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by Richard Connema

Center Repertory Company of Walnut Creek is presenting the Noël Coward celebration called A Marvelous Party through June 26th. This is a lively, stylish and effervescent revue starring three splendid performers. It's as sparkling as an open bottle of champagne.

I was fortunate to know Noël Coward when I worked in Hollywood. There was never a showman/composer like him and there never will be again. He was a one-man British theatre tradition prior to the "angry young men" who took over the control of West End theatre. As a Los Angeles Times critic said: "A talent to amuse, in abundance."

A Marvelous Party features more than thirty of Coward's songs, along with observations of the songwriter on life and the theatre. The gifted Mark Anders, Molly Bell and Carl J. Danielsen work their magic in song and dance in this seamless production.

Opening with "Together with Music" from the TV special with Mary Martin in 1955, the insanely talented trio gets the 2-hour stylish show off to a great start. They segue into the side-splitting skit of actors auditions which leads to the 1936 song "Mrs. Worthington (Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington)".

Carl J. Danielsen is a "little bit of all right" singing and soft-shoe dancing to "London Is a Little Bit of All Right," while Mark Anders is fetching singing "The Stately Homes of England" and delivers a surreptitiously madcap "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." Danielsen does a winning performance of "Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster."

Molly Bell is a firecracker in the marathon six-song re-creation gathered into "The Coconut Girl" from the musical The Girl Who Came to Supper (which I saw in 1963 with Tessie O'Shae doing the number). Also, Carl has choice vocal cords singing "What Ho, Mrs. Brisket" from the same musical. Carl and Mark do a bang-up version dressed in British Navy uniforms singing "Has Anyone Seen Our Ship?" from Red Peppers (part of Tonight at 8:30).

Act two brings out the best of Noël Coward, opening with Molly singing the poignant "Mad About the Boy" from the 1932 production of Words and Music. Mark does a hilarious version of "I've Been to a Marvellous Party" with some of the drollest lyrics of the 20th century. There are the lovely melodies and songs like "Sail Away" from the show of the same name sung by the trio, and Mark beautifully singing "Someday I'll Find You" used in Private Lives. Carl and Molly are heavenly singing "Dance, Little Lady" from the 1928 revue This Year of Grace followed by the sublime Molly on "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" from Conversation Piece. The trio brings down the house with "Nina" from Coward's World War II wartime concerts (I saw the show when I was stationed in New Guinea briefly in '44).

The revue ends with an uproarious rendition of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" for which Noël Coward wrote dozen of versions to use as his finisher in his sole performances. The trio adds a modern twist to the last chorus that includes many of today's celebrities. This keeps the audience in stitches.

The set design by Bill Forrester has an elegant ornate splendor, with potted plants and drapes. Musical direction by Brandon Adams is right on the mark as he leads the trio. Everything is perfect for a grand night of transcendent entertainment by the Master himself.

 

 

by Pat Craig
Article Posted: 05/26/10

A Marvelous Party, as aptly named as anything that has ever graced the Center Repertory Company stage, is marvelous for dozens of reasons, but for the sake of brevity, only three will be mentioned — Noel Coward's songs, the insanely talented cast of Mark Anders, Molly Bell and Carl J. Danielsen, and director David Ira Goldstein.

OK, maybe a fourth — the fact that Center Rep is staging the show in tandem with most of those who developed the Coward tribute.

Playing to an opening night audience Tuesday that included a number of well-known Bay Area performers, the show essentially blew the roof of the Lesher Center, ending with a spontaneous standing ovation (as opposed to the all-too-frequent obligatory standing O), and probably went a long way to bringing the gospel according to Coward to a new audience.

The show is, in fact, designed to introduce newbies to the genius of Coward, while offering even fans who own copies of his live album, recorded at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, something to smile about. It's a guided tour of Coward's career from English music halls to American television and Broadway stages, and gives a clear view of what an all-around entertainer is supposed to be able to do.

And the three-member Center Rep production cast does an excellent job of following in, and filling, the footsteps of the Brit who conquered America long before The Beatles and Simon Cowell.

Starting with Danielsen and Anders, two members of the four-person team that devised the show, you have a pair of gents who sing, dance, act and look good in a tux or an old English navy uniform. They also play piano extremely well and capture both the sparkling ego and sly, carefully studied insouciance of Coward.

