the score. “The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage…. (W)hen his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.”

Banks and BuckleyBut it was Edward Streeter in 1949 who wrote the definitive guide for the modern man, Father of the Bride. That was followed by movies in 1950 with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor and in 1991 with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short. What with sequels for both movies, a 1960’s TV series, and knockoffs, the subject continues to teach new generations of fathers about this age-old challenge.

Caroline Francke wrote a stage play in 1951 based on Streeter’s book and it’s that version playing in Cleburne at Plaza Theatre Company. The basic story is well known. Kay falls in love with Buckley and Mr. Banks gets to pay the bills, though everyone else chooses what he pays for. Zaniness ensues as the small, private wedding with fifty guests grows into a 300-guest extravaganza and father and daughter learn how important they are to each other.

Father of the Bride at PTC was directed by Jodie and Soni Barrus, who also designed the set, sound, and props. It was a fair representation of a living and dining room in a 1950’s middle class house. This production was set in ’55, though the play was written in ’51. It was a living room suite, dining room table, small office desk with old typewriter, and a stairway to an upstairs in the house, and was realistic because it looked like my grandmother’s house from my childhood in the 50’s. There were lots of props, not just for the home but also wedding presents and packages, and props the actors used that captured their character, like Tommy Banks’ constant football. Cameron Barrus lit the stage with standard colors and lights and a bright illumination to a comedic style of play.

Sound design was both good and bad. It was wonderful entering the theater to the strains of Dion, Sinatra, Dean Martin and other staples of 50’s playing for pre-show, intermission, bows, scene change, and periodic moments to back up some textual point. There were also a few music sequences, such as a Jaws Shark theme which created tension around the ever-growing the Banksinvitation list. But Jaws wasn’t around in ‘55 and this seemed out of place and a bit distracting for that reason, though it was clear what it implied. It was also distracting when the old 1950’s dial telephone on the desk rang from somewhere up in the rafters. And, as is often the case when actors use head mics, there were times when actors started talking before their mics were active or when their voice came from one side of the stage while they were on the opposite.

Costumes were designed by Stacey Greenawalt to put actors into a wide range of mid-50’s middle-class clothing, including below-the-knee print dresses for women and plaid jackets and suits for men. Kay, the daughter, wore numerous “modern” dresses, including what looked like a long denim dress, a 50’s polka dot white hoopskirt, and eventually a wedding gown. Costumes supported the story well, were never out of period, and lent great color to the scenes.

Characters included members of the Banks family, the fiancé, and various friends, girlfriends and employees, all of whom had some reason to try and influence the wedding. But the two most important characters in the play were Mr. Banks and daughter Kay.

Luke Hunt played Mr. Banks. His character was clearly supposed to be a hapless, but wise because of years realizing he had very little real power in his castle. Hunt created a nicely crafted arc from the opening moment when he seemed confused about “what’s going on” with his daughter, through several levels of denials, then acceptance, about her marriage plans and the boy she was going to marry, and a man who created a relationship with Kay most men with daughters can identify. Hunt gave Mr. Banks a father-knows-best attitude, especially when counseling his future son-in-law about the realities of husbandry. Hunt was completely believable in this role, both in his look and his demeanor. Many of us had fathers like that. Others have seen this father on older TV shows and movies. He used a calm, confident acting style, even in the midst of scenic turmoil, to make the audience like his character.

Kay Banks is barely an adult, still living at home and acting a bit like a teenager demanding to be treated like an adult. Rachel Larsen played Kay and she was also believable in her role. Larsen gave Kay the impetuousness of a teenager and a confidence in Kay’s new adulthood. Of course, the first and frequent blockade to her plans was her father, so Kay and Mr. Banks Banks boyshad a lot of scenes, and this is where Larsen and Hunt worked well together. Larsen devolved into tears and anger frequently and moved into and out of these emotional scenes comfortably. Larsen showed her character’s experiences through subtle changes in physicality to show the woman Kay had to become.

