Refreshingly Peachy: Musical Theatre Weekend Getaway in Valdosta

If you love musical theatre, and you’re looking for the perfect weekend getaway, look no further than Valdosta, GA. Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theater (PSST!) has a rotating schedule of three shows in their repertory, making it possible to catch three shows in a single weekend! Head to their website for their full line-up so you can schedule accordingly. When you aren’t catching a show you can walk nature preserves, golf, shop, or visit Valdosta’s historic areas.

Peach State Summer Theatre is just a scant two hours from Jacksonville. It’s easy to pop up for one show, or make a weekend or several day trip of it as you see all three shows. One of the most interesting things, if you do see all three, is picking out the actors in all three shows, playing very different roles. It’s a testament to the transformative power of theatre and the actor’s skills that you might have trouble picking them out as the same actor without help from the program.

Shows currently in the rotation are My Fair Lady, Shrek the Musical, and Forever Plaid. See the links for reviews of each show.

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady is one of three shows Peach State Summer Theatre is putting on in Valdosta, GA. At just two hours away, it’s a great idea for a getaway, whether you see all three shows or travel back after seeing one.

Megan Wheeler’s start as Eliza was a bit rocky, but her introduction is one that takes incredible skill to pull off–it’s got to be funny, and simultaneously desperate. She starts as a flower girl experiencing a night of bad luck, using every emotional lever in her arsenal to turn things around. The modern equivalent would be a waitress who has rent due, a bad night of tips, who then chases a five person table full of privileged frat boys down in the parking lot because they’ve forgotten not only to tip her, but pay also to pay for their meal. She knows that it’s going to come out of her pay, and her only hope is to make them feel sorry enough for what they’ve done. It has to be genuine, tinged with outrage and at least a touch of desperation, but also silly.  Maybe I didn’t quite believe in her as Eliza at first (and this first scene seemed a bit too rushed to really have things sink in), but the moment she started to sing, I believed in her wholeheartedly. She charms more and more as the play progresses.

But, besides the ability to sell her songs, Wheeler shone in the tea scene. She made us believe that she would have done anything for that cup of tea, if only she weren’t so tired! In this scene, moments were allowed to hang for maximum comic and emotional effect.

When the actors slowed down, when they savored things, that’s when the production had its best moments. And it was weakest when they didn’t. Henry Higgins (Olin Davidson) should be allowed savor his own cleverness, at least a tad more, especially when he’s being terrible and is on a tirade. Some reactions and lines weren’t always allowed to ripen. Still, Davidson does deliver great, fun moments, especially concerning his sincere bromance with Colonel Pickering.

Standard run time for My Fair Lady is fairly long (it’s about 3 hours) I know there’s a lot to do in order to set of the next show in the series, (which was Shrek The Musical that evening), and they likely want to give people seeing the show time to get dinner before coming back, so there may be some technical reasons for the rush in some places.  

Despite these very minor hiccups, it’s still one of the better productions of My Fair Lady I’ve seen, and well worth the ticket price. Neal Mayer, one the Equity Actors in the show, is simply brilliant and utterly old-boy British as Colonel Pickering. Joe Mason as Alfred P. Doolittle is delight each time he graces the stage. Actress Amanda Lopez makes the part of Mrs. Pearce hers. George Bernard Shaw has some wonderful lines, and the actors do them justice, but it’s Lopez as Mrs. Pearce who can take a line as mundane as “Yes Sir” and convey a volume of meaning.  Alexander Mendoza as Freddy brought the sort of leading-man earnestness needed for the part–as well as some charming and skilled vocal work.

On the technical side, I’ve simply got to give a shout out to the skilled orchestra and to the costume design, by Esther Iverson, especially where Eliza was concerned. As the show progresses, Eliza’s outfits really inform the changes she made, inside and out.

See My Fair Lady in Valdosta through July 16th at the Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theater (PSST!)

Shrek: The Musical

The fear I had, because the movie is so well-loved, was that Shrek and Fiona would be clones of their film counterpoints. But it just doesn’t happen. While Alexander Mendoza slips a bit of a Scottish brogue in as Shrek, he doesn’t come across as a Mike Myers impersonator. This is his Shrek, he owns it on his own terms, and it’s absolutely endearing. The same can be said of Megan Wheeler as Fiona–she owns the part and makes it hers. Wheeler as Fiona is a joy to watch the entire time she’s on stage. By turns she’s aggressively cheerful and not-so-innocently perky, with exceptional timing on her comedic beats.

Imari Thompson does a boisterous turn as the annoying but utterly lovable Donkey (aka Noble Steed). Dragon (Amanda Lopez) shows off some great vocal chops. I’d been looking forward to seeing her in the part since seeing her earlier that afternoon in a smaller role during My Fair Lady, and I wasn’t disappointed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you might be surprised that Lord Farquaad gets a background story. Nearly every moment of time he spends on stage might be a moment you wonder if you’ll ever breathe properly again, what with the laughing you’ll be doing. I wouldn’t spoil the gag for you, but his choreography, as awkward as it might be for the actor, is comedy gold for the audience members. Actor Alec James makes it look easy, but it very much isn’t. Kudos should go both to him and the outstanding choreography needed to pull it off.

