Newtown Arts Company Rings the BELLES

by Walter Bender

The women of BELLES ON THEIR TOES: (standing, back row, L. to R.) Gilbreth sisters Jackie (Brianna Nelson), Anne (Leah Pressman), Ernestine (Colleen Smith) and Martha (Devon Bilyk). Seated in front: Mrs. Lillian Gilbreth (Joanie Keehn), Lillian (Lauren Sauers) and Cousin Leora (Mary Ann Wylie). Running through August 11 at Newtown Arts Company, Newtown, PA.

Newtown Arts Company’s latest offering, BELLES ON THEIR TOES, is the sequel to the more famous CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN. BELLES picks up shortly after the conclusion of the story line of DOZEN. Mrs. Gilbreth is about to go to Europe to deliver a series of speeches on motion study, and leaves the children in charge of the household. Add in a chef/housekeeper, a young doctor, a houseguest and a crusty aunt and there lies quite a recipe for fun…and fun it is.

The play is dominated by the young actors…the adults are, for the most part, foils for the younger performers to play off of. The three older sisters, played by Leah Pressman, Colleen Smith and Devon Bilyk are a perfect combination of maturity and adolescence. Their characters try to remain responsible, but at times they succumb to their age, and we as the audience love every second. The three actresses are spot on, showing remarkable stage maturity. Also giving commendable performances are Greg Sowiak and Sam Stringer as the older brothers who take it upon themselves to help the sisters keep a somewhat ill-conceived promise. The rest of the young cast is also excellent, showing a stage discipline that is commendable as well as a very disarming charm and sweetness.

The more “veteran” members of the cast are also well done. Of special note is the performance of David Danner as Tom, the family retainer/cook, whose home-spun philosophy and home remedy are cause for numerous laughs. Mary Ann Wylie (Aunt Leora) is sweetly aggravating as the well-meaning yet annoying aunt. And William Kelly (Dr. Bob) is a perfect young professional who loses his heart to one of his patients.

The set is a “reprise” from NAC’s production of DOZEN in 2008, and still works very effectively. Kudos to cast and crew for making the set seem like a home. And, the costuming by Jane DeKorte was also excellent, giving the audience a true feel for the era.

Sequels (as we all know) more times than not are disappointing. I have to say this is not the case with this production. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The performances of the young actors and actresses was a lot of fun to watch, the pace of the show kept the audience involved, and the direction kept things together beautifully. Sadly, this production only runs for one week. It deserves a longer run. Congratulations to NAC for a very charming production.

Adapted by William Roos
Based on the book by Frank Gilbreth and Elizabeth Gilbreth Carey
Directed by John Rasiej
August 5 – 11, 2010
Newtown Arts Company
120 North State Street
Newtown, PA

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