Tag Archives: Ogunquit Playhouse

“Oklahoma!” At The Ogunquit Playhouse Is More Than Okay

Oklahoma!

Directed by Fred Hanson
Through July 7
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

Stephen Mark Lukas and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

It has been seventy-five years since Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein collaborated on their first play and changed musical theatre forever. Oklahoma!, with a bit of refreshing, has held up well and the latest production now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse gives this great work the respect it deserves.

The play about the growing pains of the soon to be 46th state takes place, with the exception of the final scene, in one day. There are two romantic stories, the one between Curly (Stephen Mark Lukas) and Laurey (Taylor Quick), and Ado Annie (Chessa Metz) and Will (Colby Dezelick), as well as the conflicts that arise as two groups, the cowboys and the farmers have to learn to live together and share the land. There is also the matter of Judd (Timothy John Smith), the brooding and scary loner, who doesn’t fit in.

As the overture plays, beautiful scenes are projected on the curtain that give us a sense of the vastness of the Oklahoma territory. The opening scene, which was a departure from usual theatrical formula at the time in which the play first hit Broadway, shows Aunt Eller (Susann Fletcher) churning butter while, from offstage Curly begins singing Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, which is as effective now as it must have been in 1943.

The sets which include a cabin, windmill, cornfield and a backdrop that seems to go on forever are constant reminders of the vastness of and challenges faced by those building a community on this new land.

The Farmer and the Cowmen
(Photos: Gary Ng)

The score is still as fresh as the morning dew on the cornfield. Stephen Mark Lukas and Taylor Quick in the leading roles combine the acting chops and voices that their parts demand. It is said that Rodgers and Hammerstein would cast singers who could act rather than the usual model of finding actors who could sing. I’m not sure what formula was used here, but it certainly works.

This production is based on the 1998 London revival, which ironically did not transfer directly to Broadway because Actors Equity demanded only American actors be allowed to play in it. The choreography by Susan Stroman is the same used in that revival, and is led here with some additions by choreographer Ginger Thatcher who has worked with Stroman. It is important this was handled well as Oklahoma! is as much a dance piece as it is the musical, and Ms Thatcher gets it done darn well.

The dream sequence ballet ending Act I is breathtaking.

The dream sequence Out Off My Dreams-Ballet ending Act I is breathtaking. Ms Thatcher along with this amazingly talented cast have given audiences a scene that will be talked about for years. Atmospheric, emotionally jarring, and just magnificent. At the performance I attended the audience was in awe as they stepped out for intermission.

The play, that at moments teeters on the brink of sentimentality but never goes over the edge also has a dark side to it. The character Judd who comes across as creepy and threatening, and with good reason, never fits in with the others. In all of the pieces I have read about the play I have not read any that show sympathy with him. In this production Timothy John Smith gives us all of the darkness of Judd, but also an undercurrent of how things may have been different if the others had made an effort to understand him. I’m reminded a bit of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. Could a sympathetic ear have made a difference? After all, early in the play it is Curly who shows a dark side when, in jealously over Judd’s escorting Laurey to the box social, he visits Judd and attempts to convince him to commit suicide (Poor Judd His Daid). While the song is funny it is also quite disturbing, and the Calibanish Judd sees through it. Not exactly an invite to join in with the community. Mr. Smith brings more complexity to this character then I have seen before, and he does it very subtly. Quite impressive.

All of the musical numbers are memorable with People Will Say We’re In Love, The Farmer And The Cowmen, The Surrey With Fringe On Top, and the finale Oklahoma! being particularly outstanding.

Taylor Quick and Stephen Mark Lukas
(Photo: Jay Goldsmith)

Oklahoma! is a wonderful musical but it is more. The story has many levels to it, and it is one that can make us think about the challenges of working together to build and maintain a community. In a way we are all farmers and cowmen who have to work on being friends. It is also a reminder that being able to get along does not mean not having differences, but instead to respect those differences. It also means striving to understand the outsider.

With cornfields that literally reach out to the actors, an unbeatable score, a cast that abounds with talent, lighting and scenery that are beyond impressive, this is a theatre experience not to be missed. Director Fred Hanson has pulled it all together and the Ogunquit Playhouse stage is the perfect theater to witness it in.

Every so often I like to remind my readers that the Ogunquit Playhouse is not summer theatre. It is a full blown theatrical company that rivals Broadway in quality. As is seen in Oklahoma!, you get top talent with a production team that knows how to out on a play. And, it all takes place in a beautiful and comfortable theater. If you haven’t been before, don’t hesitate to take a drive up to beautiful Ogunquit, Maine and see for yourself. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein would be pleased. You’ll leave the theater saying “Oklahoma!, You’re Okay!”

