Friday, July 29, 2011

'Hairspray' is bright, bubbly fun

The Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse stage has been sent back to a cheery version of 1962 with the non-stop song and dance fun of “Hairspray,” which opened Tuesday, July 26, and is playing through Aug. 7.
“Hairspray,” like “The Producers” before it, is a musical based on a film in which the musical then inspired its own film. The story is a bubblegum version of the civil rights movement told through the integration of an “American Bandstand”-style dance show.
The leader of this revolution is Tracy Turnblad (Amber Coartney), an overweight girl with a good heart, gumption and a wish to dance on the “Corny Collins Show” and to win the heart of the show's dreamboat star Link Larkin (Peter Carrier). When she gets her wishes on both accounts, she sets out for something bigger: blacks and whites dancing together.
While the plot is a sugarcoat, the themes of racial equality are handled sincerely and honestly. The show also deals with issues of bullying of those who are different. The Tracy character proves her taunters wrong with confidence and a refusal to be anything less than herself. It is a good message, and, while real life is rarely this easy, every once in a while it can be.
The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's production is a appropriately bright and colorful. This is a show that jumps from one song to the next very quickly, and director Nathaniel Shaw keeps the energy level high and the pacing brisk. The choreography, also by Shaw, is a creative hodge-podge of popular dance moves from the era.
In a tradition dating back to John Waters' original 1988 film, the role of Tracy's mom Edna is played by a man in drag. Richard Sabellico, previously seen raising hell in “Damn Yankees,” takes on the role previously played most famously by Divine in the original film, Harvey Fierstein in the original Broadway cast and John Travolta in the 2007 film.
Sabellico's performance gets big laughs with his manly voice coming out occasional on certain line readings. It may be an easy gag, but it is an effective one that is well delivered. Sabellico shares a sweet and tongue-in-cheek ballad with Craig Holden as Edna's husband.
Physically Coartney is miscast as Tracy. Coartney may not be a twig, but she is by no means the big girl that Tracy is supposed to be. Most of the fat jokes at Tracy's expense therefore become head scratchers as you think “But she isn't even that big.” The role of Tracy is meant to be empowering for girls who are heavier and that aspect is somewhat missing here.
In terms of performance, though, Coartney nails it. She is bubbly and full of warmth and good cheer. She has a strong voice as well that is nicely showcased in songs like “Good Morning Baltimore,” “Mama, I'm Big Girl Now,” “Welcome to the 60s,” “Without Love” and “You Can't the Stop the Beat.”
The rest of the cast is equally solid. Catherine Yadain and Lizzy Palmer provide some quality villainy as mother and daughter who conspire to use the “Corny Collins Show” for their own gains and attempt to suppress all things different.
Kelsey Thompson as Tracy's dorky friend Penny gets laughs whenever on stage. Andrew Malone has a powerhouse voice and smooth dance moves as Seaweed Stubbs and steals the show on “Run and Tell That.” Tunisia Hayward as the jive talking Motormouth Maybelle also has a notable voice and shines on “Big, Blond and Beautiful.”
This is a show that looks as light as cotton candy, but does provide a bit more substance. It is a show where everyone on stage, even the villains, smile widely. Those smiles transfer over to the audience rather quickly and stay on throughout the show.
Tickets are $30. However, Flex Passes, good for four admissions for $100, are available, as are group rates. For information and reservations, call the box office at 356-5776 or visit the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company website

