HIGH SPIRITS is the musical version of Noel Coward’s 1942 community theater favorite BLITHE SPIRIT. Book, music and lyrics are by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray.
Forge Theatre’s production made an attempt at bringing the 1964 script up to date. The use of laptop computer, cell and wireless phones, local place names and such were inserted. (One woman derides her staid husband’s choice of a honeymoon location as Lancaster). BLITHE SPIRIT is a fluffy, light very British piece of Coward that relies on his brand of dialogue for its humor. The script of HIGH SPIRITS just doesn’t make the transition very well.
Charles Condomine is a mystery writer who needs background info on séances for his next book. He invites local medium Madam Arcati to perform for him, his wife and a few friends. She succeeds in conjuring up Charles’ first wife who is visible only to Charles and complications ensue. It’s a very slender one joke premise and needs very witty and, in my opinion, very British style of play to work.
In a stand out performance Janine Herd as Elvira, Charles’ materialized first wife, is a joy to behold. She has a very good voice and solid stage presence. As her befuddled henpecked husband Charles, Anthony Marsala sings well enough and is an effective foil to the women in the cast.
Ruth Condomine, Charles’ second wife, played by Michelle English, is properly put out with Elvira’s antics. Her voice in the lower range and in the higher reaches is fine. The score is written in keys that stretch just over where the alto and soprano ranges meet. English (as well as all the singers) had to contend with an overly enthusiastic orchestra whose volume was excessive.
The plum role of Madame Arcati (created on Broadway by Bea Lillie) was handled well by Patricia Rhoads. I was particularly taken with her scene with her Ouija board. She gets some nice laughs out of her performance.
JT Grosch and Danielle Greenberg appear as friends of the Condomines, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. Along with Will Nassau and Melanie Magolan, (with the use of some rather unusual wigs) they constitute the chorus. Magolan deserves some special mention. She not only played the speedy servant Edith and sang with the chorus, but also played the violin in the orchestra.
Directors Hal Holzer and Marnie Herzfeld made good use of the single set. By merely changing tablecloths and pictures and removing and resetting a few pieces, they managed to make the set work as several locations. The effects in the final scene worked well (I’m not spoiling the effect). Both the Lighting design by Jeff Sugzdinis and minimal choreography by Renee Schulz suited the production well.
The music, while pleasant enough, is not outstanding. Music Director and Pianist Denise Wisneski has her singers well prepared. The second act duet “If I Gave You” and the trio “What In The World Did You Want” were very pleasing.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray
Adapted from BLITHE SPIRIT by Noel Coward
Directed by Hal Holzer and Marnie Herzfeld
June 8-30 2012
241 First Ave.
Phoenixville PA 19460