Average Rating Given : 4.18182
|Stage Door Players||9|
|Rosewater Theatre Company||4|
|Onstage Atlanta, Inc.||3|
|Big Top Productions||2|
|Kudzu Children's Theater||2|
|The New American Shakespeare Tavern||2|
|The Process Theatre Company||2|
|Polk Street Players||2|
|Synchronicity Performance Group||1|
|Georgia Ensemble Theatre||1|
|Lionheart Theatre Company||1|
|North Fulton Drama Club||1|
Reviews in Last 6 months :
|Noises Off, by Michael Frayn
ROTFL & LMAO!|
Thursday, March 25, 2010 ||
Noises Off is one of those wonderful farces that gets done too often, and too often done poorly. It’s a tough show to mount; both set-wise (the two story, double-sided set), and talent-wise (every single character is critical and each must be really sharp). I am happy to report that Rosewater’s current production of “Noises Off” is that rare exception – a truly fast-paced, fun-filled, farce-laden, great night of theatrical entertainment! I have said it before, but farce, when done correctly, is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend two hours at the theatre.|
Director Lisa Sherouse Riley has done a very good job of bringing together a well matched cast who never forget that a key element in farce is a brisk pace. Fast dialogue, fast movement and fast women are what make farce fun! These are still community theatre level resources of budget and talent, but every resource is maximized and the performance is tight and sizzles! She has also added some wonderful bits of physical comedy (some straight out of the movie version) that really shine on stage.
The cast features many favorite North Atlanta actors who turn in very effective performances and present a gloriously unified ensemble of talent. Theatre is a team sport and this team is a winner! The dialogue is delivered with confidence, strength and purpose. Cues are picked up quickly. Clever bits of business are executed with precision and flair. This is one well-oiled machine of a production, and it is a delight to watch this machine hum along.
Throughout the performance, when I wasn’t laughing out loud, I found myself uncontrollably smiling and filled with joy. The first act is a blast. The second act tops that by 200% and the third act settles back into being just a blast! To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to be so thoroughly entertained. Based on my past experiences at this theatre, I came with lowered expectations and a desire to be kind and supportive. Within five minutes of the curtain speech, my expectations were long forgotten and I was experiencing some seriously fun theatre!
OK, enough gushing. I enjoyed this production very much and, if you are a fan of farce, I think you will too. Check it out if you can. You won’t be disappointed.
|Teachers, The Musical!, by Robin Seidman, music composed by David Reeb
If you can read this, thank a Teacher!|
Monday, October 19, 2009 ||
Where would we be without the teachers that have affected us in our lives? That is one of the key points made by “Teachers, the Musical” currently playing at Kudzu in Roswell. |
Hopefully, everyone can cite at least one teacher who made a difference in their lives. I know I can! Let’s see, there was “Jerky” Joe Johnson, the “cool” American History teacher in High School who gave an annual “Millard Fillmore Memorial Brick Award” (named after our least effective president) to the student who asked the stupidest question of the year. There was also High School English Literature teacher “Miss Jessie” Denman, who, while holding back tears of laughter, clarified Chaucer’s intent in the phrase “he took her maidenhead” to a confused student who thought it meant decapitation. But the teacher who most affected my life was Mr. Douglas Adcock when he came into my 6th grade class promoting the wonders of “The Drama Club” as an extracurricular activity. Good teachers, one and all; as are so many that go unheralded.
But enough about them, let’s get to the show!
“Teachers, the Musical” is a fun, over the top look at one particular Elementary school as seen from the Teacher’s Lounge. We have a naïve first timer who has never set foot in a classroom before, a weary old-timer who is about to permanently set foot outside the classroom, a controlling school secretary who constantly puts her foot down, a “flighty” Principal whose feet don’t seem to touch the ground, a delivery man whose feet don’t stink, and a student who is directly referred to as “Satan’s Spawn”. I have to admit that I absolutely love these characters!
The script has a lot of fun with an “avian” theme and uses it to good effect. The principal is a bit “cuckoo” and works everything he says into some sort of “fowl” remark. There are puns aplenty and it just adds to the fun. The puns are groaners sometimes, but you groan with a smile. There are several plot lines happening and all intertwine smoothly and appropriately without bumping into each other and without being too much to keep track of. There is romance, intrigue, conflict and redemption. But most of all, there is fun!
The music is solid and mostly appropriate (as appropriate as someone bursting into song in a musical can be). The melancholy tunes really hit home and convey sweetness without getting maudlin or saccharine. The up tempo numbers are clever, cute and fun songs that really got the audience moving and clapping along!
The two piece band of Kelly Lane and Jeff Pullen did a very impressive job of providing a full sound from only two people. They also set the tone for the evening, when as the show starts, they are banished to “detention” during the curtain speech.
This production is well cast with actors who unite to give a winning performance as an ensemble. Karen Walsh as the “about to retire, seen everything, but still dedicated old pro”, Belle Tobbins, gives a beautifully balanced portrayal. She has a solid voice and emotes wonderfully in her songs. She has a strong stage presence and a confidence which suits her character very well. Mandy Papenbrock may look like she is too “experienced” to be accepted as a totally naïve “newbie”, but she compensates for it with good acting choices and a sweet singing voice which convince us of her character’s innocence and sincerity. Kathy Manning rules the roost with her “take no prisoners” portrayal of school secretary Doris Gross. Her comedic touches and “takes” are on the money and her voice may be just be a bit too good to be coming from her character. Chase McGrath’s character Sammy (aka Satan’s Spawn) is written to steal the show. He doesn’t let the chance pass him by either. This young man grabs the role with both hands and makes it dance to his tune! While his voice was weaker than I would have liked (volume-wise), it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of his full-throttle performance. Gage Clark is the man with the cookies that makes all the teachers’ heads turn! Gage gives a subdued, gentlemanly performance that stays on the sweet side of sexy without getting sweaty. His singing voice was also a little weak, but considering his eye candy factor, I don’t think the ladies in the audience minded. The performance that soars like an eagle in this production is given by Charlie Rogers as Principal Larry Sludge. He takes a well written role and gives it a strong over-the-top-yet-pitch-perfect performance. He positively owns the stage whenever he appears! His energy, timing and delivery add a layer of joy and fun to an already enjoyable show!
The Teacher’s Lounge set is functional, colorful and simple. The only set element that bothered me was the cookie vending machine. I’m not sure why exactly, but perhaps it was just too big. Otherwise, the whimsically designed set did a wonderful job of visually telling the audience they were going to have a fun time.
“Teachers” is a very positive, uplifting show, but there were a few negatives for me. The biggest negative (for this particular production) is the fact that there was virtually no choreography. A musical needs movement! When actors are singing, they should also be moving! (Conversely, when singers are acting, they shouldn’t be moving!) There wasn’t enough choreography in my opinion, and what there was, was half-done (undoubtedly because there was no choreographer listed in the program). There was also one glaringly bad bit of logistical planning in the script when there is a long-ish blackout because all of the main characters were just in one scene and must make a costume change before the next scene can start. A transition scene of some sort involving the characters that were not involved in the previous scene needs to be added to aid the change. Leaving the audience in the dark for a couple of minutes detracts from the energy and flow of the show.
“Teachers” is a really fun show and is good entertainment. The performance I saw was on a Sunday night and the audience was filled with many teachers and other education professionals who related whole-heartedly to the jokes, situations and sentiments of the story. They were not just being kind either. They really enjoyed the show. You will too.
|And The Winner Is...., by Mitch Albom
And now for something completely different…|
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 ||
I really like it when theatres occasionally take a risk and do something different; when they offer something fresh, challenging or provocative. It is really exciting when they take a chance to produce a script that their audience might not otherwise get a chance to see. Such is the case with Stage Door’s current regional premier production of Mitch Albom’s “And the Winner is”. It is totally unlike Stage Door’s regular fare, nor is it what you’d expect from the writer of “Tuesdays With Morrie” (about the only thing it has in common with “Morrie” is Albom’s tendency toward moralistic clichés and his preoccupation with death).|
The story basically concerns the afterlife regrets and redemption of a stereotypical Hollywood movie star. His career was based more on his looks than his talent. As he began to realize he was passing his prime, he wondered if he was ever any good. To find out, he got a part in an “art” movie (read low budget) where he got to “act” thanks to the physical deformities and death scene of his character in the movie. When the movie is released, it flops, but his performance gets nominated for an Oscar! Now he’ll find out if he was ever any good by winning the Oscar!
Wait for it…
I said wait for it….
He dies the night before the Academy Awards!
So he has died without ever knowing if he was ever any good!
(in tribute to Alanis Morrisette)
If only there was some way he could find out whether he won or not…
And the rest, my friends, is what they call show business!
While this production is well directed, entertaining and well played by an excellent cast of talented actors, the script seems to be somewhat of a handicap at times. The biggest problem (in my opinion) is that the script feels more like a screenplay than a stage play. Its concepts and conventions do not lend themselves very well to a physical staging of the story. One scene “dissolves” into another. Not an easy thing to do on stage. It is also clichéd in its characters and trite in its conflicts and ultimate resolution (but that could just be my opinion). While there are indeed several truly funny moments and lines, a good deal of the humor feels like it should be read, rather than performed. But, all in all, it is an interesting premise with some inventively unique comedic potential. Well worth taking a shot at.
My first thought when I saw that Gabriel Dean was playing the lead character of Tyler Johnes (pronounced “Jones” - the “H” is silent - see what I mean about “reading funny” vs. “performing funny”) was that he was the very lucky beneficiary of an act of theatrical nepotism (his wife Jessie Dean is the director). Boy was I wrong! He very quickly proved he was correctly cast after just a few minutes on stage. He demonstrated good comedic timing and didn’t resort to “anything for a laugh” tricks for his characterization of the stereotypically self interested Hollywood movie star. It was a well balanced and entertaining portrayal. My only complaint: he is way too young and wholesome looking to be believed as a “past his prime” Hollywood stud muffin who just died of a heart attack thanks to a crappy lifestyle. It doesn’t really matter though because he made me a believer with his performance.
The first person he meets in the afterlife is an old Irish bartender named Seamus. Seamus is similar to “Mr. Jordan” from “Heaven Can Wait” in that he is an employee of God and serves as Tyler’s guide, father figure and moralist. As played by Kevin Dougherty, his Irish accent may have wandered a bit, but his heart was always front and center. Dougherty does an impressive job of keeping the focus on the kindness and sincerity that radiates from Seamus and less on the opportunity for cheap Irish laughs. His good natured confusion with modern idioms, devices and people’s names demonstrated Dougherty’s belief in the goodness of his character.
Luis Hernandez was a force of nature with his performance as Tyler’s agent Teddy LaPetite:“ A Giant in the Business” (reads funny! – plays funny?). Teddy follows Tyler into the afterlife to negotiate and hustle for any advantage he can get for himself and his client. The gloriously bad French accent Hernandez used made him hard to understand sometimes, but the comedic effect was hilarious. It is a wonder there was any scenery left after this talented actor chewed on it for two hours!
Alexandros Salazar plays Kyle Morgan, Tyler’s rival and partner in talentless fame. His characterizations and looks brought to mind Keanu Reeves. Whether that was a conscious choice, or a happy accident, all I can say is: it played really well! Kyle takes himself and his career very seriously, no matter how ludicrous it may actually be. Salazar’s character was totally believable and a joy to watch.
And now on to the chicks…
What would Hollywood be without a bimbo? Boring that’s what! Erin Greenway plays Serenity, Tyler’s “stripper name” girlfriend, fashion accessory, and number one groupie. She makes one of the greatest stage entrances EVER! That entrance is just the beginning of a long series of comedy gold that issues forth from Greenway’s performance throughout the show. She giggles, jiggles, wiggles and wriggles on her belly like a snake! Greenway’s talent lies in her ability to make the character someone you laugh with, not at. And when she reveals that Serenity ain’t as dumb as she seems, Greenway makes the transition with perfect timing and delivery. A real treat!
Last, but not least, Shayne Kohout has the thankless job of playing the only non-comedic character in this comedy. She is Tyler’s soon-to-be-ex wife, Sheri. She is there to show us that Tyler was once a nice guy and that she loves him, but she just can’t live with him anymore. Shayne does a beautiful job of showing tenderness and affection for the early Tyler, and showing disappointment in what he has become without being “bitchy”. A classy actor delivering a tasteful performance!
Director Jessie Dean had a very hard task on her hands with this show and she did a lot of things right. A good, well balanced cast helped make the most of many scenes. I do have some issues with the use of space, but that can be argued either way. Some scenes were staged in a fairly static and claustrophobic manner, while others seemed to use more space than was necessary. It is a very different kind of script, and given the challenges the storyline presented, she did an admirable job of bringing the story to the stage without making any glaring compromises. That is to be commended and applauded!
As anyone who has read any of my past “reviews” of Stage Door productions knows, I think Chuck Welcome is a God and one of the absolute best set designers in Atlanta. One of the big treats when seeing a show at Stage Door is seeing his wonderfully creative sets. His sense of color, form and function are exceptional. But, like the show, this set is something completely different from him. While I understand the needs driving the choices made, I can’t help but wish there could have been a more artistically and visually creative solution. But I did like the undefinable species of plant!
Stage Door has benefitted greatly from the inventory of lighting tricks and devices made available thanks to the auspices of lighting designer John David Williams (aka – J.D). Among other lighting treats, he pulls out the stops with two sweeping follow spots and strobe lights simulating paparazzi flashbulbs for the scenes relating to the Oscars. J.D. always provides a real eye popping visual treat with his lighting designs! And this show is no exception!
There is only one thing I can say about the costuming for this production: Chippen-Cops! (Oh yeah, Seamus’ outfit for the Oscars was truly magnificent!) Kudos to Jim Alford for some inspired garb!
In closing, let me say that Stage Door gives it’s audiences consistently excellent performances and productions that exhibit creativity and style. They’ve been really good at making good scripts into great shows, and weak scripts into successful productions. As for “And the Winner Is”, they’ve done it again.
And there’s nothing completely different about that!
Go see it and let me know what you think!
|Barefoot in the Park, by Neil Simon
A Brisk Walk in the Park|
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 ||
Thanks to its excellent pacing, Rosewater Theatre’s current production of Neil Simon’s classic “Barefoot in the Park” was a pleasure to see. Many community theatre productions suffer from sluggish line pickups and unnecessary dramatic pauses (as actors momentarily struggle to remember their lines or their blocking), but thanks to director Lisa Sherouse Riley, that was not evident here. The snappy delivery and quick cue pickups in this production gave it a good energy and a brisk pace. That’s important when doing a Neil Simon play because they can be a bit “wordy” which can make them seem long if not handled correctly.|
Before I get into my opinions on this production, I would like to state for the record that I was in a production of this show several years ago and I may have some difficulty being totally objective. Originally I wasn’t going to post a review because of that, but I thought there were many good things about this show that needed to be shared, so I thought I’d risk the possible lack of objectivity on some things.
That being said let me first go over what I consider to be the good points. I would like to compliment all the actors for their excellent vocal projection and elocution. It was really nice to both be able to hear, and understand, the dialogue (often a rarity in many other productions).
I felt Erin Greenway was extremely strong in her portrayal of Corie Bratter. Not only did she capture the essence of the character, she also sounded a lot like Jane Fonda at times (not necessarily a bad thing). The fight scene later in the play was extremely well done and she did a magnificent job sustaining her energy through what is a very long scene while still navigating the twists and turns of her character’s stereotypically female behavior. She did a great take –off of Lucille Ball’s “wahhhh” which really brought the scene into the correct time period for me. She positively radiated youthful energy and naiveté.
Her partner in crime, Alexandros Salazar as Paul Bratter did a fine job of trying to be a fuddy-duddy and a stuffed shirt. One of the joys of this role is that it is hard to tell the difference between stiff acting and acting stiff. I felt that he was perhaps too handsome, and that his looks were a little too “suave” for the character. He presented himself as a little more “with it” than the character actually is. That may have more to do with his costume which I will get to later. But he really rose to the occasion during the fight scene mentioned above. He gave as good as he got, and he got given good! Real good!
Amy Gandolfi was splendid as the totally off-kilter Ethel Banks. She truly seemed to be totally awash by the goings on. Her deft comic timing and willingness to be foolish made it a joy to watch her get carried along.
As I played Victor Velasco (with mixed results) in the previous production I mentioned. I find it hard to be objective about Jimmy Johnson’s portrayal of the character. His choices seemed to be based on the character being more strange than exotic and more kooky than avant guard. While it was entertaining at times, it was also a little uncomfortable for me at times. It’s probably just my preconceptions and expectations for the role clouding my enjoyment of an otherwise good performance.
Lastly the two supporting roles: the Telephone man and the delivery man. Steve Pryor as Harry Pepper (the Telephone man) has some of the best lines and scenes in the play and he makes the most of them. He gets some of the biggest laughs early on and again when he returns later in the play. He really scored with the audience during the later scene where he is uncomfortably in the middle of an “I’m not talking to you” fight between Corie and Paul.
From what I understand the minor walk-on part of the delivery man is frequently played by neighborhood homeless people and/or winos (or even vagrant lighting techs). Apparently on the day I saw the show, none of the regulars were available, so the part was played by G. Scott Riley. He fell down, dropped the packages, wheezed and crawled off stage. Frankly I think a wino could have done it better.
All in all, I enjoyed this production, but I do have some minor quibbles. My main gripe is with the costumes and the set. Both were adequate and functional, but neither did enough to help set time and place for me. Barefoot in the Park is a period piece. It is not contemporary. It is the early 1960’s in New York City. I didn’t get any sense of time or place from any of the visual elements in the show (other than the Princess Phone). I do applaud the set decorations for the “after the furniture has arrived” scene. The opulent inappropriateness of the furnishings was absolutely character correct (even if not period correct). Another point was that Paul apparently has only one suit and it comes with a beautiful peacock blue shirt. It looked fabulous, but men didn’t wear colored shirts until much later in the 60’s or early 70’s – and a “stuffed shirt” kind of guy would only ever wear a plain white, button down collared shirt (and a skinny black tie - probably should have looked like a "Blues Brother"). One final visual thing that struck me was that Amy Gandolphi’s natural haircut did not seem to me to be period, or character, correct. I think a wig would have been worked better.
I know that costumes and sets are the first things that are affected by limited budgets, but they should also be the first things embraced by limitless imaginations.
Barefoot in the Park is a script that is getting a little “long in the tooth” in my opinion, but it still makes for a fun, light hearted, fluffy enjoyable theatrical experience. Especially when it is as briskly handled and as enjoyable as this production is!
|Don't Dress for Dinner, by Robin Hawdon
Farce At Its Finest!|
Saturday, October 4, 2008 ||
It’s Fall and farce is in the air!|
The leaves are falling and so are pants, skirts, blouses, and jaws!
Farce (British farce in particular) seems to be the favorite fare of many of our local theatres at this time of year. The problem for me is that it is so seldom done well (let alone correctly). Often productions lack the timing, desperation and high energy required for farce. Others mistakenly substitute slapstick (example: Aurora’s “Noises Off”) or slow the pace down (example: Georgia Shakes “Loot”). Productions like that, while still enjoyable, never reach their full potential in my opinion. Farce is all about physical and verbal rhythms and timing. When it is done correctly, it is an absolute blast to watch!
Stage Door’s current production of Robin Hawdon’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is that rarest of exceptions: not only is it very well done, it is also done correctly! It is a fast paced, fun filled, festival of flagrant frenetic silliness!
Key to this production’s success is its casting. Bobby Labartino as the duplicitous Bernard sets the bar high for this production. He sustains his impressive energy and timing throughout the show. His performance is the engine that drives this show, but never lets it run off the rails by upstaging or stealing focus. David Limbach is the perfect yin to Bobby’s yang. His performance is hilarious as the bewildered best friend (and comic foil) that is suckered, bullied and bandied about relentlessly by all the other characters. He plays bewildered and “put upon” with a reserved style that perfectly balances Bobby’s over-the-top scheming and manipulating. Together they make a wonderfully comic “Mutt and Jeff” combination.
The triumvirate of women in this show makes an incredibly impressive line-up! Kelly A. Young, Kelly Criss and Rachel Richards do a magnificent job of playing smart, playing dumb, playing along and being playful! Their combined talents for physical and verbal comedy were totally on the mark and their timing, delivery and pacing were also “spot on”! Women characters in farce are typically “eye candy” and stereotypes which can be “demeaning” to some actors, but these ladies aren’t afraid to embrace their roles with vigor and enthusiasm! They are each a joy to watch (and all are pretty easy on the eyes as well)!
Derek Randall rounds out the cast with his portrayal of George, the big, dumb, macho husband of the cook. The fact the he is neither big nor dumb, doesn’t stop him from delivering a winning performance.
One of the most impressive features of this production is the amount of detail director Robert Egizio has managed to incorporate into this show. There are sublime bits of business and perfectly nuanced gems of verbal comedy, not just rampant silliness (but there is also a fair amount of that mind you). The use of space in this show is both clever and interesting with blocking that is never static and definitely never boring. Egizio wisely built this production true to the genre of farce with high energy performances, fast paced action and split second timing. It is the work of a master in his element.
Chuck Welcome continues to amaze me with his set designs! Just when I thought I had seen the best he ever did, he tops that! This set is a wonderful blend of colors, textures, depth and layers. It serves the material and the actors exquisitely. The attention to detail in the set design and dressing is very impressive (the stair railing with wrought iron balusters, instead of wood ones, was a particularly appropriate, and refreshing, design choice). Knowing that he does this on an extremely small budget just increases my respect for his talent and skill.
The script by Robin Hawdon is a by-the-numbers farce with nothing particularly unique. It has lots of the standard double entendres, mistaken identities, scheming and stereotypical characters. That being said, it is well crafted and well suited to its genre (to quote whoever said it: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.”). Thank God it wasn’t trying to be anything else.
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” is a thoroughly enjoyable, perfectly produced slice of British farce that is a blast to watch! Go see this show! You’ll not only have a great time, but you’ll definitely see farce at its finest!
|Finn in the Underworld, by Jordan Harrison
Saturday, September 13, 2008 ||
I know I am not one of the “cool kids”. I am an overweight, bald, middle-aged suburbanite. I almost never wear black. I drive a Toyota mini-van. I am not that well read, that well educated, nor that well travelled. Mind you, I’m not stupid, I have travelled somewhat, and have been known to read a good book or watch a good movie.|
I enjoy Theatre. I don’t “live and breathe” Theatre. I don’t “devour” Theatre. I didn’t grow up in “Theatre” nor did I matriculate in “Theatre”. I simply enjoy it. I enjoy watching it and I enjoy paticipating in it.
I enjoy it when it entertains me. I enjoy it when it challenges me. I enjoy it when it tells me a good story or introduces me to an interesting person, concept, conflict or relationship. I am fascinated by its magical ability to impact an audience emotionally. I am awed by its spectacle and humbled by its creativity. I enjoy it when it's done well. I am joyful when it surprises me. I am thrilled when it delivers results beyond the limitations of its given talent and resources.
But the fact of the matter is sometimes I just don’t ”get it”.
I’m not really sure if anybody else “gets it” either, but they are usually cool enough not to let it show. I, on the other hand, am decidedly un-cool. If I don’t “get it”, I’m going to say I don’t “get it”.
My wife and I saw Actors Express’s current production of “Finn in the Underworld” on Saturday night September 6th. The director, the theatre company, the cast and the writer are all well respected talents. The promotional material (and the director himself in his curtain speech) promised an “erotic thriller” that would keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
The set was great. The lighting was great. The actors were great. The premise was clever. The presentation was creative.
But, ninety minutes later, as we left the theatre, we were confused and feeling decidedly “suburbanite”.
Wish I could say more about the show, but the bottom line is: I just didn’t “get it” (In all honesty, I’m not sure even the cool kids “got it” either (but they’ll never say so).
P.S. – I hate being stupid in public, so can somebody help me out here?
|Rumors, by Neil Simon
A Very Impressive Show!|
Friday, September 12, 2008 ||
Me and the missus headed off to see a show at Kudzu last Sunday to support some friends by adding our butts to the audience. Kudzu’s offerings this season have been considerably above average: “Same Time Next Year”, “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Enchanted April” were all extremely good shows that demonstrated Kudzu can deliver more than just Children’s Theatre. They are continuing that trend with their current production of Neil Simon’s “Rumors”. |
It all starts with the set.
