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January 23, 2022

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The Velma Chronicles: Character adds smarts, sensibility to ‘Scooby-Doo’ production

She's not toting a pocketful of Scooby Snacks, checking into haunted mansions or trekking up darkened switchbacks on a stormy night.

But Jinkies! Take Randi Rosenholtz's phone call and suddenly you're talking to Velma Dinkley, the reliable know-it-all handy with a Latin dictionary, abreast of Egyptian history and able to distinguish Tibetan artifacts from their Chinese counterparts.

The voice coincides. Subtle sardonic wit lurks behind her comments. And similar to Velma, Rosenholtz is no-nonsense and seemingly intuitive.

"I'd like to think I'm as smart as she is," said Rosenholtz, searching for more similarity, via telephone from Houston where the production "Scooby-Doo in Stagefright" was being staged at Hobby Center.

"She's very observant of everything. Once she loses her glasses, her insecurity comes out a little. But she knows everything that's going on."

Rosenholtz's physical and vocal similarities to the teenage cartoon sleuth is the type of precision Jim Millan was looking for when he created the stage production. No pretenders.

"What we do on the stage is the classical cartoon," Millan said, via telephone from Toronto. "It's not, 'There's a portrayal of 'Scooby-Doo,' it is 'Scooby-Doo.'"

Written and directed by Millan (founder of Toronto's Crow's Theatre), "Stagefright" arrives Friday at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts for a three-day run.

Intended to appear as a "long lost episode," the 90-minute production engenders the usual trap doors, chills, thrills and slapstick as the cartoon as Velma, Daphne, Fred, Scooby and Shaggy visit a movie studio gripped by the hauntings of a "supernatural specter."

To further emulate the original cartoon, Millan raided the closets of Hanna-Barbera Productions for sound effects.

"When they run on the spot, there is the hollow coconut (drum) sound," Millan said. "'When people are walking along, we're playing the walking along music. When someone is sneaking up, you hear the sneaking-up music."

And audiences can expect the characters' archetypical trappings.

"If there's ever going to be someone who's going to fall down a trap door or go through a revolving door, it's going to be Daphne," Millan said.

Scooby?

"He's a very skilled physical comedian in a very beautiful fitted costume," Millan said, referring to actor David Droxler in a dog suit. "He's not a mascot. When he sits, it's as if it's a dog sitting."

Edgy to innocent

The production might seem out of character for Millan.

Crow's Theatre is known for tackling alternative productions on adult material, such as James O'Reily's "Time After Time: The Chet Baker Project" and Millan's Dora award-winning play "Dali."

Millan said he came to the project through his work with Mark McKinney of the Canadian cross-dressing comedy troupe, "Kids in the Hall." Millan produced and directed the "Kids in the Hall Tour 2000."

The longtime "Scooby-Doo" fan said he was approached by Warner Bros. for the "Scooby-Doo" stage production because of his comedic and theatrical background.

"They wanted to make sure it was given a lot of integrity, a lot of love and support," Millan said.

To prepare for the task, he watched dozens of "Scooby-Doo" episodes and plopped himself in front of stacks of Abbott & Costello and Marx Brothers films. McKinney served as "Stagefright's" script consultant.

"The biggest challenge is comedy," Millan said "You want to try and write 90 minutes of great comedy as well as suspense and mystery."

The cartoon's underlying appeal, he said, is the characters' courage in confronting fear.

"The fact that it's done in a comic way is brilliant," he said. "We remember the spooky drawings from the episode but didn't get scared watching them because Scooby and Shaggy are the biggest chickens in the world."

In "Stagefright," actor Bjorn Thorstad plays the athletic Shaggy, Jerry Richardson plays Fred, Droxler plays Scooby, John Nagle plays Scooby's voice and Rachel Kimsey plays Daphne.

"The cast does a remarkable job of bringing those characters to life," Millan said. "Within seconds of them being onstage, you immediately reinforce to the audience how classic and true this is."

Rosenholtz, a twentysomething from New York City with a classical theater background, said the role of a cartoon character from Mystery Inc. is something new.

"'It's a little different," Rosenholtz said. "Mostly what I do is physical, experimental new works or classical pieces."

But, she said, "I think it's cool to play a cartoon character that ... is part of what is American history and a historically universal cartoon.

"In a way it's a cult classic."

And so is Velma. The 15-year-old glasses-wearing, in-control brainiac has websites, essays, ramblings and deconstructions devoted to her.

"There is actually a humongous fan club out there," Rosenholtz said. "I've had fans come to the show dressed as Velma. It's cute, the little girls put on the wigs and the glasses."

And why not? Cast opposite the tall, good-looking, danger-prone Daphne, Velma is a sturdy clue solver. "There's a lot of levels to her," Rosenholtz said. "I'm learning things about her every day. I like her sarcasm and her wit."

Regarding Velma, Millan said, "She's great, she's the precocious little sister. As you get older you recognize something about Velma you didn't quite get (before)."

But as in the cartoon, Scooby and Shaggy tend to steal the show.

"When Scooby arrives, it's like a rock star arrives," Millan said. "Everybody squeals. Scooby is still one of the most widely recognized characters in the world."

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