What did our reviewers think of shows now on Cape Cod stages? Debuting is "Private Lives" at Cape Playhouse" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" on the new outdoor stage at Cotuit Center for the Arts, while the Academy of Performing Arts production of the classic musical "Guys and Dolls" was the big opener last weekend.
Performances continue of "Straight White Men" at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater and Chatham Drama Guild's "Steel Magnolias."
Written by: Noël Coward, directed by Martin Platt, presented by Cape Playhouse
What it’s about: Elyot and Amanda’s tempestuous marriage unsurprisingly ended in divorce five years ago. Quite by accident, these two former sparring partners discover they’re sharing adjacent balconies while honeymooning with new spouses in France. The unexpected meetup rekindles their volatile romance and proves to be a delicious recipe for mayhem. It’s a perfect vehicle for Coward’s special talent for delivering clever insults, wild banter and bring-down-the-apartment pillow fights.
See it or not: Theatergoers who appreciate sophisticated and often withering wordplay with fast-moving verbal gymnastics will turn with glee to Coward’s classic 1930s comedy of manners, with the humor spinning out as Elyot and Amanda spontaneously combust. Martin Platt’s direction is spot on, capitalizing on the cast’s ability to deliver non-stop dialogue without batting an eyelash.
Highlights: Keep your eyes on the two lover-combatants, played by Chris Thorn and Charlotte Bydwell, who are strung up by both love and antipathy. There’s a hint of sadness in the realization that the two are likely trapped by their own cleverness, because despite their affection for one another, they’re unable to break free from their quarrelsome give-and-take. Coward’s tried-and-true approach keeps the action bright and sophisticated without toiling over deep characterization or backstory.
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Interesting fact: Famed actor Gertrude Lawrence co-starred with Coward himself in the London and Broadway premieres of “Private Lives” in 1930 and 1931, and she again performed the role of Amanda when the show came to the Cape Playhouse in 1940. Lawrence’s second husband was Cape Playhouse managing director Richard Aldrich, and the two became a familiar presence on Cape Cod, living in a house adjacent to the theater property.
Worth noting: Thorn and Bydwell are marvelous in the lead roles of Elyot and Amanda, participating in warfare of all kinds — slinging insults with perfect timing and trashing a Paris apartment with glee and good humor. As for their unfortunate new spouses, it at first appears that Ali Rose Dachis (Sybil) and Duane Boutté (Victor) can’t compete with the fireworks display, but they surprise by ending up detonating a few of their own.
One more thing: Marceline Hugot gives a gem of a performance as French housemaid Louise. She speaks entirely in her own brand of French, but for the audience, there’s no doubt at all what she’s saying.
If you go: 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday through July 2, with matinees at 4 p.m. June 25 and 2 p.m. June 29-30, at Cape Playhouse, 820 Main St. (Route 6A), Dennis. Tickets: $45-$80; 508-385-3911 or http://www.capeplayhouse.com/.
Written by: Clark Gesner based on the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schultz, with additional dialogue by Michael Mayer and additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa; directed by Mary Arnault with music direction by Bob Wilder and choreography by Suzette Hutchinson; presented by Cotuit Center for the Arts
What it’s about: The 70-minute musical brings to life long-beloved “Peanuts” characters from comic strips and classic TV specials in a story about the simple joys and worries of childhood. Uncertain but ever-hopeful Charlie Brown, sassy sister Sally, imaginative dog Snoopy and friends Linus, Lucy and Schroeder navigate schoolwork, relationships, kite-flying, a baseball game, dreams and more as they try to better understand the world.
See it or not: Go, and chances are you’ll have a smile on your face through most of this show. This is a delightfully presented nostalgia trip for those of us who grew up with these characters or a sweet and funny introduction for younger theatergoers who might not know the depth of Linus’ love for his blanket or how Charlie Brown pines for the Little Red-Haired Girl.