Man is it IMPRESSIVE! Two stories! A balcony! More doors than Home Depot! Great looking furniture plus beautifully detailed set decoration that was spot on! This is definitely the best set I’ve ever seen at Kudzu! Not only does it look good, it functions perfectly and compliments the actors and the storyline exquisitely.
The setup of the story is that a party is being given by a New York couple to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and when the first guests arrive, the husband is upstairs in the bedroom bleeding from a gunshot to the head, the wife is missing and the help has gone. As more guests arrive, their speculations as to what happened, drives the story on a wild ride through, around, but nowhere near the truth of the situation. It is filled with sharp wit, great one-liners, clever situations and wonderfully comic characters. Neil Simon at his best for sure!
The next thing in this show that is truly impressive is the casting. I have been known to rant about the “meager resources” of talent available to many community theatre productions and the resulting compromises that must be made just to get a show “up”. It is rare when a director has a variety of good actors available when casting a community theatre show, and even more rare when he or she has a talent pool that provides the “right” actors for the roles that need to be filled. Director Greg Fitzgerald is either really lucky or he is very smart (Somehow I think it is a combination of both). He has cast the “right” actors in the “right” roles across the board in this production. Each actor is strong, confident and absolutely correct in their roles (even down to the smaller supporting roles)! No compromises in casting! That’s truly impressive!
The first guests are played by Lane Teilhaber and Stacy Bowers who get things off to a rousing start! Stacy nervously frets, chatters and blithers while Lane tries to calm her down and get things under control upstairs. These actors are well matched and are a joy to watch as they set the pace and the tone for what is to follow.
The next two through the door are Gordon Giddings and Dana Barrett. These two folks stole the show for me! What a treat! Gordon’s humble exterior belies his great comedic acting chops and timing. Dana Barrett matches him lick for lick and does a great characterization which reminded me of Joy Behar from “The View”. I am really looking forward to seeing more in the future from both of these talented folks!
Then we meet Melissa Tracy and Jeff Boyce. They amplify the already wacky goings on by adding a layer of off-beat characterizations and goofy physicality. These two are followed by Jim Butler and Brandy Meinhardt who arrive with their self-importance and self absorption firmly in place. They play the “Battling Bickersons” to perfection.
Last but not least, in the second act, the cops show up. Dan Verboski and Kelly Grady are so strong in these supporting roles, they could have easily been cast as leads. They play it totally clear-eyed and straight while everything, and everyone, around them is cock-eyed and askew.
Finally I must say what an incredibly impressive job Director Greg Fitzgerald has done with this production! The blocking and the pace are pitch perfect. The movement and timing is like clockwork. Long trips up and down stairs and in and out of doors don’t interfere, interrupt or disrupt the dialogue or story. Entrances and exits were performed with comedic synchronization that was a blast to watch. The characters are well defined both visually and vocally and dialogue is delivered clearly, cleanly and with no dead spots. The focus never wandered to anything it wasn’t supposed to be on. All the elements of this production worked together with great synergy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show, but there were a few technical things that I felt could have been better. Unfortunately, the stage lighting at Kudzu is barely adequate for this production and its double-decker set. There are too many shadows and dark spots onstage due to limitations in the number and type of lighting instruments available. I know this is a budget issue, but it is something I hope can be corrected in the not-too-distant future. The show looks good by maximizing what lighting is available, but it could be better in my opinion. Another little technical issue for me was that the sound system doesn’t allow for localization of sound cues. When an actor enters from a bathroom Stage Right, it is bewildering to hear the sound of a toilet flush coming from Stage Left. My last nitpick issue is the phone. Why was the decision made to use a cordless phone that had a low volume, and annoyingly electronic sounding (and consequently not funny enough)ringer?
OK, so that last paragraph shows that I have personal issues. So what? My wife and I really enjoyed “Rumors” and were very impressed to find such a wonderful production being done at Kudzu! See you don’t have to go downtown to see a good show! Check out “Rumors” – you’ll be impressed at the great time you'll have!
|Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams
May your reach always exceed your grasp…|
Sunday, August 31, 2008 ||
Rosewater is doing WHAT?!
They don’t even try to do that DOWNTOWN!
At a Community Theatre!?
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”?!
Don’t you mean “Cat in the Hat - SOMETHING”?
You mean THE “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”?
This could be… uh …
Much like people who go to a NASCAR event wanting to see a good race, but fearing they might witness a spectacular pile-up where someone gets killed, my wife and I headed to the Rosewater Theatre in Roswell Saturday evening to see their current production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.
I am acquainted with the director and have shared the stage with a couple members of the cast, so I wanted to go to support them in their efforts. Not ever having seen a production of this iconic work, I also thought it was a good opportunity to learn more about it (you never know when you might get a chance to audition for it in the future, right?). I was also very curious about the compromises a community theatre production would have to make to pull this off.
To continue the NASCAR metaphor (or is it a paradigm?)…
What we saw was a good race. No spectacular pile-ups. No one was killed or injured. The course turned out to be one of the most incredibly difficult ones I’ve ever seen. All the drivers made it to the finish line in good shape. No records were broken, but I would call it a successful race.
I came away from this production with a great respect for all the parties involved. This was an incredibly brave and courageous undertaking. Did Rosewater think they would sell more tickets by adding this to their schedule? I doubt it extremely. But they did offer theatre goers, and theatre participants alike, something dramatically different. That is to be supported and appreciated by all.
Another positive I came away with was the skill of director Mark Schroeder (known around these parts as Okely Dokely). Directing a work as monumental as this is also takes courage. Given the severe limitations of community theatre when it comes to budget and talent resources, the potential for unintentionally comic results is great. The layout of the venue dictated that “Cat” be staged “in the round” adding another challenge.
Mark effectively dealt with these limitations and challenges by maximizing the meager resources available to him. The blocking was varied, fluid and supported the dialogue and the characters very well. He avoided staging “tableaus” (which are deadly in the round) and kept his actors moving throughout the show. It seemed to me that he had worked the actors very thoroughly and had given them very detailed instructions on their movement.
The pace for this production was brisk. The actors never got a chance to lapse into the “theatrical masturbation” that can come so easily when working with great writing (but can kill momentum and impact in nothing flat). A very smart directorial choice if you ask me.
The cast also earns big points for their efforts. Just getting the “mechanics” (knowing lines, blocking, and keeping your energy level up) for a show like “Cat” is a Herculean task. This cast uniformly picked up their cues quickly, delivered their lines clearly with good diction and projection, and gave 100% of their energy to their performances. Everybody worked very hard and the results of that hard work showed. There was more heart in this production than I have seen in many professional shows!
Rosewater, director Mark Schroeder, and the cast of this production are to be commended for having the courage to even try to do this monumental piece of theatre. This production has its strengths and weaknesses, but above all else, it has honor.
|Don't Look At the Fat Lady, by Topher Payne
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 ||
I saw the first third of Process Theatre’s “3 by Topher” mini festival of world premiere plays by local playwright Topher Payne a week ago and was able to catch the rest on Saturday April 26th. The other two thirds focus on the lives that get summed up in a single catch phrase, slogan, or caption. Those whose 15 minutes of fame (or shame) we are well acquainted with, but of whom we have no substantive insight; just the buzz we get from TV news. |
The evening begins with “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady”, which introduces us to Gloria, a woman who became so obese, she literally grew into her sofa. We see Gloria seated on/in/amongst her sofa as we enter the theatre; she is huge; she is watching TV; she is eating; she is filthy; she is surrounded by a mountain of garbage; and she is immobile. She is “Jabba the Hutt” in a soiled nightgown.
As the audience is seated, she coos, laughs, and eats as she rapturously watches her TV. We hear familiar TV theme show music as she changes channels and mindlessly surfs the airwaves. Following the curtain speech, she begins to talk.
Is she talking to us?
Is she talking to herself?
Is she talking to the TV?
Or are we hearing her thoughts?
It was never quite clear to me what was happening here. This construct is part of what makes this a very interesting bit of theatre.
As she continues to talk, we learn how she came to be in her present predicament and how she is unable to escape from it. It is a confluence of physical, emotional, mental and social illnesses and dysfunctions. While her words are peppered with Topher’s trademark wit and trenchantly askew observations of life, there is an overall sense of helplessness (and hopelessness). It was damn depressing if you ask me.
As she shared her life story, I discovered, much to my annoyance, that because of my own personal baggage of being a child who grew up in an alcoholic family (with its issues of addiction and dysfunction) I could not find any sympathy in my heart for Gloria. I was mad at her and then I felt ashamed that I could not feel sorry for her. Gloria’s story touched a nerve in me. I don’t think my reaction was what was intended by the author, the director or the actor, but it is a testament to the depth of the writing and the quality of the performance that I was affected so strongly.
Jo Howarth brought an intense humanity and honesty to the monumental acting task that is Gloria.
Jo was denied the use of her body and movement, yet managed to communicate Gloria’s every emotion and dysfunction with a clarity that was astonishing. As an actor, the feat is even more impressive when you realize she is onstage by herself with no supporting players whatsoever: just her and her monologue. Talking, talking and talking for about an hour; no cues, no blocking, no scene changes. Alone. The potential for boring an audience to tears is great. But thanks to her talent and skill, she not only captured the audience, she became one with them in the same way Gloria became one with her sofa: slowly, subtly and (seemingly) effortlessly.
By the time Gloria’s story reached it conclusion, I was never more relieved to get outside, breathe and be thankful for my life! As I headed outside, DeWayne Morgan, the show’s director (and artistic director for Process Theatre) thought I looked a little pale and asked me if I was OK. I said I hoped the second act would be a little more like what I expect from Topher: clever, witty, and a bit goofy. DeWayne said “Well, in a “black humor” kind of way.”
The second “act” turned out to be four other stories of “people behind the TV news headlines” in a collection called “Above the Fold” (referring to the newspaper term for placement of headlines used to entice readers to buy newspapers). Each was a distinct take on sensationalistic TV journalism, but the writing was much closer to the style I’ve come to expect from Topher. The approaches to the stories were irreverent. The characters were unique, entertaining, and a bit goofy. The dialogue was razor sharp with some wicked wit. And there were a number of very clever surprises!
The second act started off with “A Brand New You”, an exploration of what happens when a young woman goes home to a small town after winning the grand prize on a plastic surgery makeover reality TV show called “The Butterfly”. It has a dark ending, but thanks to a great performance by Greg Morris as good ole boy husband Jim Jack, the journey is a delight. Amanda Cucher gives an intentionally flat take as Darcy, the vapid, self-centered, “rebuilt from the ground up” small town girl who doesn’t realize it’s the beauty on the inside that counts.
In “Fruit and Vegetable” (love that title!) a terminally comatose patient (the vegetable) played by Jo Howarth (ala Terri Schiavo) is being given a cosmetic makeover by a chatty beautician (the fruit) played with “fabulous” (code word!) exuberance by Greg Morris. Honey the things he says would make Joan Rivers blush! I really liked this piece. Once again it’s bittersweet, but the journey is a blast.
A “Michael Jackson”-like affection for inappropriate behavior with young boys is dealt with in “Don’t Act Like You Didn’t Know”. A scheming mother is trying to extract some financial compensation after her adolescent son becomes the victim of a famous star’s well known peccadilloes. Jo Howarth finally gets a chance to play a fully functioning adult in this one as the star’s brusque (but coldly practical) representative. Amanda Cucher is the sleezebag mother who has no problem with pimping out her son as long as there is something in it for her. Greg Morris is the victimized, but not necessarily innocent, young boy. All three turn in great performances in this piece. As the story progresses, we begin to wonder who is really the victim here. The ending is a true Topher Payne style surprise!
The evening closes with what was my personal favorite, “The Day Luke Woodham Killed All Those People”. This story is based on the first sensationalized “school shooting” in Pearl Mississippi in 1997. Luke Woodham shot up his school because he was tired of being picked on and bullied for being “different” (code word?). The story is told from an angle that is “totally Topher”! It is clever, witty and a little bit goofy. Jo Howarth does a splendid job of capturing small town kindness and naiveté as Teresa. I don’t want to spoil anything for you by explaining this one, but I will say the magnificent performance by Amanda Cucher as Holly was the perfect ending for the evening!
I found DeWayne Morgan’s direction for all of these pieces to be simple, effective and unobtrusive. There was not a lot of action and movement because it was not needed. The characters were fascinating, and their relationships were believable. These stories were presented visually with just the basics. This was totally appropriate in my opinion. The costumes and set pieces were minimal, but accurate and character appropriate. The “Above the Fold” video presentations did a great job of setting up each vignette.
All-in-all, this portion of the “3 by Topher” mini festival was considerably darker than the first third. I really enjoyed the first third, “Perfect Arrangement”, because it met my expectations: it was clever, witty and a bit goofy. It may have had a moral, but it did not have an agenda.
Still, “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady” and “Above the Fold” contained elements that were clever, witty, and at times, a bit goofy. The performances were on target and off center. There were no morals here (pun totally intended), but the agenda was unexpected. Is that a bonus or a liability? That is a personal decision for each audience member to make. Either way you see it, it does make for a stimulating and challenging evening of theatre! The “3 by Topher” mini-festival of world premieres runs through May 10th.
|Expecting Isabel, by Lisa Loomer
And Schadenfreude makes three.|
Saturday, April 26, 2008 ||
The Synchronicity Performance Group is a well established, well accomplished, professional theatre group that has received many accolades over the years from some of the best writers and reviewers around, so they hardly need any praise from a “schlub” like me. But I just had to share my impressions of “Expecting Isabel”, a comedy, which I saw last night (Friday April 25) in the back stage at 7 Stages. |
Man this was a good show!
It had a strong script, strong casting, strong direction and some delightful creativity in the staging. This production positively sizzles! The entire cast brings a wonderful energy, style and verve to the stage!
Normally I can find moments during the performance of a show (whenever a weakness appears in the script, acting, direction or production values) to take a step back and change from audience member to hyper-critical “butt hole” to analyze why I am perceiving a weakness. Since I am an actor, this usually occurs as an “echo” in my head when I hear lines delivered that cause a dissonance with my understanding of a scene or character. That never happened here! The only time I even came close to “checking out” was at the start of the second act when I recognized a monologue as one I had considered doing myself for an audition.
I was totally consumed by this performance from the first word through the final punch line.
The story is the trials and travails of a New York couple who have decided they are ready to have a baby. After a long period of no success, they find themselves on the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with trying to overcome infertility. Each twist and turn in their journey provide the basis for some wonderfully funny, and some truly touching, scenes and characters. The dialogue is crisp and true to character while occasionally offering some wicked wit (Picasso’s “Guernica” with Disney characters as a mural in a kids room!).
The cast is filled with first rate talent from top to bottom.
The leads, Daniel Triandiflou and Stacy Melich are the hub of this production. They inject the absurdist comedy with magnificent energy and then move to heart wrenching pain with exquisite skill and pathos. They bring honesty and sincerity to their character’s relationship which keeps the show centered, believable and entertaining.
The supporting cast is filled with actors who usually get cast as leads. They bring an incredible amount of talent, professionalism and craft to their multiple supporting character roles. There are many changes into many different characters; all of which are full-bodied and fully developed, thanks to their talent. Each transformation is done with a precision that keeps the show flowing smoothly and briskly.
I was especially impressed with the performances of Allen Hagler and David Howard who were outstanding in their various supporting roles. They were complimented by stupendously stellar turns from Suehyla El-Atar, Tiffany Morgan, Maria Sager and Lauren Vandemark. I wanted to be sure to mention everybody by name because I was truly impressed with each and every performer. The sum of this ensemble was indeed greater than its incredibly talented parts!
It’s funny, in a recent posting for another show I saw, I said that the direction was not obvious to me and that was a good thing. It is. But in this show, Rachel May’s direction was incredibly obvious to me, and that was a good thing too! The blocking, staging, character interaction, design and overall “feel” of this production was overflowing with overt creativity and style. It was an example of acquiring great talent in all aspects of the production and using it to its fullest. Only one person is responsible for that: the director.
I know everybody is probably sick of me gushing on this site over shows that I like. Maybe sometime in the future I will feel compelled to post a totally negative review for some show, but for now, there is enough negative energy in the world without me adding to it.
When I see something as enjoyably strong as this one, I feel the need to share it.
“Expecting Isabel” is worth much more than the price of gas, the ticket price, and the price of parking in Little Five Points. It is worth your time.
P.S. – For our younger readers who don’t know what “Schadenfreude” means - look it up!
|Perfect Arrangement, by Topher Payne
Hi Honey! I'm Homo!|
Monday, April 21, 2008 ||
I am a big fan of local playwright Topher Payne’s brain. |
It has the ability to create some very clever (and original) concepts. It also writes some pretty spiffy dialogue that runs from wonderfully funny to heartbreakingly profound. And it does this in a world where so many other writers steal rather than originate.
Seeing one of Topher’s plays is always a treat for me. I know I will be surprised by something delightfully clever, hear some witty dialogue, and be challenged to think about things in a new way. This holds true for “Perfect Arrangement”, one third of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival currently going on at the Process Theatre on Spring Street downtown. “Perfect Arrangement” is a bit of a morality tale, disguised as a comedy, with a bit of nostalgia thrown in for context.
The premise is clever: two couples, one gay and one lesbian, conspire to appear married to each other’s partner to keep their high profile 1950’s era jobs in the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.. This conceit is framed in the style of a stereotypical fifties sitcom with scenes and characters straight out of every classic TV show we all grew up with (with a heavy dose of “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy Show”). They must keep up appearances; lest they loose their jobs because being homosexual equals being unpatriotic in the “Red Scare” times of the McCarthy witchhunts. The situational and moral dilemmas this “Perfect Arrangement” causes are both the meat and the merriment of the show.
The cast for this little nostalgic romp through the good old days of repression and fear is an exquisite team of actors.
The ring leader for this couple of couples is Bob Martindale, played with great energy and charisma by Larry Davis. While his physical appearance is reminiscent of Dick York from the old “Bewitched” TV series, his characterizations and style were completely his own. One of the things that impressed me about his performance was that his character didn’t change between scenes where he had to “front” and scenes where he was being himself. I feared that there might be a “queen” factor when the character was “Gay Bob” as opposed to “Straight Bob”. There wasn’t any difference – apparently gay men don’t have to behave like “queens” to inform an audience of their sexual preference – what a refreshing experience!
Bob’s "Gay Wife” is Jim Baxter, who is given a sweet personality and a winning smile by Bryan Gordon Lee. Bryan is kind of stuck playing second fiddle through most of the show, but he provides the finale with its happy ending (not the kind of “happy ending” you’re thinking of – but close!). He spends most of the show being supportive, being a worry-wart, and ultimately being happy to be home because that’s where he can be himself.
Amanda Renee Baker so totally captures the essence of the stereotypical 50’s “Donna Reed” housewife its frightening. Her portrayal as Jim’s “Hetero Housewife” Norma (aka “Normie” – cute word play on “normal”) also makes me wonder if those 50’s TV housewives were all closet lesbians too?
Her “Lady Love” is Lily Yancey Miller as Mildred Martindale, Bob’s somewhat flighty wife and Norma’s somewhat conflicted lover. Lily does a masterful job of handling her character’s inner conflicts regarding her sexuality and her past, in addition to some outstanding comic moments when a “familiar stranger” appears at the front door.
That stranger is none other than the oft-talked about, famously loose woman, Barbara Grant; played with statuesque strength by Amanda Cucher. She is not nessecarily what she appears to be and Amanda keeps the mystique going with an adroit take on what a strong woman might be like in the 50’s.
All of the above actors get to play characters in both comedic and dramatic moments while two others are tasked with keeping the stereotypes funny and the comedy funnier! And they both do a splendid job employing deft comedic timing and precise delivery while channeling characters we all know from classic TV shows.
DeWayne Morgan adds the perfect touch of nostalgia with his portrayal of the stereotypical 50’s boss, “Mr. Sunderson.” His mannerisms and characterizations instantly brought back memories of “Mr. Mooney” from the old “Lucy” show (even though it was a staple of the 60’s – not the 50’s). He was the perfect blustery blow-hard boss, who is also fundamentally incompetent and is totally “whipped” by his wife
The coupe-de-grace in this incredibly strong cast is the fabulous Karen Whitaker as the air-headed Kitty Sunderson. She is absolutely hilarious! She looks like she just stepped out of a 1950’s episode of “Lucy” and delivers a splendid blend of many great female comic characters from classic TV (I could have sworn I detected hints of “Mrs. Foreman” from “That 70’s Show” )! She is a delight to watch as she subtlety deploys little comedic gems both verbally and visually during her magic time on stage.
I was truly impressed with the production qualities applied to this show. I expected things to be less than lavish due to the size of the venue and the limited financial resources of The Process Theatre; but I was bowled over by the accuracy and quality of the costumes and the wigs. The set was simple, but appropriate. The lighting was the same. The only thing I can quibble about was the 1950’s radio commercials used as transitions between scenes. They were often difficult to hear and bordered on unintelligible at times too. Not to mention they prevented the audience from applauding to show their appreciation after a good scene.
This particular third of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival was directed by local theatrical wunderkind Barbara Cole Uterhardt. While I can honestly say the direction did not stick out in my mind, I can also honestly say that’s a good thing! Barbara is well known as an “actor’s” director and that results in performances where the actor’s are comfortable in their characters and their movement on stage is natural and smooth. That’s exactly what I saw in this production and that kind of direction is a perfect compliment to the script and a pleasure for the audience.
You will have to go see this one because there are so many other wonderful things in this show that I haven’t been able to cover here. The show is presumably about homosexuality; but in truth, it is about humanity. If you are human, go see it. You’ll leave a little more humane.
Caveats & Stuff: I have been in a show (Bus Stop at Stage Door Players) with DeWayne Morgan and Karen Whitaker that was directed by Barbara Cole Uterhardt. I consider them to be friends, but that has nothing to do with what I have said in this “review” because I am not “reviewing” their friendship here. I am “reviewing” their work. My only negative comment about the show is that it is about 20 minutes too long in my opinion (I had the same comment about Topher’s “Attala County Garden Club”). I feel that the extra length here is due to the number of strong monologues railing against “the unfairness of it all” made by each of the “coupled” characters. I think the point could be made quite adequately in single strong monologue by one character, and the audience would probably still get the point. They’re all good monologues mind you, just beating a dead horse in my opinion. Of course, I’m way too lazy to write a play, so what do I know? I have already bought my tickets to see the other two-thirds of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival this weekend: “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady” and “Above the Fold”. Hope to see you there!
|The World Goes Round, by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Now THIS is entertainment!|
Sunday, March 16, 2008 ||
SDP’s “The World Goes Round” is a first class production! |
The combination of the talent on stage, in the pit, in the design and direction, behind the lighting and in the house management is head and shoulders above what a community theatre audience normally gets. The audiences for this show are getting one helluva bargain here! They are paying community theatre ticket prices for an incredibly professional quality production.
Let me say without a doubt, I am the farthest thing from a musical theatre geek. I’m not one of those people that get all excited and “moist” about the topic of musical theatre. I enjoy some of it and tolerate the rest. But it is not my first choice when it comes to theatre.
I do, however, appreciate good performances, no matter the genre. A good performance, for me, is when I see talented people performing well.
But, what I really enjoy is great performances! A great performance is when I see talented people WORKING!
“The World Goes Round” qualifies as a great performance for me, because these are not only extremely talented performers, but they are working every minute of the show! Great talent, when it is challenged, and excels, is the best if you ask me.
One of the things I really liked was that the singers were not wearing microphones. Even though the orchestra was mic’d and amplified (and mixed beautifully I might add). The singers had to project to be heard! And they did! And they stayed on pitch and kept a beautifully clear vocal tone at the same time! It was magnificent! The blend of the amplified “orchestra” (more like a pit band) and the un-amplified voices was perfect.
Stage Door is a more intimate venue than some other theaters that do musicals, so it worked very well here, but I sure wish more theatres would try to do it this way. Part of the joy of live performance for me is the dynamics of the music. It takes a lot of skill for an orchestra to play effectively without drowning out the singer. Likewise it takes a lot of skill for a singer to stay on top of an orchestra. I feel that mics on singers in theatre are often used as a way to compensate for a lack of skill.
As much as I would like to single out each individual performer in this show for praise, I can’t. No single one was better than the others. Each is gifted with superior talent and each performed with a level of exquisite showmanship that was very impressive; both individually and as an ensemble.
The direction of the show was “pitch perfect”. The bits of business, choreography and added props made the different songs even more entertaining, yet smartly kept the focus on the music. The movement on stage was smooth and well matched to the material and the performers abilities.
