Thursday, January 5, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: The "Servant" is Back for an Encore!

Lamb's Players is bringing back their hilarious hit musical comedy "The Servant of Two Masters" for a special limited engagement run from January 6-15. I reviewed this show during its regular run (back in October 2011) and it made my list of "Top 5" Favorite Shows of 2011. If you didn't get a chance to experience it the first time, now is the time to see it in all its over-the-top silly screwball glory.

And if you need any extra encouragement, I've republished my initial (mostly glowing) review below. If you go, just don't forget your funny bone at home!

“Masters” of Comedy:

Lamb’s Players debuts a wacky and wonderful world-premiere musical

Review by Donnie Matsuda

[Originally published on 10/18/2011]

As the saying goes: everything old will become new again.

Such is the case with Lamb’s Players zany new musical comedy The Servant of Two Masters, currently playing at the Coronado-based theatre through November 20th. Hilariously re-imagined with a new book and lyrics by David McFadzean (himself a member of the Lamb’s Players company back in the 70’s and co-creator of hit TV shows “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement”), Servant is a fresh, musical-ized take on Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 Italian comedy, which itself borrows stock characters and physical comedy acts from the Italian Renaissance tradition of Commedia dell’arte.

While McFadzean’s inspired new work borrows heavily from Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan, don’t expect it to be filled with stuffy soliloquies or pretentious patter songs. Instead, the show has a light and fluffy feel and frequently ventures (head and feet first) into silly scenarios of mistaken identity, dutiful double-dealing, and clownish cross-dressing. The result is a riotous combination of American Street Theatre, Commedia dell’arte, Vaudeville and Forbidden Broadway all rolled into one colorful, comedic confection. And adding even more flavor to the festivities is an original score composed by Lamb’s associate artistic director, Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Her eclectic score is self-described as “a mix between circus and French chanteuse” and it works surprisingly well with McFadzean’s off-the-wall lyrics.

The plot of The Servant of Two Masters is as preposterous as it is pompous. As in any good Shakespearian send-up, a romance, or, in this case, four romances are at the heart of the play. The first romance involves the pending engagement between Clarice (a “vocabulary challenged” Rebecca Spear) and her suitor Silvio (a dashing Nick Spear). Their romance is disrupted when they hear word that Clarice's former fiancĂ© did not die in a duel, as was previously thought. In fact, he did die, but his twin sister Beatrice (a sprightly Colleen Kollar Smith) has dressed up in his clothes and taken on his identity so she can marry Clarice, collect a hefty dowry, and escape to her true love, Florindo (a buffoonish Lance Smith).

Thrown into the mix is Clarice’s uncle, Pantalone (a paternalistic Robert Smyth) who changes his belief that “love is a fraud” when he meets Brighella (a warm Deborah Gilmour Smyth) who teaches him that “life is a gift” and that love is not as bad as he thinks. And finally there is the comedic tour-de-force of the show - the dim-witted Truffledino (brought to life with playful abandon by the clownish Geno Carr). While he plays the part of the fool, he’s clearly smarter than he looks as he attempts to double his earnings by serving two masters: both Beatrice and Florindo. In the end, all works out for the best and Truffledino gets put in his place, in the arms of staunch feminist, Smeraldina (a no-nonsense Nancy Snow Carr).

If that seems like a lot of plot to juggle in 100 intermission-free minutes, don't worry. While the story is convoluted, it is simply there to give this troupe of incredibly talented actors the opportunity to show off their comic chops and their musical acumen. And what an incredibly talented cast they are. This kind of slapstick comedy is so hard to pull off and this cast of eight – made up of four real life married couples – really knows how to ham it up for all it's worth.

Moreover, the eight principals aren’t the only ones in on the action. They are supported by an extremely strong “crew” of three: Jesse Abeel, Bryan Barbarin, and Catie Grady. Dressed in colorful coveralls, this trio can be found sweeping the stage, participating as backup dancers in a doo-wop chorus, and operating stage rigging from the rafters. Clearly, this “crew” does it all!

And, if that weren’t enough, the musical’s kitschy feel even extends to the four piece band (dubbed “The Gondoliers” and playing out of - you guessed it - a large gondola built in the center of the stage). These four musicians play a wide range of instruments including the accordion, cello, xylophone, and drums, and their zany beats have more than enough flair to keep up with the onstage shenanigans.

The entire production team is also first rate. Lamb’s Players artistic director Robert Smyth (who also directs and stars in this production) proves that he is a master of bringing out the best - and the funniest - in his seasoned actors. And Colleeen Kollar Smith knows how to enhance his brilliant direction with some snappy and spirited choreography. Add to that a beautiful Venitian-inspired set by Mike Buckley, some dazzling over-the-top costumes by Jeanne Reith (her eye-popping passel of pastel creations is worth the price of admission alone), and Nathan Peirson’s colorful lighting all combine to tell this delightfully whimsical tale with style and panache.

Clearly, a nearly two hour show chock-full of silly slapstick is not for everyone. But, if you are in the mood for a delightful and delicious evening of screwball comedy, then Lamb’s Players Servant is a must-see. It is a fresh and vibrant new musical filled to the brim with broad physical comedy, laugh-out-loud lines, and some tour-de-force performances that will have you laughing (or at least chuckling) all the way home.

The four real-life married couples of "Servant": (from L to R) Geno and Nancy Snow Carr, Lance Arthur and Colleen Kollar Smith, Robert and Deborah Gilmour Smyth, and Nick and Rebecca Spear.

Photos above courtesy of J.T. MacMillan.

Things to know if you wanna go: The Servant of Two Masters plays at Lamb's Players Theatre for an encore limited run from January 6-15, 2012. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Ticket prices range from $26-$60. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military, and those under 30. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 1-619-437-6000 or visit

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