Theatre in Review

Simply said, First Folio’s latest production hits on all cylinders. Women in Jeopardy, currently performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, is a sharp comedy that successfully lands a very high percentage of its humor with the audience thanks in part to its funny script with plenty of the credit going to the play’s dynamic cast that makes good comic timing look much too easy. Written by Wendy MacLeod, who penned The House of Yes, Schoolgirl Figure and Things Being What They Are, Women in Jeopardy grabs the audience within minutes and refuses to let go.

The story revolves three forty-something women, Mary, Jo and Liz, who, having been longtime best friends, have supported each other during their divorces and now look out for each other – like best friends should. Perhaps it would have been just another day, but when a dental hygienist goes missing from the parking lot of Liz’ new boyfriend, Jackson’s, dental practice, Mary and Jo quickly piece together a series of circumstantial evidence and jump to their own conclusion. Suspecting Jackson as the abductor, Mary and Jo still need to exercise caution not wanting to outright accuse him in front of Liz while, at the same time, wanting to protect her. When Liz’ daughter and her spacey boyfriend get into the mix, the story jumps to another level of hilarity. Women in Jeopardy is a whodunnit that keeps you laughing as much as guessing.

Amy Montgomery (Mary), Lydia Berger Gray (Jo) and Melanie Keller (Liz) are dynamite – and very funny - as the three besties, displaying strong chemistry together making their friendship highly believable. Hayley Burgess puts forth a strong performance as Amanda while Chris Vizurraga is also well cast as Amanda’s dopey snowboard shop-working boyfriend, Trenner, who hilariously crushes badly for Mary. Stealing many well-deserved laughs is Joe Foust, who doubles as both Jackson and the town sheriff, Kirk. Women in Jeopardy goes to the perfect height of comedy without go so over the top that witty humor becomes sheer silliness.

Fiercely directed by Janice L. Blixt, Women in Jeopardy is a finely-crafted and superbly-acted comedy that delivers consistent laughs and just the right amount of intrigue. If you're looking for a great way to spend a delightfully entertaining evening during the Valentine's season, look no further. 

Highly recommended.

Women in Jeopardy is being performed at Mayslake Peabody Estate through February 25th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 13 September 2016 14:39

Paramount's Mamma Mia! About As Fun As it Gets

The plot is simple enough. Donna Sheridan raises her daughter Sophie now twenty-years-old, on a Greek island where she runs a small island resort. Sophie, about to get married, wants to be walked down the aisle by her father. Problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is. A bit of snooping through her mother’s diary offers three possibilities, leading her to invite each to her wedding, much to her mother’s chagrin as Bill Austin (Steve O’Connell), Harry Bright (Michael Gillis) and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Diebold) show up to the island where Sophie figures to find out which is her real father. Again, the plot isn’t very complicated. But we do not see Mamma Mia! for its plot, we see it because it’s Abba charged soundtrack is fun, the set and costumes are colorful, the dance numbers are contagious and the show has a good share of laughs. Simple, light and fun - the perfect anecdote to escape from the daily, or not-so-daily, doldrums so many of us endure, if even for two hours and twenty minutes.

 

Currently running at Paramount Theater in Aurora, we get a production equipped with a slightly different set from the traditional Mamma Mia! look fans have come to known, and it works quite well. Accompanied by a full backdrop flooded with video projections of waves gently making their way to the shoreline and trees with leaves softly blowing in the wind, it’s easy to get lost in the rich island atmosphere. Though the set design limits the larger dance numbers, this production makes it work with its own unique choreography that rivals most other presentations. 

 

A strong ensemble bolsters a capable cast, the musical numbers strongest during choruses or added backing vocals. Though Amy Montgomery as Donna can carry a tune, her voice is just enough to warrant her taking on the leading role. However, she is often strengthened by surrounding cast members during harmonies, and by the way – the harmonies throughout the show are fantastic across the board! But Montgomery clearly has the personality and charisma for the role, overall making her casting sensible. Donna’s two sidekicks Tanya (Jennifer Knox) and Ali (Sara Sevigny) are wonderfully played, each character getting their respective laughs and admirably tackling their vocal duties. Sevigny truly shines as Ali during her duet with Bill, “Take A Chance On Me” displaying a great sense of comic timing (as well as O’Connell), while Knox hits one out of the park in her gritty number “Does Your Mother Know” showing off her dancing prowess in a heated exchange with Pepper, the young flirt who has eyes for her since her arrival to the island. 

 

We can easily buy into Dieblod, Gillis and O’Connell as Donna’s three past love interests, each also adding to the production with fine vocal offerings and just the right touch of physical humor. Diebold is no stranger to the role of Sam Carmichael having toured with Mamma Mia! on the Broadway North American Tour.    

 

Still, you can’t have a successful production of Mamma Mia! without a strong Sophie, and Kiersten Frumkin is just that. Vocally on par for each of her many numbers, Frumkin is able to capture the essence of Sophie, projecting a true sense of wonder, hope and elation into her role, creating a believable twenty-year-old optimist that we can’t help but relate with and root for. 

 

Though Mamma Mia! is far from a profound life lesson, it does promote self-acceptance in many ways and leaves us with hope that past mistakes can sometimes be corrected, even if twenty years later. 

 

With one Abba hit after another Mamma Mia! grabs its audience from its opening number “I Have a Dream” and doesn't let go until after its finely built crescendo finale number “Waterloo”, where each seat in the theater is now empty due to its occupants dancing and clapping along with the cast. 

 

Mamma Mia! is the feel good night out everyone can use to take in some great music and have some healthy laughs that will have audience members wanting to do it all over again. Mamma Mia! is being performed at Paramount Theatre through October 30th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.paramountaurora.com. 

 

As Sophie sings along with Bill, Harry and Sam, “Thank you for the music”.

Recommended.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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