Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Theater review: The Sound of Fannie cleverly splices 20 beloved musicals
Catch all your favorite characters in absurd situations.
PLANO One of the things that I have noticed and appreciate about the productions at Funhouse Theatre and Film is the amount of original work being done, as well as the teaching and training for the actors that participate in each of the shows performed there.
Their newest production is another original work being used as a teaching opportunity for the actors to learn about the various musicals that are referenced, parodied and otherwise used in The Sound of Fannie. Talking with the director after the show, I learned that a few weeks before rehearsal began, the production staff at Funhouse held workshops for the actors in the show as they learned about the history of musicals over the past century with topics that included composers, lyricists, actors and choreographers such as Bob Fosse, and signature songs such as "All That Jazz" and dances from A Chorus Line. The student actors learned how to use hand movements, angles and how to better connect the song and the acting to enrich the story. Watching the show, it was very apparent that those actors that took advantage of the learning opportunity definitely benefited from the workshops.
Funhouse Theatre and Film uses Plano Children’s Theatre for their productions. Every previous show that I have attended for Funhouse has been performed in the smaller, more intimate theater. The Sound of Fannie is being performed in their larger main space. Scenic design by Bren Rapp, Jeff Swearingen and James Chandler is simple, elegant and efficient for the many actors that fully use the entire expanse of the stage. The set includes wall hangings on the upstage wall reminding me of the interior of older castles, banners or tapestries hanging from ceiling to floor with what looks like a royal emblem embossed on a dark background. There are also a few wall sconces on the upstage wall designed to blend in with the style of the wall hangings. The stage is otherwise bare, with miscellaneous pieces such as a large wooden office desk and chair and an ancient Egyptian style sarcophagus brought on and off the stage as needed for the various scenes.
Costumes by Dusty rose to the challenge of costuming a large cast that includes characters and styles from over 20 different musicals. The show includes tap dancers in denim shorts as well as ancient Egyptian style costumes worn by a few characters in scenes; think Steve Martin as King Tut with backup singers. There are uniforms worn by Nazi soldiers and the Brownshirts during the early days of WWII. There is a shaggy dog costume, a red dress, a red curly wig you’d expect to see on Annie and nun habits. Liza Doolittle’s frock from the horse race scene in My Fair Lady, the formal dress worn by Anna in The King and I, and the simple gown worn by Maria in West Side Story all get a nod. And let’s not forget the lederhosen costumes worn by the Von Warprofit children. The costuming in this production is so varied and appropriate to the time periods and styles of the various scenes and characters that I applaud the costuming department for the time that it must have taken to create and fit such a diverse and large cast of characters so well.
Mose Pleasure III provides musical direction, with support from Enrique Olachea on guitar and Jim Wiltrout on percussion. Pleasure, Rapp and Chandler collaborated on the many original songs that are in this musical about other musicals.
As the performance begins, Pleasure walks onstage to conduct the musicians, just as you would see at the beginning of many musicals, operas or other music events. He confidently strolls across the stage toward the area where the other musicians are located. However, instead of a conductor baton, he is carrying on his shoulder a compact boom box. With a spotlight focusing on him, he sits at the piano, reaches out and very deliberately pushes the boom box play button to start the opening music. This playful beginning is an example of the humor and parody prominent in this original production. All of the music is well played and at a volume that does not overpower the vocal efforts of the actors singing in scenes.
Lizzy Greene is often scary as the psycho Fannie. When I first read the synopsis of the show, I was expecting a blending of The Sound of Music and Annie. However, the first time the audience sees Greene on stage, she is playing with commando knives while talking about being a mercenary, then charging an orphan money each time she slaps the other orphan. In each Funhouse production I have seen her, Greene consistently impresses me with how she dives in and embraces the character and brings the character to life. As Fannie, Greene is believably scary.
Sophia Kaiafas’ Maria is the polar opposite of Fannie through most of the show. Sophia has an angelic, clear and strong speaking and singing voice that is incredible. Kaiafas uses submissive gestures and movement to make the character of Maria come across as an incredibly sweet character you just want to hug and smile and pat her on the hand and forgive her for anything that she does. Her acting skills and timing is mature and professional.
