Coming up February 26, 27, 28 & March 4,5,6th at Mario’s Restaurant in Clifton
Clifton Journal, March 6th
It was an absolutely delicious evening at Mario’s Restaurant on Feb. 27. Three courses of flavorful enjoyment in a well-executed presentation, impeccably seasoned to satisfy the soul and senses.
And the food was pretty good, too.
Mario’s was the venue for the TLC’s seventh annual dinner theater fund-raiser, “Once Upon a Mystery,” written and directed by Kirk Woodward. The production was staged in the restaurant’s private dining hall and the appreciative, capacity crowd was treated to a light-hearted, captivating show and a sumptuous meal.
The most impressive aspect of the performance was the collective energy and teamwork of the cast — a tribute to the focused players as well as Woodward’s direction and script. Actors were ebullient from start to finish. It was quite clear they were having fun, and that convivial spirit was contagious and generously shared with the audience.
Dialogue was clever, crisp and flowed smoothly. The ensemble’s timing and delivery was well-synchronized as they skillfully played off one another, sustaining the narrative’s momentum and capturing laughs all along the way. The cast also must be given credit for flexibility, creativity and cohesiveness as they negotiated the unstructured environment of the dinner theater. Despite the distractions of food, beverages and background noise of clinking glasses, dishes, knives, forks and spoons, actors delivered their lines with clarity and, in turn, captured the fancy of the audience.
The setting for this mystery was a “character” costume conference. Cast members took turns demonstrating their goofy, nerdy personalities, portraying fairy tale characters such as the Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel and other fable favorites. The script made use of familiar passages from those fairy tale classics, mixing them with sarcastic humor, Jersey attitude and hip street talk.
Danielle Petrucelli, in the role of Little Red Riding Hood, was the leader of the quirky pack of characters and a most impressive performer. Petrucelli was sure-footed and in command every step of the way. Her skillful, comedic charm and expressive peepers put wind in the sails of the production. Petrucelli is a resident of West Orange and a middle-school English teacher in the Franklin Township school system.
Little Red Riding Hood was more than a match for the dashing Craig Woodward who played Nero, a bearded big bad wolf in mobster’s clothing. Woodward sparkled in his role and was one slick scoundrel, giving the show its comedic edge. He and Petrucelli stepped out of the pages of the fairy tale and into a competitive relationship as they challenged each other with digs and barbs throughout the night. Rumor has it that Woodward is related to the director.
All cast members get an artistic “A” for their performances, with extra-special kudos going to Katie Shuster as Cinderella, Ruth Hayden as Grandma and Mike Purdy and Tara Moran as the bubbly, bouncy team of Hansel and Gretel. Carla Silvestri played Sleeping Beauty; Millie Ortiz, Goldilocks; Mike Sconzo, Marquise Figueroa and Felipe Rodriguez, the wise guy Three Little Pigs; Kenny Fowler, Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk); and Joseph Romano, who started out as a mild-mannered bartender only to emerge as the long-awaited crowned prince.
Praise also goes to the wait staff at Mario’s — the dedicated women that were highly effective serving food, clearing tables and courteously assisting patrons during the show. They gave an efficient performance. Bravo to all their hard work.
Two years ago Clifton theater patrons enjoyed another original production written and directed by Craig Woodward — “Aladdin Visits the 20th Century” — which was staged at the Clifton Arts Center in October 2013. Woodward, who resides in Little Falls, is the author of more than 20 plays.
According to notes in the show’s program, Woodward said “Once Upon a Mystery” was written after he, Craig Woodward, and Danielle Petrucelli appeared at Mario’s two years ago in Theater League of Clifton’s performance of “Murder Me Always.” Following that experience, Craig Woodward explained he decided to write a play specifically for dinner theater. “I kept hearing Danielle’s voice as the lead character. Fortunately we were able to get her for the role, so what you’re seeing tonight is the play I originally envisioned.”
Mark Peterson produced the dinner-theater play, Tara Freifeld was the stage manager, Maryann Irizarry created the costumes and Kurt Irizarry served as the sound technician.
The Theater League of Clifton will present the Rogers and Hammerstein classic “South Pacific” as its annual spring musical. The show, directed by Kathleen Kellaigh and produced by Maryann Irizarry, will be held at the Theresa Aprea Theater, 199 Scoles Ave. on May 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17. Visit the organization’s website www.theaterleagueofclifton.com for more information.
As spelled out on its website, TLC is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the arts through theatrical performances. “Our goal is to provide an outlet for creative community involvement, and to provide quality entertainment for all ages. It is also our goal to nurture the development of theater arts in Clifton’s youth by creating a scholarship for Clifton High School seniors who will be continuing their education in this area.”
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