Frights of fancy

High Spirits

Directed by Barry McNabb
Book, music, and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray
Based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
St. Bart's Players
Park Avenue and 50th St. (212/378-0248)
Non-union production (closes May 2)
Review by Elias Stimac

Viewers familiar or not with Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit could catch the "spirit" of his lighthearted comedy in this revival of its 1964 musical adaptation.

Charles Condomine (Victor Van Etten) is a mystery writer who lives in rural England with his second wife, Ruth (Lesley Berry). They invite a rather "happy" medium named Madame Arcati (Vikki Willoughby) to their house for a séance, and that's when things start to go awry. During the incantations, the ghost of his deceased wife Elvira (Merrill Vaughn) is aroused, so to speak, from the beyond. Charles must fend off her advances while placating his current spouse. Of course, chaos ensues, and soon Charles is being haunted by two ghosts.

The music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray are amiably subdued, which may fit the low-key style of the piece but doesn't give the audience much to hum on the way out. Thankfully, the orchestra, led by pianist Nancy Evers, kept things lively. The quintet also included Allysin Brown (trumpet), Jim Erwin (percussion), Ann Garvey (woodwinds/strings), and Travis Sullivan (synthesizer).

Martin and Gray's book retains much of Coward's well-known wit, and director Barry McNabb mixed the master's highbrow jokes with some lowbrow physical comedy. McNabb's performing ensemble was above par both in the acting and singing departments. Standouts included Willoughby, who became more eccentric with each appearance, and Vaughn, whose sly smile belied her true intentions. Van Etten and Berry made a picture-perfect couple, and Allison Godbout stole her share of laughs as a Cockney maid. The rest of the cast played psychic students and other colorful characters, and included Lynne Robinson, Ulises Giberga, Hope Landry, Kristin Bailey, Lana Krasnyansky, Tom Masters, Brian Whisenant, and Barbara Zaid.

The best impression on the night, however, came courtesy of the technical crew. Charles Pavarini III designed an upscale drawing room that looked good both spruced up and falling apart (when an unseen spirit starts trashing the place). The costumes, by Brad L. Scoggins, were equally integral. (Lighting, Michael O'Connor)

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Performing: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting: 2/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac