Niagara Gazette

February 8, 2014

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Getting into the act on the island

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Show-Goers — We have to admit we’re behind the times. You Mainlanders have your Curtain-Up in September but ours just began. And we’re up to our masts in pirates.

“Pirates of Penzance” sails into the sunset tonight at the high school. “Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.” opens this afternoon at St. Stephen, a children’s production, presumably with Captain Hook hanging on for dear life. And then a substantial cadre of high schoolers shed their pirates’ garb for bell bottoms in “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening Feb. 18, another production by St. Stephen’s prolific Parish Players.

“Penzance” represents a rare choice for a high school musical, a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta from 1879 with breathtakingly complicated lyrics, 19th Century hip-hop in 16 beats. If you answered roll call for either of the first two shows, you heard McLain Erhard threading his way through the self-adulation of “A Modern Major-General,” which actually includes a rhyme for “hypotenuse.”

“Penzance” predates and sets to music the deadpan satire of the Gazette comic “Overboard,” sort of a what-if for the contemporary citizen. Leave it to music director Carolyn Lokken, who also directs our Community Chorus, to present teen-agers this challenge. Final castoff, 7:30 p.m.

“Major-General” Erhard” has managed his tongue-twisters while also helping direct “Pan,” which flies off this afternoon at 1, this evening at 7 and then Sunday at 1, in the Neverneverland of the St. Stephen cafetorium.

That makes it triple duty for young Erhard, who also has a significant role in “Birdie,” and then there’s Jared Eichel, who has the lead in both shows, first as the Pirate King, then as Conrad Birdie, a departing pop star with a kiss to launch a thousand lips. Think Justin Beiber, with civility.

With the weather and his exhausting schedule, we failed at tracking down Jared, but did get to chat with his Mom Patricia. Jared’s is an almost inconceivable task. Even at the Shaw Festival, where they pay six-figure salaries, nobody is asked to play two leads, particularly with openings separated by just three weeks.

With mid-terms, snow days and a brief case of the flu, “It sort of caught up with him,” she said. But still, she said, he told her “I’ve never been happier.”

In all, at least seven teens are working both shows and the directors — Maura Rustowicz for “Birdie” — have extended themselves to accommodate the conflicts. A rising tide lifts all brigands.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the Parish Players first trotted out a production of “East Lynne” and like Topsy, or the gardener’s carrots in “Overboard,” it’s just growed, often into sellouts. Three dinner-theaters highlight “Birdie’s” six-night slight Feb. 21 through March 1.

Come visit. Walk the plank with a song in your heart.

Email Polly and Doug at pollyndoug@hotmail.com

Polly and Doug E-mail pollyndoug@hotmail.com