07.28.16STEEL MAGNOLIAS Review - Triangle Arts & Entertainment

Director Richard Roland leads a dynamite cast through the humorous, heartfelt story of Shelby and her challenges of marriage, motherhood and illness through the interactions of a small circle of tightly knit women who do their sisterhood-sharing in Truvy’s Beauty Salon. His blocking is superb, with something going on, even ever so slightly, at any moment. The use of the fourth wall as mirrors is handled excellently, especially with the crosstalk.

02.24.16110 IN THE SHADE Review from Altoona Mirror

Musical ‘110 in the Shade’ still rings true

February 18, 2016
By Michael Casper - For the Mirror , The Altoona Mirror

Fifty-three years after its premiere on Broadway, the multiple Tony-nominated musical "110 in the Shade" still delivers magical moments and explores heartfelt truths.

What is the source of true beauty, courage, righteousness?

Set in Texas in the dustbowl year 1936, "110" was Tom Jones and Richard Schmidt's first Broadway show, a musical transformation of N. Richard Nash's play "The Rainmaker."

A con man surfaces in this stark community and promises - for cash - to bring it much needed rain. He is the spark that helps ignite several smoldering dreams.

What's noteworthy is Penn State Centre Stage's meticulous, energetic rendition of this often overlooked bit of stagecraft. Under the direction of Richard Roland - who grew up with this music, his father having originated the role of a central character - this production features strong ensemble work and individual performances.

The central character, Lizzie, lights up people's lives, yet sees herself as hopelessly plain. Erica Durham, as Lizzie, projects in both song and persona far beyond her diminutive stature.
Aaron Densley is intriguing as the handsome but emotionally aloof sheriff, and Johnny Link is slick yet genuine as Starbuck, the stranger whose charisma stirs things up. Both want Lizzie's hand.

As Lizzie makes her choice, it reminds one of what's possible and that dreams are meant to be followed.

Connor Jones is riveting as unabashed little brother Jimmy, and he and Katie Johnson, as Snookie, camp it up wonderfully on "Little Red Hat."

The choreography, by J. Austin Eyer, is well showcased in "Everything Beautiful Happens at Night," starting with one man's nonchalant steps and ending with five couples lighting up the space with smart footwork and lifts.

The thoughtful sets by Tiffany Anguiano use a background with windmill and cracked earth underfoot to capture the parched western locale.

When at last a thunderstorm brings rain, after Starbuck has returned the town's money, one easily shares the ensemble's zeal.

The 12-piece orchestra, directed by Lily Ling, nimbly backs the show's 16 musical numbers.

Though it was overshadowed in its day by the likes of "Hello Dolly," this "110" clearly demonstrates that where vision and spirited players collide, there also is magic.

02.24.16110 IN THE SHADE PRESS:

by Centre County Gazette on February 24, 2016 6:00 AM
University Park, PA

Penn State Centre Stage Presents '110 in the Shade'

Penn State Centre Stage presents the critically acclaimed musical "110 in the Shade" through Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Playhouse Theatre on the University Park campus.
With music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones and book by N. Richard Nash, "110 in the Shade" tells story of Lizzie Curry, who — despite her wit, intelligence and homemaking skills — is on the verge of becoming an old maid, until a charismatic rainmaker named Bill Starbuck enters town and changes her world forever.
Directed by Richard Roland, with music direction by Lily Ling and choreography by Austin Eyer, the Centre Stage production features a cast comprised of current School of Theatre students and members of the community.
When it opened on Broadway on Oct. 24, 1963, "110 in the Shade" came with an impressive pedigree. N. Richard Nash based the book for the musical on his original play and screenplay for the 1956 film "The Rainmaker," which had teamed Burt Lancaster as Starbuck, a con man pretending he can make rain, with Katharine Hepburn as Lizzie, a spinster and wise gal who inevitably falls for him. The show’s songs were created by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, following the enormous success of their off-Broadway hit, "The Fantasticks."
Though the original production of "110 in the Shade" inexplicably closed after a run of 330 performances, it was greeted with positive response from critics and nominated for four Tony Awards.
“I grew up on '110 in the Shade,' as my father played Noah in the original Broadway production in 1963," said director Roland. “I played the album endlessly, as it was full of some of the most gorgeous music ever written for the stage. And, the story of '110 in the Shade' is truly as meaningful and important as the music.
“I never had a chance to appear in the show when I was still performing, so I knew I had to direct it someday. Thanks to the opportunities afforded to me at Penn State, I am thrilled to be able to share this compelling story and beautiful music with the community."

