``Bells Are Ringing'' has shortcomings but is worth seeing

December 06, 1990|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

The charming musical comedy, "Bells Are Ringing," immortalized in the '50s by the late Judy Holliday, is on stage at Towsontowne Dinner Theatre through Jan. 27.

The enduring music is by Jule Styne. The book and lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The local version stars the very talented, young actress, Shannon Wollman, as the loveable telephone operator at an answering service helpfully meddling in her client's lives.

It is Wollman's delightfully kooky performance as the concerned Ella that makes this production worth seeing. Her excellent comedic ability, strong singing voice and sparkling personality light up the Towsontowne stage.

Such memorable songs as "Long Before I Knew You," "Just in Time," "The Party's Over" and the rousing "I'm Going Back" are delivered with great heart and professional exuberance by this versatile actress.

Wollman's character, Ella, is all things to all people. One client writes songs on his air hose. Another is a Marlon Brando imitator. Still another is a playwright on the skids for whom Ella (although she has never seen him) has formed a romantic attachment.

To the playwright, Jeffrey, Ella is a bodiless little old lady known on the phone as "Mom." In a series of amusing mishaps Ella

succeeds in getting the floundering writer to regain faith in himself. But will she realize her true love dream?

Directed by David Howell the show could pick up quite a bit opace and offer stronger projection of all the characters -- especially Dorothy Durr Aird as a silly, middle-aged woman in love with an engaging cad well portrayed by outstanding actor/singer Dave Guy.

John Doty amuses as a suspicious federal agent and Brandon Park's "Brando" is very funny.

However, Jeff Burch as the failing writer disappoints. In Burch's performance we never see the womanizing, disheveled, heavy drinking character transformed into a bright, new sober person by love.

The snappy, inventive choreography was created by dancer/actor/singer, Lee Cook.


The Vagabond Players are in their final weekend of an excellent presentation of the musical revue, "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," which plays tomorrow through Sunday.

The music of the French poet and composer has been enhanced with bistro-type lyrics by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. The 25 songs ring with honest emotion as they tell colorful stories on the cutting edge of the human psyche. All the numbers throb with the pain and joy of living.

Set in a French cafe atmosphere, the work was directed with good dramatic intensity by Dan Higgs and well choreographed by Patrick Fleming. The fine musical direction is by Doug Yetter.

The exceptional quartet -- Pamela Peach, Gary Hiel, Amy Jo Shapiro, Michael Hoffmaster -- enact these sophisticated numbers with gripping passion and high comic flair.

The timing and phrasing here all blend exactly. The singers do not miss a beat of physical movement or vocal interpretation. Liz Dunbar excels as the sole piano accompanist.

The show is being presented as one of the Vagabond encore productions to celebrate the group's 75th anniversary. "Jacques Brel" is totally entertaining, soul searing musical theater at its local best.


"Scrooge," the musical by Leslie Bricusse and William Watson based on Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," is the current student production at Essex Community College playing tomorrow and Saturday.

This is a big stage version with impressive sets (designed by Robert Stoltzfus with excellent painted backdrops by Claire Rowe) and well executed spooky special effects, especially the enormous and frightening Christmas Future puppet.

The songs are pleasantly delivered by the large cast and choreography by Todd Van Hackett and Robert Jenkins is on the fTC mark. James J. Fasching designed the picturesque period costumes and the musical direction is under the able baton of William Watson.

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