Tex Patrello is not the physical stature or demeanor one might expect for the war hero and arms merchant Captain Victor Von Warprofit. Patrello is not large or intimidating. In fact, he comes across as meek, mild and soft spoken. His singing is amazing though, with a voice that is strong and in control. He uses these traits to present a parodied character, especially in his scenes with Doak Campbell Rapp who plays his brother Maxy. In the scenes with Rapp, the paradoxical difference is very apparent. Patrello is of average height and stature with blond hair while Maxy is loud, outgoing, brash and is much taller with dark curly hair. Rapp uses his high level of energy and skills at physical comedy for a character that will remind you of a vaudeville comedian.
Cassidy Crown is amusing as Mother Abscess. The Abscess is the leader of the nuns that run the orphanage where Fannie lives and Maria works. The group includes an alcoholic nun, an overbearing nun who is negative and one who is constantly cheery and reminds me of the nuns from Sister Act. Each has a unique look. Crown uses conscious manipulations of the nun habit to add a layer of depth to the character. I won’t tell you what it is and give away the joke. But it is funny and a clear sign of acting experience. Crown also uses comic and exaggerated faces and posture to show a character that seems to have endless patience, at least until she snaps.
Daniel Dean Miranda as Madam Caterpillar, Amanda Childs as Maria 2.0, Madeleine Norton as Liza Endolittle, and Mia Heber as Anna make up what Captain Von Warprofit refers to as his angry mob. Miranda leads this very talented group of young actors and actresses. Each portrays a significant woman in a well known musical. Most members of the audience can easily identify each character from the musical by the mannerisms, the way the actress speaks and the costume. In addition to strong acting skills that make her character believable, Miranda has an unbelievable voice that would have you believe you are at an opera and an Asian inflection that will have you laughing. Norton’s comedic overuse of an lower class British accent makes the contradiction between the appearance and the reality of the character absolutely hilarious. Heiber, wearing a voluminous gold dress is another part of this posse. She presents a proper English lady and believably talks about her life with the King in the orient. Yu get the picture. Amanda Childs, as Maria 2.0, speaks and sings in Spanish as she passionately talks and sings about her Story on the West Side. Each of these women have something to say and sing about the men that they are involved with and do it fabulously individually and as the angry mob.
Walking into the house, the audience will pass an usher wearing an older style uniform; the kind of uniform you would see on trained monkeys in classic films another one of the many gags in the show. As the usher handed out playbills, I noticed he had a scowl on his face and simply thought he might have been having a bad night. But in this parody surprise, David Allen Norton indeed plays the role of a rude and angry usher well as he alternately explains the show and chastises the audience.
In The Sound of Fannie are elements, characterizations and hints at songs from about 20 well-known and beloved musicals over the past 40 or 50 years, including Grease, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Damn Yankees, A Chorus Line, Phantom, Chicago, Cabaret and so many others you might recognize by a character name, style of clothing, dance style or a few bars of a song. Without revealing any of the convoluted plots and subplots existing within this tale of many tales, the story opens in an orphanage with children lamenting their lot in life. It also includes seven Austrian children whose father used to be in the Austrian navy, a nanny that is a nun – I think you get the picture.
There is a dance number that includes an energetic, and I would even say lecherous, Hitler puppet expertly handled by James Chandler. This scene is a parody of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and also reminds me of the song and dance number “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers. There is a soft shoe number by the Red Skull, a song by Captain America, and a half Monty.
Are you confused yet? I readily admit to having some confusion while watching and trying to follow the various lines and twists within this story as it creatively blends, overlaps and sometimes smashes storylines together from so many musicals into each other. Some of the scenes did not make sense to me and seemed a little long, such as the Salisbury Steak Music Festival scene including a very funny Jeff Swearingen as the MC interacting and improvising with the crowd. Despite enjoying Swearingen’s interactions with members of the audience, the scene drags and feels like “filler.” Additionally, the singing scene with Thoth and the Thothettes loses much of its impact when the microphone is not working. Despite sitting in the second row, I could not understand the singing.
Though you might not immediately get some of the references to other musicals, songs, styles of dance and characters that are generously thrown around in Sound of Fannie, later on they will hit and you’ll realize, “Oh! That was what that scene was about…and that song was a parody of that show,” and you’ll want to go back to pick up something you missed the first time and laugh all over again.
The Sound of Fannie is ambitious, absurd, insane and insanely funny when the gag lines and scenes work, which is most of the time. I would suggest seeing it more than once in order to get all of the gags and even talk with the actors after the show about the development of the show. I think you will be impressed.
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