“Oklahoma!” Opening At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Bursts Onto the Ogunquit Playhouse Stage Just in Time to Celebrate its 75th Anniversary! 

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s great American classic Oklahoma! bursts onto the Ogunquit Playhouse stage June 13 to July 7. The Playhouse is thrilled to create an exciting new production of this beloved classic as part of its 75th Anniversary since first opening on Broadway. This groundbreaking musical was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, and in many ways their most innovative, having set standards for musical theatre that are still being followed today. The lively musical features the timeless classics, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and of course the triumphant “Oklahoma!”

“Now, with Oklahoma! celebrating its 75th Anniversary, it seemed the perfect time to bring this beloved classic to our stage. The Ogunquit Playhouse production will feature the original designs from Cameron Mackintosh’s London and Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, and Susan Stroman’s choreography, which will be tailored for our production by Susan Stroman’s Associate Ginger Thatcher. Our show will be helmed by Fred Hanson, who together with an outstanding cast will create a fresh, lively and exuberant Oklahoma!,” stated Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.

The high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys living in Western Indian Territory at the turn of the twentieth century, provide the colorful setting for Curly, the confident cowboy, (Stephen Mark Lukas) and Laurey, the beautiful, head-strong farm girl, (Taylor Quick) to play out their love story. Throw in a fierce rival vying for Laurey’s attention, one flirtatious fiancée, a reluctant suitor, magnificent choreography and one of the most beautiful musical scores ever written and you have a recipe for a rip-roaring good time! 

Individual tickets are on sale now with prices starting at $52. Three and four-show packages are also available for the current season. Gift certificates are also on sale. For tickets visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org, the Box Offices located at 102 and 10 Main Street, Ogunquit or call 207-646-5511.

The Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Schedule For Backstage Tours

 

Walk In The Footsteps Of Legends

By Bobby Franklin

If you have enjoyed sitting in the audience at the Ogunquit Playhouse marveling at all the happens on stage, don’t miss out on the chance tossup behind the scenes. The Playhouse has announced this seasons schedule for backstage tours.

I have taken the tour and it is something you will not forget. Walking in the footsteps of such legends as Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Walter Matthau, and Steve McQueen I could feel the presence of these and so many other greats who have performed on the stage in Ogunquit over the past 86 years. 

The guided tour will give you a chance to learn the history of the Ogunquit Playhouse which includes how it survived through the Great Depression and went on to become America’s foremost summer theatre. You will be up close to where it all happens from wig design to sets and costumes, and get to visit the dressing rooms where the stars prepare before stepping onto the stage. You’ll be surprised by some of the things you’ll see.

The tours are scheduled for the following dates: Fridays, June 22, August 3, 24, 31, and September 14, 21, and 28; Sundays, June 3, July 15, August 26, and September 16 and 30; and Mondays, June 4 and 18, and July 30. A 90 minute tour is $10.00. The abbreviated 60 minute tour is $5.00 Contact the Box Office at 207.646.5511 for more information.

I highly recommend doing this. It is a chance to step into theatre history.

(Photo Credit: Neil McMahon)

New York Bound Smokey Joes Cafe Set to Open the Ogunquit Playhouse 2018 Season

New Version Of The Hit Musical Opens May 16

 The Ogunquit Playhouse kicks off its 86th season with the all-new incarnation of the sizzling song and dance celebration Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller on stage May 16 to June 9. This exuberant production of the record breaking Broadway smash hit is directed and choreographed by Emmy Award-winner and Tony Award-nominee Josh Bergasse who will bring new life to more than 30 classic songs including “Stand by Me,” “I’m a Woman,” “Hound Dog,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak,” “Pearl’s a Singer,” “Treat Me Nice,” “There Goes My Baby,” “Love Potion #9,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Spanish Harlem.” The all-new production heads to Stage 42 (422 West 42nd Street, NYC) following its Ogunquit run. 

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the original producing team to create this fantastic show,” stated Executive Artistic Director, Bradford Kenney. “It has been our honor to work with Jack Viertel who conceived Smokey Joe’s Cafe with Stephen Helper and the New York producers, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Steven Baruch, and Marc Routh, who have made this collaboration possible. It has also been our honor to bring this incredible creative team to Ogunquit led by Director/Choreographer Josh Bergasse and Tony Award-winning designers Beowulf Borwitt and Jeff Croiter as well as Costume Designer Alejo Vietti and Sound Designer Peter Fitzgerald.” 

