Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Great Must-See Shows Opening This Weekend

The PopCulteer
May 6, 2011

There are four great shows in the area this weekend. Below you will find detailed reviews of two of them, plus graphics for two more. It’s a busy week, so let’s dive in…

presented by
The Contemporary Youth Arts Company
May 6,7, 12,13,14 at 8:00 PM
at The WVSU Capitol Center Theater

Dan Kehde has delivered another winner with “Airwaves.” This world premiere drama, written and directed by Kehde and presented by The Contemporary Youth Arts company is a stunning and timely work that will leave audiences intrigued and emotionally drained.

The split narrative tells two tales that weave together with alternating scenes. In one, at a Northern Ohio Psychiatric Hospital ten years in the future, a Doctor returns to work after taking a decade to deal with a paralyzing trauma. Her first case in a week of seeing patients after an extended absence is deciding whether or not to admit a disoriented homeless woman.

The other story, set in the present day, shows us the sudden rise of a far-right-wing talk radio host, who soars in the ratings by stirring up heated and irrational debates.

The two stories collide as, bit by bit, we learn that Omaha, Nebraska has been destroyed in a terrorist act that wiped out half a million people.

The story is a cautionary tale about the inevitable result of the breakdown of civil discourse and the rise of irrational political rabble-rousing. Given the polarizing dialogue that has plagued this country since President Obama took office, the scenario is frightenly plausible. There’s even a nod to the post-capture looney Bin Laden conspiracy theories.

The performances in this production are phenomenal. Erin Martin expertly portrays Delores Snodgass, the homeless woman who seems delusional and disoriented. This is another tour-de-force from Martin, who was so memorable in the CYAC production of “Shadowman” a couple of years ago. As the play progresses, you will get to see Martin give an increasingly complex performances that is one of the pillars of the play.

Maddy Gourevitch gives a layered performance as Dr. Sheila Mason, the Psychiatrist who’s inching her way back to work after time off to deal with the death of her daughter in the Omaha disaster. Mandy Harper and Lauren Mallory, as Dr. Mason’s colleagues, provide the perfect support as they deal with Dr. Mason’s unusual method of working with her patient.

Meanwhile, at the WPIQ Radio Studio, Kim Waybright offers up a virtuoso performance as Samantha Morgenstern, who spouts some of the most repulsive right-wing rhetoric you’ll ever encounter. I’ve seen Kim in many productions (and have mispelled her name as “Kym” in many a review) and while she is always excellent, this seems like it may have been her most challenging role yet. Her characterization of Sam brings to life a character who may or may not believe the politics she spews, but puts her ambition above any consideration that that she’s doing harm with her actions.

Samantha’s sidekick, Father Mike O’Donnell is played with zest by Daniel Calwell, who provides just the right mix of comic relief, while also pouring gasoline on the fires of irrational dissent. Kelsey Clough Pretty much nails the part of the station manager who gives the team of right-wingers a hard time until they start to pull in ratings.

The always-impressive Nik Tidquist does a great job as Abraham, the combative caller to the radio show who takes things too far.

The talented cast is filled out with Kaylenn Surface, Michael Carbone, Jenny Totten, and Lauren Miller, who provide the remainder of a winning ensemble.

“Airwaves” is a striking work. In addition to it being totally relevant, it works quite well as drama. Even with the narrative being split between two time periods, the audience is drawn in. This is a pretty heavy drama, but it’s also one of the most rewarding stageplays that you’re likely to see this year.

See the preview clip below

“The Drowsy Chaperone”
presented by The Charleston Light Opera Guild
May 6,7,13,14,20, 21 at 7:30 PM May 15 at 3:00 PM
at The Charleston Civic Center Little Theater

See the preview video below, and watch for a bonus song from the production on next week’s episode of Radio Free Charleston, here in PopCult.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is obscure, and I mean that in the best way possible. This lively musical is a valentine to the type of musical theater productions that simply no longer exists in today’s theater scene.

Billed as “A Musical Within A Comedy,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” starts with a darkened stage and the voice of our narrarator, “The Man In The Chair.” The Man, brilliantly portrayed by Ted Brightwell, is an obsessive theater geek who wants to share one of his favorite musicals from the 1920s, the fictional “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Brightwell interjects hysterical asides and faux trivia notes throughout the production and is a most charming host for the evening.

Within this framework, the musical itself is a campy recreation of the kind of light-weight musical farce that was typical of the day. The plot is thin and contrived, the action less than logical, the acting deliberately hammy and the music is downright catchy. In other words, this show is a load of fun. With Brightwell’s Man In The Chair providing insight, it’s almost like the musical theater equivelent of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Aside from the deliberate obscurity of celebrating a previously non-existant musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is legitimately obscure. Somehow this clever and enjoyable musical managed a decent run on Broadway and even snagged a few Tony awards without many people becoming aware of its existence.

The book, by Bob Martin and Don McKellar is highly amusing, paying tribute to the pure silliness of most 1920s musicals while poking sharp fun at the mounds of trivia that is the stock in trade of the obsessive fan. With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, the production solidifies into a wonderful production, with catchy tunes and great humor. Among the memorable songs are “Toledo Surprise” and “As We Stumble Along,” the latter of which is reprised as a crowd-pleasing show-closer.

The cast is terrific. Aside from Brightwell, the show is loaded with standout performances. Joe Romagnoi as Adolpho, the exuberant Latin lover is a real gut-buster, stealing every scene he’s in. Lynn Bell seems to channel the great Margaret DuMont as Mrs. Tottendale, interacting perfectly with Bryan Archer as her servant, Underling.

Bringing even more broad comedy to the production are Susanna Tucker as the ditsy blonde starlet, Kitty, and Tim Whitener and Steven Brannon as the Stooge-esque Gangsters/Pastry Chefs. Laurie Pennington as the titular, Drowsy (as in drunk) Chaperone harvests ample laughs as she staggers around the stage like a less-menacing version of Patsy, from “Absolutely Fabulous.”

The thankless task of playing the lead romantic couple, Bob and Janet, falls to Jared L. Brown and Toni M. Pilato, who both sing and dance with vigor as they fall in and out and back in love. Extra kudos go out to Bob McCarty, who teams with Brown on a show-stopping tap dance number early in the show.

This production is impressive as hell. Director Nina Denton Pasinetti has pulled off what had to be a huge challenge of directing and choreographing a large cast around a very complex set. The orchestra, under the baton of John Marshall, deftly recreates the sound of Jazz-era Broadway musicals.

A Double Dose Of Pantless Fun

Ryan Hardiman And His Trusy Back Up Band

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. Next week check back for our regular features and the last episode of Radio Free Charleston before we take a two-week break.


  1. Melissa

    You totally missed Alan Smith, who played the Producer in Drowsy Chaperone! He did a fabulous job in his portrayal of the producer whose life and career are being threatened by the Gangsters/pastry chefs! He was a great opposite to Susanna Tucker, as Kitty.

    It’s just not right to totally miss remarking on one of the talented cast, when you made sure to comment on everyone else. His part was just as important as was everyone else’s!

  2. rudy panucci

    I’m sorry you’re so upset. I didn’t have enough room or time to mention the entire cast, but it was a huge oversight not to mention Alan, who did a wonderful job, evoking the old-school boss characters from the classic comedies.

    You’ll get to see Alan shine on next week’s Radio Free Charleston, which will include all of “Toledo Surprise” from the show.

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