The production and design team also did an exquisite job. The set was simple. It was a multi-layered series of black flats painted with various show and theater titles which were individually illuminated at the appropriate time. This allowed the audience to keep up with the source of the song being performed.
This is not a complaint, just an example of how my mind works, but it reminded me of the closing credits to the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon show from the 60’s (Sorry Chuck).
The lighting (a much more elaborate approach than Stage Door normally does) was anything but simple, but was complimentary to the performances (although coming close to overshadowing it at times). The lighting designs at SDP have always been excellent, but this show’s design took things to a new level.
The orchestration was played with great skill and élan. The “orchestra” featured a mix of keyboards, a solo acoustic brass player and an acoustic drum set that was mic’d and perfectly mixed through the theatre’s sound system. The sound was full, but not overpowering, and was a tasty blend of tones which fit the performances (and the venue) perfectly.
Lest you think I loved absolutely everything about this show, be aware there were some artistic choices in the show that didn’t quite work for me personally: “Cabaret” as a jazzy arrangement reminiscent of “Manhattan Transfer” (for instance). And there were too many ballads in the song selection for my tastes. But these are personal differences in taste and in no way do I have any complaints about the quality of the performances (even if I have some disagreements otherwise).
This is a musical review in the truest sense of the genre. It is songs, songs and more songs with a little bit of visual “razzamatazz” added to give the eyes something to do while the ears are being treated to some aural delights. Though the source material came from some of the best musical theatre, this is not theatre. It is closer to a nightclub act in my opinion.
But no matter what you call it, above all else, it is most definitely great entertainment!
|All in the Timing, by David Ives
You don’t have to be smart to enjoy this production (but it helps)|
Thursday, March 6, 2008 ||
And all at the same time!
Onstage Atlanta’s presentation of David Ives “All in the Timing”, a random collection of 7 out of a total of 9 “one acts” per performance, is a thoroughly refreshing and fun theatrical experience!
The writing is deep, complex, and carefully thought out while also superficial, silly and completely disposable! You do have to pay careful attention because many of the “one acts” seem to have one topic at their center, while simultaneously offering a completely different one. Theatre like this that makes you think, while it also makes you laugh, is a rare event in this town these days!
I don’t want to go into the specifics of the collection of “one acts” I saw on Sunday March 2nd because I don’t want to spoil it. I prefer to keep my comments more general for this “review”. If I went into details here, there would be no point in encouraging anyone reading this to go see the show because I would have taken the fun and surprises out of it.
I will say however that part of the fun is getting swept up in the comedic styling of the pieces as the performance progresses. Many of the pieces really aren’t “one acts” in my opinion, but more like skits. Some are explorations of language, or an off beat idea, or variations on relationships, others are comedic “riffs” on a situation or idea and offer many different “takes” on the same setup. I was reminded stylistically of the late Shel Silverstein by a few of the pieces. This is a fine collection of “in your head” humor with a few truly funny “laugh out loud” bits too.
The look and feel of the show was seamless and very solid. The show features the acting and directing talents of the Onstage Atlanta “artistic company”. Each piece was produced by a different combination of OSA’s “company”. Even though each piece may have been directed by a different director and feature different actors, they fit together perfectly. I was expecting peaks and valleys from one piece to another, but that wasn’t the case. All the different pieces had a uniformity of quality in performance, direction and staging. It was consistently excellent throughout the show.
Lest I appear to be “in the pocket” of the folks at Onstage, I will say that I personally don’t really care for the gimmick of encouraging the audience to come again in hopes of seeing the two pieces they missed (that would mean they would have to sit through at least five other pieces they have already seen). That seems kind of dumb to me. Comedy the second time around is usually not as funny (which would make for a less enjoyable experience the second time around).
So if you like your theatrical comedy with a dash of intelligence, cleverness and wit, go check out “All in the Timing” at Onstage Atlanta at least once. I may not be that smart, but I’ve got to say you’d have to be dumber than a box of rocks to miss this one!
|See How They Run, by Phillip King
I smell something funny…OK, who farced?|
Saturday, March 1, 2008 ||
What’s fast, furious, and funny? |
(...when it is done correctly)
Rosewater Theatre’s current production of “See How They Run” tries very hard to capture the spirit of British farce, more so than many other productions of farces I have seen lately. The script is a bit of a handicap to the pace of the production because it takes its sweet time doing the exposition and setups. This gets things off to a slow start (which unfortunately takes most of the first act). It seemed to me that it was a pretty long time before the first laugh came.
But once the laughs start, they don’t stop. Once things pick up speed, the show hits its stride and doesn’t slow down again until the inevitable resolutions and explanations in the final scene.
Rosewater’s SHTR is staged “in the round” and, surprisingly so, I thought it worked fairly well. There were some minor issues with long crosses from one corner of the stage to another that affected the timing of some bits, but they were not deadly. My only other concern was the proclivity for the audience to incur whiplash due to constant neck craning to follow the fast paced comings and goings from the four corners of the stage!
On the whole I found the direction of this show to be “on point” and complimentary to the script while making good use of space and talent. Movement in a farce has more in common with choreography and stage combat than blocking, and there were several physical bits that were obviously well thought out. Which is much better than the mindless running around and screaming which seems to occur too often in other productions of farces. Mind you, there is still a lot of running around and screaming, but in this production it is not mindless.
Rosewater's SHTR is constrained by a “community theatre” budget which did limit the quality of the production values as far as the set, costumes, lighting and sound go. They were correct in spirit, but were inexpensive looking and could have used more detail.
The actors, for the most part, understood the fundamental character trait of all farce: desperation! They played their characters with gusto and a sense of fun that came across clearly to the audience. This was a fairly balanced cast in terms of talent, ability and effort, and they did a commendable job of keeping up with the difficult demands of the genre. Farce is all about frantic timing, constant desperation and fast paced movement, and each cast member probably looses a pound or two with each performance. Good farce is a workout!These guys and gals are working hard and they earn each and every laugh they get!
Overall “See How They Run” impressed me with its understanding of the spirit of British farce while providing a very enjoyable evening of community theatre entertainment. You should go by the new Rosewater Theatre in Roswell and see how it runs before “See How They Run” runs away forever!
|Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, by Richard Alfieri
Golden Girl Meets Solid Gold Dancer and Creates Golden Moments|
Thursday, January 10, 2008 ||
I got a chance to go see this show on it’s preview night (Jan 2) at Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET) in Roswell. I have seen a few other shows at GET, and while the shows I saw were good, they felt a bit “clinical” and “sterile” to me. They were very good from a technical standpoint, but they didn’t “move me”. |
To put it simply, “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” moved me.
The script isn’t totally responsible for making this such a good show. It is somewhat clichéd in its conception and structure. It is not exceptionally clever or artistic in its approach, but it is sprinkled with some of the best dialogue “zingers” and laugh lines I’ve heard in long time. The progression of the characters is fairly predictable too. We can all see where things are going, long before they get there. The “surprises”, “confessions” and “shocking developments” are not unexpected.
But as they say about life, “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.
The characters are stereotypes designed and built for conflict: A gay dance instructor, with a chip on his shoulder (thanks to some bad experiences), who was once an aspiring Broadway “chorus boy”; and a “weaned-on-a-lemon”, ultra-conservative, septuagenarian Southern Baptist Preacher’s wife. They wage war on each other’s values in the living room of her St. Petersburg, Florida retirement condo (with a view of the beach to die for).
In the end they discover their commonalities outnumber their differences and they become comrades and allies in life. (cue the “After School Secial” theme music). Like I said, not particularly original or clever, but that doesn’t stop this show from being thoroughly enjoyable.
What really makes this show transcend its clichéd conventions and stereotypes are the performances of Jackie Prucha as Lilly Harrison and Robert Egizio as Michael Minetti.
These are two incredibly talented actors with lots of experience behind them (particularly playing these types of characters). You are watching two strong, capable talents playing to their strengths. These actors know how to make these “types” into full-bodied “real people” that the audience can relate to and care about. They know when to let the script’s clichéd moments and ideas play as written, and they know when to re-shape them using nuance and consummate acting skill.
They play together like an ensemble. You never get the sense of competition or “one-ups-manship”. These are actors who compliment each other’s timing, technique and style so wonderfully, you buy their characters and situations completely (even though you know it’s a cliché). Neither one plays to the audience. They play to each other. That really heightens the emotion of their scenes (and the emotional investment the audience makes in their characters).
Another wonderful thing about this production is its mix of reality and theatricality.
The direction by GET Artistic Director Robert Farley effectively communicates the characters differences and commonalities through blocking that visually underlines the dialogue. When they don’t agree, they are physically far apart and when they do agree (or are finding “common ground”) they are physically closer. I know that sounds simple. It isn’t. The blocking is more varied than that, but it doesn’t add any unnecessary movement or layers either. It keeps the focus on the content of the scene. That’s what makes it so effective.
And then when the dancing begins, the reality fades into the theatricality. That’s when the lighting changes and the blocking have more in common with a lavish musical than a comedy about giving a dance lesson in a retirement condo in St. Pete! The actors move to a higher level on the stage as they dance and they are frequently framed in silhouette. Just like in the old movies! It is extremely effective and emotionally satisfying.
The set and lighting design have the same blend of reality and theatricality. In the stark lighting of the realistic moments, the set projects a kind of clinical luxury with a great (but undefined) vista. It embodies Lilly Harrison’s cold, fastidious and orderly approach to life. But when the dancing starts, the lighting effectively moves the set to another place. The vista becomes defined and the room looses its chill and becomes warm along with the characters. Again, it is very effective and emotional.
I really feel that the acting talent, the thoughtful direction and the production values applied to this production lift a decent script into an exceptionally gratifying evening of theatre. By all means, if you get a chance, go see this show. It is “golden”!
|Home for the Holidays 2007, by Robert Egizio and Chuck Welcome; Musical arrangements by Linda Uzelac
Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!|
Saturday, November 24, 2007 ||
You know what I like about Christmas? |
Usually not too much.
I have worked in retail for the last 25 years or so, and as such, Christmastime has always been something that I’ve endured, and not always appreciated. I know. I’m a Scrooge! A Grinch! A Humbugger!
When it comes to Christmas music, I kind of feel the same way. There are lots of Christmas songs that are great – THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD THEM! But, after hearing them 10 zillion times, they all grate on me. When it comes to Christmas, I’m definitely not the guy you want to invite over to your house for the Holidays.
And yet, Stage Door Players in Dunwoody did just that..
(OK, in reality they didn’t invite me. I bought a ticket – work with me here, OK?)
I was expecting to be hit over the head with a heavy handed dose of Christmas propaganda and Yuletide yada-yada-yada, combined with an overdose of syrupy Christmas songs. What I got instead was a Holiday version of the format that Stage Door does so well: the musical review (a bunch of songs strung together by a wisp of a plot sung by “easy to digest” characters). The gentle charm, strong talent and visual appeal of “Home for the Holidays” really won me over. I wasn’t expecting that. Did I mention that I don’t really like Christmas?
One of the first things that struck me was the sequencing of the songs. It was all of the usual suspects of Christmas music, but they were done in a way that wasn’t annoying, or cloyingly cute or affected. With only a few minor exceptions, they snuck up on me and surprised me with their poignancy and charm. Did I mention that I don't really like Christmas music?
A great deal of the show’s appeal is due to the talented cast, who basically fall into three couples: Mom and Dad, Joe and Mary, and Jack and Noel. While some are blessed with stronger voices than others, all of them blend together beautifully and each one has their own special qualities which are allowed to shine.
Cathe Hall Payne, as Mom, is the “poster child” for this show. She is a first rate all around entertainer! One minute she has the audience rolling in the isles with her great delivery, splendid comedic timing and quirky choreography. The next minute she has them choking back tears during her tender solo on “Grown Up Christmas List”. Her love of Christmas and her phenomenal stage presence combine to give her performance a glow that lights up the stage! A true holiday force of nature!
George Deavors, as Dad, has a lot to try to keep up with. He does his best, but is smart enough to let Mom run with it. He does a wonderful job of playing the ever hapless father figure. He is also just so damn cute! (makes you want to go up and pinch his cheeks, if you know what I mean) His rendition of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” was a standout of the evening and a big hit with the crowd!
Craig Waldrip plays Joe, the perennial overseas serviceman who manages to get leave and come home for Christmas as a last minute surprise. While Craig’s character was a bit thin, his voice was exceptional. Definitely one of the best voices I’ve heard on stage in a long time! His solo on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” left me awestruck. Absolutely outstanding!
Rachel Miller is Joe’s wife Mary who is keeping a secret for Christmas. Gee, a young newlywed whose husband, the soldier, is stationed overseas, I wonder what it could be? You’ll have to go see the show to find out! Rachel has a strong stage presence, a wonderful voice and a winning smile. However, what struck me most about her performance was her movement. She was very fluid and graceful in all of her dance numbers and I sure wish we could have seen more of her dancing.
Spencer Stevens is Joe’s buddy Jack. I love Spencer. Whenever he is on stage, I know I will be entertained. He has a good singing voice, commanding stage presence and a great sense of timing and character. He is a truly magnificent entertainer who was really impressive singing “White Christmas”. I do have one question though: does it mean that I’m racist if I chuckled to myself just a little bit when it started?
Summer Bergeron is Noel, Mary’s “can’t get a man” girl friend. Summer adds a really nice layer of fun and “sass” to the proceedings without succumbing to stereotypes or over-the-top characterizations. Her standout solo on “O Holy Night” was a beautiful showcase for her gifts as a vocalist. Quite impressive!
Of course all the talent in the world is useless without someone to tell them what to do and when to do it (and what they did wrong when they did it the first time). This show benefits greatly from the gifted touches of Director Robert Egizio and Musical Director Linda Uzelac. These two are total professionals who consistently deliver quality productions to their audience. Linda provided her usual flawless accompaniment with a little help from the magic fingers of the multi-talented R. Todd Fleeman.
In addition to the staging and musical excellence of this production, the visual appeal of the set is another tribute to Chuck Welcome’s design excellence. I swear, he simply doesn’t know how to build a crappy looking set, does he?
In his curtain speech, director Robert Egizio called this show a “Christmas card to their audience”. I disagree. It is not a Christmas card. It’s a nice warm hug from an old friend at the holidays.
P.S. A suggestion for future shows: since we never learn the last name of the family in the show, may I suggest Halliday? That way you could rename the show "Home for the Hallidays" or "Holidays with the Hallidays" or "Happy Hallidays"! Or not.
|Breakfast with Les and Bess, by Lee Kalcheim
The Times They Are a’Charming|
Saturday, October 20, 2007 ||
The Kudzu Playhouse in Roswell is fast becoming the little community theatre that could! It’s been a somewhat shaky year for them with many obstacles and difficulties in opening their new location and several unexpected changes to their line up for the 2007 season. Things didn’t look too good for the longtime Roswell community theatre for much of this year. But they finally got their new location opened (and by the way it is a major improvement over the old place – better parking, easier access, great seating and two stages!). Their first show in the new space, “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” (an unfamiliar title for many), was a bona fide hit, with many sold out performances and audiences who couldn’t get enough of it’s bawdy (yet exceedingly charming) geriatric comedy. |
On the heels of that success comes “Breakfast with Les and Bess”. It’s another unfamiliar title (for me at least), but another charmer of a show. The story is about a middle aged couple in 1961 who host a morning radio show from their New York City apartment. Each morning on the airwaves they talk about themselves, their famous friends and share stories of the previous evenings exploits among New York’s high society (kind of a sixties version of “Regis and Kelly”, only no video). They have been doing this for the past 10 years and have been quite successful. The problem is that it is now “the sixties” and the “times they are a changing” (both inside and outside their apartment). Add to that an 18 year-old daughter who has a big surprise for them and her older brother who can’t seem to stay out of the newspapers, and you have a formula for a nice slice of late fifties/early sixties Americana with lots of opportunities for farce-like desperate situations and light comedy.
This is more of a situation comedy, with a farce-like undertone of desperation, than an elaborate joke-fest. This one doesn’t have gut busting laughs, but it does have lots of fun, and funny, things and people. It felt more like a modern day comedy of manners than anything else to me. Not raucous, but quite enjoyable, and (dare I say it again? Yes! Dare! Dare!) charming!
This production was ably directed by Jerry Harlow, who did a wonderful job of maximizing the performances from a cast featuring many new faces to the Kudzu stage. The staging and blocking of the show was smooth and supported the dialogue and emotions of the scenes effectively (and correctly, in my opinion). There were several bits of “business” from different characters sprinkled throughout the show which added an extra bit of “funny” to a number of scenes. They weren’t over the top, or upstaging, but were a tasty bit of icing on the comedy cake.
Overall, the new faces in the cast were a very pleasant surprise. When I see, in the program, that someone is new to the stage or doesn’t have a long resume, I tend to lower my expectations. I didn’t need to do that here! The supporting players, while not necessarily the most experienced, were well cast and all were quite impressive! They understood their characters well, they knew their purpose in their scenes, they demonstrated good comedic timing and delivery, and most importantly, they worked as a team.
Cassie Ferguson, as daughter Shelby, was wonderfully effusive and full of energy and youthful exuberance. Joey Florez, as “Ensign” Roger was a standout for me. He has a natural flair for comedy. His facial expressions, timing and body language were all “spot on”. Brian Kahl, as brother David, doesn’t have as much to work with in the script, but he did a truly impressive job of creating a totally believable and entertaining character without succumbing to shtick or clichés. It takes a smart actor to know when to underplay a character. Another standout in the supporting cast was Gordon Giddings as Les’ old buddy Nate. His scene, with the many touches of inspired drunk “business”, is one of the funniest in the show.
The lead roles of Les and Bess were portrayed by Atlanta stage veteran Brink Miller and newcomer Denise Nogueiras.
The role of Les is another one than seems custom made for Brink. He slips into it with an ease and comfort that belie his skill. I know Brink was working really hard in this role (and especially in this production), but I also know it looked to the rest of the world like he was just cruising along. They say the good ones always make it look easy. That’s true with Brink’s performance here. Believable, entertaining and (oh no! not again!!!) charming!
Denise Nogueiras is new to Atlanta. Her bio mentions that she is returning to the stage after somewhat of an absence. Her choices for Bess were consistent and appropriate to character. She has very good stage presence and seems comfortable and confident onstage. The scenes with Les, where Bess was being sincere, were strong, but her scenes of comedy and desperation could have used a little more energy in my opinion. She also hit me on one of my pet peeves: projection. She has a good voice with great diction and enunciation, but in a number of scenes her volume was way too soft. She is obviously a good actress, but I suspect this role is a little more than she is used to. As the run continues, and she gets used to carrying such a large and demanding role, I’ll bet she finds the key to make the comedy and desperation as energetic and strong as the sincerity. She’s got the talent and I am anxious to see more from her in the future.
Wally Hinds is apparently enjoying his new theatre because this set is taller and more detailed than the sets at the old Kudzu. OK, it’s an apartment, and it is not especially imaginative or unique, but there are some really neat details and set dressings which add a nice layer to the show. The bulk of the costumes looked good and were correct for the characters. I especially like the way Bess looked in the second act. Her hair and dress were exactly correct in my opinion.
And now for the things I feel the need to mention because they affected me in a negative fashion. The stage lighting appears to be in a period of transition for the theatre at the present time. The focus areas of the stage where some key scenes happen were lit well, but there were a number of shadows onstage which caught my eye during some of Les’ monologues. I feel sure that was due to a limited number of instruments available for this show. While most of the costumes were character correct and close to period, Roger’s uniform in particular didn’t fit well and looked like it needed some minor repair. Shelby’s hair style didn’t work for me. It was not period or character correct and detracted from her otherwise strong performance. Costumes, hair and makeup should always enhance a performance, and when they are not correct, they steal focus away from the performance and reduce the effectiveness of that performance.
That concludes my lecture for today…
I encourage you to go to the new Kudzu Playhouse in Roswell and spend an evening with Les and Bess. Have some breakfast. Breakfast at their house is a charming affair filled with fun and humor. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
|Lettice and Lovage, by Peter Schaffer
British Comedy at its Best!|
Sunday, September 16, 2007 ||
Although the title sounds like a recipe for a good healthy diet, this show is a recipe for a great evening of entertaining theatre! It’s a British comedy featuring two very strong actors in well written roles performed with confidence, clarity and exquisite skill. While the show is not really a farce per se, the situations and characters are most definitely eccentric, odd and incredibly interesting. It is three acts of delightful entertainment, during which my attention never wavered and their energy never flagged. A truly joyful theatrical experience! |
I hold different theatres to different standards. And as such, I hold professional theatres to the highest standards. If you are using equity actors and charging more than $20 per ticket, I expect to see a professional quality production well worth the price of the ticket. I may have differences of opinion artistically, but I do expect to be “shown the money”. After seeing quite a number of underwhelming productions from our local “professional” theatre groups lately, The Shakespeare Tavern’s “Lettice and Lovage” has restored my faith in Atlanta’s live professional theatre scene!
I saw “L&L” on a Sunday night on opening weekend with a less-than-packed house. If they wanted to “coast” during a performance, this one would have been a good candidate to do just that. But they didn’t. They worked and they worked hard. The actors put forth wonderful energy and demonstrated great comedic timing and delivery, giving this somewhat meager audience (compared to my other visits to “The Tavern”) a first rate performance. I have a great deal of respect for those that work hard. Aside from that respect, it just happened to also be a wonderful show. Well written, well staged, well directed, well cast, well designed and well lighted. The "money" was being shown!
The sets are sparse (and rightly so in my opinion) because that is all that is required. This show is about the characters; and anything else, visual or otherwise, that distracts the audience from the performances would only hurt the overall effect of the show.
The performances by Janet Metzger and Joanna Daniel are exquisite. These are two very talented actors who have great chemistry together on stage. Their timing and interplay was spot on and playful. I do not wish to praise one above the other because, although Joanna Daniels carries the bulk of the show (and does so wonderfully), it is the two of them together that make the show!
While I always try very hard to be kind in my comments about every production I see, I am not usually this effusive. Go see “Lettice and Lovage”! I hope it will restore your faith in Atlanta’s live theatre like it did mine. It is a rare production that is this solid from top to bottom.
Caveats: I do not know anyone associated with this production. I paid full price for tickets for my wife and myself (dumbass that I am, I forgot about my ACPA discount). To put it very simply, I really enjoyed this show. I think you will also.
|Fool's Paradise, by Peter Coke
Hey Ma! Look what I found in the basement!|
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 ||
I have a soft spot in my heart for Polk Street Players. This community theatre group has been in operation since 1979 and is the quintessence of a community theatre. Their performances are presented in the “Stellar Cellar”, a rehabbed, reclaimed corner of the basement of the historic St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta. Their stage is not big enough to park two economy-sized cars on, their seating will accommodate only about 50 patrons, and if you sit in the back, be mindful of the low hanging support beam (it’s wrapped in Styrofoam so you don’t get hurt if you hit your head on it). The place is tiny, but it is filled with love and warmth that you feel from the minute you arrive for a show.|
The lobby area is also tiny, but it is overflowing with poster paper marquees pasted with snapshots of the many past productions done under their auspices. If you look closely, you’ll see many well known local community theatre actors, as well as many housewives and businessmen who once gave acting a try. Polk Street is all about sharing the joy of putting on a show. Like many other local community theatres, Polk Street has meager physical and financial resources, but they have huge hearts and an abundant love of theatre.
Due to the wonderful support of their patrons (and the limited seating), many of their performances are frequently sold out. Their audience is more than just the St. James “church folk” family and friends; I see folks in the audience that I have also seen at Stage Door, Theatre in the Square, 7 Stages, and many other more “acclaimed” theatres around town. Polk Street is more than just a church basement community theatre; it is a touchstone for our theatre community. A pilgrimage to Polk Street re-instills in us the simple joys (and occasional foibles) of community theatre and live performance in an intimate setting.
I got to see their current production, “Fool’s Paradise” on opening night thanks to a little bit of luck. My wife and I just happened to be in the neighborhood, but didn’t have reservations. Thanks to a last minute cancellation we were able to get in. As usual, I knew a few folks in the cast, and was grateful for the opportunity to be able to see and support them in this show.
“Fool’s Paradise” is a British farce from the pen of Peter Coke, a veteran of British entertainment. It is pretty much standard in its construction: eccentric characters, implausible situations, desperate circumstances and a finale where all ends happily after all. It is not a remarkable script, (the plot involving some bequeathed Emeralds being sold to save the day is irrelevant) but it is a sturdy one (albeit a bit long with three acts). I must also say it is very (er, make that “veddy”) British with a few jokes, references and slang that only a native Briton will understand. The comedy in this script isn’t driven by punch lines and jokes as much as it is by the eccentricities and interactions of the characters.
