The old adage about change: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" does not ring true as we enter the newly redesigned Garry Marshall Theatre in Toluca Lake. All of the posters that reminded us of twenty years of thoughtful theatre produced by Mr. Marshall are gone. The Fortune Teller from the feature film "Big" (directed by Garry's sister Penny) is gone. It's stark and new. As upsetting as change may be, something tells me that if Garry was sitting there where he used to sit, by the entry to the lobby of his theatre, that he would nod and put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that change is a good thing and this change is what he approves of. All of the nostalgia of twenty years at The Falcon gives way to memories of the man who changed all of our lives. Memorabilia from Garry's early TV writing days to a Happy Days cast jacket to dozens of other collected memories now grace the space.
Sitting a couple of seats away from me was the charming Marion Ross: Mrs. Cunningham, Richie's mom on Happy Days. She extolled the virtues of how Garry "gave me my life" and made me think of the gifts that this guy gave to all of us. Simple laughter that turned on something good.
We are here for the inaugural production introducing the neighbors to The Garry Marshall Theatre: Terrance McNally's MASTER CLASS. First produced at The Mark Taper Forum and other theatre companies in 1995, praise for the performances on Broadway garnering Tony Awards continues. And, it's no wonder. On Francois-Pierre Couture's elegant wooden set with grand piano, masterly attended by Manny (Roy Abramson), we are met by La Divina: Maria Callas. Somewhere in there is the gorgeous Carolyn Hennesy, but the woman on the stage is Callas! And, make no mistake about it, she, and only she! is in charge. The delicate balance of humor and power washes over the audience. We are here to observe! Not to participate. Ms Hennesy takes the stage and for two full acts of the play, ranges from complete control to tears. She brings Callas to life. The arc of the character is palpable. I heard someone at the reception use the term "tour de force." Yes.
Director Dimitri Toscas's collaborative hand has brought six actors together, each of whom with a gift of extraordinary talent: undeniable stage presence... to share the hope for opera and the love that Callas most certainly had for The Art.
A divine Diva, Hennesy suffers no fools. Her First Soprano, Sophie de Palma (lovely Megan McConnell) arrives a bit late and through constant interruptions brings Lady Macbeth to life.
There is something grand in McNally's writing that is natural and moving. Meeting the Second Soprano, Sharon Graham (feisty Aubrey Trujillo-Scarr) La Divina finds a challenge and the connection is electric. Ditto as Tenor Anthony Candolino (Landon Shaw II) turns a casual approach (You can call me "Tony") to a confrontation, to singing that, as with the two sopranos, fills the studio with sound that is, to me, astounding. It is an inspiring piece of theatre where not only have the aspiring singers learned lessons, but, we, the audience must go away with an appreciation for 'Art' as defined by Callas: "What we do matters!"
Ms Hennesy's total absorption of her character and her complete focus on the arc that McNally provides is a must see. For artists, it may be a recollection of why we have chosen Art. For the theatre audience, it must be a moment of appreciation.
Every aspect of what happens on the stage is important and the seasoning that makes the moussaka so tasty is the Stage Hand: Jeff Campanella. He embodies what Callas teaches: An Entrance! and an attitude.
Francois-Pierre Couture's exquisite set, JM Montecalvo's lights and Michele Young's costumes enhanced by Laura Camponera's wig design bring McNally's words to life.
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Dimitri Toscas
September 22 – October 22, 2017
Previews: September 20 and 21, 2017
Opens: September 22, 2017 at 8pm
Saturday September 23 at 2pm
Saturday September 23 at 2pm
Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Box Office: (818) 955-8101
Facebook: facebook.com/ GarryMarshallTheatre