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Theater Notes: Two must sees

By Staff | Dec 3, 2014

Run, don’t walk, in fact, fly to make sure you get into two superb productions in theaters right now. One of these shows that has earned my highest praise is here on the island at the Big Arts Herb Strauss Theater. The other is in Fort Myers at the intimate Theatre Conspiracy.

The show on Sanibel is a magical cabaret called “Divas.” Three utterly gifted singers bring us practically every major diva who has graced Broadway and nightclubs over the last 50 years. What we were presented with was an utterly and deeply satisfying evening of musical treasures.

Two of the singers, Annie Freres and Elizabether Urbanczyk, will be delightfully familiar to those of you who have been loyal fans of the Big Arts Herb Strauss Theater. The two stars have never been better. And their newcomer to our stage, Danielle Barnes, did all the fabulous piano accompaniments, and also added her sweet voice to the whole show.

We heard the three vocalists sing solos, duos in perfect harmony, and a couple of trios that knocked our socks off and opened up our hearts. There’s not a dull number in the whole show. I could see sweet gray-haired ladies in the audience mouthing the words of so many of the intoxicating songs. Oh, the memories that were dredged up. I was deeply moved by Anna Freres’ rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” from the musical “The Baker’s Wife,” a show that played London but never made it to Broadway. Wish I had seen it.

The audience left breathless on opening night and wanting more. I’m still haunted by the beauty those artists brought to our audience. The choices of the songs they performed challenged and stretched them. The rehearsals must have been great fun. They had time to really pick and choose, as a group, what would go into the show. I could tell the dedication they have put into this production, and I felt there was no other place they wanted to be except belting out Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Nancy Sinatra, Lady Gaga, Bette Midler, Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli, and songs from Steven Schwartz and Anthony Lloyd Weber. One after another, incredible songs from the Diva Archive, right up to the final curtain and the resounding applause. No one left at the intermission that night.

Go see and hear why for yourself.

Warmest accolades go to Bobby Logue, artistic director at Big Arts Herb Strauss Theater. It was his vision and solid support that made that evening glow. It must have been an exciting adventure to work with the three women to hammer the choices from 50 years of diva songs into the gem we saw performed on opening night. He has good help from his technical crew, Adam Trummel, lighting director, and Jorge Corral, sound engineer. I didn’t see a name for who did costuming, but the outfits were delightful, and every change right on target.

I did not say that this show is a “must see” lightly. It’s a revue like you’ve never seen before. A unique, creative, boisterous, joyful evening that you must not miss.

I’d get tickets ASAP. I predict it will be a sellout, just from word of mouth. It’s that good.

Call the boxoffice at (239) 472-6862. Now, be warned. “Divas” closes on Dec. 4. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3-4. Hurry. I can’t wait to hear how much YOU and your family loved “Divas.”

A gripping triumph

My second must see is the play “Swell Party,” on the boards right now at Theatre Conspiracy.

(A detailed review by Marsha Wagner, theater critic for the Islander, will appear next week.) I hope my enthusiasm for the play will make you get a ticket fast before it sells out. I found it a thoroughly gripping evening, with a brilliant cast and directed by one of my favorite directors, Karen Goldberg. You will get see the exquisite Lauren Drexler, truly one of the finest actresses in southwest Florida. What she brings to the play is sheer genius.

Here’s a quick summary. I think it’s going to be a sellout, it’s that good. The play takes place in the parlor of the mansion of The Tobacco King, R.J. Reynolds. Smith Reynolds, a wild and colorful 24 year old, is a thorn in the side of the family. He’s a playboy, an aviator who casually flew the Atlantic alone, and back, without filing flight plans. Let’s say he’s less than responsible. But he’s also the heir to over $13 million, and has brought home, to scandalize everyone in Winston-Salem, a bride who happens to be Jewish, and an actress. She’s also a tad older than reckless Smitty. The plot thickens. And it does all evening, with colorful characters, a real-life story, a who-done-it murder, or is it murder? I know I could hardly wait to get back in after intermission to see what this up-and-coming playwright, Topher Payne from Atlanta, had up his sleeve. To me, Topher seemed cloned from Tennessee Williams.

I ended up adding it to my MUST SEE LIST. Go and see why. Call the box office at (239) 936-3239. I predict you’ll agree with me. This is definitely a play worth seeing. You won’t fall asleep in this one. No one did.

One last THEATER NOTE. Keep your ears out for anything the Theater Department at Southwestern Florida State College is doing. I was lucky enough to catch their version of “On the Verge” or “The Geography of Yearning” before it closed on Nov. 22. The college kids did it all. It was the project for one of their classes. Seventeen of them, I think it was, planned, divided up the chores, multitasked, acted, built the sets, did the sound, the lights, all of it. They pulled it off. In my mind their professor, Stuart Brown, deserves the Tony Award. He knows how to lead, how to delegate, and how to inspire. No teacher can do more. Go see for yourself. Call for more information: 433-8077 to get on their mailing list for future productions.