'Captain America' is a rousing adventure

“Captain America” is the fourth superhero movie this summer following on the heels of “Thor,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Green Lantern.” It would be easy to roll your eyes and say “not another one,” but the film escapes possible superhero fatigue by being a straightforward, old-fashioned adventure.
This is the fifth film to come from Marvel Studios. Starting with 2008's “Iron Man,” they've been making a series of films that will culminate with next summer's “Avengers,” which will bring together Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and other characters.
Marvel Studio's films have thus far all have been of high quality and made with a care that honors both the original source material while still making the films accessible to a broader audience.
“Captain America” is the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a 90-pound weakling with a good and tenacious heart who desperately wants to serve his country during World War II. He gets his chance when Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) recruits him for a special program that, thanks to a super serum, transforms Rogers into a specimen of physical perfection.
Rogers' nemesis is not Hitler, but another ubermensch named Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), aka the Red Skull because his head turned a lovely shade of red when he took an earlier form of Erskine's serum. Schmidt has built his own army known as Hydra and he dreams of, what else?, world domination.
Before Rogers gets to see combat, the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely rather shrewdly has Captain America used as propaganda to sell war bonds during USO shows. The image of Captain America appears in comics and movies, which is a knowing, but not forced nod to the origins of the character.
When Rogers hears his buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has been taken prisoner, he goes rogue. With the aid of agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), he leads a one-man mission to rescue Bucky.
The film is a throwback to adventure film serials and war movies, albeit with a bigger budget. Joe Johnston is the ideal director for this material having already shown an affinity for this time period 20 years earlier with “The Rocketeer,” a film about another World War II-era comic book hero.
Johnston gets the look of the era right, and the pacing, with the exception of one action montage, is not as rushed as many modern action films. The film takes its time establishing Rogers before his transformation and allows for scenes like his conversations with Erskine. Tucci, an always reliable character actor, is wonderful in these scenes.
The special effects are top notch, but more subtle than in a lot of superhero movies. The effect of making Evans look like a scrawny version of himself is seamless and rather remarkable. Likewise, the effects for Red Skull are equally convincing. These are the best kind of effects, the kind you accept and then no longer notice. There are also plenty of explosions, ray guns, submarines and aircrafts to dazzle the eye.
Evans, who usually plays cocky and arrogant, does a nice job capturing the sincerity of Rogers. Evans makes a solid hero, but he may have dialed down too much as his Captain America doesn't seem quite forceful enough. Even so, getting the earnestness right was most important.
Weaving, best known for his villainy in “The Matrix” movie, is unsurprisingly terrific here. He is menacing, creepy and ever so slightly mad. All right, he's a raving loon, but Weaving plays it as a man who is thinking about foaming at the mouth rather than actually foaming.
Tommy Lee Jones does his gruff, dry Tommy Lee Jones thing as a skeptical colonel. There's a lot of typecasting in this film from Jones to Weaving to Evans, but typecasting works for a reason. Jones and Weaving have played roles like this before and they do them well. The film benefits for having them.
Atwell as the obligatory love interest looks smashing. She looks like 1940s pin-up girls that so many World War II soldiers fawned over. Thankfully, she can also act and there is a sweet, tentative, rather chaste romance that develops between Atwell and Evans.
This is a rousing adventure in the old style. Those who love the chaotic noise and incoherent action of “The Transformers” best stay away. There is action to be had here, but there's also crazy things like story and characters as well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Harry Potter' gets a worthy conclusion