Hunt often had to play against these tirades and did so by sometimes allowing Mr. Banks to lose his own control, but always bringing him back to the constant father, frustrated and yet strong enough to care for and console his child. Together, we saw a relationship develop and it was Hunt and Larsen who made this transition fun to watch.

Mrs. Banks and her sons, Ben and Tommy, fit right into the complete Happy Days type family. Mrs. Banks supports and expects much of the father but sided with the daughter when it came to marriage. Barbara Richardson played her and was both a good partner and foil to Hunt. Through her we felt empathy for the family unit. She had a calm style to mirror Hunt’s, but also created through her voice and directness the demeanor of a woman who ruled the family from a position of quiet strength.

Younger brother Tommy was the main comic in the Banks family, exposing absurdities in everyone’s behaviors. Nolan Moralez made Tommy act like younger brothers do, laying on the floor while teasing his sister and poking fun at mom and dad, being a bit “disrespectful” by showing his devil-may-care style. Tommy’s comic barbs were delivered wryly with a sharp wit by Moralez. But it was clear through his self-limits that Tommy knew how far he could go without really disrespecting his parents.

Other comic moments came from Delilah, the housekeeper, played with great physical aplomb by Pamela Valle, and from Miss Bellamy, played by Cherie Robinson. Valle’s Delilah was a hoot from the opening moments. She gave Delilah the same kind of comic impact Ann B. Davis in the Brady Bunch had, making Delilah an important and beloved character. Her maidquestioning of everything, exasperation when the zaniness arrived, and especially when her house was completely upset by the wedding planners was classic comedy. Valle used great timing with these lines and it created great laughter.

Cherie Robinson took Miss Bellamy, Mr. Banks’ secretary who was trying to control the growing guest list, to heights of indignation and eventual explosion, emotionally and then physically, as her outbursts escalated to outrage. Her sudden resignation in the midst of Robinson’s complete meltdown forced the Banks family to come to terms with their crazy behavior.

Buckley Dunstan was played by Michael Sorter. The tall, lanky, red-haired young actor made Buckley into a studious character, serious and focused on Kay, but fell back into being a boy who needed a father’s guidance, in this case Mr. Banks, through the pre-wedding jitters and struggles with Kay. Sorter made Buckley ride a roller coaster of many emotions from confidently happy with Buckley’s choices to distraught and lost when Buckley’s plans fell apart.

Father of the Bride was old-fashioned and a bit schmaltzy, like watching episodes of Father Knows Best or a rerun of White Christmas. There’s no big revelation and you know everything that’ll happen. But there’s comfort in that. It’s like reliving an earlier, safer time in our lives. Though it has no edge, it’s nice to be reminded that good can prevail and happy endings do happen.

Another rockin’ review of BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, this by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

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BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO is delightful! So says Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers. We couldn’t agree more. Give Paul’s great recommendation of the show a read, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve.

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Plaza’s BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO is delightful
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

I’ve got an idea for a musical comedy built around the many 1960s and 70s hit songs written and sung by Neil Sedaka.

The story takes place at a golf course and the opening scene involves my buddies and me arriving at the clubhouse for a “boys-day-out” on the links.

While warming up on the driving range, we break into a rousing rendition of “Where the Boys Are,” as tee shots disappear into the distance and everyone expects to break par.

However, reality quickly become comedy when I triple quadruple bogey the par-5 5th hole and am serenaded with “Sweet 16” by my playing partners.

Unshaken, I stroll hand in hand with my driver to the next tee, telling it in a soulful solo that, “You Mean Everything to Me.

Lois (played by Carlee Cagle), foreground, sings the lead as Gabe and Marge (the real-life husband and wife team of Caitlan and Josh Leblo) provide backupEver the optimist on the long par 4 with a water hazard on one side and deep woods on the other, I swing away.

We introduce a touch of tragedy as it begins to rain and my tee shot takes an unexpected right turn into the forest.

As I hunt for the little sphere in the downpour, my buddies hysterically sing “Laughter in the Rain.” I, however, don’t see the humor and realize I should be driving a cab instead of a Titleist and throw my clubs into the water while singing “Breaking Up is Hard To Do.”