02.22.16110 IN THE SHADE:"Extremely fluid direction by Richard Roland" - Williamsport Sun Gazette Review

From the Williamsport Sun Gazette:

Caught in a blistering heat wave, the town's residents are desperately looking for rain, while the plain looking spinster looks for romance in '110 In The Shade'.

Penn State Centre Stage's musical '110 In The Shade' has 7:30 p.m. performances tonight through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday at The Playhouse Theatre on the University Park campus.

First performed in 1963, and based upon the book and the play 'The Rainmaker' by N. Richard Nash, '110 In The Shade' features lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt (best known for their record breaking collaboration of 'The Fanstaticks').

Although receiving four Tony Award nominations, '110 In The Shade' was shut out from winning because the often praised musical wasn't (pardon the pun) as splashy as some other arrivals on The Great White Way. A 2007 Broadway revival likewise grabbed four Tony nominations but no statuette, even for Audra McDonald playing the headstrong spinster.

Set in a drought stricken town of Three Point Texas in the 1930's, there is extremely fluid direction by Richard Roland as cast members smoothly change scenes during the well paced two act musical. Roland, in his 'Director's Notes', asserts that..." this show is for all the underdogs who were told they'll be anything, they'll never have anything, or they'll never do anything".

If '110 In the Shade' is truly about underdogs, then this production is clearly top dog. Erica Durham heads the cast as Lizzie, the plain looking spinster who questions her worth as a woman until a con man swaggers into town and nudges her into being herself and admitting that she is pretty.

John Link plays the likable liar Starbuck, a name which he made up to impress the townsfolk who pay him $100 to guarantee rain within 24 hours. (Starbuck no doubt was the name thought up by the playwright long before a certain coffeemaker branded the name). Link commands the stage as the charismatic con man, and is most animated with "Melisande" number.

Aaron Densley effectively plays the divorced, cautious Sheriff File, wary of making a commitment to Lizzie.

Each of the principals display strong voices, with Durham filling the empty stage while singing "Old Maid" and "Love Don't Turn Away" and "Simple Little Things". Drawing the most applause was the funny 'Raunchy", while her duet with File "A Man and A Woman" was especially moving.

Opening both acts are well executed dance numbers with J. Austin Eyer serving as Choreographer. Lily Ling is the show's Music Director, leading the full sounding orchestra from the pit, although at a recent matinee, the music all but drowned out the vocalists during the show's first two numbers.

Those entering The Playhouse can almost smell freshly cut wood. The set is visually stunning with wooden planks creating massive downstage and mid-stage arches. Using more than two miles of wood and nearly 600 man hours to create the arches and the tilted windmill, this production aptly provides evidence that Penn State University's School of Theater is one of the country's premier Theater Departments.

And just within 24 hours of the fake Rainmaker's promise, it starts to rain. Not a drizzle but good old fashioned downpour! As the "Community" sings the "Rain Song" finale, there is a downpour, dropping 50 gallons of water per minute onto the stage. Reportedly, that is the equivalent of a Category 1 Hurricane. An stirring moment that draws oohs and aahs and, very deservedly, hearty applause.

'110 In The Shade' is a fine blend of cowboys, confidence, and courtships. And Penn State Centre Stage's production of this infrequently produced musical creates a cloudburst of entertainment, not to be missed.

- Jack Felix

02.11.16110 IN THE SHADE PRESS: Centre Daily Times

For the CDT

‘110 in the Shade’ opened on Broadway in 1963

Richard Roland directs the musical

Main characters are a spinster and a rainmaker

Playhouse Theatre heats up with ‘110 in the Shade’

They finished each other’s sentences. Even off stage and without a script, the two leads laughed with ease.

Still dressed in their costumes — she in a claret dress and he in an outlaw’s finest attire — Erica Durham and Johnny Link had just walked out of a dusty Western town and back into reality. But without a cue, their repartee had moseyed out with them, too.

“We have a tense relationship — not us, but our characters do," Link said, smiling. “But on the side we’ll just be goofing around."