The poster for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” doesn't say the name of the film anywhere on it. In its place in large capital letters are the words: IT ALL ENDS. A bit over dramatic, but not for a Harry Potter fan. For a generation, this is the end of not just a movie franchise, but their childhood.
Author J.K. Rowling's seven-book fantasy series of a wizardry academy and the title character's coming of age and battle with the evil Lord Voldemort began back in 1997 and concluded 10 years later. The film series began in 2001 and now 10 years, eight films, four directors and two screenwriters later we have reached the conclusion.
Just as with the book series, a complex interlocking story and a completely realized world, the films are an impressive achievement. This is a franchise that never dips blow a certain quality level. The films range from simply good to excellent.
At this point, if you are not on board the train to Hogwarts Academy, which takes a beating this time around, this film isn't going to change anything. In fact, if a friend or family member were to drag a newbie to see this film it would be incomprehensible and not because it is the second part of a two-part film, but because it is the culmination of everything that came before it.
A lot happens in the film and getting too much into plot will lead to spoilers, which shall be avoided for those, who, like me, haven't read the books. All you need to know about the plot is Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) finally faces off with Voldemort (a truly creepy Ralph Fiennes).
Although Harry's loyal friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) stand by him, he must make the final confrontation alone. Harry also gets help from Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), an awkward classmate, who in this final chapter becomes a heroic leader. Watching Neville get his due is one of the joys of this film.
It is amazing that all the principal child actors were never replaced and they've grown into fine adult actors able to hold their own with a cast of some of the best British actors alive. Of the massive cast, all of which is splendid, if you had to spotlight someone it is Alan Rickman's Severus Snape. His pregnant pauses and ambiguous intentions remain intact, but now we finally get to see Snape as he truly is. Rickman plays it beautifully.
Director David Yates returns for his fourth film. It was wise to have the last four films be handled by one filmmaker since, unlike the previous four which were more episodic, the final three books were more like a trilogy.
Yates is a skillful filmmaker who has had to bring the darker half of the series to the screen. Each progressive film has drained more of the color from the brightly colored universe director Chris Columbus first introduced in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
The first half of “Deathly Hallows” was slow, pensive and introspective and did a fine job of putting into motion everything that unfolds in “Part 2,” which is at times relentlessly intense. This is no longer merely kid stuff. The film earns its PG-13 rating.
Yates does a good job keeping this final film tightly paced. This is an exciting, fast-moving film — sometimes too much so. There is a climatic battle at Hogwarts and the death of several characters are quickly glossed over.
Dealing with the death of characters seems to be one of Yates limitation as a filmmaker. In all the films he has directed, major characters die and it always feels anti-climatic and lacks the emotional payoff they deserve. That being said, there is a character killed in “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” that is addressed perfectly and in a way that is deeply saddening.
Steve Kloves, who has adapted all but one of the books, returns to cross the finish line. Throughout the series he has done a good job of distilling books that continued to increase in length. Yes, things were cut and things were altered, but the essence always remained intact.
The producers on the film wisely decided, after the first couple films, to not slavishly follow the books and to make the films their own thing. The films remain faithful to Rowling's vision while also being able to have their own take on the world, which is the sign of a good adaptation.
Clearly, Potter isn't for everyone, but for the loyal fans this is a fitting end to one of the most beloved characters in both modern film and literature.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A 'damn' good time

CONWAY — “Damn Yankees,” the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company current production playing at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse through July 23, is about a middle-aged baseball fan so desperate to see his beloved Washington Senators beat those damn Yankees that he's willing to sell his soul to the devil.
Yes, it is another variation on the old Faust legend. Guy sells soul to devil for everything he ever dreamed of only to realize he already had everything he wanted. Joe Boyd (Kevin O'Neil) is literally your average Joe Schmoe. A passing wish to sell his soul to the devil is granted when lucifer himself appears in the form of Mr. Applegate (Richard Sabellico).
Applegate transforms Joe Boyd into the 22-year-old baseball sensation Joe Hardy (Peter Carrier) who single handedly turns the Senators' baseball season around. Joe, a salesman himself, gets an escape clause put into this contract. He can change his mind by midnight on Sept. 24. This is it self a trick as the regular season ends Sept. 25, so if Joe wants the Senators to win the pennant it must be before then.
Joe misses his wife (Patricia Bartlett) and moves back into his home as a boarder. Carrier and Bartlett share a tender duet on “A Man/Woman Doesn't Know.” Mrs. Boyd doesn't realize she's singing about her missing husband with this younger version of her husband. It adds poignancy to an otherwise standard ballad.
Applegate doesn't like this development and sends in Lola (Becca Gottlieb), his best seductress, to help ensure that he gets Joe's soul. This leads to perhaps the show's most famous number “Whatever Lola Wants,” which Gottlieb brings across with fantastic flair. Gottlieb's performance is a highlight of show. She is both sensual and funny and even creates some sympathy for Lola.
The whole cast is strong, though. Sabellico, who just directed the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's latest production of “Annie,” is quite funny as Applegate. Applegate has most of the show's best lines and Sabellico has a dry line delivery that works just right.
Carrier has a likable stage presence and a powerful voice. He brings a lot of warmth and heart to his performance. Andrew Lipman has fun as the team manager and there's a nice sense of camaraderie between the actors who make up the team. This comes across best in the tongue-in-cheek number “The Game,” a song about all the women the team has given up in the name of the game.
The show also features some impressive dance numbers, which shouldn't be surprising given that the great Bob Fosse was the show's original choreographer. Director and choreographer Nathaniel Shaw does a nice job creating Fosse-esque dance routines particularly for “What Lola Wants” and “Two Lost Souls.”
“Damn Yankees,” by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, first opened on Broadway in 1955 and went on to win six Tony Awards. The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company production is working from a slightly revised revival of the show from 1994.
The revival version makes some alteration to the second act including Lola falling in love with Joe and Lola and Joe singing “Two Lost Souls,” which was original a duet between Lola and Applegate. These changes seem odd and detract from the main theme of Joe's everlasting love for his wife.
This is a solid piece of musical theater that is well presented by the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company. Tickets are $30. For tickets or call the box office at 356-5776.