Knowing that I loved the game, my buddies gather ‘round and belt out “Stupid Cupid” as the curtain comes down, separating us from an angry audience.

Thankfully, there’s a better story based on Sedaka’s songs with much better singers and it’s playing at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne through Sept. 13.

“Breaking Up is Hard To Do” is a collection of 17 Sedaka classics presented by some really good singers via a story line that is just slightly better than my golf outing but with a better ending.

Kathy Lemons as Esther Simowitz and Doug Henry as Harvey Feldman react to Harvey’s birthday present during the Plaza Theatre Company’sThe legitimate “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” is a girls from Brooklyn getaway over a Labor Day weekend at Esther’s Paradise Resort in the Catskill Mountains of upper New York, known as the Borscht Belt because of the heavily Jewish clientele and entertainers.


There are only six actors, but they can sing and, under the direction of PTC co-founder G. Aaron Siler, move quickly through the numbers, hit their comic lines and make it a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The girls getting away from it all are Lois, played by Carlee Cagle, and Marge, played by Caitlan Leblo (pronounced lay-bow).

Cagle, who debuted at the PTC in “Kiss Me Kate,” does a good job as the true friend who tells Marge like it is, even though Marge falls for matinée idol wannabe Del Delmonaco, a cooler-than-cool David Goza, who plays it with just the right wink and tongue stuck in his cheek, but not so much as to inhibit his singing.

I didn’t know Sedaka wrote “Where the Boys Are,” and fondly remember Connie Francis’ version. However, Cagle and Leblo’s rendition is really, really good.

As Marge becomes smitten by the ill-intended advances of Delmonaco, she is blind to the sincere concern shown by clumsy Gabe, the resorts handyman played by Josh Leblo, Caitlan’s real-life husband.

If you haven’t seen Josh at the PTC before, you’re in for a pleasant surprise because his mellow tenor voice is outstanding.

This is Josh’s fifth PTC production, the most recent of which was “Bye, Bye Birdie” last year, but this is the first time he is featured on so many songs.

He plays such a nerd that you’re sort of surprised during his first song, but soon look forward to many more.

Completing the cast are Kathy Lemons as Esther Simowitz, the resort’s owner, and Doug Henry as Harvey Feldman, the comic/emcee who serves as a ring master and has a secret crush on Esther.

According to the Playbill, Henry is right at home, since during the summer of 1985 he professionally performed in several of the nightclubs or “showrooms,” as many were called, in the Catskills.

Henry was a member of a headline act of six men known as the Winged Victory Singers, the Playbill says.

The hotels — Kutsher’s, Brown’s, Stevensville, Grossinger and Brickman ­— where he performed, were huge layouts with nicely furnished showrooms for a 1,000 or more people. Each had its own “house” band. People from New York City and other Northeast cities would visit these cooler-climate locations in the summer to escape the heat, the Playbill says.

Here’s the deal. Plot or not, if you like Sedaka’s songs, you’ll love “Breaking Up is Hard To Do.”

With stage management by Dana Siler, costume design by Stefanie Glenn, from a book by Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters with music by Neil Sedaka and lyrics by Sedaka, Howard Greenfield and Philip Cody, “Breaking Up” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 13 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 N. Main in Cleburne.

Tickets — $15 for adults, $14 for age 65 and older and high school and college students, and $13 for children age 13 and under — can be purchased online at http://www.plaza-theatre.com, or at the box office from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, or by phone at 817-202-0600.

An outstanding review of BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO by Eric Bird of The Column by John Garcia

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BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO opened at Plaza Theatre Company this past weekend to Sold Out houses and standing ovations. And now critics agree that the show is a hit as Eric Bird of The Column by John Garcia said the show is, “…currently being masterfully performed at Plaza Theatre Company”. Read on for his outstanding recommendation of the show, then give us a call at 817-202-0600 or visit http://www.plaza-theatre.com to make reservations.