The pair star in Penn State Centre Stage’s “110 in the Shade," the musical that opened on Broadway in 1963. Based on N. Richard Nash’s original screenplay for the 1956 film “The Rainmaker," the story centers on Lizzie Curry (Durham), a spinster whose dry wit and grit are only matched by the drought hanging over the town. But as the town’s residents thirst for rain, Lizzie yearns for something more.

Director Richard Roland, whose father, Steve, played Lizzie’s brother, Noah, in the original Broadway production, has helped bring the Tony-nominated show to Penn State’s Playhouse Theatre, which opens on Feb. 16.

For the two leads, preparing for the final curtain has been a whirlwind. Each credited Roland, along with choreographer Austin Eyer and musical director Lily Ling, for getting them ready for opening night.

“It’s been very fast, but we have been in perfect hands for it," Link said. “The creative team have pushed us, but in the best way possible."

Link plays the con man Starbuck, who rolls into town aboard a wagon, promising rain. Whip smart, Lizzie quickly deciphers the smooth talker is more of a tumbleweed than a nimbus.

Durham and Link have both worked with Roland before, and with each other. Both are seniors in Penn State’s musical theater program.

“I have always felt that we have good chemistry," Durham said. “It’s nice getting to explore that in this show."

Once the duo started rehearsing, in early January when the cast returned from winter break, the real work began. Durham said rehearsals usually ran for four hours during the week and about six on Saturdays. She estimated she spent an additional four hours a day “getting lost" in the script and the music. Durham credited the actress Audra McDonald, who played Lizzie in the 2007 revival, as an inspiration for her own rendition.

“This has always been one of my dream roles," Durham said.

Link shared a similar sentiment. He said playing the roguish Starbuck was a departure for him, which made it enjoyable. Roland helped him understand the character by breaking down small details in-person, while also sending videos and emails with additional material.

Durham said Roland’s ability to connect with his actors was one of her favorite qualities about him.

“What I love is he has little sidebars with us in the middle of a scene," Durham said. “He has this really intimate conversation with you about using certain words and what he wants from you in that scene.

“This is such a personal piece for him," she added. “And just the insight he has about the original inception of ‘110 in the Shade,’ it’s really incredible to hear that stuff."

As Durham got to know Lizzie better, the more she liked her, she said. The transformation that takes place isn’t so much physical as it is emotional, Durham said. The Aliquippa native said she believes audiences will connect with Lizzie as much as she did during production.

“She’s in that place in her life where she views herself as an ugly duckling and she’s not," Durham said. “I think that’s something that everyone goes through."

Ballads such as “Simple Little Things" and “Is it Really Me?" illustrate the growth of Lizzie and her relationship with Starbuck, and were two of the pair’s favorite scenes. While Durham said Gab Pena and Connor Jones — who play her brothers Noah and Jimmy — made her laugh the most during rehearsal, Link nodded to Durham.

Both laughed.

“We just kind of let loose," Link said of performing “Is it Really Me?" with Durham. “It could be a heavy, dramatic love song, but we kind of make it a fun, cute, romantic moment."

Read more here:

04.09.15DOGFIGHT Review: Sun Gazette

Review: A conflict of a different kind in Centre Stage’s ‘Dogfight’
April 9, 2015
By JACK FELIX - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

STATE COLLEGE - A dogfight is sometimes defined as a brutal betting game, although not in "Dogfight: The Musical," Penn State Centre Stage's current attraction. It has remaining performances at 7:30 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, 146 S. Allen St.

Based on a 1971 [sic] (1991) Warner Bros. film, the stage version of "Dogfight" with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won the 2013 Lucille Lortel Award, one of the major awards for off-Broadway shows, for Outstanding Musical.

Although opening in 1967 with U.S. Marine Eddie Birdlace riding a bus to San Francisco, the scene quickly flashes back to 1963, as the Marine and his rowdy buddies, fresh out of training, change out of their uniforms and into their "civies" for their last night of leave before being shipped overseas.

The Marines eagerly ready themselves for a dogfight, which has simple rules: each puts $50 in the pot, and the one who brings the ugliest date to a private party wins the money. Birdlace's best buddies are Boland and Bernstein, with the trio dubbing themselves "We Three Bees" as they head out to hunt for "a dog."