Bell brings firecracker energy to the piece, singing and dancing up a perfect storm and exhibiting a comic timing that is a breathtaking delight to watch. She gets a marvelous party all of her own with "The Coconut Girl," the final number in the first act, from the Coward show "The Girl Who Came to Supper," where she performs an entire musical comedy in no time flat.

The two men also get some breathtaking numbers, including a surprise-laden piano duet at the beginning of Act II. Danielsen gets a stunning solo turn with "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" and Anders gets maximum mileage out of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," perhaps Coward's best-known song. While the show is mostly songs, the creators have cherry-picked some wonderful Coward quotes that help round-out this portrait of the man.

 

 

by Kedar K. Adour, M. D.
Article Posted: 05/27/10

Last night dark clouds of our seemingly perpetual Bay area rain began to clear and a bright moon shone over Lesher Center to greet the audience filing out from the spectacular “A Marvelous Party: The Noel Coward Celebration” that received a spontaneous standing ovation on its opening night in Walnut Creek. This revue has been around for years with Carl J. Danielsen and Mark Anders having honed their mischievous talents doing honor to Noel Coward’s music, songs and humor. The fantastic Molly Bell who played a middle-school student at San Jose Rep’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is all grown up and matches the multitalented duo song for song and step for step. The revue is perfectly balanced with humor interspersed with sentiment, songs morphing into dance numbers and patter using Coward’s own words to define his superb and often naughty wit. This plays out on an ultra-beautiful set with a three piece band (piano, bass and drums) backing up the piano playing of Danielsen and Anders who would give Victor Borge a run for his money.

The show is a paean to Coward’s career from 1930 British music halls to his TV special with Mary Martin in 1955 and on into the early 60s. Carl and Mark are excellent pianists opening the show with a sparkling piano duet as Molly joins in to share “Together With Music” before doing a hilarious skit of actors’ auditions leading to “Mrs. Worthington.” (“Please Mrs. Worthington; don’t put your daughter on the stage.”)

Where Coward would admonish Mrs. Worthington, he did relish the limelight and had the ability to parlay his talents becoming an international favorite. Carl and Mark swap being the alter ego of Noel. Carl smoothly switches his singing talents to dancing beginning with a solo soft shoe routine to the ditty “London is a Bit of Alright.” Mark and Molly get their turn to trip the light fantastic (well, sort of) sharing the stage with a music Hall Medley. Out come the canes (didn’t all music hall dancers use them?) for the trio with minimal costume changes for “Any Little Fish.” Mark has his turn to emote and sing satire with “The Stately Homes of England.”

Horrors! Carl flounces on stage in a stripped one piece bathing suit for “What Ho! Mrs. Brisket” Not to be outdone by her male companions, Molly gives a very naughty/ribald interpretation of “Would You Like to Stick a Pin in My Balloon” cheered on by the audience. Shifting to the call of the sea, Carl and Mark wear partial sailor suits, tell terrible jokes ( don’t ask, it will spoil the fun) and ask “Has Anyone Seen Our Ship.” After a change of pace by Mark with the plaintive “Marelot”, Carl and Molly tap dance assuring us “I Like America” before Mark brings the house down with “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (go out in the mid-day sun!) and Carl assures us that the natives “have more to offer then pa-pa” at the “Bar On the Piccola Marina.” The first act closer is a blockbuster with Molly playing all the parts in “The Coconut Girl.”

The shenanigans in the first act would be a difficult to follow and improve on but after a piano duet entr’acte they do just that with some of the standard Coward songs: “Mad About the Boy” (Molly), “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party” (Mark), “Why do the Wrong People Travel” and “Sail Away” (the trio). There is much more including the better known “A Room With a View”, “Someday I’ll Find You” (sung acapella) and “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart.”

Before swinging into “The Party’s Over” and “I’ll See You Again” the has the house in stitches with Coward’s words and adding a modern twist to “Let’s Do It.” Although the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval might be lacking, this elegant, artistic, masterful, and brilliant (pick your own accolade) show earns a “must see” label. Running time about 100 minutes with an intermission.


 

by John A. McMullen II
Article Posted: Tuesday June 1, 2010

This past Sunday, I opted to spend my 1,492nd sunny weekend afternoon in a darkened theatre, so I drove from Oakland through the Cold-to-Hot tunnel to the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek to see The Marvelous Party at Center Rep. Bay Area Critic Circle awarded this company best musical last year, so I wanted to see what was up out there. I found I could joyously give the late Sir Noël Coward the criticism he so loved!

