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Galaxy Music Theatre2
Actor's Express1
Onstage Atlanta, Inc.1
Atlanta Lyric Theatre1
Average Rating Given : 4.10000
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REVIEWS

Octopus, by Steve Yockey
Caution: Slippery When Wet!
Saturday, January 26, 2008
4.5
I was privileged to be a member of the very first audience to see Steve Yockey’s OCTOPUS at Actor’s Express.

As artists, our work is always a reflection of our personal experiences and our perspective of the world. Anyone who has ever either been diagnosed, or has had a loved one diagnosed, with a life threatening disease can relate to the experience of the characters of OCTOPUS. While I understand an artist’s need to purge the profound emotion that is generated by such an experience, I have to say that I am kind of bored by the “AIDS plays.” Ironically, it’s kind of like the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; no matter how many twists you add or how great your special effects, it’s still the same grisly story, but because we’ve seen it over and over again, we become so anesthetized to it that it’s almost like watching a Jello commercial. The saving grace with this show, though, is that it doesn’t explore the actual ravages of illness as I expected when the conflict of the tale was revealed, but the intellectual journey that people travel and the evolution of their relationships when “testing positive” enters the picture. This story is powerfully told through an interesting and creative metaphor of the lonely, weary warrior’s decent into the murky depths to face a mysterious and terrifying sea creature while the villagers at home are left to deal with their own fears and the uncertainty of whether or not their hero will return home or perish.

Mitchell Anderson (Andy) has the most predictable role in the show. Upon being diagnosed, he isolates himself and mourns his situation. Although he delivers his monologue with appropriate emotion and drama, the complexity, flowery language and sheer length of the metaphor almost made me forget what he was talking about by the end of it. At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I’ll admit that this is the same reason I much prefer reading Shakespeare’s work to watching it; I need to go back and read some lines a few times before I really get it. Mr. Anderson would probably be an excellent Shakespearean actor. Yes, that was supposed to be a compliment.

John Benzinger (Max) is the most natural actor in this show. In the opening scene, I almost felt like I was intruding on something I wasn’t supposed to see. He oozes sexuality as orchestrates the awkward, second meeting of two gay couples into an orgy. Throughout the rest of the show, he flips back and forth from very laid back and real to manic and out of his mind with equal believability. Max’s “relationship” with the water is so complex and layered that I kept wondering whether he would do the backstroke, drown himself in it or make Kool-Aid cocktails with it. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I want to hang out with this guy.

The role of the Telegram Delivery Boy, played by Brian Crawford, is such a striking and surreal contrast to the rest of the characters. Mr. Crawford’s annoyingly polite and cheerful Delivery Boy from Another Planet is brilliant. And, in the final scene, when he finally lets his mask slip a little bit and the magnitude of the messages he delivers washes over the audience, there is a collective squirm of discomfort with the realization that he is the tangible representative of death itself.

Tony Larkin (Blake) seemed to be an actor who is still learning. For the most part, I enjoyed his performance, but I was always aware that I was watching Tony acting like Blake. Not to say that he wasn’t pretty convincing, but his dialogue still sounded like dialogue. The style of writing is such that the characters continually interrupt themselves with new thoughts, however, I never really saw Blake’s “ah-ha” moments. Thus, the words still sounded like lines that were memorized rather than a spontaneous conversation. The step from being a good actor to being a great actor is when one stops acting how he thinks his character would act and he acts because he is his character. Some actors never make that leap. Mr. Larkin will, and I look forward to watching him do it.

Joe Sykes (Kevin) had the biggest challenge and opportunity to gain the audience’s sympathy. In the first half of the show, he had some of the same problems as Mr. Larkin in that his dialogue didn’t sound natural enough to really pull me in. Add to it the selfish and callous reaction that Kevin has to the realization that his lover could have contracted that dreaded virus (one that they never actually call by name in the show), and it’s hard to feel any connection to him. But, little by little, Sykes seemed to ease into his character, and so when he finally has his big “ah-ha” moment, I was surprised by the empathy I had developed for him.

Overall, the technical aspects of OCTOPUS were very impressive. Kate Warner’s direction made it obvious that she really understood the weight and vastness of the subject matter and the way the water was incorporated was almost perfect. My only complaint is that when the water finally finds its way into the Kevin and Blake’s apartment, it was almost a little wimpy. It just felt like there needed to be much more of it, especially with the last wave. However, to fill that volume of space in such a short amount of time would be a monumental task. Also, with the drought that Atlanta is facing, in the spirit of “going green,” I can easily forgive that little disappointment.