The original production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller made history as Broadway’s longest running musical revue, earned a Grammy Award and multiple Tony Award nominations. The show celebrates the best songs of the legendary songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and their generation-defining songs that climbed the Billboard charts and provided hit after hit for icons like Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters, and The Drifters.

The cast of this all-new production features Broadway and Off-Broadway veterans including, Dwayne Cooper, who appeared on Broadway in Motown and Hairspray, and the National Tours of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Showboat, and Seussical The Musical; Emma Degerstedt who was most recently seen in the lead role in the Off-Broadway musical, Desperate Measures; John Edwards, whose credits include the Broadway production and National Tour of Jersey Boys, In the Heights at The Kennedy Center and the National Tour of Hairspray; Dionne D. Figgins, who began her career as a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and has been seen on Broadway in Hot Feet, Memphis, Leap of Faith, and Motown. Also joining the cast are Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, who made her theatre debut as the leading lady in the Off-Broadway parody, Spamilton; Kyle Taylor Parker, who was most recently seen on NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” and the original Broadway productions of Kinky Boots and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Jelani Remy, who most recently starred as “Simba” in Broadway’s The Lion King; Max Sangerman, who starred in the first National tour of The Lightning Thief, as well as Blue Man Group Off-Broadway; and Alysha Umphress, who performed on Broadway in On the Town, American Idiot, and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, among others.

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse and features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Peter Fitzgerald, original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, and orchestrations by Steve Margoshes and Sonny Paladino. Music Supervision and new arrangements are also by Mr. Paladino. 

Box Office located at 142 Main Street, Ogunquit, 207-646-5511 or online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org

Ogunquit Playhouse Adds Jersey Boys To Its 2018 Season

Also Receives 17 IRNE Award Nominations
For 2017 Season

By Bobby Franklin

It is an exciting time for theatre goers who will be traveling the short distance to Ogunquit, Maine this summer to attend performances during the 86th season at the legendary Ogunquit Playhouse. In addition to an already fabulous lineup that includes productions of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Oklahoma!, An American In Paris, and Grumpy Old Men, Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney has announced that the Northeast regional premiere of Jersey Boys will cap off the season. The hit show featuring the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons will run from September 5 to October 28. Tickets will certainly be in demand for this one.

This is as fine a lineup as I have seen from the amazing creative team at the Playhouse and will certainly be an enjoyable way to mix the theatre experience in with all of the other wonderful things the Ogunquit area has to offer for summer fun.

I’ve been covering the Ogunquit Playhouse for a number of years now, and while no theater is able to bat 1000, the creative team under the very able leadership of Brad Kenney hits the ball to the fences much more often then not and has a very strong record of home runs to its credit. This is as close to Broadway quality as you will find outside of New York City, and I have to say some productions I have seen surpass those on the Great White Way.

Vincent Pastore (Nick Valente) and Reed Campbell (Cheech) With Ensemble

The Playhouse has received 17 award nominations from Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) for 2017. Five nominations go to Bullets Over Broadway. It been nominated for Best Musical, In addition, Reed Campbell is up for Best Actor for his role as Cheech, and Sally Struthers for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Eden Bent. Jeff Whiting is up for two awards, Best Choreography and Best Director.

Christopher Ash has been nominated for Best Production Design for his work on From Here To Eternity.

Cast of Ragtime
(Photo: Gary Ng)

Ragtime has been nominated for eleven IRNE Awards including Best Musical, Best Ensemble, and Best Director to Seth Sklar-Heyn. Jeffrey Campos for Best Music Director, Kevin Heard for Sound Design, and Jesse Robb for Best Choreography. Kirsten Scott is nominated as Best Actress for her role as Mother, and Best Supporting Actor nomination goes to Julian Decker for his performance as Little Brother. Josh Young and Darnell Abraham both have been nominated for a Best Actor Award parts, Decker for his role as Tateh, and Abraham for Coalhouse. And finally, my favorite, Tyler Wladis who has been nominated as Most Promising Young Performer for his outstanding performance as The Young Boy.

