THEATRE REVIEW: “Butterflies Are Free”

The Alhambra Theatre opened Leonard Gershe’s comedy, “Butterflies Are Free“. It will run through March 22nd 2015. The Alhambra Theatre & Dining is located at 12000 Beach Blvd, in Jacksonville. Call 904-641-1212 or visit

This funny, warm and touching comedy opened in l969 on Broadway, and played for 1,128 performances. Blythe Danner won a Best Actress Tony for the role of Jill Tanner. Play was also nominated for Best Direction. The popular movie version in l972 won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Eileen Heckart.

Though a play about the 60’s, it is so well written, the humor still so current that it is still frequently done all over the country.

The story goes like this; a young man in his 20s, Don Baker, who was born blind, is living on his own in one of the poorer sections of New York. He becomes romantically involved with a free spirited/kooky 19 year neighbor and has the inevitable showdown with is possessive and dominating mother.

TJ Washburn plays Don Baker who has recently moved into a sparsely and oddly furnished apartment. (The bathtub is in the kitchen, and his bed is ten feet off the ground, is that odd enough for you.) His mother is allowing him to live alone for the first time on a two month trial basis. The very handsome Mr. Washburn, has been in both previous versions of “The Buddy Holly Story, and in “Hello Dolly” and “My Fair Lady” at the Alhambra. He is very believable in this role and very convincing “blind” person. He also sings well as he briefly plays guitar and sings the title song “Butterflies Are Free” composed by Stephen Schwartz.

Clancy Cauble is making her professional debut as Jill Tanner, the aspiring actress who lives next door to Don and becomes a significant person in his life in less than 24 hours. Jill is a very attractive and vivacious female but also seems very naïve and impulsive. She was married at age sixteen for six days, and floats in and out of relationships. Ms. Cauble is a delight to watch on stage, and under Tod Booth’s fine direction, she moves around Don’s apartment like a butterfly while providing much of the humor in act one. Like Don, you are going to fall in love with her.

Lisa Whelchel is Don’s mother, Mrs. Baker. Although Ms. Whechel is listed as the star of the show, her role is a supporting one but she is the reason many people are going to see this show. Lisa has many fans from the days when she was Blair Warner on NBC’s “The Facts of Life” for nine years before the show ended in l988. From that time until a couple of years ago, she spent her time having and raising two children and writing many books, with such titles as “The Busy Mom’s guide to Wisdom”, “How to Start Your Own Mom Time”, and “So You’re Thinking About Home Schooling”. She is quite good as the intimating and fussy mother, and her confrontation with Jill in act two about her dismay over their relationship is very believable. Ms. Whelchel, wears a dark brown wig over her usual blond hair, so you may not notice the resemblance between her and Jill (Miss Caubel) who is her real life daughter.

In a cameo role as the swaggering cool boyfriend of Jill, named Ralph, is a young actor you ladies swooned over a few seasons back when he played Joseph in Dreamcoat. Remember Xander Chauncey? He is also Assistant Director for Tod Booth for this show.

The ending will be left for you to experience. This is a well written play with a lot of humor, which has its poignant moments as well.

The set design by Ian Black and Dave Dionne of the l960s piecemeal apartment with is industrial look (brick walls, steel beams, sky lights), captures the feeling of the times. (This same apartment in NYC, would probably rent for two grand a month in today’s world!)

Lisa Whelchel appears to be a very gracious and gregarious person and will probably go out to meet and greet her fans in the lobby after each show and maybe even talk books!! Don’t miss this show, it is one of the best they done at the Alhambra.


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.