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Philadelphia Spotlight: November 2006

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Mark Jacoby and cast members
from 42nd Street
(© Mark Garvin)
It's a busy November for Philadelphia Area Theater, with several of the area's companies opening their holiday productions as well as visits from two of Broadway's biggest blockbusters.

The Walnut Street Theatre is presenting the toe-tapping extravaganza 42nd Street (November 7-January 7) in a new production starring Broadway veterans Mark Jacoby and David Elder (reprising the same role he played in the show's recent revival). Composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin's sensational score features such glorious tunes as "We're in the Money" and "Lullaby of Broadway." And as if the songs weren't enough, 42nd Street boasts some of the most spectacular costumes and dazzling choreography imaginable. Come and meet those dancing feet!

Upstairs at the Walnut, one can find Charles Ludlam's outrageous, gender-bending farce The Mystery of Irma Vep (November 28-January 21). A thoroughly ridiculous parody of horror movies, melodrama and Gothic romance, Ludlam's witty script calls for two actors to portray seven outrageous characters. Veteran performers Jamie Torcellini and Madi Distefano are handling the acting duties, which include several of the fastest and funniest costume changes in recent memory.

Over at the Prince Music Theater, two of New York's top cabaret entertainers, Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan, continue their stay in the city of Brotherly Love with a week-long run of A Swell Party: RSVP Cole Porter (November 1-5), a salute to the great composer of such shows as Anything Goes, The Pirate, and Silk Stockings.

Philadelphia-area theaters tend to be fairly conventional in their approaches to Shakespeare's dramas, but director Shawn Kairschner's staging of The Tempest (November 7-19) at Villanova Theatre is anything but. Instead of being set on a faraway isle, Kairschner's production takes place in an early 19th-century mental hospital run by Dr. Prospero. Staged as a play-within-a play in which the inmates perform Shakespeare's final work, Kairschner's interpretation emphasizes the play's juxtaposition of freedom and imprisonment as seen in the relationship between the bookish Prospero and magical sprite Ariel.

Since capturing the 2003 Barrymore Award for lead actor in a play for his performance in the Lantern Theater Company's Underneath the Lintel, Peter DeLaurier has emerged as one the area's top leading men. He returns to Lantern as the decidedly unconventional physicist Richard Feynman in Peter Parnell's biodrama QED (November 10-December 3) alongside recent Barrymore winner Amanda Schoonover.

Bristol Riverside Theatre's season began on a rollicking note with the company's entertaining production of Mark Brown's Around the World in 80 Days. Now the company turns to Brown once again with their production of the playwright's 2004 courtroom comedy The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge (November 14-December 10). In this sequel of sorts to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has filed charges against Jacob Marley and the three Spirits of Christmas for kidnapping him the previous Christmas Eve.

If you have not seen Mel Brooks' The Producers -- or just want to once again revel in the exploits of the conniving producer Max Bialystock, the outrageously funny musical comedy is returning to the Merriam Theater for a limited engagement November 14-19. The winner of the most Tony Awards in Broadway history, the show follows a pair of theatrical producers who hatch a plan to make money by producing a sure-fire Broadway flop. Featuring Brooks' amusingly clever score and William Ivey Long's outlandish costumes, The Producers' blend of top-tapping tunes and bold comedy is almost impossible to resist.

Still, The Producers is still the new kid on the block compared to The Phantom of the Opera which has continually played on the Great White Way for over 18 years. It returns to the Forrest Theatre (November 22-December 31) in a production led by John Cudia, who has the distinction of being the first and only actor to perform as both the Phantom and Les Miz's Jean Valjean on Broadway.

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