'Horrible Bosses' lacks bite, but provides laughs

“Horrible Bosses” is a black comedy about put-upon employees who decide to kill their bosses that doesn't follow through enough on its convictions. The film lacks bite and a willingness to go to truly dark places, but thanks to a very solid cast the film is still funny in its own goofy, vulgar sort of way.
Jason Bateman's Nick works grueling hours in an office run by an egomaniacal psycho played by Kevin Spacey, who gives the promotion Nick was waiting for to himself. Charlie Day's Dale is an anxiety-filled neurotic working as a dental assistant to Jennifer Aniston who sexual harasses him. Jason Sudeikis' Kurt works for a coke fiend played by Colin Farrell with a comb-over from hell.
The trio decide to off their bosses and enlist the help of a “murder consultant” played by Jamie Foxx, whose character has a name that can't be printed and a very funny story about how he got that name that definitely can't be printed here. Foxx suggests they kill each other's bosses similar to Alfred Hitchcock's “Strangers on a Train” or Danny DeVito's riff on that film “Throw Momma from a Train.”
Now, forgive me as I get academic for a second. Black comedy seems like a term that should be easy enough to define and yet I found myself struggling to do so. A search on Wikipedia yielded this: “Black humor is a term coined by surrealist theoretician André Breton in 1935, to designate a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which laughter arises from cynicism and skepticism, often about the topic of death.”
That seemed about as good as any definition, but if it is a sub-genre of satire, how is it different from it? One Merriam-Webster definition of satire is: “wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.” Black comedy does the same thing, but puts a mirror up to the most vile, deplorable aspects of humanity. In essence it is a darker form of satire.
Another key of black humor is taking something to its logical extreme to the point of which it becomes illogical. For example in “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift suggested that impoverished Irish sell their children to the rich as food and actually included possible recipes. Or in the case of “Horrible Bosses” if you don't like your bosses, kill them.
With this understanding, “Horrible Bosses” disappoints at being a black comedy. It is more of a vulgar, screwball farce with dark undertones and on that level it works, but those who hoped the film would go to weirder and nastier places will be let down.
This is a case where an original script by Michael Markowitz was re-written by “script doctors” and you can sense the material was softened and made easier to digest. It isn't that the material is bad, in fact it is often very funny, but in spite of some racy content, it feels too safe given the premise.
The cast goes a long way to making this movie entertaining and even elevating the material from average to above average. Bateman, a master of dead pan delivery, Day and Sudeikis have a great dynamic together.
Day and Sudeikis worked together previously on last year's under appreciated romantic comedy “Going the Distance” and they are developing a strong screen chemistry. They make a good team and it would be interesting to see them paired more.
The film's best scene involves Bateman and Day accidentally spilling a large supply of cocaine and frenetically trying to clean it up while falling under the influence of the drug in the process. It is howlingly funny.
Spacey previously played this kind of character in the far darker “Swimming with Sharks,” but it is a welcome reprisal as he is the king of menacing, snarky put-downs. Farrell gets big laughs as an obnoxious moron. He's barely recognizable and it is a performance that needs to be seen. Aniston gets to show off a vulgar side and it suits her well.
Movies are all about expectations. Walk in expecting a goofy, coarse comedy with a bit of meanness and there are many laughs to be found with “Horrible Bosses.”