Eddie spots a plain-looking waitress, Rose, strumming a guitar in a diner. He strikes up a conversation and quickly asks her to be his date, and the lonely waitress elatedly accepts.

Although Eddie has second thoughts about using the vulnerable Rose, they go to the party - where Marcy, a hooker with lots of attitude but not her front teeth, tells Rose of the cruel hoax.

After Rose angrily confronts Eddie and leaves, he returns to her apartment where he apologizes, telling Rose of his sincere feelings for her. Act I ends with Rose and Eddie making love and promising to stay in contact.

Act II opens with Boland and Bernstein predicting a hero's welcome when they return after a "short tour in a little country near India called Vietnam." Eddie witnesses the horrors of bloody battle before returning to San Francisco in 1971, searching for and finding Rose, whom he had never contacted after their night together.

Heading the all-student cast is Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton as Eddie, who projects a wide range of feelings from callous to confused to caring.

Toniazzo Naughton - who excelled as the demented barber in Centre Stage's production of "Sweeny Todd" - and Laura Landrum as Rose display good chemistry in their duets, especially with the poignant "First Date/Last Night."

Landrum's Rose is given the most soulful songs, including "Nothing Short of Wonderful" when invited to the party, and the heart-breaking "Pretty Funny," the Act I finale. However, her duet with Marcy of the show's title tune was not only overly loud but also a bit screechy.

Johnny Link plays the jumpy Bernstein and Tommy Hart is the deceitful Boland, heading the very strong company, who play three or four roles. A special mention goes to Talia Suskauer, who got the show's biggest laughs with her stiff dance as Ruth Two Bears.

"Dogfight" is directed by Richard Roland, a second-year candidate in Penn State's master's degree in directing program, with a three-piece band playing the melodic soft-rock score.

There is top-notch technical support, with the company using the scaffolding set for the high-energy choreography.

The show does have its flaws, however, with Act II - despite its effective battle scene - not carrying Act I's impact. And the conclusion, when a broken Eddie returns to a wiser Rose, could have been developed more.

In addition, if the marines are coarse, so is their language, as they spew out a lot of expletives.

However, "Dogfight" is intriguing, and Penn State Centre Stage's production - following on the show's "Three Bees" - can be best described with "Three E's": engaging, entrancing and highly entertaining.

03.27.15DOGFIGHT Press: Centre Daily Times

Highlights: The devil can always be found in the details, and that is exactly where they lie in “Dogfight." The emotional musical based on the 1991 film takes a look at three young Marines and the havoc they wreak upon an innocent waitress in order to cope during their final evening together before being deployed to Vietnam.

By Steve McElwee - For the CDT

The devil can always be found in the details, and that is exactly where they lie in “Dogfight." The emotional musical based on the 1991 film takes a look at three young Marines and the havoc they wreak upon an innocent waitress in order to cope during their final evening together before being deployed to Vietnam.

Set in the early 1960s, there is an undercurrent of dread prevalent throughout “Dogfight" (a brutal term that comes into play as the plot unravels) that distinguishes this production from the more atypical musicals.

“I am drawn to shows that have a darker side, that ask more complex questions and don’t always necessarily provide an answer, but leave the audience to come to their own conclusion," director Richard Roland said. “What made me decide on directing ‘Dogfight’ was the complex story and the characters. I also fell in love with the score, which is gorgeous."

“One of the things I love about the show is that it examines the gray area," said Laura Landrum, who plays the waitress, Rose. “I feel like so few things in life are black and white, and ‘Dogfight’ portrays how sometimes right and wrong are not necessarily obvious. So many musicals are happy to just have a strong romantic couple and nice music, but ‘Dogfight’ goes way beyond that."

“This musical is relevant to everyone," said Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton, who plays Birdlace, the lead. “It shows you the ugly side of people stuck in unfortunate circumstances. It forces you to really look inside yourself and not to just take things as they are on a superficial level. It helps to be able to take a step back and look at things from a distance, which ‘Dogfight’ absolutely accomplishes."

Memory is a tricky thing; perhaps the most interesting aspect about “Dogfight" is that the entire production is based on the main character’s memory. In addition to providing an exciting sort of unreliability, it also gave Roland and the production designers free reign to experiment.