Highlights: The six adult actors are completely believable as children, and charmingly channel the very specific quirks of these classic characters. Under Arnault and Wilder’s direction, they work together seamlessly as an ensemble, then each have their moments in song to shine. Nick Romano’s expressive face makes him instantly sympathetic and likable as Charlie Brown, while Jamie Lynn Price is a spitfire as sister Sally, radiating childlike glee and guile, particularly in “My New Philosophy.” Martha Paquin’s Lucy remains a self-absorbed bully but becomes fun and approachable with her dreams of queendom and skewed explanations of Nature. Danny Price’s practical Schroeder is particularly good at piano-playing and acting out a “Robin Hood”-themed book report, while Max Dexter as wise-beyond-his-years Linus and Hadassah R. Nelson as loyal pup Snoopy both nail wonderful dance numbers.
Fun fact: Broadway/TV actress Kristin Chenoweth’s Tony Award is for playing Sally in the 1999 revival of this show, a revision of the original 1967 production. Also in that cast were Roger Bart as Snoopy (also winning a Tony), Anthony Rapp as Charlie Brown and B.D. Wong as Linus.
Worth noting: Snoopy has long been a fan favorite, with a rich inner life behind his dog days, and Nelson does him adorable justice, making her loose-limbed canine appealing and amusing, particularly in the welcome “The Red Baron” sequence as the World War I flying ace on his doghouse Sopwith Camel (references that may need to be explained to younger viewers).
One more thing: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” is the first production on the Cotuit Center for the Arts’ new outdoor stage, turned into a children’s world with designer Andrew Arnault and scenic artist Cris Reverdy’s colorful set pieces and oversized props. The stage is temporarily set up in part of the parking lot, but when delayed landscaping can be finished, the plan is to move the stage to a woodsier setting nearby with strings of lights decorating an area that will be used for concerts, theater and other shows.
If you go: 6 p.m. June 22-24, 27, 29-30 and July 1, 5-8 on the outdoor stage at Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Falmouth Road (Route 28); $30 with $5 discount for members, $2 discount for seniors and veterans; https://artsonthecape.org/, 508-428-0669.
Written by: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon, presented by the Academy of Performing Arts.
What it's about: In its program, the Academy refers to this uber-classic as “a musical fable of Broadway,” and that about sums it up. It’s a brightly colored, affectionate snapshot of a whole kitbag of New York originals. There’s the man about town, Sky Masterson (Brendon Prentiss), Salvation Army crusader Sarah (Jennifer Almeida), confirmed gambler Nathan Detroit (Ryan Van Buskirk), and the sweet and long-suffering chorus girl Adelaide (Ann Vohs). And who could forget Nicely Nicely Johnson (Terrence Brady) and out-of-town tough Big Jule (Bragan Thomas). The story offers romance times two, with the audience hoping from the start that Sarah and Adelaide get their guys.
See it or not: Go for the sheer joy of this song-and-dance classic, along with a little romance for good measure.
Highlight of the show: At this show’s heart of this show is Loesser’s unforgettable music and, under Sue Lindholm’s direction and Chris Morris’ musical direction, the Academy troupe does it justice. Duets like “I’ll Know” (Prentiss and Almeida) and “Sue Me” (Van Buskirk and Vohs) are sweet showcases of the chemistry in each set of sweethearts. And the ensemble song-and-dance numbers like “Take Back Your Mink,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” fill the theater with the lively music and movement at the heart of this show’s amazing longevity. (DJ Kostka is choreographer.)
And while the show is filled with good vocalists, Vohs stands out with a powerful delivery that sends her voice up to the rafters of the venerable Academy Playhouse in songs like “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Take Back Your Mink.”
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Fun fact: The show was first performed on Broadway in 1950, based on the 1930s Runyon short stories, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure.”
Worth noting: Costumes, by director Lindholm, are simply priceless. The highlight has to be those of the chorus of Hot Box Girls (Jess Phaneuf, Brynn Grambow, Jasmine Netherwood and Rebecca White), with hysterical get-ups for “Take Back Your Mink.”
One more thing: If you’re looking for something to do with the kids this summer, the theater will be featuring “101 Dalmatians” at 10 a.m. Saturdays from July 8 through Aug. 14.
