Review: SECOND CHANCES Takes A Chance at Dutch Apple

By: Jun. 02, 2017

Arguably, it's a luxury since the Victorian era to own a theatre and to produce your own show in it. It's less apparent vanity, and more good sense, however, when there's a really entertaining show for you to produce. Tom Ross Prather, retired from his Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre now and enjoYing Life in Fort Myers, Florida, hasn't been enjoying good weather idly; he's written a play (and not his first one), SECOND CHANCES: THE THRIFT SHOP MUSICAL, now on stage at the Dutch Apple. The show's marketing has compared it to the CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES franchise, but it's a stronger show than those.

SECOND CHANCES is a multi-layered, metaphorical title. It's also the name of a thrift shop run by a local church in a Florida town, where its employees and volunteers find second chances, and some post-retirement second acts, in their lives, and some second chances in their relationships. A musical, the book was written by Prather with additional material by director Victor Legaretta, and lyrics and music by Dutch Apple/Prather stalwarts Megan Orlowski and Christopher Russell. While it's not a deep show, it's nonetheless insightful, delightfully so, and it shows a depth of character development among the main characters that many of the multi-play Off-Broadway franchises like the aforementioned CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES lack. Part of it may be that the show is not only contemporarily set but lacks nostalgia; it's very present-day, very present-focused. Even though the older characters "remember when" a good bit, there's no wallowing in the past, but a focus on everyone's getting on with their present.

Prather conceived the idea for the play in 2004 when his church opened its own thrift shop. The vignettes, which form a connected story, are, he insists, all rooted in actual events at the thrift shop and around Fort Myers, and it's easy to believe that's true. These are real-life matters: community service on probation, wounded warriors with invisible wounds, cancer survivors, people surprisingly falling in love, drag performers suddenly finding the perfect earrings. They're not stereotyped Off-Broadway mannequins, designed to fit a formula show, with some personality but no depths; these are people everyone has met.

Rendell Debose is Tyler, an Iraq vet in trouble, sent to do community service at the thrift shop. His experiences help new manager Allison, played by Megan Orlowski, deal with her marriage, in which her Iraq veteran husband is having great trouble adjusting to civilian life again. Christopher Russell is Wally, thrift shop assistant and musician (as well as the show's narrator), who entertains everyone on the thrift shop's piano while hoping he can find a way to use his skills as a former high school music teacher in a job again. Kelly Legaretta is Nadine, crusty cashier whose bark is far worse than her bite, and cancer survivor who slowly learns how to have fun. Joel Stigliano plays the non-musical role of the pastor of the church running the thrift shop, who navigates the ins and outs of leases, threatening landlords, rotating church groups volunteering to open, close, and handle the cash register, and to marvel at what his volunteers and employees are able to do with their lives when they encourage each other just a little.

A few of the songs, such as "O Holy Night," are holiday classics dependent on the performer - and in the case of that particular number, Rendell Debose does not disappoint. He's a vocal powerhouse. Other numbers, such as "One Man's Trash," sung by the landlord, Mr. Kleinbauer, who wants to evict the store to upscale his shopping center, are wonderful new pieces by Orlowski and Russell. The "St. Patty's Day" ensemble routine is an audience-rousing comic number as well. If only more of the songs were equally strong. "Rise Back Up" is a powerhouse ballad, but most of the songs are short and are basically amusing filler. The story itself is the driving force of this show, not the songs.

Despite the church and pastor setup, the store and story are free of preaching or platitudes, and the wholesomeness of the show comes from the happy effects that taking a chance and succeeding brings to each character. Even drag entertainer Sarah Leigh (Victor Legaretta) is wholesome, an adorable parcel of music and love of gaudy jewelry who really needs to come back for a second number with Wally. Never waste a good secondary character. In fact, a bit more focus on one or two secondary characters, and a few less of all of the customers and volunteers, might tighten the show a little bit.

A life in the theatre has taught Tom Prather a thing or two about theatre, and a long life has taught him about life. He's written what he knows, and he's used enough real circumstances for the show to feel far more real than one more Off-Broadway formula piece designed to have second, third, and Christmas editions following it with the same characters having the same eternal problems. The story is solid; the characters are true, and not cookie-cutter. If it's close to any of them, there's a certain big-city air of GREATER TUNA to it, with its assorted fascinating characters doing the slightly insane occasionally. None of the music is bad, and a few of the numbers are indeed post-show hummable; if only there were more of them.

This is an slight though enjoyable show bound to lift most theatregoers' spirits, and one that certainly exceeded my expectations considerably - not because of doubts about the creator or the plot, but because marketing had led me to expect less. The show, with a few revisions, could stand up to some regional productions outside the Prather family of theatres, and not only for older or more conservative audiences. (It has a strong summer theatre feel, like GREATER TUNA, and given its Christmas scene at the end of the first act, the "Christmas in July" idea isn't half bad for a marketing push. A good community theatre with a summer show schedule could handle it nicely with the right talent.)

On stage at Dutch Apple through June 24. Visit for tickets and information.

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