_____________BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO________________

by Eric Bird of The Column by John Garcia

What do you get when you combine two young, single Brooklyn women in search of romance, a Catskills resort, Labor Day weekend, and talented singers performing the works of the classic Neil Sedaka? The answer is simple: you have Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, currently being masterfully performed at Plaza Theatre Company.

Neil Sedaka rose to early fame during the late 1950’s when he left The Tokens, the band formed by Sedaka and a few of his classmates. Following those early years of success Sedaka went through almost sixty years of ups and downs, ranging from great success to a decline in popularity. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do showcases nineteen Sedaka songs, including “Where the Boys Are”, “Sweet Sixteen”, “Betty Grable”, “Stupid Cupid”, and of course the song from which the show’s title comes, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”.

Carlee - Josh - CaitlanThe musical is a comedy that follows six characters at Esther’s Paradise Resort during the Summer of 1960. The two young women head there for the Labor Day weekend to escape from their lives and also to meet some boys, as we see in the song “Where the Boys Are”. While at the Catskills they meet Del Delmonaco, a talented singer and lead performer at Esther’s Paradise.

JaceSon P. Barrus designed the set which worked well for the story of the musical. I especially enjoyed the black record disk painted in the center of the floor to set the mood and establish the time period of the show. Most of the physical set was in one corner of the theatre space where the actors had a backstage area to get ready for the shows. The main stage within the musical was set in another corner, with a sign for Esther’s Paradise and curtains to establish the stage within a stage.

G. Aaron Siler did an extraordinary job designing the sound for the musical. There was never a time where I could not hear the actors, though there were a few instances where the microphones were a second late being switched on. The music, of course, added to the show, keeping me involved in what the characters were doing onstage, and setting the mood. While the musical did not require many sound effects, the ones used were clear and timed well, such as the buzzing of a neon sign dying out.

The lighting, also designed by G. Aaron Siler, kept all the action clear, changing the mood of the scene where it was needed. I especially enjoyed the feel created with the song “The Diary”, using a disco light during a dream sequence to highlight the change from reality to dream.

DavidCostume design by Stefanie Glenn fit perfectly within the realm of the 1960’s setting. I especially liked that the costumes showed the personalities of the different actors. Marge and Gabe are extremely shy, conservative types so Glenn dresses him as the shy nerd with the pants that were just a little too short, nerdy glasses, and a shirt buttoned up to his chin. Marge wore long skirts with large glasses that added to the image of her character. Del and Lois are flamboyant, night club performers so their colors were equally as bright. Glenn also did very well coordinating for the show performances within the musical. “Calendar Girl” had all female characters (and Harvey) on the stage in similar costumes of long-sleeved button-up blouses and very full, floral print skirts. This helped to visually link the characters without distracting from the action on the stage. The costumes also suggested each character’s personality while still flowing within the show.

Properties were designed by Tammie Phillips and all reflected the 1960’s well. The standing microphone used during the “show” took the audience back to a time before head mics. The mannequin head used in the beginning added a comedic tone to the songs “Lonely Night” and “I Ain’t Hurtin’ No More”. The props used during the song, “The Diary”, kept me wondering what would come out next since they were hilarious and fun to see (I don’t want to spoil it, see the show to know what I mean). Of course, Roberto Antonio El Pollo, the rubber chicken, can’t be left out since he was very prominent during several parts of the show.

Caitlan Leblo played the part of Marge, the shy, socially awkward young woman who was abandoned at the altar. Caitlan portrayed Marge with comedic timing and incredible vocal talent, especially noticeable during “Lonely Night”, “I Ain’t Hurtin’ No More” and “Laughter in the Rain”. Her awkward mannerisms also helped establish her character’s shy ways and nerdiness. Caitlan used a hunched posture and intensity when Marge spoke of orthodontia, but when other characters were on stage she would be quiet and still, letting them dominate the conversation. Caitlan brought Marge to life and created a character that I wanted to see become happy.

