Saturday, November 26, 2011

The final Stardust

Alicia Mendez as Bonnie Kent kisses NYPD Police Officer Owen Duvall (Michael Lengel) as Kate Gallagher (Alison Monda), Ginger Hart (Megan Tyrrell) and Charlie (Christian Doyle) watch.
Matt Posner as W.C. Fields, Christian Doyle as Charlie, 
and Megan Tyrrell as Mae West.

 From left, Alison Monda, Matt Posner, 
Alicia Mendez and Ryan Holmberg as Lt. Joey Malloy.

Coffee with Charlie (Christian Doyle) 
and IRS Agent Hobson Bierce (Scott C. Brown)

 Jack Steiner as Jimmy Sutton, second from left, 
with the cast of "Stardust Serenade."

Harlequin Production’s “Stardust Serenade” is the 17th and final show in a holiday tradition of rollicking 1940s-style musicals written by Harlowe Reed and directed by Linda Whitney -- all set either on Christmas Eve or within days of Christmas and all but one set in the Stardust Club in Manhattan during World War II. This is the seventh show in the series I have reviewed, and it is the most innovative and entertaining of those. Credit that to clever writing by Whitney (Harlowe Reed is her pen name for this series), to a great cast, lush and swinging music, and to an inspired and magical Charlie Chaplin impersonation by Christian Doyle. It is Doyle’s character and his running battle with IRS agent Hobson Bierce (Scott C. Brown) that makes this show so entertainingly different from others in the series.

In a risky move that paid off handsomely, Whitney chose for two of the major characters dramatic actors who have never before performed in a musical: Ryan Holmberg, who was outstanding in Harlequin’s recent “The Love List,” is the romantic lead, Army Air Corps Lt. Joey Malloy; and Brown, who played notable roles in “Sins of the Mother,” “End Days” and “The Last Swartz,” is Agent Bierce. Holmberg nicely underplays Lt. Malloy whose love for bargirl Bonnie Kent (Alicia Mendez) is very touching, and as a singer and dancer he holds his own with the much more experienced musical performers in the show. 

Brown plays the uptight but likeable tax man as a kind of swaggering bully with a big heart, and as a foil to Charlie Chaplin’s playful antics he does pratfalls and double takes with skill and excellent timing. (How many times have we seen people “accidentally” bump butts, and we see it coming a mile away? But Brown and Alison Monda make it look truly comical.)

Doyle’s character Charlie is never specifically identified as Chaplin, but his dress and makeup emulate Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, and as a silent film character he does the entire play in pantomime. And what inspired pantomime it is! There is a drawn-out scene with Brown in which Charlie keeps stealing the tax man’s briefcase and making him fall that is so funny I was crying with laughter. Brown and Doyle have magnificent timing in this that brings to mind great comic actors such as Chaplin and Buster Keaton, not to mention pratfall masters such as Dick Van Dyke and Chevy Chase. 

Another skit that brought tears of laughter to my eyes was when Doyle imitated every instrument in the band on his violin, a skit that should be played on television and go viral on YouTube.

It is just before Christmas, 1942. The people who run the Stardust Club are going to throw a party for Lt. Malloy. The entertainers at the club plan on impersonating a host of celebrity guests -- Mae West (Megan Tyrrell), W.C. Fields (Matt Posner), Marlene Dietrich and Lena Horne (Monda), Judy Garland dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” (Mendez), John Wayne (Brown), Edith Piaf (Mendez), and Errol Flynn (Posner) – all of whom either serenade Malloy or perform stand-up comedy routines. And Errol Flynn and Charlie Chaplin have a swashbuckling sword and cane fight.

Just before the party is scheduled to start the IRS agent shows up with the intention of closing the club and charging the owner with tax evasion. 

Posner plays club owner Harry Hamilton, and Alison Monda plays Harry’s assistant, Kate Gallagher. Posner and Monda are two of the best musical theater performers ever to grace South Sound stages. Together and separately they have wowed audiences at Tacoma Musical Theater, Centerstage in Federal Way and Harlequin in shows such as “Summer in the Sixties,” “Sixties Kicks,” “I’m Into Something Good,” “Rent,” “Hello Dolly” and countless others. They are both brilliant singers and actors who give every performance their all, and Posner is a natural dancer who obviously feels the rhythm and lights up the stage with his moves.

The other two women in the cast -- Mendez and Tyrrell -- are strong singers. Mendez does a beautiful version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Tyrrell does a great Mae West impersonation and sings beautifully on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which holds special meaning for her because when she was a little girl she saw her mother, Jana Tyrrell, perform the same song in the first show in the Stardust series.

Other entertainers in the club are Michael Lengel as police officer Owen Duvall, and 14-year-old Jack Steiner as Jimmy Sutton. Lengel is a crooner with a soft and engaging voice, and Steiner holds his own on stage with the more seasoned performers, plus he’s a great dancer.

Hit songs in the show include “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Stormy Weather” (a knockout performance by Monda impersonating Lena Horne), “Over the Rainbow ” a surprise rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and a big song-and-dance number on “I’ve Got Rhythm” with the whole cast led by Steiner.

Music is provided by Harlequin’s regular house band, with some of the South Sound’s leading jazz and rock musicians led by Bruce Whitney. Band members are: Keith Anderson on drums, Dan Blunck on sax, Andy Omdahl on trumpet, Daven Tillinghast on guitar, and Whitney as Nikolai Feodorov on piano and clarinet. 
If you want to make your holidays bright, go see “Stardust Serenade.”

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

For more about this show see Thurston Talk.


Anonymous said...

Disagree. Disappointment.

Anonymous said...

I saw this last night and was blown away! My third Stardust and easily the most entertaining.
Alison Monda is sooo good and Doyles Chaplin made the night magical. My 14 yr old son was really moved as well...

wannadanc said...

This was a MOST enjoyable performance, on the part of every single person. I am old enough to have known the words to all the songs, and it all took me back to a time I didn't know as an adult. Thank you, Harlequin!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Linda Whitney is an inspired director and writer and once again has provided a magical holiday musical filled with nostalgia. I was dubious that the "charlie" character would work in a 1940's setting--yet actor Doyle carried it off. I was touched by the musical number he does with Mendez in sign language. The cast worked well together and Monda and Posner are a treat to watch. Well worth it!