AND THE WINNER IS….Burlington County Footlighters for a Winning Production

by David Bradford

“Thanks for the Memories” – While not one of the music pieces in the show, it is a classic that I think sums up my thoughts about the Burlington County Footlighters’ production of AND THE WINNER IS… It is a medium paced comedy which served as the perfect way to end what was a pretty hectic day. This full length comedy, written by “Tuesdays with Morrie” author Mitch Albom, was first produced by the actor Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre Company, the same theatre responsible for hilarious off-beat productions such as “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

(left to right:) Siobhan O'Brien, Roman Lupan, Tim Sagges, Valerie Mazzagatti, Jason Cutts and Dan Brothers, the cast of AND THE WINNER IS...playing at Burlington County Footlighters through November 20.

AND THE WINNER IS… tells the story of Hollywood actor Tyler Johnes who dies on the eve of the very Oscar night in which he has been nominated for his first award. This news is delivered to him by Seamus, an older Irish gentleman leaning against a most unusual bar. We find out that he is a heavenly gatekeeper as the two characters begin to “click”. Tyler, played admirably by Roman Lupan, begs the Irishman to let him at least go back and find out if he won. Lupan’s smoothness, yet quirky realism, draws you to him as he relives, through flashback, some of the finer and not so finer points of his life. Lupan was a great choice for the role.

Things begin to pick up when others “drop in” to the bar. They include Tyler’s agent, Teddy LaPetite (Tim Sagges), his co-star, turned professional nemesis, Kyle Morgan (Jason Cutts), and his vapid girlfriend Serenity (Siobhan O’Brien). Apparently it was not a good night for Hollywood types…perhaps it was something they ate. All have their own reasons for wanting to get back to the Oscars….a task with which they beg Seamus to help them.

Sagges’ portrayal of an affected, pretentious, Hollywood agent was riotous. His French accent was amusing, though I must admit, I am still a little confused as to whether the agent was truly supposed to have been French, or whether the French was supposed to be an affectation. I’ll let you decide. Either way…funny!

Cutts’ portrayal of a cocky Hollywood pretty boy was quite two-dimensional, but then again, that was what the character was supposed to be. And Cutts’ depth showed itself in the few key moments when the pretty boy character had rare emotional lucidity.

O’Brien’s presentation as blonde bimbo Serenity was also a treat to watch. Over the top? Yes. But just right for this show!

Dan Brothers handled the role of Seamus very well. He was funny and confident with a wry delivery well suited to the part. There were a few comical lines which seemed glossed over or lost in audience reaction to a previous line. However, comic timing can be very audience dependent. It was a quiet audience that night and anticipating which lines would make them laugh would have been difficult.

That I have left Sherri, Tyler’s wife, out of the equation until now is no accident. She was played by Valerie Mazzagatti who did a wonderful job at playing various age ranges in the flashback scenes. If I could offer one comment to Ms. Mazzagatti though, it would be to reach a little deeper into the role. I felt like she was more often “acting” the role than living the role. Sherri ends up, in my opinion, being the most important character in the entire storyline. There were a few times when Mazzagatti relaxed a bit and became the character, showing us that she is more than capable of carrying it off. I would love to see her truly appreciate her character’s importance and lose herself completely in it. I feel she would shine!

The set was simple, but functional, and truthfully anything more would have been a distraction. Sound effects were plentiful, although I would suggest that the Director, Jennifer A. Staffenberg, consider fading out the Oscar sound effects shortly after establishing the scene and let any crowd shouts out be uttered dry. Leaving a sound effect like that up for a long time becomes an intense distraction.

AND THE WINNER IS… is a terrific show, and the Burlington Country Footlighters are offering a great production of it. I highly recommend it!

I also found “The Playhouse”, Footlighters’ home, to be a charming venue. If you have not seen a Footlighters’ show, do so. It was my first show there, but made for an evening of “memories” that I won’t soon forget. Thank you!

(Note:  Show content is rated PG-13 – leave the kids at home.)

by Mitch Albom
Directed by Jennifer A. Staffenberg
November 5 – 20, 2010
Burlington County Footlighters
808 Pomona Road
Cinnaminson, NJ

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