The set, sound and lighting design were straight forward and effective. The flow of color, shape and sound accentuated the theme of the show very well. There seemed to be a few lighting mishaps, which I’m sure were just opening night bugs. With all the things that could go wrong when you mix many, many electrical components with lots of free flowing water, a couple of minor missed light cues are almost a welcome blessing! The costumes looked like a cross section taken from any gay bar in Atlanta, so the contrast to the other worldly look of the delivery boy’s uniform was startling…just the way it should have been.

Although I felt like the nude scene went just a little bit over the top (I prefer to leave a little bit more to the imagination), let’s face it, sex sells, and as the word spreads, empty seats for this show will be hard to find. OCTOPUS is another high quality, edgy production; the likes of which we have come to expect from Actor’s Express. Opening night was a sold out show, and I am pretty sure that it was only the first of many!

Jekyll & Hyde, by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse
Bad stucco sticks around longer than this good facade.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
4.0
JEKYLL & HYDE is a huge show to tackle, and even though The Lyric has the resources to do it, they probably still felt a little overwhelmed by the scope of this one. The stars have to all align just right to get the cast, directors, musicians, design team and crew to pull off a show that is so familiar and is anticipated with such high expectations. For the most part, I think that astrology was on The Lyric’s side this weekend.

First, let me state the obvious. The Ferst Center is a great venue, and with the budget to be able to afford such a space, it is no surprise that the set, lighting, and costume design were all done by individuals that command and deserve a high price. Also, a big budget afforded this production a pit full of wonderful musicians that, if I hadn’t seen the top of J. Lynn’s Thompson’s capable head leading them, I might have thought was the Broadway Orchestral recording being piped in. Of course, knowing the MD and Maestro, J. Lynn, that would never happen…he’s just that good.

The direction of the show fine which is pretty much what I expected, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing in this case. I mean, there are so many great directors here in Atlanta, so if they were going to bring someone in from out of town, I guess I wanted to see a whole new J&H and just be blown away by his vision and creativity. The ensemble being present in many scenes in which they are not usually was interesting, but I didn't really understand why they were there. Were they suppossed to represent the madness that is always present in the world if not always seen? I may not be theatre savvy enough to catch what Ted Christopher was trying to do with that choice. However, I do know enough to see that he is a talented and successful director, but there was nothing about this production that I don’t think a local person could have done. I certainly am not slamming him, I am just a big believer in a theatre company being loyal to the talent pool that is loyal to it. New blood is always refreshing, as long as the old workhorses aren’t taken out back and shot to make room.

I knew that Dan Britt had the voice for the dual title role of this show, but I was a little nervous that his acting might be so over-the-top that the characters might become caricatures. In the summer cabaret series, he is so “Mr. Showboat,” which the audience obviously loves, so I wondered if he would be so here. Silly me! Dan is a pro who knows what audiences like, and he gave it to us with gusto. Bravo, sir.

I have always questioned why the character of Emma was diminished so much from the concept of the show (in which her name was actually Lisa) to what we see on the stage today. Unfortunately, her character isn’t written with any grit, so Sara Garland didn’t get an opportunity to show much in the way of acting skills. But that’s OK because she got to sing, and her voice is simply beautiful - I don’t need to complicate this review with any more than that - simply beautiful.

Rebecca Blouin as Lucy was a little disappointing. In her first solo, “Bring on the Men” I thought that maybe she was trying to sing lazily and technically inaccurate as a character choice to reflect her dissatisfaction of her less-than-ideal circumstances. In subsequent songs, she revealed that she was more of a legitimate singer that I first thought, and she had some lovely moments. My only complaint is that she had some glaring problems with her break, and Lucy is written with such a wide range, that a smooth transition between legit and belt is essential. Being that Lucy sings some of my all-time favorite ballads (cheesy though they may be), perhaps my judgement is a little harsher than it should be. Sill, I had looked forward to some self indulgent wallowing in my Wildhorn favorites, and it just didn't happen.

The supporting players of this production were all more than capable, and having seen most of them in leading roles of other shows, I can say that they are all stars in their own right. I mean, just look at the list of names. These are major players in the Atlanta theatre community, so of course they would not disappoint their fans by being any less wonderful when their names appear a little farther down the list than usual. The same can be said for the ensemble. Every last member of this company should be very proud.

There is one thing that really troubled me about this show. It only runs for one weekend, which seems like a waste. But that’s not the thing that troubles me. Being that audiences only have one weekend to catch The Lyric shows that are staged at The Ferst Center, why the hell are there so many empty seats?!? Perhaps the high ticket price keeps a few people from being able to afford it, but that’s what the half-price offer is for, and if they were sold out, then perhaps the tickets prices wouldn’t have to be so high. High quality isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for, and every empty seat is a missed opportunity of someone to see a great show.

