Within most thriving community theatres lies youth education and theatre programs. These programs provide an aortic energy to the arts institution by infusing energy, growth and enabling a future vision of artists. I was invited to view part of the dynamic vision that exists within the Fine Arts Association, located in Willoughby, OH, by attending the Yarnell Youth Theatre Production of “Doctor Dolittle, A New Musical,” with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Briscusse, based on the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting and the Twentieth Century Fox film.
The musical concerns the classic tale of a wacky but kind doctor who can talk to animals. The show takes the audience on a journey from the small English village of Puddleby-in-the-Marsh to the far corners of the world. Doctor Dolittle is wrongly accused of murder and, once pronounced innocent, continues with his search for the Great Pink Sea Snail--the oldest and wisest of the creatures on earth. He is accompanied by his closest animal friends, delightfully portrayed by a cast of charming actors. Utilizing flashbacks, we relive the trial, before we go on the great snail adventure.
Fine Arts Association Artistic Director, the dynamic James Mango, serves the production well by placing Director David Malinowski at the helm of this adventure. Malinowski has cast well and delivered an adeptly paced show. Smooth scene changes are orchestrated to keep our attention and focus. Under Malinowski’s guidance, full characterizations abound. Music Direction by David W. Coxe is delivered in fine fashion from the pit, which I loved, providing a great musical landscape for the performers to excel upon. Lisa-Marie French provided choreography that was light and refreshing, moving the masses with whimsical madness. The set design rocked (Michael Roesch), filling the space with grandeur and also providing smoothly moving pieces that create the various playful regions. Lighting Designer Paul Gatzke added creative fuel to the fire. From all accounts, Production Stage Manager Evie Koh made the proceedings run smoothly as Dolittle’s ship before the storm.
The cast is led by a trio of musical athletes, Mario Formica (Doctor Dolittle), Bryan Patrick Daly (Matthew Mugg), and Ali Collingwood (Emma Fairfax). These folks would certainly be taken in the first round of any draft (I think they could even help the Browns). Their performances create a wave of artistry and energy that enables the rest of the cast to excel in their wake. Formica takes on the title role with supreme confidence. He splendidly delivers a captivating performance, which includes adept diction and colorful animal communication skills which are hilarious. Truly a blast. Speaking of a blast, Daly is a tornado of zest, gusto and ridiculous charm. This Irish crooner utilizes great comedic form, and has a gifted voice with timbre and a pleasant vibrato beyond his years. His antics always lighten up whatever scene he blissfully invades. Balancing the theatrical scale is the remarkable Ali Collingwood. Collingwood is spectacular. Confident, beautiful, and possessing a voice that could melt the Polar Vortex. Her deft delivery, timing and characterization are a joy to watch. It does not surprise me that she was accepted into the Baldwin Wallace Musical Theatre Conservatory.
However, the talent doesn’t stop there. Several other performances deserve note. Stephen Sandham (Tommy Stubbins) is terrific. His clear diction, character and profound confidence win over the audience. Nora DeMilta (Polynesia) is the perfect right hand……..bird! Her physicality and character work is good, which brings the fabulous parrot to life. Owen Lister (General Bellows) is a scream. His courtroom antics liven up the place. High above the courtroom, he indeed provides a commanding presence. Ben Whitney (Albert Blossom) is a complete delight. His personality and charm inhabit the stage like a 5 hour energy drink. As Gertie Blossom, Elizabeth Meluch adds charm, and Max Brodzinski (Straight Arrow) hits a bull’s eye with great character choices and a solid voice to boot.
The ensemble works together extremely well. Whether it is in big production numbers, scene changes, or providing courtroom participation, they are creating energy that serves the right purpose. The only thing for them to work on is not looking out into the audience, which is a novice mistake, and one easily overcome. But that is a minor detail in a wonderful production on all ends.
I am sure that the Fine Arts Association is proud of what everyone has created. They should be. The future looks bright in Willoughby.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
February 14 - March 2
Fine Arts is partnering with Lake Humane Society during "Doctor Dolittle." Bring dog and cat food and supplies to Fine Arts from Jan. 24-Mar. 2 to help care for these precious lives. Or make an online donation of $$ here.
$10-$17 Reserved Seating
Fine Arts Association
38660 Mentor Ave.
Willoughby OH 44094