‘Daddy Long Legs’ is a Delightful Treat for Holiday Viewing

Elise Vannerson and Ben Michael play Jerusha and Jervis in "Daddy Long Legs" at George Street Playhouse, (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Elise Vannerson and Ben Michael play Jerusha and Jervis
in “Daddy Long Legs” at George Street Playhouse, (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

The George Street Playhouse will run the romantic musical Daddy Long Legs through the month of December at their New Brunswick theater.  Based on Jean Webster’s novel of the same name, the musical recently completed an Off-Broadway run. This musical has a book written by John Caird with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon.

Resident Artistic Director and Director of this production is Michael Mastro who describes the show as follows:  “Daddy Long Legs is a moving, lovely, beautiful and funny new musical. It’s sure to warm the hearts of our patrons this holiday season.” This is a good description of how we felt after seeing this show and it has many positive aspects to it that make it a good pick for families this December. For younger children who need to see a lot of action taking place, this show might be difficult. But there is nothing in it that a family has to be concerned about if they go to see it.

The setting is various locations in New England and New York in the years 1908 – 1912. The story is about a young woman, Jerusah Abbot, who has lived her life in the John Grier Home for orphans. It has not been a bad life, but she doesn’t see much of a future until she receives a letter from a a man who works anonymously with the Board of the Grier Home who informs her that he will fund her way through college to help her obtain her degree in writing. He was impressed with an essay she wrote and he feels that she could do something with her skills. He places some conditions on the acceptance of the offer which include her being required to write letters to him on a weekly basis informing him of her daily life activities. There are several other stipulations but the most important one is that she will never know who he is. She soon adapts the name Daddy Long Legs when writing to him. The closest she comes to a personal connection is through a “Mr. Smith” who handles occasional correspondence for the benefactor.  Throughout the show, the audience see Jerusha grow and change and learn about all that she is encountering as she reads aloud the letters she is writing to her Daddy Long Legs.

The other character we see in the show is Jervis Pendleton who is actually the benefactor who wishes to remain hidden from Jerusha until he becomes very intrigued with her. All works out conveniently for him to meet her because his real life niece (who we never see) is also at the college where Jerusha attends classes. He pays his niece a visit but ends up spending time with Jerusha and somewhere along the line, he falls in love with her. It all sounds very neat and easy, but it is not. What happens to both of these people in the process allows the magic of the story to unfold and to lead to a very happy ending.

In addition to the story line, there are so many good things about this show that make it a great pick to go to see. First off, Elise Vannerson as Jerusah is a revelation to watch. She is totally convincing in everything she says, sings, and does that you feel you are truly watching an early 1900’s woman. Her manner is relaxed and yet intense in what she says and believes and her singing voice is perfect for this part. Ben Michael plays Jervis Pendleton with the right amount of trepidation and hesitation to show his character’s insecurity about loving someone. However, when he becomes jealous of other potential suitors for Jerusah, his character quickly becomes unforgiving. Mr. Michael also has a singing voice that is strong and convincing as he struggles to impress Jerusah and then win her back.

Ben Michael and Elise Vannerson play Jervis and Jerusha in "Daddy Long Legs" at George Street Playhouse (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Ben Michael and Elise Vannerson play Jervis and Jerusha in “Daddy Long Legs” at George Street Playhouse (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Another very enjoyable feature of this show is the way in which the action takes place. The stage has been divided into an upper and lower portion and each character dominates one area. So we watch Jervis on the upper level at a desk and Jerusha on the lower level with a desk and a few other items around her including a wardrobe trunk filled with costumes that are beautifully designed. The orchestra is under the direction of Darren R. Cohen who also plays piano for the show along with Sam Quiggins on cello and Luke McGinnis on guitar. They are behind a screen which serves as a backdrop to give lighting clues as to the time of day and even the seasons. The songs are melodic, some are descriptive, and some are downright romantic!

About the Show:

Run Time:  2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission

Location: George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue • New Brunswick, NJ

Performances:  November 29 – December 24, 2016

Contact for Info and Tickets: George Street Playhouse Box Office 732-246-7717 or www.GSPonline.org.

