Nancy Sasso Janis
- Connecticut Critic
- Connecticut Critics Circle
“All who become a part of our art colony family have an unspoken invitation to boldly ‘Be a Part of the Art’ and to be a part of the family in any and all ways that speak to them.” - Angeloria of The Arts at Angeloria’s
Southington, CT - I was invited to return to one of the most unique venues I have ever encountered, The Arts at Angeloria’s on Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike in Southington. Lori Holm is the artistic director of what technically is an art school in her home and I first traveled here to catch a fine production of ‘The Who’s Tommy’ in a former two-car garage that has been converted into an intimate but very functional black box theatre. This year the artists decided to stage another big show in their little space, the musical ‘Mame,’ and they worked together to constantly problem solve to make sure that everything fit. The result is a lovely production of what proved to be a great show, starring no less than the very talented Ms. Holm herself in the title role.
The director/vocal director Ed Rosenblatt officially directed a musical for the first time with the help of Chris Zajac as technical director. Mr. Rosenblatt notes that coincidentally Jerry Herman started writing the music for ‘Mame’ the year that Ms. Holm was born and that the last name of the first actress to go on national tour with the show was the same as hers. The actress also served as set designer/builder and costume mistress. The music was provided by Bill D’Andrea on a “baby baby grand” and he cheerfully changed hats as the characters changed locations.
‘Mame’ features a book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. It was originally titled ‘My Best Girl’ and was based on a 1955 novel called Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and a Broadway play by the book writers starring Rosalind Russell. The story is set in NYC from the Great Depression to WW II and focuses on the eccentric bohemian Mame Dennis. Her fabulous life with her wealthy friends is interrupted when the young son of her late brother arrives and the two cope with the Depression in a series of adventures, some of which happen in CT. I knew we would hear the title song and “Bosom Buddies,” but we also got to enjoy “We Need a Little Christmas” in the first act and “If He Walked Into My Life” in the second.
Juliana Aulbach of Southington played the younger version of Mame’s nephew Patrick and she sang beautifully. Rick Beebe of Hamden was the staunch Dwight Babcock and Pam Boardman Simpson (‘Tommy’) of North Branford was memorable as Mother Burnside and Lindsey Woolsey.
Lori Berglund of Southington played the actress Vera Charles with a twinkle in her eye and most convincingly. Ten year old Jillyann Brush-Shulthiess of Southington was Peter Dennis, a moon lady and a newsboy. Simsbury resident Hal Chernoff was great as the man that sweeps Mame off her feet and Stephanie Chernoff was Mrs. Upson.
Jacqueline Isabella of Hamden, who enjoyed ‘Tommy’ at this venue and was inspired to be part of their next production, was glowing as Gigi and Pageen Ryan. Her mother Mary Lou Mayo played Sally Cato. Benjamin Isabella sang so well as the older version of Patrick and Uncle Jeff. Elyse LaChapelle of Waterbury (‘Tommy’) played Ruth Devine and Madam Bronowski. Tiffanie Patscheck of West Hartford made her A@A debut in the role of cousin Fan and Junior Babcock.
Kate Simpson of North Branford (Mrs. Walker in ‘Tommy’) played Patrick’s awful suitor Gloria Upson and did well in the ensemble and Jim Snow of Southington was a riot as Ito, Mame’s faithful Chinese servant.
In the role of young Patrick’s caretaker, Kristina Passier of Cromwell was a natural actress and fine singer. Her character had quite an arc to master, and she did so beautifully. It was also a pleasure to watch Ms. Holm (who was so wonderful as Trenna in ‘Ring of Fire’ in Thomaston) take on the role of the beloved eccentric aunt. In one spectacular costume after another, she brought to life the larger than life character and of course sang every note as only she can.
Most of the problem solving done by the production team was done seamlessly. The single piano was just enough. The small stage crew pulled off the set changes with choreographed diligence and we felt the cold air when an outside door was opened to allow for the load in of the necessary set pieces. The various settings were clear, if not large, and there was even a window to sing through. There was beautiful photography and videos of the cast members by Chris Zajac. The greeters Charles and Patulla Comstock were dressed to the nines and most cordial. And the costumes, oh the costumes! They were lush in design, period perfect, and fit the cast members in the most flattering way. I probably liked Mame’s the best, but all of her high society friends were just as well dressed.
I really enjoyed what was a new show for me, perhaps even more because I appreciate the hard work that goes into keeping alive the mission of this unique “art colony family.” I hope to return to enjoy their upcoming productions .
Next up for The Arts at Angeloria’s in March of next year will be ‘The Clean House’ by Sarah Ruhl, a whimsical romantic comedy about Matilde, a Brazilian cleaning woman who would rather be a comedian. It will be directed by Ms. LaChapelle who has always dreamed of directing. Auditions will be held on Dec. 11 and 12, 2016.
Photo of Lori Holm as 'Mame' by Chris Zajac