`Amelia' soars ever higher

`Amelia's Journey' - a musical about the famous female pilot - emerges brighter and tighter on the second try.

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

July 29, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Based on the life of America's most famous female pilot, Amelia Earhart, the musical Amelia's Journey continues tonight through Sunday at Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio Theatre, where it premiered last July.

After some fine-tuning at five shortened performances at Colonial Players during First Night Annapolis, and with more revisions at recent CAC rehearsals, the current version is tighter and faster-paced than last year's, and is enlivened by well-executed, stronger choreography and stronger supporting players.

Annapolis attorney and composer-lyricist Doug Schenker's original musical, with book supplied by his friend and collaborator Linda Page, was a sold-out hit at the premiere run, boasting a score that moved the action forward, memorable characters and solid storytelling. These qualities remain, with a more exciting and better-performed score. Notably, Schenker's song "Spread Your Wings" and his longtime music collaborator John E. Starr's "You're Mighty Lucky to Have Met Me" both sounded better than remembered.

The current production again benefits from the talent of musical director Anita O'Connor. Director Christy Stouffer adds energy and life to the story, and her choreography adds sparkle. Stouffer also plays the role of pilot Annie Page to perfection. Schenker serves as producer, with his friend Starr serving as music arranger and performing on the recorded soundtrack with Gerry Kunkel.

Amelia's Journey concentrates on Earhart's nine-year relationship with publisher-promoter George Palmer Putnam, who in making her a celebrity helped her attain her dream to fly around the world. Earhart was a naive woman of courage and honesty when she met Putnam, who made her dream possible by transforming her into a celebrity who reached beyond her piloting skills. Initially annoyed at Putnam's brash manipulation of her, Earhart gradually developed enough affection to marry him.

Above all, the current production is enriched by Mary Spencer, reprising her role as Earhart. Spencer has her Earhart grow from an appealing, innocent young woman to a sophisticated socialite hostess whose honesty, bravery and earnestness about flying shine through. Spencer finds every nuance of meaning within each lyric to add emotional impact to the musical score.

Again in the role of Putnam, Scott Tanski seems stronger, with the right mix of raw energy, forceful personality and warmth. He shines with a rough charm in "You're Mighty Lucky to Have Met Me" where he is backed by Stouffer's inspired choreography. Tanski conveys the complexity of Putnam's devotion to Earhart, packing emotion in the duet "The Wisdom of Solomon" that reveals the mutual profound affection this complex couple shares.

The supporting players are strong, with Dana Ligon as Earhart's lifelong friend Gwen Bowen conveying warmth and allegiance, while adding needed comedy.

Also adding comedy and authenticity, Elizabeth Lasner is a standout as Putnam's secretary, Louise Applebaum.

Alex Campbell is an appealing Duke Munroe, Earhart's flying instructor, and Walt League hits the right note as reporter-narrator Mike Harris, who keeps the action moving naturally and smoothly.

Fred Taylor does well in the multiple roles of the sheriff, Putnam's butler and an Irish mayor. Also playing multiple roles, Beth Terranova is a standout as feisty dance captain Jonnie and is hilarious as a DAR lady, with her energetic dancing a joy to watch.

With this production, Amelia flies higher than ever and is eminently worth visiting. For tickets call 410-636-6597.

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