A Wicked winter ahead at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse

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Paul Munafo, left, and Shelagh Hackett in the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse Wicked Good Musical Revue "Cornucopia." — Photo Courtesy of MJ Bruder Muna

A bit of laughter and feel-good entertainment was much appreciated last Saturday night by an audience just absorbing the shock of Friday’s news from Paris. The Wicked Good Musical Revue at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse provided an upbeat evening of entertainment to help diffuse the prevailing somber mood.

On Saturday night, four singers, 20 songs, and a good dose of humor and high spirits kept a three-quarters-full house smiling, laughing, and even singing along. The two shows last weekend were a continuation of a series that began last fall, increasing the off-season entertainment opportunities provided by the Playhouse.

Molly Conole has assembled a small troupe of accomplished singer/actors who will present an ongoing program of Broadway songs. The cast includes Ms. Conole, Paul Munafo, Shelagh Hackett, and Ken Romero. Phil Dietterich served as Saturday’s accompanist.

Last weekend’s program was a real mixed bag, including some beloved show tunes, some lesser-known songs, solos, duets, and full ensemble numbers.

After a rousing performance with all four singers harmonizing on the Stephen Sondheim song “Comedy Tonight,” Ms. Conole introduced the show by announcing the theme — Cornucopia — and explaining, “there’s a lot of corn” (literally and metaphorically). Some songs like “A Wonderful Guy,” from South Pacific, actually referenced corn (“I’m as corny as Kansas in August”), others had just a bit of a schmaltz factor, but all were crowd pleasers, including the bittersweet number “Now,” from a little-known show called “The Warmth of the Womb,” sung with poignancy by Mr. Romero, and the very pretty ballad “My Ship” by Kurt Weill, which was delivered by Ms. Conole in her lovely lilting soprano.

The show featured a lot of comedic touches, including a fun parody of Broadway-style dance by Ms. Hackett, a great impression of Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” by Mr. Munafo, and a fun song about an aspiring starlet sung and acted out by Ms. Conole. A tap-dance interlude during Mr. Romero’s solo on Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” was a showstopper. Fun and funny duets included Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do” performed by Ms. Conole and Mr. Romero, and “A Little Priest” from “Sweeney Todd” sung with appropriately Cocknified accents by Ms. Hackett and Mr. Munafo.

The show concluded with the song “Brotherhood of Man” from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Ms. Hackett and Ms. Conole counterpointed the men with a more feminist version of the song.

After the closing tune, the cast handed out lyric sheets and led the audience in a song by Jacques Brel called “If We Only Have Love.” The song was included at the last minute as a response to the news of the day.

“We all talked about it after our first show on Friday,” said Ms. Conole in an interview after the Saturday performance. “With this barrage of hideous random acts of violence, you do music and you look at people’s faces and you see their hearts. You realize that that’s what life is about. That’s why we do it.”

The petite Ms. Conole has a very lively, smiling, likable manner. She has a long history in show business, going back to her years as an MVRHS student and continuing through about 25 years working as a professional singer and actor in Florida. She did a great deal of musical theater and other forms of entertainment (including a stint as an improv character at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando).

In 2013, Ms. Conole moved back to the Island with her husband Bob Dutton and their two daughters, Penelope and Amelia. Although she had put her professional career behind her, Ms. Conole knew that she would have to remain busy. She joined the Island Community Chorus and both the choir and the bell choir of the First Congregational Church. Ms. Conole had performed on both on the main stage and at the Amphitheater of the playhouse, and was enthusiastic about potential opportunities once the playhouse reopened in 2013 after a two-year hiatus.

“I talked to MJ [Bruder Munafo, artistic director of the Playhouse], and said, ‘Let’s do some musical revues.’ Music is the universal language.”

Last year, Ms. Conole gathered together a group of singers with whom she had performed in the past and launched the Wicked Good Cabaret. After the first few outings in the playhouse’s lobby, the audience outgrew that space, and the series was moved to the theater and renamed Wicked Good Musical Revue.

Last season, the group gave six individual themed performances. This winter, they will put together four separate shows which will be presented for two nights each. The remaining revues will include guest performers: the cast of the high school’s production of “Chicago” in January, Abigail Southern Chandler in March, and Brooke Hardman Ditchfield in April.

Although the accompanist varies from show to show, the core ensemble remains the same. The four members work on developing the show together, suggesting favorite tunes and working out the themes. “I always want to get everybody’s input,” said Ms. Conole. “They know I like to have variety. I come up with ideas, and we go back and forth. I want each performer to shine in all the different ways that they can shine.”

The Wicked Good Musical Revue is just one of the series that the playhouse is presenting this winter. Every Monday night will feature a different classic movie. The theme for the next few weeks is “From Play to Film.” Next Monday’s film will be “Kiss Me, Kate,” followed by “The Philadelphia Story” on Nov. 30.

Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate Arnie Reisman will once again host the monthly Poetry Cafe, featuring readings by local poets.

The visual arts are also represented at the playhouse, with a revolving show in the lobby. Currently, the work of Joan Walsh is on display. The artist’s series “Vineyard Journeys” features landscapes, animals, and scenes from the Island in a variety of media.

For more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.