BELLS ARE RINGINGBook/Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolf Green
Music by Julie Styne
MainStage Irving-Las Colinas
Director – Michael Serrecchia
Musical Director – Adam C. Wright
Choreographer – Megan Kelly Bates
Set Designer – Paul Fiorella
Costume Designer – Michael Robinson/Dallas Costume Shoppe
Lighting Designer – Sam Nance
Sound Designer – Robin Stephens
Properties Person – Joanne Hull
Stage Manager – Kristen Frazier
Sue: Stephanie Felton
Gwynne: Christine Phelan
Ella Peterson: Mary Gilbreath Grim
Carl: Edward Treminio
Inspector Barnes: James Williams
Francis: Jamison Green
Sandor: Scott Nixon
Jeff Moss: Donald Fowler
Frank Green: Michael D'Andre Childs
Larry Hastings: Steve Schreur
Donna: Abigail Palmgren
Betty the Biz: Dominique Brinkley
Ludwig Smiley: Lloyd Harvey
Charles Bessemer: Michael Rutner
Sonya Salami: Daron Cockerell
Dr. Kitchell: Peter Di Cesare
Blake Barton: Jeff Burleson
Unemployed Actor: Nathan Dibben
Unemployed Actor: Jonathan Hardin
Joey: Marquette Burnett
Olga: Susan Riley
Man from Corvello Mob/MC: Tony Adams
Mob Man: Nathan Dibben
Carol: Colleen LeBleu
Peggy: Jessica Taylor
Paul Arnold: Travis Ponikiewski
Michelle: Rebekah Ankrom
Police Officers: Jonathan Hardin & Travis Ponikiewski
Madame Grimaldi: Elizabeth Van Orden
Mrs. Mallet: Jessica Taylor
Soda Jerk/Ensemble: Stephen Wantland
Photo Credit: Mike Morgan Photography, Inc.
Reviewed Performance: 7/26/2013
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
caps its 2012-2013 season with a “shout out” to Comden and Green, Bells are
Ringing. This classic musical is everything one would expect from the wonderful
company at MainStage and with the direction of Michael Serrecchia. It's packed
full of fun, beautiful singing and incredible performances.
Bells are Ringing, starring Judy Holliday, premiered on Broadway November 29,
1956 and ran for 924 performances. In 1960 a film adaptation also starring Judy
Holliday with Dean Martin was released.
Three of the show's songs, “Long Before I Knew You,” “Just in Time,” and “The
Party's Over”, became popular standards of the 1960s. In recent times, however,
modern critics and producers called the show dated and out of touch with modern
audiences after a barely successful revival in 2001. The revival garnered two
Tony Award nominations and two Drama Desk Award nominations but zero wins.
The plot revolves around Ella Peterson, who works for an answering service,
Susanswerphone, in New York City in the mid-1950s. Her job allows her to get
clandestinely involved in the lives of her clients, giving them tips based on
the information she receives in the phone messages. She doesn't do this to be
harmful or spiteful or for personal gain, it’s that, as pointed out in the show,
she just “has so much love to give” and truly cares for the people with which
Through exposition conversation the audience learns that one client, Jeff Moss,
a playwright who recently left his partner and is trying to strike out on his
own, has become the object of Ella's affections although she is determined to
never let him know about it. Soon the two “accidentally” meet and a sudden
romance begins. Meanwhile, Susanswerphone is being investigated by Inspector
Barnes and his sidekick, Francis, under suspicion of being an escort service.
Also, Ella's cousin Sue, the owner of Susanswerphone, has become romantically
involved with Sandor, a bookie disguising his business as a record sales company
and taking orders through Susanswerphone. As per usual, boy gets girl, the
police get the bad guys and everything ends happily ever after.
Musically, Bells are Ringing is astounding. Adam C. Wright has crafted a rich,
full sound with only a five piece band. Each song is perfectly orchestrated and
each performer's voice blends into the overall sound completely. The music
direction in this production is easily the best I've seen this year.
Megan Kelly Bates' choreography is a joy to watch. It's appropriate for the
time period as well as changes with the characters. The swinging “mods” in Jeff
Moss' apartment dance in a different style than the bookies in Sandor's group
even though both groups are played by the same core group of actors. Great
attention to detail and character is given and it pays off. However, there are
a couple of scenes that become so frantic with movement it is easy to lose
Donald Fowler, as Jeff Moss, in the array.
