Friday, August 14, 2015

Sweet and Lowdown

Cookie McGee kicks up his heels
Beaman shines as the oily bootlegger turned savvy, problem-solving butler who beams at his new-found respectability and finds – as do many others in the piece – unlikely love. ~On Boston Stages

The supporting players are out of the same barrel, especially James Beaman, who does the best Buddy Hackett since Buddy Hackett... ~Wall Street Journal

In 2007 Beaman was devastatingly good as Albin in "La Cage Aux Folles" at the Playhouse, and his Cookie characterization is also one for the ages. ~Talkin' Broadway

I haven't blogged in a while, folks, because to be honest--I have been having too much fun!  "Nice Work If You Can Get It" burst on to the Ogunquit Playhouse stage a month ago and has been enjoying a rapturous sold out run!  The audiences here have embraced the screwball antics of this bubble of a show with such love and hilarity that I have been on a high for weeks.  Truly, this has been one of the most joyful and gratifying things I have ever done.

As Cookie, with Sally Struthers as the Duchess
It helps to have a wonderfully crafted role: Cookie McGee is a clown in the grand tradition of the Marx Brothers and every classic comedian we know.  Joe DiPietro has infused him with the attributes of the great comics that he loves from classic film and I share that love and know how those guys tick.  Add to my advantages the fearless comedic genius of my partner in crime, Sally Struthers, and the expert hand and wholehearted permission of our director, Larry Raben, and I have simply been allowed to soar with this part.  The audiences have rewarded me with huge laughs and the biggest ovations I have ever received in any role in my 25 year career.

With Valerie Harper
Our company has been steady, strong and upbeat through some difficult challenges up here in beautiful Ogunquit.  The production was thrust into the national spotlight when our guest star, the wonderful Valerie Harper, who came on board to play the cameo role of Millicent Winter, was taken ill backstage during our second week and had to withdraw from the show.  Ogunquit Playhouse, led by our gentleman producer, Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney, handled the media storm with grace and with Valerie's privacy and well being as the paramount concern.  But the press was pretty aggressive, obtaining the private phone numbers of everyone in the cast, haranguing us on Facebook and pumping us in person for information about Valerie's condition.  I was so proud of the way everyone maintained their silence out of respect for dear Valerie, and got a real glimpse of the ruthlessness of the press and the cost of fame.  The best thing is that Valerie is recovering well and in the arms of her loving family.

Back Stage with Brenda Vaccaro
I watched one of our ensemble members, Heather Stinson, who had covered the role of Millicent on the national tour (at only 23 years of age) step in literally at the last moment and give a confident and winning performance; I saw our Millicent from the Gateway run of our production, Leslie Alexander, jump in and nail the part for a few shows, garnering a glowing mention in the Wall Street Journal's review; and then lo and behold, we were joined by Oscar nominee and TV and Broadway veteran Brenda Vaccaro, who has taken on the part with gusto.  What an extraordinary thing to witness in the course of a brief month long run here at Ogunquit!

Opening night, with Sally Struthers
Irregardless of the challenges, this company has shone brightly and the Playhouse has mounted a superb and glittering production that I think measures up to, if not surpasses, the original Broadway production of this delicious musical farce.  I feel blessed to have been a part of this and to have been given the chance to craft a performance that I know is delighting audiences each and every night.  I am so sad to see this one go.  I adore Sally, and our partnership on stage, and burgeoning friendship off stage, are beyond price.  I'll miss that lady.

Ogunquit is a stunningly beautiful place to be in July and August, and as it is not only a place where I have performed now in three productions, but a place my family has come to annually since I was a child, I feel I have been at home again here.  The joy of the familiar has been matched by the excitement of new collaborators like our director Larry and our choreographer, the great Peggy Hickey, and this stellar cast led by the remarkable Joey Sorge and Amanda Lea LaVergne.  I am as proud of this work as of anything I have ever done.  Not sure what's next but right now I am finishing out the run here glowing with pride and joy--nice work, in spades.