Smokey Joe's Cafe - The Songs of Lieber and Stoller, by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller
Dekalb County wouldn't dare shut down this SMOKEY Joe's Cafe!
Sunday, November 5, 2006
5.0
I was a little skeptical when I went to see Galaxy’s latest production, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ, feeling that even though the show would probably be pretty good, there was no way it could compare to their last show, DREAMGIRLS. I should have had more faith, because they topped themselves! Nat Martin and Gerard Reid, as Director and Music Director, have assembled a troupe of some of the finest singers and dancers that have graced any professional stage, with production values to match.

First, let me say that the design team obviously paid attention to what did and didn’t work about the new space. The set worked much better this go round; the issues with the sparse room in the wings, among other challenges, have been adapted to and overcome. The huge space that must be lit is another difficulty that just wasn’t. The dark places in the last show didn’t appear in this one, and I didn’t notice that there was a whole lot more lighting equipment, so the answer must have been in the design. Kudos, JD!

The band sounded great. I had no doubt with Gerard as their leader. I have heard Gerard play almost every style that can be found in musical theatre, and he never fails to impress me. I think this is the first production I have seen where he served as the MD, and he did an outstanding job.

The costumes were perfectly suited to the style of the show. Often times, costumes can be a little distracting, taking on roles of their own, but Clint Horne managed to dress everyone with just enough flash to enhance their performances without any pretense. And he obviously understands the importance of functionality of clothing when an actor is dancing his/her butt off.

And dance their butts off they did. The choreography in this show was brilliant. Jeremy McShan doesn’t just put a bunch of steps and arms together to fill space and time, he truly understands the notes and the lyrics, and his choreography adds the visual element that brings the music to life.

As far as the individual performances go, I was impressed with every single one! The two happiest surprises were Tiffany Carter and Michael Sullivan. In DREAMGIRLS, I was a little disappointed in Tiffany’s voice because it just didn’t have the oomph I was looking for. Well, she just wasn’t given the right songs, because this time, she lights up the stage with a sexy, sultry presence and a voice to match. And as the only white guy, I was a little nervous for Michael, since his solos in THE OZ CHRONICLES were a little, pardon the pun, vanilla. But, again, he had the wrong songs last time, because he made me smile every time he was on the stage this time.

Another familiar face fresh from OZ is Tawana Johnson who had moments of gold in that one, and several more this time. Just her facial expressions as the gypsy were enough to make me a fan! And the DREAMGIRLS gang who all had smaller, albeit wonderful, moments, Althea Williams, Boris Hunter, and Ardale Sheppard, had more opportunity to shine in this show. And they did – glowed, glittered, sparkled and twinkled, too. I have to say, though, that Nik Alexander was the one that really blew me away. Not because he was so much better than anyone else, but because, at only 16 years old, he shouldn’t be able to compete with all that talent on that stage, but don’t anyone tell him that, because he obviously hasn’t gotten the memo. Wow!

Clinton Dillard and Caitlin Smith both have proven that they have amazing sets of pipes in the good-material-challenged VICTOR VICTORIA and in the director-challenged (and slightly cast mate-challenged) SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. In this show, they blew me away again. They both have such great stage presence and I was happy to see that their dancing ability was up to the same level.

The only face I didn’t recognize was Michael Simmons. I don’t know what other shows he has done around town, but I would think that he might have been a little intimidated being cast with all these folks (I would have been), but if he was, he never showed it, nor should he. His voice and fancy footwork not only rounded out this ensemble sufficiently, but put the exclamation point on it!

I know there has been a lot of controversy on Theatre Review because of people reviewing their own shows, or giving glowing reviews to less than deserving productions because their friends or family members were part of the cast. The critiques that include constructive criticism as well as praise given where it is due are the ones that are the most valuable, in my opinion. And in my previous posts, I have tried to offer intelligent observation and insight that might encourage the good stuff and gently point out areas that need improvement. My goal is to play a small part in the nurturing and cultivation of the actors’ careers and the success of the theatre companies – my way of giving back to the art form I adore.

In the case of SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ, I just didn’t see much that needed improved upon, but I hope that doesn’t discount this review as a valid one. Nat Martin has just directed one hell of a show, and Galaxy should be very proud.

