Some entertaining child's play

Musical: The Merely Players cast largely shines in obscure `Cheaper by the Dozen.'

Review

May 31, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To open at its new home at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, Merely Players chose an all-but-unknown, rarely performed musical version of the classic family tale "Cheaper By the Dozen."

A cast of 24 children and teen-agers, with only four adult actors and a Yorkie named Piper, staged six performances of the show over the past two weekends in CCCA's main theater.

Merely Players has always been dedicated to giving acting opportunities to inexperienced young people, welcoming family members to act together - with the more experienced performers encouraging the newcomers.

In its former home at intimate Baldwin Hall, family members also filled the audience. With the move to CCCA, the family- and youth-oriented nonprofit company's audience has grown. According to Merely Players president and show producer Evan Brierly, "Cheaper by the Dozen" drew more than 1,100 people - making it the most successful show in the company's decade-long history.

Noting the advantages of acquiring a new audience among CCCA supporters, director Jerry Vess enumerated the additional advantages of having adequate rehearsal space for an extended period, the help of professional technicians to handle sound and light, and a professional theater atmosphere where young performers can gain experience and learn.

First published in 1949, "Cheaper by the Dozen" was written by Frank Gilbreth Jr. to tell the story of his father Frank Sr., who originated the science of motion study and applied the principles of maximum industrial efficiency to his family of 12 children.

At the center of the family were the loving husband and wife, she with a doctorate in psychology and an equal partner in the family's consulting business. A 1950 film based starred Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb.

About 40 years ago, the musical version was created by composer Marc Bucci and lyricist David Rogers. Difficult to produce with its requirements for strong actors, singers and dancers, the show is filled with appealing music and old-fashioned charm, all realized in Merely Players' production.

The 14-member Gilbreth family was off to a lively start with a rousing version of "Kadooka" as they rode along in Dad's 1920s roadster.

Kevin Wallace was convincing as Dad, projecting wisdom and humor while conveying affection for his brood. Wallace also displayed a pleasant singing voice and was nimble on the dance floor.

Linda Delmege played Mother. She is an adequate singer, but had timing problems that lent a delayed-reaction quality to her responses. Perhaps such a pregnant pause is appropriate for one playing the mother of 12 - and the real-life mother of six.

As eldest daughter Anne, 16-year old Heather Stangle exhibited triple-star power with her acting, singing and dancing. In "The Teddies Tango," Anne was joined by sisters Ernestine (Megan Henry) and Martha (Erica Mallare), who together delivered professional-caliber singing and dancing as they expressed their longing to don flapper fashions.

The action picked up when football hero Larry (Patrick Cook) arrived on the scene. A Baltimore School for the Arts sophomore, Cook has a fine singing voice and a commanding stage presence, and he is likable. Cook kept his character charming even when saddled with Anne's little brother Jackie (Matthew Wetzel) as chaperone on their dates.

Playing the other Gilbreth children in the cast on various nights were: Erik Alexis as Frank, Kevin Delmege and Michael Cohn alternating as Bill, Andrew Fleming as Fred, Emily Deitrick as Jane, Ben Mallare as Dan, and Katie Pajerowski as Lillian. All were excellent in such precision numbers as "The Housework Song" and "Happy Broom," with the smaller children - Katie, Emily, and Matthew - adorable in "Eskimos."(In case you're counting, dolls were used for the littlest of the "Dozen" brood.)

With its move to CCCA, Merely Players has begun its second decade auspiciously. Plans are under way for a yet-to-be determined production in November.

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