Opening Night

Ken AshfordLocal Interest1 Comment

Lots of good theater this weekend in the Winston-Salem area.

This year marks the 50th year of the debut of West Side Story, and the North Carolina School of the Arts is mounting a huuuuge production of the classic, with a cast of over 100.  The musical  is being directed by the directorial assistant of the original Broadyway production, using the original Jerome Robbins choreography.  That production is getting national attention, as shown by its write-ups in Playbill and  Performances of West Side Story will be held May 3-6 and May 9-13. Call the N.C School of the Arts/Stevens Center box office: 336-721-1945

Another classic musical graces the stage of my "home" theatre, the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance.  It’s the 1960’s tribal rock musical, Hair.  If you haven’t seen this show, you really ought to before you die (just so you can say you saw it).  Nobody under 18 is admitted which means, yes, as noted in the Winston-Salem Journal, there will be nudity.  The cast includes my buds Emily Mark, who recently wowed Little Theater audiences playing the lead role of Belle in Beauty and The Beast (she opted out of the nudity, she told me), and Andy Lopina as Claude.  Hair is being performed at SECCA, May 4-6 and 10-13.  All shows are at 8:00, except Sundays at 2:00 p.m.  For information and reservations, call 336-768-5655.

GfavoriteBut in my own self-interest, I would like to plug God’s Favorite, a comedy by Neil Simon which is a modern-day telling of the book of Job.  It is staged by the Clemmons Community Theatre in cooperation with New Hope Presbyterian Church, and runs at New Hope Presbyterian Church, 2570 Harper Road, Clemmons, NC.  Show dates are May 3-5, and May 10-12.  Call 336-280-0455 for info.  This is a wildly funny comedy, good for the entire family.  Of course, I’m biased, because I play the role of Sidney Lipton, the messenger from God, who informs the hapless Joe Benjamin that he is the subject of a bet between God and the Devil. For information call 336-280-0455.

Under the direction of local stage veteran Norm Birdsall, the cast has worked very hard.  Kudos goes to Kevin Wendleboe, who dived into the lead role of Joe Benjamin without having any prior acting experience.  An incredibly tough task — he is onstage throughout the whole show, but he’s got it down like a seasoned pro. 

Carole Olsen, a familiar face on the Triad stages, plays his wife — the very put-upon and materialistic Rose — reprising the role she played years earlier. 

Kenny Gaylord plays the eldest of Joe and Rose’s children — David — a ne’er-do-well heavy drinking "bum".  Kenny delivers his lines with just the right sarcasm called for.

The younger children — Ben and Sarah — are played by Leo Ramsey and Faith Jeffers, respectively.  Both of these young actors have excellent natural acting instincts, and it’s a delight to watch them.

The cast is rounded out by Joe and Rose’s servants — Mady and May.  May is played by Ellie Jordan with a wonderful air of gruffness.  She’s very good, and (I’ve come to discover) a very witty woman offstage as well.  The gorgeous Lee Ann Chrisco plays Mady, and has some of my favorite lines in the play.  She plays her part with an impeccable, uh, ethnic flair and sassiness, which belies the sweetness she possesses in real life.

It’s been, for me, a rather difficult process with this show, as work and personal matters have been taxing lately.  But I’ve found my involvement with God’s Favorite to be a bit of an oasis, and I come home pumped every evening.  I really think we have a pretty good show, now that it has been tightened up.  Also, as Sidney Lipton, I kind of get to cut loose a la Jim Carrey or Robin Williams (although, perhaps, I don’t go that overboard).  That feels good.  Of course, I’m going to look like a moron if I’m out there bouncing off the stage walls to a dead (or worse, non-existent) audience.  So please try and come.

Pictured above: Scene from the original Broadway production of God’ Favorite, with Charles Nelson Reilly as Sidney Lipton, and Vincent Gardenia as Joe Benjamin.