What They're Saying About Our Shows:
Mark Lord of the Queens Chronicle on GP's Babes in Toyland
It’s only fitting that two lights that converge on the front curtain of The Gingerbread Players’ postage stamp stage at St. Luke’s Church in Forest Hills, where a new production of the classic comic operetta, “Babes in Toyland,” is now on view, should form a giant heart ... for this show is overflowing with love.
And it’s no wonder! The show was a long time in coming, having originally been scheduled for 2020 and again in 2021, both times being sidelined by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s obvious that all concerned were happy to have live audiences back in the house.
While many of the famous melodies, all lilting, by Victor Herbert remain in place, a new book for this tale (known also as “The March of the Wooden Soldiers”), which brings together a veritable smorgasbord of beloved storybook characters in a battle between good and evil, has been written by Gingerbread mainstay Louise Guinther, who has also directed with obvious affection for the material.
Many of the melodies are easily recognizable, with “Toyland” being its signature piece. But the score is filled with soaring tunes from start to finish.
And, it’s good to be able to report, nearly the entire company, numbering around three dozen, can really sing.
Jillian Kowal brings a clear soprano to the central role of young shepherdess Bo-Peep. She is joined in a duet, “Mignonette,” by tall, long-haired Ronan Finley, as her beau, Tom-Tom, the Piper’s Son, with whom she will undoubtedly find happiness in the end.
In “It’s Tom-Tom,” Ryan Stahl and Delinda Pisapia join Kowal as two of Bo-Peep’s confidantes, blending their voices beautifully.
Jim Chamberlain, a Gingerbread favorite from way back, adds another colorful character to his repertoire as the sinister schoolmaster, Barnaby, selling his number, “You’ve Been Looking for a Man Like Me,” for all it’s worth. He’s joined by Andrew Dinan and Nick Cuttonaro as his two inept henchmen, delivering a memorable “He Won’t Be Happy ’Til He Gets It.” The duo provides many of the show’s comical moments, including a gypsy-flavored number, “Floretta,” complete with falsetto singing.
The cast features a group of very talented youngsters, all of whom display discipline beyond their years, with several offering standout vocals, particularly Wendy Wu as Dolly and multiple soloists in a classroom song, “I Can’t Do the Sum.” Frankie Wang does a fine job as Raggedy Andy.
As The Toymaker, Bart DeFinna gets to lead the “Toyland” number, which is given a singalong reprise at show’s conclusion. And special mention must be made of the show’s featured dancer, Pauline Voronova, who is equally adept at ballet and cartwheels.
Kudos to musical director Olivia Grugan, who has done justice to Herbert’s music, which was arranged by William Ryden.
Physically, the show is most agreeable. Set designer Elizabeth Reynolds and lighting designer Jean Tessier have created lovely storybook settings, with costume designer Joanna Friedman providing a wide array of outfits for everyone from Mother Hubbard and Miss Muffett to a cuckoo clock and a jack-in-the-box. And her smartly dressed toy soldiers get a round of applause for just looking so sharp.
Remaining performances at the church (85 Greenway South, Forest Hills) are on May 6 at 7:30 p.m. and May 7 and 8 at 2:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $15. For more information, call (718) 261-7772 or visit gingerbreadplayers.org.
Praise for Little Women
Reviewed in the Queens Chronicle, by Mark Lord
"... Filled with romance, humor, sadness and family drama ... the tale remains timeless....
With a multigenerational cast of nearly 30, director Louise Guinther has worked wonders on the postage stamp-size stage.
Each [of the March girls] is to be commended for creating an identifiable character and, at the same time, blending into a believable family unit, looking and acting like sisters.... Marmee is played with affection by Lauren Snyder, while their scholarly father, absent for far too much of the show’s running time, is portrayed by the always dependable Jim Chamberlain, who has an opportunity to display his guitar-playing skills in one of the show’s livelier numbers.
Alexander Inagamov as Laurie and Ludovic Coutaud as John Brooke make suitable suitors for Jo and Meg, respectively.
Louise Foisy as judgmental Aunt March and Andrew Dinan as Laurie’s grandfather are fine character actors who are, sadly, underused here.
As Professor Bhaer, David Friedman displays what is possibly the best singing voice in the company.
The choreography, by Louise Guinther and Terri Matassov, was executed with flair, particularly in the ensemble number, “Soiree Polka.”
