Neil Sedaka songs boost box office at Ivoryton Playhouse

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Do you remember the Connie Francis hit "Where The Boys Are?" Bet you didn't know that pop singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka wrote it. He also wrote the songs "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen," "Love Will Keep Us Together" and the title song of the delightful current show at the Ivoryton Playhouse, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do."

Sixteen songs have been incorporated into this cotton-candy-light-but-adorable storyline that had the Ivoryton Playhouse full house applauding and laughing all the way through the final curtain and clamoring for more.

 

The eight actors who make up the cast are each, in their own right, terrific singers who deliver Mr. Sedaka's tunes and lyrics (some co-written with Harold Greenfield and Philip Cody) with humor and enthusiasm.

 

The action takes place in 1960 at the fictional Esther's Paradise Resort in the Catskills. Esther is played with rousing chutzpa and charisma by Melanie Sousa. Her soon-to-be main squeeze, comic and MC Harvey Feldman (R. Bruce Connelly) is loyal to Esther and adds nuttiness to the resort's Saturday night shows.

 

Catskill-circuit shtick, old jokes and rubber chickens are the mainstay of Harvey's baggy-pants act. And Mr. Connelly once again shows that he is a delightful and talented performer. Esther and Harvey sparkle together and separately as they finally and blithely reveal they were made for each other in the song, "Next Door To An Angel."

 

Arriving at Esther's are Marge and her friend Lois, who is helping Marge to heal after being jilted. A weekend at the resort seems like the best medicine. Leah Monzillo, as Marge, laments her plight singing "Lonely Night" while Lois (Sheila Coyle) enthusiastically reassures her friend that all will be well because they are "Where The Boys Are."

 

The highlight of Ms. Monzillo's outstanding performance is during the second act singing "Solitaire." Both these women use their big Broadway voices to completely capture the full intent of Mr. Sedaka's words and music. Each gives a superb performance by never breaking character or missing a laugh line and by supremely singing Sedaka's timeless songs.

 

Headline singer, and former cabana-boy, Del Delmonico is a womanizer who serves, at Esther’s will, as a private dance teacher to the wealthiest female guests. Christopher DeRosa nails the part of the slick crooner, but still brings likeability to his egotistical and manipulating character. Christopher keeps his big voice in just the right register with "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do." He sparkles as a song-and-dance man in a well- choreographed zany movement while singing "Stupid Cupid." A less skilled performer might have gone for the high notes, but Mr. DeRosa pulls back and rightly plays Delmonico as a less-than-top-quality resort star.

 

A wonderfully mellifluous voice belongs to Scott Scaffidi as Gabe Green, the resort's gopher and Del's cousin. While Marge is writing in her diary, Gabe sings "The Diary" and his clear-as-a-bell voice is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Sedaka himself. And it's another treat in the second act when Gabe sings "Laughter In The Rain." His charming voice is not anyone's but his alone, an original. Mr. Scaffidi is a non-equity performer with a bright future in the theater.

 

Two of the other bright lights of "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" are the DelTunes, the backup singers to Del Delmonico. Brett Bainter and Brandon Mauro sparkle up the background by always being in the moment on stage. They dazzle in their flashy show biz tuxedos while singing and dancing their hearts out which adds pizzazz to the other fast-paced action onstage. They both have a strong stage presence and talents that should help advance their respective show business goals.

 

This funny, tuneful musical show at the Ivoryton Playhouse is definitely a crowd pleaser. Analyzing why it works is easy - a terrific team of performers, musicians, technical and artistic crew and songs, songs and more songs. Musicians John Sebastian DeNicola (and alternate Vic Perpetua) on piano join guitarist Kevin Ryan, bassist Bonde Johnson and drummer Marty Wirt to recreate the summer resort sound of Esther's. Mr. DeNicola's musical direction is some of the best of the Ivoryton season.

 

The wonderfully tacky scenery by Tony Andrea is just what Esther's Resort is all about, and except for Lois's bad blonde wig Joel Silvestro has otherwise done well by the women's hairstyles. Choreographer Caitlan Sailer's dances are appropriate to the tunes, and fit right in with the character's actions. LisaMarie Harry has found just the right clothes for Esther and Harry, the DelTunes and Del Delmonico. Marcus Abbot tries to keep all the principals in the spotlight, and T. Rick Jones manages to make the entrances and exits as smooth as possible. The sound is some of the best at Ivoryton this season.

 

Director Jacqueline Hubbard, while probably too young to ever have been to a Catskill resort, shows that she might have borrowed from the tradition of English music-hall theater to skillfully help the actors interpret the comic and singers on stage at Esther's. She even manages to incorporate a tiny bit of audience participation, voluntary of course, in the "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen" number. It worked like a Tiffany charm. Be sure to look for a surprise during "Calendar Girl." A couple of stage waits (the major pet peeves of these critics) in addition to some exits that could be better timed to allow the audience to complete the earned and expected applause are the only cause for concern in an almost flawless light-hearted production.

 

With only until October 14 to see this funny, delightfully tuneful show, go online to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or phone 860-767-7318 or 860-767-8348. Performances are Wed ¬Sun 2 p.m., Wed - Thurs 7:30 p.m. and Fri - Sat 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 - 40.

 

 

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