Making indellible impressions in both was Debra Wagoner. I first saw Debra Wagoner as Cinderella at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse, in a show I've never forgotten, except for the date. Debra isn't old enough for this to be true, but it may very well have been during my college years.
At that time, it would've been impossible for me to have less knowledge of Richmond's regional theatres. I knew TheatreVA (now six years gone), Theatre IV (Bruce Miller was my first director in town, guest-directing Wait Until Dark at the University of Richmond in the autumn of 1988); Swift Creek Mill was a itself distant fairy tale of a place, beside a rushing river dam. It may have been in 1995 or 6, well after college. Hopefully someone will remind me? There may have been a re-mount…
I do remember climbing the stairs to the theatre amid the buzz of performance night excitement. I remember much of the show, from Paul Deis and Larry Cook as dueling princes/wolves, to pondering what seemed then an enormously wide stage with little vertical clearance: the enormous 'hand' of the giant 'falling' out from the wings onto the stage was priceless. Other Richmond fav's were also in that cast, including Robyn O'Neill and Robin Arthur—the latter of whom was in attendance tonight at Souvenir. I hope people will comment and list others who were in that production. More, I recall being brought that night into Stephen Sondheim's wonderfully magical world of fairytales, themselves conveyed into the modern mindset, the remarkable Into the Woods.
Debra is a pro, a marvelous comic actor, and tremendous at the art of theatrical story. Her final turn of the head in the show, singing Ave Maria as the lights fade was an inspiration, a moving moment--a master of the craft.
I won't bother describing characters and plot. If you've seen it, you know. Jonathan Spivey first came to my attention after seeing his performances at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. He's too young to have been in the TheatreIV/UR collaboration of Secret Service, which included Julie Amos Waugh, Dan Stackhouse and of course, Jack Parrish. But I recalled skill with text, comedic dexterity, and a maturity beyond his years---all qualities he has honed into a splendid professional career. (Might it have been Mother Courage?)
He wasn't too young for RS to cast him soon thereafter, though, in The Merchant of Venice in 2004. I'm glad to see him return to town. While here, Jonathan was hilarious as Thurio in our very first Second Tuesdays Staged Reading at CenterStage, a performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
In Souvenir, Jonathan also spent much of the evening actually accompanying Debra. His character is so solid you barely notice that he's working his pinkies off on the keys. It was very satisfying.
Congrats to both, as well as director John Glenn, Stage Manager Joe Pabst, and the design team on Souvenir, whose set was really outstanding: elegant, simple, and inventive---as well as fun to light. They were, in no particular order: Sue Griffin on Costumes, Jenn Rush on Wigs, Ted Macklin on Sound, Joe Lavigne on the marvelous set, and lighting design by the director. John's tenure in Richmond theatre (both at B'Dale and Theatre IV) pretty much predates my own, but I'm glad to see him back; his work here is delightful.
Finally, a word on musical direction—R.L. Rowsey and Debra did an astounding job crafting this "fantasia" on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins. The impossible task of performing so many pieces so very far out of tune, (or musicianship or rhythm) may sound easy (does it?)---but it's precisely done, and always hilarious--sometimes painful, but always with a delightful payoff. And there's that final moment---payoff indeed.
If I had known it was a musical about, and performed by, a character who couldn't sing, or if I'd read the reviews, I would most likely have busied myself in work and missed the show. After several birds chirped "go see it," (and once we closed Much Ado) I finally listened, and I was very glad that I did.