‘Calvin Berger’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 23, 2017

‘Calvin Berger’ is an extremely funny musical, superbly researched and written by a young, Massachusetts-born playwright and composer, Barry Wyner. It is a play loosely based on the 1897 biography ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ by Edmond Rostand, which, like Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’, had the lyrics written in the alexandrine style, with rhyming couplets of twelve syllables per line.

I reluctantly went to the theatre, expecting a couple of hours of a stylish but tedious, quaint and dry script. FORGET this highfalutin genre; this is a modern, hilarious play that can be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone 10 yrs. and above. In fact, the playwright has perfectly captured today’s kids’ attitudes and hang-ups. An absolute joy to watch.

With ‘Beauty and the Beast’ coming back to the cinema, and the constant tales of school bullying, the storyline of this play is right up to date. This pleasant, feel good musical, depicts one of the most famous romances of all time.

The Roleystone Theatre Company, at the Roleystone Theatre, 587 Brookton Highway, Roleystone, is presenting this fine production.

The two-hour performances have curtain-up at 8.00 pm. They can be seen on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, until Saturday 25th March. There is one matinée on Sunday 19th March at 2.00 pm.

 

The scene is present day in a small town in America. The stage wings, walls, and floor are matte black paint or drapes. A few, but well chosen, quality props depict the numerous scenes. Calvin’s bedroom is one on side of the stage apron, and Bret’s on the other. It is unusual to see fly rigging employed on a community show, but well done Kale Eldridge.

The mood and tension is very well expressed by Tyler Eldridge’s perfect and complex lighting design. The severe angles of illumination – often from directly above, or straight ahead, mainly with a narrow beam spot. Few floodlights were used. The colour temperature and the amount of light being very well thought out. The sound design was by Daniel Toomath. The all-American costumes were designed by Madeleine Shaw, and topped by Eluned Manning’s hairstyles.

Because of the selective lighting, when there was action on one side of the stage, minor scene changes could be carried in silence on the other. Stage manager Martin Shaw and his assistant, Adele Harrison’s team worked well.

 

      Nerdy but very pleasant, 16-year-old Calvin (Seamus Harrison) is lying on his bed, dreaming of an angel. She is Calvin’s school friend Rosanna (Jennifer Gadeke) – complete with halo – she is telling him how much she loves him. Suddenly he awakes, feels his face but sadly, his enormous nose is still there. At the foot of the bed is a Mr Potato Head, crammed with the money that Calvin has put aside for an eventual nose operation.

      Calvin is writing a secret love letter to Rosanna. Convinced that his massive nose will destroy his romantic chances with any girl, this is a message that he knows he will never have the courage to deliver. As Calvin finishes the note, one of his classmates, the handsome new heartthrob of the class, Matt (Matthew Manning) arrives. He confides that he too is in love with Rosanna, but being nervous and not having two brain cells to rub together, Matt asks Calvin to write a couple of love letters to Rosanna from him, to give to her at a special moment.

       Calvin then tries to train Matt to quote loving ditties and smooth chat-up lines, but this is far beyond the capabilities of the dumb, blonde Adonis.

       When Calvin’s pretty friend, Bret (Stephanie Shaw) sees Calvin drooling as Rosanna passes by, she becomes jealous, as she is secretly in love with Calvin.

      Will the lovers continue to pass like ships in the night? On the other hand, will they find their true love?

 

When a show has a cast and directorial team loaded with awards for their previous work, you can expect quality. When the CVs of a teenage cast reads like the ‘Who is Who’ of WA community theatre, then this must be something special. We all dread plays where the accents are wrong or over emphasised, this cast had a faint American twang – just right.

Situated in a compact orchestra pit, built into the apron of the stage was the band, under the guidance of musical director, Liam Gobbert. They gave a soft flowing background, melding in with the action. They were not overpowering, but allowed the singers to have every word heard. The musicians were Drums / percussion – Alex Kent, Bass – Hannah Fredrikkson, Cello – Amanda Reynolds, Violin – Ruth Klein, Keyboard – Joshua Haines.

The choreography and body movement was fast moving and impressive. The dance styles ranged from romantic and acrobatic, through to the crippling pace of Matt’s tap dance – brilliant.

The four cast members were perfectly selected. Their voices worked in amazing harmony when required, and yet any solos seemed effortless. Stephanie had tremendous power in her voice, whilst retaining perfect pitch. She showed us a couple of octaves, but I suspect there is yet another lower octave still to be ‘tapped’.

This was Jennifer’s first community theatre show, and yet this Year 11 girl handled it with self-assured conviction. Superb acting and musical theatre skills.

The cast are all in their mid-teens and yet their performances have all of the advanced talents of senior actors. Of the many young performers who attend acting schools, some just plod through, to keep their parents happy; others are immediately absorbed into the whole stage life. This cast left you breathless. The two boys, Seamus and Matt, did a duet about being friends that was reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland ‘A Couple of Swells’ in ‘Easter Parade’, or the UK’s ‘Flanagan and Allen’s Underneath the Arches’. Very clever work.

The two directors and choreographers, Tyler Eldridge and Madeleine Shaw, can be very proud of producing such a fun-filled riveting show.

A large audience is wonderful, and a small house can be upsetting; however, is it better to have a few who really appreciate your quality and talent, than an audience in mass saying ‘That was quite nice’ and missing the skills demonstrated.

The audience was enthusiastic, and all left with broad smiles on their faces.

To everyone in this production, be proud – the show was first class, and ticked all of the boxes.