Mac-Haydn: Next To Normal, The Full Monty


Mac-HaydnIn this review of Next To Normal, Marc Savitt of Broadway World describes the wonder that is a local theater that he’s been to.

“Tucked away in the town of Chatham, NY, The Mac-Haydn Theatre has been producing regional productions of Broadway Musicals for over 50 years. The theatre was founded in part to preserve musical theatre as the one individually American theatre form…

“Mac-Haydn truly is a ‘hidden-gem’ that presents a series of 8-10 productions each summer. Strolling between the wooden buildings on the campus, I have often thought of it as a sort of hybrid that would occur if you combined summer camp with summer-stock. They do great work, and the program attracts seasoned professionals, and up-and-coming performers, along with newbies often young and from the local area. Readers may be slightly aware of one such youngster named Joe then. He is now better known as Nathan Lane.”

My family has been attending shows there for over a dozen years, though not during the worst of COVID. This summer, we saw four shows, A Chorus Line in June, Urinetown in July (mentioned here), Next To Normal, and The Full Monty in August.

What IS normal, anyway?

I knew next to nothing about Next To Normal, which was likely true of the theater-going public in the area where this was the regional premiere. The audience was about 40% smaller than most shows I have seen there.

I had heard about Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s work because I tend to watch the Tonys. “It is considered a ‘rock musical’ the likes of Superstar or RENT.” Per Wikipedia, “The musical addresses grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life.”

The cast of six includes Beth Kirkpatrick is Diana, the “mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family.” Eric Van Tielen is her husband, Dan, trying to be supportive. They’ve both appeared on Broadway and are making their M-H debuts. They are excellent.

So is the rest of the cast, who are returning performers. Amber Mawande-Spytek as daughter Natalie, Kylan Ross as son Gabe, Andrew Burton Kelley as Natalie’s friend Henry, and Gabe Belyeu as Dr. Madden; he’s been at M-H off and on for at least a decade.

Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The reviewer noted: “Prepare yourself to be overwhelmed by the raw and exhilarating reality of what it means to care for yourself and one another.”

Unemployed in Buffalo

I saw the 1997 movie The Full Monty in a movie theater. “The film is set in Sheffield, England, during the 1990s and tells the story of six unemployed men, four of them former steel workers, who decide to form a male striptease act (à la the Chippendale dancers) to make some money.” The Rotten Tomatoes consensus reads, “Cheeky and infectiously good-natured, The Full Monty bares its big beating heart with a sly dose of ribald comedy.”

The 2000 musical Full Monty is a musical with the book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek. “In this Americanized musical stage version…six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers” are in similar straits and decide on the same solution.

Jerry, who initiates the plan, is played by Xander James, who was back at M-H last year after a decade hiatus. Gabe Belyeu (Harold, the former factory foreman), Kylan Ross (Malcolm), and Andrew Burton Kelley (Ethan) also appear here. Tezz Yancey (Noah “Horse” Simmons) and Dean Marino (Jerry’s best friend Dave) are making their M-H debuts.

Holly Lauren Dayton (Pam, Jerry’s ex), Julia Hajjar (Georgie, Dave’s wife), and Erin Spears Ledford (Vicki, Harold’s wife) are strong, as are many of the other women.

Back in the spotlight

But the highlight is Monica Wemitt, who returns to the Mac-Haydn stage for the first time in three years, though working there behind the scenes as COVID compliance officer. Her Jeanette is “a perhaps second-rate, over-the-hill pianist who happens into the rehearsals and accompanies the gentlemen on their journey to show time. Jeanette is a no holds barred, tell ‘em what you think out loud, funny, self-deprecating bleach blonde with hair that is too big, even for the times, character.”

Despite being a ribald comedy, The Full Monty “also touches on serious subjects such as unemployment, fathers’ rights, depression, impotence, homosexuality, body image, working-class culture, and suicide.”

The Full Monty runs through September 4.

Musicals: Seussical and Urinetown

Blackfriars Theatre in Rochester, NY

seussicalMy wife and I continue on our parade of attending musicals. On July 24, we went to Rochester to see Seussical, the Musical at the Blackfriars Theatre.