Friday, July 08, 2011

'God of Carnage' pulls no punches

“God of Carnage,” M&D Productions' latest production, which opened Thursday, July 7, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is running Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, is an honest, authentic look at how a civil discussion can collapse into a frothing-at the-mouth argument.
Writer Yasmina Reza's play is simple enough on the surface. Two sets of affluent parents meet under the best of intentions to discuss a violent act that occurred between their two young boys. Veronica and Michael Novac's (Christine Thompson and David Freeman) boy lost two teeth in the altercation, but they see themselves as being the bigger people by inviting Annette and Alan Raleigh (Elaine Kondrat and Rob Clark) over to have a peaceful discussion.
What starts of as an awkward, uneasy exchange de-evolves into a screaming match as the underbelly of both seemingly perfect couples gets exposed. Under their high class facades they are no more above the base actions they gathered to chastise their boys for participating in. 
Reza script is very finely constructed. Essentially we have a 90-minute argument, which, if written poorly, could become shrill and one-note, but shifting allegiances keep things interesting. It would be easy to simply have the two sets of parents remain united fronts, but at any given time the sides will split along gender lines, ideological beliefs or who is submissive and dominant in the respective relationships.
There is much discussion by the parents of what it means to bully someone and how to punish the bully. As the evening progresses, we see, though, how the more dominant spouses browbeat their significant others and how disagreements escalate to things being thrown.
Veronica has a holier-than-attitude as she thinks she is a better, more caring human being because she's writing a book about the atrocities in Darfur although she's never been there herself. Her true colors shine through when she starts going on about how Western civilization is above that sort of savage behavior and yet she's the first to resort to violence.
Thompson is exceptional in this role. Cold, stiff and full of a bitter anger that she tries to control, but ultimately can't. Veronica is not likable and Thompson embraces that and doesn't attempt to soften her at all. It is an intense performance and a true sign of her talents as an actress.
Clark, stepping out of his usual nice guy persona as seen in such productions as Arts in Motion's “Almost, Maine” and “Ordinary People” and M&D's “California Suite,” is fantastic as a boorish lawyer who is constantly on his cell phone.
It is Clark's rude behavior as Alan that starts sending things down hill. He makes no attempt to hide his disdain for this little meeting. In addition to constantly being on his phone, he refuses to play along with Veronica's let's-play-nice attitude, especially when she starts offering condescending parenting advice.
Alan and Veronica are clearly the more dominant personas in their relationships. Annette is literally sickened by his behavior. Kondrat is good as Annette. She plays her as sweet, but when she is pushed into a corner she lashes out. Freedman plays Michael as a passive neurotic, who is constantly trying to play peacekeeper. He switches sides and attempts to defuse the situation, which only infuriates his wife.
The set designed by Mark DeLancey is urban, modern and sophisticated and is in stark contrast with the brutish behaviors that arise. The centerpiece of the set is a blood red painting with violent slash marks. It seems out of place with the rest of the slick décor. As the show progresses it becomes a more accurate reflection of its surrounding.
Director Heather Elise Hamilton keeps the show loose, perhaps too much so as the argument ratchets up toward the end, but the pace and tone she finds fit the free-flowing structure of the dialogue. The writing, much like an actual conversation, goes off on tangent only to circle back to subject later. 
This is an excellent and well performed piece of theater. It is unsettling and leaves the audience on edge but is also savagely funny and will lead to some lively discussion — just hopefully not as vehement as the discourse on stage.
Call the box office at 662-7591 for tickets.