Brad Kenney

Bradford Kenney, Executive Artistic Director at the Ogunquit Playhouse said, “To be recognized once again by the IRNE nominating committee alongside some of New England’s leading theatres is a great honor. We are extremely proud of our beautiful production of Ragtime, the hilarious Bullets Over Broadway and of our regional premiere of From Here to Eternity. Congratulations to our exceptional creative teams and casts who made our 85th Anniversary season a success. We want to extend our congratulations to all nominees who have been recognized by the IRNE Awards.”

The awards ceremony will take place on April 23 at the 1200 Hotel in Brookline, Ma and will be an exciting time for all involved. Pass the envelope please.

www.Ogunquitplayhouse.org  207.646.5511

A Powerful Musical In Ogunquit

From Here To Eternity: A New Musical
The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

James Jones was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He had enlisted in the U.S. Army before the war and was stationed in Hawaii in what seemed like a world away from the war raging in Europe that threatened to include the United States. Army life even before the war was not easy. Many of those who enlisted were living very difficult lives in Depression Era America and looked at the Army as being a way out.

Derek Carley and Company
(Photo Credit: Gary Ng)

Jones wrote about his experiences during this time in the novel From Here to Eternity, which was later made into an Academy Award winning movie. The novel was a no holds barred look at Army life during that period. It was not pretty. The movie shows much, but not all, of what Jones wrote. Now, a musical play with lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Stuart Brayson, and book Donald Rice & Bill Oakes presents us with a work that is much closer to the original novel. It is a painful story but it is told with understanding and sympathy for those involved. All the characters are based on people James Jones knew while serving.

The set at the Ogunquit Playhouse is atmospheric. With large palm trees and multiple levels with lattice work that reaches to the ceiling the beauty of Hawaii is felt but with a dark overtone. Subtle set changes along with images being projected on the walls are used to set the different moods and they are used well.

Kevin Aichele and Company
(Photo Credit: Gary Ng)

The score is outstanding and hits hard and fast with the opening number G Company Blues. The choreography is tight and very physical, conveying the hard life these men lived. Other songs such as Thirty Year Man, Don’cha Like Hawaii, and I Love The Army. Something In Return is an amazing number that was superbly done. It allows us to experience the hope and despair of those stationed on the island as well as the women who share this difficult life. These women include prostitutes and the wife of an ambitious and cruel officer.

Those familiar wth the book and/or movie will quickly recognize most of the characters. If not, they will quickly become known to you. The outstanding cast plays each as their own, and with their solid acting and beautiful voices make this a very powerful work indeed.

The story of cruelty and the misuse of power hardly seems the material for a musical but it works and works well here. With an outstanding cast led by Derek Carley as Private Prewitt and Kevin Aichele in the role of Sargent Warden the pain and struggles of these individuals is brought to life in a way that is both painful to watch but done with tenderness and compassion.

Robyn Hurder plays Karen Holmes the abused wife of the ambitious but weak Captain Dana Holmes played by Bradley Dean. They make the ugliness of such a marriage almost too real, but it is necessary. We do get to see the tender side of Karen in her scenes with Sargent Warden with whom she is having an affair. And for those who might be wondering how the famous beach scene from the movie is recreated, I will just say this is not a staging of the movie; however, the emotions from that iconic movie movement are captured here.

Michael Tacconi and Reed Campbell
(Photo Credit: Gary Ng)

The wise cracking Private Angelo Maggio has been cast perfectly with Michael Tocconi in the role. His rendition of I Love The Army is heart wrenching. Reed Campbell returns to the Ogunquit stage after his outstanding performance in Bullets Over Broadway, and proves that he was no one shot wonder. He again shows his amazing talent as the sadistic Sargent Fatso Judson. By the time Judson gets what is coming to him there is nobody in the house who feels sympathy for him.

Jenna Nicole Schoen plays the prostitute Lorene that Private Prewitt falls for. She has a beautiful voice and is wonderful in her part. Ms Schoen captures in her character a loving woman who has had to turn her feelings off in order to survive in a hard world. Private Prewitt manages to break through the wall she has put up. Jodi Kimura as Sandra, the madame of the local brothel, conveys the combination of a jaded life along with
compassion and understanding.

The finale with the attack on Pearl Harbor is spectacular with slow motion sequences from the actors as well as magnificent use of the projection equipment that brings the audience into that infamous day. It also shows us how life has been transformed by world events and the tragic consequences of people who wield their power, no matter how small, over others with cruelty that result in such horrific consequences. The song The Boys of 41 which is reprised at the end of the play is poignant and moving as we see the names of those who gave their lives projected onto the walls of the theatre.

I do have to mention the amazing job Richard Latta has done with the lighting for this production. The subtle changes are so very effective in setting the mood for the different scenes.