Doug - KathySlightly nerdy young handyman Gabe was played by Josh Leblo. I enjoyed how he portrayed Gabe and how believable he was onstage. Josh would walk with his shoulders stooped and his eyes down, indicating Gabe’s awkwardness and lack of confidence. Josh had a pleasant singing voice that was especially noticeable during “The Diary” and “The Other Side of Me”. His interactions with Marge were comical in how awkward they both were towards each other, making his character even more real. Josh made good acting choices in developing his character and bringing him to life onstage.

David Goza played the part of the talented, strong-willed and arrogant Del Delmonaco. He was fun to watch as he portrayed Goza’s high ego and confident presence onstage Goza would smirk and nod his head as his character got a compliment, showing how arrogant Delmonaco was, which made him a joy to watch throughout the show. He did have a bit of a rocky start during the first song, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”, but recovered and went on to give a very enjoyable performance. I especially enjoyed his singing during “Oh, Carol!” and “Calendar Girl”. Goza showed good acting skills in playing a complete jerk who has no thoughts but for himself that we wanted to watch even more.

Lois Warner was portrayed by Carlee Cagle. Lois is the kind of character with a big heart yet is not able to reason through things completely. Cagle was masterful in portraying this role, keeping her eyes wide to show her character’s innocence and simple-mindedness. Her singing was great throughout, especially during “Stupid Cupid”, “My Friend” and “Stairway to Heaven/Little Devil”. I was impressed with her accent, which never faltered, and with her dancing, especially during “Stupid Cupid”. Cagle was a joy to see onstage, having believable interactions with the other characters and showing strong acting skills.

Josh - CaitlanDoug Henry played the part of Harvey Feldman, the resident career bachelor that spends his life cracking jokes about life and everyone around him. Henry had a good voice that was especially noticeable during his solo, “King of Clowns”. His interactions with Esther were also enjoyable to see. There was a scene where Feldman is backstage, coming up with new jokes to use in his act. It really impressed me how Henry played this so realistically, looking up at the ceiling while he thought about his jokes and changed the inflection of his voice as he worked on new punch lines. Henry’s acting accelerated throughout the show, creating a fun dynamic in how his character is perceived and how that character manages to grow.

Kathy Lemons played the part of Esther Simowitz, the owner of Esther’s Paradise, who lost her husband several years before. Lemons portrayed her as very dynamic, personable woman yet managed to keep the tone light, while also keeping things moving at the hotel. Though Lemons had very few songs, she sang them well. There were also several times when Simowitz was making an announcement over the intercom and Lemons inflected her voice so well that you could understand what her character was feeling even though she was offstage. Lemons interactions with the other actors was where her character’s true self emerged, showing a dynamic and enjoyable personality.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is an enjoyable musical that will have you wanting more. With a very talented cast and friendly atmosphere, Plaza Theatre brings this musical comedy to life, showcasing Neil Sedaka’s great songs. And with ticket prices is low, I highly recommend this show for an enjoyable evening of music.

A Very Fine Review of SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL from Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia

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SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL plays one more weekend at PlazaCo – and if you haven’t had a chance to see the most colorful show of the summer, there’s still time. Read on for a great review of the show from Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia and then call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com to reserve your seats.

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___________________SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL_____________________

by Charlie Bowles of The Column by John Garcia

Oh the things you can think and the things you can see When you go down to Cleburne, down to Plaza TC. But hurry. Oh hurry! Only one weekend more. For after one weekend, this story will soar.

There’s Horton and JoJo and Sour Kangaroo. There’s Mayzie and Gertrude and Vlad Vladikoff too. The Whos down in Whoville are in a terrible stew, But Mr. Mayor and the Missus don’t know what to do. Maybe Horton and JoJo can save this small clover. Who knows? The Cat will tell us when it’s over.

Yes, it‘s a requirement in the Reviewer’s Handbook that, “when reviewing Dr. Seuss, the reviewer must resort to Seuss-Speak at least once.” So, having fulfilled my responsibility, we shall now return to normal language.