'Transformers 3' gives mindless entertainment a bad name

As I sit down to write about “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the third in Michael Bay's insanely and globally popular franchise about cars that turn into robots that talk and beat the crap out of each other, I let out a heavy sigh as I realize I've lost eight hours of my life watching this schlock.
In truth, I actually liked most of the first in the series. There was a sense of wonder and even some moments of quiet grace amongst the chaos. The novelty wore off fast, though, in the second film which was a jumbled, overlong mess.
Everyone involved, including director Bay and star Shia LaBeouf, actually owned up to the second film's poor quality and promised a marked improvement in terms of character development, coherent action and an overall darker tone. Their intentions were pure at least, I'll give them that.
The plot involves the evil Decepticons using a transportation device to bring an army to Earth to reshape the world into their home planet. The good Autobots stand loyally by humanity as all creatures are deserving of freedom.
As has been true with all these films, “Dark of the Moon” is far too long for what is supposed to be a dumb summer action movie. The first 90 minutes is exposition that is so deadly dull that by the time you get to the climatic hour-long siege in Chicago it is hard to even care. The film would've benefited immensely by streamlining the first part of the movie to an hour or even 45 minutes.
Give credit where credit is due, the special effects here are first rate. The robots look convincingly real and their integration into real settings, particularly Chicago, is impressively seamless. The action is more crisp this time because it had to be to shot in 3D. Even in 2D it looks better. Still, we've seen this all before and these metal giants hacking way at each other looks the same every time. After a while it becomes numbing and boring.
The transformers themselves, with the exception of leader Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky's loyal bodyguard, have no discernible personalities or traits and are interchangeable.
The human drama is no better. LaBeouf, who was likable in the first film, is obnoxiously maniac in the third installment. The performance is full of terrible mugging and lots of yelling. It would be easy to put the blame on LaBeouf, but Bay should've seen this wasn't working and reined him in. Even the most talented actors, and LaBeouf does indeed have his charms, need direction.
Bay is more interested in his bombastic visuals than his actors, though. It is not just with LaBeouf. Much of the surprising strong supporting cast, including Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong, is way overacting. This is fun to a point, but eventually becomes distractingly annoying.
Series regular John Turturro is desperately struggling to get laughs in a performance that is becoming increasingly strange. It is as if he knows the material isn't working and he's just trying to keep himself amused. Sometimes he amuses us as well.
Then there's Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who replaces Megan Fox as the impossibly hot love interest. It is telling that most of the discussion around these women's performances is centered around who is hotter. A Victoria's Secret model making her acting debut, she's definitely beautiful. As is often the case with women in Bay's movies, she's here as eye candy. In terms of acting she is no better or worse than Fox.
So, will people like the film? Undoubtedly. It has already made $400 million worldwide in a week. People are going to give it a pass because it is just a mindless popcorn movie. But mindless entertainment doesn't need to be this brain dead and certainly not this oppressively long.

Friday, July 01, 2011

'Annie' director offers first-hand Broadway insight

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company has done "Annie" before, but this time the company has the rare opportunity of working with a director who was part of the original Broadway cast.
"Annie" opened on Broadway in 1977. Richard Sabellico was brought in to take over the role of Rooster, the conniving con artist brother of alcoholic orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, in February 1981 and held the role until September 1982.
Sabellico, who turned 60 Wednesday, has directed "Annie" numerous times since his time on Broadway and is following the same blueprint that made the show such a success on Broadway with the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company production which opened Thursday,  June 30, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse and is running through July 9.
"I thought it [the Broadway production] was extremely well done," Sabellico said. "I thought it was very smart, very streamlined. I thought it told a beautiful story very simply and quickly and one scene melded into another very cinematically and that's what we are going to do here even on limited resources and limited budget. We are still doing it the same way. Exactly the same way."
Sabellico keeps returning the show even after 30 years because of its simple message of hope and optimism.
"I think it is a terrific show," Sabellico said. "I love the message it tells. I like the variance in the cast members from old to young. The animals — I love dogs. But basically it is its message of hope and seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty and always looking forward to the next wonderful thing that could happen instead of being sunk and mired in the past."
Sabellico wanted to put on the best show, and he requested that Linda Pinkham, matron of the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company, get professional actors for the principal roles.
"This cast is very good," Sabellico said. "The principals are excellent. The kids are, surprisingly, very adept at learning quickly. Their attention leaves a bit to be desired, but their abilities are quite good."
Raquel Leifer, the 10-year-old actress from New York who is starring as Annie, has appeared in role before, but this is her first experience in a professional production.
"This is a lot more intense and real," Leifer said. "In the other one we didn't use a real dog. This just makes me feel more like I really am Annie."
Sabellico is also very pleased with the adults in the cast, noting, "They learn it. They do it. They give back to me what I ask and they bring their own stuff to it."
Michele Foor, who plays Miss Hannigan, feels privileged to have the opportunity to work with a director that was in the original Broadway production of "Annie."
"You just get a whole different insight into it and plus he puts his own personal stamp on it," Foor said. "He's very invested in the characters and keeping them real and keeping the story very real. It raises the stakes a lot and it makes it more interesting as an actor to work on it that way."
Foor first appeared in "Annie" 27 years ago and has appeared in the show numerous times since and various roles. Much like Sabellico, she keeps returning to the show because of its simple, beautiful message.
"I just love it," Foor said. "It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling even though I shouldn't be having that as Miss Hannigan. It is just one of my favorites and this has been a great experience so far."
Grant Golson, who is returning for a fifth season with the Mount Washington Valley Theatre, is taking on the role of Daddy Warbucks and said that Sabellico helped him find the character.
"I came here having just done the show two months ago playing Daddy Warbucks and had a lot of gobbledygook in my head, a lot of preconceived notions of who Daddy Warbucks was," Golson said. "Richard really helped me rediscover who Daddy Warbucks truly was and kind of bring a lot more of myself into it."
Golson keeps returning to the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse stage because "he fell in love with the area and fell in love with the little playhouse" when he first came here in 2004 for what was his first professional lead.
"I just had a wonderful opportunity to play some really wonderful and challenging roles over the years," Golson said. "I just love it here."
For tickets visit or call the box office at 356-5776.