When I was a little boy and urged my pop to come play catch with me around noon on a Saturday, my wise father, fearing for his red-headed son’s sunburn, would always sing, “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Mid-Day Sun. ”By Coward, of course.When my great uncle and aunt who played vaudeville would visit, they would duet on lovely airs that I later found were Cowardly. A few years ago, I played Charles in Blithe Spirit, then directed Design for Living (his bisexual, triad comedic romance) at THTC, and deeply invested my time in listening to all of Noel’s lyrics to use them for entr’acte music. As NC quipped about critics, “I have always been very fond of them . . . I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it." So I fancy that I was “in the know” about this revue.

All quotations are from Coward’s indefatigable, perceptive jeux d’esprit and his very deep well of songs.Charming melodies, but for the most part just a ditty on which to hang his bon mots. The players sing these very complicated, syncopated, internally rhymed lyrics seemingly in one voice, which is no mean feat. It is a revue, a look-back, on the incredible life and creativity of an iconic figure, as we picture him somewhere at a London drawing room cocktail party, looking dapper and gay in smoking jacket while balancing cigarette holder and martini, and speaking something unbelievably clever to his rapt minions as his haunting melody “Mad About the Boy” plays in the background.

The set places us perfectly in a rich dark blue and gold Art Deco foyer or dance floor of a grand hotel’sballroom, with ever-changing backdrop from blue sky to pink neon showing through the double French doors. The accompanying band plays in the upstage alcove while varied red ruffled drapes turn to starry lights. They even change chandeliers. The lighting never calls attention to itself, but seamlessly serves the scene right down to the follow-spot operator who never loses aim.

It is as polished and posh as is due a Coward revue. All three Equity actors show us what it means to be professional. The words of Coward and all his bon mots are articulated in full studied British Received Pronunciation; when they speak, though they hit all the right vowel changes, articulate their final consonants and vary their pitch appropriately, it’s still an American actor doing a very good imitation. When they sing all pretense disappears, and you relax into their comedic shenanigans or sophisticated torch songs.

Tenor Mark Anders and Baritone Carl J. Danielsen look British and both play it with the panache, easy confidence, and mastery of the material that comes when one is the “deviser” of the piece. Their “2 Pianos 4 Hands” was a hit a few years ago; they toss off their piano virtuosity as if it’s all-in-good-fun.

Molly Bell’s blonde marcelled hairdo and versatile soprano recalls the fashion and musical styling of the period. Ms. Bell is probably now a candidate for best actress in a comedy/musical; she ends the first act with a tour de force monologue about her latest show with a combination of mimicry, timing, and acrobatics that raised the energy at the interval and had the audience murmuring about how good they were. “Watching her energy just exhausts me,” one lovely elderly lady commented while standing in line for the ice cream they served up at the apron of the stage—something they do at every English theatre.

The choreography of Patricia Wilcox is mostly subtle with perfect gestures and dancing in place, until she breaks out with surprises that hike our spirits: Molly Bell’s Charleston captures the joy and sex of the Lost Generation’s exuberance, Anders and Danielsen trade off coats and piano playing in a perfectly rehearsed shtick. As Coward said, “I like the kind of spontaneity you get with five weeks of rehearsal.”

The first act is English Music Hall all the way right down to the sign on the easel announcing the next act and the Cockney in his derby leaning against the lamppost. The plotting of the variety of selections to change moods that lift and then soothe our spirits is smoothly planned.In the midst of the first act they boost us with a highlight of some hoofing of the first caliber, not just kick/ball/change but some buck’n’wing in a Fred and Ginger-like duet between Carl Danielsen and Molly Bell.

There is no investment in trying to believe the illusion, and everything changes every three minutes or so. However, the barrage of wit and cleverness is somewhat overwhelming even for those in the know, so I recommend purchasing some liquid lubrication (booooze!) in the lobby that you can take into the theatre after the interval.One last Coward quotable: "I will accept anything in the theatre . . . provided it amuses or moves me. But if it does neither, I want to go home." Everybody came back from intermission.

Definitely worth the price of admission; if I’d seen it in NYC for 100 USD, I’d be all aflutter.