Monday, September 19, 2016

Theater Review: Mark Twain Live!

It was date night again for Wendy and I at the Historic Palace Theater in Lockport. Saturday night was the kickoff for the newest season, and being season ticket holders for the third year, we were in attendance. The show was a one-man show starring Mike Randall as Mark Twain.

I’ve never seen a one man show before. I was unsure as to what we’d see. The closest I’d ever been to was “Lombardi” which featured six actors. When we entered the theater and made our way down the second row, center, where our seats are located, there was simply a lectern, chair, and small table set up on stage.

As the lights went down, Randall emerged from the shadowy wings of the stage. I’m not sure if it was the spotlight, the white suit, or a combination of both, but he seemed to glow as he shuffled forward like a wizened, 7-0-year-old author. The first thing I noticed was those sparkling, mischievous eyes of Mike Randall. That was the last we saw of him all night. As the show continued, more and more of Twain emerged, as if Randall was channelling the late, great author himself.

It was the voice and the facial expressions. As each story flowed forth, Randall would emphasize each anecdote with a change in tone or with the raising or lowering of his eyebrows. Hidden somewhere under that Missouri accent was the familiar voice of our local news celebrity. Despite my best efforts, I could not hear it. For the two hours of the show, he was Twain.

There were plenty of laughs throughout the night. For me, that was interesting. However, my favorite part may have been when he was regaling us with a story about the mountain goat and kept falling asleep. Similarly, when he was having trouble remembering who was actually part of the story. It went beyond a basic recitation of lectures and essays by Twain. It personalized the stories and endeared the audience even more to the performance.

During intermission, I had a chance to speak with Executive Director of the Palace, Christopher Parada. He told me that Mike Randall has been portraying Mark Twain since he was 17. In that span of 45 years, Randall has shed his own persona and become Mark Twain. He breathes new life into those old anecdotes as his years of experience lend more soul into each performance.

By the end of the evening, I had the urge to read through the 3-volume autobiography of Mark Twain. That’s some pretty heady reading, but I’m sure this time I’ll hear the passages in that distinctive voice. I’m sure everyone left the theater having thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I think Mike Randall enjoyed it just as much as the rest of us. Maybe for some of the audience, they will take enough from the performance to make an effort to read more about the great Samuel Clemons.

This was a wonderful way to kick off the 2016-17 season. It was intimate and enjoyable. While it didn’t have the pomp and circumstance of a typical, big-production musical, it held our attention and had us laughing and smiling all the way home.

If any of you missed the incredible “Mark Twain Live” with Mike Randall, never fear, You’ll have another chance to see his performance at the Lockport Library in a special one-hour show on Tuesday, October 4th. That show will be in the Community Room from 6:30-7:30. I’m hoping to be able to go back for an encore performance. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Craig Bacon is excited that the newest Palace season has begun. He’s so excited, in fact, that he purchased tickets for “Finding Neverland” at Shea’s. Stay tuned for more theater reviews.