Seussical the Musical is basically “Horton Hears a Who” for the live stage, with a bit of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, “The One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz”, and pieces of several other stories thrown in for interest. It’s a musical that theaters use as a platform for young actors of all levels, and it plays perfectly for delighted children. But make no mistake – it’s a musical for adults as well. It enjoyed 232 performances on Broadway, off-Broadway, two U.S. tours and a West End run.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty crafted a tight book and score, blending the themes of Dr. Seuss and his favorite language-isms with fantastically fun music to tell the tale. Combine this with a variety of creative scenic designs and a costume designer’s dream, plus a few good singers to provide wonderful entertainment for the whole family, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Plaza Theatre Company in downtown Cleburne.

Seussical was directed by Tina and Tabitha Barrus, though this show is a complete Barrus family collaboration, including Cameron Barrus’ light design, Tina Barrus’ costumes, along with Rachel Bond, and JaceSon Barrus’ set design. Lighting made the set bright and colorful, but also included moving projections on the floor that showed a Seussical logo picture, simulated the Jungle of Nool pool and gave us some other images. There was an effect using a scrim in the corner which allowed the Whoville ensemble to show the damage while their clover was tossed around by the Wickershams out on the floor.

The set wasn’t complicated; a painted floor, wall murals around the audience, and a few set pieces rolling on and off at times. Actually, the stage needed to be empty because the cast was huge! Seussical is a big ensemble piece, one of the things that makes it fun. Lots of kids and voices, colorful costumes and amazing hairpieces fill the stage. It’s like a Barnum & Bailey curtain call. Aside from the nineteen named characters, there are twenty-two members that make up the Jungle of Nool and Who ensembles. And PTC completed a recent summer camp with twenty-four students invited to be in the show, half in each performance. So, at any time, the audience might see forty to fifty actors on stage. That’s a lot of color and voices. With Seussical’s big ensemble numbers, there was a gigantic wall of sound.

Sound design was by G. Aaron Siler. Backing music came from tracks and the balance between voices and music was perfect. I’m not sure why they needed head mics at all, given the cast size and volumes of songs. It created a few issues when a solo was not turned on at the start of a song. But overall the mix between mic’d singers and the ensemble was well balanced.

The usual collection of Seussian props was found by Stacey Greenawalt and Josh Garner. Horns and swords and fish and tails – it was a smorgasbord. They made a neat rolling tree for Mayzie La Bird which Horton then used while protecting her egg. This could be rolled around and used as Horton was escorted around the world during his circus tour. The Cat in the Hat used many props in all his guises, most notably the Hat.

Tabitha Barrus was also the Music Director and Kelly Nickell got the nod as Choreographer. Both were obviously daunting tasks, as at times the cast filled every inch of the stage floor. Getting them to move with purpose and sing together as one was an accomplishment. The dance numbers were a unified pattern of movement and the ensemble orchestrations were harmonious music that filled the air. You couldn’t help but get a huge energy boost from the show.

The story, of course, is about Horton, Gertrude and JoJo, with his “thinks” that started this story. Each has a lesson to learn about themselves and together they teach everyone else some valuable lessons as well.

Horton was played by Brian Lawson. With a very impressionistic costume of a hat with long “ears” and long tie for a trunk, we knew who he was by sight. Horton is a mild, meek, but loyal elephant who would give his life for another. Lawson easily fit into this character as he slowly lumbered around the stage, spoke Seuss rhymes in meek tones, and chased, captured and protected the Whoville clover. As Horton is ridiculed at first and then mistreated by the Jungle of Nool characters, Lawson portrayed the gradual growth of Horton in his change of voice and confident stature. Horton sings some of the more important and beautiful songs in this music score. My favorite has always been the haunting ballad, Solla Sollew, which becomes a duet with JoJo, then later a four-piece with the Mayor and Mrs. Mayor, JoJo’s parents. Lawson had a nice tenor voice that carried all Horton’s songs well. His voice could handle the sustains, blended harmoniously with the others, and showed emotional depth with every song. The emotions of musicals are most often found in the songs and Lawson’s acting ability also filled each song with a visible emotional quality.

