January 31, 2008

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Elvis fans and ghost stories
Two musicals break up the winter doldrums
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Two very different musicals, both involving Palace Theatre actors, open Friday, Feb. 8. The Palace’s professional “Broadway in New Hampshire Series” continues with All Shook Up. It’s an entertaining escape that ties Elvis tunes together with a loose plot. StageCoach, a year-old community company, is going the Edwardian ghost story route with The Secret Garden.

All Shook Up isn’t about Elvis, per se, said Rebecca Peterson, Palace marketing director and actor. Joe DiPietro’s 2004 book borrows from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. One lead, Natalie, spends half the show as “Ed,” in an attempt to get closer to her crush, Peterson said. There are several different love triangles happening and a Footloose-like situation. The mayor has outlawed dancing in a drab 1950s Midwestern town when an Elvis-like character rides in on a motorcycle and “turns the whole town upside down,” Peterson said. Some of Presley’s songs are reworked, sung by other characters or the ensemble, arranged in four-part harmonies or turned into dance numbers, Peterson said.

Peterson said after challenging casting in New York and locally, she’s confident the Palace’s leads are comparable to leads she and other staff saw in a Broadway production of All Shook Up. The musical is scheduled in the same time slot dance revue Swing had last year. The idea is to take a break from the winter with light, colorful entertainment. Crazy for You, A Chorus Line and La Cage Aux Folles finish the eight-show season.

The Secret Garden, a musical based on the 1909 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, opens StageCoach’s second season. The production company was launched by Judy Hayward, Tim L’Ecuyer and Michele Henderson.

The cast of 33 includes several family ties. In the story, a young English girl has lived a privileged life in colonial India until her parents die during a cholera outbreak. Mary Lennox, played by Kat Bolling, is sent to live with her uncle Archibald Craven in England. Stuart Harmon of Mont Vernon plays Craven. His credits include several Palace shows and StageCoach’s productions of Jane Eyre and Jekyll and Hyde.

Craven is haunted by his wife Lily, who died in childbirth. Ellen Greene, who is trained in both opera and musical theater, travels from Boston for the role.

Kat Bolling, an eighth grader from Hollis, has performed with the Palace and Peacock Players. Her mother, Kim, an opera and musical theater singer, plays the spirit of Mary’s mother.

Mary discovers her cousin Colin, who is hidden away for fear he might become an invalid. Colin is played by another Palace veteran, Daniel Schwartzberg of Bedford. His mother, Sasha Kuftinec, is also cast. A young man named Dickon helps Mary discover a secret garden and sneak Colin there, where the three bring the garden back to life.

L’Ecuyer directs while Hayward provides musical direction. She is a top ten community finalist nominee for best music director for four different shows for the 2007 New Hampshire Theatre Awards. Winners will be announced Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Palace Theatre.

Parade also had youth leads. StageCoach looks more at the “message” of a show rather than characters’ ages when picking titles, but casts appropriately for those ages, Hayward said.

“On the one hand the kids in all-kids shows probably establish slightly different bonds,” said parent Peggy Harris. In a mixed-age cast, adult actors can socialize after rehearsals, whereas youth actors have homework and school. Yet the youth are treated the same as adult actors in rehearsals and have the opportunity to learn from more experienced actors, Harris said.


The when and where
What: All Shook Up, presented by Palace Professional Productions
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester, 668-5588, www.palacetheatre.org
When: Feb. 8-16, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. plus Sun., Feb. 10, and Sat., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$40
What: The Secret Garden, presented by StageCoach Productions, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, music by Lucy Simon
Where: Amato Center for the Performing Arts, 56 Mont Vernon St., Milford, 320-3780, www.stagecoachproductions.org
When: Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$18..