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'Charley's Aunt' is better with music

The cast of The Phipps' latest production "Charley's Aunt" is multi-talented not only as actors adept at haughty British accents but also as dance hall singers and dancers.

The show opens at the Rose and Crown Music Hall with a bit of fun, song and dance before the old faithful comic story of mistaken identity begins.

It took me a little while to get over my initial dislike of the upper-crust frat boys in the leads and their bad behavior toward the butler, but I did.

Jordan Estes as Jack Chesney and Andy Josephson as Charley Wykeman are, let's hope, exaggerated Oxford men in 1892. Their biggest problem seems to be paying their tab at the local wine purveyor and how to get a few minutes alone with the girls they love. They are good at being Jack and Charley and never leave their accents or mannerisms.

But if you can't quite warm to Jack or Charley, Adam E. Tracy as Lord Fancourt Babberly, also known as Charley's aunt, will win you over. Tracy spends most of his time in the show dressing and acting the part of an old lady, but never has anyone over 65 moved so quickly or talked so fast. It is a highly physical role and provides plenty of the evening's best moments.

Michelle Schwantes, Aimee Petra and Antonette Trussoni make beautiful, proper English girls but even better dance hall queens. All three have wonderfully fun songs to sing with very fine voices. Charley's real aunt played by Cynthia Elmquist seems like the most fun in the group whether she is singing about Bill Bailey in the dance hall or going along with the gag as it begins to fall apart for our heroes.

James Blaha as Jack's father, Sir Francis, and Mark Kreger as the slimy Stephen Spettigue round out the cast of high society types apparently low on powers of observation.

Someone who is keenly aware of everything going on around him is Brassett the butler, wonderfully played by Karl Snyder. Snyder has the ability to show disdain from the stage all the way to the back of the theater, but it's his deep, velvet-type voice that got me to hang on his every sarcastic remark.

Regardless if they are dressed as dance hall performers or the upper class of England, the costumes in "Charley's Aunt" are both beautiful and fun. I don't think there's a man alive who doesn't look better in a top hat and tails, not to mention ladies in high-collared dresses with feathered hats and gloves. The entire cast would have fit right in at last weekend's royal wedding.

The show is directed by Phipps favorite Randy Winkler, whose addition of song and dance to this show made all the difference. The musical interludes were enhanced by the always spot-on performance of Ruth Ashwood at the piano.

Kudos, as usual, for the behind-the-scenes work of stage manager Paul Ashwood, production coordinator Pam Lesher, technical director Mark Koski and costume designer Mary Ellen Sax.

"Charley's Aunt" runs weekends through May 1 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $19. There is a $2 discount for senior citizens and students 18 years and younger on the Sunday matinee. For reservations, contact The Phipps ticket office at (715) 386-8409 or www.ThePhipps. org.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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