Director Michael Campion (a native Londoner in days of yore) brought as much true English flavor to this production as he could. The entire play takes place in one room and the set was the best designed, decorated and built I’ve ever seen at Polk Street. I was quite impressed at the detail of both the set decorations and the way the walls of the room were convoluted to give the impression of a much larger space. The view out the window onstage was exquisite (and the lighting of it was perfect as well).
The cast of this show is comprised of 8 people (a veritable crowd on Polk Street’s tiny stage) who made up one of the stronger ensembles seen on this stage in a while. While their accents were occasionally fleeting and inconsistent, their sense of fun never flagged. Although I prefer my British farce with more energy and a quicker pace, the audience seemed to take well to the somewhat slower tempo of this production. Diane Hail as the ancient housemaid, Rose, virtually stole the show! However she had a lot of competition from the likes of Murray Sarkin as the Hungarian hustler Julius Claxton, Anita Stratton as worrisome Catherine Hayling, and Carolann Peoples as former actress Jane Hayling. The supporting roles featured some strong performances from Roger Albelo as the future groom Philip Hayling, Suzanne Caglar as the sweet ingénue Susan Dawson, Annie Jefferson as the glamorous Fiona Renshaw and especially Mary Nimsgren as the germ-a-phobe Brigette Blair. Occasional lapses in accent and a minor “going up” on lines is something I can overlook because the affected actors got back on track smoothly, quickly and never broke character!
“Fool’s Paradise” is a prime example of what community theatre is all about: folks who love theatre (but don’t do it for a living), having fun putting on a show. Even if the audience doesn’t get all the jokes, they definitely get the fun and share in the joy of live theatre.
|Annie Get Your Gun, by Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin; Book by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
“Annie Mic Your Gun”|
Monday, September 10, 2007 ||
Let me start off with the statement that my wife and I really enjoyed this show (so much so, that we signed up for season tickets on the spot)! We went to see it for a number of reasons: check out the new Aurora “Castle”; see, and support, some friends in the cast; and get my card punched for seeing a classic musical that I’ve never seen before. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “But Rial, how can you be a theatre geek without ever having seen “Annie Get Your Gun”?” (In fact I have never claimed to be a theatre geek, only a theatre slut). |
This production was solid and well oiled. It flowed smoothly and effortlessly from scene to scene with an impressive demonstration of creative staging and blocking. There were also a number of cool stage tricks, including an aerialist rope trick with Annie shooting at targets while swinging from a rope high above the stage. Dangerous, but very cool!
This was a very talented cast stuffed with great voices, good actors and fluid dancers. Not everyone could do everything, but those that could, did. And did it well! OK, I admitted I came to support some friends in the cast, and after this performance, I am proud to say I know them (they, of course, will deny ever knowing me). To Babs, Googie, Anthony, Sims, Spencer and Allison, you guys rock! Wonderful work from all of you! Rob Lawhon was a solid counterpoint to Annie, and has a good voice which he used effectively. The only critique: I felt he was a little too “civilized” in his mannerisms and could have used a little more “machismo”. The rest of the cast was also solid and made a great and powerful ensemble in addition to their featured individual scenes, songs and characters.
And now for the surprising delight of my visit to this show: Natasha Drena. This gal has got it all! Her commanding stage presence, radiant energy and magnificent voice add up to a wonderful treat for any audience. I, for one, felt like I was seeing a true star in the making. (I just realized this sounds like a stage mother praising her junior high daughter’s beauty pageant performance – sorry about the clichés, but it is how I feel). Don’t miss the chance to see her if she graces another local musical production!
As for the look of the show, the costumes were good, and fit the actors well. I especially liked the Ballroom costumes. The lighting was accurate, effective and appropriately executed. However, the sets were not up to the quality of the costumes or the venue. I know they were supposed to be “rustic”, but they looked more like the result of “community theatre” budget and construction skill. They weren’t bad, just not up to the same high quality as other elements in the show.
Speaking of quality in the show, I must make special mention of the band. The music was excellently performed and perfectly orchestrated. The blend of the instruments with the voices was also very well done.
From what I have read, the show was written with that demure little wallflower Ethel Merman as the intended Annie Oakley all along. She made the role her signature and made Broadway history at the same time. And she did it all without wearing a microphone! Just imagine the heights she could have achieved if she’d only used a mic!
Micing is a pet peeve of mine. I understand the need for it (especially in a venue as large as the new Aurora space), and I often recommend the use of it (based on a performers abilities), but for this show, and this production, in particular I felt it hurt the artistic quality of the performance. The use of mics allowed the singers to hold back on their energy. They were able to finesse the songs when (in my opinion), the songs deserved more power, projection and energy. While the technical functioning and implementation of the micing in this show was excellent (no accidental broadcast of backstage comments or clothes rustling, etc.), the tonality of the voices became “canned” and sounded less than natural to me. I said it was a pet peeve didn’t I? Now that I have petted the peeve, I’ll move on.
In summation, I will say this: It was a solid production of a classic musical performed by an able cast (with a little bit of help from Audio-Technica).
|Pump Boys and Dinettes, by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann
Song(s) of the South...|
Sunday, August 5, 2007 ||
Pump Boys & Dinettes is another one of what appears to be Stage Door Players’ favorite format this season: the “musical review”. It’s not a full-fledged musical with a plot and scenes, but more of a series of vignettes designed to introduce the songs. Like “The Taffetas” before it, it is an amalgam of tunes wrapped in a theme, with just a wisp of a storyline. This show’s purpose is to entertain, not to tell a story. And, by God, entertain it does! It is a lightweight bit of fluff, but that doesn’t stop it from being wonderfully entertaining. |
Loosely set in a male/female gender divided “Mayberry”-like world of “The South” where the men work at “The Filling Station” and the women work at “The Diner”. The women are clever, cook the food and keep the men on the straight and narrow, while the men are fundamentally lazy, forgetful and have a fondness for liquor. The women are lonesome (but not horny) and the men are dumb (but not stupid). But each and every character has a heart of gold and is just happy to be who they are and where they are (no matter how clichéd it may be)!
Unlike “The Taffetas” the songs in this one are all original to the show. Many are “throwaways” but there are a few tunes that come across quite well (a personal favorite was “Vacation”). As I have said before, a musical without memorable music can’t hope to succeed. It doesn’t have to have a good plot, but it absolutely has to have good music and “Pump Boys” has that in spades!
A great deal of the credit for the success of this one goes to the cast. They are the band AND the singers AND the dancers! There is a long standing joke about musicians (especially guitar and bass players) that says the reason they play is because they can’t dance. While the choreography has more in common with 80’s MTV than with Broadway, the fact that director Jeff McKerly got musicians to move at all (let alone in time and in unison – while playing and singing) was an impressive accomplishment. (They don’t bump into each other or anything!)
As for the singing…the voices were strong across the board! The ensemble blend was good. The harmonies were strong and the projection over the instrumentation was very good. The guys were good. The girls were even better. This show is about the music and this production keeps its focus on the music and doesn’t disappoint.
Many of the cast are transplants from Mr. McKerley’s preceding show “Cabaret” at the Shakespeare Tavern. These folks were part of a strong ensemble in that show and I can see why he cast them here also. Matt Nitchie’s performance here is solid, on point and thoroughly entertaining. Mark Schroeder once again demonstrates his dexterity by playing multiple instruments and delivers two of the standout songs in the show. In the second act his “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine” moves from a campy joke to a sincere ode thanks to his talent and wonderful voice.
I am at a loss for words when it comes to Bethany Irby and Marcie Millard. Individually they are impressive, but together, they combine to form something greater than the sum of their talent. They each have a commanding stage presence, great voices and give their all to their performances. A real treat for any audience!
The non-Cabaret members of the cast are Dolph Amick and Dan Bauman. I have a special place in my heart for these guys because they are gigging musicians. Their playing was tight, their singing was good, but above all else, their attitude was the epitome of “cool”. They were the icing on the show!
Now to the folks you don’t get to see onstage…
Director Jeff McKerly did a smart thing here: he let the show be what it was: Simple, Corny, White, Straight and an excuse to break into song at any moment. I know Jeff is from Alabama, and his roots and love for these “southern” characters shines through (even though the characters felt more like the Carolinas, not the “Deep South” to me). Jeff’s direction in “Pump Boys” is a prime example of good work: he doesn’t change, or get in the way, of the material. He enhances it.
While she wasn’t physically accompanying this show this time, Musical Director Linda Uzelac once again showed why she is revered and respected in our theatre community. It was obvious that an incredible amount of work was put in on the performance of the songs. The performers knew the music well and performed it with confidence, enthusiasm and comfort. Somehow I think that can be attributed to many hours of rehearsal under Linda’s skilled eyes and ears. I will admit I missed seeing her playing along just offstage (maybe she’s playing along at home each night).
Now that Chuck Welcome is officially an old man (he recently turned 40), I have to be kind and forgive him for any mistakes or bad judgment in his set designs. The set was a schizophrenic dichotomy of Diner interior and back porch exterior which, when viewed before the show began, left the audience confused. However, when you added actors, storyline and songs the set worked perfectly for the show! Was it a lucky break or an intentional design choice? Hmmmmm? Once again, Chuck has demonstrated his mastery of set design and construction on a budget. Form, function and budget combined to present a perfect vista for this production. Not bad for an old guy!
If you are expecting musical feats or big production numbers, “Pump Boys” is not for you. If, however, you are out for a totally satisfying evening of cornpone characters, featherweight storylines, and heavyweight talent, take Highway 57 to Stage Door’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes”!
|Godspell, by John-Michael Tebelak, Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
It’s not the spelling so much. It’s more about the math...|
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 ||
...the plusses and the minuses |
(however “Godmath” just doesn’t have the same ring now does it?).
On Sunday July 29th my wife and I saddled up our camel and made the trek from stately Ellsworth manor in Woodstock to Gwinnett to see Button Theatre’s inaugural production of Godspell. The prospect of a new theatre, a new show and a new venue turned our journey into an adventure!
Our attendance was the direct result of some personal encouragement from cast member Kristie Krabe. I do not know Kristie that well, but I have seen her perform prior to this show and feel that she is one of the finest musical theatre talents around, so I was intrigued to see a show she felt so strongly about.
When we arrived, we noticed our friends “The Family Rudy” (pseudo-critic Brad, his lovely wife Barbara and their 6 ¾-year-old-daughter Julia) were in attendance as well, so we joined them on the front row.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of sitting on the front row because I always feel the need to be sure to radiate support and enjoyment (under normal circumstances I am not so facially demonstrative during a performance). I much prefer the anonymity of sitting in the back of the house with a good view. But the intimacy of the seating made the show a much more personal experience.
I had never seen Godspell prior to this performance (neither the movie nor the stage version), so this was a totally new experience for me. I was alive (a teenager in fact) in the early 70’s (yes I owned a pair of rainbow suspenders too)and was familiar with the overall style and character of the show and its hit song “Day by Day”. So I will admit to having some minor preconceptions.
As is always the case with any production, there were some plusses and some minuses (thus the math theme to this review). I will elaborate by category…
On the plus side: this cast is packed with talented actors who are strong singers with good voices, good pitch and projection. Even though most are “A+”, the others are at least a “B-“ and are not forced to showcase their weaknesses (as so often happens in other shows). All voices are splendidly matched to their material. Even the weaker voices do not falter or strain, but are weaker only by comparison, not by ability.
On the negative side: some of the dialogue was not as strong and well projected. There were a number of actors in the show who were “lions” when they sang, but became “mousey” or “mush-mouthed” when it came time to speak.
On the negative side: Part of the fun of musicals (to me) is the extra emotional impact the music has on the story. This production chose (I assume forced to by budget) to use “backing tracks” instead of a band or accompanist. This transformed the show into “musical karaoke“ (which was disappointing for me). I would much rather have a single piano if you can’t afford a band. It’s a “live” performance and the pre-recorded backing really lessens the experience. The tonality of the sound system was thin and reedy which also weakened the “rock opera” experience. Many of the songs were dated and reeked of “the 70’s”.
On the plus side: the volume of the playback was kept at a level which supported the singers instead of overwhelming them. The music on the backing tracks was well played and orchestrated very effectively. The show still has a few strong songs that have held up well over the years. The Charlie Brown “happy dance” was cute.
On the plus side: the show was staged “in the round” which added a wonderful sense of intimacy and inclusion. The use of blank black boxes instead of backdrops or major set pieces allowed for creativity and flexibility. The lighting enhanced the emotions of the crucifixion scene. The turntable on the box Jesus was standing on was also a cool touch.
On the negative side: the show was staged “in-the-round” which meant that each side of the room missed something from time to time. The use of blank black boxes is kind of cliché and unimaginative. The lighting was ineffectual most of the time.
On the plus side: the theatre was clean, in a new building, the air conditioning worked well, there was lots of parking, and it was easy to find. The acoustics added a beautiful reverb which enhanced the ensemble passages.
On the negative side: the acoustics added a horrible reverb which did a serious amount of damage to the intelligibility of every solo or spoken voice in the performance. The air conditioning worked perhaps a little too well (it was positively frigid at times). The A.C. was also a little bit noisy and cycled on during a very quiet and emotional passage which caused further distraction and detraction from the performance.
On the plus side: the Christians in the audience know the story and, if they are Baptists, don’t have to pay attention too closely (it’s just a little joke, OK?). When the play was new, it was shocking and fresh to have this story told in such a “hip” and “modern” fashion.
On the negative side: The story being told in this fashion now seems dated and trite. There are no new insights or perspectives contained within. The play is all about the style, not the story.
On the plus side: a wonderful attempt to creatively reflect the energy, faith and joy embodied in the story. The choreography was well executed. Staging “in-the-round” is difficult and there was a strong effort to make sure everyone got to see everything.
On the negative side: the energy, faith and joy frequently came across as superficial, forced and not always “honest”. The choreography wasn’t very distinctive and some of the actors seemed self-conscious and uncomfortable with their movements. Staging “in-the-round” is difficult and doesn’t lend itself to static staging of scenes (of which there were more than a few in this production).
On the plus side: they were inexpensive and colorful.
On the negative side: It seemed to me that each person’s costume expressed their “individuality” in a somewhat “uniform” way. It wasn’t necessarily that everybody was wearing the same uniform, it was more that each personality was uniformly expressed (layers and kneepads and stripes, etc…) thus resulting in a lack of individuality.
On the plus side: lots of good vocal talent and heart. This is a strong and talented cast who handled the material confidently.
On the negative side: the venue’s acoustics, the “karaoke” accompaniment, the somewhat dated and limited appeal of the material.
In this inaugural production, The Button Theatre chose to play it safe (and “broke even” in my opinion). They chose a well known musical with a few well known songs. In a musical, the most important part is the singing and they cast “singers who act” rather than “actors who sing” which was an important choice. Musicals are expensive to produce and they scrimped wherever they could and chose to stay within an obviously tight budget. They didn’t go overboard with their creativity by being radically experimental with their staging or direction. The cast was well rehearsed and the show was definitely ready to be performed.
All of their choices were very practical and smart.
Longevity in theatre is a balancing act between art and commerce. You need to have enough "art" to attract and satisfy your talent, but you also need to take care of business by attracting and satisfying your audience. There are plusses and minuses to both. If they continue on this course, I suspect The Button Theatre will grow into one of Atlanta’s theatrical landmarks. Like the song says “Prepare ye the way!”
|Cabaret, by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Its Springtime for Shakespeare und Germany!|
Friday, June 15, 2007 ||
The Shakespeare Tavern’s production of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” is an exceptionally strong, thoroughly enjoyable performance. |
Director Heidi Cline has assembled an impressively talented cast and crew which effectively entertains and moves the audience through this tricky and ambitious story. She is extremely creative in the staging of this production. The musical numbers are (for the most part) quite impressive and are performed by “singers-who-act” and “dancers-who-act”(a good thing). Some of the acting comes across the same way (not as good a thing). I’m not talking about “bad” performances here, only that some elements of the show are so strong that they make other elements look weak by comparison. This is a big, complicated show which requires some very challenging performances for it to succeed. Ms. Cline succeeds because she gets 200% out of everyone (and everything) in this production because 100% would not have been enough.
I have a deep appreciation for productions which are efficient, frugal and effective. There is a special kind of creativity required when a show doesn’t have a huge budget and unlimited resources. These challenges for “Cabaret” were impressively met with ingenuity, cleverness, and occasionally mixed results.
Question: How on Earth do you produce a show that requires so many resources you can’t afford and are not easily found?
A large number of cast members do double duty in the orchestra when they are not onstage acting, singing or dancing. Many also play multiple roles. The degree to which this is employed in this production is impressive (and impressively frugal)! This did not impact the show negatively. In fact, it increased my appreciation of the high quality of the work I was seeing. Kudos to the cast, the ensemble and the orchestra (and especially to Mark Schroeder, Ellen McQueen, Bethany Irby, Jeff Watkins and Clark Weigle -if I missed someone else by name, I apologize), who often seemed to be in two or three places at the same time!
Jeff McKerly as the Emcee is such a pleasure to watch because he is confident, capable, energetic and always entertaining. The man does not know how to give an audience anything less than his best. He skillfully moves from over-the-top comedy (his strong suit) to gut wrenching drama with total command of his character(s) and awareness of his place in the scene. Two highlights featuring Jeff were his song in the second act “I Don’t Care Much” and his appearance (SPOILER ALERT) at the end in a concentration camp uniform. Jeff’s physicality and coloring really made that image incredibly powerful.
His multi-tasking assignment was to serve as choreographer. There were many dance numbers in this show involving large groups of dancers (and “actors who dance”). The numbers were well designed and executed. A minor point: I will confess to feeling that, in the “Kit Kat” numbers, some of the moves seemed repetitive and some moves were needlessly pornographic (instead of erotic). Not a bunch, just a few. Overall, the choreography was a strong asset to the show. The opening number (“Willkommen”) and “If You Could See Her” (in Act 2) were standouts for me. Lots of fun and lots of interesting movement!
I found the chemistry between Clark Taylor (as Herr Schultz) and Ellen McQueen (as Fraulein Schneider) to be exceptional. Not always the strongest singing voices or the acting choices I would expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed their moments together onstage!
Agnes Harty (as Sally Bowles) has a wonderful voice and nailed her songs! Her chemistry with her primary scene partner, Matt Nitchie (as Clifford Bradshaw), wasn’t as strong or believable for me. Her performance of the signature song, “Cabaret”, in the second act was absolutely magnificent and was a highlight of the show!
Jeff Watkins, Lala Cochran and Clark Weigle all delivered strong performances. They exhibited their talent and intelligence by structuring their performances to appropriately fit their supporting parts.
My biggest praise must go to the ensemble. These folks worked their asses off! They performed with an impressive level of energy, talent and professionalism driving the show to its highest points! The “Kit Kat” girls and boys most definitely rule!
The set design is a creative solution to the Tavern’s problem of limited stage space, no wings and no fly loft. It is artistic in execution and interesting to look at. The design was unconventional to say the least. On the whole, it worked, but for me, it had a negative effect on the performance. It added time between scenes (and to the run time of the show) and it caused lots of extra (extraneous and otherwise unneeded) movement by actors.
Due to the somewhat hazardous nature of the set design, I was subconsciously worried about the performers’ safety during the course of the show (which, for me at times, drew focus away from their performances).
I found the costumes to be adequate to the needs of the show while remaining appropriately frugal in nature. Seedy and cheap is supposed to look seedy and cheap – and it did! The rest of the costumes were period and character appropriate, fit the actors well and looked good. My only question: why did they choose to use “clip-on” suspenders instead of the “button-down” kind? (Jeff’s suspenders kept coming unclipped in the back).
All in all, “Cabaret” is a thrillingly ambitious and impressive production. I hope the Tavern will consider adding more shows like this to their future seasons as a change of pace. If you haven’t already seen it, go see “Cabaret”! It is well worth the price of admission (but you might want to bring a first aid kit – just in case someone on stage misses their mark).
|june groom, by rick abbott
Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get funny!|
Saturday, June 9, 2007 ||
When you go to see a community theatre production, what do you expect? |
I expect a good evening’s entertainment that is worth the price of the ticket, performed by people giving their best effort. “June Groom” at Kudzu meets, and at times exceeds, those expectations.
As is common in community theatre productions, the cast is composed of actors with different skill levels. Luckily in “June Groom” whenever there is less talent, there is more heart and a stronger effort! In community theatre I appreciate the effort as much as the talent. This cast works as a solid team and helps each other out to keep things moving along nicely.
James Northway plays Jordan Benedict, the naïve newlywed husband who has promised to maintain his virginity until his 30th birthday in order to win a sizable sum of money as a reward from his rich uncle. The plot twist is that his 30th birthday is 3 days after his wedding day! So he must stall his bride without seeming to be a money grubbing jerk. This is only James’s second show (ever). He puts forth a strong effort and projects a winning charisma onstage that fits his character well.
Jessica McGuire as Dinah Benedict is a talented actress stuck in a poorly written character. Jessica’s intelligence and maturity show through in her performance. Her character is a very young, very naïve, newlywed virgin and Jessica’s choices give the character a bit of different “vibe” for me. She has a strong stage presence but her vocal projection needs work (she was frequently hard to hear). I look forward to seeing her in a future role that better suits her talents.
Greg Fitzgerald, as rich Uncle Harvey Dawson, brings new meaning to the phrase “Pickle Sucker”! (Go see the show and you will understand.) He constantly contorts his face into a scowl that reminds me of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s old man dummy, Walter. Greg always has fun onstage and because of that, he is great fun to watch. He makes the most of the comedy (as written) but, because he was having so much fun, he left me wondering how much was written and how much was improv. I kept waiting for him to utter his famous adlib from “And Then There Were None”: “Flapjacks!”
Linda Marie Place as Bella Dawson, and Tracy Wisniewski as Iris Quayle are the backbone of this show. They are the solid core that carry this production. Their talent and timing keep things sailing smoothly!
Amanda Libbey and Stacy Bowers turn in solid performances in their supporting roles. They are both talented, smart actresses who know exactly what their roles required. Unfortunately they don’t get enough chances to show their stuff. When they do get a chance, they shine. I hope to see them again in the future in more prominent roles.
The true stars of this one are Sean Patrick O’Rourke and Angie Caudill.
These two make the show! They play the inevitable comedic device: the wacky neighbors, As actors, they are the engine that drives this production. They do a splendid job of pumping energy and vitality into both their characters and the show.
Sean leads with exceptional energy and timing! He and Angie have good chemistry onstage and it is a blast to watch them together. In fact, it is a blast to watch Sean with anybody onstage in this one!
Angie brings back the 80’s with a wonderful take on the dumb girl next door. With her striped leg warmers, striped off-the-shoulder top (with visible bra straps) and Punky Brewster hairdo, she reminded me of Tony Basil from the old video of “Hey Mickey!” (“Hey Mickey Your So Fine, Your So Fine You Blow My Mind. Hey Mickey! (clap clap) Hey Mickey!”) She does a remarkable job of portraying “cute” and “dumb” without coming across as “stupid”. Way to go girl!
One of the things I enjoy most about seeing a show Lane Teilhaber has directed is that I know I will not be seeing a lazy or sloppy production. Lane is a worker and he doesn’t accept “good enough” from those he works with. I can count on him to get the best out of the resources he has to work with. He’s the kind of director who consistently delivers a solid effort, dependable entertainment and enjoyable productions. “June Groom” is no exception.
The story is from the pen of Rick Abbott, who also wrote “Play On”, a riotous comedy which was a hit for both director Lane Teilhaber and Kudzu last year. Unfortunately lightning didn’t strike twice with this script. It is based on a pretty weak premise which boils down to the entire show being a set-up for a single punch line. While the punch line is funny, it’s not worth what it took to get there. The script has some humorous bits and characters, but nothing exceptional or unique.
Kudzu is cursed with a wide and shallow performance area featuring a large cement column center stage. This limitation forces the set for “June Groom” to be very wide to accommodate all the furniture and doors required by the script. The set functions OK, but forces the actors to take a few extra “beats” to make some of the crosses. Perhaps some blocking changes could have been made to avoid the penalty to the pacing? (Wally tells me that they have begun moving into their new space and the days of the “Kudzu Kolumn” and the stage limitations will soon be over!).