'Midnight in Paris' is Woody Allen at his witty, charming best

Woody Allen is a film-making machine. He has written and directed, and often starred in, at least one film a year since 1971. In recent years he's wisely chosen others to be in stand ins for the roles he would've played. With Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris,” a charming and effervescent film, he's found one of his best surrogates.
Since 2005, Allen has been making his way through Europe, having done three films in England, two in Spain and now one in France. “Midnight in Paris” is a love letter to the City of Lights much like the numerous notes of adoration he scribed to the city that never sleeps.
Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a screenwriter who views himself as a Hollywood hack, who is in Paris with his fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).
Gil is taken by Paris and yearns to move there to work on his novel. His fiancee and her parents are typical gauche Americans, who can't be bothered with French culture. Allen's script uses the conservative parents to get in some political swipes in that will certainly get the film branded as liberal swill.
But this isn't Allen's satire of modern politics, but a fantasy in which Gil is whisked away by a magical car to Paris of the 1920s where he gets to hobnob with all his literary and artistic idols including F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). Perhaps most importantly he meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), the woman who finds herself the temporary muse to many artists.
Allen's script wisely doesn't waste time trying to explain the mechanism of the time travel because the how doesn't matter. It is the why that counts. Gil is traveling back to the time that, in his mind, was the Golden Age. Allen uses time travel to explore nostalgia and the idea that some other time was better than the present. The final message that emerges is an expected one given Allen's own predilection toward the past.
The film is very funny, but the humor level depends on how familiar you are with the artist Gil meets. Even cursory knowledge is enough to get most of the jokes, but the more you know the funnier the material will become.
The whole cast is splendid. Cotillard continues to remain seemingly effortlessly charming and she has a sweet, low-key chemistry with Wilson. McAdams, one of the most likable actresses working today, shows her acting chops by coming off as completely insufferable. Brody's appearance isn't much more than a cameo, but he is hilarious in his few minutes.
The best of the bunch is Stoll as Hemingway. Allen's Hemingway speaks the way he wrote: succinct and direct, yet poetic. Stoll perfectly captures Hemingway's machismo.
Wilson hasn't been this good in years. His laid back acting style is, surprisingly, a perfect fit with Allen's fast paced, witty dialogue. Wilson only looks like a surfer dude; he can play smart when he is given intelligent dialogue to work with. He doesn't attempt to imitate Allen's mannerism or persona at all, and so the blending of Wilson's acting style with Allen's dialogue creates something that feels fresh.
People put Allen's later films under harsh scrutiny and say he will never be as good as he was in 1970s and 1980s. And yet you usually see the phrase “return to form” quite frequently in association with a new Allen release, which begs the question if, let's say every other film is a return to form, did he really ever lose it in the first place? “Midnight in Paris,” yet another return to the form he supposedly lost.