From Here To Eternity at the Ogunquit Playhouse is truly an experience not to be missed. Artistic Director Brad Kenney has closed out the Playhouse’s 85th season in spectacular fashion.

Just a final note. This is not a play that would be appropriate for children. It does handle the serous themes in a tasteful way but I believe it could be disturbing for children.

From Here To Eternity: A New Musical
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
Through October 29
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

Ogunquit Playhouse to Stage From Here to Eternity

North American Rollout Of New Musical 

Runs October 4 through 29

The Ogunquit Playhouse is honored to be part of the North American rollout of the new musical From Here to Eternity, on stage October 4 through 29. The musical is based on the acclaimed novel (which also became a multi-Academy Award-winning film), by James Jones with lyrics by Tim Rice, book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes and music by Stuart Brayson. As part of its development path to Broadway, Sir Tim Rice is collaborating with the Ogunquit creative team to mount this compelling new musical set in Hawaii in the weeks before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. “The epic story by WWII veteran James Jones, From Here to Eternity, is one of the most searing, honest and romantic views of the men and women who served our country during World War II. The way in which this story had to be told more than 60 years ago due to censorship, softened some of the reality of military life at that time. Today, we are able to tell the story as it was originally intended, revealing the grit and intrigue of military life that Mr. Jones experienced. It has been a great honor to collaborate with Sir Tim Rice, Donald Rice, Brett Smock and our entire creative team on this new musical adaptation to tell this iconic American story in a new way,” said Ogunquit Playhouse Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.
This epic tale follows the powerful story of two U.S soldiers, the soulful Private Prewitt played by Derek Carley and ardent Sergeant Warden, played by Kevin Aichele, as they embark on doomed and dangerous love affairs with the wrong women. The sultry wife of G Company’s commanding officer, Karen Holmes, is played by Robyn Hurder, and Lorene, the beautiful escort who is looking to make a better life for herself, is played by Jenna Nicole Schoen. As the infamous date of December 7th approaches, the claustrophobic world of the four lovers and the desperation of the soldiers of G Company splinter amidst an escalating war. The compelling story of men at war along with a fantastic new score is not to be missed.
Returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse is Bradley Dean as Captain Dana Holmes, commanding officer of G Company. Mr. Dean last appeared in 2016’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as Frollo, for which he was nominated for an Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award for Best Actor in a Musical. On Broadway he has starred in numerous productions including Dear Evan Hansen, A Little Night Music, The Last Ship, Doctor Zhivago, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Story of My Life, Evita, and Man of La Mancha.

Kevin Aichele (First Sergeant Milton Warden) most recently portrayed Warden in the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival production of From Here to Eternity. Some of his selected credits include, Sam in Mamma Mia!, Captain Von Trapp in Sound of Music, and Javert in Les Miserables. Derek Carley (Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt) regional credits include Ghost, Daddy Long Legs, Titanic, Big, and Gay Bride of Frankenstein, and he was in the first National Tour of Flashdance. Robyn Hurder (Karen Holmes) returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse after previously starring as Norma Cassidy in 2015’s Victor/Victoria. On Broadway she has performed in Nice Work if You Can Get It, Grease, Chicago, Wedding Singer, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ms. Hurder starred in NYCC Encores! productions of The New Yorkers, and Paint Your Wagon, as well as Off-Broadway in Play It Cool. She was in the National Tours of A Chorus Line, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and Starlight Express. Jenna Nicole Schoen (Lorene) recently appeared in the National Tour of Jersey Boys. Her regional theatre credits include CATS and Monty Python’s Spamalot at Pittsburgh CLO, Theory of Relativity at Goodspeed Opera House, and La Cage Aux Folles at Theatre By The Sea. Michael Tacconi (Private Angelo Maggio) is reprising his role from the Finger Lakes production of From Here to Eternity, and recently portrayed Nick in New World Stage’s Bare. Mr. Tacconi has also appeared on television on ABC’s The Family, and LMN’s I Love You…But I Lied. Reed Campbell returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Sergeant James Judson. He was seen earlier this season in his critically acclaimed performance as the hit-man “Cheech” in Bullets Over Broadway. Mr. Campbell was Cookie McGee in the National Tour of Nice Work If You Can Get It, and performed off-Broadway in Important Hats Of The Twentieth Century at the Manhattan Theatre Club, in The Comedy Of Errors at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park, and regionally as Judas Iscariot in Stage 773’s The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot.
www.ogunquitplayhouse.org 207-646-5511.

