'Li'l Abner' political satire lives Pasadena company bows out of Baldwin Hall

October 16, 1997|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As it approaches its 20th season, the Pasadena Theatre Company can look back on a history of shows such as "Noises Off," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "A Little Night Music," "The Madwoman of Chaillot" and "The Heidi Chronicles."

A history to be proud of, and now Pasadena is marking the end of an era with "Li'l Abner." This production will be the last show at Baldwin Hall, the company's home for 14 years.

"Li'l Abner" re-creates Al Capp's comic-strip world. The 1956 show, with music by Gene De Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, focuses on the simple inhabitants of Dogpatch, who learn their town is so worthless, the U.S. government plans to use it as an atomic bomb test site. Unless they can produce something of worth in Dogpatch, citizens face evacuation before Sadie Hawkins Day, when females race to catch mates.

The play is dated, but Capp's corrupt politicians and self-serving government workers seem current enough.

The eight-piece orchestra directed by Roger Compton had a shaky start when the horns had trouble, especially in the slow passages of the overture and first number. However, when the curtain rose on "A Typical Day," the ensemble was so good and the set so attractive, the orchestra's shortcomings could be forgiven.

As the tempo quickened, the musicians became more spirited, and the action on stage picked up. In one scene, Compton gave up his baton and took up a fishing pole, appearing on stage in "If I Had My Druthers."

He was not the only cast member to do double duty. Director Chuck Dick played Marryin' Sam in fine style. Set builder PTC President Al Chopey was convincing as drunken lout Romeo Scragg, sole relative of Daisy Mae. Producer Doug Kotula played Pappy Yokum, a thankless role, overshadowed by wife Mammy. Kotula got a few laughs, despite obviously being too young for the part. Technical director Dale Lacey was more than adequate as Earthquake McGoon.

Then there were the overactors, led by Todd Cunningham as Evil Eye Fleagle -- though he seemed to be an audience favorite. Toni Anzalone should mug a little less as Senator Jack Phogbound. On a junior level, Molly McKinney as Scarlett overdid it so much she became a distraction.

There were several outstanding actors in a generally good cast. Beth Alexander, a senior at Northeast High School and veteran of several PTC shows, was a convincing Daisy Mae. Beth is a good actress with a pleasant singing voice and athletic grace. Beth's mother, 6-foot-1 Jennifer Alexander, is perfectly cast as Stupefyin' Jones.

David Duvall is physically suited to his part as Li'l Abner. A computer science major at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he has a pleasant baritone, although he occasionally seemed listless. M. J. Rafalko was a believable Mammy Yokum, delivering her lines with the right homespun zip. What a stretch for Rafalko from "Sound of Music" Maria to Mammy Yokum.

A high comic moment was provided by Government Man Glenn Peters when he gleefully revealed a superman physique upon drinking Mammy Yokum's tonic. Peters is such a natural he can be forgiven a few flubbed lines.

Sherry Fields, a late addition to the Dogpatchers, showed great stage presence, a radiant smile and graceful moves. Fifth-grader Nicole Novy is a talented dancer and was outstanding in the group.

"Li'l Abner" continues Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 26 at Baldwin Hall.

PTC's first Christmas show -- "It's a Wonderful Life" -- will be seen in eight performances at Woods Center in Severna Park the first two weekends in December.

Next year Pasadena Theatre Company moves to Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center. First on the schedule at Pascal is "Little Shop of Horrors," followed by "Steel Magnolias" in summer and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in fall.

Information: 410-923-7687; PTC's Web site: ubmail.ubalt.edu/ mhayes/tic.html

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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