The program, one of those online-only items that are increasingly common in venues (and also restaurants), notes the massive initial failure of Seussical. “After an initial run in Boston to solidify the evolving script, Seussical premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on November 30, 2000, and received almost universally negative reviews… As a result, Seussical closed after 198 performances, and its estimated financial losses of eleven million dollars make it one of the worst financial flops in Broadway history.”

As a Seuss fan and casual follower of Broadway goings-on, I remember much of this. “And yet, in the most Seuss-like of developments, Seussical, over the past few decades, has developed a long life in frequent productions in schools and theatres throughout the country since the rights became available in 2004… The story of Seussical could easily be one of Seuss’ own titles. His books are replete with characters that refuse to give up on their goals and remain steadfast in the presence of enduring obstacles.”

We really enjoyed this production of high school and college kids. Now, we drove 230 miles because our niece Alexa was in it as part of a trio who would have given The Shangri-Las pop group a run for their money. Ireland Fernandez-Cosgrove starred as The Cat In The Hat, and she was very good, as was the whole ensemble. But I must mention Mason Morrison, who played Jojo. If he chooses to pursue theater or music, he’s likely to be a star by 2037; he turned ten the week after we saw him.

Also, set designer Abigail Manard painted not just the set but about 95% of the Seussian walls. The photo does not do it justice.

Water shortage

In many ways, Urinetown, which my family saw at the Mac-Hadyn Theatre in Chatham, NY in mid-July, is the opposite of Seussical. It’s a comedic musical that “satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics.” It also takes on the musical as a form. In 2002, it won three Tonys, including Best Book Of A Musical (Greg Kotis) and Best Original Musical Score (Mark Hollmann and Kotis), and was nominated seven times.

The story isn’t as far-fetched as it might have been a couple of decades ago. “A twenty-year drought has caused a terrible water shortage, making private toilets unthinkable. All restroom activities are done in public toilets controlled by a megacorporation called ‘Urine Good Company’ (or UGC). To control water consumption, people have to pay to use the amenities.”

On one hand, it is quite funny, occasionally corny. This review is dead-on. “Audiences will relish the return of favorite Gabe Belyeu in a vocal role as Officer Lockstock, the narrator of the piece and Keeper of the Pee-ce in ‘Urinetown, the musical…not Urinetown, the place’, as he repeatedly takes pains to distinguish between the two.” The rest of the cast of young adults is excellent as well.

Hunchback of Notre Dame; Ring of Fire

Josh D. Smith, the music director of Ring of Fire, was music director at Mac-Hadyn for nine years.

ring of fireIt’s obviously for my own sake, not yours, that I review shows that my family sees ON THE LAST DAY OF THE PERFORMANCE.

We went to Mac-Hadyn Theatre in Chatham on August 5 to see The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My daughter kept correcting my wife’s pronunciation of the last word in the title; it DOESN’T rhyme with Mame.

Odd thing about the story. I’ve never read the book. Somehow, I had never seen the Disney adaptation BUT I own the soundtrack on CD. I’m fond of that music, particularly The Bells of Notre Dame and Hellfire.

The production was great, as usual. But what I should mention more often is the fact that when the minor characters are in the aisles leading to the tiny stage, they remain in character, not just waiting for their entrances.

And these people can SING! And, seemingly, singing right to the audience, and enjoying our appreciation of their vocal prowess.

On August 12 at Capital Rep downtown, we saw Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. Coincidentally, Josh D. Smith, the music director of the show, was music director at Mac-Hadyn for nine years.

There were six musicians (plus the drummer, cordoned off) on stage, singing, playing multiple instruments – at least three of them played the upright bass. I was surprised to see a choreographer, Freddy Ramirez, listed, but there WAS a lot of movement on stage.

The first act was more biography, using the songs to tell John R. Cash’s story – and the latter, more of a jukebox musical. But the second act had the a cappella The Far Side Banks of Jordan, which was stellar.

I didn’t know this until afterwards, but there was a
1996 Broadway version of this show, which flopped after less than five dozen performances. This iteration has been whittled down in length, and from various reviews, for the better.

I was personally disappointed that Hurt, Johnny’s last great song, didn’t make the cut, but Ring of Fire. having nothing to do with volcanoes and earthquakes, was a monumental achievement.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial