Friday, August 24, 2012

'Stop the World' is well acted, but flawed

CONWAY — The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company ends its 42nd season with "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" a handsomely mounted and well acted production that nevertheless seems to be having an identity crisis.

"Stop the World," which opened Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse and is playing through Sept. 2, was first produced in 1961 and has not aged particularly well.

Musicals and plays are often a product of when they were written. Shows like "The Music Man" or "Damn Yankees" are clearly from the 1950s, but have a certain timeless quality. "Hair" is a show that captures the vibe of the 1960s and acts as a time capsule. "Stop the World" reflects an attitude of an era gone by, but simply feels dated.

"Stop the World," written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, tells the story of Littlechap (Andy Lindberg), a lowly tea boy for a big English company. His station in life begins to change when he gets the boss' daughter, Evie (Hillary Parker), pregnant. He marries her and gets a promotion at work. Through hard work he makes his way into the higher ranks of the company.

Littlechap is dissatisfied with his life, though, and jumps into the arms of several women (all played by Parker). Naturally, it is only late in life that Littlechap sees the error of his ways and realizes that all he needed was the love of his wife.

Littlechap comes off as a philandering cad who does often deplorable things, and yet, it is presented as light fun. Littlechap is a tragically flawed figure, but, as directed by Nathaniel Shaw, it is hard to sympathize with him even though Lindberg is likable in the role.

The original production of "Stop the World" had a circus as a backdrop, a metaphor for life as a circus, and Littlechap was dressed as a mime. Shaw removes both of these aspects and it is to the detriment of the show. There's a certain sadness to a mime, often portrayed as sad clowns or fools, that just in appearance would help to bring across the tragedy of Littlechap.

"Stop the World" has an odd shifting tone that is clearly difficult to balance. The show goes from broad slapstick featuring mimed actions that recall the silent film era to savagely on-target social and political satire to a morality tale in the final scenes. Individual elements work and entertain on their own but don't hang well together. At least in this production, the darker concluding scenes, which are supposed to be poignant, feel entirely unearned.

The cast can't be faulted, though, as everyone involved does accomplished work.

Lindberg, who appeared in the infamous pie-eating contest scene in the film "Stand By Me," has an easy-going stage presence especially when he asks to "stop the world" to address the audience. He has a strong voice that stands out on the shows best songs "Gonna Build a Mountain," "Once in a Lifetime" and "What Kind of Fool Am I." He is also good at portraying the aging of Littlechap and is particularly strong at bringing across the character as an old man.

Parker has the thankless role of Evie, who is given nothing to do but have kids and nag. Parker does get to let loose and have fun playing the various women Littlechap meets including a Russian, a German and an American. Her characterization of these women are fun and funny and enliven the production.

The rest of the cast is made up of an ensemble featuring Natasha Repass, Emilie Jensen, Jennifer Lauren Brown, Liz Wasser, Erica Moore and Lizzie Porcari. Everyone plays multiple roles and these players often upstage and get bigger laughs than the leads. While their comic timing, facial expressions and body language are admirable and greatly appreciated, you can't help but feel that their antics reveal a production that doesn't trust its central plot.

For more information or tickets call 356-5776 or visit

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