Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Anita Bryant Slowly Fades From The World Stages In “The Loneliest Girl In The World”


Raise your hand if you remember Anita Bryant! That Anita Bryant; the one that pushed Florida orange juice, came in second in The 1959 Miss America Beauty (“A Pretty Girl Is Like A Memory”) pageant losing out to Mary Ann Mobley and wore her anti-gay stripes on her sleeve for the whole world to see, hear and react.

OK, not so much?
Sam Heldt and Allison Spratt Pearce
Join the cast and crew of Diversionary Theatre in University Heights for the brand spanking new musical story, “The Loneliest Girl In The World” by Gordon Leary (book and lyrics) and Julia Meinwald (music) and directed by over the moon thrilled director Matt M. Morrow through July1st and learn probably more than you ever needed or wanted to know about the bible thumping, no holds barred one woman crusader that railed against homosexuals and homosexuality.  

The all out wonderful cast in “L.G.I.T.W. stars Allison Spratt Pearce as Anita, Sean Tuazon, Lauren King Thompson, Steve Gouveia, Sam Heldt, and Marci Ann Wuebben  (all except Spratt Pearce and Heldt play multiple roles).

The production is staged on Robin Sanford Roberts’ cartoon looking set with TV’s lining the back-walls, some reminiscent of the TV show “Laugh In” (highlighted by Christopher J. Martin’s lighting design) with characters peeking through open window/doors.

Those whose faces we saw included (Billy Graham, Bob Hope, Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk and Kathy Lee then Johnson). They are wearing cardboard cutout hairstyles to define and on occasion.

Full body cardboard props (Bonnie Durben) are used (very clever touch) on other occasions, as when Gouveia (who also plays Anita’s husband Bob) is emcee of the pageant and Tauzon is one of the contestants and all we see are their faces through the cutout of the full sized body boards they carry.
Sam Heldt
 The one character that yours truly never knew too much about was the character Tommy or Thom Higgins (a wonderful Sam Heldt) the young man who in 1977 threw a fruit pie in Anita Bryant’s face during an interview as rep. for the Orange Citrus Commission. 

At the same time she became an outspoken opponent of gay rights ‘and ran the Save Our Children campaign to repeal a local ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.’ It was the beginning of the end for her.

While he made history with his pie in face incident and went on with his life, his story in her life is pretty much fictional. It’s a clever beginning to get us hooked as in hook, line and sinker.

On one track the rise and fall of Bryant dressed in Elisa Benzoni’s get up’s and in Peter Herman’s wigs plays out in all its glory. Most of her career as shown in backstory, is no mystery.
Allison Spratt Pearce
She recorded over 40 top hits in the late 50’s early 60’s with her most memorable “Paper Roses” reaching # 5 on the charts. Her ambassadorship with the Florida Citrus Commission lasted well over ten years and Good Housekeeping Magazine declared her one of the most influential Women in America. But then…

Ms. Pearce, one of the most versitile of San Diego performers, having appeared in  "The Last Wife" and "My Fair Lady"  at Cygnet Theatre and her award winning performance as Maria in "The Sound of Music" shows off her acting chops as "The Lonliest Girl In The world".   

 That pie in the face incident that made the headlines from coast to coast segues from her losing the Miss America Pageant to a very young and impressionable Tommy and his mother (Wuebben) baking together.

Tommy’s obsession with Bryant begins to take form with letters to and letters from convincing Tommy that she really appreciates his being a fan. Tommy is a closet gay, but after months of trying to hide it from his doting mother he finds himself at Kyle’s apartment (Shaun Tauzon) and the two begin a relationship.

Heldt’s performance moves from skinny and shy boy to mature and purposeful adult. His growth to adulthood is a tribute to Leary’s book and he does it with ease. While the two protagonists it seems were destined to come across each other at some point and the splintering off of their personalities and differing paths taken, is a beshert moment.

For a brand new musical, right out of the chute and after many years of work shopping, it hit the stage at Diversionary full force. With the beautifully nuanced voice of Allison Sprat Pearce making her way through some very difficult and oft times non melodic music the show flows easily through her rise and fall from fame paralleling Tommy’s coming of age and importance on the world stage.
Allison Spratt Pearce and Steve Gouveia
Fine work comes from Lauren King Thompson who plays Bryant’s sister Kay and a bevy of other characters. She’s a standout comedian with excellent timing and a perfect stage presence showing up when least expected.

The rest of the first-rate cast, left to their own devices and under Morrows direction shine in waves of glory at telling both stories along the parallel lines.

Musical director Patrick Marion with Matt Lescaul-Wood’s sound and choreographer Stephen Brotebeck capitalize on Meinwald’s musical score to its advantage with no less than 20 musical numbers in all. (Some could be cut or shortened thereby shortening the running time that was well over two hours )

As a sidebar in 2018 it was recently announced that the United States Supreme Court sided with a baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple sighting ‘First Amendment Rights’: Quoting that ‘Same Sex marriage was at odds with his religious beliefs.’ Looks like we’re headed in the wrong direction once again.
Allison Spratt Pearce
But maybe not, though when creative juices are at work and theatre’s like Diversionary can count on their audiences to support new works and spread the word and show the world, including the narrow minded that it still takes all members of society to make it whole.

Congratulations and Happy Pride Week!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through July 1st
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Musical
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. #101 San Diego, CA 92116
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$55.00
Web: diversionary.org
Photo: Simpatika

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