The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022

Review: ‘Motherhood’ first-class musical

PERRY LUHN/for the Van Wert independent

It has been almost two years since a musical hit the stage at Van Wert Civic Theatre. That’s too long. But now VWCT has chosen to partner with Encore Theatre in Lima to produce something relatively new. 

Motherhood the Musical is the story of a woman in the throes of pregnancy, surrounded by her somewhat older friends who want to support her with her future family.

The cast of Motherhood the Musical (from the left) Nancy Shuffle, Stacy Rife, Mary Ann Falk, and Debbie Briggs, perform the song “Moms on Strike.” VWCT photo

When I came to Lima, some 40-plus years ago, little was mentioned about this theatre in Van Wert. Most of the Encore vets seldom even attended shows there. It was much the same in the other direction.  I believe there was a lot of pride and jealousy at work here. In the past 10 to 15 years, many bridges have been built between the sister drama groups.  So it is with great satisfaction, that I note this cooperation.  

The first two weeks of this production will take place in Van Wert, with the following two weeks in Lima.   There are six women playing the roles, with double casting on some roles.  This is terribly exciting for the two cities, the two theatres, and the group of ladies who make up the cast.
Let me say, first, that I am somewhat sexist. I have never completely cozied up to shows that are all female.  I don’t know why. There are plenty of them populated entirely by men.  It’s only fair to assume a good story that has only females could be told, and told well. 

I had not heard of this musical before the announcement that it was coming, and I was cool to the idea of seeing it. But I noticed that the director was to be Jerry Zimmerman, a northwest Ohio legend, with the incomparable Dee Fisher as music director.  To my knowledge, Zimmerman has never directed a second-rate show, so I’m suddenly interested.  

Next, I see that the women he’s cast are all actresses I have either worked with or seen on stage.  I mean these ladies are pros!  So, I am pleased to go.
And let me tell you, you are going to want to go, too. I expected to see good stuff. I wasn’t expecting enough. Jerry has given us a new classic.  

But, to get back to the story: Motherhood focuses on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of pregnancy, delivery, and child-rearing. Our heroine, Amy (Debbie Briggs), is full of enthusiasm and positive vibes over the imminent birth of her first child. In the opening number, “I’m Having a Baby/Welcome to Motherhood”, Amy’s bubble is rudely burst. 

Her friends, Barb, Tina, and Brooke, take turns dispelling Amy’s positivity and bringing out the downside of her thoughts.  It’s a funny set, which ends ultimately with the audience guffawing when Amy breaks into tears. This scene is so Debbie. She has such great timing and facial contortions. She is not just a great singer; her timing is impeccable.

Each of these women has something I really enjoy. Nancy Shuffle, as Tina, has great range — both of voice and of emotion. She is a pleasure to watch. Some of her early solos reminded me that she can kill the low parts, but I was waiting to hear her belt the high notes. It took a while, but I was not disappointed. At times, I could hear members of the audience catch their breath as she hit that one note. 

As Brooke, Mary Ann Falk demonstrated the powerful tool that is her voice, and she made us want to watch her, moving quickly and decisively around the stage. She also has a fortunate excess of personality (that means she’s funny).  

Stacy Rife (Barb) is a joy to watch; she has that same boatload of personality. Maybe her voice is not quite as powerful as some of the others, but she knows how to blend and she knows how to tell a story (note: Kristin Lee is also cast as Tina, while Laura Warnement will also play Brooke). 
When I think about this show, I realize that many of the pitfalls of having a child are slightly exaggerated, but they are very honest as well. There’s a lot of truth in all these funny bits. 

Much professionalism is on display as well. These four stars knocked this script out. I got to thinking about how I’ve seen so many plays over the past 40 years. Almost every one of them has had an electric performer that I would pay Broadway prices to see. But seldom is the cast so stellar from top to bottom — that they are, in fact, professional quality. It’s a wonder that folks in Van Wert, and, soon, Lima, have this kind of culture offered to them.  

I strongly urge those who can get out to go to one of the six remaining performances — at VWCT and, later, at Encore, then tell me how correct I was. I guarantee you will be pleased.

Performances continue this weekend at VWCT on September 30 and October 1, 2, and 3.  Tickets are $16.  Visit www.vwct.org or call 419.238.9689 to get tickets. The show opens at Amil Tellers Lima Encore on October 8.  Visit www.amiltellers.org for more information.

POSTED: 09/28/21 at 11:49 pm. FILED UNDER: News