BWW Review: DO BLACK PATENT LEATHER SHOES REFLECT UP at Candlelight Music Theatre
Candlelight's DO BLACK PATENT LEATHER SHOES REALLY REFLECT UP was a revelation to me. I am serious!
I began my public-school education in the mid-fifties. Some of my friends went to Catholic school. Now I know why some of them are screwed up. It never occurred to my teachers at PS 24 on Washington Street to differentiate between public and Catholic, as nuns did so decisively back then (in stern antipathy). We weren't silenced by nuns with their ever present 'crickets' or swatted with rulers or told that you must ignore the urges of your private parts or otherwise burn in hell.
The authors of the production most assuredly attended Catholic schools. While there are many lines that are quite funny, I proffer they bring back not so humorous memories to those adults today who matriculated through that anachronistic system.
Nuns and priests to these innocent minds were both omnipotent and omniscient. Wow. I can only imagine how my friends today who are part of the LBGQT community suffered emotionally.
Okay, I am a live theatre reviewer, not a social scientist, so many of you are now rolling your eyes and screaming for Aisle Say to 'get on with it'.
The show follows 8 elementary school students through the senior prom and beyond. Along the way it touches on such topics as first confessions, puppy love, teacher's pets and....OMG...sex education! Sex education in a Catholic school in the '50's. Oy vey! Let me think about that for a moment. Probably not a lot of 'dialogue' in the classroom.
The opening scene has the adult Eddie Ryan (Anthony Connell) returning to his elementary school to seek out his former grade school gfirend, Becky Barkowski (Tori Healy). This is an important moment for it capsulizes how excellent an actor is Connell. Almost immediately Eddie is time-machined back to 5th grade, surrounded by his classmates. Connell's transformation was both instantaneous and surprising; from serious adult to bright-eyed naïf. It was fun to watch. Musical theater works magic if it surprises.
While I conjecture that Eddie's character had one ballad too many, there is no more mellifluous voice that has graced the Candlelight stage than Connell's. I harken back to "No One's Going To Harm You" in SWEENEY TODD. His voice is satiny smooth and the sincerity with which he sings the lyrics is mesmerizing.
Of course, each kid had a stereotypically different personality, jock, goody two shoes, etc. The various quirky personalities reminded one of those in PUTMAN COUNTY SPELLING BEE. All of them Nancy (Sarah Cheatam), Colleen (Virginia Lear), Louis or should we say "Phooey Louie" (Robert Gene Pellechio), Felix (Elias Rivera) and Mary (Christy Wyatt) fulfilled their eccentric obligations admirably. Great facial takes.
A cute production number ensues with Sister Lee (Tiara Greene) and the kids. Music Director Lindsay Mauck did a fine job with engaging harmonies throughout.
Becky is overweight and a bit of an outcast. Healy plays this well. We have continually reported her face speaks tens, hundreds of words. Becky is insecure, but Eddie is smitten. (I also recollect how many kids were overweight in the '50's as opposed to now, but there I go again).
The next scene is 8th grade. Father O'Reilly (Ryan Ruggles) schools the boys on "Private Parts", followed by a very humorous full production number, "How Far Is Too Far". Pre-adolescents are prone to ask questions. The rejoinder from the nuns; "pre-marital sex will result in burning in hell"! Mike Depki (Frank Schierloh) has a hysterical line, "Catholic girls are like whiffle balls. They don't go very far".
Ruggles displays his comedic chops (he was the gay Lancelot in SPAMALOT) as the priest in the confessional, blithely smoking a cigarette or imbibing from a flask as these repentant kids are pouring their hearts out. (Knowing my own aversion to authority, that weekly(?) absolution would have driven me to a Thelma and Louise).
Next is the Freshman Mixer, where else, in the gym! The typical anxieties are present; who to ask to dance, how to ask to dance. Then senior prom and Becky enters the sisterhood. There I feel the plot bogs down with the relationship between Eddie and Becky, overwrought and schmaltzy. We project that all will conclude happily. Duh. It's a musical comedy. It could have been accomplished sooner.
Costuming by veteran Timothy Lamont Cannon was period-specific and cheerful. All at our table were particularly complimentary of the food. While Aisle Say's beloved mashed potatoes were MIA, the scalloped ones in their stead were tasty.
It's an amusing show with some good lines delivered by an ensemble who can deliver them. I thank God, though, I was a third-party Protestant observer on opening night; not one who suffered through this as an innocent.
Photos by Tisa Della-Volpe
Through Aug 26. CandlelightTheatreDelaware 302.475.2313
Next Up: BRIGADOON Sept 15-Oct 28
And then....and then....Candlelight celebrates its 50th year anniversary!