Beloved musical returns to Firehouse
by Christopher Key
When Joseph Lenz’s “musical tall tale” Mark Twain in Fairhaven finally found its natural home last year, the intent was to present it as a recurring tourist attraction. It’s now in its second year at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, but it’s not just for tourists. Even locals who have seen previous productions dating back to 2002 will find it fresh with a different director and cast. And, of course, the wonderful music never gets old. The Historic Fairhaven Association and Chuck Robinson of Village Books are to be congratulated for their commitment to making it happen.
Judith Owens-Lancaster directs this season’s production and brings a wealth of musical theatre experience to the role, including a previous incarnation of the show in 2009. She is ably assisted by Angela Mills Watson, whose acting and directing chops need no introduction.
The title character is played by the inimitable Leon Charbonneau, who repeats the role from the 2009 production. He’s as comfortable in the role as Mark Twain was telling stories to worldwide audiences. He memorably captures the world-weariness of an aging author forced onto the lecture circuit by financial woes.
Bonnie Hollingsworth, who really should be seen more often on local stages, is pitch-perfect as hard-bitten saloonkeeper Boomer Wilson. As the character’s name implies, she is driven to drag Fairhaven out of an economic slump if it kills her and everyone else in town. If they all die onstage trying to impress Mr. Twain, so be it.
Daisy Cowgill, former showgirl and associate of Dirty Dan Harris, is played by Vanessa Mills. She is absolutely dazzling, especially in the show-stopping “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
Lady of the evening Rosa Knox is given a salacious ride by Dana Crediford, who insists the best thing about the role is getting to wear her underwear on the outside. Her interpretation of the classic “Big Spender” would melt the statue of Dirty Dan at Fairhaven Village Green.
One cast member held over from last year is the delightfully goony Paul Henderson II, who gives Gilbert and Sullivan a serious run for their demented lyrics. There’s a very good reason why he is the busiest actor in Bellingham.
Karissa Elliott and Nick Schackel play the kids with captivating innocence. She’s Boomer’s daughter Mill, the genius songwriter looking for a way out of the rain and mud. He’s the cub reporter who wants nothing more than to be able to write like Twain.
Last and far from least is another cast/crew member repeating a role. That would be Music Director extraordinaire John French, whose German accent has noticeably improved in his second year as Elf Strasse. His onstage keyboard playing is what holds the whole performance together.
Costumer Susan Duncan obviously did a fabulous job last year. She was invited back and manages to exceed her own standards in a production that is heavily dependent on costuming. Genevieve Dunn is no stranger to local stages and her choreography is evocative of both the music and the era.
Ryan Goeltzenleuchter is one of those tech geniuses who are in constant demand. His lighting design demonstrates why. Since Marc Cutler built the set for last year’s performance and since the same set makes an encore, he gets credit even if he didn’t do much this year. Just kidding, Marc.
Mark Twain in Fairhaven plays August 1 – 18, Thursdays through Sundays, at the Firehouse. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12, $8 for students and seniors. Purchase at Brown Paper Tickets, Village Books or at the door.
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