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Past Show Reviews

South Pacific

APRIL 20, 2015
South Pacific
Westfield Theatre Group, Westfield, MA
by Michael J. Moran

In a program book note, director Bill Stroud cites the line “Most people live on a lonely island” from South Pacific’s signature ballad “Bali Hai” as a touchstone for his moving production of this 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which highlights the darker side of the story and gives its lighter moments an antic edge.

Based on James Michener’s short story collection “Tales of the South Pacific”, the show focuses on two romances: between a middle-aged French-born owner of an island plantation, Emile de Becque, and an Arkansas-born nurse, Nellie Forbush, on a World War II military base in the South Pacific; and between American lieutenant Joseph Cable and the dark-skinned daughter, Liat, of local entrepreneur Bloody Mary. Another entrepreneur, Seabee Luther Billis, provides comic relief.

The large cast of 29 singing actors is consistently passionate and engaged. Drew Gilbert’s Emile has a quiet dignity and emotional transparency. Few scenes are more powerful than the devastation in his eyes at Nellie’s last departure in Act I. Amy Meek is a touching and resilient Nellie, who makes her struggle to accept de Becque’s mixed race children poignant and believable.

Matt O’Reilly brings anger and manic intensity to Cable. Even his big ballad, “Younger than Springtime,” expresses more angst than romance, and “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” is contemptuous of his privileged and prejudiced upbringing. Ryan Peloquin’s Billis is hilarious as “Honey Bun” and affectingly tender in his scenes with Nellie, but more unhinged and dangerous than usual in his interactions with his officers and fellow sailors.

The standout vocal performance is Jami Witherell’s forceful Bloody Mary, whose melting “Bali Hai” and feather-light “Happy Talk” are musical highlights. And her comic timing with Billis and his mates is a hoot. The choral work of the ensemble is impressive throughout, the men in “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and the women in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.”

The hardworking eleven-piece band at stage left is appropriately bedecked with nurses’ or sailors’ caps. This entertaining South Pacific will delight and instruct audiences of all ages.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

OCTOBER 23, 2014
Westfield Theatre Group, Westfield, MA
by Mary Ann Dennis

With a mental ward standing in for everyday society, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is insane (in a good way). Based on Ken Kesey's novel and directed by Jake Golen with depth and understanding, this is a comically sharp indictment to urge establishment to conform. Playing crazy to avoid prison work detail, manic but free spirit Randle P. McMurphy, played by Carl Schwarzenbach, is sent to the state mental hospital for evaluation. There he encounters a motley crew of mostly voluntary inmates, all presided over by the icy Nurse Ratched.

Ratched and McMurphy recognize that each is the other's worst enemy: an authority figure who equates sanity with correct behavior, and a misfit who is charismatic enough to dismantle the system simply by living as he pleases. Schwarzenbach as McMurphy is stellar. His approach to this boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel is performed with finesse. He commands the stage and is a delight to watch. Janine Flood’s Nurse Ratched is passive-aggressive in shining armor. Flood’s approach is sterile and self-controlled which “works” for the character. Flood’s interpretation is consistent and valid, but a bit more whimsical playfulness would make a proper ingredient to the syrup manipulations.

The evidence of Ratched’s authority is shown in the lobotomized character of Ruckly, played by Paul Bridge. Although few lines are delivered, Bridge pulls off the idiosyncrasies, twitches, and outbursts so believably that the audience is mesmerized. Bridge makes his acting debut with this production and is sensational in this intricate and most necessary role.

Thomas LeCourt is successful as Dale Harding, a man simply trying to figure why, what and how but is scared and has been shut down from life. Kevin Montemagni exuberantly puts himself into the role of Scanlon – a paranoid bomb-making maniac. Martini, played by John Kielb, is perfect for his role. Rob Clark's Chief evokes unexpected compassion from his audience.

McMurphy's message to live free or die is ultimately not lost on the “inmates,” revealing that escape is still possible even from the most oppressive conditions. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story's shocking climax. This is an intricate show; a display of life and the conflicts everyone faces.

Guys and Dolls Review

Westfield Theater Group, Westfield, 
by Eric Johnson

What's playin' at the Roxy? A tight, well rehearsed, energetic and thoroughly entertaining production of "Guys and Dolls". That's what's playin' at the Roxy!

First time director John Farrell and seasoned music director George Garber Jr. work well together. The casting choices, including a few bold ones, serve this production admirably. Farrell's objective to keep it simple, using projections along with a few easy to move set pieces, keeps the scene changes short and the action flowing. Garber leads a 10-piece band through the score by Frank Loesser with deft precision and an ear for detail that sets a very high bar for a community theatre produced musical. All of the instruments and voices blend together so well that the balance rivals that of a recording, and all of this at a very comfortable volume.

