UNSUNG HEROES – EXCEPTIONAL ENSEMBLES AND AN UNFORGETTABLE CAST OF FOUR
By Joel Markowitz
They are the unsung heroes of many productions, They sing, they dance, and they sweat. They make actors look good. They are often forgotten by critics. They are the ensemble – a group of talented actors, singers, dancers, comedians who work their tails off, and usually receive little attention or credit.
So here’s to the ensembles and to a special group of four actors who recently graced our local stages. I’ll never forget you! Take a well deserved bow!
The Cast: Tim Adams, Lisa Anne Bailey, Andy Izquierdo, Randall Jones, Ryan Khatcheressian, Duane Monahan, David M. Mortetti, Katie Pond, Karissa Swanigan, Susanna Todd. Musicians: Dana Gardner, Virginia Gardner, Lora Katz, Scott Richards, David Rohde, and Bob Weber.
I love this show. I saw the original production at Lincoln Center in 1998 with Broadway vets Norm Lewis, Malcolm Gets, Penny Fuller, Kristen Chenoweth, Chip Zien, Mary Testa, Michael Mandell, Liz Larsen, John Jellison, and Keith Byron Kirk. It’s there, that I fell in love with a song that, since that matinee, I have listened to over and over again – “Sailing.”
Who could not love lyrics like these:
“Sex is good, but I’d rather be sailing.
Food is nice, but I’d rather be sailing.
People are swell, but I’d rather be sailing over the horizon…”
So after seeing a mediocre, painful production of this show this year in a local theatre, where my favorite song was butchered, I was relieved to find out that Kensington Arts Theatre was mounting a production of William Finn’s A New Brain. And what a production it was, with an ensemble made from heaven. And “Sailing”?
Ryan Khatcheressian sang it with such emotion and sweetness, that I have chills writing this. I went back on closing night so I could hear Ryan sing it once more, and again it was smooth sailing More goose bumps here.
I interviewed the incredibly talented Andy Izquierdo, who played Gordon Schwinn before the show opened.
“Joel: My all-time favorite song from a musical is Sailing from A New Brain. What is it about Sailing that touches the audience and this theatre goer?
Andy: I think it’s two things about “Sailing” that really strike a chord. I think the obvious one is that it’s just a beautiful song – period. It is just gorgeous to listen to. But I think above and beyond that, I think it resonates with people because it’s one of the few examples (at least that I can think of) of a true love song in musical theater between two men. I think the fact that you don’t see that a lot in musical theater makes this an especially touching moment. You know, the song starts sort of comically and somewhat whimsical (it takes place in Gordon’s dream), but then it becomes clear that this is a love letter from Roger to Gordon. I think the song gets you when you least expect it- and Ryan sounds so beautiful singing it – it’s a really nice, tender moment.”
What I didn’t know until Andy told me after that night’s performance, was that when Ryan found out that I was going to be in the audience, he was really nervous and wanted to sing it well for me. So, Ryan, I apologize for putting you in that state, and yes, I will never forget how you sang that song so beautifully, and tenderly. It was smooth sailing. Bravo Ryan!
The Ensemble: Michael J. Baker, Jr. Bryan Bender, Sofia Campoamor or James Woods, Matt de Nesnera, James Finley, Erin Gallalee, Vicki Hill, Sarah Hirschman, Jerry Kamens, Ken Kemp, Keith J. Miller, Brittany O’Grady or Whitney Turner, Renee Rabben, Margie Remmers, John Shackelford, Jay R. Sigler, Adrienne Tygenhof, Jessica Vega, Laura Wehrmeyer and Linda Wells.
The Secret Garden has sentimental meaning for me. It’s where, on a chilly April 21, 1991, at the St. James Theatre in NYC, I turned to Bill Smith, who attended the show with me, and said, “There has to be other theatre goers in the DC area who would love to come and see something as special as this show.” And it’s at The Secret Garden where the idea of founding The Ushers Theatre Going Group, a social group for local theatre goers, that I have been running for 17 years, was sown.
And it’s at The Secret Garden where I was introduced the gorgeous voice of Rebecca Luker, whose rendition of “Come To My Garden” made me cry uncontrollably at The St. James Theatre.
