"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Monday, June 30, 2014


Millbrook Playhouse’s production of HAPPY DAYS is, if you will excuse the expression, a blast from the past. It is a high energy, well directed show full of talent.

Dax Valdes had been involved at Millbrook for several years and is back as director for HAPPY DAYS In the past we have seen him act and dance as well has heard him sing. He does all of these things exceptionally well, but his true talent has to be choreography and directing. Probably because dance is his strong point, his shows flow brilliantly. He deserves special applause for this production.

The characters from the long running television HAPPY DAYS have become so much a part of our culture that it would be hard for casting to satisfy an audience who grew up with Richie Cunningham and The Fonz. Nicholas Miller had the proper swagger to be Arthur Fonzarelli. Nicholas is tall, handsome, can act, sing and dance. He was perfect as The Fonz. The surprise standout number may have been “Guys Like Us” with James Dean and Elvis. I do have to admit that neither of these guys would pass as the real thing----but good try guys and you did sound terrific. Jake Evan was the typical boy next door, Richie Cunningham, if you are lucky enough to have a nice, good looking guy living next door who can also sing.

Who knew that Richie, Ralph, Potsie, and Chachi had a quartet that rocked. I could have spent an evening listening to these four guys. This was a big cast , but Michael Egan (Potsie), Richard Spitaletta (Ralph), and Ian Fairlee (Chachi) need to be mentioned individually. Not only does each have a great voice, but they kept their characters real.

Richard Guido’s Arnold helped to hold the story together. (The gang has to raise money so that their hang out will not be sold). Richard has been such a big part of Millbrook over recent years and is the company manager this season. It was good to see him on stage in a major role.

Actress Katrina Diehm typifies the reason that I go to Regional Theatre with great enthusiasm. I love seeing talent that can do it all and do it well. We last saw Katrina as The Good Witch, a good witch with a bit of an edge. In HAPPY DAYS she plays the motorcycle babe and The Fonz’s love interest, Pinky Tuscadera. Her voice filled the Main Stage as well as she filled out her short shorts. This is a name you might want to watch.

There was so much talent on stage and not enough space to give all their due. Tommy Lavalee, I could understand every word that you sang. The same can be said for for Jess Brooks. I am sorry that you will not be back this season. Ah, well, maybe next year.

If Artistic Director David Leidholt is responsible for the audience “warm ups” before the shows, it is working. HAPPY DAYS. will be on the Main Stage until July 6th.

Little Shop of Horrors will replace it on July 11th. Rounding Third will open in the Cabaret July 3rd. I would suggest calling for information on the availability of seats. It has been a very successful season. Box Office number is 570 748 8083.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Peace Like A River

It is rare for me to re-read a book, but when the Library Book Group chose PEACE LIKE A RIVER by Leif Engler, I was curious to see if the book was as good as I remembered. It was.

The narrator of Peace Like a River is asthmatic, eleven- year- old Ruben Land. Ruben, his older brother Davy and younger sister Swede are being raised by a single father, Jeremiah. Jeremiah Land is the high school’s janitor. One evening, hearing sounds from the girl’s locker room, he saves a female student from the school bullies setting off a tragic series of events.

This is the story of a strong family. They endure murder, a cross country trip, some odd friendships and an occasional miracle. All of this is told through the eyes of Ruben, a young man with courage and an unshakable faith in miracles.

Swede quickly became my favorite character. A big reader of western literature, especially Zane Grey, she is in the process of writing an epic poem full of heroes and villains--set in the Old West, of course. Ironically, her poem mirrors the action of the Land’s story.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER is Leif Enger’s debut novel and proves that he is an author to watch. He is able to mix adventure, humanity, tragedy, healing, and truth, all mixed with warmth and quiet humor. I loved his use of language and his excellent character development. This is a book that I have no qualms about recommending to anyone.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Natchez Burning

After waiting five very long years. Greg Iles fans finally have NATCHEZ BURNING. I was eighth on the waiting list at the library and it seemed like another five years until my turn came. (I was happy to learn that I was not the only Iles fan in town).

NATCHEZ BURNING. opens in 1964 with the brutal murder of three black young men and the burning of a popular music store and its black owner. Several influential white men had broken away from the Klu Klux Klan to form their own group, the Double Eagles. One of the young men murdered had been involved with the daughter of a founding member of the Double Eagles. These events were to have a devastating effect on present day Natchez.

Doctor Tom Cage has been treating patients in Natchez for over forty years. He is loved and respected by the people in town for his compassion whether the patient is poor, wealthy, black or white. His recent heart attack has caused him to take life a little easier, but he still feels responsible for the sick.

Viola Turner, his African-American nurse from the sixties, has returned to Natchez to die. She had escaped to Chicago during those violent days under mysterious circumstances, but is back under the care of Dr. Cage. When she is found murdered and the police are given a tape that implicates Tom, he is arrested for killing her. Tom’s son Penn, a former prosecuting lawyer turned novelist, is now the mayor of Natchez. Trying to prove his father innocent, he soon finds himself and his family at risk.
The Double Eagles may have grown older and achieved more power, but their brutality and racial hatreds are still very much alive.

Greg Iles is back with probably his best effort to date. Reviewers are comparing him to Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner. I simply could not put this book down. It is full of passion dealing with race relations - then and now, unheard of violence, age old traditions, and angers that have smoldered for years set against love of family. All of these things mixed in with the national history of the early 60’s, the years that saw some shocking assassinations.