There’s Good Rockin’ In Ogunquit!

Heartbreak Hotel
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through September 30th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The early years of Elvis Presley are too often overlooked. Most Presley impersonators portray the Elvis of the Vegas stage years wearing capes and sequined jump suits. At this later point in his life the drug use was really beginning to show, and the rock icon was becoming a tragic figure. The hard living would result in his untimely death at the age of 42. It is unfortunate it is this Elvis who is most often portrayed

Photo Credit: Gary Ng

While the Las Vegas Elvis fits into the much too often tragedy of a great talent taken down by his own success, the more interesting story lies in his early years. This is where Floyd Mutrux, the creator of the Tony Award winning Million Dollar Quartet, which played to sold out crowds at the Ogunquit Playhouse the past two seasons, has stepped in to tell the truly fascinating story of Presley’s early life.

Heartbreak Hotel is a prequel to Million Dollar Quartet and focuses on the Sun Records years of the young truck driver who would skyrocket to fame overnight.

The world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel is now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It is an interesting production to watch as it is still a work in progress. The music is positively outstanding with all of the actors playing their own instruments.

Clendening captures the persona of the young Elvis.

Eddie Clendening who originated the role of Presley in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet is not an Elvis impersonator. He brings much more to the stage than just imitating the rock icon. Clendening captures the persona of the young Elvis. Most impressively, he is able to rock out with the raw energy of Presley while always retaining that shyness that made him so charming. While ripping out on songs such as Good Rockin’ Tonight with hips swiveling and lip twitching we see that young boy who still seems just a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight even while he is thriving on it. Clendening really pulls this off and it is no easy task to do so. This is as close as you will come to experiencing the young Elvis, a paradoxical figure who was shy and yet craved attention.

Photo Credit: Gary Ng

The story is not just about Elvis but also about the era. It was an amazing and transformational time in music and there are cameos from many of the other great performers of the time. These include Wanda Jackson (Brenna Bloom) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe played by Terita Redd who deserves an Amen! for her amazing rock/gospel singing.

Geno Henderson nearly steals the show playing numerous greats including Chuck Berry and Nat King Cole. Mr. Henderson moves seamlessly through his parts.

The interplay between Colonel Tom Parker (Jerry Kernion) and Sam Phillips (Matt McKenzie) creates a tension with Parker seeing Presley as a product and Phillips recognizing him as a great artist. It leaves us wondering just what would have happened if Presley had decided to remain with Phillips.

Yes, this play is a work in progress with the musical numbers, the sets, the lighting, all outstanding. I don’t think this time of Elvis Presley’s life has ever been captured so well. Where the production is weak is in the book. The early life of this seemingly simple southern boy is a very complex story. It is a huge challenge to try to capture even a very condensed version of all that went on in those early years while still focusing on the music. What I saw on the stage in Ogunquit is a great start to what can be a wonderful and important story. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

There are more than a couple of reasons to see Heartbreak Hotel. First, watching Eddie Clendening as the young Elvis is a truly great experience. He really gets it. Second, while this is a work that is still being developed it is fascinating to be a part of the process as I am sure the writer and director are taking the pulse of the audiences. It might not be a bad idea for them to have suggestion boxes placed at the exits. I know I would have contributed a few.

Heartbreak Hotel takes us back to one of the most incredible eras in the history of American music. It is just amazing when you realize how fast things changed. It was an exciting time that lives on in music through this day. It’s rather ironic that Colonel Parker chose to take Elvis to Hollywood and Vegas as he didn’t believe Rock N Roll was going to last. Sam Phillips knew better.

ogunquitplayhouse.org  207.646.5511

 

Ogunquit Playhouse Set to Stage the World Premiere of Heartbreak Hotel

The Story Of Elvis Presley’s Early Years To Run August 30 though September 20

From the creator of Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, the Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to produce the World Premiere of Heartbreak Hotel, as part of its 85th anniversary season, on stage August 30 to September 30. This brand new musical tells the story of Elvis Presley’s journey from an unknown musician to the cusp of his super-stardom. This new musical features hit songs from the King himself, as well as the legends who influenced his iconic music, with chart-toppers including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Tutti Frutti,” “That’s All Right,” “Shake Rattle and Roll,” and, of course, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Executive Artistic Director Bradford T. Kenney stated, “Throughout this year I have had the privilege of working very closely with Floyd Mutrux, the creator of the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet on its prequel, Heartbreak Hotel, now making its premiere on our stage. It has been an incredible journey working hand in hand with Floyd, the commercial partners, and Authentic Brands Group/Elvis Presley Enterprises, to bring the rich story and music of Elvis to life. Elvis became one of the great icons of our popular culture. He made a lasting imprint on our society, and his career changed the course of popular music, not only in our country, but around the world – all during a time of great change in America. I am thrilled that Ogunquit audiences will be the first to see this exciting new show.”