The effort put forth by the cast, crew and production team overcomes the somewhat weak script. “June Groom” is an enjoyable evening of light comedy at a good community theatre. If you want to see a show that you can count on, go see “June Groom” at Kudzu. They run through June 23rd.
|Wrong Turn at Lungfish, by Garry marshall and Lowell Ganz
Wrong Turn? Not Hardly!|
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 ||
OK, so its Friday night and my wife and I are off to go see Stage Door Players’ current production of “Wrong Turn at Lungfish”. I have been looking forward to seeing this one for several reasons. It’s being directed by one of my favorite people in the whole wide world: Adriana Warner. It’s being produced by Stage Door Players in Dunwoody (known around town for their quality, consistency and professionalism). The script is really extraordinary (but quirky) and I wanted to see how it played in front of an audience. I was also anxious to see how the final casting choices worked out (I was privileged to have attended auditions for this show and, although I wasn’t cast, I got to read with some pretty impressive actors).|
Before I get to the particulars, let me simply state:
“Wrong Turn at Lungfish” is the best show I’ve seen at a community theater in years!
It is solid from top to bottom! The script, the direction, the acting, the set, the costumes, and the venue all are first rate! You don’t want to miss this one. It is an extraordinary theatrical experience!
I’ll start with the script written by Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz. Both are veteran writers with much TV and movie experience and numerous awards. The story is about a former college professor who has recently gone blind due to an illness which will eventually kill him. He is hospitalized and has become bitter and cantankerous due to his health situation, but he has pledged to spend his last days filled with the beauty of man’s literary and musical masterpieces. To that end, he listens to Beethoven and has his favorite literary classics read to him by a volunteer who reads to the blind. This volunteer unintentionally brings some of the ugliness, unpleasantness and ignorance of the real world into his life at a time when he would rather not deal with it. While these are actually some very dark and serious concepts, they are handled with a magnificent comedic flair as the two characters interact. Both learn from each other, grow, and become better people because of their time together. The best kind of comedy always has a layer of seriousness and truth as its foundation. This is a prime example of the best kind of comedy.
Next, I’ll move on to the direction. If you have read any of my past posts, you know Adriana Warner holds a special place in my heart. She is a gifted artist whose talent, kindness and love of theatre are legendary (and infectious). The woman knows how to get the absolute best out of her actors and how to make a show the best it can possibly be with the resources she has to work with. I’ve seen her make lemonade out of a whole lot of lemons! But when she has so many strong resources at her disposal, like she does in this production, the results are pure ambrosia for the audience.
There isn’t a single misstep in the blocking, staging or pacing. The casting of this ensemble of actors is balanced and full of good chemistry. Movement, delivery and character interaction are pitch perfect and create magical moments onstage in complete harmony with the dialogue. There are little actions and bits of business that are so perfectly natural, that you accept them as honest, not acting. This show is an example of Adriana at her best. And her best is damn good.
Now for the actors…What a wonderful ensemble this is!
Courtney Foy sets the comic tone for the evening with her sassy student nurse. She is the one who is forced to deal with the most disagreeable patient in the hospital, and she does so with a firm demeanor and numerous funny asides. She brought some bits of the “sassy young black woman” stereotype to her portrayal, but just for comedic familiarity. She also layered in a wonderful sense of her character’s pride in her work and sense of accomplishment and confidence.
Brink Miller, who plays Peter Ravenswaal, is a veteran of Atlanta’s stages. He is a talented actor with a great voice and strong stage presence. I have seen Brink in quite a number of good, but not always challenging, roles over the years. He is always dependably professional and enjoyable to watch (no matter the quality of the production). So it was quite a treat to see him rise to the challenges offered by this role. His sincerity totally won the audience over. He made an unlikable character into one the audience truly cared for. When his character’s time finally came, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (including mine – you S.O.B.!) Bravo sir!
Kara Cantrell took a character that could have been played as a blatant stereotype of the brassy, dumb, New York/New Jersey, Italian-American, beaten wife/girlfriend and brought her totally to life as a real human with a beautifully honest and exquisitely nuanced performance. Her vocal inflections and pacing brought a truth to her character that was so much more than what was written on the page. Kara added so many tasteful touches of subtlety she totally transformed into Anita Merendino. This level of character development is way beyond what you’d normally expect to see in a comedy, and way above what you get to see in most community theatre productions.
As Anita’s abusively criminal (and criminally stupid) boyfriend Dominic de Ceaser, Mark Rush is a force of nature on stage! He brings a truly impressive energy that takes an already excellent show and blasts it into the stratosphere! It is great fun to watch as he tries not to be stupid, and not to be abusive, but can’t help himself. His delivery, timing, character development, body language, movement and stage presence were all magnificent! I am really excited to see what he does next. He is a first rate actor with some great comic skills
OK, now to the things that don’t deserve a lot of praise because they were not MAGNIFICENT or WONDERFUL! They were simply perfect. That would be the costumes and the set. Totally character appropriate and in tune with the show.
Since I seem to be going through a phase these days where I’m fixated on the set… IMHO it was a bit sterile. I know it’s a hospital room, but Chuck, would it have killed you to put a little bit of color somewhere? Maybe a fern or something? A picture on the wall? Or perhaps an interesting colorful stain on the sheets? Of course you know I’m just kidding. The damn set was perfect, as usual.
There is so much more I could say about this show, but I think I’ve blathered on long enough. It runs for two more weeks. If you enjoy good theatre, go see “Wrong Turn at Lungfish”. The title is obtuse, but the show is sublime.
Caveats: In the interest of full disclosure (and an attempt at humor in writing): I have been in a show at Stage Door Players. I know Brink Miller, but have never been in a show with him. I have been in two shows directed by Adriana Warner. Kara Cantrell is in the next show I will be in at Theater in the Square, but I have never met her before. I auditioned for this show but wasn’t cast. I am very, very bitter about that and could snap at any minute. I do not own any sharp objects or weapons of any kind, so the last sentence was an idle threat. No. An outright lie. Which, if combined, would make it an idle lie. (I’ve really got to stop writing these things at 1:00 in the morning, don’t I?)
|Deathtrap, by Ira Levin
Getting Set In Their Ways?|
Monday, May 21, 2007 ||
I received an invitation last week to attend a reception being given on Thursday night (May 17, 2007) to meet the new management team at Onstage Atlanta and, following the reception, to watch a preview performance of their next show: “Deathtrap”. I was excited to be able to go and show support for the new management team of Brian Porter, Kyle Barnett and Greg Poulos. They have actually been in place for several months, but this was their “coming out” (no pun intended) party. I felt that their efforts to turn OnStage around, improve its offerings and to simply keep it alive financially were commendable and seemed to be starting to have some effect.|
At the reception prior to the performance, we attendees were told that the new management team was actually no longer the new management team! There were statements made to assure us that the theater would indeed carry on and that some changes were in progress. No information was given as to why the management change had occurred and there was much hushed speculation and outright gossip as to the details of what was going on. No answers were forthcoming and we were left to enjoy the lovely appetizers and beverages provided for the reception (which was beginning to have its own “murder mystery” aura).
I was left with a somewhat unsettled feeling as I entered the theater to watch the preview performance of “Deathtrap”.
I have performed at OnStage and have formed friendships with many of the folks associated with that theater, and with some of the folks associated with this show in particular. I will always do whatever I can to support them and wish them all the success in the world! That being said, here’s how I felt about what I saw…
Seeing a show on a preview night is not the same as seeing it during a run, so because of that, I will not give this show a numeric rating. I don’t think it is fair to do so under the circumstances.
“Deathtrap” is a very clever, witty, well written play. It is a piece of murder mystery theatre wrapped up in a piece of murder mystery theatre. The premise is intriguing and the promise of the premise is enticing! Once the audience is hit with the first plot twist, they become excited at the prospect of how the story will develop and progress. Hey this one looks like it is going to be fun!
However, the production I saw had a large handicap to overcome: it’s set design!
This was the first time I have ever seen a show where I perceived the set design and implementation as a major obstacle to the performance. Although I can also fault the direction in some cases, the bulk of my issues kept coming back to the set as the problem. It wasn’t where I expected to have dissonance, and to be honest, it really warped my mind.
Mind you the set looks good and it is beautifully detailed and dressed. It is expansive and interesting to look at. Unfortunately when you add actors and plot points, it very simply gets in the way of virtually everything.
Blocking and movement was frequently unnatural and uncomfortable or didn’t compliment or support the dialogue (example: after walking past a comfortable sofa and armchair, a guest is offered a seat on the lone hard wooden chair next to the bar – say what?!). The staircase is unfortunately ugly, poorly designed, and so badly placed and implemented that the actors must visibly crouch down as they ascend it (lest they hit their heads on the theater’s ceiling). Kind of like the mime going downstairs, only while actually going upstairs! Its a very odd thing to watch I must say.
The stage left wall (in the den) where the collection of theatrical posters and weapons reside should have been swapped with the upstage wall (where the double window is)in my opinion. That window is never used at all for anything other than decoration while the actors make frequent references to, and use of, the items on the stage left wall which the audience can not see (because the wall is at a right angle to the audience). We have to take it on faith that the items the characters are referring to actually exist on that wall. This weakens what should be a strong supporting environmental element to the story. Instead of the audience seeing the wall and thinking “what a cool, but odd collection of stuff”, they think “I wonder why the characters are making such a big deal about the stuff on that wall that I can't see?”.
The layout and size of the den also causes the actors to perform frequent squeezes and acrobatics simply to get around the furniture.
And did I mention the huge open area downstage left? I originally thought the area was being kept clear because something major was going to happen there during the show. But nothing ever did.
And I’m still not sure the “dissected” wall between the foyer and the den couldn’t have been handled differently (and better). When the rest of the set is presented in a complete and realistic manor, to have a wall presented artfully dissected like it would be in a home “how to” manual, was incongruous and out of style with the rest of the set.
And did I mention that the set was HUGE! Many of the scenes are intimate, tension filled, up close moments that are forced to be played across wide expanses of stage. There seems to be a desire to use every inch of the stage (nay! potentially the entire building), no matter whether it is effective or necessary.
Oh, yeah, in addition to the set, this show also included some talented (but environmentally challenged) actors.
In my opinion, R.J Allen, as Clifford Anderson, was the most effective at creating a believable character in the show. His choices were consistent with his character and supported the dialogue well. The only critique I would offer is that when he speaks he tends to loose the ends of his sentences (and we, the audience, tend to miss what he was saying).
Myra Bruhl, was also ably played by Amanda Renee Baker. Although occasionally clinging to the furniture and unintentionally clumsy at times (did her shoes not fit well?), her vocal, facial and physical choices were well suited to her character. She was quite effective at creating a very believable character (spoiler alert) in her relatively short time onstage.
Leo Finocchio, as lawyer Porter Milgrim, was also character appropriate, effective, and believable. According to the program this is his first time on stage after a long absence. I look forward to seeing him in future roles that might provide him a stronger challenge.
Charles Green, as writer Sidney Bruhl, carried the show. He is a strong actor with a good stage presence, and is very entertaining to watch. However some of his choices didn’t work for me in enhancing the believability of his character. There was also a kind of “Charles Nelson Reilly” quality to the character that I found to be a little bit out of place. (if you don’t know who Charles Nelson Reilly is – don’t worry about it – its not that big a deal) In one example at the beginning of the play, his physical mannerisms and vocal inflections do not support his intended assumed heterosexuality. If his body language screams "Queen", no matter how many times he kisses an hugs his wife, we ain't gonna buy it. Thus when (spoiler alert) it turns out he was “fronting”, the shock and surprise just isn’t there.
Cathe Hall Payne, as psychic Helga Ten Dorp, provides the comic relief in addition to delivering some key plot points and the (spoiler alert) final plot twist of the show. She is a capable comic actress with a good sense of timing and delivery; however she can’t do a Dutch accent (consistently) to save her life! (Very reminiscent of my own attempts at a French accent as Victor Velasco in “Barefoot in the Park” a few years ago) If it were up to me, I would change her character’s name and her accent to something Cathy can handle with confidence (or drop the accent altogether) and then let ‘er rip! I’d be willing to bet she would steal the show! It’s not important that the character is from Holland, it’s only important that she is funny, eccentric, and can be understood.
Overall this is a fun show to watch. "Deathtrap" is an enjoyable evening at the theatre, (if you are not as picky and obsessive about the set as I was). The preview performance was somewhat slow in its pacing, causing the show to run long, but I’m sure that it will tighten up after the show opens. I am well aware of how tired everyone is by the end of “tech week” and when you add the extra pressure of major changes at the theater, it is quite understandable that the energy and pacing may flag a little for preview night.
Go see “Deathtrap” and show your support for OnStage Atlanta. They need your support now more than ever. If we are not supportive, I fear another of our community theaters may be heading “into the mist” before we know it.
(originally posted 5/19/07 with some minor edits & corrections done 5/21/07)
|Eleemosynary, by Lee Blessing
For some, words are easier than emotions.|
Wednesday, January 24, 2007 ||
Note: I originally wrote the bulk of this review in September 2006 when “Eleemosynary” was being performed as part of Kudzu’s “Lunchtime Matinee” series. It was a strong show then and, I believe has matured into an even stronger one now that it is on the main stage at Kudzu. I have updated some of my opinions from the original review and added some thoughts regarding a change of one cast member from the original show...|
One of the “given” things about Community Theater is that, so often, the shows are lightweight in nature. Community theater groups frequently pick material that will easily entertain, put butts in the seats, and not require the audience to think too much. This is not a bad thing. Its just a little too common for my tastes. Comedies, farces, musicals and the standards are served with regularity (and banality). But there is a breath of fresh air blowing through one of our local community theaters.
It is Kudzu Playhouse’s production of “Eleemosynary” written by Lee Blessing.
This is a wonderfully challenging piece of work. It is a thought provoking examination of the relationships between three strong women. The fact that they are related as grandmother, mother and daughter just adds another dimension to this exploration of how people choose to be who they are, yet can’t escape the family they are born into. I know it may sound like one of those melodramatic “Lifetime Channel” programs, but it is far, far better than that.
The material is extremely well written with deeply drawn, detailed characters: easy to accept on the surface, yet wonderfully textured below. This is not “heavy” dark drama by any means, but does cover some pretty serious ground, while also providing some wickedly clever touches of humor. A woman’s place in the world (as seen through three generations), combined with the effects of a dysfunctional mother’s love, provide a rich palette of emotional colors for the actors to draw from.
The three characters are distinct and full bodied.
Echo, the youngest, who will become “the perfect child”, obsesses over “spelling” as her mechanism to bring her closer to her absentee mother.
Artie, Echo’s mother, knows that life will be better just as soon as she gets far enough away from her own mother.
Dorothea, the “force of nature” matriarch, has actively chosen eccentricity as her coping mechanism after being forced to sublimate her talents and minimize herself by the societal pressures inflicted on women in her day.
Even though the original cast was very strong, I believe Adriana Warner has enhanced the production even more with her choice of Rachel Moldovan to play Echo. As is usual for an Adriana Warner directed show, the cast strong, talented, and very well balanced. The three women in the story are strong women and they are ably played by strong actors.
The staging choice of using a series of wooden boxes with letters painted on them like a child’s spelling blocks and rearranging them to show “place” is splendidly minimal and effective. It supports the “spelling” motif but doesn’t overshadow or interfere. Use of the wooden boxes was subtle and provided just the outline of the scenes allowing the audience to use their imagination to fill in the details. That’s my favorite kind of set.
Mary Sittler as Dorothea, the “eccentric” matriarch, finds a perfect balance in her portrayal. The temptation would be to make her character comically “kooky” or outright “crazy”. Mary’s energy onstage is more subdued and she allows the audience to discover her character in pastels instead of presenting Dorothea to us garish primary colors. Her movements, expressions and inflection tell the tale between the lines, long before her dialogue does. Mary was awarded with the Best Actress award at the 2006 Georgia Theater Conference last fall for her performance in this role! Well deserved too, I might add!
Margarita Moldovan expresses the self-inflicted isolation of Artie with body language that instantly communicates her loneliness, awkwardness at being a mother and fear of intimacy. In addition to that, she skillfully presents her character’s inner conflict of being an intelligent woman who often does less-than-intelligent things. She gains the audience’s sympathy, even though her character can be cold, emotionally distant and borderline cruel. That’s a very tough thing to accomplish, and she does it very well. Margarita was excellent when I saw the original production, but has really grown in the role since then and is a total delight to watch onstage (you want to just reach out and shake her for being so unfeeling to her own daughter and mother). Note: I am not an advocate of violence toward women, but her character could use a little (in italics here) guidance.
The addition of Margarita’s "real-life" daughter, Rachel Moldovan, as Echo adds another interesting texture to the performance. Rachel brings a wonderful energy and vibrancy to her portrayal of Echo. There is less emphasis on her character’s extreme intelligence and more on her deep need to be loved and to please. Her youthful vitality, bright eyes and “puppy dog” playfulness really wins the audience over. It breaks our heart to see how she tries so hard to be worthy of her mother’s love, but can only earn her respect.
This show contains exceptional writing, stylish and thoughtful production values and strong acting. In other words: “good theatre”! If you are overdue for a rewarding evening at the theatre, go see this show. You won’t regret it.
|Nunsense, by Dan Goggin
What’s Black & White, and Black & White, and lots of fun?|
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 ||
There is just something about a nun.|
I must tell you that my mother was a lapsed Catholic (Irish Catholic – second generation off the boat). She loved the church (but wasn’t up to the discipline it required). I must also tell you that because I had become a somewhat uncontrollable child, I was told I would be going to Catholic School (Saint Simon and Jude in Bethlehem Pennsylvania) for the fourth grade. I lasted two weeks. OK, in reality it was only about 4 days out of the two weeks (I played “hooky” the rest of the time because the nuns scared the daylights out of me). My brief, but terrifying, experience with the nuns forced me to clean up my adolescent act and I was allowed to return to public school for the remainder of the fourth grade.
But I was never the same after that.
While my past experience with nuns left deep emotional scars (which may someday require thousands of dollars of therapy), my most recent experience with them in Big Top’s current production of “Nunsense” was absolutely delightful!
The little sisters of Hoboken are putting on a show to raise money to deal with an unexpected emergency that has happened to their order. I won’t share the details with you because it would spoil the fun. Go see the show! The sisters work the crowd wonderfully, both before the show and during it. They are a wonderfully wacky bunch of the sweetest penguins you could ever hope to meet!
The Mother Superior (Sister Mary Regina), played by Kathy Manning, maintains order with a firm, but occasionally misguided hand. Kathy has a wonderful voice and an absolutely winning personality. She was born to play this role. Her comedic chops and timing are exquisite (especially in the scene where she investigates some contraband that was found in a student’s locker).
Rene Voige’s portrayal of Sister Mary Amnesia (who can’t remember her real name due to a tragic accident) is over-the-top hilarious! Her constant mugging and clown like facial expressions are a hoot! She also does a great job of allowing her character's innate sweetness to shine through all that goofiness. In the end, the audience can’t help but root for her to find her lost memory.
The street-wise nun, Sister Robert Anne, is played by Anita Stratton who hails from New Jersey (her accent and attitude were dead on – who knew?!). She is the smart-ass nun. Her delivery and comedic timing were absolutely perfect and she had the audience in stitches numerous times throughout the evening. She also has the song in the show with the most words-per-minute, which she executes beautifully (even with that accent!).
Mother Superior’s “right-hand-nun”, Sister Mary Hubert, is played with joy and sass by the wonderful Greta Glenn. Greta has a strong singing voice, great stage presence and she even looks good in a habit (again – who knew?!). She does all this while trying her best not to be too tall (how she ever got into an order called the “little” sisters of Hoboken is beyond me)! Go see the show and you’ll understand what I’m talking about!
The youngest nun, Sister Mary Leo, is played with exuberance, perkiness and great energy by Eileen Fulford. She is a joy to watch as she radiates youth, innocence and sweetness while wearing one of the world’s most unattractive garments. Luckily she has the face of an angel and a smile that fills the room. (Oh my God! I think I’m falling in love with a nun!)
One of the things that most impressed me about this production was the quality of the voices. Each sister has an impressive voice individually, but when they are combined, the effect is thrilling. The harmonies and blend of the voices is wonderful to hear. It also helps that the songs in this show are great too. There is a mix of both funny and tender melodies that will stick in your head after the show (an important quality for any successful musical in my opinion).
The choreography by Maria Karres-Williams was pretty darn good too! She has these nuns doing some pretty impressive moves, including a tap dance number (Yes! Tap dancing nuns – a choreographer’s nightmare I’m sure!). While it is obvious none of the nuns possess any great dancing skills, the moves are designed to enhance their amateurishness and come across as “cute” rather than inept. My favorite bit of movement was the “figure eight”. Go see the show and you’ll understand what I’m talking about!
Director Rob Hadaway (who is also Big Top’s AD) has done an impressive job of getting the most out of his actors and providing the audience with a truly rewarding evening. The set design and use of space is, once again, artistically creative and complimentary to the feel of the show. You know you are in for a fun time the instant you see the set. The blocking and staging were smooth and elegantly done. Everything fit and flowed perfectly.
The musical direction By Annie Cook was another example of making sure the appropriate voice was assigned the appropriate task. Each singer seemed to be perfectly matched to their songs. They sang with confidence, clarity and strength and the result was a beautiful sound (and a great experience).
I can’t possibly overlook the accompaniment from “the little band of Hoboken” featuring Cardinal Ralph Russel on Piano, Bishop David Johnson on reeds and Father Zack Edwards on Percussion. These guys didn’t miss a lick and provided solid backing for the songs and added a little bit of comedy too! The band did a nice job of controlling the volume of the music from the “pit” and never overpowered the singers (really nice for a change in a community theatre musical).
One extra thing that happened at the start of the second act really impressed me. It was the announcement of The Stephen Petty Memorial Fund collection. The sisters passed among the audience with collection baskets (just like at church on Sunday) and the purpose of the fund was explained to the audience and donations were accepted. The night I saw the show, the nearly sold out audience was very generous. I know many theatre groups around town participate in soliciting donations for the fund, but I’ve never actually been in an audience (or a show) when it happened. I was proud that night to be a member of ACPA, and very proud of Big Top.
In closing (yes, I know you thought I was never going to shut up), I think you have one last weekend to catch “Nunsense” before it closes. Save the money you would normally pay the therapist and go see this show! You’ll have a great time!
P.S. In case you didn’t get the joke in the title of this review, it’s a riff on a joke I remembered from elementary school.
Q: What’s Black & White and Black & White and Black & White?
A: A nun rolling down a hill!
(Let me tell you, that one really killed in the second grade!)
|Eleemosynary, by Lee Blessing
"Love" is a word misspelled by many...|
Sunday, October 1, 2006 ||
One of the things that bother me about Community Theater is that so often the shows are lightweight in nature. Community theater groups frequently pick material that will easily entertain (and put butts in the seats), but not require the audience to think or pay attention too closely. The audience gets used to, and expects, a certain kind of rhythm in performances and they know how to handle that. Comedies, farces, musicals and the standards are served with regularity…and banality. But there is a breath of fresh air blowing through one of our local community theaters.|
It is Kudzu Playhouse’s production of “Eleemosynary” written by Lee Blessing.
This is a wonderfully challenging piece of work. It is a thought provoking examination of the relationships between three strong women. The fact that they are related as grandmother, mother and daughter just adds another dimension to this exploration of how people choose to be who they are, yet can’t escape the family they are born into.
The material is extremely well written with deeply drawn, detailed characters: easy to accept on the surface, yet wonderfully textured below. This is not “heavy” dark drama by any means, but does cover some pretty serious ground while also providing some wickedly clever light touches of humor. A woman’s place in the world (as seen through three generations), combined with the effects of a dysfunctional mother’s love, provide a rich palette of emotional soul searching for the actors to draw from.
The three characters are distinct and deep. Echo, the youngest, who will become “the perfect child”, obsesses over “spelling” as her mechanism to bring her closer to her absentee mother. Artie, Echo’s mother, knows that life will be better just as soon as she gets far enough away from her own mother. Dorothea, the “force of nature” matriarch, has actively chosen eccentricity as her coping mechanism after being forced to sublimate her talents and minimize herself by the societal pressures inflicted on women in her day.
