Dinner and a comedy, Cole Porter at sea, and an Irish-inspired musical
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
“Baggage is about two obnoxious people who get their luggage mixed up at the airport and subsequently meet to exchange their bags,” said George Piehl. He’s directing and acting in StageOne Productions’ upcoming staging of the comedy.
Bradley’s wife has left him and Phyllis can’t stay stay in a relationship because she always finds something wrong with whomever she’s with. Of course, they can’t stand each other, which means naturally they fall in love, Piehl said. Oh, and a psychologist just happens to be in the theater who pops in to explain things.
The 2005 play is by Sam Bobrick, who usually writes in a team. His plays include Are You Sure? and Norman, Is that You? with Ron Clark. The StageOne performances of Baggage feature Eric Skoglund and Jannel Ouellette, who has been performing with StageOne for about 20 years, Peihl said. Peihl was most recently seen acting with Sally Struthers in All Shook Up at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.
Baggage launches StageOne’s latest season of dinner theater with shows Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday, Nov. 14 (doors open at 7 p.m.), and Sunday, Nov. 15 (doors open at 11:30 a.m.), at the Chateau Restaurant, 201 Hanover St. in Manchester. They can seat about 275 people. Tickets, which include buffet dinner or brunch with coffee and dessert, must be purchased in advance, and range from $26 to $40. Call 669-5511 for tickets, or visit www.stageoneproductions.net for more information.
Dublin, 1964 – with music
A Man of No Importance is a departure for Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the music and lyrics team behind Ragtime, Seussical, Once on the Island and a few Schoolhouse Rock jingles, said Chris Courage, Acting Loft artistic director.
Flaherty wanted to do a chamber piece set in another country, Courage said. Set in 1964 Dublin and based on a 1994 film by Albert Finney, the musical A Man of No Importance uses an ensemble of Irish-sounding instruments, a small cast that is on stage most of the time as a Greek chorus, and limited scenery, Courage said.
Bus conductor Alfie Byrne is an innocent who’s gone from living with his parents to living with his sister after their death. Byrne’s outlet is a church theater group. He reads a lot and has a fascination with Oscar Wilde, Courage said.
Throughout the show, Byrne is realizing his orientation, and when he becomes the victim of gay-bashing, his innocence is shattered yet he “realizes he’s going to continue to function in the world,” Courage said.
It’s not all heavy stuff. The audience spends a lot of time watching Byrne direct his community theater group — full of terrible actors who think they are wonderful. The book is by Terrence McNally. Cast member Jim O’Connell, originally from Ireland, has helped the cast with dialect and understanding 1964 Dublin. “Pretty much all art and culture was controlled by the Catholic Church” at the time, Courage said. Acting Loft education director Kirstin Kennedy is using the international phonetic alphabet to help the actors achieve a realistic Irish accent, Courage said.
Another challenge is that the audience starts watching the show at the end — how Byrne gets to that point is shown through a series of flashbacks.
Courage said his goal at the Acting Loft has been to bring shows that haven’t been performed in New Hampshire before, which includes a musical version of Wuthering Heights. This will be the first time A Man of No Importance is staged in New Hampshire, Courage said. He’s never actually seen it. It ran off-Broadway in 2002. Directing a show he hasn’t seen is both challenging and freeing, he said — there’s “no preconception of who these characters are or how they should be played.”
The Acting Loft had plans to build out the former church they work out of into a venue, but the project has been put on hold because of the economic climate, Courage said. However, much of A Man of No Importance takes place in a church basement — which is where Acting Loft currently performs, so “it’s almost environmental theater,” Courage said.
Actors include Katie Goodman, Jeff Caron, Nathan Barnes, Sue Bechard, Nick Gehling, Jennifer Fichera, Deb Doda, Julie-Ann Whitney, Toby Paul, Ashley St. Martin, Lee Preczewski, Ron Dieter, Kelly Collins, Jim O’Connell, Tommy Morrissette and Mary-Kate Lang. Joel Mercier musically directs.
A Man of No Importance plays Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2 p.m., at the Acting Loft Studio Theatre, 516 Pine St. in Manchester (666-5999, actingloft.org). Tickets cost $10 for students and $15 for adults.
Producer Beth Fenske said it wasn’t until after Actorsingers chose the 1934 Cole Porter classic Anything Goes for their fall production that they realized they had performed it every 20 years since 1969.
People involved in both the 1989 and 1969 productions are back for 2009. “There are so many theater groups popping up — we think that’s great ... I say the more live theater the better,” Fenske said. She also thinks that underscores how unique it is Actorsingers has generated loyalty that brings people back after 40 years. The Nashua group is in its 55th year.
The play has “very much a sound and a feel of the Big Band era,” director Dana Bissett-Siegal said. Actorsingers chose the 1962 revival script. It’s corny, but the music is closer to that Big Band sound than the latest one, she said. The New London Playhouse recently performed the 1989 version, which is very different, Fenske said.
A young ingénue is sailing to London with her mother in the 1930s to be married to an older British gentleman, who is also on the ship. It’s a match for money, but Billy, a young man Hope met months earlier, happens to be on board, too. “For some ridiculous reason totally unexplained,” gangsters are also on board, and Moonface Martin and Billy become “in cahoots” to break up the impending marriage, Bissett-Siegal said.
Meanwhile, post-evangelical nightclub singer Reno enters the picture. Musicians are on stage as the ship’s nightclub band, rather than in the orchestra pit. Songs include “Anything Goes” and “DeLovely.”
Basically there’s a lot of fun and funny scenes between Cole Porter songs, Fenske said.
“This particular cast is uniquely gifted in the comedic realm,” Bissett-Siegal said. The ship’s crew and passengers have been “encouraged to create really personal stories for why they’re sailing on this ship, and … to play out those stories,” Bissett-Siegal said.
Fenske, who has been with Actorsingers since 1991, thinks the directing team was a draw. Bisett-Seigal and choreographer Martha Daniels Holland won best director and choreographer New Hampshire Theatre Awards for a community musical, respectively, for staging 42nd Street with Actorsingers in 2005. 42nd Street also won best community musical production. They’d been looking for an opportunity to work together again and bring in Jed Holland as musical director, Daniels Holland’s husband.
“They have a real reputation for quality shows...and everybody has fun,” Fenske said. For Fenske, fun is key, since everyone is volunteering.
Bissett-Siegal’s husband, Ed Siegal, is acting. Bissett-Siegal said for couples, working on the same show “makes home life a little bit saner.”
Actorsingers presents Anything Goes Friday, Nov. 13, and Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 15, at 2 p.m. at the Keefe Auditorium at Elm Street Middle School, 117 Elm St. in Nashua (320-1870, www.actorsingers.org). Tickets cost $18.