Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From Ruse to Romance, Cupid on Target

From Ruse to Romance, Cupid on Target

By Tom Wachunas

Love is a many splintered thing. Love, as in romantic connection. Finding it, keeping it, losing it, resenting it, and stumbling into it again - such is the topical stuff of “Scarlet Fever,” a new romantic comedy written by Sherry Yanow and Deborah Fezelle. Fezelle is the founder of Top Of The Town Productions, which makes its home at the historic Canton Club, and she directed this thoroughly charming dinner theatre event there that premiered on, appropriately enough, Valentines Day.

The story opens with a wedding ceremony about to transpire at Joplin’s, a lounge in New York City. Presiding over the nuptials, and narrating the action throughout the play, is the red-vested bartender Valentino, who’s really Cupid. With a wave of his hand he freezes the action and takes us back six months, to the beginnings of this seemingly unlikely union between a bare-foot hippie, Griffin, and bath-robed beauty, Scarlet.

Both Griffin, a successful Broadway director, and Scarlet, a successful Valentine card writer, have been recently dumped by their fiancĂ©es. Thanks to Cupid’s machinations, they simultaneously hit upon the same vengeful idea – to teach their exes a lesson by making them insanely jealous. To do so, Griffin and Scarlet each fashion a false identity to attract a date (not a mate), via a web site called Stupid Cupid. That’s when things get really twisted and yes, feverish.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call this production a through-and-through live musical, though music is woven into the fabric a la romantic standards (with tunes such as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “Withcraft,” and “My Funny Valentine,” for example) presented karaoke-style. While the show seems to beg for a live jazz trio at the very least, the actors as singers nonetheless balance the aural experience with substantially skilled vocal performances.

The writing is a deft melding of comedic wit and wisdom, and the tight, crisp dialogue is delivered by a very fine ensemble cast. In the role of Valentino, Timothy Mark Adkins is neither a stupid cupid nor some mythical love wizard. With remarkably sonorous and mellow voice, both speaking and singing (he at times effectively raises a subtle spectre of Sinatra), he’s the bartender who’s seen and heard it all before, and his character doesn’t conjure unreasonable magic so much as he simply accelerates and oversees the inevitable. And that would be the eventual coming together of Griffin, played by Joseph M. Haladey, III, and Scarlet, played by Bethany Taylor. The chemistry between them sizzles as each turns in a performance that is as genuinely touching as it is muscular and hilarious. At one point, Haladey practically brings the house down as, drunkenly sulking over a drink, he garbles his way through the lyrics of “One More for the Road.”

Much more hilarity ensues as we watch the other characters interact with the lovelorn couple-to-be. Cheryl Foutz plays Cookie, Scarlet’s best friend, and a therapist with a congenial energy both girlishly mischievous and motherly. Sean Knight is convincing in his role of Pete, Griffin’s mouthy lawyer friend and hypochondriac confidant with an insouciant love-‘em-and-leave-‘em perspective on women. Meanwhile, a subtext that comes delightfully to the fore is that of the blossoming connection between Miranda, a klutzy, nervous school teacher, and Russell, an equally nervous and nerdy geneology buff. In those delicious (if not a little stereotyped) roles, Ruxandra May and Drew Schaar are startlingly, endearingly real.

And so it is that this comical journey from altered personae to altared partners is both gently nostalgic and wholly contemporary, and certainly an arrow to the heart. A funny valentine indeed, its aim is true.

“Scarlet Fever” will be presented again at Fieldcrest of North Canton on Saturday, February 19. Dinner at 6:30p.m., show at 7:30, $30 per person. Must call for reservations at (330) 966 – 2222. Fieldcrest of North Canton, 1346 Easthill St. SE, North Canton.
For more details, please visit

Photo, courtesy Top of the Town Productions: left-to-right, Bethany Taylor, Timothy Mark Adkins, Joseph M. Haladey, III

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