Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, in a new production by Pompano Beach-based Curtain Call Playhouse, pokes fun at the 19th century social high life that the playwright moved in and despised. Curtain Call, however, takes the play too seriously and misses opportunities to exploit the play's wicked sarcasm, especially in the first act. There are too many straight men lacking the skill of setting up funny lines for Wilde's real targets -- the stuffed shirts and snooty femmes. The play opens as Lady Windermere (Carly Lombardi) prepares for her birthday ball, arranging flowers in a drab Victorian manner. The set, designed by Jack Coffelt, is a lovely and light Victorian parlor, with abundant greenery, wing-backed chairs, and a pull cord that summons Parker the butler (Rusty Ellison) with magical quickness. The ball is the center of the Wildean farce, with all of the requisite confusion about who's who and what everybody's up to. Wilde's plays have a dazzling array of stock characters -- the fop (Lord Darlington, played with just the right amount of silliness by Mark J. Phillips), the social outcast (Mrs. Erlynne, played by Kris Coffelt), and the blustery old fool (Lord Augustus, played by Charlie Redler). In the world of Wilde, these are always the best roles, and here, they are well played. The comedy gets better in the second act, when many of Wilde's most popular aphorisms are unveiled. But a scene that should have been hysterical -- with Mrs. Erlynne and Lady Windermere engaging in an overwrought plot to return the latter to her home and son, whom she has left behind believing her husband was having an affair with Mrs. Erlynne -- doesn't quite work. Wilde was writing the world's first soap opera there, but even the cheesy music piped in during the climax has only a slight humorous effect. (April 1-2 at Broward County Main Library, 100 South Andrews Ave, Fort Lauderdale; April 29-30 at Sunrise Civic Center Theatre, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise. May 13-22 the Willow Theatre, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton. 954-784-0768)
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, Lanie Robertson's oft-revived play, is set in 1959 in a Philadelphia bar where fading jazz star Billie Holiday sings her signatures songs and jokes with the audience, but her boozing and drugs send her tottering towards an onstage meltdown. The production is graced by a fine jazz trio and the rich vocals of Nadeen Holloway in the title role, but Holloway's energy and warmth seem at odds with Lady Day's tortured personality and director John Pryor hasn't developed the character's nuances. (Through March 27, M Ensemble Company, 12320 West Dixie Highway, North Miami. 305-895-0335)
It's all there -- the sooty buildings, the sunless streets, the cockney rabble, and the little boy who committed the cardinal sin of asking his orphanage turnkeys for some more gruel ("Please, sir, I want some more"). It's all there in the traveling production of Lionel Bart's 45-year-old musical Oliver!, that is, but a lot of the grace, the wit, and the emotion of the original. Be forewarned. It takes a crack sound system to deliver all the twisted vowels and dropped consonants of working-class Brit English. Still, the powerful story breaks through. Renata Renee Wilson as the doomed Nancy is a heartbreaker when she sings "As Long as He Needs Me," her paean of loyalty to her abusive boy friend, the scary Bill Sikes (Shane R. Tanner). Young Colin Bates as the Artful Dodger, Oliver's nimble, slippery pickpocketing friend, is an electric presence every time he takes center stage. Adrian Vaux's sets capture all of the oppressive gloom of post-industrial London (the society that made Marx a Marxist), with just enough space for little fires to break out from time to time. (Through March 20 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-832-SHOW)
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