The cast plays with physical comedy well, and this isn’t limited to the main cast. Blocking, choreography and the actor’s skills were essential. Choreographer David Rossetti had his work cut out for him, and he did a stellar job for this show.

The bonding between Shrek and Fiona in their short trip back to Dulac is perfectly toned, timed and believable. In the midst of this strange fairy-tale world, in-jokes from the movie, and absurdity, it was amazing to see Mendoza and Wheeler giving us something so genuine.

Technically, it’s the most challenging of the three shows put on by the company, in everything from the puppeteering, to the costuming (Esther Iverson), lighting and sets (Ruth A. Brandvik, Jason Lee Courson, Genny Wynn-Muncy), vocal direction (Joe Mason), sound design (Zach Cramer), and the already mentioned choreography. While the director (Jacque Wheeler) deserves overall credit for helming the production, looking at all the moving parts involved, and how smoothly they were managed, I also have to say that the stage manager (DeAnna T. Keys) must also be a force to be reckoned with. She stage manages all three of the productions currently at the Peach State Summer Theatre. As is the case for all three productions, the orchestra and orchestral direction (David Springfield) is on point. You definitely should be turning to page 27 in your programs for all the productions this summer (My Fair Lady, Shrek The Musical, and Forever Plaid) so that you may gaze upon the unsung heroes–stitching, carpentry, electrical, dressers, painters, wig artisans–all these folks make these productions possible.

This is a child-friendly show, of course, and if you’re expecting a carbon copy of the movie with songs–don’t. If you’ve seen the movies, there are in-jokes and references, but if you haven’t, it doesn’t take away from the production. Seeing it done live action makes for a surreal experience, but overall, it’s a good one!

See Shrek The Musical  in Valdosta through July 15th at the Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theater (PSST!)

Forever Plaid

I’m a bit sentimental about Forever Plaid, as it was one of the first professional productions I saw in the 1990s. There’s a lot to be sentimental about. And sentimentality is the heart of this show–a yearning for days just past past for the Plaids, who even in 1964 were firmly behind the times–looking back to their music of the the music of their childhoods instead of forwards.

Although musically, the foursome has skills, The Plaids don’t have to be perfect (after all, most of their in-character performances were in places like bowling alleys) but they do have to work as characters, and I have to say, all four of members of the cast absolutely do their jobs, and then some, with some excellent harmony to boot! The format of the show is something that’s been increasingly popular, a musical revue show with a little plot as an excuse to to sing. In this case, it’s the age of doo-wop in the spotlight.

There are jokes in jokes here, especially in the Ed Sullivan sequence–for those who never watched the show, like young members of the audience, it’s still funny, but for those who grew up with it (or spent time watching reruns on PBS), it’s rich with visual and auditory in-jokes.

While the supporting music is backdrop to this show, I’ve got to say that the guys on bass (Trent Harper) and piano (David Springfield) were marvelously adept.

Francis aka Frankie (Steven Bidwell) is the heart of the group, bolstering and managing the other three when they need his support. Bidwell commits to that role fully, and though they are all heart-warmingly supportive of each other, he inhabits the role to the fullest.

Andrew Poston plays Sparky with puppy-like enthusiasm, pulling off a delightfully suave goofiness informed by the musical heartthrobs of the 1950s during his numbers. He’s definitely fun for the audience to watch and fills out the part nicely.

Imari Thompson plays the character of Jinx, stepbrother to Sparky. Vocally, of the four, I found his performance the strongest. The actor playing this part is black, and I love that this choice was made in casting, despite the show traditionally being four awkward white dudes. It added subtext because Sparky and Jinx were now members of a blended, mixed-race family which would have certainly been difficult in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s never directly mentioned, but for me it added an extra richness to the flashback scene, and how much the men clung to the normalcy of watching Ed Sullivan as a family. We know that all four of these young men have mundane lives, various physical and social problems, and yet–yet they revel in the music, that even in their day, was a throwback to another time. They’re dead, but they get their happy ending, a dream that likely never would have been if they had lived. On the surface, it’s a deceptively simple and nostalgic show, but beneath that is a chosen disconnection with the mundane and modern in favor the sublime, of art and nostalgia over the everyday. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’ve seen Plaid over the years at different theatres, and, as far as character work is concerned, it is by far the very best I’ve seen. Each of these actors make very distinct and different character choices–which is good because other productions I’ve seen have sometimes veered into making all four the same brand of nerd. While it’s apparent that the characters have bonded and spent a lot of time together in harmony, the choices these actors make are very individual.

Olin Davidson’s body language throughout the show entertains–he’s taken stiffness to a whole new level of funny as Smudge, and he was damned consistent with it throughout the show (only loosening up as part of the performance). Even when a bit went wrong through happenstance Davidson rolled with it, and stayed in character. For most people who haven’t seen the show before, it would have been impossible to tell the difference between the scripted snafus, and the ones that happened organically–because the actors wholly inhabited their parts. In live theatre even when things go wrong, they can go terribly right. That’s the magic of it, and that’s what I saw on stage during Peach State Summer Theatre’s production of Forever Plaid.

See Forever Plaid  in Valdosta through July 15th at the Valdosta State University’s Peach State Summer Theater (PSST!)


About Erin Thursby