The Score Podcasts Will Share the Sounds of Workshop Concerts

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Photo shows the cast and band of ‘The Outlaws’ in concert which was presented at Le Poisson Rouge on Oct. 24, 2016. A recording of the performance will be available via podcast in 2017. Photo by K. Nowosad

Bringing a new musical to Broadway can be a long and expensive process. One of the steps in this process might be presenting a workshop or concert where the show is presented to a limited audience where actors have script in hand as they deliver the lines and songs. The limited audience usually is made up of invited people who might have some interest or stake in the show. At times, if the event has extra seats, they might offer a few to the public but the average person rarely has a chance to attend these events. There is a new group in town looking to share some of these workshops that take place. The group is called The Score or The Score Podcast.

Three people whose jobs are involved with the theater make up The Score team: Michael Kimmel, a theater writer, John DeLore, a recording artist, and Allison Bressi, a freelance producer. During a recent visit to one of the concerts put on by The Score, I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Kimmel. He explained that The Score is looking to provide opportunities for people who are not able to attend the workshops for musical theater show hopefuls that are put on in New York City. They bring shows they are passionate about into a live concert format, record them during the concert, then develop them into podcasts. This will provide a chance to hear the actual concert of the presentation that takes place via podcast which will become available for download. The plan is to have podcasts, or episodes, available for download either late winter or spring 2017.  The Score plans on using some of the more traditional podcast download locations and plans are in the works to launch a Score website as well. Downloads will be free for listeners.

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‘Outlaws’ in concert with Constantine Maroulis (l) as Jesse James and Jeremy Morse (r) as Frank James. Photo by Karen Nowosad

So far, five musicals have been presented in concert and recorded at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York City.  The one I attended was a show titled Outlaws. The show was billed as: “a hard-boiled, historical fiction featuring a robust Americana score. Frustrated with Washington and hard-up for cash, Jesse James and his brother Frank take matters into their own hands robbing banks, courting the press, and killing anyone who gets in their way. Outlaws is the story of a bitterly divided America and the demagogues who try to save it. ”  Outlaws has music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen and book by James Presson.  The concert that evening was this new musical’s first full, public presentation in New York after past development at Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals, the ASCAP Workshop and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship.

The presentation of Outlaws was The Score’s largest undertaking so far.  It featured a chorus of 17 people and a 9 piece orchestra. Playing major roles were Broadway performers including Constantine Maroulis, Alison Fraser, Jeremy Morse, Michael McCorry Rose, Kacie Sheik, Eric William Morris, Andy Taylor, Will Carlyon, and Sean Patrick Monahan. The concert was produced by Jenna Grossano and featured musical direction by Luke McGinnis and was given two times that evening. One at 7:00 and the next at 9:30. Tickets were available for purchase to the public to attend while the taping was taking place. If the size of the crowd was any indication of the interest people have in hearing new musicals, then The Score is on the right track. Both performances were filled with enthusiastic audiences who were treated to a unique sound that included blue grass and rock given by outstanding performers and musicians.

Mr. Kimmel said that being in musical theater, one has to be creative. It is his hope that The Score is developing a new model that needs addressing. He also mentioned that the show performed that night was all done in a week’s time. As a viewer, I found it to be a very entertaining evening and I look forward to being able to listen to it again, when the podcast becomes available. Being able to bring concerts to a large number of people of new works is in itself good work. But it also will allow new artists an opportunity to be heard.

To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/thescorepodcast, or inquire at thescorepod@gmail.com.kj.

 

 

 

 

‘Mama’s Boy’ Looks at Lee Harvey Oswald from His Mother’s Point of View

The cast of 'Mama's Boy' in a scene when Lee Harvey Oswald returns from Soviet Russia with his bride, Marina. Photo credit
The cast of ‘Mama’s Boy’ in a scene when Lee Harvey Oswald returns from Soviet Russia with his bride, Marina. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

It remains one of the mysteries of our time: Did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot President John Kennedy and if so, did he act alone? It is a topic of discussion, speculation, and documentaries. But how often does the discussion turn to the life this suspect led before the assassination? The play Mama’s Boy now playing at New Brunswick’s George Street Playhouse takes a look at this man from someone who knew him well: his mother, Marguerite Oswald. The drama that unfolds on stage gives an interesting picture of him but it still leaves questions unanswered about who Lee Harvey Oswald actually was in the whole scheme of events that took place both before the assassination and the actual terrible event.

