Saluting achievements of educational theater

After a theater season (September to August) of blunt reviews, we took the time Thursday to celebrate what I thought was the very best produced by community playhouses. Today, we briefly salute the achievements that stuck with me from educational theater. They’re listed in no particular order, but I hope you saw them all. My regrets for those I don’t have room to mention.

■ “A Gleeful Musical Revue” was maybe the surprise of the season. In the College of Southern Nevada’s version (written by J. Max Baker and Jessenia Paz, and directed in April by Douglas Baker), a simple plot about students trying to stop financial cuts to their arts program was transferred into romantic, musical comedy. No heavy-handed politics here. Entertainment was the main attraction.

■ Dale Perry as the elderly Mr. Morse was part of a potpourri of misfits hanging around a seedy, about-to-be demolished hotel in Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s “The Hot L Baltimore,” directed in October by Robert Brewer. Morse felt every minor disorder in his life was a major catastrophe, and Perry made you feel how his character’s soul was filled with rage. He frequently looked in danger of imploding.

■ Elijah Duncan O’Connell, whose performance as a slim, short bouncy husband to mammoth wife Edna in Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts’ “Hairspray,” directed in February by Robert Connor, brought to his role so much enthusiasm, lightness and nimble footwork that you couldn’t help but want to pet him.

■ John Morris’ set gave a timeless edge to Las Vegas Academy’s “The Crucible,” directed in November by Glenn Edwards. The physical atmosphere seemed to be more a part of space than Earth, suggesting that this tale of 1600s witch hunting had no specific time period. Luckily, Edwards used the set not to upstage the action, but to enhance it.

■ “Killer Joe,” directed by Shawn Hackler in July at the College of Southern Nevada, was a superbly constructed, humorously violent production. The cast (Jamie Carvelli, Mary Foresta, Joe Hammond, John Ivanoff, T.J. Larsen and Alex Olson) gave us a heightened realistic look at perhaps the most dysfunctional family you’re likely to ever meet. Scary, sad stuff, and yet I couldn’t stop laughing.

■ “Metamorphoses,” directed by Toni Molly-Tudor in July for the Rainbow Company, took some classic children’s tales and gave them the low-brow humor and high-toned morality they needed. It was a great introduction for children to some legendary stories, and a lot of fun for adults.

■ “Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” directed in October by Michael Kimm, who respected author Tom Stoppard’s marvelous wordplay but framed it all in well-executed physical comedy. It didn’t hurt that the title characters were played by the talented Sean Chritchfield and Adam Schaefer.

■ “Sagebrush Stories,” directed, written and choreographed by Karen McKenney in February for Rainbow Company, was enjoyable not just because of the fascinating facts it presented about Goldfield but also for how McKenney was able to turn a history lesson into light-hearted musical comedy.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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