Shakespeare in Hollywood at Westport Community Theatre

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

I’ve been fortunate to have seen several wonderful local productions- and great performances- this past year. And a couple of them have been at Westport Community Theatre: ‘A View from the Bridge’ and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’- both terrific examples of how well regional theater can be done.

This past weekend I returned to Westport Community Theatre to see their current production: ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’ by Ken Ludwig.

 cast photo

Some background, for those of you unfamiliar with author Ken Ludwig: Back about 25-30 years ago he won numerous awards for his ‘Lend Me a Tenor’- an excellent comic farce, and ‘Crazy for You,’ a musical which had music and lyrics by the Gershwins. Since then, Ludwig has written numerous plays but he hasn’t matched the success of those early works.

Regular listeners of Katz Reviews may recall a few months ago I reviewed Ludwig’s ‘Baskerville’- one of his more recent, lesser works- a Sherlock Holmes spoof produced by Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven that I found lacking much of a bite.

 (l to r) Marc Hartog, Heather DeLude, Thomas Takacs

Here Ludwig gives a fantasy take to a true-ish story of 1934 Hollywood where a German immigrant theater director named Max Reinhardt, escaping the growing threat of Hitler, emigrates to America and stages an acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Hollywood Bowl that impressed enough people to convince Jack Warner of Warner Brothers to turn it into a movie.

‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’ is that story- but Ludwig adds the fantasy twist of Shakespeare’s characters of Oberon and Puck magically appearing on the set- and creating some havoc with some of their magic. And their quoting of Shakespeare.

Directed by Dan Friedman- whose previous credits include directing ‘Lend Me a Tenor,’ among other comedies- this production comes across unevenly. But I put most of that on writer Ludwig. Like most of Ludwig’s jokes, they’re hit or miss.

 Geoffrey Gilbert as Oberon; Katelyn Ferrari as Puck

However, the cast is led by Geoffrey Gilbert, an extraordinary acting talent who plays Oberon in a completely captivating performance that is the true highlight of the evening. Katelyn Ferrari, who plays Puck, is the young actress from Stratford who was so good this past year starring as the lead in ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and also ‘Moon Over the Brewery.’ She’s a perfect foil to Gilbert’s powerful Oberon because she is, well, perfectly Puck-ish and, as my wife said, “she’s adorable.”

 (l to r) Tom Petrone as Jack Warner; Marc Hartog as Max Reinhardt

Other highlights: Marc Hartog is fun to watch playing the director, Max Reinhardt, as is Danielle Hartog, who plays Oberon’s love interest, Olivia. The rest of the large cast of 14 is a bit uneven but they give a game effort and I give ‘Shakespeare in Hollywood’ 3 stars out of 5. It runs at Westport Community Theatre through June 24th and is most notable for Geoffrey Gilbert’s electric portrayal of Oberon.

  Thomas Takacs; Danielle Hartog. All photos from WCT

For more info, go to Westport Community Theatre dot com. And I want to give them a plug for their upcoming season- because it really looks great! It features a smart, diverse array of works by Neil Simon, Arthur Miller, Athol Fugard and even Steve Martin.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”