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A Charming But Lightweight Comedy, Mitch Albom’s “And the Winner Is” Is a Pleasant Way to Spend an Evening (or an Afternoon)

From left to right: Tony Hefner, Sarah Bousquet. Photo by Stuart Wagner.

Raleigh Little Theatre and Actors Comedy Lab’s charming co-production of Mitch Albom’s lightweight 2005 comedy, AND THE WINNER IS, which will complete its three-week run Sept. 16-19 and 23-26 in RLT‘s intimate Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, is a mash-up of second-chance movies, such as HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941) and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). This time, the died-before-his-time central character is self-centered middle-aged actor Tyler Johnes (Scott Nagel), who has finally received an Academy Award® nomination, but dies of a heart attack on the eve of the Oscar ceremonies. When he wakes up in an “in-between place,” which looks a lot like a seedy Irish pub, with an equally seedy Irish bartender named Seamus (Tony Hefner), without any liquor or floozies, Johnes immediately starts bargaining with Seamus to get a reprieve from his eternal dirt nap long enough to pick of his Oscar, if the academy is so generous to bestow one upon him.

Scott Nagel is hilarious as the peacock-proud erstwhile star of CHIPNCOPS, a series of buddy movies co-starring the egotistical Kyle McCormick (Colin McNaughton), Johnes’ fierce rival, on the set and (Johnes fears) in his own bedroom. Johnes and McCormick play cops fight crime while moonlighting as Chippendales erotic male dancers, which gives them a chance to doff their shirts and strike beefcake poses, much to the amusement of the RLT/ACL audience.

But no room, not even the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Oscars have been presented since 2002, is big enough for both Tyler and Kyle’s gargantuan egos. So, it is no surprise that when Kyle unexpectedly joins Tyler in the “in-between place,” there’s not room enough for both of them to strut and fret. These bickering boys are soon joined by Tyler’s sleazy agent, Teddy La Petite (Tim Corbett); his innocent but much-maligned almost ex-wife, Sheri (Staci Sabarsky); and his hot, hot, hot, young girlfriend, Serenity (Sarah Bousquet). That’s when the fun really starts.

From left to right: Scott Nagel, Staci Sabarsky, Colin McNaughton. Photo by Stuart Wagner.

Scott Nagel and Colin McNaughton get the laughs rolling as the testosterone twins, Tim Corbett sticks an oily oar in as the wheeler-dealer Teddy. Sarah Bousquet plays the perfect bimbo as Serenity, who is Walking Viagra for everyone with a Y-chromosome; and Staci Sabarsky handles with dignity the hand-wringing role as a concerned wife Sheri, who is wrongly accused of kanoodling with Kyle.

Actors Comedy lab co-founder and AND THE WINNER IS director Bunny Safron, choreographer Nancy Rich, and fight choreographer David McClutchey whip up a flavorful comic soufflé, although Mitch Albom’s predictable plot and stereotypical characters sometimes lack a few of the ingredients necessary to transform this offbeat comedy into a laff riot.

From left to right: Sarah Bousquet, Tony Hefner, Scott Nagel, Staci Sabarsky, and Colin McNaughton. Photo by Stuart Wagner.

All in all, watching AND THE WINNER is a pleasant way to spend an evening (or an afternoon); and set and lighting designer Mark Peelman; costume designer Casey Watkins; properties manager Ann Marie Crosmun; sound designers Rod Rich, Mark Peelman, and Todd Houseknecht; video designers Nancy and Rod Rich do their best to send this offbeat comedy off a winner.

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 16th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/09/16/683278/this-time-there-is-a-second-act.html; and Sept. 13th Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina review by Scott Ross: http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/092010/RLT-ACL.html. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/09/mitch-alboms-offbeat-comedy-and-the-winner-is-skewers-hollywood-egos-the-movie-business-and-marathon-oscar-telecasts/.)

Raleigh Little Theatre and Actors Comedy Lab present AND THE WINNER IS at 8 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18 and 23-25 and 3 p.m. Sept. 19 and 26 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $15 ($12 students and seniors 62+).

BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/10-11/andthewinneris.html.

PRESENTERS: Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/ and Actors Comedy Lab: http://actorscomedylab.com/.

PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html. NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://mitchalbom.com/theater/node/3735 (official website).

The Playwright: http://mitchalbom.com/home/ (official website).

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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