Once again Adrianna Warner has assembled a talented and well balanced cast who work very well together. The staging choice of using a series of wooden boxes with letters painted on them like a child’s spelling blocks and rearranging them to show “place” is splendidly minimal and effective. It supports the “spelling” motif but doesn’t overshadow or interfere. Use of the wooden boxes was subtle and provided just the outline of the scenes allowing the audience to use their imagination to fill in the details. That’s my favorite kind of set.
The three women in the story are strong women and they are ably played by strong actors.
Mary Sittler as Dorothea, the “eccentric” matriarch, finds a perfect balance in her portrayal. The temptation would be to make her character comically “kooky” or outright “crazy”. Mary’s energy onstage is more subdued and she allows the audience to discover her character in pastels instead of presenting Dorothea to us in garish primary colors. Her movements, expressions and inflection tell the tale between the lines, long before her dialogue does.
Margarita Moldovan expresses the self-inflicted isolation of Artie with body language that instantly communicates her loneliness. In addition to that, she skillfully presents her character’s inner conflict of being an intelligent woman who often does less-than-intelligent things. She gains the audience’s sympathy, even though her character can be cold, emotionally distant and borderline cruel. That’s a very tough thing to accomplish, and she does it very well.
Morgan Coffey, as Echo, was impressive! She handled the tasks of being a “brainiac” and an emotionally damaged young girl with skill and talent beyond her years. Her love for both her Grandmother and Mother was so convincing, she had the audience in tears during the more “heartfelt” scenes. I look forward to seeing this young woman in future shows. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on!
The night I saw the show there were some minor technical issues with light cues and actors not “finding their light”, but hearing dialogue from the shadows was somehow appropriate for many of the scenes.
This is exceptional writing in a thoughtful production with a talented cast. In other words: good “theatre”!
The only thing I regret is that by the time this is posted, the only chance you will have to see it is during the day. This show will move from its special “two nights only" premiere performances to its scheduled run as the second show of the season in Kudzu’s Lunchtime Matinee series. Check the website for performance dates and times.
Take a day off, or an extended lunch break, and go see this show. You won’t regret it. Definitely one of the best I've seen this year!
Disclaimer: I still think Adriana Warner walks on water. Once you see this one, you’ll understand why. I am so grateful to have worked with her, to know her and to consider her a friend and mentor. (She, of course, may feel otherwise.)
|Leading Ladies, by Ken Ludwig
To “She”, Or Not To “She”|
Monday, September 25, 2006 ||
My wife and I went to see “Leading Ladies” at Stage Door Saturday night (Sept 23rd). It was opening weekend and this was the “regional premiere” of the latest work from the pen of Ken Ludwig. Billed as a cross between “Some Like It Hot” and “Twelfth Night”, the evening held much promise and intrigue. I was curious to see what clever bits of staging director Robert Egizio had come up with and what wonders Chuck Welcome had done with the set design and implementation. I wondered if I knew anyone in the cast and whether the script was any good. I was also pondering whether this one would measure up to previous productions from SDP. |
Let me say at the top that I am not a big fan of “sex farces”. Homophobia as a source of humor hits me a little like racism as a source of humor: it can be funny if done with the right touch, but many times it is not. Also, I feel that a guy in drag is a lazy way to get a laugh. I didn’t say it wasn’t funny; just that I think it doesn’t take much work to get laughs that way. But when Bobby Labartino came on stage channeling “Uncle Milty”, I had to rethink my position. He was “working it”!
It is a fact of nature (and sex farces) that men in drag make “unattractive” women. If they were better looking than the “real” women on stage, it wouldn’t be funny (it would be cabaret)! Bobby’s resemblance to Milton Berle in drag is uncanny. I don’t know if that was intentional or just genetics, but it was most definitely effective. He looked more masculine in drag than he did in a coat and tie! His “partner in crime”, Piotr Stapor, I’m sorry to say, was not just “unattractive” in drag. He was downright ugly. U – G – L – Y Period. He knew it. The audience knew it. Everybody knew it!
And God was that funny!
Both of these guys are very talented actors and played off each other with great timing. Their “Mutt & Jeff” physicality amplified the laughs with an additional layer of visual humor. They could just stand next to each other, not say a word, and get laughs.
But the show isn’t just about two guys in drag.
Yes it is!
There is a pretext of why they have to be in drag, but who really cares about that. The story is about two guys in drag and the lengths they go to, to maintain the illusion of their alter egos. The story is pretty predictable. But there are a number of scenes that are not. There were some truly clever new “takes” on some ancient situation comedy which were refreshing and hilarious! A real treat!
This show is an uproarious romp through gender confusion, mistaken identity, and eccentric characters – while still offering up a heart felt tribute to William Shakespeare (which simultaneously pokes fun at actors). The pace and staging of this production is exquisite with entrances, exits, dialogue, lights, sound cues and scene changes done with professional precision; which is absolutely critical to this type of show. A joke or bit can’t afford to be dropped, or delivered too slow, or else it will become the lead car in a ten car pile-up, as the rest of the show crashes into it.
Each member of this cast has wonderful comedic skills: delivery, timing and physical humor. They came across as a team; an ensemble dedicated to working together to bring out the best in each other and the show. That really makes for a great theatrical experience, both for the audience and for the cast.
Speaking of the cast, I would like to share a few thoughts:
I have seen Amy Rundabaken Smith in several other shows around town and she has always been good, but boy she really shines in this one! Her timing and delivery are on right on the mark.
Barry Hopkins gives “quack” a wonderful touch of “wacky” in his turn as Doc Meyers. He is funny without being too silly. And when he is silly, he is even funnier!
John Keenan as Pastor Duncan Wooley gives his all for pretentiousness, pomposity and self-serving philanthropy. WWJLA? (Would Would Jesus Laugh At?) In this show, it would be John Keenan!
Then there is also Shayne Kohout as the delightfully ditzy “Boobs on Wheels” Audrey. Her “airhead” blonde portrayal was so much fun, I think she dyes her roots brunette just to fool people!
John Markowski as Doc’s son Butch has the thankless role of being comic relief - in a comedy. I, for one, would like to thank him…for being funny… in a funny show… surrounded on all sides by funny people. And I’m serious about that!
Holly Stevenson as Aunt Florence, who is always at death's door and perennially cranky, was like a Mapquest of comedy: she knew right where to go to get the laughs every time.
I have already talked about Bobby Labartino and Piotr Stapor, but I will go even farther. These boys play so nice together! They have great chemistry, and although they aren’t easy to look at for long periods of time in a dress, they are still wonderful to watch. Both are very strong comedic actors individually, and together they are undeniably great fun!
Once again, director Robert Egizio did not disappoint. In the past I have had to compliment him on his ability to minimize the weaknesses in some past productions. But with “Leading Ladies”, I couldn’t find anything that needed to be hidden. His blocking of the actors, use of space, casting, staging, script selection and production values for this show are all strong. He lined up some very strong resources and used them very, very effectively. He always does a great job, but this time he had all the pieces to work with and applied his masterful touch to all, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining, and professional quality production.
Chuck Welcome. What can I say? Another great looking set with clever touches and great functionality. He’s still God in my eyes.
Special Kudos to Dan Bauman for the Sound Design of the show. The music selection and sound effects were a great fit and were of great audio quality too! (I’ve also become a big fan of his bios in the program -a smart ass after my own heart)!
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I really enjoyed this production. Go see it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll leave the theater a wetter person (from laughing so much).
Disclaimer: I have no personal relationships with anybody associated with this production. I do not have a cross dressing fetish and any pictures showing otherwise are a complete work of PhotoShop editing.
Bonus Track: Alternate title for this review: The “Broad” Couple.
|Anatomy of Gray, by Jim Leonard Jr.
Anatomically Correct and Spiritually Satisfying|
Thursday, September 21, 2006 ||
I saw Lionheart’s production of “Anatomy of Gray” on September 2, 2006 and wrote the bulk of this review on September 20, 2006. Due to my “sepia toned” photographic memory, I may have inadvertently missed some details. However my original impression of the show hasn’t changed. |
“Anatomy of Gray” is the story of the seemingly miraculous delivery of a “man of science” into a small 1880’s “faith based” town and the conflicts this presents to all involved. Both the man and the town share the same name: Gray. The story explores the anatomy of both. This is a parable concerning the limitations and pitfalls of relying solely on faith or science in times of crisis. There are some very good examples of how ignorance of either faith or science can lead to undesirable and unintended outcomes. The townsfolk of Gray, and Gray the man, struggle to find a balance between Faith and Science in times of both personal and civic crisis while dealing with both the allure and fears inherent in each philosophy. In the end, a black and white viewpoint just won’t work: it has to be “gray”.
The venue for this presentation was an historic 100 year old wooden church in downtown Norcross. It will soon be transformed into a community arts center. The old wooden church created the perfect ambiance to compliment the themes and setting of this story.
The show was staged “in the round”, or more accurately “in the square” surrounded on four sides by the audience with the cast making their entrances and exits via the corners.. I found this staging particularly important for this story because when combined with the breaking of the fourth wall and the narrative style of the many of the scenes, it made the experience much more intimate for the audience. These were people, not characters. The only negatives to this staging were the lights. There didn’t seem to be any way to avoid being occasionally blinded during some of the scenes. The light trees were placed opposite of the seats ( I assume to keep the corners clear for the actors to use). Next time, they may want to consider some other placement to minimize the discomfort to the audience.
The key thing that sticks in my mind about this production was how artfully it was presented. There was a wonderful style to the presentation that transformed a lack of budget into an elegant simplicity, innocence and cleverness. There was no set and minimal props, only a few items of furniture that were used very creatively and imaginatively in different scenes. The material aspects of the production never interfered with the most important thing: the story.
I wish I could remember it exactly, but there is a quote from famed director John Houston who once said something like “if you cast it right, the rest is easy”. I know it wasn’t easy, but “Anatomy of Gray” was most definitely well cast. This ensemble was talented, balanced, cohesive and well rehearsed. The show ran smoothly, with good pacing, and all actors appeared comfortable and confident on stage.
The character of June (a teenaged girl overflowing with all the hopes and foibles of youth) serves as the thread which runs through the story. Emily Dark’s portrayal combined a wonderful mix of youthful innocence, passion for adventure and boredom with the confines of her small town. Like many teenage girls, Emily sometimes delivered her lines like she was going to run out of breath before she managed to get them all out. While this was charming and true to character, it occasionally made her dialogue difficult to hear and understand.
Jesse Green’s performance as Homer was a highlight of the show. This young man was totally believable as June’s wannabe suitor, who is still a boy, but wants desperately to be treated, and respected, like a man. He was a joy to watch.
J. Michael Carroll, as the town’s preacher and de facto leader, Phineas exemplified the darkness of blind faith, without succumbing to a stereotypical portrayal. The blindness of his belief is demonstrated with a story of his attempt to baptize a cat, which cost him an eye (surely that was not what God had wanted).While being humorous, it also shows the depths of his commitment to his faith. The humanity of his character came through in his body language even while everything else about him was unbending. Though his words were absolute and stern, his mannerisms allowed the man behind the preacher to show through and thus made the ultimate compromise at the end of the play much more acceptable. Carroll’s Phineas is part comic relief as he is involved in several scenes that are preposterous at first glance, but deadly serious underneath (the upside down “stones” treatment and the “witch hunt” come to mind).
.I do have one costuming question though: I am curious as to why the character wore a pair of glasses with one blacked out frame instead of an eye patch to cover the eye lost to the cat baptism?
Tanya Carroll’s Rebekah Muldoon is the pivot point for the story. She is the center of the fulcrum around which everyone strives to find their equilibrium ( as she herself does also). Her portrayal is beautifully understated and appropriate. She uses her hands more than her face to transmit her character’s emotions and that is a perfect fit with her character’s place in time and society. She brings a quiet dignity and grace to Rebekah that softens her stoicism. The part of the story where she and Galen become a couple seems contrived and unnecessary to me (reads to me like an attempt to appeal to the female demographic). Carroll does an admirable job of not letting her character get too “girly” in the romantic scenes and maintains her character’s core strength throughout.
Bob Smith’s portrayal of the title character of Galen Gray displayed the goodness, kindness and intelligence of the character. His mannerisms, voice and presentation left no doubt that the man we were watching had the discipline, intelligence and bedside manner to be a good doctor. When it came time for the character’s inner conflicts and demons to arise, Bob wasn’t quite as convincing in demonstrating the deeper emotions of this man who can only bear to operate on cadavers, because he faints at the sight of blood. His conflicts between wanting to help someone in need and his own need to avoid fainting or vomiting when faced with an injury crisis were played a bit too strong in my opinion. Gray is a serious, studious man and to have him change so dramatically when faced with his fears didn’t seem to fit his character to me. Bob’s acting style is very reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart to me. He was just so damn sincere and honorable; you couldn’t tell if he was acting or not and you couldn’t help but like him. You bought the character.
The supporting cast of: Pam Fox, Glory Hanna, Laura Lankford and Allen Stone as various members of the community were absolutely perfect. Each actor understood their characters completely and understood their functions in the scenes they were involved in. I had no trouble accepting any of them as anything other than their characters. Quite often in community theatre productions, actors with smaller roles will do things to make the audience notice them more. That detracts from the performance and compromises the scene. There was none of that with these folks. This bunch showed total professionalism across the board.
Director Joannie McElroy did an absolutely magnificent job of maximizing her resources in this production. The staging was tasteful, artistic and interesting. The actors were well cast and well rehearsed. The balance between asking the audience to use their imagination, and demonstrating to the audience what you wanted them to see was perfect. There was enough reality to keep the audience grounded, but enough need for imagination to make it fun. That’s the best kind of theatrical experience to me!
The sound and light crew did a very smooth job with all of the cues. I was really impressed with the music choices and the quality and detail of the audio cues. The only negative was being able to see a “tech” with a laptop in view of the audience during the performance (the occasional Windows “ding” sound bite could be heard from time to time). Maybe in the future, there will be booth for the crew.
I truly enjoyed this production. The acting was good. The story was different. The presentation was artistic and creative. It was an extremely satisfying theatrical experience.
Note to Lionheart Theatre Company: Please give more space in your programs to the actor’s biographies. Us old folks have a lot of trouble reading them in the theater when the font is sooooooo small and the lighting is soooo dim. The ads are great but use some of the revenue to add one more piece of paper to the program-please!
Disclaimers: I have been in a show with Bob Smith (if that's his real name)and consider him to be a "friend" (he may have a different opinion). I have met J. Michael and Tanya Carroll and consider them to be "acquaintances" (they also may have a different opinion).
|Shirley Valentine, by Willy Russell
"Greece" is the Word!|
Sunday, September 17, 2006 ||
Let me start off by simply saying you should go see Shirley Valentine. |
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll leave the theatre a better person. I’m a man; a totally macho “pull my finger” kind of guy, and it even affected me that way.
The context of the story is kind of “chick flick”, but the core message is universal. It’s a truly enjoyable evening at the theatre. The story is how a 42 year old English housewife transforms herself, and her life, by accepting an offer to go to Greece.
This production is solid! The acting is solid, the direction is solid, the writing is solid, the set and lighting designs were solid. (The only things not solid were the posts on the second act “Greece” set which caused the “Grecian” walls to look like they were going to come tumbling down when Shirley gleefully swung on them in an inspired bit of movement.)
This production is a perfect example of maximizing resources. The resources were minimal, but every single one is used to maximum effect. You have just one actor (Lynne Jenson), one director, two sets and a production budget that must have been in the tens of dollars.
That’s all there is. No music. No choreography. No special effects. No lavish production values. No camouflage.
Every aspect of this production is overflowing with craft, skill and a wonderful attention to detail. Details are what make this production so effective: from the set, to the writing, to the direction to the acting. There are nuances, texture and reality everywhere. It’s the details in any production that transform the audience’s experience from one of watching a performance; to one of feeling they have become a part of someone’s life.
Lynne Jenson brought an authenticity to her portrayal of Shirley’s “mid-life crisis" that allowed us to feel her pain, confusion and guilt, without belittling the character or making her a stereotype. I also compliment her on her “brass ovaries” for undertaking such a daunting project and pulling it off so well.
Director Adriana Warner applied her usual deft touch of focusing on what’s really important here: the character. Certain story points and dialogue could have been punched up for more laughs, or more pathos, but that would have detracted from the intimacy and effectiveness of the performance and lessened the quality of the audience’s experience. She has been known to call it being too “actor-y”, and it weakens shows. Her sense of what strengthens shows is legendary and is very evident here.
A special note to theater-goers: Be sure to eat before going to see this show. Shirley actually fries up some “Chips and Eggs” in the first act and the smell of the food cooking onstage will have you salivating in your seat if you haven’t eaten first!
It sounds corny, and the show may have just spiked my estrogen levels, but I left the theatre feeling like I had a new friend. Shirley, let’s get together and do lunch next week, OK?
Disclaimer: I have twice worked with Adriana Warner and I think she walks on water.
Bonus Track: Since I hate to waste an idea... The alternate title for this review was “The Valentine Monologues” (Get it? “The Vagina Monologues” – go see the show and you’ll see what I’m getting at.) I was also thinking of using “Grecian Formula: Not Just For Men!” I’ll stop now before Ryan pulls my reviews due to excessive pun-ditry.
|Father of the Bride, by Caroline Francke, based on the classic novel by Edward Streeter
“Who’s Your Daddy?”|
Sunday, August 27, 2006 ||
OK, so sue me! The title has absolutely nothing to do with the theme of this review. It was just too easy and I couldn’t pass it up.|
Here’s my Top Ten List of what I expect when I attend any production at any local community theater:
1. I expect to be entertained.
2. I expect to feel welcome at the venue.
3. I expect to see economical sets and costumes.
4. I expect to see non-professional actors.
5. I expect everyone associated with the production to do their best
6. I expect something to go wrong (technically or otherwise).
7. I expect the audience to be kind (and filled with friends and family of the folks associated with the production).
8. I expect to see a show based on time-tested (and sometimes time-worn) material.
9. I expect to know someone associated with the production.
10. I expect to write a review of the show (you knew that one was coming – didn’t you?).
Sometimes you get more than you expect.
If you attend community theater productions expecting to be entertained, you most definitely should see Kudzu’s production of “Father of the Bride”. This production features a relatively balanced cast anchored by the venerable and talented Brink Miller reprising a role that fits him like a glove. Brink’s Stanley Banks sets the tone for this production: solid, steadfast and dependable. He loves his daughter, loves his wife and is an archetype of male parenthood. Meaning he is clueless and helpless when faced with the unknown. Where others might have made this more of a madcap farce with lots of exasperated running around and screaming, Brink keeps Stanley “on the rails” even though he is constantly rattled by the ever escalating events around him. This is a wise choice because it keeps Stanley in balance, performance-wise, with the rest of the cast.
Barbara McFann as Miss Bellamy, Erin Greer as Peggy, Lee Lasseter as Mr. Massoula and Sarah McKaig as Maria were all a delight! Each character was strong, eccentric and fun to watch. And the supporting cast of Emily Bailey as Emma, Walt Frazier as Joe, Linda Place as Mrs. Pulitski, Chip Decker as Red and Wally Hinds as Pete did commendable work too.
Ashley Rebecca Jones as Kay, Rachel Deel as Tomi, Ryan Bauer as Buckley and Pamela Katz as Ellie all gave enjoyable performances, but all had occasional issues with vocal projection and diction. I was sitting in the front row at Kudzu (which is only five rows deep) and I frequently had trouble hearing dialogue due to a lack of volume or the “swallowing” of lines by different actors at different times. In all fairness I must also say that some lines were lost to being covered up by the audience’s laughter (holding for laughs is another thing that could use some work – although I will admit it is impossible to rehearse). I will also admit to getting older and not hearing as well as I used to, but when compared to a number of the folks in the audience, I am a spring chicken!
The unexpected surprise for me in this show was Mike Cueller as Ben. His portrayal of the teenage son was so “on target” that I was shocked after the show to learn he is actually 26 years old! He was so full of “teenage boy” on stage that I felt embarrassed for him. But he wasn’t hamming it up, upstaging, mugging or trying to steal the focus from others. He just made some very strong, subtle and accurate choices for his character. Bravo Mike!
The technical aspects of the show ran flawlessly. All of the many sound and light cues were smooth and timely. Kudos to the Kudzu booth! The scene changes were also done well. The set was “in tune” with the story and was decorated nicely with just the right touches to make it read like “home” (even though I’m not sure how many people have purple walls and a column in their living room – but they made it work).
The show was directed by the team of Wally Hinds and Greg Fitzgerald. I am not sure how two people can direct one show, but apparently, in this case, they did. The blocking and staging was clean and functional and made good use of the space. The various bits of business added a nice touch to many scenes and the show flowed smoothly. I enjoyed the re-writing of the locales in the script to be more familiar to Atlanta residents, and the updating of the “maid” character added some fun stuff too. The use of a cordless phone made the story relate to current times, however the fact that everybody returned the phone to its base after every call was not logical and caused some unrealistic behavior as regards the use of the phone. It’s a small thing though.
Now for the paragraphs where I get to vent! The show ran too long. I feel this was due mostly to the steady (but sometimes plodding) pace of the dialogue and staging. I expected scenes to become frantic at times, but they never really seemed to accelerate. I think the run time could have been trimmed by as much as 10 to 15 minutes without cutting anything by simply speeding things up (picking up lines quicker, replacing dramatic pauses with dialogue and action, etc.). Even though the show ran long, it kept my attention. I was never bored, nor was I checking my watch. It was just way past my bedtime by the time I got home.
Some patrons arrived about 10 minutes after the show started for this nearly sold out Saturday night performance and were allowed to be seated while there were actors on stage. The actors did a great job of not letting that disrupt them, but… Kudzu is a very small venue and there is no subtle way to sneak into the theater without disturbing everyone in the audience and on stage. A less disruptive choice could have been made (seating them during a scene change blackout, intermission or having them come another night for example)
After seeing “Father of the Bride”, I left the theatre feeling refreshed and entertained. Should I have expected more? Should I have expected to witness some historical theatrical event with Olympian acting, opulent sets and intricate staging?
That is not what community theater is about in my opinion. I got a good story about a father who loves his daughter, produced and presented by a cast, crew, directorial team and venue that really love theater. It showed in their performance. Ain’t that what it’s really all about?
Disclaimer: I have performed at Kudzu (as well as other local community theaters) and am on a first name basis of friendship with several members of this production. If that bothers you, please get over it. I welcome any and all discussion.
|Clue: The Musical, by Joe DiPietro, Galen Blum
Clue: The Balancing Act|
Wednesday, August 9, 2006 ||
It probably sounded like a great idea at the time to the boys and girls in New York . “Hey! Let’s write a musical based on that game everybody played as a kid!” My online research on the show indicated that it may not have been such a great idea after all. The original off Broadway production of “Clue: The Musical” ran for a scant 29 days before closing and a cast album was recorded but never released. The movie version came and went without making a ripple (or a profit). I tried desperately to find any sort of downloadable music from the show because there was one song in the second act I liked, but couldn’t remember the name of it. |
I guess that should have tipped me off.
I have said in the past that I base my reviews on how well a production uses the resources available to it. Using that criteria I really want to give Stage Door’s production of “Clue: The Musical” a “5”, but this production is a perfect demonstration of theatre as a balancing act. On the one hand you have the very impressive physical production of the show, and on the other, the very weak source material the show is built on. I really hate saying this, but Stage Door’s production of “Clue” provided an “average” theatrical experience with an incredibly above average effort. I must extend compliments on the effort put forth. It truly was impressive! However, it could not totally overcome the weight of the absence of talent in the writing.
First on my list of compliments: the choreography. In this production of "Clue: The Musical" the choreography virtually saves the show! All I can say is Ricardo Aponte is a God! I have never met the man and have only seen two shows he choreographed, but he sure knows how to make movement on the stage interesting and entertaining. He also knows how to fill time with movement and not make it repetitious or boring. Without his choreography, the audience would have been the ones murdered, not Mr. Boddy.
Second: the cast. Director Robert Egizio assembled a very balanced, talented group of actors who formed a strong ensemble. While the physicality of some of the actors was not exactly what I would expect in their roles (Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green and Mrs. Peacock), all gave very solid performances. The true stand-out of the show was George Deavours as Mrs. White. A man in drag is usually guaranteed to get laughs, but Mr. Deavours brought such a wonderful characterization to Mrs. White, he stole the show! I was also impressed with the work of Patty Mosley as the ditzy detective. She brought a breath of fresh air and a burst of energy to the second act. All of the actors in this one deserve commendations. They all did a truly remarkable job of creating enjoyable characters that were fun to watch, even though they didn’t get much help from the script or the score. I would also like to compliment all of them on their vocal projection, both while singing and speaking. You might think it’s a minor thing, but it is so often missing or trails off as the performance progresses (especially in community theatre). It’s wonderful to be able to hear the actors (and I was sitting way in the back in a corner).
