‘You Never Know’ at Prince George’s Little Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
The charming musical style of Cole Porter comes to life on the stage of Prince George’s Little Theatre as they close out their 53rd season with You Never Know. Directed by Roy Hammond with Musical Direction provided by Joe Biddle, this light and airy piece of theatrical fluff is a perfect happy note to close the theatrical season. There’s light-hearted singing as well as frolicking in the dancing, an all-round feel good romantic comedy just the way a Cole Porter musical should be.

 (l to r) Gaston (Michael Iacone) Baron Rommer (Ken Kemp), and Maria (Christa Kronser). Photo by Roy Peterson.
(l to r) Gaston (Michael Iacone) Baron Rommer (Ken Kemp), and Maria (Christa Kronser). Photo by Roy Peterson.

A charming farcical musical comedy the story centers around Baron Rommer, a penthouse style playboy aged as finely as Heffner himself, chasing after the upper class ladies in his charismatic way. The plot thickens when he orders his valet Gaston to cancel an engagement with one lady in favor of another he intends to have that evening. A misdialed suite number, mistaken identities, role reversals, and overall comic mayhem ensues. A romping good time with a fairy tale ending, this production will lighten the heart of every theatregoer who attends.

Set Designer Dan Lavanga deserves a pat on the back for his posh purple penthouse design. The elegant suite is painted in divine shades of purple, creating a regal and polished atmosphere. Accentuated in gold with the fanciest of furniture, Lavanga’s interior decorations live up to the aristocratic lifestyle of the Baron making the stage space a fun and fancy-free place for all of the lively dancing and fun events that unfold in the production.

Choreographer Richelle Howie brings the swinging style of the 1920’s to vibrant life with her fancy footwork. Howie’s tap routines are woven seamlessly into the showboating number “What Shall I Do?” that pits the Baron against his valet in an attempt to impress the lovely Maria. But shuffling and soft-toe tap doesn’t stop there, reprises during “I Happen To be In Love,” with great success. The whirling twirling swing-style of Howie’s work is seen again during “From Alpha To Omega” with strong reminiscent tones of every tap and swing routine used in any standard Cole Porter musical. The dance work keeps the upbeat numbers extremely lively.

Musical Director Joe Biddle manages to coax the basics from the cast but there are a few struggles with the rhythms of the more syncopated numbers, like “Ridin’ High” and “I’m Back in Circulation.” Harmonies were, unfortunately, off-key for the big love duet “Let’s Misbehave, and Kronser lacked an upper range, unable to hit the higher notes or even be heard in “I’m Going In For Love.” She did, however, make up for her lack of upper register by exuding an incredibly jazzy and charming sound in her lower register during songs like “From Alpha To Omega” and “Ridin’ High.”

We only encounter Ida (Angela Sullivan) briefly during the first act and again at the end of the show but her presence on stage is a memorable one. Swooping in like a sass storm, Sullivan puts a swanky and classy handle on her solo song “I’m Back in Circulation” despite tripping a bit on the complex rhythm. Her voice is a severe punch of pizzazz and her character’s boisterous personality sparkles through the lyrics as she sings. Sullivan portrays the character as cheeky with a knack for plotting and scheming  and makes for a good blast of energy.

Another cameo of a character arrives in the thundering buffalo Herr Baltin (Jim Adams). While not a singing character, Adams showcases his ability to master the sound of an angry German man. Adding a healthy dose of situational comedy with his arrival, Adams blusters about the scene like an angry bull preparing to face the matador, his gruff barking sound striking a little comic fear into everyone watching.

Of course Herr Baltin wouldn’t be storming the Baron’s suite if he didn’t suspect that his wife, Madame Baltin (Nora Biddle) was up to no good. Biddle, who also only appears briefly, plays a pleasant aristocrat, smitten over the Baron with a touchy side as well. Her solo number “You Never Know (Reprise)” is lovely, only you can’t hear most of it because her voice is so very soft.

The main three players in this production have quite the chemistry mingling between them. Maria (Christa Kronser) is not what she seems upon first arrival but plays the role perfectly. Flouncing about in a bugle-bead dress that would make any flapper girl proud, Kronser is vivacious and alive on the stage. Her flirtatious nature is saucy and savvy as she plays both of the men like a finely tuned fiddle. While her singing voice isn’t the strongest she makes up for what she lacks vocally with physical enthusiasm and the sheer ability to look as if she’s having a madcap brilliant ball of a time.

Gaston (Michael Iacone) starts as the valet, a somewhat simple and bumbling character without any particular ambitions in life and quickly flips his persona to impersonate the Baron. Iacone adapts to both roles equally well and his ability to translate comic moments to the audience leaves everyone laughing. He has a rich sound when singing “Let’s Not Talk About Love” and the “By Candlelight (Reprise).” Both songs allow his natural ability to slide over Porter’s scales to shine through emotionally charged. His comic shenanigans with The Baron, especially during “What Shall I Do?” and “I Happen To Be In Love” are deliciously uproarious.

Baron Rommer (Ken Kemp) is an exceptionally well-played character. Kemp has a stellar voice deep and richly appropriate for the role. He has no trouble transitioning from the suave aristocrat to the subservient valet when the roles become reversed and his comic timing is impeccable. Giving love a voice through song Kemp wins the hearts of the audience as well as his on-stage love interests with “By Candlelight” and “At Long last Love.” A true gem of a performer Kemp excels in all three arenas, mastering the singing, dancing, and comic acting of this show.

 Baron Rommer (Ken Kemp) and Gaston (Michael Iacone). Photo by Roy Peterson.
Baron Rommer (Ken Kemp) and Gaston (Michael Iacone). Photo by Roy Peterson.

So tap along down and grab a candelabra just in case the lights go out so that you too can enjoy You Never Know before it drifts out of town.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with two intermissions.

You Never Know plays through May 18, 2013 at Prince George’s Little Theatre with performances at The Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, please call the box office at (301) 973-7458, or purchase them online.