Two terrific shows premiered last weekend in Annapolis, set in nearly the same period and dealing with history-making creative artists.
At Colonial Players, "Moonlight and Magnolias" is set in 1939 and tells the behind-the-scenes story of making the film version of "Gone with the Wind." Appropriately, it evokes gales of audience laughter. Infinity Theatre presents "Sisters of Swing," a musical biography of the World War II-era harmonizing Andrews Sisters that inspired the opening-night audience to applaud every familiar song.
Ron Hutchinson's "Moonlight and Magnolias" reveals that David O. Selznick, producer of "Gone with the Wind," shut down production in February 1939, motivated by his desire to create a blockbuster film to impress his father-in-law, the venerable MGM head Louis B. Mayer.
Selznick engaged screenwriter Ben Hecht to rewrite the script and Victor Fleming to replace the original director, and for five days and nights, Selznick held his new creative duo hostage so Hecht, who had never read Margaret Mitchell's novel, could create a new screenplay. Subsisting on peanuts and bananas, Hecht typed while Fleming and Selznick acted out every role from Prissy to Melanie and Ashley to Scarlett and Rhett.
Hutchinson indicates how Selznick became the producer of the most successful movie in Hollywood's then-30-year history. The playwright also reveals that beneath the film version of Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel is a classic screwball farce about three film titans locked in a pressure cooker.
Colonial Players director Ron Giddings highlights the humanity of these film moguls to balance their bullying moments. Giddings found the right combination to create a fast-paced, highly physical comedy. His cast becomes a trio of masterful comedians delivering lightning barbs. Skilled mimicry makes each iconic film character instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with "Gone with the Wind."
Making a memorable CP debut, Michael Forgetta becomes a dynamic Selznick, fiercely determined to succeed, likable despite harassing and bullying his hostages. His imitations of a swishing "fiddle-dee-dee-ing" Scarlett are true comic gems.
Jim Reiter plays Hecht with a wry cynicism laced with political idealism. Communicating amused disbelief at his situation, Reiter's Hecht is a pro who can deliver an acceptable script in five days.
As Fleming, who is pulled from directing "The Wizard of Oz" to help placate actor Clark Gable, local actor Kevin Wallace delivers high comedy in acting out familiar scenes of the film, hilariously discussing the questionable moral character of Scarlett, especially in her treatment of Prissy.
Kaelynn Miller, who was last seen on CP's stage as Meg in "Little Women," gives an amusing portrayal of Selznick's overworked secretary, Miss Poppenghul. Miller's masterful double takes and expressions of disbelief punctuate her dialogue, which consists mainly of "Yes, Mr. Selznick."
Meanwhile, Infinity Players opened its summer season at the CTA Theatre Complex with "Sisters of Swing," reinforcing its reputation as the summer home of polished, Broadway-caliber productions.
This jukebox musical recaptures the close harmonies and unique sound of the internationally famous Andrews Sisters — Maxene, LaVerne and Patty — who entertained thousands of troops during World War II.
Tracing the singers' career from competitions in talent contests, the story is told through a series of vintage hit songs with interspersed dialogue describing their parents, their travels, their landing a contract with Decca records and their work with manager Lou Levy.
Jay D. Brock of Catholic University, whose directing credits include productions at Limelight Theatre and Woolly Mammoth as well as Opera AACC's recent "Naughty Marietta," directs a wholly professional cast in this brisk combination concert and musical biography.
Returning as Infinity's music director, David Libby brings his sure touch to lend authenticity to every song.
Kim Schafer, who has an impressive array of Broadway credits, choreographs all the right moves through the swinging decades of the Andrews Sisters.
Along with appearing on stage as Vic, fabulous pianist Jonathan D. Cable opens the show playing a medley of familiar tunes and follows by bringing distinction to every number.
Steve Gagliastro's amazing versatility brightens the entire show. He serves as the narrator; doubles as Bing Crosby in the song "Accentuate the Positive"; becomes a mug-toting beergarden waitress; Danny Kaye, singing "My Two Front Teeth"; a dancing Carmen Miranda in "Rum and Coca-Cola"; and a dynamite bugler in "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy."
Julia Burrows shines as lead singer Patty Andrews, singing the solo "I Love You Much Too Much."
Equal credit is due Jackie Washam as Maxene and Lynsey Buckelew as LaVerne, who with Burrows earned enthusiastic applause after their every number from the opening night audience that spanned all age groups.
Lively audience responses, including rhythmic clapping to punctuate "Beer Barrel Polka," added to the fun and created an exciting, concertlike atmosphere.