On the Razzle
Director Christine Nicholson surely knew she was playing with fire when she took on a three-ring circus like On the Razzle, Tom Stoppard’s stylish reworking of timeless material from several mid-19th-century farces. Three improbably interwoven storylines create a jumble of romance, suspicion, subterfuge, mistaken identity and hair-breadth escapes, with multiple couples getting hitched at the end. There is physical and verbal comedy in abundance. On the Razzle is Stoppard, the smartest playwright of our era, purely out on a lark and having a blast.
On the Razzle calls for a huge cast and crew; the playbill reads like a phone book. They’re dressed in frilly costumes that recall late-19th-century Vienna, topped off by insanely silly Scottish tartans, in vogue because of Verdi’s 1847 opera Macbeth. The script also assumes precisely timed verbal delivery, in service of a blizzard of comic spoonerisms, malapropisms, double entendres and puns. They come so fast you can hardly see straight.
Mix in the most elaborate sets City Theatre has built in ages, plus a carefully choreographed waltz number, and you have a seriously complicated, ambitious undertaking. This would test the skill of a crack team of professionals, to say nothing of a heads-up community group.
But you know what? Nicholson and her cast—a mix of veteran community actors and college students—pull it off. This is a very funny show. I laughed loudly and often. Nicholson keeps her characters romping along (and bumping into each other) with refreshing good humor. And she makes the most of performances by Jes Gonzales, as the stuffy merchant Zangler; and Blair Leatherwood and young Sarah Rowland, as Zangler’s clerks, who go for a joyride when the boss is away. Nina Breton and Katherine Pappa also contribute nicely as middle-aged fraus mixing it up with the two clerks. Credit is also due to technical director E.J. Reinagel’s scenery and lighting, Nichole Sivell’s costumes and Jon Shaeffer’s choreography.
Such honest enjoyment notwithstanding, I wouldn’t go so far as to say the cast and crew got all of it. There were times when I found myself laughing alone over a marvelous line that didn’t click with others. But, given the considerable resources this show requires, we’re unlikely to see a more slick production locally. (Shows this elaborate can’t break even in professional theaters that seat 150 to 300.) So, by all means, enjoy City Theatre’s show, which is quite rewarding on its own merits. And be prepared to laugh.