“This allows me to approach the show from a non-literal sense," Roland said. “It frees us up in terms of set design, sound design, lighting design, how we move pieces of furniture around the set, how our transitions work from scene to scene. It’s actually quite liberating and a nice breath of fresh air after previously working on shows that often require a very literal set."

“We have to create a lot of the places and pieces," Landrum added. “The musical also weaves between 1963 and 1967, so we have to make sure that it’s obvious which time period we’re in without jarring the audience. There’s a dream-like quality to the whole production, so we have be honest to our characters and their reality while also working within that hazy frame."

“Dogfight," an at-times barbarous story, has the unique challenge of leaving everything up to the audience without alienating them. The parallels that some of the characters draw alongside those closest to us only serve to make this production all the more powerful.

“I think the biggest challenge in tackling this material is first and foremost making the main characters likable and making them believable," Roland said, “The show tackles a very tough situation and I don’t want the audience necessarily to take sides with these characters. Rather, I hope they find the compassion to understand, if not love, these characters."

08.13.13URINETOWN Review - CVNC, An Online Arts Journal in North Carolina

URINETOWN Review - CVNC, An Online Arts Journal in North Carolina

08.09.13URINETOWN Review - Indy Week

URINETOWN Review - Indy Week

08.07.13URINETOWN Review - Triangle Arts and Entertainment

URINETOWN Review - Triangle Arts and Entertainment

08.07.13URINETOWN Review - NewsObserver

By Roy C. Dicks — Correspondent
Who’d want to see a musical called “Urinetown"? That’s a question one of its own characters asks, an example of the witty self-parody this show offers, along with the spoofing of Broadway musicals
and theatrical genres. But the show has a message along with the merriment, beautifully balanced in Theatre Raleigh’s talent-filled Hot Summer Nights production.

The show’s premise may seem off-putting. After a 20-year drought, an unnamed metropolis has banned private toilet use. Citizens are limited to pay-per-use public facilities, a burden on the poor. A huge corporation, Urine Good Company, controls the facilities, constantly raising fees to line
management and lawmakers’ pockets.

Public toilet worker Bobby Strong rebels after his father is taken away by police for relieving himself without paying the exorbitant fees. Bobby convinces the downtrodden to revolt against the corporation, but complications arise through his newfound love for Hope, the company president’s daughter.

The more you know about Kurt Weill and Marc Blitzstein, the more you’ll appreciate the ways Mark Hollmann’s music and lyrics and Greg Kotis’ script and additional lyrics satirize those groundbreaking composers’ techniques of politicizing audiences with life’s harsh truths.

But no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the contributions of this cast and creative team. Director Richard Roland keeps the energy fever-pitched over the show’s two acts, sprinkling in dozens of amusing little moments while overlaying the whole with a Mel Brooks-style mania.

Lauren Kennedy’s ever-inventive, enthusiastically executed choreography slyly spoofs everything from “Les Misérables" to “Chicago." Chris Bernier’s appropriately gritty setting is backdrop for Jennifer Sherrod’s dramatic and often quite funny lighting. Julie Bradley’s musical direction confidently tames the purposefully off-kilter melodies.

Brennan Caldwell (Bobby) and Cameron Caudill (Hope) perfectly gauge their characters’ heightened reality while singing with charm and charisma. David Hess (Officer Lockstock) and Rachael Moser (Little Sally) are hilarious dual narrators, their banter expertly timed. Among the 16 equally gifted cast members, audience favorites include Courtney Balan’s hardnosed Penelope Pennywise, Bobby’s boss, and Pauline Cobrda’s feisty Ma Strong, Bobby’s mother.

The show has no strong language and only the mildest of sexual references, but it’s not a show for kids or those seeking traditional musical fare. The musical starts off slowly but gains momentum, the second act’s rousing group numbers well worth the wait.