If you go: 2 p.m. Sundays June 19 and 26; 7 p.m. June 24, 25 and 30 and July 1 and 2 at the Academy Playhouse, 120 Main St., Orleans. Tickets: $30 adults, $20 under age 16; 508-202-1952, www.academyplayhouse.org
Written by: Young Jean Lee, directed by Sasha Bratt, presented by the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
What it's about: It’s Christmas and middle-class, probably Midwestern, Ed (Mark Hofmaier) has managed to rope his three adult sons into staying with him for the holiday. When they gather for the reunion, there’s a lot of reminiscing and roughhousing; they are, after all, straight white men. But there’s something else going on. Matt (Mike Mihm), who has been staying with Dad for some time, is depressed. Life hasn’t turned out as expected for the high school valedictorian and Harvard graduate, and that’s especially hard considering the obvious success of brothers Jake (Andy McCain) and Drew (Carl Howell). How will the guys deal with this family crisis (if, indeed, it is a crisis)?
See it or not? See it for the sometimes moving, sometimes humorous look at what some consider the “endangered species” of the straight white male.
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Highlight of the show: Clearly, this show is about relationships. Throughout, the four principles expertly play off one another, deftly expressing every emotion in the book. It would be all too easy for the actors to overplay their hands and ease into melodrama, but they and director Bratt resist the temptation and instead take the audience on an often-touching tour of that familiar and dangerous territory of a family reunion (shades of the old Holly Hunter flick “Home for the Holidays”).
Fun fact: The 2018 production of this show at the Hayes Theater on Broadway made the writer the first Asian-American woman to have a play produced on the Great White Way.
Worth noting: Not so far behind the scenes, this show is about white male privilege and how it thrives in capitalist society. Early on, the boys sing a number about the Ku Klux Klan to the tune of “Oklahoma,” then retrieve from the bookshelf a Monopoly-style game named Privilege and — just in case we had any doubt about underlying messaging — we learn that as an adolescent, Matt had a School for Young Revolutionaries.
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One more thing: Two Persons In Charge (Eleanor Philips and Freddy Biddle) introduce the show, and at each scene opening, guide the characters onstage and position them as if they are props. It’s a unique and particularly effective device.
If you go: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through June 24 at the Wellfleet Actors Theater, 2357 State Highway (Route 6), Wellfleet; $40 orchestra, $36 orchestra senior, $15 orchestra students, with additional $2.50 added to each ticket for fees; 508-349-9428, www.what.org.
Written by: Robert Harling, presented by Chatham Drama Guild, directed by Anna Marie Johansen
What it's about: Set in the sisterly sanctuary of a beauty shop in a fictional small Louisiana town, the play explores the strong bonds of female friendship. The five characters grapple with day-to-day life, problems small and overwhelming — and hairstyles, of course. They deal with it all with grace, strength and a generous dollop of humor.
See it or not: While there is less substance to the 1987 play than the 1989 film, the characters are realistically sketched with humor and pathos. Despite some glitchy production values (intermittent lighting and overly loud music drowning out dialogue), this is an entertaining evening.
Highlight of the show: The Chatham cast works well together under Nicholson's direction: Nicole Gardner as Annelle, Sheila Jamieson as Clairee, Lee LaCroix as M'Lynn, Emily Nyerick as Shelby, Julia Randall as Ouiser and Kristen Winn as Truvy.
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Fun fact: The work has seen a number of iterations, including a 2012 TV film featuring an all African-American cast.
Worth noting: Harling based his play on his real-life family situation and circumstances. Conceived originally as a short story, it morphed into a play.
One more thing: The actresses who have played in this story in some form or another run the gamut from Julia Roberts to Marsha Mason to Queen Latifah.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. June 9, 11 and 23-25, 4 p.m. June 5 and 12, and 2 p.m. June 25 at Chatham Drama Guild, 134 Crowell Road; $25 cabaret seating, $22 general seating, $12 students; 508-945-0510, www.chatdramaguild.org