(L to R) Roy Abramsohn, Emily Eiden, Brendan Ford, and Matt Gottlieb in The Colony Theatre’s production of “Moonlight and Magnolias.” (Photo by Michael Lamont)

By Greg Simay
BurbankNBeyond Entertainment Editor

The opening night audience shook with laughter for two hours then stood on its feet to cheer Moonlight and Magnolias, The Colony Theatre’s strongest offering yet in what has been a very strong season.

M&M wastes no time in presenting the dramatic situation. It’s Hollywood, 1939. Whiz kid studio mogul David O. Selznick (played by ROY ABRAMSOHN) has just had to halt production on Gone With the Wind, the eagerly-awaited movie version of Margaret Mitchell’s runaway best seller. The script’s a disaster. The director’s slower than a snail. Selznick’s staring at financial ruin and worse yet, contending with a studio mogul father-in-law all too ready to rub any failure in his face.

So Selznick hires world-weary screenwriter and playwright Ben Hecht (MATT GOTTLIEB) to rewrite the script. In five days. Locked in Selnick’s office with Selznick and the brash Victor Fleming (BRENDAN FORD), whom Selznick has yanked from Wizard of Oz to be the new director of GWTW.

A few small problems, aside from the rivalries of writer versus director versus producer. Hecht thinks Selznick’s lost his mind promoting a story glorifying the Old South and a highly questionable heroine, one Scarlett O’Hara. And, oh yes: Hecht’s never read the book.

In other stories, our three quarreling protagonists would be having to punch through enemy lines, or keep each other alive as they cross the Arctic wastes. But playwright and Emmy-winning writer RON HUTCHINSON shows us that having to meet a creative challenge can be every bit as engrossing…and in this case, side splitting. Director ANDREW BARNICLE keeps the humor front and center, but without slighting the serious themes that surface in the course of his characters’ five-day odyssey of coming to grips with their differences and creating something wonderful.

ROY, MATT and BRENDAN gave tour de force performances that included no small measure of physical comedy. And if that were not enough we have EMILY EIDEN’s hilarious Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s beleaguered secretary. EMILY got more mileage out of “Yes, Mr. Selznick” than most actors could coax from lines out of Shakespeare.

When the Colony’s Artistic Director BARBARA BECKLEY saw Barnicle’s direction of M&M at the Laguna Playhouse, she decided “we gotta do it here”. Consider M&M to be The Colony’s uproarious Valentine to all of us.

Moonlight and Magnolias continues at The Colony through Sunday, March 6. Thur. and Fri. at 8:00 p.m., Sat. at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sun. at 2:00 p.m. Tickets from $20 to $42. For tickets, call the Box Office at 818-558-7000 ext.15 or go online at www.colonytheatre.org.

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