06.25.13GOD OF CARNAGE review from Triangle Arts and Entertainment

06.25.13GOD OF CARNAGE review from BOOM Magazine

06.25.13GOD OF CARNAGE review from Raleigh News & Observer

06.25.13GOD OF CARNAGE review from Five Points Star

10.22.12SOUVENIR press quotes

Hot Summer Nights' production offers laughs and heart tugs from two performers of unquestionable talent. Director Richard Roland keeps the pace tight and laughter constant but never shorts the loving dynamics of this endearing coupling.
- Roy C. Dicks, Raleigh News & Observer

The way that the team (actors Jonas Cohen and Lisa Jolley) is able to show her (Florence Foster Jenkins') journey, and do so in a hilarious way without patronizing or belittling her, is phenomenal. Major credit is due to director Richard Roland, who has created a world where the audience is laughing but doesn't have to feel guilty about it.
- Larissa Mount,

Wednesday's opening-night performance of Souvenir is a real knee-slapper! Director Richard Roland gets nicely nuanced, fully three-dimensional performances from Lisa Jolley and Jonas Cohen. Bravo for a thoroughly delightful presentation in which they resurrect one of the most notorious characters in American performing arts history. Kitch has never sounded so sweet. Souvenir is truly a night to remember.
- Robert W. McDowell, Triangle Arts and Entertainment

In this Hot Summer Nights/Theatre Raleigh revival, a razor-sharp Lisa Jolley effectively conveyed, under Richard Roland's direction, the enigma of an utterly candid and clear-eyed performer who either resolutely refused or was psychologically incapable of recognizing the fundamental limitations of her blighted voice.
- Byron Woods, Indy Week

10.22.12AVENUE Q press quotes

The cast, both human and puppeteer, flourished under the direction of Richard Roland. The ensemble created a community of caring people (furry and otherwise) which was relatable and convincing. In short, Avenue Q at Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh is a home run. The cast nailed it, and you don’t want to miss it.
- Larissa Mount,

The Broadway musical, “Avenue Q," is superbly executed in Hot Summer Night’s first-class production. The cast responds energetically to director Richard Roland’s precise staging and to Jay Wright’s snappy conducting while negotiating the various doors and floors of Chris Bernier’s appropriately rundown apartment building set. The show is rated PG-13, definitely not for children or the easily offended. But the loud belly laughs and grins of recognition from Wednesday night’s packed house prove the musical’s broad appeal.
- Roy C. Dicks, Raleigh News & Observer

It’s hard enough being one character on stage in a musical. In Hot Summer Nights / Theater Raleigh’s lively production of AVENUE Q, Heather Maggs, Adam Poole and Erik and Annie Floor play ten. They’re the heroic puppeteers animating, speaking and singing the roles of the self-described “people of fur" (and fuzz) who occupy this slightly scuzzy neighborhood well beyond the city’s high-rent district. And since their characters weave in and out of the various scenes—and some of the puppets require two of the four actors to animate—the logistics and quick-changes are pretty intense at times. So credit them—and director Richard Roland—that you couldn’t tell by looking on the opening night.
- Byron Woods, Raleigh Independent Weekly

An incredibly gifted cast (of both humans and puppets!) delivers solid performances. Hilarious musical numbers abound, including a very well choreographed “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist," and a too-funny “You Can Be As Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love.)"
- Susie Potter, Triangle Arts & Entertainment - Chip Deffaa talks about NOTHING LIKE A DAME's coverage of NOTHING LIKE A DAME

04.05.12TheatreMania's coverage of NOTHING LIKE A DAME's coverage and footage of NOTHING LIKE A DAME's coverage of NOTHING LIKE A DAME

04.05.12Getty Images of NOTHING LIKE A DAME

06.11.11TAKING '39 STEPS' IN A NEW DIRECTION, Roy C. Dicks, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/11/11

Laugh therapy. That's what one audience member
called "The 39 Steps" as she left Wednesday's
opening performance by Hot Summer Nights at the

It's a perfect description of this madcap but loving
spoof of the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie, a
recommended diversion from today's pressing

Those familiar with the 1935 film will appreciate
adapter Patrick Barlow's cleverness in keeping to the
story line about dapper Richard Hannay's
misadventures in international intrigue and romance.
But even those who have never seen it should be
agog at the presentation, employing only four actors,
a few pieces of furniture and many quick costume

The playwright takes advantage of such minimalism
to add hilarious elements, from constructing a train
car out of steamer trunks or an automobile out of
bentwood chairs, to actors playing multiple roles in
the same scene by merely switching hats and voices.
The script also wittily references other Hitchcock films and parodies the whole British thriller genre.

