`Appeal' delivers with a spirited effort

Christian musical explores Lucifer's exile from heaven

Review

August 18, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Four years after a Millersville couple founded a nonprofit company to present their son's original plays, Spirited Productions is playing to hundreds of people at Anne Arundel Community College.

This summer's offering was The Appeal, a musical dramatization exploring Lucifer's appealing his exile from heaven before a court of archangels. Judging by audience enthusiasm on Saturday, the company is filling a void for Christian audiences.

Tony and Debbie Martelli formed Spirited Productions in 2002 to present their son Matthew's first play - a musical called Last Rights that he directed in 2003 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Severna Park.

Freed followed in 2004, and Letting Go was the 2005 production. All of the plays have uplifting spiritual messages.

The older Martellis remain active in the company, with Tony working as production and set construction manager, and Debbie serving as house manager and doing publicity.

Matthew's brother Michael serves as webmaster and a publicity consultant and made his acting debut in The Appeal. Michael's wife, Jennifer, served as production assistant.

Matthew Martelli, an English teacher at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, wrote, composed and directed The Appeal.

In the two-weekend run that ended Sunday, Matthew Martelli, 23, showed a keen ear for dialogue, particularly in a scene at a television studio presided over by self-absorbed commentators.

They reported a slate of unmitigated bad news and interviewed unfortunates for whom they had little empathy.

Although some neophyte actors recited their lines hurriedly, Matthew Martelli was able to draw good performances from several actors. Making his acting debut in the challenging role of Lucifer, Michael Strackbein possessed an arresting stage presence that had its roots in his career as lead singer for a pop-rock band.

Veteran actor Ed Wintermute gave the most polished performance, lending dignity and professionalism in his role as Archangel Uriel.

Playing the dual roles of Miss Callaghan and the befuddled Dr. Di Forio, singer/actor Patricia Lovell contributed amusing comic moments. Maria Jaunakais brought believability and excellent diction to the minor role of Azriel; Jennifer Samuels offered a gamut of emotions in the role of Archangel Jerahmeel; and Pat Saiia was convincing as anchorwoman Maryanne Schneider.

Steve Garrett was believable as anchorman Tom Stockton. Christopher Strackbein, in his first onstage performance, was excellent as Archangel Gabriel, and Alex Brady brought a light comic touch to his Archangel Raphael. When he wasn't over-emoting, Michael Martelli was convincing as the angry Archangel Michael. Kristina Tardif showed a commanding stage presence and displayed a lovely soprano voice as The Woman (the Virgin Mary).

Spirited Productions' play might not entertain a general audience, nor would it be likely to enchant the seasoned discriminating theatergoer.

In Anne Arundel County, the bar is set incredibly high by many nonprofit theater companies such as Bay Theatre and Colonial Players that consistently offer excellent drama performed by professional or professional-caliber actors.

Even smaller, newer companies such as Dignity Players have produced riveting dramas, such as last year's Dead Man Walking at Anne Arundel Community College.

Despite such formidable competition, Spirited Productions should be welcomed for ambitiously and sincerely articulating a message that a significant segment of the county's population wants to hear.

For more information, visit www.spiritedproductions.com.

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