Deservedly, 'Lighthouse' Plays to Packed Houses
Story date: 07/23/2008
By Kim H. Fletcher
The character Thornton Whitlock, played by Cotey Green, succinctly captures the essence of "Lighthouse: A Down East Musical," when he remarks, "It's so beautiful and genuine."
Now playing at the Waldo Theatre, this original musical is just that, beautiful and genuine and reminiscent of the style and charm of musical comedies of generations ago that graced the Great White Way of Broadway.
With the book by John N. Chandler and music by Robert N. Richardson, "Lighthouse" is a touching and poignant play, and an obvious instant audience favorite. On premiere night, July 18, and in the first few performances following, more than 500 theater lovers have already seen the show. This little down home, Down East musical hits the mark desired by all musical producers; audience members leaving the theatre were humming catchy "Lighthouse" tunes.
Directed by Ruth Monsell, this musical has it all, love, a bit of tension, and it squarely addresses an issue that grabs at the heart of all Mainers, change. Change of necessity brought on by time and technology has threatened in the past (and does today), the core of Maine's history, its industries, and small village traditions.
Set entirely in Maine on Outer Heron Island in 1932, and inhabited by a close-knit community of hard working families making their living by the sea, lighthouse keeper Mattie Coombs, wonderfully played by Dee Clark, has spent 30 years tending the light. However, her youthful daughter, Megan Coombs, played by talented soprano Devin Dukes, understandably dreams of leaving the island for a big city "like Rockland."
A generator failure causes the lighthouse beacon to be extinguished resulting in the beaching of the schooner Mary Barrett with all hands aboard. Canadian whiskey bootlegger Capt. Grover (Aaron Clark) is none too happy about landing on the beach, and sings, "Who's in Cha'ge?" trying to learn why the light was out.
Grover's men follow up with a great song with fantastic lyrics (after all, they aren't too upset about being stranded on an island with pretty girls) "The Golden Age of Men," headed up by First Mate Merle Grover, played to the hilt by Joel Horne.
The beacon failure and boat grounding comes to the attention of Sen. Dumphrey (Andy Barber) and his aide Thornton Whitlock (Cotey Green), who see a publicity opportunity for re-election by automating the only lighthouse remaining in Maine. Sent to the island, Whitlock regrettably learns the plan would mean evicting the Coombs family, and the threat brings Megan to deeply appreciate the island community she loves.
"Lighthouse" is loaded with wonderful music and songs with fabulous lyrics. Dukes singing "On the Wings of a Bird" shows the longing of youth ready to break out, and Thornton and Megan fall in love to "Be Careful What You Wish For." Mattie and the Captain have their own moment in "The Keeper's Song," and the entire cast takes to the stage for square dancing, and later to sing the moving choral piece, "The Whispers."
Playwright Chandler's dialogue and plot elements are of the highest caliber, and he depicts the lives of hard-working Mainers with love and respect. He also portrays respect and empathy while examining change, and shows that while difficult, change is nonetheless inevitable. However with creativity and compromise, change might lead to a balance between the past and the future. In "Lighthouse," acquaintances fall in love, bootleggers dodge the law, and the unavoidable future comes to all.
With intricate orchestration by Musical Director Sean Fleming, Richardson's lyrics and music are sophisticated, harmonious, and worthy of being sung and played over and over. However, the acting and musical talent of the chorus and leads (albeit with some opening night jitters), along with the first ever production, design, and direction by Monsell and her production crew, hopefully spells successful future productions of "Lighthouse."
With Fleming directing from the piano, his orchestra members are Carol Preston on violin, Jennifer Willis on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet, Chuck McGregor on bass violin, and Mitch Kihn also on clarinet.
John Chandler produces the show, with Tabitha Ordway as Stage Manager. The stunning choreography is by Julia Plumb, with costumes by Suzanne Jones. The Chandler brothers, John, set designer Eliot, and Bruce were responsible for the set construction. Set painting and seascape is by Frederic Kellog, with Trevor Quigley as lighting tech, and Brenden Peters, Henry Gastaldo, and Matt Kopishke as lighting assistants. Prop master is David Fletcher, and running crew is Lee Emmonds and Coty Demmons.
Other cast members play colorful townspeople, sailors, and fishermen, and include Brad Fillion (Dick), Taylor Poulos (Bill), Ben Nadell (Harry), Devin Fletcher (Sally), Amber Massicotte (Alice), Ashley Cushman (Shelly), Alan Lowe (Everett), Steve Sozanski (the Sheriff), and Lee Emmonds (Coast Guardsman). Outer Heron townspeople are played by Julie Clark, Susannah Corwin, Sumner Richards, Nancy Slobodnik, Dasha Aho, Emily Clark, and Megan Clark.
The quality and talent of this lovely musical makes "Lighthouse: A Down East Musical" a show not to miss. Final performances are on July 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., at the Waldo Theatre, Main Street, Waldoboro. Tickets may be reserved online at www.theWaldo.org; or by phone at 832-6060; or through the Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta, from cast members, or at the door. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for adults.
(Actor, director, and writer, Kim H. Fletcher holds an MFA in Theatre from the Hilberry Repertory Company at Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich.)