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Review: Celebration at ABET

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The avant-garde musical fable, Celebration, is in production through Feb. 5 at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre. This seldom-seen show is a must-see for local audiences.

Featuring book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt (best known for The Fantasticks), Celebration did not run for long on Broadway and is rarely produced. It’s hard to believe because ABET’s production is delightful and complements the theater’s intimate space. The musical is lively, charming and brilliantly directed by Dave Alan Thomas. It features a talented cast supported by a wonderful orchestra and crew.

Set on New Year’s Eve, Celebration revolves around four central characters. Potemkin, commandingly played by Milan Alley, who serves as the narrator, commentator and instigator. The story involves a conflict between the Orphan, played by Franklin Rich, and Mr. Rich, played by Rob Banks. As the Orphan, Franklin Rich delivers a wonderful childlike innocence in his portrayal of the idealistic and optimistic young man.

Banks is convincing as the jaded and wealthy man who is fueled by the power of money. Both are drawn to Angel, played by Katherine Herndon, who presents a strong performance as a dancer who longs to be somebody and wants what both men have to offer.

The featured characters are magnificently supported by an enthusiastic and energetic ensemble known as The Revelers. The ensemble includes Brian Champion, Lucas Hopper, Matt Krieger, Kimberly Cooper York, Sara Beth Sohn, Amy Tillotson and Laurel Wilson.

Wonderful musical accompaniment, glorious singing and lively dancing add to ABET’s production of Celebration, under the musical direction of Robin Brazelton and choreographer Katie Raulerson. Most of the orchestra surrounds the stage. The orchestra, led by conductor and band director Damon Martin on bass, includes Brazelton on piano, Stefanie Batson on harpsichord, Jacob Schuman on guitar, Jack Miller on percussion and Susan Roche on vocals.

Thomas designed a stunning set, which features an elevated circular platform. The wide range of costumes designed by Amy Tillotson with support from costumers Amy Hancock and Jane Laroque, add dynamic and colorful style. The masks used in Celebration are visually captivating and very impressive. Designer Rebecca Williams produced more than 100 masks for the show. Celebration features effective lighting and sound design by Bryan Frank. The creative team also includes stage manager Randy Lessen, light and sound tech Betsy Totten Darnell and backstage tech April Bolden.

Performances continue Jan. 27, 28, 29, and Feb. 3, 4 and 5. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $20. For tickets, go to www.abettheatre.com or call (904) 249-7177. ABET is located 716 Ocean Blvd. in Atlantic Beach.

Photography by Caryl Butterley