Among the dramatic highlights are two scenes that come back to back in the second and shorter of two acts: one finds Laurie confessing his love for Jo, the other is a warm conversation between Jo and Beth. Both tug at the heartstrings....
The Gingerbread Players long ago established an ability to paint beautiful stage pictures. Joanna Friedman’s astonishing array of costumes and the simple but clever set designs by Rosemary Favia go a long way in bringing the period to life, while Jane Thornton’s lighting provided apt atmosphere.
Facebook Post from Bruce Grossberg:
This afternoon, The Gingerbread Players of Saint Luke's Church, a venerable Forest Hills theater, performed a fairly straight-up adaptation of LITTLE WOMEN at the 100-year old St. Luke's Church in an older-part of Forest Hills Gardens. Except that they turned it into a jukebox musical—if your jukebox is filled with Stephen Foster songs, and old New England hymns, and spirituals, and Civil War songs, and songs by Strauss and Offenbach. Except that they turned into a site-specific show, because something about doing an old show about a minister's family in an old church leeched into each other in a very good way.
And while I have a feeling that the creators were mostly interested in putting on a show that everyone would enjoy being a part of, and enjoy seeing, a lot of the show discusses why people chose to give up their financial prospects, and their families, and their health and their lives to fight for some concept called the United States. And a lot of the show discusses just how unique a unique woman can ever be, not just after the Civil War, or in these times, but any time....
If you are interested in theater, or music, or American History, or how to make maximum use of sometimes minimum conditions, something extraordinary is going on at St. Luke's Church. And don't forget to have a piece of the gingerbread during intermission.
Facebook Post from Richard Corson
Unpacking a Victorian portmanteau – Dolly Guinther and Beatrice Grant have deftly transported Louisa May Alcott’s sentimental American classic, “Little Women,” into a splendid musical production by the Gingerbread Players of St. Luke’s Church in Forest Hills, NY.
If a hallmark of a successful drama is to stir a playgoer’s emotions, their show succeeded admirably with me, particularly through their pairing of the novel with traditional songs and Civil War vintage music of soldiers and slaves. The cast is large, of all ages and degrees of experience, and well directed. The costumes are varied and appropriate. The humor of the play-within-the play, “The Witch’s Curse or Hagar’s Revenge,” is spot on. The use of a narrator to move the action is just right. A special bravo to David Friedman for his moving rendition of “Muss I’ Denn” in the final scene.
Praise for Le Bourgeois Gentilhommme:
Mark Lord, The Queens Chronicle
"[The title role] is here played by Jim Chamberlain, a mainstay with the troupe, turning in an impressive performance in a marathon role....
... "The costumes, conceived and put together by Joanna Friedman, are a definite highlight of the production, all sumptuous and wholly appropriate.
Director Dolly Guinther has elicited a true ensemble performance from the entire company. She is to be commended for utilizing every ounce of space on the postage-stamp stage so effectively, painting beautiful tableaus at every turn....
.... It’s not often that local theater troupes tackle the classics, and The Gingerbread Players should be applauded for their longstanding efforts to bring rarely seen plays to life."
Praise for Love's Labours Lost:
"I went to last night's production of Love's Labour's Lost and really enjoyed it ...
... I see a lot of Shakespeare around NYC, including productions by the RSC and others featuring Ian McKellen, Anne Hathaway, Patrick Stewart, the late Christopher Reeve and others. Your production compares favorably with a lot of what I've seen. The friend I went with and I agreed that you probably beat all of them in enjoyment per dollar.Thanks a lot for the great job!" —D. H., audience member
Praise for Much Ado about Nothing:
".... Much care was focused on the beauty and expressiveness of the words, rather than the gimmicky approach used by many professional groups to lure in the Shakespeare-shy crowd.... The surly Benedick was generously interpreted by James Chamberlain.... Both couples displayed real sexual heat, of an Elizabethan mode to be sure.
An animated supporting cast surrounded the two couples, most notably two cast members from last year’s “The War of the Worlds,” Andrew Dinan as the noble Don Pedro and Trey Sandusky, last year’s great Orson Welles, as Dogberry.... The packaging of this production was rather glorious for a small theatre group, with beautiful sets and radiant costumes provided by Jane Thornton and Joanna Guinther, respectively. Madeleine Hogan composed quite effective music for the occasion."