Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

In Tandem's Stylish Scrooge

This Year’s Classy Christmas With In Tandem

By Russ Bickerstaff
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To be honest, the idea of another Christmas Carol  spoof didn’t seem all that appealing to me. When  In Tandem first announced its season, Scrooge In Rouge sounded kind of dull and formulaic. Then I heard about the cast—In Tandem co-founder Chris Fleiller is an excellent comic talent. Matt Daniels is a talented guy with the poise and polish of an Equity actor. Marcella Kearns is probably best known for her work with Milwaukee Shakespeare, but usually gets put in roles that wouldn’t be particularly challenging for her. This particular trio in a comedy looked particularly promising.

I arrived for the show (a Sunday matinee) right on time. The art in the lobby looked exceedingly familiar. Under the direction of In Tandem’s 10th Street Gallery curator Miranda Levy, the paintings currently displayed are the work of Mike Fredrickson. The photorealistic paintings of familiar east side locations create a very welcoming feeling.

The overall experience of going to the Tenth Street Theatre is very casually classy. Linda Freund’s set is simple and tasteful A red curtain hangs behind arches. The play is set in a turn of the century British Music Hall. The stage is scuffed. Modern footlights are adorned with those class footlight sconces so easy to picture and so rarely seen on a modern stage. It occurs to me that there might’ve been seats in the main front section of the house with the bulk of the seats when I’d arrived, but the view from the side in the tenth street theatre’s thrust is always interesting. It brings one closer to the action and here gives sort of a backstage feel to a show designed to comically exaggerate some of the backstage comedy of an old-fashioned stage presentation. A  short partition wall designed by Freund is a clever little addition that adds to the Music Hall feel as well . . . and feels surprisingly natural. I found myself thinking of it as part of the theatre at times. There was a desire to lean against it at intermission . . . this is a part of the set that feels like part of the theatre.

Directed by Jane Flieller, the entire show is performed in a classy British music hall style. On this side of the Atlantic, the style is better known as Vaudeville. The exaggerated, showy delivery of punch lines and mugging for the audience looks positively ridiculous when done by contemporary actors without the talent or experience necessary to bring it to the stage with flourish. Thankfully, we have a really good trio here accompanied by impressive and classy Kathy Smith costuming in a casually beautiful set. Everything here brilliantly balances with everything else.

As I recall, Matt Daniels (who most recently starred locally in Milwaukee Chamber’s Around the World In 80 Days) was in an all-male Milwukee Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew—as Petruchio. Having seen him as a man surrounded by men playing women, it’s interesting to see him play a show almost entirely in drag in the role of the toweringly statuesque Lottie. He carries strong femininity with a poise that makes for great comedy. The reality of what he’s doing is convincing enough to make the comedy of Lottie appearing onstage in the role of a man all the more comic. This is Matt Daniels in drag as a woman who is in drag as a man. Fun.

Chris Flieller is a very talented comic actor and its fun to see him doing Vaudeville/Music Hall style comedy, as it fits so well with his sense of humor as an actor. Flieller is really in his natural element here and it shows. Whether in drag or in a bow tie or in a picture frame as Queen Elizabeth, Flieller makes this kind of comedy look truly effortless.  There may not be much substance in the comedy, (It’s all pretty lightweight Vaudeville with punch lines usually  hitting below the belt,) but Fleiller acts brilliantly at the center of it all to make the script’s lack of substance come across as one of its greatest achievements.

Marcella Kearns plays Vesta—a stage talent who plays Scrooge through much of the comedy-within-the-comedy. Looking sharp in a top hat with those characteristically expressive eyes, Kearns makes a strikingly attractive Scrooge. Usually given to smaller roles in larger casts, it’s a pleasure to see her taking a more active role in a comedy that fits her so well. The prettiest voice in the cast, she also anchors the musical moments of the play quite well, adding to the overall polish of the production quite nicely.
 

In Tandem’s production of Scrooge In Rouge runs through January 3rd at the Tenth Street Theatre. For more info call 414-271-1371.

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