Eddie Clendening

This brand new tribute to the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” features actors who also play all their own instruments. It stars Eddie Clendening in the role of Elvis Presley, as well as Co-Musical Director. Mr. Clendening originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, which he played for 1500 performances, and later Off-Broadway for 523 performances. He will recreate the role for this tender story that follows Elvis Presley in the early years of his bourgeoning career as he and Sam Phillips create the music that will forever change their lives. As Elvis’ career skyrockets, both lifting and shattering the lives of those he loves, a secret love story is revealed, a betrayal is discovered, and “Colonel” Tom Parker changes the course of history. When describing the show, Writer/Director Floyd Mutrux explained, “This is the story of 18 months of the life of a truck driver, and how he and his music impacted the world around him.”

Jerry Kernion makes his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s long-time manager. Mr. Kernion has performed around the world with The Reduced Shakespeare Company for the last 15 years; many regional and international productions including Cirque du Soliels’ The Beatles, LOVE, Cirque du Soliels’ Banana Shpeel; and various shows at regional theatres including Laguna Playhouse, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, and many more.

Joining the cast as Sam Phillips, the record producer who founded Sun Records and is credited with discovering Elvis Presley, is Matt McKenzie. He recently debuted on Broadway in Monday After the Miracle with Jane Alexander, directed by Arthur Penn. He’s played leading roles at many regional theatres across the country. In the Academy Award-winning film Gods and Monsters, he played Colin Clive opposite Sir Ian McKellan.

Also returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse is Christopher Sutton who will portray Dewey Phillips, one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s early disc jockeys. He was last seen on the Ogunquit stage as Prince Herbert in Spamalot.

Los Angeles music scene veteran Geno Henderson serves as Co-Music Director and also appears as B.B. King, Ike Turner and Chuck Berry in this production. Mr. Henderson is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, who has toured, recorded and/or made television with: The Gap Band (featuring Charlie Wilson), The Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, Roberta Flack, James Ingram and Patti Austin (at Carnagie Hall), Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, and many others. In 2011, he made his Broadway debut originating the role of Jocko Henderson in the musical Baby It’s You.

Bassist Nathan Yates Douglass returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Bill Black, one of the pioneers of Rock ‘n’ Roll music and bassist in Elvis Presley’s trio in the early days of his career. He was last seen on the Ogunquit stage in the 2016 production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Million Dollar Quartet. His National Tour credits include The Buddy Holly Story and The Tammy Wynette Story, and Off-Broadway On the Bum.

Drummer Jamie Pittle will perform as DJ Fontana, a drummer for the Louisiana Hayride radio broadcasts and Elvis Presley’s drummer for fifteen years. Mr. Pittle appeared Off-Broadway in the US Premiere of Missed Connections and Requiem for a Lost Girl. In regional theatres he has appeared in Million Dollar Quartet as Fluke, and The Buddy Holly Story as Jerry Allison. Guitarist Matt Codina will make his acting debut in Heartbreak Hotel as Scotty Moore, the guitarist and recording engineer who was known for backing Elvis Presley in the first part of his career, up to the beginning of Elvis’s Hollywood years.

Brenna Bloom portrays Marion and the queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. She has performed Off-Broadway in One Day and in regional theatres in such productions as Spring Awakening, Chicago, Grease and A Chorus Line. Erin Burniston plays Elvis’ girlfriend Dixie Lock. She recently performed in the National Tour of Spring Awakening and in regional theatre productions of Gypsy, La Cage Aux Folles, Hello, Dolly!, George M!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and many more.

Director and writer for Heartbreak Hotel is Floyd Mutrux, who is the co-author of the Tony award-winning Million Dollar Quartet and the co-author/director of the Tony nominated Broadway production of Baby It’s You!

Individual tickets are on sale and prices start at $52 each.  www.ogunquitplayhouse.org  Box Office: 207-646-5511.

