‘Dead to the Last Drop’ Review

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The cast (minus Victoria Graham) of "Dead to the Last Drop."

It’s an odd feeling to be watching a play one minute, then, suddenly, be on stage yourself trying to say something coherent to one of the actors as the production rolls on.

It reminds me of one of my common dreams (a nightmare, really) about suddenly being thrust into a play without knowing any of the lines.

If you attend the Riverfront Playhouse’s current production, "Dead to the Last Drop," there’s a decent chance you’ll be appearing on stage. I believe I counted some 12 audience members brought up during Friday night’s performance. The show continues at 2 p.m. Sunday; at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 17; a special Riverfront capitol campaign fundraiser, call 547-3924); and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 19, closing night).

Fortunately the actors tend to put everyone at ease in the murder mystery comedy show written by Redding’s Bill and Lisa Collins. It doesn’t take long to realize how completely loose and slapstick the whole affair is.

The couple originally wrote the show for their Keyhole Mystery Theater dinner company (they’ve written more than two dozen original works), and recently converted it for the stage of Riverfront.

Two audience members take on roles during the performance (they don’t have lines) and everyone is encouraged to try to solve the play’s mystery for a chance at door prizes.
The productions have included wine-tasting events prior to each show. On Friday, New Clairvaux vineyard near Vina was pouring their fine assortment of wines.

It’s probably best to enter the show with the mindset of relaxing, drinking some wine and enjoying the silliness.

Some of the strongest elements to the show are the hilarious original songs written by Bill and Lisa Collins. The cast delivers them with the right amount of camp and there are some excellent singers in the bunch. Both the ensemble songs and solos are a treat, and pianist Bill Ruess is stellar in his backing of the group.

Everyone in the cast finds their moments to shine. I particularly enjoyed Victoria Graham as Madonna Pescacelli Pepperoni Calzone, who seemed to relish the strut of her diva-like character. She seemed to have a ball with her solo tune, "Mr. Wrong."

Jorge Arguello (a musician and bandleader of Majical) seemed at ease in his twin roles of Vito Davino and Captain Baccus. Wade Riggs really hammed it up as both the devoted winemaker Gino Davino and his brother Dino Davino, a lounge singer. Dan Kupsky was a good fit as a Texas millionaire, Corky Tannen, and Ian Dalziel did a good turn as the condescending French wine steward, Andre Bordeaux. Savannah Harter found fun ditsy moments as Anny Greensprings.

The rich set (with wine barrels jutting out from the walls) and the lighting design were both excellent as well.

Where the show falls short is probably in its conversion from a dinner theater piece to a stage play. The characters tend to tell the audience about themselves and what they’re doing, instead of falling back on a script that draws that information out. There’s not much dimension to the story, which is probably fine when it’s a dinner theater show broken up by various meal courses. In an extended play format, it created some flat spots.

But there are also some clever, amusing one liners, such as Corky’s statement, "Everybody knows that people who live in glass houses … should make love in the basement." And considering the loose nature of the evening, it’s probably not essential that "Dead to the Last Drop" aspire to have "Godfather"-esque depth.

In this show, everyone’s part of the party.

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is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com
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6 Responses

  1. Avatar Phil "Philbert& says:

    Sounds like a grand time! Kudos to Bill, Lisa and the cast!

  2. Avatar Kelly says:

    We saw it last week, too, and enjoyed it greatly. I especially liked all the original songs. Good show.

  3. Avatar Roger says:

    I attended an afternoon play, and what a treat. I was one of the "lucky" ones that was escorted on stage for the wine tasting scene. The lights were bright, so I was pleased that I couldn't see my friends in the audience. A fun time, and I have recommended it to others.

  4. Avatar Kathryn Barker says:

    We enjoyed the lightheartedness and joy of the play ! The cast demonstrated their ad-lib abilities in working with the members of the audience ! We can't wait for the next play !

  5. Avatar sandi says:

    I loved it! I thought the original music & lyrics were wonderful. The pianist and actors did a great job and kept the audience engaged. The writing was a creative and refreshing break from the "usual" plays. I have recommended it to many friends. Good job to all those involved.

  6. Avatar Beth says:

    It was a perfect no-brain entertainment antidote to pre-holiday stress, and we loved watching the actors get into their roles. As Jim said, the set was rich and certainly evocative of an old winery. There wasn't much 'holiday' spirit in it, but it was certainly fun for cast and audience alike. The Collinses are talented, to be sure, and their quirkiness shines in this piece.