Dreamgirls, by Music by Henry Krieger; Book and Lyircs by Tom Eyen
It's not JUST showbiz....It IS showbiz!
Monday, August 21, 2006
4.0
Galaxy Music Theatre had been on hiatus for a while, so when they announced that their foray back into the musical "scene" would be DREAMGIRLS, I wondered whether or not they could pull it off. This show is a huge undertaking, and I can't remember anything they've done in recent years that required so many African American actors. I wondered if they would be able to find enough people to fill the roles in a racially accurate way, since this show reached out to a more diverse group of actors as well as patrons than they've had in the past. Well, not only did they find enough people, but they found an extraordinarily talented group of actors that put on an amazing show!

Galaxy's new space at Relapse Theatre on 14th Street is a great venue, and I am thrilled that Galaxy has been able to find such an ideal new home. I hope that this show will get such great press and praise by folks who were lucky enough to see it, that people will be compelled to make the effort to venture out to a new place. I am certainly doing my part to spread the word that you will be missing out if you don't see DREAMGIRLS.

Jeffrey Brown has done an excellent job in his direction of this show. One element that I found most interesting and smart were the transitions from scene to scene and also from mood to mood within a scene. For example, when Effie's coat is removed to reveal the evening gown underneath as she transitions from her hesitant audition in a new club to a gut wrenching and pivotal performance of "I Am Changing."

Speaking of Effie, Summer Bergeron's portrayal of this character is brilliant. I would think that it would be very intimidating to play Effie since people can't help but make a comparison with Jennifer Holliday, who will forever be identified with that role. But if Summer had any reservations, they never showed, nor should she have had any. She brings such a depth and passion to her character, that when she sings, you feel it right down to the tips your toes. While watching her perform, I felt like I was witnessing the launch of a star's career.

Another actor who is destined to be a star is Nik Alexander Richards as C.C. White. This young man, at 16 years old, acts and sings with more emotion and conviction than most seasoned adult performers. His voice is simply amazing, but what struck me the most about his performance was his commitment to his character 100% of the time. Many young actors tend to drift out of character when they are not directly participating in the dialogue of a scene, but Nik is the exception because he was completely focused no matter if he was in the center of the "action" or in the background.

Jonathan Maddox, as James "Thunder" Early, is another stand out. The vocal range that he sings is extreme, but he sings every note with such ease, that he makes it look easy. Which is exactly what his character is all about. He is so smooth and charismatic that you can't help but singing, "(fill in your name here) loves Jimmy!" I was blown away to find out that DREAMGIRLS is his theatrical debut. That just goes to prove that some people are just born with it.

There is only one white person in the whole show, so the personality that had to fill that role had to be a memorable one. I think they cast this one exactly right with Royce G. Garrison. His "white-man's rendition" of "Cadillac Car" is hilarious. He brings just the right amount of smooth vocals and cheese, so that what could easily be a forgettable moment, instead successfully highlights the barrier between the races and the listening audience of that era. By having him appear throughout the show as the gatekeeper, the man who controls whether or not singers are heard by the public, the race division is illustrated again with just enough humor as to not weigh down the show with too much emphasis on it.

Mike Thompson, as Curtis, brings a voice to the production that is a little different from what I expected to hear. Instead of the overwhelming powerhouse type of voice I expect from Curtis, he has a smokier, subtler tone. He is much more dangerous and intriguing because he seduces everyone around him rather than overpowering them. I got the impression that he is much more confident in his singing than his acting, so his dialogue scenes were a little stiff.

The same could be said for Tiffany Carter, who played Deena. She seemed a little uncomfortable during her scenes as well. I think she had the right idea most of the time, but I don't think she knew how to communicate it to the audience, so she appeared weaker than Deena should be. And although she has a pretty voice, I don't think it was strong enough to be the lead singer of the Dreams, so some of their big numbers were disappointing. In my opinion, she was better suited to play Lorrell and Ardale Shepherd might have been more appropriate as Deena. Ardale's voice has the power and grit that Tiffany lacked.

One more performance that deserves honorable mention is that of Boris Hunter as Marty. This role is considered a supporting one, but Borris brought such vitality and enthusiasm to the stage, that when he wasn't on the stage for a while, I found myself missing him.

The choreography by Sims Banes was clever and entertaining. The group numbers were not perfectly together, but everyone had their own style that they brought to it, and it worked. The lighting was a little dark at times, but I can easily forgive that as the growing pains of moving into a new space, and I applaud John David Williams for tackling the daunting task. Clint Horne must also be applauded for the costumes, which were first rate.

The strength of this show lies within the talent level of every actor, ranging from above average to out-of-this-world. Galaxy Music Theatre should be very proud of DREAMGIRLS, and if the rest of their season hits the mark like this show, this little diamond-in-the-rough company will become a bright and shining gem of Atlanta theatre. Congratulations!