The Hitmen Have A Hit In Ogunquit

Bullets Over Broadway

Ogunquit Playhouse

Through July 29

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Early in Bullets Over Broadway now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse playwright David Shayne and a group of artist friends are discussing a hypothetical situation; If a building was burning down and the choice had to be made to save a person or the last remaining copy of the works of Shakespeare what would you choose to do? Shane and most of his friends said they would save the Shakespeare, as art was more important than the life of just one person. Later in the play he would be tested on this question and find the decision to be a bit more complicated.

Photo by Jay Goldsmith

Bullets Over Broadway is adapted from the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same. It has been turned into a musical, and after seeing both the movie and this fine production I have concluded it should have been a musical from the outset.

It does not have an original score. The music consists of catchy tunes from the period between World War I and II. Some of the songs will be familiar to the audience and some are fairly obscure. The music adds an atmosphere that was missing in the movie. It works and works well.

Playwright David Shayne, played with just the right amount of angst and comedy by the very talented John Rochette, has agreed reluctantly to compromise some of his artistic integrity by allowing the girlfriend of mob boss Nick Valenti to have a role in his play in exchange for having the gangster bankroll the production. Vincent Pastore, reprising his role from the original Broadway version of Bullets, is ideal as the man who takes time between musical numbers such as Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You sung to his ditzy girlfriend Olive played by Jemma Jane, to order hits on his enemies.

Photo by Gary Ng

Ms Jane is a hoot when she sings The Hot Dog Song, a saucy piece filled with double entendres and some interesting moves on her part. She appears to relish her role as the not so bright Olive. It is all such fun.

Reed Campbell is positively outstanding as Cheech, (“Not Mr. Cheech, it’s just Cheech.”), Valenti’s top hitman, who has been charged with keeping an eye on Olive as she attends rehearsals for the play. Cheech still finds time to make a hit while tending to Olive. There is an interesting scene where he and an accomplice take a victim for a ride while singing Up A Lazy River. Sure, it’s morbid, but it is also very funny.

Meanwhile, Shayne seems to be at peace with the deal he has made now that leading lady Helen Sinclair (Michele Ragusa) has agreed to star in his play. That peace is soon disrupted when he hears Olive rehearsing her lines with a voice that makes him cringe. He lights up the stage with I’m Sitting On Top Of The World. Mr. Rochette shows great chops as a song and dance man as he moves about the stage. He is very good.

Ms Ragusa does a fabulous job as the aging diva with a touch of Sunset Boulevard mixed in. Using an overly dramatic theatrical voice she is funny without becoming a caricature. She and Mr. Rochette are delightful singing There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway.

This is musical theatre at it’s best. It is the Ogunquit Playhouse at its best.

One of the high points of the play, and there are many, is when Cheech and his fellow gangsters perform the song and dance number, Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do, Reed Campbell was absolutely fantastic with this high energy number and had many in the audience on their feet by the end. Campbell is an amazing talent who time and again wowed the crowd at the Playhouse.

In this interesting and funny story we see Cheech taking over authorship of the play as Shayne has to deal with having compromised his artistic integrity. Along the way we are treated to dancing hot dogs, an amazing set consisting of New York City rooftops, a train, vintage car, an actor who is also a compulsive eater who gives new meaning to growing into a part, and wonderful lighting. We are also gifted with the amazing Sally Struthers as Eden Brent who appears with her dog who also displays great acting ability. Ms Struthers take the stage in Ogunquit each season and never disappoints. She is the master of comedic timing.

This production is directed by Jeff Whiting who worked closely with Susan Stroman on the original production. He has recreated that direction and choreography for this show.

I want to add that both John Rochette and Reed Campbell are extraordinarily talented young actors. Having them share the stage with such experienced actors as Vincent Pastore and Sally Struthers is great to see. Both of these men have promising careers ahead of them. I could also say this about the entire cast. Everyone was wonderful. You could just feel the energy and excitement as it spilled into the audience. This is musical theatre at it’s best. It is the Ogunquit Playhouse at its best.

I rarely am disappointed by a show at the Playhouse, though there have been a few that aren’t on my see again list. But, the vast majority are extremely good. Bullets Over Broadway ranks as one of the best I have ever seen there. I strongly recommend you get to Ogunquit and see this production. I have a feeling tickets will be selling fast so I would not hesitate.

Oh, David Shayne finds he has a different answer to the question of whether or not to choose Shakespeare over the life of a human being when he is faced by the choice Cheech makes with dealing with Olive dragging the play down. It turns out Cheech has more artistic integrity, but David has found his humanity.

Bullets Over Broadway
Though July 29
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511