We first had the pleasure of seeing the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company perform two years ago at the Playwrights Theatre in Madison. The play was “Distracted” and we commented then that they were “one of the finest groups of actors we’ve had the pleasure of watching perform in a long time.” The actors, mostly Equity pros, included Harriet Trangucci, Scott McGowan, Noreen Farley, Harry Patrick Christian and Jessica O’Hara-Baker. The director was the Artistic Director of the company, Laura Ekstrand.
Last night (Friday September 28, 2012) they all were on stage demonstrating their great chemistry, including Laura, in the premiere of a new musical, “The Neighborhood” with book and lyrics by Laura Ekstrand and music by Joseph Zawila. Directing this fast paced gem is Lauren Moran Mills. The location is the new home for Dreamcatcher at the Oakes Center at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. The impressive venue is a spacious and comfortable former church.
We went expecting major pro performances but, to be brutally honest, some concern about an original musical (translation: the success rate of original musicals is dismal so you normally expect a long night). However, and this is a big “however,” what we experienced was one of the most enjoyable theatre events of the year. “The Neighborhood” is charming, clever, funny, delightful, heart-warming, and add your own adjectives to a wonderful evening of the most magical of entertainments, live theatre.
This marvelously talented group that also includes the fine comic talent of Dave Maulbeck spends two hours (minus a 15 minute intermission) capturing the sometimes crazy world of a neighborhood, all based on the stories of Dreamcatcher’s family of actors.
It is impossible not to recognize the foibles of those who live around us, and a few of our own. Via a series of mostly short vignettes they cover everything from noisy, over sexed, stand-offish neighbors to barking dogs and lonely spinsters seeking grey-haired companionship in a neighborhood overrun with yuppies and their little ones. Here is how Laura Ekstrand describes her creation; ” How much (do) we really know about our neighbors, and how much we really want to know about them. These are the people we see every day on the train while commuting to work, the people next door whose dog drives us crazy, the people we wave at from a distance, and the people who cross the line from neighbor to friend by allowing us into their lives when it matters most.”
Now “The Neighborhood” is billed as a musical, however it might be fairer to call it a play with music. Eight fine songs are sprinkled throughout the play; Act I- My Old Neighborhood…All, The Perfect House…Jessica with Jason, Scott and David, Single in the Suburbs…Harry, Little One…David and Laura, A Neighbor Is…Scott, Jason, Jessica. Act II -The PTA…Laura, Christmastime…Jason, All, The Neighborhood…Scott, All. They are all very clever, but the biggest audience pleaser is Laura’s Act Two opener The PTA. She has great fun reciting the names of 62 PTA committees.
One of the many laughs that registered with this writer comes in a commuter train scene with Jason Szamreta as a struggling actor heading to Manhattan for an audition and his nerdy, intrusive neighbor played perfectly by Dave Maulbeck who expresses concern for his job security. He realizes he is getting no sympathy from Jason and bluntly says “Of course, as an actor….you are always out of work!’
The other Neighborhood cast members Jessica O’Hara-Baker, Harry Patrick Christian and Harriett Trangucci all have fine fun turns, but Noreen Farley (fabulous in last season’s “Blood…a comedy”) and Scott McGowan are truly outstanding.
Director Lauren Moran Mills is ably assisted by a very experienced creative staff including; music director Jack Bender, scenic design Wesley Krantz (clever silhouettes of homes form the background), lighting design Zach Pizza, sound design Jeff Knapp, costume design Laura Ekstrand, and the all important stage manager/traffic cop Danielle Constance. Additional backstage support from assistant stage manager Sophie Schulman and the set crew: Julia Colicchio, Gloriann Figenshu, James Sullivan, Frank and Cathy Hawrusik. Overseeing the entire effort with Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand is the tireless Managing Director Steven McIntyre.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 28, 2012
“The Neighborhood” will run through Sunday, October 14. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There will be talkbacks with the artists after the September 30 and October 7 matinee performances. Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and students, with special rates for subscribers and groups. Purchase tickets online at www.dreamcatcherrep.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006. Seniors pay only $15 on advance purchases only on Senior Sunday, the September 30 matinee.
Performances are at The Oakes Center, located at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. Parking is available in the lot behind the theatre on Ashwood Avenue and at the Summit Recreation Center on Morris Avenue. The facility is wheelchair accessible. Assistive Listening devices for the hearing impaired and advance large print scripts are available by prior arrangement.