Mama’s Boy was written by Rob Urbinati and the production is directed by George Street Playhouse Artistic Director David Saint. When writing Mama’s Boy, Mr. Urbinati drew on actual interviews and transcripts including the Warren Commission to produce his work. The play shows the Oswalds as a struggling American family and one where there are a lot of disjointed relationships particularly those which deal with the mother, Marguerite Oswald.

Betsy Aidem plays Marguerite Oswald. According to notes from Director David Saint, this play came to him from Ms. Aiden who plays Marguerite Oswald whom Saint describes as “a combination of Amanda from The Glass Menagerie and Medea.” Ms. Aidem presents Marguerite as a woman who has worked hard all her life but has very little to show for it. Having buried three husbands, she complains a lot about her constant lack of money, being fired from jobs, and the fact that her sons (Robert and Lee) do not include her at family holiday gatherings. Perhaps there was good reason not to include her as she is portrayed as being very dominant, bossy, and not fond of or accepting of ideas that are not hers. Ms. Aidem does a fine job of presenting her character with lots of faults exposed especially the character’s need to take over and be in control. She is loud and aggressive in her talk and actions. Her preference for her son Lee comes out as well and it hints at a near incestuous relationship with him.

The man in question, Lee Harvey Oswald, is played by Michael Goldsmith. He plays Oswald as a quiet and unhappy man which fits so much of what we actually know about him. His departure from being in the Marines to his defection to Soviet Russia and then his ability to come back into the United States are all mentioned in the play along with his interest in communism and socialism. At times he is an attentive son, husband, and father and other times he becomes a loner perhaps giving good reason for some to still wonder who he really was and what he was all about.

Laurel Casilio plays Marina Oswald, Lee’s wife from Soviet Russia.  She is impressive as a person who is happy to be in the United States and away from all the lack of material goods that came with the Soviet Union. She loves her husband but for for the most part, she cannot get through to him.  In a smaller but vital part is Miles G. Jackson who plays Lee’s brother Robert Oswald.  He plays the character as a man who is concerned about his brother and wife, Marina. He wants to keep the family together but not at the expense of their sanity and thus keeps Mom Oswald excluded from their gatherings and his life in general.

Betsy Aidem plays Marguerite Oswald, mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, in “Mama’s Boy” at George Street Playhouse, Oct. 18-Nov. 6, 2016. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Betsy Aidem plays Marguerite Oswald giving a speech about her son, Lee Harvey Oswald. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The play shows the anger and jealousy Marguerite had towards Marina Oswald and even the widow of Police Officer J.D.Tippit when they received public sympathy and donations of money after their husbands’ deaths but she did not. Marguerite decided to embark on a campaign to show how her son was framed by going on a speaking tour. In a memorable scene form the play, she is at Town Hall in NYC giving a speech but that resentment comes in and ruins it all.

The suspense and the surprises in this play come from the roles the characters play in weaving a story that shows some reasons why Lee Harvey Oswald became so disillusioned with life. Was it enough to be a part of the Kennedy assassination? See the play and decide for yourself.

Those who are interested in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories or interested in the history of that time will surely want to see this play. It is a well-written, well-acted piece that theater goers will find interesting to see.

Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes with a 15 minute intermission

Written by: Rob Urbinati

Directed by: David Saint

Production Team: Set Design: Michael Anaia, Costume Design: Michael McDonald, Lighting Design: Ken Billington, Projection Design: Michael Clark, Original Music/Sound Design: Scott Killian, Hair & Wig Design: Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas,Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet, Production Stage Manager: Thomas Clewell, Production Manager: Christopher Bailey, Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht

Location:.George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ

Performances: October 18 – November 6, 2016

Contact for Info and Tickets: The George Street Playhouse Box Office – 732-246-7717 or visit their website www.GSPonline.org for tickets and information

Additional Information: Audio Described Performance – November 3 and Open-Captioned Performance – November 5