So, when Laura Wehrmeyer’s gorgeous soprano opened the Little Theatre of Alexandria production with Lucy Simon’s gorgeous melody and these beautiful Marsha Norman lyrics
“Clusters of crocus,
Purple and gold
Blankets of pansies,
Out from the cold.
Lilies and iris,
Safe from the chill.
Safe in my garden,
Snowdrops so still.”
Those memories and tears of that chilly spring night in 1991, flooded back, and she “had me.” And when she Laura sang “Come To My Garden” and “How Could I Ever Know” with Bryan Bender, who played the ever-suffering Archibald Craven, I lost it again. It was sheer beauty which you rarely see on the stage, and Laura, the garden never looked so beautiful.
And a special congrats to young Whitney Turner, whose tough, yet tender, Mary Lennox lit up the LTA stage. And what a beautiful voice! Daisy Egan, who won the Tony playing Mary in the original Broadway production, would have beamed!! A better Mary has rarely graced our local stages!
(You probably didn’t know that gardening is one of my passions. Where do you think I get my sense of humus)?
The ensemble: Kevin Adams, Carolyn Again, Joe Baker, Christina Coakley, Sally Cusenza, Shadia Hafiz, Sheri S. Herren, Jim Howard, Michael Innocenti, David Jourdan, Mike Kozemchak, Timothy Hayes Lynch, Rich Montgomery, Roger Payano, Jane E. Petkofsky, Susan Marie Rhea, Jennifer Richter, Colin Smith, and Daniel Steinberg.
If ever a group of actors earned its kudos and paychecks, it was the ensemble of Keegan Theatre’s non-stop production of Brendan Behan’s The Hostage at Church Street Theatre.
I still don’t know why this group of 18 exhausted actors didn’t collapse on the stage at the end of this non-stop, entertaining production. I was exhausted watching them running in and out of doors and up and down stairs, singing Irish songs, performing several scenes simultaneously, dancing, and drinking, while moving along the story of Leslie (sweetly played by Joe Baker) who nervously wondered if he would live another day.
It was like the Irish Marx Brothers, the Dublin Keystone Cops – funny and serious all at once, with numerous emotions oozing out of the tireless group of 18 talented performers. And that’s no blarney!
But, my stout’s off to David Jourdan, who not only served as the musical director for this wild production, but also was the master of ceremonies and the guitar strumming and singer extraordinaire. The man who provoked foot stomping and hand clapping from the much – involved audience, gave a performance that. I hope Helen Hayes Awards judges will remember next year. And until then, remember DCTS’ Audience Choice awards based on the season coming in August.
So to the ensemble of The Hostage, I offer you this Irish toast:
“May the luck of the Irish
Lead to happiest heights
And the highway you travel
Be lined with green lights.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
May the luck of the Irish be there with you.”
Have aGuinness, or three or four, on me! You earned it!
James Gagne, Manolo Santalla, Halsey Varady and Stewart Walker.
If ever a small group of actors creeped me out and left me shaken, it was the powerful cast of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love, directed by Helen Hayes Award Winner (for The Dazzle at Rep Stage) Kasi Campbell.
When I walked into the intimate black box at Montgomery College in Silver Spring, I knew nothing about this play, except that my favorite local director was at the helm, so I knew I was in good hands.
What I didn’t expect, was the power that this incredible cast of 4 would cast on the audience and me in 80 minutes. The spookiness came from the performance of Manolo Santalla, who played “The Old Man,” sitting in a bashed up car, rarely saying anything. Let’s just say, his character came through in the clutch and steered the creepiness of Sam Shepard’s play about the compulsion of two people, who really shouldn’t be together, who just can’t get away from each other.
You just wanted to smack and shake Stewart Walker, who played Eddie, the rodeo-cowboy and Halsey Varady, who played the pathetic and psychotic May. They were that effective. Hats off to James Gagne, who although rarely on the stage, contributed to the Shepard-esqueness of the production.
Creepy? Yes! Spooky? Yes! Unforgettable? Damn right, cowboy!