`Bed and Sofa' is a silent-film musical


March 27, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Bed and Sofa" is a small musical with big themes. Based on a 1926 silent Russian film by Abram Room, the three-person show about a romantic triangle also examines the similarities between the tyranny of love and the tyranny of dictatorship.

The Soviet government banned the movie, but seven decades later, composer Polly Pen and librettist Laurence Klavan turned it into what they call "a silent movie opera." That hybrid, which is far from silent, is receiving a vocally arresting debut at Fell's Point Corner Theatre.

The show is a challenging endeavor for a community theater, but director Bill Kamberger has conquered tough musical territory at Fell's Point before. Last season he staged a stunning production of "Wings," a musical about a stroke victim. "Bed and Sofa" gives him less extraordinary material to work with, but he has cast the show well, and the result is demanding and rewarding at the same time.

The linchpin of the cast musically and dramatically is Pebble Kranz, whose magnificent voice has graced a number of local stages, including Center Stage. As the woman caught in the middle, it is Kranz's character who draws the connection between despotic lovers and despotic political leadership.

Although the underdeveloped characters drift thoughtlessly from one predicament and romance to another, Kranz' character does finally make a definitive decision and sticks to it.

As her lover, Jeff Burch has a voice that blends nicely, and he also effectively conveys his character's basic shyness.

Bill Toscano, as Kranz' husband, isn't as smooth a singer, but then, his construction worker character is supposed to be a crude and boorish figure. And Toscano holds his own in the musical apex of the evening, a trio in which the three characters express their separate dreams.

The music, accompanied by an uneven quartet under the direction of keyboard player Jane Rubak, incorporates the sound of a silent movie score with touches of ragtime as well as a more modern operatic flavor. Though the lyrics are often disturbingly pedestrian -- "I have wrapped my sandwich in paper," Toscano sings -- the use of recurring musical and lyrical motifs heightens the emotional impact.

"Bed and Sofa" is a sketchy and, at times, frustrating work, particularly in terms of characterizations. Musically, however, it is strikingly idiosyncratic -- a gutsy choice for both the theater and its audience.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 9. Tickets are $15. Call 410-276-7837.

Center Stage Presents

New York cabaret singer Mary Cleere Haran will headline this year's installment of Center Stage Presents, the annual fund-raiser scheduled for April 8.

Haran's latest cabaret show, "Crazy Rhythm: Manhattan in the Twenties," played four months at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room. A member of the original Broadway cast of "The 1940s Radio Hour," she also appeared in "The Rodgers & Hart Story" on PBS. She has sung in cabarets from San Francisco to London and has released five recordings, most recently "The Memory of All That: The Songs of George Gershwin."

The 14th annual Center Stage gala, to be held at the theater, 700 N. Calvert St., will begin with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at 6: 30 p.m. Haran will perform at 7: 30 p.m., and a buffet supper by the Classic Catering People will be served at 8: 30 p.m.

This year's fund-raiser honors the theater's long-time managing director, Peter W. Culman, who retires in June. The event also includes a silent auction of Center Stage memorabilia. Limited tickets remain; the cost is $250. The event has raised more than $1.6 million over the past 13 years for Center Stage's artistic and education programs. For more information, call 410-685-3200, Ext. 434.

Cuba Gooding Sr.

Cuba Gooding Sr., lead vocalist with the rhythm and blues group the Main Ingredient, isn't just a singer and patriarch of a family of performers. Lately he's followed his sons, Cuba Jr. and Omar, into the acting trade. Beginning tomorrow, audiences at the Mechanic Theatre will get a chance to see Gooding in his second stage show, Lisa Garrett Reynolds' gospel music, "Be Careful What You Pray For."

Gooding Sr. sings two of his Main Ingredient hits, "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "I'm So Proud," in the show, which examines the themes of romance, family values and religion.

Show times at the Mechanic, 25 Hopkins Plaza, are 8 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday and 7: 30 p.m. Sunday, with matinees at 3: 30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $19.50-29.50. For more information call 410-752-1200.

Two workshops

The Baltimore Theatre Alliance is sponsoring two workshops: Voice and Body Training (12: 30 p.m. to 2: 30 p.m., April 15) will explore the Lessac Approach, a vocal system that relies on physical sensations rather than the ear. The class will be taught by Nancy Krebs, an actress, vocal coach, musical director and Baltimore School for the Arts faculty member.

An Audition Workshop (10 a.m. to noon, April 29), conducted by Bradley Thoennes, an actor who teaches at Towson University, will focus on choosing audition material and presenting it effectively. Participants should being a head shot and resume and prepare at least one two-minute monologue.

The fee for Alliance members is $20 for each workshop; non-Alliance members pay $30. Both workshops will be held at the Baltimore School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral St. Call 410-783-0777.

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