Gertrude McFuzz is the young girl bird who wants her tail to be long and lush like her idol, Mayzie La Bird. Molly Morgan played Gertrude and matched Lawson’s Horton well, as a bird-in-love, blaming her short tail when Horton fails to notice her. Morgan gave an excellent performance as Gertrude, finding her bird-ness and playing all the movements of an uncoordinated bird to the hilt. Some of her postures as Gertrude, in trying to attract Horton, were hilarious. Morgan also had a voice that worked well for Gertrude, especially when she lamented her plight during “Notice Me Horton”, and in duet with Lawson during “Yopp!/Alone in the Universe”. Morgan had the task of being both a primary comic relief (okay, pretty much all the characters were comic relief) and subject of the tender love story. She balanced this with her outrageous physical comedy while simultaneously singing and showing her love for Horton.

JoJo is the son of the Mayor of Whoville. He’s a quintessential, troublesome boy, which for a Who involves “thinks,” that maddening imagination that dreams up wild stories. In fact, the whole story could be a “think.” JoJo was played by Stephen Newton for the reviewed performance, and had no trouble becoming young JoJo. Newton is only a 5th grader, but despite his youth, he sang with a confident voice, especially in several solos and duets with Horton. He also sang with the Cat and his best song was “Alone in the Universe”, a repeated refrain throughout the show. Newton was very energetic as the young student of the Cat, even when it got him into trouble, and he did a fine job taking the stage as the storyteller along with the narrating Cat.

The Cat in the Hat was played by Zachary Willis who shaped events, narrated the story, and acted as many sub-characters that only appeared once. Willis commanded the stage as the narrator and slipped between audience and story time easily. His jazzy Cat-like movements, along with a characteristic Cat costume and the Hat made him stand out wherever he was. A good singer, his songs were usually with other characters and the ensemble, but I especially liked his solo, “How Lucky You Are,” which set up one of the main themes for Seuss’ stories. While Willis slipped into and out of the minor characters, every kid in the audience knew who he really was, but every character he played was a delight to see and hear.

There are so many other characters to mention: Mayzie La Bird, played by Jessica Taylor, excited the audience with her “Amazing Mayzie” and “Amazing Horton” songs. The Mayor of Whoville, played by JaceSon P. Barrus, looked and acted the part of a blustery mayor with a soft spot for his family. Along with Mrs. Mayor, played by Emily Warwick, their songs told the tale of parents trying to raise a son in a confused world. “How to Raise a Child” spoke to every parent in the audience and their part in “Solla Sollew” was beautifully harmonized with JoJo and Horton. Caroline Rivera portrayed the brassy and bossy Sour Kangaroo. Canadian-trained in theater and classical music, Rivera had the powerful voice this character needs and her solo phrases in the Jungle of Nool songs made you sit up and listen.

The entire ensemble, a wonderful group of actors and singers, filled the theater space with glorious song and the audience with joy and laughter, and lit up children’s faces for the entire performance. Seussical The Musical is a “children’s show” that leaves a message for those of any age, for those who are truly young at heart. It well deserves to be seen by young and old. Gather up the family soon as it plays only a few more times this weekend.

A Stellar Review of STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

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The production team, cast and crew of STEEL MAGNOLIAS have all received an incredible review from Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers. We are proud to have the excellent work of all involved on the PlazaCo stage and hope you’ll take the time to see the show before it closes July 19th. Read on for a great review and then call 817-202-0600 to get your seats.

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PLAZA’S STEEL MAGNOLIAS IS A CUT ABOVE
by Paul Gnadt of The Star Group Newspapers

The camaraderie and bonding of the beauty parlor — free of concern about social status or position on the career ladder — must be for women what the golfing trip or fishing expedition is for men: a time and place where anything goes, everything can be discussed off-the-record and everybody remains friends.

The conversations can be side-splitting funny one minute and painfully truthful the next.
Even downright heartbreaking.

But you go again and again.

