In terms of live theater in Anne Arundel, the newly opened Dick Gessner's Broadway Corner on Revell Highway is a real diamond in the rough, where technical sophistication plays second fiddle to an engaging cast.
The two shows now playing on the weekends, "Grease" by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and "Nunsense" by Dan Goggin, are funny, well-paced, energetic and pure delights to watch.
Their casts are easily the match of the county's older venues, which have been skating by on past glories.
"Grease" tends to be more and more of a period piece, the further away we get from the era it's set in. It has a thin story based on the boy meets girl/rites of passage theme that seems to inflict itself on popular entertainment whenever boys and girls are trying to come to terms with their hormones.
But in the hands of this cast, many of whom are veterans of the Children's Theater of Annapolis, the show succeeds on its own terms. The audience can just lie back and forget about the world.
This play, or this cast anyway, is a lot of fun. Cast members are smart, experienced and capable of thinking on their feet in a way that turns apparent equipment and movement flubs into inspired stage comedy.
Their efforts have been enlightening personally. Over the years, I havedismissed the Children's Theater as a place where youngsters go to make mistakes on the way to becoming performers. If these young actorsand actresses are typical of its talent pool, I have cheated myself of real enjoyment.
Among the standouts in the "Grease" cast -- andpicking the standouts in this tightly woven and classy ensemble was a difficult job -- are Lauren Kirby as Rizzo, Jodi Bridges as Marty and Laurie Frank in the double role of Lavern and ChaCha Di Gregorio.
Bridges interprets Marty as the ultimate cheerleader from hell, bouncing all over the stage and emitting shrieks at a frequency almost guaranteed to break glass. She is painfully hilarious.
Frank is a standout as the phenomenally ugly ChaCha, and surprises the audience with an unexpected moment of pathos at the end of a hilariously cruelschool dance scene.
Kirby as Rizzo, the "bad" girl of the story, displays signs of a maturing talent and sensitivity that will be enjoyable to watch in years ahead. She recalls a young Stockard Channing,who played the part so memorably in the movie.
The rest of the cast, which includes Tara Jewett, Karen Zucco, Jonathan Lidz, Pam Diedrich, Matt Garrity, Ian Kennedy, Ben Lambert, Nick Parrino, Kathleen Layton, Tiffani Baldwin, Todd Brusnighan and Matt Bridges, complete the roster of an excellent team that is young in years but easily the match of any company in the region in terms of sheer talent and ability.
The second show, "Nunsense," is the story of a convent, the Little Sisters of Hoboken, that conducts a fund-raiser to help bury several nuns who died of botulism contracted via an experimental vichyssoise recipe attempted by the cook, Sister Julia Child of God.
The order's survivors, Sister Mary Amnesia (Mary Lawson), Sister Robert Anne (Pam Land), Sister Mary Regina (Diane Stone), Sister Mary Leo (Barbara Stenzell) and Sister Mary Hubert (Anita Beamon), present a show that combines charm and humor in a way that rises above the somewhat grisly premise.
The conclusion, like a good part of the show, is pretty unlikely. But so what? This is one show where both cast and characters are so likable that an audience just wants to relax and go with the flow. It's a theatrical gourmet brownie that is simply delicious.
"Nunsense" may appeal most to those who have experienced a parochial school education, but it also allows its cast to emphasize thehumanity of their characters, which makes them accessible to the rest of us.
In the end, no matter what church you may or may not go to, an audience can't help but fall in love with these representativesof the cloth.
"Grease" can be seen every Saturday and Sunday afternoon through April 12. The doors open at noon, with a 1 p.m. curtain. Tickets are $8.50, which includes a pizza lunch.
"Nunsense" runsat 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; the house opens at 6. Tickets are $12.50. Light fare is available at extra cost.
Information: 974-1825 or 647-3606.