Entries in Molly Rhode (2)



Skylight’s Foot Stomping Musical Road Trip

The first ever county production for the Skylight Music Theatre brought the audience to their feet with a standing ovation on opening night. Reviving the 1982 Broadway musical Pump Boys and Dinettes reprises this country based concert mixed with gospel and rock and roll rhythms to recall the All American, cross country road trip.

In Pump Boys and Dinettes, the road travels on Hwy 57 sometime during the 1950’s through Frog Level and Smyrna, North Carolina where a gas station, perhaps a Mobil, serves up more music than auto repairs. The four “mechanics” would rather be strumming their guitars and string bass then cranking a wrench. Or perhaps eyeing the Cupp sisters, Loretta and Prudence, who dish out coffee, meatloaf and pecan pie to anyone who stops along these back byways at the Double Cupp Cafe instead of moving swiftly on the freeways.

What a fabulous place to stop for an evening! The vague plot line only provides a ready excuse for the musicians to romp between diner and gas station while these talented actors cavort on stage with their instruments. Campy sets designed by Brandon Ribordy are lit with bright neon signage that marvelously changes color throughout the performance to add kitschy ambience.

The production's six actors---Andrew Crowe, Greg Flattery, Tommy Hahn, Paul Helm, Molly Rhode, and Samantha Sostarich---act and play to foot stomping perfection. Director and choreographer Bil Theisen’s attention grabbing choreography fixes the audience’s eyes to the stage, so they can sit back and merely enjoy the theatrical ride while listening to the clever lyrics accompanying the down home dancing.

Has a Milwaukee audience ever seen such a magnificent Helm “strut his stuff” while also playing the piano in “Serve Yourself?” Or when Helm dons those red cowboy boots in the very humorous “Farmer Tan?” Rhode certainly delivers the entertainment goods in her standout “Be Good or Be Gone,” and while in tandem with Sostarich during the funny play on words tune “Tips.” A great song these two sisters rock on stage that might hint why they named their diner the Double Cupp. The Pump Boys create enough magnetism of their own in “Before Fisherman’s Prayers,” “Catfish," and the title tune, “Pump Boys.” 

Each company member in the Skylight's rollicking ensemble production makes this musical trip two hours of fabulous fun on Milwaukee's chilly March evenings. This brilliantly colored Southern rest stop provides a jolt of energy, from the pots and pans used for percussion to the softer ballads interspersed between the rock and roll jive. An evening of pure joy for every age, resting in the seats at Pump Boys and Dinettes will surely put the heartfelt into this country inspired evening because as Retta says, "Where else can you get music with your meatloaf?”

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Pump Boys and Dinettes on the Cabot Theatre Stage at the Broadway Theatre Center through March 24, and be sure to stop and enjoy pie after the show in the Cabaret. For information or tickets, call 414.291.7800 or click the Skylight link to the left.      by Peggy Sue Dunigan







Why revisit a 50 year old Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical (with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse) in 2012? Because the Skylight Music Theatre unwraps a gorgeous and moving production of the multiple Tony and Oscar winning The Sound of Music for Milwaukee’s gift giving season.       

In the Skylight’s visually lavish production, the city’s well-known actor Molly Rhode showcases her directorial premiere with talented style, together with the First Stage Academy Theatre Young Performers in the enchanting roles of the seven von Trapp children. The familiar story finds the heroic and lonesome father of seven children, Captain von Trapp, meeting his musical love match in the winsome Maria Ranier, a homeless would be nun living at an Austrian Abbey. Together they forge through life to live happy ever after, and the how becomes as important as the why.

A entire choir of sisterly nuns inhabit every floor and niche in the Cabot Theatre to bring their Alleluias to a heavenly crescendo for the opening, a prelude to the audience eventually watching a wedding scene complete with white dresses and blue satin sashes. Elizabeth Telford plays the problematic Maria to exude energy and surely will tighten those beginning scenes after opening night. While radiant and winning, she seemed to find her true persona in the second act.

Steve Koehler’s Captain von Trapp offers a staunch and exciting foil to Telford while transforming brilliantly into a man who discovers his true love that confronts a horrific political truth, all marvelously put into song by Koehler and Telford. Something Good happens in every scene on the intimate stage, where the choreography and use of theater aisles expands the space, inviting the vastness of those Austrian mountains the setting speaks to.

While the audience will know the words to every song, this only endears the Rodgers and Hammerstein melodies to the audience throughout the evening. An accomplished orchestra (under Jaime Johns direction) accompanies a worthy supporting cast. Memorable once again as this musical has created memories in people’s lives for over half a century, especially when the Mother Abbess (a tender Cynthia Marty) sings Climb Every Mountain. Whether the von Trapp children say So Long, Farewell, or the Maria calms her brood with the holiday tradition My Favorite Things, the Young Performer Snowflake Cast performed with magnificence, including Erins Stapleton's Liesl. Treasures in this extensive production that demands and absolutely wraps a satin ribbon around the audience’s heart.     

Ultimately, the story revisits truth, truth to one man’s courage in Captain von Trapp, who made a difficult, single stand against an evil force invading his country and comfortable life. Most compelling are the final scenes where the von Trapp family repeats the phrase “tea with German bread” from the song Do-Re-Mi on stage at the Salzburg Music Festival against the backdrop of Nazi banners stretching from floor to ceiling on either side.

This paradox presents the crux of the production, the innocence of children, the love of country and the fight for their survival amid the terror of an oppressive force looming. A man's unstoppable determination to forge through the status quo to find the love of his life and tackle the mountains of Switzerland to freedom presents a story worth repeating in every generation. 

The Skylight gives Milwaukee a splendid gift for the year's end, this musical story where courage and love against all odds can overcome the world through one beautiful voice at a time.Treasure these The Sound of Music performances with loved ones and make indelible memories. The captivating evening will inspire any holiday celebrations.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents the Sound of Music in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through December 31. Also read Points to Ponder: Young Performers Shine. For tickets or further information, please call: 414.291.7800 or click the link to the left.  by Peggy Sue Dunigan