IMG_8219That’s the way it is at Truvy’s Beauty Spot, the Chinquapin, La., hair salon where the easy-going and laid-back proprietress and her gawky assistant serve four regular customers — all with sharp tongues and soft hearts. That’s the focal point of the Plaza Theatre Co.’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” playing through July 19 at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

You are probably familiar with the 1989 movie by the same name and its all-star cast of Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Daryl Hannah.

This is better because the only set, the interior of the beauty parlor cleverly designed by JaceSon Barrus, makes each member of the audience feel like he or she should be the next customer in Plaza’s intimate 160-seat theater-in-the-round.

It’s not just the set, not just the funny lines and roller coaster of emotions that has you choking back tears one second then laughing so hard you cry.

It’s the actors. You can immediately identify someone in real life that you know is just like one of them.

The only men in the play are the ones created in your imagination by the dialogue. This is ensemble acting at its best, and the ladies pull it off with precision timing.

Truvy — played by Granbury Theatre Company veteran Angela Burkey and looking just like a hairdresser should — competes for business with the nearby Kut and Kurl and Beauty Box. But business is so good she hires an assistant, Annelle, played by Plaza rookie Brianna Knapp.

There are lots of laughs as timid and awkward Annelle is spooked by distant gunfire and realizes she has been duped by her husband. Later, she finds religion, has a personalty transplant and attempts to convert everyone in sight. But instead of her new-found religion being too sugary, Knapp plays it just right and turns out to be a sweetheart, just like the rest.

The maturing of Annelle is one of three sub-plots. The others are the adventures of Clairee, widow of the former mayor who buys the local radio station, and Ouiser, a cranky, twice-married, overalls-wearing curmudgeon who finds happiness when she begins dating again.

The fast-talking, quick-witted Clairee — “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize” — is played by longtime Carnegie Players actress and director Kate Hicks, whose considerable skills make it look easy.

That Hicks has joined Carnegie veterans Hillard Cochran, Dick Helmcamp, Shannon Loose and Andrew Guzman in making the jump back and forth between Cleburne theatre companies can only mean good things for the future of live theater in Johnson County.

Shauna Lewis is Ouiser, the same role she played when PTC first presented “Steel Magnolias” in 2010. She sounds and looks like she just arrived from the Louisiana backwoods.

The main story line centers around well-to-do M’Lynn, played by Trich Zaitoon, and her daughter, Shelby, played by Alvarado Junior High drama director Kristi Mills, who was last seen on the PTC stage in January in “Cash on Delivery.”

The play takes place over a two-year period, with the first of its four scenes taking place on Shelby’s wedding day. The silliness takes a serious turn when it’s surprisingly and dramatically revealed that Shelby is a diabetic who has been advised by her doctor not to have children.

Since each scene takes place months following the last, the dialogue between the ladies — just like the ubiquitous phone call in daytime soap operas — catches us up on what has happened in the intervening months.

IMG_8247The drama ensues when the headstrong Shelby announces she is pregnant and is going to have the baby regardless of what the doctors say.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the outcome. If you notice the tissue boxes positioned throughout the theater for the audience to use, you can figure it out for yourself.

Zaitoon, who debuted on the PTC stage in its first production of “Steel Magnolias,” and  has been in about a half dozen PTC productions — most recently “Enchanted April,” delivers an outstanding monologue that has everyone reaching for the tissue boxes.

Just as she explodes with anger and wants to vent by hitting someone, the group offers up Ouiser as a sacrifice in one of the play’s funniest scenes that personifies the emotional ups and downs of this terrific night at the theater.

Perhaps it’s best that this is a woman-only performance, so the men in the audience can see how these “steel magnolias” use humor, mutual respect and love to handle the trivial and the worst of situations.

Directed by Taffy Geisel, with stage management by Cessany Ford,, costume design by Stacey Blanton, light design and sound design by G. Aaron Siler, this is a good one. There’s no swearing, no sexual innuendo. There are plenty of laughs and, yes, a few tears.

“Steel Magnolias” — written by Robert Harling and originally produced by the W.P.A. Theater in New York in 1987 — plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Saturdays, through July 19 at the Plaza Theatre, 111 S. Main St. in Cleburne.

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