Hop In For Laughs “HARVEY”

ALHAMBRA THEATRE AND DINING REVIEW

The delightful comedy “Harvey,” which opened on August 12, 2015 and will run through September 6, is onstage at the Alhambra, at 12000 Beach Boulevard. Mary Chase’s 1944 play, about a man whose best friend is a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, won the Pulitzer Prize and ran for 1,775 performances on Broadway. It was made into a movie in 1950 starring Jimmy Stewart as the leading character

If you have never seen the play, you should, since it is one of the all-time classics. If you have seen the play or the movie, go because it will be like visiting an old friend. In addition, this Tod Booth directed show has truly chuckle-worthy theatrical silliness that is thoroughly clever, and features an outstanding cast.

The leading character, Elwood P. Dowd is marvelously played by Charles Shaughnessy from TV’s “The Nanny.” Dowd, a mild-mannered eccentric, inherited a sizeable income from his parents and thus spends his time going to parties, bars and saloons. His companion is an invisible rabbit named Harvey who goes everywhere with him.

11865018_10153474411133808_455608492220056829_oHis excitable sister Veta Louise and his lovely niece Myrtle May are embarrassed by Elwood’s friend and they want Elwood committed to Chumley Sanitarium. Veta is played by Alhambra veteran and favorite Lisa Valdini, who is an expert at portraying funny, frantic, frustrated females, as she has shown in many past performances on this stage. Myrtle Mae is played by Lindsay Sutton, who Alhambra regulars know can sing up a storm, as she did in past performances in “Seussical, The Musical” and “Phantom.” In “Harvey,” Lindsay displays her comic talents in a delightfully daffy performance as a mate-hunting female.

11884687_10153474410663808_8849874090356980944_oWhen Veta tells Dr. Sanderson (Joe Ditmyer) she sometimes sees Harvey, she is locked up and Elwood is allowed to go free. Well, lots of things happen afterward, but we will leave the rest of the mayhem for you to discover.

“Harvey” is filled with interesting characters, even those who appear briefly. Susan Fallender (Mr. Shaughnessy’s real-life wife) made a cameo appearance as Mrs. Chavenet, a very funny society dame who is somewhat shaken when she meets Harvey for the first time.

Tom Bengston is excellent as Wilson, the lusty-husky psychiatric attendant who has eyes for Myrtle Mae. Pattie Eyler has a brief encounter with the mystery of Harvey’s identity as Mrs. Chumley, wearing very stylish 1940’s clothing.

11892357_10153474411423808_1717957822910043524_oKurt McCall, fresh from his role as Edna in “Hairspray,” is the family lawyer, the very prim and proper and funny Judge Omar Gaffney. Michael Edwards, a superb actor from the Orlando area, is outstanding as the senior psychiatrist Dr. Chumley, and his transition from a serious professional to a hilarious drunk being chased by Harvey is priceless. Jessica Hayden, who appeared previously in the Alhambra’s “The Buddy Holly Story” and “White Christmas,” is the sexy Nurse Ruth Kelly who, in another subplot, is romantically involved with Dr. Sanderson. Everyone in this production gets laughs, even Pete Clapsis, in the small but important role of cab driver E. J. Lofgren.

There are two excellent sets designed by Dave Dionne. One is the living room of the old Dowd mansion; the other is the reception room of the sanitarium. The sets are back to back on a revolving stage that Stage Manager Jason Nettle and his crew flip around in less time than it will take you to sip your coffee. The always reliable Costume Crew dressed the cast in era-appropriate attire.

11888595_10153474410078808_6380175290027661469_oDirector Tod Booth is spot on with the spirit of this endearing production, and he has applied just the right touch to bring out the humor, especially in the second act.

Many in the gala audience were Charles Shaughnessy fans who were delighted with his nicely subdued impish performance as Elwood, and his appearance in the lobby afterward to sign autographs and talk with his admirers, something he does after every show.

Don’t miss the benevolent and slightly mischievous Mr. Dowd in this American theatre classic. Call 904-641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com for reservations.

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.

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