The set is simple yet finely crafted. A well-painted representation of New York
City's famous skyline dominates the upstage scenery while four doors plus two
downstage legs provide a wealth of traffic lanes to be utilized. A platform
separates the upstage performance area from the downstage area, while a large
gap between the walls makes it easy to separate scenes on either side of the
stage. Jeff's apartment always appears house right, while Susanswerphone's
office always appears house left. Additional scenery wagons make changes quick
and seamless. The most impressive scene change has a subway car with sliding
doors set upstage center during “Hello, Hello There.”
The costumes are appropriate and well put together. There is nothing glaringly
out of place.
Costuming was most important for distinguishing the different ensemble
characters, from the homeless characters aboard the subway car, to the swinging
“hip” party goers in Jeff Moss' apartment, to the high class socialite name
droppers. The peak of design is a collection of skirts that quickly fold into
evening gowns before the audience's eyes with the release of a couple fasteners
in the opening number “Bells are Ringing.”
Excellent use of lighting elevates the atmosphere of each scene. From
flickering lights in the subway car as it barrels past stations, to leafy
shadows casting a romantic air upon a twilight meeting. Also, downstage
specials give an area for between scene action that covers the scene changes and
prevents the audience from sitting in darkness.
The sound design is the only technical aspect of this performance that suffers
from a couple minor hiccups. First was Stephanie Felton's failing microphone
which projected a grating hissing sound into the house most of the time she was
on stage. The one time the hissing stopped was when the microphone cut out,
which was apparent as it happened during Felton's lines. Another issue is the
choice to use a beeping phone ring after hearing several standard bell rings.
It is as if the wrong phone ring was cued from a list and was slightly jarring
to hear after being effectively pulled into the world of the play by the
excellent performances and design.
The splendid Mary Gilbreath Grim plays Ella Peterson and nobody could be a
better choice. Her voice is strong and clear as she belts her way through one
song after another. She woos the audience with her sweet, innocent character
then knocks them dead with a perfectly timed joke.
Donald Fowler croons and charms his way through Bells are Ringing as Jeff Moss
and it is quickly apparent why Ella Peterson has fallen for him. His straight
man part is no match for the tour de force that is Grim's Ella and he is
sometimes overshadowed by her performance.
The head strong Inspector Barnes, played by James Williams, a modern day version
of the Commedia del Arte Il Capitno, and his pint sized sidekick Francis, played
by Jamison Green, are a great comedy duo. Utilizing their size difference on
several occasions, the pair provides sight gags that keep the audience laughing
between written jokes.
Speaking of comedy, who knew Peter Di Cesare could be so funny? Granted, I
haven't seen much of his work but this performance shows a whole new side of Di
Cesare I didn't know existed. He creates show-stopping hilarity every time he
appears on stage as Dr. Kitchell, the neurotic dentist who is an aspiring
Scott Nixon plays the closest character Bells are Ringing has to a villain, the
German bookie Sandor. He's wonderfully slimy and plays into Stephanie Felton's
comedic come-ons with glee. Sue desires Sandor with an all too obvious and
comical passion. She strikes ridiculous poses in attempts to catch his eye.
Her performance keeps the laughs rolling throughout the show.
A fantastic core of talent comprises the ensemble of Bells are Ringing, each
individual capable of playing lead roles. They harmonize exquisitely under the
direction of Adam C. Wright, keep up with Megan Kelly Bates' choreography and
remain engaged in each scene. Adding their own flair to the show, they enrich
the audience's experience.
Michael Serrecchia once again demonstrates he has the Midas Touch in the DFW
theatre world. With this solid gold production, his string of hits continues.
Two more weekends of Bells are Ringing are all that's left and I highly
recommend you make plans to see it.
MainStage Irving - Las Colinas
Irving Arts Center
Dupree Theatre, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd. Irving, TX 75062
Runs through August 10th
Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
Additional performance on Thursday, August 8th at 8:00pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday - $21.00, $19.00 seniors/students ($1.50 fee added). Thursday - $18.00, $16.00 seniors/students ($1.50 fee added)
For tix and info go to www.irvingtheatre.org or call their box office at 972-252-2787.