Third: the set and staging. Chuck Welcome is also a God! (I have never met him either, but I have seen several shows he designed).His sets for Stage Door’s productions are always clever, well crafted, functional and visually impressive. “Clue” is one of his best in my opinion. The re-creation of the board on the stage floor combined with the lid to the game on the stage left flats, plus the game pieces and the back wall entrances really let the audience know what the show was all about long before the first word is spoken. The other elements to the staging involving the characters primary colors were very clever: the different colored drinks and flashlights were especially fun.
Fourth: the costumes. These characters easily lend themselves to being swaddled in their pre-defined color schemes (purple for Professor Plum, etc.). There is also help from the design of the original board game too. I felt that each character was perfectly dressed for their part and their wardrobe was a great asset to the actors by portraying the character’s personality to the audience. The only negative was that Mrs. Peacock’s skirt seemed to be too tight for the actress. It impeded her ability to move and because of her short stature, the desired effect of a fabulous babe in a tight skirt didn’t quite come off. Instead of being sexy, it looked to me like it just didn’t fit too well.
Fifth: director Robert Egizio. I have to admit the guy knows where to point the spotlight. What I mean by that is: he knows what to accentuate and what to minimize. If you’ve got a less than strong book, give the audience something to look at. Compensate by filling the audience’s eyes with dancing and visual wonders. Make sure you have good vocal talent to make the absolute most of the music. I’d be willing to bet that if you were to ask any audience member what they remember most about the show, they would most likely say something visual. I have my doubts that many would recall any of the songs (even the ones that were reprised over and over). And in my opinion, in a musical, that is fatal. If he had assembled anything less than the production team, and talented cast he had, the audience wouldn’t have had a clue of what they had paid for.
Sixth: musical director Linda Uzelac. The woman is the eighth wonder of the world! I have also never met her, but have seen several shows she has been musical director for. She always puts 110% into the show. She single-handedly (OK, she really used both of her hands) provided full orchestration for the entire show and managed to work her way into a speaking part too!
In conclusion, I hope you will go see “Clue: The Musical” it is great to see so much craft being used so skillfully. It is just a shame to see it used on this material.
|Oklahoma, by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Chicks and Ducks and Geese better scurry!!|
Sunday, July 30, 2006 ||
I’m sorry to say this, but by the time this review is posted, Big Top’s production of “Oklahoma” will have closed. If you didn’t get to see it, you missed something special. I didn’t get to see it until its second to last performance Saturday night (7/29/06). It was a well deserved sold–out run! |
“Oklahoma” is a staple of high schools and community theatre because it is a text-book definition of a “feel-good musicale”. That isn’t to say it is an easy show to produce. It still requires talent, creativity and hard work to leave the audience feeling good (instead of feeling sorry they came). Big Top assembled the talent, employed creativity and put in lots of hard work to leave the audience not only feeling good, but (according to the folks sitting near me in the audience) planning to come back for more!
This production featured a strong ensemble of talent, which, while not necessarily balanced, was cohesive, effective and entertaining. There were a number of very strong featured players, including David Pylate as Jud, Stephen Banks as Ali Hakim and Christy Lee Fisher as Ado Annie. Three folks in particular stood out for me: John Carucci as Will Parker, Bree Shannon-Cullens as Laurey, and “theatrical virgin” (meaning this was her first time on stage – not whatever you were thinking) Eloise Maxey-Cunningham as Aunt Eller - who positively stole the show. Although these folks stood out to me, that is not to say that the other featured players in the cast are anything to sneeze at! All were good.
In addition to the talent, the direction of the show by David Short was solid, fluid and allowed the actors to work within their comfort zone. The obvious joy all were having came across to the audience in abundance. There was a great use of the limited space available and it was done with an artistic flair and cleverness that I wish more shows would employ. The theater was configured in a sort of “football field” layout with the audience seated along the walls with the stage being down the middle of the room and in the “end zones”. Not quite theatre in the round, but sort of. Most of the show occurred in the “end zones”, while the dance numbers were on the “main playing field” around the “50-yard line” between the “stands”.
The set was very clever and employed two main pieces in the “end zones” that were rotated to provide different settings. In the "home team’s end zone", the exterior of Aunt Eller’s house rotated to become the exterior of a barn. While in the "opponent’s end zone", the exterior of Jud’s smoke house became the interior of the same. The ever present windmill was a wonderful addition that served no other purpose than to demonstrate “place”. The detail of the set design, dressing and construction added a layer of professional quality to this production that is not often seen at this level of community theatre.
The limitations of budget were most obvious in the pit. Musical accompaniment was provided solely by the very talented Annie Cook (who was also the show’s musical director).The occasional synthesized brass accompaniment added a kind of “cheapness” to the sound which I think it might have been better on piano alone (just one man’s opinion). Her arrangements and use of vocal talent in this show were superb! I never felt that anyone was out of their range or singing beyond their ability. She kept the weaker voices working in their “comfort zones” and while some were occasionally lacking the strength and grandeur expected in some of the more familiar songs, the singers never disappointed or faltered.
The only less than impressive part of the show, for me, was the choreography. It was competent, but came across as somewhat stilted and claustrophobic. The emotions that propel the characters into movement became stifled and were replaced by an awareness of the small space and the need to avoid tripping over anyone or anything in the front rows (on both sides of them). Choreography with such a large cast in such a small space is always difficult.
I like to review shows based on how well the production uses the resources available to them. Did they make the most of the talent, budget, space and script? Big Top’s impressive production of “Oklahoma” not only made the most of what they had to work with, they exceeded the audience’s expectations and left them wanting more!
|Stage Door, by George S. Kaufman & Edna Ferber
Thank heaven for little girls…|
Sunday, July 30, 2006 ||
Kudzu Playhouse’s summer stock production of “Stage Door” played for one weekend only and I was privileged to attend their Friday night performance on July 28th. This show was primarily a children’s theatre production with most of the roles being handled by high-school age actors (with the exception of Wally Hinds, who was the sole adult in the cast – for those of us that know Wally, there is truly some sort of irony in that casting).|
If you are not familiar with this “old chestnut” of a show, it comes from the pens of Edna Ferber and Geoprge S. Kaufman and from a more innocent time (the late 1930’s). The plot of the show is basically irrelevant, but the setting is critical. The show takes place in a Broadway boarding house for aspiring single actresses in New York. This show is more about the babes, than it is about the plot. It is a thin excuse to parade a stable of young female talent across a stage (very similar to those old “Follies” shows of the same era). Lest you think I have digressed (or for those of you who know me, progressed) into some sort of theatrical pervert saying such things about high school aged actresses, let me tell you that it is a long standing theatrical tradition for young ladies to be on the stage so the audience may appreciate their beauty and charm (in fact, I think that’s the whole point of this script!).
The characters in the show fall into well defined stereotypes which, when combined with the attractive ladies, makes the show very easy to digest…and enjoyable too! The story line involves staying true to yourself and the financial rewards (and spiritual pitfalls) of selling out, and how a talented young girl who works hard will win in the end (as long as there is a man to rescue her). Sorry I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a jab at the dated “woman-as-victim-who-needs-to-be-rescued-by-a-man” gender stereotyping in the story.
In this production, the girls rule, and the boys drool! Sorry guys, but the girls left you in the dust in this one. This is a large cast (27 according to the director in her curtain speech) comprised of talented young ladies (and hard working young men trying desperately to keep up). Somehow I think it is easier to accept a teenage girl in the role of a young woman than it is to accept a teenage boy in the role of a young man. The girls were believable for me, but the boys all looked like they were playing “dress up”. This probably says more about my sexism than anything, or maybe the boys reminded me of my own high school days on the stage attempting to play adults. Whatever the reason, none of the boys in this show looked comfortable on stage (their discomfort may also have been due to the fact that they are teenage boys and they are considerably outnumbered by teenage girls).
Whenever I see a show with such a large cast I am reluctant to single out any performances because I know I will accidentally overlook someone who deserves to be mentioned. All the young ladies in this cast were solid, believable and talented, but I would like to mention a few who caught my eye. Morgan Gardner as Bernice Niemeyer did not have a major role, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing her in major roles in the future (every time she came on stage, she made sure the audience didn’t miss her)! Denee Lortz’s talent made it easy to believe in her character’s talent. She positively radiated on stage. Brittany Richter’s performance as the cynical Judith was perfectly balanced, very believable and not overplayed for laughs.
I was most impressed with the direction of Leslie Kelley. She had these kids in constant motion on stage and giving snappy banter without a hitch! The actors were picking up each others lines without the usual “beat” between deliveries that happens so often in community theatre (even with adult actors!). The blocking was tricky, but smooth, entrances and exits were timely and the kids did all this with a very short rehearsal schedule!
This review is too late to encourage you to attend any other performances of this production since it played for only one weekend. I just wanted to share the good time I had at the show and to let those involved that they did a good job and I hope to see more of them in the future.
|The Attala County Garden Club, by Topher Payne
Ya'll Come Back Now - Ya' Hear?|
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 ||
I finally got to see “The Attala County Garden Club” at Kudzu! It was their closing night, but I was finally able to make it. And boy am I glad I did! It was delightfully out of the norm from the usual middle of the road “family fare” frequently seen at Kudzu. That’s not say the show isn’t family friendly, it is. |
But it most definitely requires an audience with open minds, good imaginations and an increased willingness to suspend disbelief. The show came to Kudzu almost intact from its successful run over at Onstage Atlanta as a replacement after complications befell Kudzu’s previously planned production. With only the addition of two new cast members and a new “Kudzu Kolumn” coordinated set, the show arrived virtually fully formed.
The cast was packed with talented actors. Cheryl Rookwood and Ryan Bauer turned in solid supporting performances. While Cheryl didn’t quite convince me she was a small town Mississippi girl, she did effectively demonstrate the sense of grace and dignity her character constantly strives for. Ryan’s portrayal of the hapless, boy/man husband came across not so much as acting, but more as “being”. In some spots that was good. In others it was annoying.
Bobbie Elzey. Patty Siebert, Jeanette Strickland and Jo Howarth radiated confidence, skill and contagious fun onstage. The playfulness and joy they were having with their characters came across to the audience and made it very easy for us to accept them and their “reality”. They were a total pleasure to watch onstage!
The night I saw the show, the part of Rose was played by Amanda Cucher, (who played the part during the run at Onstage). She held her own against the ensembel of the M.L.O.A. (“mature” ladies of acting. Her portrayal of the young Mississippi mother, whose life is turned upside down by the most outlandish set of circumstances, was right on target! I am sorry I never got to see Kellie Fortner’s performance. I am sure she had to be good to get cast into this talented crew.
All I can say about the direction is: it must have been good, because I wasn’t aware of it. Other than a couple of briefly clumsy moments on stage where some of the actors seemed confused about who was supposed to be where (we can’t all stand in the same spot you know!), the show flowed seamlessly. The blocking, staging and character interaction was natural and effective. Kudos to Jeanette Stinson for not succumbing to flamboyant staging and posing for this quirky story. Personally I think it plays much better “understated” than over-the-top.
The real star of this production, for me at least, was the story.
I am aware of a lot of buzz surrounding the show’s playwright Topher Payne and was very curious to see what the buzz was about. From what I read on the web, he stays very busy acting and writing. I also see that many folks have kind and complementary things to say about him. My only previous experience with Mr. Payne has been seeing him as an actor in “The Book of Liz”, so my knowledge of him was very limited.
Being a native Mississippian myself (even though I migrated more than 30 years ago), I often cringe at how my fellow Mississippians are portrayed onstage. Yes, as a general rule, we are not the brightest, most honest, literate or hardest working souls to be found, but we are not all stereotypes either! Topher has done a magnificent job of character development in “Atalla”. He has put together the right number of people with the right types of personalities to make this story interesting while keeping it incredible. He also doesn’t fall into the need to be too over-the-top and cartoon-ish. Yes, I can personally name real people from “back home” who are strikingly similar to the characters in this play. He got them right. That’s all I can tell you.
He also has written a unique story based on a creative and clever concept. That’s so refreshing! The show has a number of very funny lines and “bits” without the need to make every scene about the “bit”, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to go into specific details because I don’t want to spoil anything for any future audiences (and the story is unbelievably hard to explain), but there were many very clever and funny ideas within.
I will however share one line (not a funny one) which I felt was so achingly correct for my old home state. The line was spoken about the remnants of racism and how it is allowed to seep into current times with the excuse that “it has always been that way”. Unfortunately I will probably end up paraphrasing it, so I will apologize in advance. When asked if there were any black people in the Kosciusko Mississippi Lion’s Club to which his father belongs, Rose’s husband Michael replies “No, but it’s always been that way”. Rose replies “those are old thoughts - for old people”. Having lived through it, I thought that line perfectly captured the dilemma of the “New South”.
OK, now for the negatives. The show runs about 20 minutes too long. Act 1 in particular needs some serious trimming. Several of the actors lost their diction when they installed their southern accents. The accent is a major part of who, and where, your character is, but if we can’t understand what you are saying, how do we know what purpose your character serves in the story? Or what is happening in the story for that matter?
While the writer had an obviously intimate knowledge of who these characters are, the actors didn’t seem as sure. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone turned in very enjoyable performances, if not necessarily truly “authentic”. I felt only Amanda seemed to totally “get” her character. Everyone else seemed to have “heard about someone like that”, if you know what I mean. Negatives done! Now on to the closing…
I really enjoyed the show. It was definitely too long, but it was still refreshingly creative and fun. It was also a real treat to see it at Kudzu and watch about two-thirds of the audience raise their hands when, during the curtain speech, Wally Hinds asked how many were there for the first time. Maybe more ITP folks will have reason in the future to venture OTP? Let’s hope so.
|Love's Labour's Lost, by William Shakespeare
The Bard in the Yard!|
Sunday, May 21, 2006 ||
As part of my non-performing duties in the Atlanta community theatre community, I frequently attend performances of shows in which I know someone in the cast, to show my support for their efforts (sort of like “AA” for actors recovering from performance anxiety). |
On Friday night, I did just such a thing by catching a performance of “Love’s Labours Lost” by the North Fulton Drama Club, in which my friend Elizabeth Fricke had a supporting part.
The performance occurred outdoors in the yard in front of (or behind, I’m not really sure) historic Barrington Hall in Roswell (just why it is historic, I haven’t a clue). I was excited (yet again) by the prospect of a night under the stars hearing finely crafted dialogue delivered by well rehearsed and talented actors. My wife and I unpacked our lawn chairs, popped a bottle of bubbly (Diet Coke in my case) and lit a citronella candle like a Bic Lighter at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert to prepare for the show! There was a very nice vibe in the air similar to a concert at Chastain.
The idea of outdoor Shakespeare is not a new one, but it is in Roswell! I heartily commend the North Fulton Drama Club for having the courage, logistical skills and weather control to pull this ambitious undertaking off. There was a lot of risk with this production, but for the most part, it succeeded!
While the casting was a little bit uneven (some actors were considerably stronger than others) overall the performances came across very well. There can be a tendency toward delivering Shakespearean dialogue as a “speech” instead of as conversation in some productions, but that was in little evidence here. The cast was talented and had strong commitment to their characters, which made the show even more accessible for those not completely comfortable with the works of ‘ole Willy.
The early sixties “Kennedy” era costuming motif was inspired. It was a very simple, yet effective way to translate the characters to a more modern audience. It also added a bit of taste and elegance to the event without making it pretentious.
The only negative to the evening for me was the challenge of hearing the actors. Outdoor acoustics do not aid vocal projection and when combined with the ambient noises of a 21st century world (sirens, cars, jets, killer car stereos…) some of the dialogue got lost. I realize that dialogue is not the most important element of a Shakespeare play but…
I hope some method of providing sound reinforcement for the actors voices in future productions can be employed (body mics or shotgun mics would definitely help). It would make a good experience an even better one! Job well done and keep up the good work folks! I look forward to your next production.
|Funny Money, by Ray Cooney
Go On. Take the Money & Run.|
Sunday, May 21, 2006 ||
So last night I made my first venture to “The Stellar Cellar”. I went to see, and support, some friends in the cast of “Funny Money”. I was also excited about the adventure of experiencing a new play and a new venue! (OK, so it doesn’t take much to excite me these days.)|
I guess that I am probably the only person in the Atlanta community theatre community who didn’t know about the venue, as the photographic history of past productions in the “lobby” dated back to late 1800’s and contained images of virtually every other actor in town (including Murray Sarkin as a teenager in “Grease"!).
The “Stellar Cellar” gives new meaning to the term “Little Theatre”. The size, layout and seating gave me the sensation of attending a performance on an airplane! (Hey there’s an idea, Airborne Theatre!) The stage is truly tiny. If you have any potential issues with claustrophobia, either as an actor, or as an audience member, I strongly recommend medication before attending a performance.
That being said, laughter also works! And this show provided lots of that!
I will admit to being a sucker for a good farce, and Ray Cooney is one of the masters at the genre. Although this one seemed a bit long and probably could have used a little more editing, it was still fun. While many of the plot points were so obvious they could have been seen by Ray Charles, there were also a few unexpected surprises (I guess that’s redundant. A surprise is unexpected. That’s what makes it a surprise... Somewhere in a retirement home in Mississippi a former high school English teacher is weeping.)
(Disclaimer: I have already mentioned that I know some of the cast, so I am prone to be kind, but I will still call ‘em as I see’em)
As for the cast; it was a good and balanced ensemble of very talented folks. The cast gelled very well and seemed to be up to the challenge of the material. There are an awful lot of complicated lines for a lot of folks and it is critical to the plot that they be done correctly. All of the actors did an extremely commendable job on that count. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves onstage, which makes it very easy for the audience to have a good time too. There are really only two minor points about the show I would like to make. Point one: the speed of the dialogue needed to be faster. There were occasional ”beats” between lines of dialogue exchanged between characters that affected the pacing of the show. Part of the fun of farce is that it hits you so fast you don’t know what hit you and might not get the joke until you are on your way home. Point Two: some of the jokes were “oversold”, even for a farce.
Although everyone in the cast deserves individual Kudos, I would like to single out two folks in particular: Greg Fitzgerald and Ned Thurman. I have known Greg (and have seen him backstage in his underwear from time to time) for about a year and I must say he has really impressed me with his growth as an actor. Greg has always been a good actor, but, his performance as Henry Perkins is the best yet! Ned (who I have seen onstage before, but never in his underwear) really knocked me out! His timing and delivery as Vic Johnson was damn near perfect. I was amazed at his ability to milk laughs out of even the most minor things.
And once again I am most impressed with the direction of Lane Teilhaber (someone I have met, but have never seen in his underwear backstage, onstage or elsewhere). He has done a masterful job of utilizing space, talent and script to provide the audience with a very enjoyable production. This guy really knows how to make the most of the resources he has to work with.
In closing, I am sorry I didn’t get to see this one sooner (I really could have used the laughs last week). It was a fun night out at the theatre, and even though the venue was a little bit cramped (I am now facing a paternity suit from the lady in the seat in front of me), it was a very enjoyable show.
|You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, by Clark Gesner
That Charlie Brown…what a nice boy!|
Thursday, April 13, 2006 ||
On the evening of Saturday April 8th, I saw a talented cast in a well written (but admittedly aging) musical featuring some of the most universally loved characters in the world. They had a skilled director; a great set; clever costumes; good staging; wonderful musical direction; adequate (appropriate to their skill level?) choreography; and the support of a good audience in one of the best community theaters in Atlanta. Their voices blended beautifully on the ensemble numbers. Their solo voices also sounded great. “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” was a very good show. It showed a great respect for the characters of Charles Schultz and for his memory. |
It was a very “polite” production.
“Polite” would be the word to describe the essence of this production for me. All participants did their jobs skillfully and respectfully. That resulted in a general sense of restraint and (yes I’ll say it one more time) politeness that permeated this production for me. There was a very strong, wonderfully creative artistic sensibility to the visual aspects (the set, set pieces and staging) of this production which was not equaled by other aspects of the show.
There were some exceptions. Liz Birmingham’s turn as “Sally” left me feeling that she was the star of the show instead of just a supporting role. Her energy and strong commitment made her a stand out.
Taylor Driskill’s choices for “Lucy” changed the character from a screaming diva to a sort of “Fran Dresher” sounding dynamo. Her vocal quality got on my nerves (which I believe it was supposed to). Her energy and commitment to character were also strong, just grating (again, I think they were supposed to be…at least I hope they were supposed to be…OK, if they weren’t supposed to be, I’m sorry. But they really grated on me.)
The male characters in this one had a tougher time. All were talented, but left me feeling they were somewhat miscast.
Royce Garrison’s voice really impressed me! I will be very excited to see him again in another production. I just don’t feel that Schroeder, a reserved classical pianist, would normally be expected to posses such a strong “gospel” voice quality. His physical size dwarfed his cast mates which caused a visual sense of imbalance in the ensemble. I think he might have made a more interesting “Charlie Brown” (but he would have to tone down that great big voice for sure!).
Thanks to his bone structure and goatee, Jimi Kocina’s physical appearance reminded me of “Shaggy” from the “Scooby-Doo” cartoon series. Unfortunately, once that thought was planted in my mind, his characterizations for “Snoopy” read more like “Scooby-Doo” which didn’t seem appropriate to character. He plays “Snoopy” as cute, not as a “ham”. He does a good job, but I think he has the talent to do more with the character.
Chase Davidson makes a cute “Charlie Brown”. He has a good singing voice and a winning stage presence. But I’m sorry, he’s too cute! He doesn’t convey the “lovable loser” aspects of “Charlie Brown” effectively for me. In my opinion he might have made a better “Linus”.
Speaking of “Linus”, John Hardy’s portrayal of being the youngest one, who is also the wisest one, doesn’t really come across as being intelligent or wise. He comes across more as quiet and reserved. Perhaps those are traits that would have been better suited to “Schroeder”?
The energy level of many “production numbers” seemed restrained. For example, I expected “Suppertime” to bring down the house as an over-the-top-high-energy-I’m-gonna-make-the-audience-stand-up-and-cheer number. What the audience got was “cute”, but not really “energetic”. The big production number turned out to be “Beethoven Day” with the power of Royce Garrison’s “gospel voice” driving a gospel themed tribute to Ludwig Von Beethoven! It was a strong number. It used the talent well. But did it fit into the show stylistically? In my opinion, not really.
Every aspect of this production was, like a well drawn cartoon, neatly “colored in the lines”. I’m not sure whether this was an active stylistic choice (in an attempt to keep the characters two-dimensional like they are in the comic strip) or simply the accidental net result of the combination of the show’s different elements.
Many individual components of this show were “A+”, but overall, the result was a better-than-average “B”. I really loved the projected “In Memory of…” at the end of the show. It was a truly loving choice that brought a tear to my eye. It was indicative of this production: polite and respectful.
|Urinetown (Extension), by
Its A Pisser! (Im really surprised no one has used this title yet)|
Sunday, April 2, 2006 ||
OK, so I’m not a big fan of musicals; especially the low budget, low talent, usually off-key variety put forth by so many community theatres. So after reading the many glowing comments on this site about this show, I decided to go check it out. I brought along all my prejudices: the bulk of the reviews here seemed to be written by kids who were friends of the cast; I’ve never been to the venue before (and it’s all the way across town); anyway, what kind of a show is called Urinetown? |
When we walked into the theatre, I was struck by how small the stage was. There didn’t seem to be enough room for a soliloquist, let alone a large musical cast with choreography and an onstage band! My first impression of the set was that it looked like an “after school” project. I had all my preconceived notions firmly planted that I was going to be disappointed once again by another half-ass community theater musical production. That’s about the time my wife said, “Stop whining, shut up and enjoy the show dumbass!” (OK, she doesn’t actually talk like that, but I know that’s what she was thinking.)
And man oh man did I enjoy the show! Actually “enjoy” is too mild a word for this production. I was so entertained, so enthralled, so enthusiastic that it wore me out by the end of the performance!
I know that every reviewer here has given this show a “5”, but I feel that isn’t high enough. This was the single most solid community theater musical production I have ever seen! This production would shame many of those I’ve seen at the Fox! This one has it all: great talent, great stage direction, great musical direction, great choreography, great staging, great music and a great book!
