Review: Georgia Engel raises the dead in 'High Spirits'

Ghosts everywhere. Ghosts on stage. Ghosts of Broadway past. Ghosts in Naples? Believe it. TheatreZone founder and artistic director Mark Danni is bringing ghosts to Naples by reviving the long-forgotten Broadway gem 'High Spirits' starring film, television and stage actress Georgia Engel in the lead role of medium Madame Arcati for 10 performances in January 2010 at the G&L Theatre on The Community School of Naples campus.

Ghosts everywhere. Ghosts on stage. Ghosts of Broadway past. Ghosts in Naples? Believe it. TheatreZone founder and artistic director Mark Danni is bringing ghosts to Naples by reviving the long-forgotten Broadway gem "High Spirits" starring film, television and stage actress Georgia Engel in the lead role of medium Madame Arcati for 10 performances in January 2010 at the G&L Theatre on The Community School of Naples campus.

What: Adaptation of the Noel Coward farce "Blithe Spirit"

When: 8 p.m. January 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 & 16 and 2 p.m. Jan. 9, 10 & 17.

Where: G&L Theatre on the campus of Community School of Naples, 13275 Livingston Road, Naples

Cost: $35-$40

Information: 888-966-3352 or theatrezone-florida.com

Something Else: Meet the stars of "High Spirits," including Georgia Engel and James DePaiva, at TheatreZone's fund-raiser at Chrissy's Bianchi's at 6 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 10. More Information

On the Web: Read more about "High Spirits," including the history of the show and a complete list of the musical numbers, on Wikipedia

Former "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" star Georgia Engel makes her grand entrance to TheatreZone's "High Spirits" about fifteen minutes in. She hits the stage pedaling madly on a tricycle, her scarf flying, elbows and knees akimbo and flower-bedecked shoes spinning for all they're worth. It is easily the best scene of the show - and a mark that "High Spirits" fails to reach for the rest of the (long) night.

The show, a musical take on Noel Coward's play "Blithe Spirit," concerns an English novelist (James DePaiva) who invites a medium (Engel) to his house for a seance, where she conjures up the spirit of his dead first wife. Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray adapted the work; it ran for 375 performances on Broadway in 1964 and was nominated for eight Tony awards.

For something adapted from a snappy Noel Coward farce, TheatreZone's version is painfully slow and unfunny. For the third musical in a row (going back to last summer's "Tommy,") director Mark Danni's pacing during the book scenes - the acting between the singing - seems a step slow.

Worse, in a musical about a dead woman haunting her husband, nobody except Engel seems to be having much fun on stage. Scenes between James DePaiva and Susan Hartley's married couple are played out with deadly seriousness, overlooking the kooky nature of the piece. Even Karen Molnar's ghostly first wife comes across as a mopey grump. Only the supporting cast - David Goguen and Karel Wright as neighbors and Mary Benepe-Sytsma as a scene-stealing maid dial up their performances, as a farce requires.

Engel cuts quite a swath through the scenery, although mentally, I wasn't prepared for her trademark baby voice to emerge from the off-the-wall Madame Arcati. It works though, especially in a scene where she uses a Ouija board as a psychic Google, hunting for phone numbers and other information. I laughed out loud.

The musical numbers are the saving grace of "High Spirits." Once the cast launches into song, it is as if someone abruptly flipped a switch from flashlight to floodlight. Engel's "The Bicycle Song," is a rousing success. DePaiva and Hartley's duet "Where is the Man I Married?" captures the bickering essence of married life, while Molnar's "Home Sweet Heaven" sizzles with intensity. These moments don't come often enough though.

Aesthetically, this is one of TheatreZone's best-ever efforts. The English country house set from Kirk V. Hughes and Susan Rooch is eye-catching, although I'm not sure about that particular shade of cerulean. I love the tiny details, like the gorgeous china coffee service and Viscount-style telephone. Kathleen Kolacz's costumes - especially for Hartley's socialite wife - are stunning. There's a mod black-and-white print in there that could have walked off a runway in the 1960s, plus a chic robin egg blue number.

The musical numbers in "High Spirits" are quite good. The tunes are light, frothy and easy on the ears. The ghostly dance "Something is Coming to Tea" is so catchy that I was humming it hours later. Everything in between still needs a little work. Not Georgia Engel though. Madame Arcati - and her bicycle - are still rolling along just fine.

I thought I had a poltergeist once, even named it Cleopatra. It was just bad wiring. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com or connect online at naplesnews.com/csilk.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features