The Oz Chronicles in Concert, by Stephen Schwarz, Harold Arlen,Charlie Smalls
Ease on down the entertaining (and a little bumpy) road.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
3.0
I have seen many shows at OnStage Atlanta, and I can honestly say that whenever I venture out to their latest production, I never know what to expect. I have seen some shows, like URINETOWN, which would have belonged on any professional stage-where every single actor down to the last ensemble member was super talented, focused, and in-character every moment. Then again, I've seen productions like LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! which was slow, uninspired, and miscast.

THE OZ CHRONICLES hits somewhere in the middle. The cast is a mixture of seasoned veterans and green newbies, and in the group numbers, the mixture works really well. It seems that the more inexperienced actors take their cue from the old pros and sing out loud and strong, and the old pros seem to absorb the fresh enthusiasm from the new guys. Unfortunately, some of the more spotlight moments highlight those new folks and show that they just don't have the confidence and comfort level to be out there on their own yet.

For example, Emily Dillson just seemed awkward in her acting moments, and her voice wasn't suited to the songs she was given. I could hear a huskiness that would be really great in a jazzy kind of number, so I hope to hear her again in a role more suited to her voice.

Another new guy was Joel Walker, who had a nice voice and good instinct, but was hesitant to fully commit to his choices. I think with good direction and experience, Emily and Joel will both grow into fine performers.

Clinton Dillard has an amazing voice! His acting has a lot of potential, but it comes across a little presentational at times. He's so smooth and polished that the message of the song can get a little lost. I look forward to watching him develop his acting to match his musicality.

Megan Hodge was simply given too much. She has a pleasant voice, and her first duet with Glinda worked pretty well, but "No Good Deed" is simply more difficult than she could handle. Also, her moments of diva fits when she wants to be Dorothy weren't believable. She's just not a diva...but she should keep working on it.

Amanda Pickard is another performer who might have been in over her head. She has a light, soprano voice, and when she's singing the right songs, she's noteworthy. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sounded pretty, but didn't grow into much. And "The Wizard and I" simply requires more power than she has. Also, she often times appears like her mind has wandered, so she disconnects from the audience.

Kristie Krabe, as one of the obvious veterans, is a bright spot in OZ. Though her voice is not perfect, she is a wonderful performer and she gives it 100%. Her performace of "Popular" was quirky and fun. We almost never see perfection, especially in a community theatre where the actors do it for the love and not the money, but this lady reaches for it!

Laine Binder is another familiar face in this show. Her stage presence is always powerful and she has a voice to match. I've seen her in many roles, and although I have not always agreed with her interpretation of her character, she is always fully committed. She has a voice that is very unique and strong, and I have often wished that she didn't feel like she had to prove it. "Defying Gravity" is a huge song, and Laine sings it well, but by the end, it was hard to watch and listen because she was almost screaming. My advice to her is to relax and be confident in your ability-true talent shines through it doesn't have to be forced.

There were several other performances that deserve honorable mention, but because actors play multiple roles, I am unsure of their names. The lady who never got to sing "Believe" was fun to watch, and I was disappointed she didn't get to finsh that song. "No Bad News" was a toe tapper and well done. The young lady in the blue dress whose only solo appeared at the end of the show was completely wasted as a vocalist-she had a lovely, legit soprano voice that should have been featured much more. Michael Sullivan and Chris Vickery were both so fun & quirky in their roles as Scare Crow and Tin Man, that the imperfections in their voices were easily forgiven.

A few observations about the band. Although the music director, Mitch Weisiger, was obviously capable, as evidenced by the choral number where he came out from behind the keyboard and conducted a beautiful rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," at other times I don't think he was listening to the singers on stage. Tempos were sometimes off, and although the singers tried to push it or slow it, the band never seemed to get there. That being said, I have to compliment all the instrumentalists-their talent and skill in their craft was impressive.

Lastly, I want to comment on the direction and writing of this show. The concept is brilliant and I expect it will have mass appeal. As with his Christmas show, Scott Rousseau has very unique and creative ideas, but he gets bogged down in the history lesson. Although I undertand why he wants to highlight the "real" people behind what we're seeing on the stage, it gets a little boring when you try to pack too much information between songs. This problem is then compounded by not having someone else direct the show. When the material is your baby, I would expect that it would be painful to cut anything-you are unable to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. A collaborative effort with Scott and a talented director would probably have produced a better final product.

Overall, On Stage has produced another quality show. OZ is not perfect, but it is definitely worth seeing. Thank you to everyone involved.

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CLOSING SOON
On The Light Side: The Golden Age of Broadway
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