The members of the ensemble cast, unfortunately too numerous to mention everyone by name, work together like a well-tuned and oiled machine, a machine with some mad vocal skills as well. Soloists and chorus alike bring some lovely voices to the party.
Stand out performances from supporting roles come from Pat McMahon as Nicely Nicely Johnson; his timing and physical comedic ability are quite entertaining. Paired with Jay Torres as Benny, the two elicit belly laughs galore from the receptive opening night audience. Rick Buzzee contributes a wonderful, grounded performance as Arvide; his solo "More I Cannot Wish You" is a wonderful moment.

Lead performers Tom LeCourt as Nathan, Martina Haskins as Adelaide, Carl Schwarzenbach as Sky and Lyndsey Ryder as Sarah, all work very well together. LeCourt is not subtle in his portrayal of Nathan, creating some hilarious moments. Schwarzenbach's Sky is a bit more subdued, adding a contrast between the two inveterate gamblers. The chemistry between Schwarzebach's Sky and Ryders' Sarah works nicely. A bit more range of emotion from the Sarah character would be welcome, especially in the duet with Adelaide. Which leads to the strongest performance of the evening; Martina Haskins as Adelaide slams it home with poise, talent, and skill. The emotional range in "Adelaide's Lament" is both heart wrenching and hilarious at the same time. The chemistry between Nathan and Adelaide is there, especially in "Sue Me" .

Kudos to cast and crew for putting together a polished and enjoyable show.


OCTOBER 28, 2013
Westfield Theater Group, Westfield, MA
by Eric Johnson

Community theatre: a full time hobby and passion for those involved, and an opportunity to see our family, friends, and neighbors do something they love.

Creating a musical comedy from a story is quite an undertaking, and finding the laughs in Bram Stokers chilling 1897 Gothic horror novel is not a challenge to be taken lightly. The team of Kathleen Palmer and Marion Dunk of Westfield Theater Group rose to the occasion and did just that: wrote a comical, family-friendly take on the original vampire story.

The cast of 30+ actors, comprised of WTG veterans and some newcomers, all appeared to be having a wonderful experience on the stage, working together to create an evening of entertainment for an enthusiastic audience. Special kudos to Jay Torres for stepping into the lead role, and doing an admirable job of it, with only a few days notice. Generally, there are no understudies in community theatre, so the company prays to the theatre deities to keep all healthy through the run. Most of the time they come through, but not always.

"Dracula's band is ably led by composer/music director Marion Dunk through the 25 (give or take) musical numbers that drive the 2 hour 40 minute show. Several of the numbers are plainly exposition, such as "Woman's Work," a solo for Keri Klee (role of Mina). No crime there however, as this is oftentimes done in professional theatre as well.

A bit of scene stealing is good for some memorable comic moments courtesy of Gene Choquette (Van Helsing), Carol Palmer (Cneaja), Rock Palmer (Sam), and John Farrel (Quincy).

For those seeking some enjoyable, family friendly Halloween entertainment, Westfield Theater Group's family, friends, and neighbors provide it with "Dracula."

Gypsy (Spring 2011)

Westfield Theatre Group
Westfield Woman's Club, Westfield, MA
by Vickie Phillips

An ambitious task was undertaken by Westfield Theatre Group mounting the Tony award-winning Broadway Musical "Gypsy," pulling out all the stops with 31 cast members, 18 production staff and a dynamite orchestra with Music Director Karla Newmark and Conductor David Kidwell.

The story of the life of famous Burlesque Queen Gypsy Rose Lee from childhood to stardom with domineering mother, talented sister Baby June, and the enduring dreams of performers in show business, is familiar to both stage and screen audiences. Director Bob Laviolette assembled a talented local cast who entertained an appreciative audience. Starting with Kaylee Wilson, (Baby June) and Claudia Tosi (Baby Louise) auditioning for Uncle Jocko's (Rock Palmer) Kiddy Show, the message rings loud and clear. . ."talent notwithstanding prevails". All the unique visuals projected in the background, not only during the overture, but throughout the many scene changes are mega creative.

Jami Wilson (June) and Amy Szczepaniuk Meek (Louisa/Gypsy) have the challenging task of age range. Their duet, "If Mama Was Married" has solid vocal blend and staging. Talk about "growing" into her role, Meek's stature and talent as Gypsy Rose Lee is amazing. Her every Burlesque House scene shows her triumph of becoming a star. Then, the energetic "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" showgirls Winnie Legere (Electra), Rae Banigan (Tessie) and Bump It with a Trumpet Carol Palmer (Mazzepa) pull out all the stops. Palmer actually played that trumpet. These gals do grind their way into the hearts of the audience with their show-stopping moment. Also, "Together" with Roxanne Labato Bailey (Rose), Steve Bailey (Herbie) and Meek, has a nice and easy on-stage play.

Choreography credit goes to David Bovat, who always creates a visual banquet for the stage. Keeping in mind that not all people in community theatre are actually dancers, Bovat tailors simpler but coordinated steps accordingly. Another outstanding credit goes to MaryAnn Scognamiglio for razzle dazzle costumes - most especially the Burlesque ladies who were bedazzling from head to toe.

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