CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Adapted by Christopher Sergel
From the book by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Rockwall Community Playhouse
Director- Darlene Singleton
Assistant Director/Stage Manager – Gene Fields
Costumes- Tiffany Koop
Props- Jennifer Lewis
Light Design- Marie Norris
Light & Sound Tech- Clair Williamson
Backstage- Holden Magee
Set Design- Gene Fields & Darlene Singleton
Set Artist- Joetta Currie
Producer- Melissa Carmichael
Ernestine Gilbreth- Sydney Wheat
Frank Gilbreth Jr. – Tysen Johnson
Frank Gilbreth Sr. (Father) – Phil Alford
Fred Gilbreth- Max Watson
Jackie Gilbreth- Anna Koop
Anne Gilbreth- Campbell Smith
Martha Gilbreth – Ava Diesch
Lillian Gilbreth – Abbi Carmichael
Bill Gilbreth – Aiden Koop
Lillian Gilbreth (Mother) – Terry McBay
Dan Gilbreth - Harrison McDonald
Mrs. Fitzgerald – Jennifer Wheat
Dr. Burton – Mitchell Walker
Joe Scales- Micah Sullivan
Miss Brill – Kimberly Hughes
Larry – Nolan Rhew
$5 Dog – Crissy Johnson
Reviewed Performance: 2/15/2019
Reviewed by Kathleen Morgan, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
People love to gawk at large families, especially in modern times. It’s the sheer size of the Gilbreth family that piques an audience’s curiosity, but it's the familial love, support (and yes, occasional chaos) that has made audiences come back time and time again since 1950, when the book was adapted into a film. Rockwall Community Playhouse was able to capture the closeness of this family, proving that when it comes to love, there is strength in numbers.
Throughout the show, Ernestine Gilbreth (Sydney Wheat) and Frank Gilbreth Jr (Tysen Johnson) step out of the action and reflect on their childhood memories, which are explored throughout the show. Wheat consistently delivered her lines thoughtfully and with great feeling. She showed herself to be considerate and nostalgic during the reflective scenes, and also mischievous during certain scenes with her sisters. Tysen Johnson was bursting with energy and a delight to watch throughout the performance. He didn’t just “say” his lines, he put himself in them with an air that only little brothers can truly master. Although Johnson could benefit from slowing down the pace of his speech, it did not detract from his performance in the slightest.
Campbell Smith utterly stole the show as Anne Gilbreth. The confident, headstrong teenager who more often than not was at odds with her protective father was as exuberant as she was earnest. She perfectly embodied the young adult who years to be on her own and express herself authentically without disappointing her family in the process. Smith not only excelled in scenes where she was having fits of teenage passion, but also in tender scenes, such as when her mother revealed her father’s illness. I did a double take when I read the program and discovered this actress is only in the seventh grade! I have no doubt we’ll be seeing great things from Campbell Smith in the future.
On the receiving end of many of Anne’s pleadings was her father, Frank Gilbreth Sr., played by Phil Alford. Although the character of Frank Gilbreth Sr. is plenty interesting as written, Alford added a whole new dimension to this individual with his rich and expressive voice. Alford has the rare gift of being able to make any story or instruction sound interesting just because he tells all in an engaging and entertaining way. Alford’s talents do not stop there- his ability to show gentleness with his children one moment and a father’s stern protectiveness with Anne the next show his versatility as an actor.
Terry McBay played opposite Frank Gilbreth Sr. as his dutiful wife, Lillian Gilbreth. Although written as a flat character that I would describe as a “yes woman,” I would like to have seen more personality from McBay in this role. One might expect the mother of a brood of 12 to have some attitude up her sleeve. Nevertheless, McBay did a wonderful job of showing tenderness to her family and going along with her husband’s latest and greatest plans. The Gilbreth’s maid, Mrs. Fitzgerald (Jennifer Wheat) was full of sassy energy in her few scenes. However, her Cockney accent was inconsistent and out of place, and therefore gave a generally confusing impression to the audience.
Playing the third of the boy-crazy elder sisters was Ava Diesch as Martha Gilbreth. Along with Ernestine, she voiced her longing for gentleman callers (while still acing the part of annoying little sister, of course). The rest of the Gilbreth tribe (Max Watson, Abbi Carmichael, Aiden Koop, Anna Koop) was spunky and adorable, often offering up quips and suggestions during “Family Council” meetings.
The most chaotic scene of the show happened when Joe Scales (Micah Sullivan) rolled in to pick up Anne for a date- not before leading the children through a rousing cheer, showing off his bowtie, and practically getting bowled over by Frank Sr. Sullivan had excellent comedic timing and captured the awkwardness smoothed over by overconfidence that this character exemplifies.
What Miss Brill (Kimberly Hughes) lacked in Sullivan’s pep, she made up for with frigid coolness. Hughes portrayed the epitome of an old-fashioned schoolmarm: she was critical, skeptical, and had no room for indulgences. And yet, this uptight character was just as fun to watch as the wildest Gilbreth child. The high-necked earth tones that Miss Brill wore only accentuated the stiff and stony impression she gave.
Nolan Rhew played Anne’s jock beau, Larry, in the latter part of the show. Though he wasn’t terribly expressive, I don’t know a lot of high school boys who are! Mitchell Walker’s brief appearance in the show as Dr. Burton was full of jovial energy, and one could tell that the Doctor and Frank Sr. had longstanding friendship by their short interaction. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute cutest character in the show, the $5 Dog (Crissy Johnson)! The audience couldn’t take their eyes off this pup every time a Gilbreth boy carted her offstage.
The set of Cheaper by the Dozen was full of thoughtful touches. Set in a home in the early half of the 20th century, it had quaint furnishings, lovely pictures on the wall, and was beautifully painted. The lighting remained bright and cheerful throughout the show, which made sense for the indoor setting. The costumes also added to the pleasing visual quality of the performance. Stern characters like Miss Brill were featured in earth tones, and warmer characters like Mrs. Gilbreth were featured in red hues.
Hats off to Rockwall Community Playhouse and director Darlene Singleton for pulling off a show that was both heartwarming and fun!
Dedicated to Autumn Hughes.
Photo credit: Christy Brown
Cheaper by the Dozen
Rockwall Community Playhouse
February 8th- 24th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinee at 2:00 pm
Rockwall Community Playhouse- 215 N 609 E. Rusk St, Rockwall TX
To purchase tickets, visit the box office or the Rockwall Community Playhouse website
Adults - $20