By Tom Titus
September 24, 2016
Theater followers in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa are being beckoned to sit in on a tuneful half-century-long marriage and a satiric glimpse of American life in the McCarthy-dominated early 1950s.
The marital musical is "I Do, I Do" at the Newport Theatre Arts Center, while the satirized offering is "Red Scare on Sunset," currently occupying the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
Newport's "I Do" involves only two characters, but when one of them is being played by the first lady of musical theater in Orange County, then attention, as Arthur Miller once observed, must be paid. Adriana Sanchez headlines the Newport show, joined by Brady Porter to provide above-average chemistry (the pair are a couple offstage as well).
The show, spanning the years 1895 through 1945, introduced a few hit singles – "My Cup Runneth Over" and "What Is a Woman?" – and they're beautifully handled in the Newport production, deftly directed by Larry Watts and musically staged by David Dilorio. Most memorable, however, is Sanchez's all-stops-out rendition of the liberating number "Flaming Agnes."
Both performers handle the advancing years and attitudinal changes with skill and style. Sanchez, as always, is in superb voice, while Porter scores with his spurts of misplaced machismo. They're terrific in the duo "Nobody's Perfect" as they fervently chronicle each other's faults.
The two-character show does, in fact, have a third presence – the frisky maid, played by stage manager Peggy Wachtel, who manages to garner applause without uttering a word, extending her "straightening-up" duties on stage to cover some time-consuming costume changes.
Angel Correa and Julia Boese in the Costa Mesa Playhouse production of "The Red Scare on Sunset." (Joel D. Castro)
"I Do, I Do," from "The Fantasticks" creators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, is an oldie among musicals that originally starred Mary Martin and Robert Preston and is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. It's still a goodie, however, with the team of Adriana Sanchez and Brady Porter at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.
Meanwhile, at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, Charles Busch's "Red Scare on Sunset" is being billed by its director, Michael Dale Brown, as biting political satire, but it comes off, at least through the most part, as melodramatic slapstick.
Set in the Hollywood of 1951, when McCarthyism reigned supreme, "Red Scare" focuses on a woman who mounts a counterattack when her writer husband is seduced into the communist conspiracy to usurp the entertainment industry. That "woman" was played by Busch himself in the original 1991 production, and this tradition continues in Costa Mesa with a large, imposing actor (Jon Sparks) in the central role.
Sparks is semi-convincing in drag as the moral crusader, though the role could be effectively performed by an actress. The physical contrast between the imposing Sparks and his/her cowering husband, a terrific Angel Correa, is a comic delight in itself.
Overacting is not only permissible but required, and Julia Boese takes this admonition to heart in her furiously funny rendition of a dedicated commie "method actress" who seduces Correa over to the dark side. Michelle M. Pederson swipes her scenes quite handily as a sugar-coated radio star with a shady past.
Robert Moniz, John Sturgeon and Bill Carson lend over-the-top support while Drew Fitzsimmons camps it up egregiously as a horny houseboy. Alexandra Moniz completes the cast furiously in five different assignments.
"Red Scare on Sunset" may be satiric gold in some quarters, but its glitter is somewhat dimmed in a production leaning more toward earnest melodrama at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS covers local theater.
If You Go
What:"Red Scare on Sunset"
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 2
Cost: $18 to $22
Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com