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Poor Little Rich Girl -- A Review of Swimming At The Ritz

By Gary Wien


“One thing about money is that you can never have enough,” says socialite Pamela Churchill Hayward Harriman in Charles Leipart’s, Swimming At The Ritz. She’s an utterly amazing character — one that found a way to parlay a good name (“Churchill”) into husband after husband and fortune after fortune… that is, until the money runs out which is where the play begins.

Swimming At The Ritz is current enjoying its U.S. premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company for another two weeks. The play features absolutely fantastic performances by Judith Hawking (as Pamela) and Christopher Daftsios (as Pietro, her favorite valet at the Ritz) under wonderful direction by Suzanne Barabas (NJ Rep’s Artistic Director).

They say truth is always stranger than fiction and this play proves that theory once again. Pamela’s story is entirely based on the true story of a woman who became penniless when sued by her step children for squandering their inheritance (something like $115 million in nine years time). As the play begins, Pamela is spending her last few quiet hours in her hotel room at The Ritz before her items are taken away to be sold by an auction house.

“My friend Coco Chanel always said the best things in life are free… the next best are very, very expensive,” Pamela tells the audience — literally speaking to the audience. There is no fourth wall here. Audience members are an active part of her conversation, sometimes being spoken directly to or even thrown gifts as she recalls the men, the money, and the memorable moments of her life. “All we needed was to learn how to marry a rich man and give them babies — an heir and a spare,” she laughs.

The dialogue is fresh and often quite funny, but Hawking shows off excellent range during a couple of sad memories, often from war time when she would flirt with soldiers to acquire information for Winston Churchill. She relished having access to power — something that would steer her destiny as much as money would.

What makes Swimming At The Ritz so great is the addition of Pietro, her favorite valet. Daftsios is simply hilarious as her Italian sidekick and confidant, providing real-time illustrations to her stories. He plays each of the characters she mentions differently and to great comedic effect. The two make a perfect pair.

The play is a highly enjoyable tale about a character in history that was almost like a Forest Gump of the socialite world. If she didn’t exist someone would have had to create her. Kudos to Charles Leipart for recognizing the hilarity in her story. My only wish is that he reconsiders the surreal ending, which seems like an unnecessary break in the play’s realism. Pamela’s story is so grand, there’s no reason to add to it.



“Swimming At The Ritz” is playing at New Jersey Repertory Company now through February 1 in Long Branch, NJ.

Photos by SuzAnne Barabas



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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  


Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!
"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.






Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


MUSIC

New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


THEATRE

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm







DANCE

PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


FILM

Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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