Chris Bernier's lighting design enriches each segment, whether a foggy night on the moors or the bright lights of a music hall. Sound design doesn't usually get credit for laughs, but Will Mikes' shots, screams and crashes are knee-slapping fun. Director Richard Roland takes on the play's challenges splendidly, instilling a zaniness in his cast, who merrily whirl through the myriad scenes and characters.

Robbie Gay is the embodiment of the debonair, self-confident hero, but he also knows how to wink at the Monty Python-like absurdities, allowing the audience in on the jokes. He plays well with Betsy Henderson, who gamely romps through Richard's love interests: a thickly accented spy, a young farm wife and the no-nonsense Pamela, to whom Richard is handcuffed for much of the second act.

However, the highest praise goes to Jason Peck and Jesse R. Gephart, who play a dizzying number of roles, from policemen and paperboys to maidservants and wives. Peck is particularly amusing as vaudeville performer Mr. Memory and Gephart delights as the Scottish woman running the inn in which Richard and Pamela hide.

This fine beginning for Hot Summer Nights' seventh season is a guaranteed treatment for headlinesinduced

06.09.11PATRICK BARLOW'S "ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S THE 39 STEPS" OPENS...WITH A BANG, Robert W. McDowell, Triangle Arts & Entertainment, 6/9/11

Patrick Barlow’s “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39
Steps" Opens Hot Summer Nights’ 2011 Season
with a Bang

Robert W. McDowell, Triangle Arts & Entertainment, June 9, 2011

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy launched its seventh season with a bang on Wednesday night, with a fast and furious and very, very funny presentation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. English actor, comedian, and dramatist Patrick Barlow’s frisky 2005 farce is an inspired spoof of Scottish novelist John Buchan’s 1915 thriller and English film director Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting 1935 silver-screen adaptation of that nail-biting espionage story; but much to the HSN audience’s delight, Barlow takes considerable liberties with its source material — to poke fun at spy stories in general and The 39 Steps in particular.

Washington, DC actor Robbie Gay is a hoot as intrepid Canadian adventurer Richard Hannay, who meets beautiful and mysterious but very frightened Russian immigrant Annabella Schmidt (Raleigh actress Betsy Thompson Henderson) at a London theater, brings her back to his flat, and listens to her eyebrow-raising story about a sinister espionage outfit called the “39 steps" plotting to steal Great Britain’s most precious military secrets. Later that night, when Annabella
is knifed to death, Hannay becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Robbie Gay’s crisp comic characterization of innocent mustachioed man-on-the-run Richard Hannay is just one of the delights of this superlative Hot Summer Nights production. Betsy Henderson is hilarious as ill-fated would-be informer Annabella Schmidt and Margaret the flirtatious Scottish farmer’s wife who helps Hannay escape when her abusive much-older husband turns Hannay in for the reward. But it is as the feisty Pamela, an intelligent and fiercely independent woman whom Hannay meets on a train, that Henderson’s star shines brightest. Not believing Hannay’s far-fetched tale for one moment, Pamela drops the dime on him at the first opportunity — in an epic act of betrayal that she will soon regret.

But as good as Betsy Henderson and Robbie Gay are, it is Raleigh actors Jason Peck and Jesse R. Gephart who steal the show with their outrageous antics as they play dozens of incidental characters — innocents and villains alike — whom Hannay encounters during his desperate race to expose the perfidy of the 39 steps. Starting with their bit as the musical-hall novelty-act Mr. Memory and his cloying assistant, Peck and Gephart create dozens of sharply etched comic cameos and earn the biggest laughs of the evening with their antic impersonations of an eccentric bagpipe-playing Scottish innkeeper and his wife and two old pols
who mistake Hannay for the keynote speaker at their rally. Peck’s silly walk on his heels and Gephart’s deliberately sotto voce introduction of Hannay provide two of the funniest moments that this reviewer has seen in many, many a day.

When it comes to cutting the fool, Jason Peck and Jesse Gephart are a dynamic duo who compare favorably to the classic comedy teams of Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. Their monkey business helped Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps earn a standing ovation from Hot Summer Nights’ opening-night audience.

The brisk and often ingenious cinematic staging New York City actor and director Richard Roland also deserves kudos; and set and lighting designer Chris Bernier, costume designer A. Christina Giannini, wig designer Patti DelSordo, properties manager Devra Thomas, and sound designer Will Mikes all do yeoman’s work in putting a spring in The 39 Steps. Don’t miss it!