Every single member of the cast is incredibly talented, right on down to the lowliest supporting member. The leads are not just superb, they are exquisite!. The supporting cast members are more than competent; they are all skilled and talented enough to be the leads! Even though I truly feel the entire cast was absolutely incredible, I would like to mention a few standouts: Jenna Edmonds, Eric McNaughton and Robert Wayne. When being hit with the blinding light of such a talented cast, it is often hard to see any individual performances, but these folks made a special impression on me.
My highest praise is for the directorial team: director Greg Poulos , musical director Clay Causey and choreographer Ricardo Aponte. This triumvirate of incredible talent paid close attention to every detail in the show. Every actor, every movement, every word, every set piece served a purpose. There was no fluff, no waste no “getting by” or settling about anything. Even though they were blessed with an extremely talented cast, I think these guys could have made a success of this show even if they had been forced to cast the janitorial staff of the local Taco Bell. It was also very obvious that everybody associated with this production worked their butts off. All that effort really showed in the performance.
Just so I don’t sound like another “kid-friend-of-the-cast review”, I will mention a few things that could have been better. Michael Austin has a wonderful voice, but many of the songs he sang are in a range where he can’t project well. Bite the bullet and mic him! The political undertones of the story are pointless. The story could just as easily have been about anything else, but “paying to pee” is a definite attention getter. I agree with the director’s notes in the program: it is a “…laugh-out-loud comedy. So don’t look for a lot of social relevance.” The theatre seats, while undoubtedly the most comfortable of any local community theatre, were predisposed to being in the “upright and locked” position. When I tried to stand for the curtain call, I had quite a struggle as the seat kept pulling my feet off the ground and trying to swallow me up instead of allowing me to get up and salute a great performance.
In closing, I can easily understand why the run for this show has been extended and why it has been sold out every weekend. This one is very special. If you can get a ticket before it passes into memory, go see it. I’m still not a big fan of musicals, but I sure am of this production!
|Play On, by Rick Abbot
I think I wet my pants…|
Sunday, March 19, 2006 ||
Someone once posted a comment on this website that called those who attend Atlanta’s local community theatre productions an incestuous family of actors, directors, writers and wannabes. If that’s the case, then Kudzu’s current production of “Play On” is perfect for the whole family! |
This show features bad acting, lame accents, poor timing, clumsy blocking, missed sound and light cues, incomplete sets, ill fitting costumes, horrifically bad makeup, malfunctioning props, divas, smart-asses, dumb-asses, fat-asses and incredibly bad writing!
And those are the good parts!
I mean it. Those ARE the good parts! This show is so damn funny because it lays bare all the worst of community theatre, and does so with a broad comedic flair that would even make Mel Brooks say, “Enough already! I can’t breathe!” Honestly, I haven’t laughed that hard in a long, long time. And it wasn’t just me. The entire audience was in tears! Kids! Old Ladies! Students! Teachers! Baptists! Catholics! Atheists! Saints! Sinners! (And yes, even the actors, directors, writers and wannabes were laughing too!)
The show is about a small community theatre group putting on an original production because they can’t afford to pay royalties and the novice writer of their murder mystery script is willing to waive royalties for a public performance of her most precious work (sound familiar to anyone out there?). Unfortunately, the writer keeps making revisions to the script right up to opening night (never actually happens in real life, eh?).
The actors in this production form a strong cast! The good actors do as wonderful a job of bad acting as do the bad actors. In fact, I couldn’t tell the difference between who was acting badly, and who was badly acting! For this play, “You Suck!” is a compliment!
And since we are all part of an incestuous family, I would like to single out a few of my relatives...My Uncle Brink Miller (Henry) is at his best when he is at his worst. My Aunt Jeannie Hinds (Polly) proves that there are no small parts for big actors. My step-brother Ned Thurman (Saul) is a true shooting star; he not only shot his mouth off during the show, he downed a couple of shots, AND fired a shot! My nephew Clint Pridgen (Billy) gives a totally new meaning to the term “Poser”. My niece Renee Locher (Violet) is living proof that a good looking woman in a bad wig is still harder to look at than a good looking woman. My Grandma Peggy Davis (Phyllis) should be arrested and sent to prison for stealing the show. My sister-in-law Kim Burdges (Smitty) proves that Biology is only skin deep, but theatre goes straight to the bone. My cousin Mary Ritenour (Aggie) fails to manage the stage that manages to stage her failings. My adopted cousin Amy Dell (Louise) has a hammer and will, indeed, hammer all over this land! My half-sister (and Prom date) Stacy Padgett (Gerry) will next try her hand at directing traffic, after her near-death experience of directing community theatre.
David Campion (who is not technically my Cousin) is my “Tech” Cousin and did a magnificent job of doing everything completely wrong. To the rest of the crew, you guys and gals are all family to me and you all did a great job of putting together a really enjoyable production of really bad community theatre!
Directing this type of show must have been maddening (“No, No, No! You’re doing it all right! Do it wrong!”), but my second cousin, twice removed, Lane Teilhaber has done an impressive job! He clearly understood what was needed to make the show work. His bits of business, funny blocking, and “special” added details (like the program for the play within the play) make the show funnier than what the script calls for! If I wasn’t already related to him, I’d have to adopt him as my long lost little brother!
It is not a perfect production by any means, but it is most definitely a funny, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable one! You really should go see this one! (and bring a family member too)
|The Woman in Black, by by Stephen Mallatratt
A ghost story with spirited acting!|
Sunday, March 12, 2006 ||
I ventured out to the Academy Theatre last night to see OffOffPeachtree’s current production of “The Woman in Black”. I went to see, and support, my friend Carri Schwab who was playing the part of “The Woman”. |
The general admission performance I attended was apparently sold out (or perhaps even over sold) as several patrons in the rows in front of me became involved in a discussion over the legitimacy of “reserved seating” by the “I-got-here-first-and-put-programs-on-the-empty-seats-to-hold-them-for-my-friends-who-haven’t-arrived-yet” method. The matter was quickly resolved peacefully with the magical arrival of additional chairs, and my evening of anticipated horror did not begin with the seating of the audience.
The Academy Theatre is a wonderful environment to see a show like this. It's “low rent” intimacy is a perfect match for the telling of a good ghost story. This performance relies on the audience’s imagination to fill in the details only hinted at in the physical display of a few minor props, pantomimes and sound cues. In one scene in particular, Mr. McDaniel’s character is quite impressed by the wonder of recorded sound being used to create images for the audience. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the “aural picture painting” was challenged by sounds from the outside world (low flying aircraft, sirens wailing on their way to some neighborhood emergency, and even conversation from the parking lot!) bleeding into the theatre via an open ventilation window. Ah the joys of community theatre, eh?
The promotions for this show warned me that I would be “on the edge of my seat” for this “nerve shredding” tale of ghosts and horror from Edwardian England. While it was indeed a pretty well written tale; it was much closer to good literature than to good horror. “The Woman in Black” is more about the “telling” of a rather formulaic ghost story via the premise of preparing for a theatrical presentation. There were several large holes in the logic of the “ghost story”, but aren’t the best ghost stories more about the emotions rather than the rationale? Personally, I was not kept on the edge of my seat, nor were my nerves shredded by the story. The story was well crafted, but not particularly unique or clever.
I was however, knocked back in my seat by power of the show’s two main actors: Eric Brooks and Stuart McDaniel! Wow! These two gentlemen worked their tails off! Their energy and craft was impressively consistent as they worked through a mind blurring variety of characters without ever losing the audience along the way, nor resorting to cheap tricks to differentiate their characters. This play is an “actor’s buffet” and these two guys came at it like two hungry Sumo wrestlers ready to chow down! The truly impressive part of it was their synergy. Normally in a play this demanding you would expect one actor to be stronger than the other. Not in this production! Mr. Brooks and Mr. McDaniel brought a combined energy to the performance that was much greater than the sum of its parts!
I would be remiss in my duties as a friend if I didn’t mention the performance of Carri Schwab. She brought a classic ghostly quality to the part of “The Woman”. She silently appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, frequently seen behind a semi transparent scrim, her “hideous death face” frequently enveloped in shadows. Throughout much of the performance she is deprived of the use of her face and dialogue to shape her character. She very effectively compensated by using her movements and hands to communicate her character’s eternal horror and sadness at the loss of her child. Based on conversations I overheard after the show, she succeeded in scaring the crap out of several patrons that evening.
The direction of the show was skillful, respectful and reinforced the strengths of both the story and the production. This is an actor’s show and it seemed to me that Director Kyle Crew is an “actor’s director”. I couldn’t detect any sign of directorial “interference” or “disharmony”. The staging was in keeping with the theatrical nature of the story and the characters blocking and pacing was perfectly suited to each scene. The performance was extremely smooth, emotionally balanced and totally appropriate. Did I mention effective?
Needless to say, if you enjoy seeing strong actors playing well written characters with skilled direction, (and can block out sounds from the outside world during the performance), I very highly recommend seeing this show! You may or may not be scared, but I think you will most definitely be impressed!
|A Little Princess, by Adapted By: Gay Grooms
In Today's World, Is Cute Such A Bad Thing?|
Tuesday, February 7, 2006 ||
I do not feel it is fair to judge or compare children’s theatre to “main stage” theatre. In my humble opinion, children’s theatre has additional burdens. Children’s theatre showcases and develops budding young talent. It also provides an opportunity for parents, relatives and friends to appreciate a child’s talent (or simply acknowledge a child’s efforts in the absence of talent). One of its most important functions is to expose young people, both on stage and in the audience, to the magic, wonder and enjoyment of theatre! Don’t get me wrong, they still owe the audience a good show, but that must be tempered with meeting its other obligations.|
Children’s shows frequently have to deal with very limited resources or must survive on the leftovers from the main stage productions. The best children’s productions learn how to make “lemonade” from the “lemons” they are frequently given. By focusing on its strengths and minimizing its weaknesses, “A Little Princess” has done just that! Here is WHAT WAS GOOD and WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER…
WHAT WAS GOOD: The director’s intelligence was evident in that no actor was directed to do anything that was beyond the scope of their abilities. Each and every actor on stage projected true confidence, total calmness and projected their joy in acting! A song (not original to the script) was added to showcase Stacy Serowitz’s impressive vocal talent. Was the song out of sync with the storyline or style of the show? Maybe a little, but it was worth it to hear her beautiful voice and experience her talent! Allowing the kids to be what they are naturally, young, talented and cute was the smartest thing any director could do for them, and the audience.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Actors were sometimes blocked too far apart to generate the appropriate emotion in some scenes, or delivered dialogue out of the frame of the lighting. The actor’s use of their hands was infrequent and seemed to be occur only when they remembered some direction they had been given.
WHAT WAS GOOD: This show does not have a set. It uses a very limited number of set pieces to define the locales for the dialogue. The entire show takes place in front of the curtain because the main stage show’s set occupies the vast majority of the area behind the curtain. That imposes some serious limitations for the director and the cast when it comes to blocking, entrances and exits. “Princess” makes very efficient use of what little real estate they have to work with. Since they can't go "deep", they must often go "wide".(Sorry, I saw the show on Super Bowl Sunday and I just couldn't pass up using at least one football metaphor).
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: A real set or at least more creative use of lighting and visual cues to give a better illusion or illustration of place
WHAT WAS GOOD: It’s a morality tale about how "what goes around, comes around". A “be nice to those you meet on the way up, because you meet they same people on the way down” kind of tale. It is cute and heartwarming.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: If you go to children’s theatre expecting a believable story, you need to get out more.
WHAT WAS GOOD: The songs featured some of the best young voices heard at Kudzu in a long time! The best singers were great, and even the weakest singers were still very good! The music was written to reinforce the period of the storyline and compliment the age of the actors, which it did very well.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: The keys for some of the songs were at the far end of some of the singers ranges. The instrumentation of the music tracks frequently sounded a little too “synthesized” which detracted from their period authenticity. Even after seeing the show twice,with the exception of “She’s Such a Little Princess”, there weren’t any truly memorable songs that remained in my head after the show.
Anastasia Bandemir as Sara Crewe:
WHAT WAS GOOD: Anastasia gave a very balanced and effective performance. Her voice was strong and her singing was excellent. No problem at all understanding why others might perceive her as a princess, she radiates!
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Occasionally delivered her lines too fast. Her character is introduced as being a 12-year-old, but her wardrobe accentuated her maturity, instead of being more in harmony with her character’s description. In one scene in particular, her truly impressive talent was upstaged by her even more impressive footwear!
Olivia Harlow as Miss Amelia:
WHAT WAS GOOD: Olivia did a truly wonderful job portraying the subservient sister. She projected her character’s shyness and eventual determination with great skill and understanding.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Her song at the beginning of the second act, while good, could have been stronger.
Haley Goldman as Emengarde:
WHAT WAS GOOD: How could anyone turn down the friendship of anyone as sweet as Emergarde? Haley’s portrayal of the little girl who wants to be a true friend was filled with sincerity and truth. Way to go Haley!
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Needs to work on her vocal projection. Occasionally spoke into the floor which made her difficult to hear.
Kimberly Maxwell as Becky:
WHAT WAS GOOD: Wow! I wish I could do an accent as good as this kid! Kimberly’s portrayal of her character was outstanding! Her voice was strong and clear and her stage presence was very impressive! I might add that’s a hard thing to do in a cast this talented.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Needs to be more aware of her arms and hands; there was a preponderance of swaying to her movements.
Constance Owl as Lotte:
WHAT WAS GOOD: Is this girl cute or what?! Constance was cast as the little girl who couldn’t - but was determined to keep trying anyway! Her dance scene was wonderful and she never overplayed the “cute” card by coming on too strong or by using tired clichés.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Could be taller!(probably will be some day)
Abigail McCracken as Mouse/Monkey:
WHAT WAS GOOD: Assigning acting duties to the very young Abigail McCracken for the Mouse and the Monkey really made the show for me! She single handedly (no pun intended) created some of the most memorable moments in the show! I guess I am just a sucker for cuteness!
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Maybe a speaking part next time?
Amy McCracken and Harold Henry:
WHAT WAS GOOD: These were the only adults in the show and they did an absolutely wonderful job of supporting the kids. In fact I think they may have toned down their “chops” somewhat on purpose to allow others to shine! I would love to be a part of any show with actors like these!
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: I felt that Amy’s character wasn’t “wicked” enough, but a youngster on my isle apparently disagreed by announcing to her parents during the show, “I don’t like her very much” after Amy appeared on stage. I guess I could be wrong…
Nicole Bennett, Courtney Bowers, Daniel McCracken, Stacy Serowitz, Kellie Ramdhanie, Keisha Ramdhanie, Kimberly Maxwell, Rebecca Katz and Laura Henry
WHAT WAS GOOD: I wish I could single out each actor one-by-one, but in truth they all did a totally great job of being a supporting cast! There was no hamming it up or attempting to steal attention away from any of the other actors during their scenes. These guys were absolute pros in both their acting and their approach to their duties as part of the production. They made the show great by being generous with their talent and kind with their support of their fellow actors.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER: Bigger parts for everyone next time!
“ A Little Princess” was a good show due primarily to the strength of the talent of its cast and the willingness of its director to allow that talent to shine through – even if it wasn’t totally appropriate to the story line. In children’s theatre, I think the audience both expects, and deserves that! Go see this show! The talent makes the trip very worthwhile!
|The Book of Liz, by David Sedaris and Amy Sedaris
Fun Fun Fun!|
Thursday, January 26, 2006 ||
Let me start with the usual caveats: 1. I am an actor; 2. I don’t know anybody associated with this show; 3. I hope to be able to work with some of these folks sometime in the future (if the fates allow), but will be honest in this review anyway. |
I had my first trip to Seven Stages last night to see “The Book of Liz”. It is a “fish out of water” story about Sister Elizabeth, who runs away from her sheltered Amish-like religious community and her wacky experiences in the “real” world, only to eventually realize “there’s no place like home”. The story is irrelevant and serves only as a framework on which to hang many, many jokes. Some are funny, however many are pointless and juvenile and often reflect a “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” approach. Nonetheless, you can’t help but laugh at some of them. I think the only thing missing was a “booger” joke. If you are familiar with the work of writers Amy and David Sedaris, this should come as no surprise. If not, bring along your third grade sense of humor and you won’t have any problems.
As for the cast, I had the distinct impression I was watching a school play. Everyone was having lots of fun and delighting in “hamming it up”. I have trouble perceiving an actor’s skill when watching “pork on parade”, but the atmosphere of fun was contagious and their energy never flagged throughout the show. While everyone in the cast was fun to watch and had no trouble portraying their “over-the-top” characters, I would like to single out a few things:
Dede Bloodworth took “over-the-top” over the moon! She never missed a chance to chew some scenery (or props) and often drew my attention away from whomever else was onstage with her (meaning I enjoyed her, but felt sorry for whoever had to try to hold the audience’s attention against her). I can’t wait to see her onstage again!
Kathleen Link made her unbelievable characters believable. I actually had no problem accepting the English accent from Oxana, the Ukranian Mr. Peanut!
Charles Swint’s Brother Hezekiah brought the house down as he took an incredibly long time to do…everything!
Topher Payne’s Brother Brightbee was the epitome of self-centeredness. The only thing missing was a sparkling gleam as the light danced off his smile when he struck a pose.
Rachel Craw had the toughest role in this show: the lead. She was frequently called on to be the straight man for some pretty outlandish scenes and did a wonderful job of portraying innocence and bewilderment in a world gone mad.
Alex Van’s Reverend Tollhouse was not on a par with the “over-the-top” –ishness of the others. He seemed to be a little more tongue-in-cheek and occasionally seemed to get lost in the tidal wave of ham onstage. How dare you try to act sir! Perhaps I am mistaking the authoritarian traits of his character for a sense of respect for acting and perhaps an unwillingness to “go all the way” into rampant silliness.
My highest praise is for director Lee Nowell. The blocking was correct, comfortable and effective, the actors were prepared, the scene changes were smooth (and there were a lot of scene changes) and the entire experience was an absolute pleasure. As “goofy” (and I mean that in a good way) as the show was, it never descended into amateurism. If I were a drinking man, I would recommend that the audience have a few before coming to see this show. It’ll ease your way into the land of Sweaty Squeemish Chesseballs!
|Postmortem, by Ken Ludwig
A Fun Evening At The Theatre!|
Monday, October 31, 2005 ||
CAVEATS: I am an actor (OK, I would classify myself as an actor. You can draw your own conclusions when you see me in something.) I am not involved in this production; however I do know some of the folks involved, which means I am prone to be kind. However, if I feel something could be better, I will say so! My goal in this review is to support the efforts of those involved and to offer constructive criticism. Sorry for the length of this review, but I also wanted to be thorough. Actors are listed in the same order as they are on this website (alphabetical by last name). Am I an expert on every topic here? Absolutely not! But I am an audience member, and deserve respect for that. With that being said, in my opinion, here is “The Good Stuff” and “What Could Be Better” about Postmortem…|
THE GOOD STUFF: An interesting “whodoneit” with an interesting set of characters in an interesting setting with a nice little surprise ending! Lots of secrets, suspense and surprises!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Not groundbreaking, but it is good solid entertainment.
THE GOOD STUFF: We need a replica of the Gillette Castle?! On our budget?! The set design did a commendable job of creating the ambiance of the Gillette Castle with painted flats. The set decoration, although somewhat sparse, was good and added to the castle “flavor”. The set “tricks” (spoiler alert!) of a hidden doorway and a hidden bar worked well and added a physical touch of secrets and suspense which enhanced the performance. The “Kudzu Kolumn” was resplendent in its wood motif.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: The set details (fireplace, stairs, landing, etc.) could have been done differently to add a sense of grandeur.
THE LIGHTS/SOUND/SPECIAL EFFECTS:
THE GOOD STUFF: This was a complex show with numerous sound and light cues and a few special effects thrown in. As we all know, that can be an accident looking for someplace to happen! Not for this bunch! All the cues were executed smoothly and added a layer of suspense and the supernatural. Kudos to the techies!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: The sound quality of the recorded sounds could have been better. They were somewhat noisy and had a reverb like effect that made them less realistic.
THE GOOD STUFF: The costumes were both period, and character, appropriate. They did what they are supposed to; tell the audience about the time period and the personality of the characters wearing them.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Aunt Lily’s dress in the “help me get out of this dress” scene: The dress barely hung from her shoulders and would have fallen off instantly if she had merely shrugged! Her needing help with it was not believable.
THE GOOD STUFF: There were no major make up effects needed for this play except for the (spoiler alert!) wig, sideburns and moustache worn by Macready/Gillette. Those served their purpose appropriately by being a bit “over the top”. The female cast members wore normal (not stage) makeup which looked fine. It appeared that Brink was the only male member of the cast wearing stage makeup. Kudzu is a very intimate environment and full blown stage makeup on men does not always work well there. Brink’s makeup and hair color, however, helped reinforce his character as an “Actor”.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Was Brink the only male wearing makeup intentional?
Mae Dison/ Gigi Boudouani
THE GOOD STUFF: Gigi’s portrayal of wide-eyed innocence had the audience wanting to be her protector from the very beginning of the show. She did a wonderful job of embodying the small town girl in awe of her new found surroundings.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Voice was sometimes so soft you couldn’t hear what was being said and vibrato tends to blur the words. Needs to add variety to use of hands (re: too frequent clutching of dress)
Lily/ Bobbie Elzey
THE GOOD STUFF: I wish I had an Aunt Lily like Bobbie! She brings grace, taste and style to a relatively small part. Bobbie’s portrayal provides kindness, rationality and selflessness to these otherwise self-centered characters. She is totally believable in the part and has a wonderfully warm stage presence here.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Could be taller. (Sorry but that’s all I could come up with.)
Marion/ Vicky Kaeberlein
THE GOOD STUFF: Vicky’s delivery and physicality onstage demonstrate her total grasp of character. Her confident stage presence is evident from the moment she appears. Confident! Not arrogant! She is a delight to watch! Vicky’s interplay with Leo/Lane is an effective means of showing the audience “who wears the pants” in their relationship. Another relatively small part performed with professional style and skill.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: More use of movement and body to enhance dialogue.
Louise Paradine/ Brandy Meinhardt
THE GOOD STUFF: Brandy’s portrayal of a (spoiler alert!) psychotic, murdering lesbian took me by surprise. Her somewhat vague and reserved portrayal allowed the audience to “fill in the blanks” about her character. Is she insane? Depressed? Cunning? A victim? A victimizer? The audience is never quite sure, which makes her portrayal choices excellent for this role, and enhances the suspense of the production.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: When it came time to be psychotic, could have been more forceful and “out there”.
William Gillette/ Brink Miller
THE GOOD STUFF: Brink is a fabulous actor! And he is a more fabulous actor when he is portraying an actor! His delivery is dramatic and his stage presence is commanding. When he is onstage, the audience can’t take their eyes off of him. He brings playfulness to his portrayal of Gillette, which adds a light layer to an otherwise serious undertaking. Watching Brink having fun is great fun!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Need to add variety to use of hands (re: frequently clenched at side
Bobby Carlysle/ Sean Patrick O’Rourke
THE GOOD STUFF: Sean’s energy, presence and confidence onstage make him a stand-out among this talented cast. He convincingly portrays the fun loving aspects of his character and his interaction with the other actors is solid and believable.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Needs a better understanding of his character’s deeper insecurities (always loses the girl to “the lead”). Anger seems to come on too strong and too fast.
Leo/ Lane Teilhaber
THE GOOD STUFF: Lane’s portrayal of the perennial “second banana” that is not trusted or respected by his wife is so convincing… I wonder if he is like that in real life! He creates a lovable mensch that the audience truly feels sorry for. He is a hero in disguise. Is a good disguise, but his heroism shines through!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Delivery could be louder with better diction.
THE GOOD STUFF: In the end, what the audience sees is the “director’s vision” of the story. This production of Postmortem is a remarkable example of “building a mountain from a little bit of clay”! With the complexity of the story, the effects, props, and the limited resources available, the potential for failure of this production was high. Mysteries are hard to do. This director’s vision is skillful and the production is done with care. He is mindful of both the story and the performance, and shows respect for both. That’s what makes this one a success!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER: Some of the actors occasionally “stand and deliver” their dialogue. The séance scene could be staged differently to allow the audience to see the faces of both Mae and Louise, instead of seeing Mae’s back and Louise’s face.
A fun evening at the theatre! Good solid entertainment! This is a talented cast in an interesting story that is done well. They keep the audience guessing until the very end! That’s THE GOOD STUFF! WHAT COULD BE BETTER?