‘Moby Dick! The Musical’ at Glenelg Country School & Jason Brown Visits Red Branch Theatre Co. by John Harding

Fans of Spamalot may want to hop to and check out a similar boatload of zaniness known as Moby Dick! The Musical, with  book by Robert Longden, and music and lyrics by Longden and Hereward Kaye, at Glenelg Country School in Howard County.

The cast of 'Moby Dick! The Musical' at Glenelg Country School. Photo courtesy of Glenelg Country School.
The cast of ‘Moby Dick! The Musical’ at Glenelg Country School. Photo courtesy of Glenelg Country School.
This 1992 campy British spoof does not reach Monty Python’s level of inspired silliness, but it does achieve endearing silliness with ease. It boasts a crossgendered Captain Ahab and a crew of cross-dressing whalers. More lampoons fly than harpoons in this “whale of a tale” take on Herman Melville.
All that’s holding the musical back from becoming the next Rocky Horror-style midnight craze is that it’s slated to close this Saturday — that and the fact that many in the Glenelg cast probably aren’t allowed to be out past 11 o’clock.
Kudos to theater department head Carol Graham Lehan for continuing to challenge the boundaries of student theater.
Although reputedly less ribald than the original 1992 Brit staging (produced by Cameron Mackintosh of all people), this 2003 American adaptation still delights in its salty innuendos and double-duty entrendres. But it’s never less than innocent, cheerful fun in the hands of these fresh-faced performers.
Lehan and her adult colleagues keep the production on course. Musical Director Jeff Yates helps a live, five-piece ensemble sound as smooth as a Broadway pit band, even as the score (by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye) forages through pop and rock and gospel to Irish jig and mock-operetta. Coming off especially well are the full choral harmonies on “Old Nantucket,”  “Pequod” and “Shadows of the Deep.”
Ben Shovlin’s resourceful lighting designs and tech cues provide flawless support to a show that seems constantly in motion.
The play imagines what a stage version of Moby Dick might look and sound like if staged as an emergency fund-raiser at a financially threatened girls’ school. The female students play most of the lead roles, including Queequeg (Marissa Burks), Ishmael (Tessa More) and Starbuck (Sarah Narcise). They are supplemented by the occasional male janitor, security guard, or shanghai’ed teacher.
In keeping with the British original, the school’s headmistress is played by a cross-dressing male, who then assays the role of Ahab as an ersatz male impersonator. Glenelg acting star Cooper Taylor takes on all these pretzel-like transmutations with thoroughly winning aplomb and good humor. Plus, he admirably sings a good deal of the rather tricky and wide-ranging score in his own “inner female” falsetto, notably “Love Will Always” and “Can’t Keep Out the Night.”
All of the students manage to stay on the same creative wavelength throughout, integrating the practically non-stop singing and dancing chores into a seamless night’s work. Besides the above-mentioned leads, excellent comic and musical turns are contributed by Brendan DeBonis (Pip), Andrew Hahm (Elijah and others), Emily Ferkler (Flask), Harry Xiong as (Father Mapple), Taylor O’Connell (Stubb), and Kaila Friedman (continuing a family tradition) as Esta.
No one should go in mistaking this for the Washington National Opera’s East coast premiere of another Moby Dick, ending March 8 at the Kennedy Center. But theater-goers in a mood for burlesque and a taste for the Pequod could do a lot worse than dropping anchor out at Glenelg.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one intermission.
Moby Dick The Musical continues this Friday and Saturday, March 7-8 at 7 p.m. and March 8 at 2 p.m. in the Mulitz Theater at Glenelg Country School — 12793 Folly Quarter Road in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call 410-531-8600, or go to www.glenelg.org.
Jason Robert Brown.
Jason Robert Brown.
Meet Jason Robert Brown
Howard County teen theaters are giving renewed attention to the future of the American book musical. While Glenelg Country School is winding up its tuneful take on Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick! The Musical, Columbia’s Red Branch Theatre Company is continuing a long affair with innovative American theater composer Jason Robert Brown.
Brown himself will perform a live benefit cabaret in the  intimate, 100-seat Drama Learning Center on Monday, March 17. Benefit tickets, which include a pre-show feast catered by the Iron Bridge Wine Company, are still available, reports Arts Administrator Tiffany Underwood Holmes.
The Red Branch Theatre Company, which has its home in the center, has developed a strong relationship with Brown in recent seasons, and is about to open its 2014 season with a cycle that includes Brown’s  The Last Five Years.
“We have been producing works by Jason Robert Brown since 2008,” states Red Branch Theatre Company Executive Producer Stephanie Lynn Williams. “Having mounted two separate productions of both Songs for a New World and 13, we are really excited to bring this playwright and composer that we hold in such high esteem to our stage.”
Brown’s cabaret is titled “I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You.”  The composer will perform some of his songs and share with audiences his experience of writing such breakthrough favorites as Songs For a New World , Parade, and his latest Broadway production, The Bridges of Madison County. He will also accompany alums of the Drama Learning Center’s teen professional company and its current casts in one of his compositions.
Tickets are $125, available by calling (410) 997-9352, or going to www.dramalearningcenter.com. The Drama Learning Center is located at 9130-I  Red Branch Road, in Columbia, MD.

Tickets On Sale for Jason Robert Brown’s Cabaret: “I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You” at Red Branch Theatre Co. on Monday, March 17, 2014@7:30pm.


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