There are several incidents from earlier books that featured Penn Cage, but it is not necessary to have read them, though they are some of my favorite books. Be reminded, although this is an author who is an expert at word usage and flow of action, he also can be very graphically violent.

NATCHEZ BURNING. is book one of a trilogy. It comes to a good ending in many ways, but enough strings are hanging that you will want to find out more about the Cage family. I only hope that I do not have to wait five more years.

THEATER REVIEW: Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating And Marriage

Marc de la Concha is back at Millbrook Playhouse! Now add David “Paco” Raposo and a play like MISS ABIGAIL'S GUIDE TO DATING, MATING AND MARRIAGE and you have an evening unlike any other.

Marc plays Miss Abigail, the woman with all, maybe more, advice than a person would ever need on how to date, mate, and marry. Her lessons come from her own experience as well as books, most of which were published before 1950. (funny how much information still applies).

David is the young, Mexican assistant, who has the “hots” for Miss Abigail. (sorry, I did not know how else to express it). He is instrumental in seeing that the show runs smoothly. Keeping the show on track is a tribute to these two actors.

The production must be different every night because so much depends on audience participation. Audience members were personally instructed in everything from personal hygiene to how to pick up a dropped handkerchief. (Keeping the butt in the air is very important).

Marc and David have impressive stage credits and were able to flow with some unexpected happenings. Sometimes it was hard to tell what were scripted lines and what were ad-libs. Both actors stayed in character no matter what the audience threw at them. The night that I was there the audience was very receptive to the silliness without trying to upstage the actors. I give both young men credit for staying in character and never losing control of the situation. (I have seen that happen with less experienced actors).

Director Bob Angelini also deserves credit for some excellent bits of stage business and using not only the stage area, but the complete theatre. (I would have loved to been present for rehearsals for this show). The result of all of this is that I, and my table mates never stopped laughing. (One does get to know his/her table mates. Practicing puckering your lips with complete strangers will do that).
This is a funny show, but it takes two talents like Marc de la Concha and David J. Raposo to carry it off.

MISS ABIGAIL'S GUIDE TO DATING, MATING & MARRIAGE runs until June 29th in the Cabaret.

On the Main Stage the musical Happy Days, based on the TV show by the same title opens June 27th.

Check out their website or call the box office at 570 748 8083 for more information. Millbrook Playhouse gives you a chance to see rising stars before they become famous and we can no longer afford the ticket prices.

THEATER REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz

(Note from Wendy:   I apologize profusely for not getting this review out on time.  Pat wrote it in plenty of time, but I have been having computer trouble.  Again...my sincerest apologies... especially to the cast and crew.)

Millbrook Playhouse opened its 51st season with THE WIZARD OF OZ, but a Wizard as you have never seen before. It is the movie we have all come to love, but thanks to director Alex Perez , updated in ways that made it a treat for all ages.

The first clue that this would be a different production is that Toto is played by Andrew Brown. I found myself watching the “dog’s” reaction to what was happening on stage more often than not. If good acting is a matter of reacting, Andrew hit the mark. He proved the old theatre advice of never share a stage with a child or a dog because they will upstage you every time. Andrew will be going into third grade this fall.

Costume designer Michael Turner provided other hints that we were in for something different. I liked the monochromatic brown costumes at the opening of the show, allowing for the contrast of bright, vibrant colors in the Land of Oz. The ruby slippers were perfect. I was impressed that Dorothy could dance in them.

Kali Haines returned to Millbrook to play Dorothy. Hali carried the show like an old hand; she and her little dog Toto are on stage almost the complete evening. She dances (in red ruby heels!) plus, she sings and acts. Later in the season,we will see a different side of Hali in Happy Days.

Dorothy’s friends, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, were each delightful. Richard Spitaletta was as loose limbed as any scarecrow that I’ve seen. There were times that it was hard to tell if his “falls” were real or part of his dance. Jake Evans had a sweet dignity as Tin Man. We knew all along that he already had a heart. Everyone loves the cowardly Lion and Philip Bolton was adorable---very loud roar and all. I have always been a big fan of Bert Lahr’s and so was very happy to see Philip channell this old burlesque star so well at times. We will see all three of these talented young men later in Happy Days.

Tom Lavalee does triple duty as Professor Marvel, the delightful guard in Oz and the Wonderful Wizard himself. Tom takes control of the stage, especially as the guard who protects the Wizard from unwanted company. There was enough of the lively leprechaun in him that I wondered if Finnigan’s Rainbow has ever been considered. Look for him in a major role in Happy Days.

Good Witch or Bad Witch? It makes no difference. Both were so much fun. Katrina Diehm’s Glinda, the Good Witch of the North gave depth to the goodie-goodie role. She may have been wearing a sweet smile throughout the evening, but at times it seemed just a touch sarcastic and maybe a bit judgemental. I loved her.

The Wicked Witch of the West was gleefully played by Maren Fischer. Not only was she perfect as the grumpy Miss Gultch, she was evil itself as the Wicked Witch. She may also have endured the longest death scene in the history of dramatic theatre. She had the audience right from “ I coulda been a contender”. Both of these talented actors will be in Happy Days. If you think that you know The Wizard of Oz, go to Millbrook and you will be surprised how fresh this classic can be. It will run June 18 through the 22 with a matinee at 2:00 on the 18th.

Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating & Marriage starts on June 20 in the Cabaret. (This will star Marc de la Concha, a Millbrook favorite from the past). Happy Days will open June 27 on the Main Stage. Call 570 748 8083 for tickets or check out their website for more information.