Theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done. While I didn’t see every show in the Midlands this past year by a long shot (and sadly didn’t see a single one at Chapin or USC) I can say that I saw the majority of the new, regular-season shows at the three main local theatres (i.e. I missed most of the summer shows, holiday shows, children’s shows, and revivals/holdovers from the previous year) plus two shows at Columbia Children’s Theatre and another in the Trustus Black Box.
Here then were the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2011:
- Rob Sprankle’s mastery of broad physical comedy, as the vision-challenged Smudge in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings at Town Theatre. Drifting aimlessly without his glasses, Sprankle first took a daring plunge off the stage and onto the floor, and that stage has got to be 4-5 feet off the ground at least. Sure it was choreographed, and a big mattress was stashed there in advance, but still a bold move. Hilarity ensued as he later wandered off stage and out into the parking lot, then knocked on an outside door until an audience member let him back in.
- Chris Riddle’s deadpan barbs as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Columbia Children’s Theatre’s production of The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood. When asked by the evil Prince what punishment Robin deserves, Riddle anachronistically replied, “I say we should whip him. Whip him good.”
- the send-ups and spoofs of conventions of musical theatre in The Drowsy Chaperone at Town Theatre. As Larry Hembree paused or replayed favorite moments from an original cast recording of the titular musical, we saw the performers actually freeze in place, often precariously, or repeat their lines or lyrics from seconds earlier. None took it better than Chad Forrester, a stoic butler on the receiving end of the classic “spit-take,” replayed nearly a dozen times. Other highlights included Kathy Hartzog’s entrance while reclining on a descending Murphy bed, martini firmly in hand, the cast’s reaction when Hembree realizes he has been playing (and they have been performing)a number from the wrong show entirely, and a ridiculous, extravagant production number accurately described as part Busby Berkeley, part Jane Goodall.
- the dancing skill, glamour, and va-va-va-voomish poses of Maria Culbertson, Grace
Fanning, Katie Foshee and Addie Taylor as the Angels in Workshop Theatre’s Anything Goes. While all quite young, their chic style and professional performances livened up what could have been some middling musical numbers in an 80+ year-old musical.
- the sassy and quotable one-liners from women of a certain age in The Dixie Swim Club at Workshop. Some of the best came from Barbara Lowrance, like how she gave her ex “the thinnest years of my life,” or “Just because I’m vain and frivolous doesn’t mean I’m shallow.” Drucilla Brookshire got her fair share too, such as “I never knew true happiness until I got married, and then it was too late,” and “I traded in my treadmill for stretch pants and a deep fat fryer!”
- Elizabeth Stepp’s moonstruck portrayal of Paul, a little boy with a crush on one Lizzie Patofski, of whom he just can’t get enough-ski, in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Was Paul from Queens? Brooklyn? Down the shore? Who knows, but the accent was adorable.
- the feather boa-clad Jocelyn Brannon, channeling performers like Eartha Kitt as a vamp, a camp and a bit of a scamp, telling off a would-be Don Juan in Smokey Joe’s Cafe at Trustus. Her sultry delivery was enjoyable enough, but one appreciated it all the more when comparing it to her harsh, tragic portrayal of the long-suffering title character in Caroline, or Change just a few years back.
- individual moments that transcended the material in Spring Awakening, still running at Trustus Theatre through January 21st. Some of my favorites included:
- the vocal strength of the female cast in the opening “Mama Who Bore Me” number. Whoever was hitting those high notes, they sent chills down my spine when I saw a preview at Tapp’s Art Center during November’s First Thursday event, and again when the show opened a month later.
- Patrick Dodds breaking your heart as a boy losing it step by step, moving from comic relief to tragic victim in little more than an hour on stage.
- the energy of the male cast in The Bitch of Living, managing to depict repressed vitality and sexuality while constricted by the mores of their society. Their explosive, foot-stomping choreography was a sight to see.
- Avery Bateman and Adrienne Lee, adding a subtle and empowering touch that one could easily overlook. Each character sings about unspoken abuse from her past. Each is essentially revealing this secret to the audience, not to each other or any other character. When Bateman moves over to Lee’s side as they sing, it’s the actresses, not the characters (who are miles apart, referring to events years apart.) There’s plenty happening onstage, but I realized that very subtly, the actresses were holding hands, as if to allow the characters to give each other strength and support that they never actually find within the story. I cannot fully express what a touching and moving moment this is.
- an extended seduction stretched out over two separate scenes in Third Finger, Left Hand at the Trustus Black Box, and featuring Kristin Wood Cobb and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler. At first you’re not sure which girl might be gay, and which might be hitting on the other…then it reverses, and then switches back again, literally climaxing in a nod to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” by way of the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally.
- alternating vignettes of dark drama and dysfunctional comedy, brought to life by a dream cast, in August: Osage County at Trustus:
- Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, brassy and aggressive (and at one point wearing about a quarter inch of black lace and some stiletto-heel boots) just a few weeks earlier in the show above, here playing soft and demure and stoic. Add that to her histrionics as the drama teacher in High School Musical a few summers ago, and her carefree and saucy chorus courtesans in recent musicals like Evita and Best Little Whorehouse, and you just want to shout “Somebody give this lady a lead role NOW!”
- Stann Gwynn’s yuppie slime character, perving on a 14-year-old girl, with the excuse: “She told me she was 15!”
- Dewey Scott-Wiley staging a family dinner table coup, overthrowing her mother’s reign in an electric Act 2 curtain-closer. As well as her third act attempts, in vain, to make her mother (Libby Campbell) have something to eat, culminating in a shrieked “EAT THE FISH, BITCH!”
- Gerald Floyd slyly sneaking in the best lines in the show, as when he deflates Elena Martinez-Vidal’s rant on how she would never take him back if he left her, repeatedly shutting her down with “But I’m not going anywhere.” Or when he simultaneously teases/mocks a vegan, and tries to diffuse a tense confrontation by faking illness, then revealing that he simply bit into a big piece of “fear.” Or his surprising assertion to his wife that she must show some iota of compassion to their son.
- the perfect timing of frenetic slapstick and chaotic physical comedy in Workshop’s Victor/Victoria, including:
- a big madcap brawl involving 20+ cast members that concluded the first act
- a necessary “reveal” towards the end where four separate groups of performers are each doing something funny, punctuated by Matthew DeGuire’s appearance at a window, back-lit as if by a lightning bolt, looking for all the world like Wile E. Coyote about to take a long fall.
- Giulia Dalbec as the quintessential blonde bimbo, doing things with her legs I had never thought possible. When she sang how she tried Toronto, but departed molto pronto, then saw Geneva, but it was hardly jungle “feva,” you know you’re in for a double entendre rhyming tour of the world.
This was for me overall the most entertaining show I saw this past year, indeed in several years, and makes me wish that Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards, so successful in films for decades, had tried Broadway earlier in their careers.
So those were for me the most memorable moments that I saw on Columbia stages in 2011. What were yours?
In addition to writing for Jasper Magazine – The Word on Columbia Arts, August Krickel is a native Columbian and theatre buff who has performed at Town, Workshop and Chapin Community Theatres, directed at Act One, and narrated the touring Road to Victory shows. He has done everything from fundraising and PR for universities and non-profits to teaching Latin, but probably enjoys acting and writing best. His reviews, articles and interviews have appeared in Briefs Magazine, Free Times, and at OnstageColumbia.com.