BWW Review: A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE Brings Old Hollywood Fun to Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park Playhouse prides itself on being the home of feel-good musical theatre in Central Florida, and their traditional slate of familiar titles and standard-centric revues almost always has you leaving with a smile on your face. However, with their current show, A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE, running through March 28th, the beloved theatre company has seemingly risen to a new level of satisfying warm and fuzziness. The show, which was nominated for nine Tonys in 1980; winning two, the first for Tommy Tune (who also directed) and Thommie Walsh's choreography, and for Priscilla Lopez as Best Featured Actress. With book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh and music by Frank Lazarus, the play consists of two loosely connected, toe-tapping, side-splitting acts that pay homage to old Hollywood. Despite the show's pedigree, it is rarely ever produced, but with Michael Edwards' extremely tight direction, and the best collection of talent that I have ever seen at WPP, it makes you wonder why this musical bundle of joy isn't part of every regional theatre's repertoire.
The first act is a trip through Hollywood's Golden Era as led by a collection of ushers and usherettes from
TCL's Mann's Grauman's Chinese Theatre. From the story behind the famous Walk of Fame outside, to some of Hollywood's favorite onscreen clichés, the act is filled with nostalgic, up-beat tunes and a considerable amount of fancy foot work. The cast is extremely game, with each member having moments to shine. Even if the material itself wasn't as appealing as it is, seeing the show would be worthwhile just for the multi-talented cast alone.
After a fun opening number, Roy Alan (who also serves as choreographer) and BambiEllen Fadoul really get the evening going with a delightful performance of the show's most well-known song, "Famous Feet." Catherine Colangelo makes the most of WPP's tight space with some inventive set design that highlights a number of famous Early-Hollywood feet as they join Alan and Fadoul in some spirited tap dancing. This song alone is likely to provide more cheerful entertainment than just about anything else you could in this day and age.
As another usherette, Lourelene Snedeker delivers a number of great comedic turns in the first act, often involving props. Whether she is taking out her heartbreak on a cardboard cut-out, or trotting out a saxophone for a soulful rendition of a classic movie tune, she is always fantastic. Despite her usherette seeming a bit more world-weary than the others, she more than holds her own with Alan's playful, quickly-paced choreography.
Another highlight of the show is Bert Rodriguez at the piano. While sitting at an instrument can often be limiting for actors, Rodriguez's charisma is evident whether he is at the keys or not. With his voice, sense of humor, and fingers he provides a fond look back at many of the songs that helped shape the movie musical.
The final major number of the first act is the breath-taking "Doin' the Production Code," in which all six ushers and usherettes tap their way through standards for what was and wasn't appropriate to show, do, and say on screen in 1930s Hollywood. Yes, there is a lot of historical value to the song, but you will likely miss much of it as you marvel at the non-stop dancing.
The second act centers around a fictional Marx Brothers movie, A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE, loosely based on the one-act comedy THE BEAR, by Anton Chekov. Snedeker plays Mrs. Pavlenko, a bereaved widow. Rodriguez is her Italian footman Carlo (as played by Chico). Fadoul plays Gino, Carlo's gardener brother (played by the mute Harpo), and Alan plays a shyster lawyer, Serge B. Samovar (as Groucho would have played him). Alan, who has been a renowned Groucho impersonator for years, leads the old-school, slapstick humor. While some of the punchlines inspire more groans than laughs, that's probably what Groucho would want.
Though she doesn't say a word, Fadoul is hysterical in the screwball role. While playing an ingénue for most of Act I, she puts her elastic face to good use in Act II. For me, she provided the star turn in the role Lopez created.
Adding to the hilarity are the fantastic Jill Vanderoef and Zach Nadolski. They both have memorable moments in the first act, but they thoroughly shine after intermission. Vanderoef plays Nina, Mrs. Pavlenko's daughter, who bumps into Nadolski's Constantine, and they two fall madly in love. The pair plays the overly sincere young lovers to comedic perfection.
Rounding out the ensemble are Kasey Sollenberger and Jaime Lowe, who play Mrs. Pavlenko's servants in the Ukraine, but provide the famous feet while in Hollywood.
While this musical might not have the instant appeal of shows featuring music by Sinatra, Rodgers and Hart, or the British Mod Squad, the old-fashioned charm and cast's top-shelf talent make A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE a can't miss hit.
To get your tickets visit the Winter Park Playhouse's website or call 407-645-0145.
Did you visit Grauman's Chinese Theatre? Or perhaps take a trip to the Ukraine? Did you agree with my take on this rarely-performed gem? Let me know in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt.