A User-Driven Site for Theater in Atlanta, Georgia
Companies Reviewed#
Onstage Atlanta, Inc.2
Theater of the Stars2
Rosewater Theatre Company1
Centerstage North Theatre1
Next Stage Theatre Company1
Atlanta Professional Theatre1
Broadway Across America1
Ansley Park Playhouse1
Theatrical Outfit1
New London Theatre1
Fabrefaction Theater Company1
Stage Door Players1
Bozarts Little Theater1
Average Rating Given : 2.73333
Reviews in Last 6 months :

The Story Of My Life, by Music & Lyrics by Neil Bartram Book by Brian Hill
White and Bland
Sunday, May 20, 2012
The problem with “The Story of My Life” is the story itself. Centerstage North chose a weakly written, weakly composed show to present. There are things to admire about the production, but the show itself is weak and bland. I saw the show based in part on the perfect scores given the show by other reviews—and also because it was a show I knew nothing about. Following the show I researched it a bit and discovered others had the same view of the New York production which closed after only five performances. Like any other art, theater can evoke a wide range of responses in those who view it.

As for Centerstage’s production: At first glance, the set was striking—an all-white bookstore…books, shelving, floor, all white. But for me, after a while, the lack of color wore thin and began to add to the blandness of the production. Surely, within the stories which were being played out onstage, there could have been some color brought into the story-telling. Lighting would have seemed the easiest way to do that—but the lighting design did not rise to the occasion.

The musical score had a generic quality—the songs all sounding alike, and nothing particularly memorable—nothing which made you think “wow, I’d love to hear that again.” The show did, however, have an excellent accompanist in Barbara Macko, who accompanied skillfully on a grand piano. But, please, Centerstage, have your piano tuned before you present a musical. As good as Ms. Macko is, she deserves an instrument without the out-of-tune keys which kept popping up.

“Story” is a one-act, but there didn’t seem to be any real depth to the characters or the story they told—and some of the plot devices were cliché. The references to “It’s a Wonderful Life” (angels getting their wings when bells ring) and making snow angels showed a lack of originality in the script. When the 90 minutes were up, you were ready for the story to end. Somebody ring a bell for goodness’ sake!

The two-man cast worked hard and seemed comfortable with their material. Mr. Stainer had the stronger voice, but his high notes were fueled mainly by volume which gave him a strident sound. Mr. Carr’s voice is pleasant and light, but seemed to weaken and show strain as the show progressed. There are actors who sing, and singers who act—this show seemed to require the latter. Without that, the generic score becomes even more forgettable. Both men are obviously capable actors—but it seemed as though the weak script caused them to push too hard. Quirky and eccentric should not translate to mugging.

It was difficult to determine where the tension in the show lay-- was it unrequited love on Alvin’s part? Tom’s inability to “live and let live?” Were we supposed to feel sorry for Alvin that he stayed close to home, or condemn Tom who chose another life? Was each man the other’s only choice for a meaningful relationship? There wasn’t much to build on—either between the two men whose stories are told, or between the audience and the story being told.

Perhaps “The Story of My Life” is one of those shows you either love or hate. Good for those who loved it and found it deep, moving and emotional. But it didn’t happen for me.

Titanic the Musical, by Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston & Book by Peter Stone
Skimming the Surface
Sunday, April 22, 2012
It was my first trip to Fabrefaction Theatre for their production of “Titanic: the Musical”. Beautiful venue and their season includes ambitious undertakings. But that ambition did not translate to success for “Titanic” The production fell short of what it could—and should—have been. It skimmed along on the surface, missing far too much of the depth and richness of the legendary voyage and the musical which tells its story.

As the performance progressed I was a bit confused as to what type of performance I was watching. Was this a student production? The very young cast and the number of children indicated that, and, if so, expectations could be lowered accordingly. But some of these children portrayed adults alongside mature performers. Yes, child exploitation was a sign of the times; yes, cabin boys were young; yes, there were children who were lost aboard Titanic and young men and women among her crew—but the way in which children were cast in this show was a bit jarring. In one of the final scenes, a cabin boy reports to the captain that all the life boats are dispatched; the two share a moment because both are named Edward, and then the cabin boy leaves to face a horrible, tortuous death, apparentlhy on his own. The young actor portraying the cabin boy appeared to be 9 or 10.

The set was very, very simple. That in itself is not a bad thing—it does put more pressure on other elements, (lighting, blocking, costumes and mainly performances), to engage the audience’s imagination for filling in the scene and creating the story. In this case, the set seemed miserly…nothing indicated the opulent, majestic, grand Titanic. The lighting only confirmed that fact – it exposed rather than enhanced the elementary design. There was no sense of being onboard a sea-faring palace, but rather standing on the pier watching a parked boat. The projection of period photos of passengers on the stage was an effective touch. Perhaps more could have been done with that idea to enhance the simple set and suggest the "floating city" that was Titanic.

Costumes were also a misstep. Tony Smithey is very talented as his costumes for the recent "Drowsy Chaperone" prove. But costumes here did not reflect the prevalent class system of the day. The opening sequence had passengers from all three classes unified by the color red-- some part of their costume made out of very RED material. Afterwards, third class were dressed in bright, coordinated plaids and colors which did not support characters singing “I want to be a ladies’ maid…sewing girl…constable…”. Beautiful costumes, without a doubt, but not appropriate to story and character. Third class passengers looked like they were waiting to board the Dickens Carolers Holiday Cruise.

Choreography was disappointing. Granted, Titanic is not a dance show, but “The Latest Rag” (named for a dance craze) needed more of the razzle-dazzle of period dances. The number is there to convey the sense of carefree abandon in the "Remarkable Age." Because the children were featured, it had a simplistic, elementary feel. This staging reflected a sense of uninvolvement. The overall direction of the show seemed to be uninvolved-- satisfied with skimming the surface of story and potential.

Fabrefaction has a real issue with its sound. Vocal sounds were full and beautiful ("Fleet" being a stand-out). But the instrumentalists were sadly ill-presented. They certainly performed well—but the sound translated to the house in a very colorless, tinny way--with one dynamic level. Was it an inadequate keyboard or amplification system? It certainly wasn’t a question of performance. Was this why several vocal entrances were fumbled and weak--they couldn't hear? “Titanic’s” score is operatic in scope and rich in color. But these instrumentalists were “sunk” in this production. I would urge Fabrefaction to give serious attention to how their musical shows are accompanied. The orchestra partners with onstage singers and should receive the same care.

Performances were varied in a cast full of energetic, enthusiastic performers and capable singers. No one character is given a great deal of stage time. Second-class passenger Alice Beane was played largely for laughs. Disappointing, because there's a depth to her character that provides great insight into the story of the class system. The trio of Captain, Andrews and Ismay didn’t gel. The Captain did not project a “commanding” or authoritative persona. His characterization seemed more "Skipper" of the SS Minnow than captain of White Star's premiere ship. Andrews, from the show’s beginning, projected a tormented, ill-at-ease persona, almost pouting his way through the show—making his second act breakdown no big surprise. The confidence and arrogance in one’s achievements which opens "Titanic" (and is a hallmark of the “Remarkable Age”), leads to growing tension between the ship’s owner, architect and captain and finally explodes in a “who’s to blame” moment. This was not realized. Yes, we know the end of the story, but these three telegraphed impending doom from the show's beginning, instead of being suddenly confronted with the unthinkable. The book-end song, "In Every Age," should convey two very different emotions.

Fabrefaction is a young company with considerable resources at its disposal. But unfortunately “Titanic” did not present the company to best advantage. It’s a big show, epic and legendary story, large cast, challenging music—but this “ship of dreams” seems adrift---floating on the surface, unmindful of the depth, sadly rudderless, and ultimately foundering without direction.

The Drowsy Chaperone, by Bob Martin/Don McKellar/Lisa Lambert/Greg Morrison
Life's Crazy Labyrinth
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Onstage Atlanta has crafted an admirable and enjoyable production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” the 2006 Broadway show which won the Tony Award for best book and score, yet was only moderately successful (closed after 674 performances). “Drowsy” is an homage to classic musical theater of the 1920’s, cleverly written and composed, and very cleverly staged in the mind of a musical theatre buff.

Charlie Miller gives a good performance as “Man in Chair”—the man through whom the audience experiences the 1928 show, “The Drowsy Chaperone”. Mr. Miller has some very funny moments. He does, however, miss some of the richness of Man in Chair’s character—so beautifully written—by discarding a degree of his character’s innocence and naiveté. There’s just a bit too much of a knowing “wink” in his double-entendres (which are never intentional), particularly the gay references. And it’s Man in Chair’s simple innocence that makes his commentary so very funny. We meet him in the dark, only hearing his voice, revealing himself as a “blue”, drab individual with constant “non-specific sadness” who only finds life’s color and glamour through the musical stage. We never even learn his name. Yet when the lights finally reveal him, Mr. Miller’s Man in Chair is draped languidly across a wicker sofa, dressed in a flame-red smoking jacket and ascot—seemingly a directing and costuming call. That said, it’s still a good performance.

Other oddities or missed opportunities from a directing standpoint: In his opening monologue, Man in Chair prays that the actors will stay onstage and not venture into the audience breaking the “fourth wall”—yet Mr. Miller does so twice. Also, the joke involving intermission (or lack of) was pretty much thrown away. There were so many warnings of “no intermission” from theatre staff and the curtain speech-- and then Mr. Miller’s rushed delivery of the “no intermission” segment (instead of leisurely enjoying his granola bar, oblivious to the audience’s growing “itchiness”), that it lost its punch and humor. The high-pitched squeak of one of the Tall Brothers was also a mis-step, as the voice was annoying from the get-go. Maybe the choice was made to make up for the physical miscasting of the Tall Brothers. The characters were originally intended to be vertically challenged, humorously unintimidating gangster hit-men.

The set provided some clever devices and made good use of the odd stage at OSA and, according to the program, was the work of cast member Darrell Wofford who stepped in with a set design at the last minute. Good job. Costumes were beautifully designed and executed, contributing to the sense of fun onstage.

Paul Tate’s musical direction and instrumental group was excellent—although a bit more support and “sparkle” for “I Don’t Want to Show Off” would have been in order. In fact, there were times when the instrumental sound seemed overwhelmed. Choreography was also excellent and, as with the costume design, an important factor to the sense of fun happening onstage.

The cast, as an ensemble, sang beautifully—an obviously talented group. Some of the most enjoyable performances were delivered by supporting cast—particularly Amanda Picard (“Kitty”), Kristel Wunderlin (“Trix”) and Jeffrey Brown (“Underling”). The most disappointing performance was Misty Barber (“Janet—the Original ‘Oops’ Girl”), or rather her delivery of Janet’s signature number. Ms. Barber is obviously a talented, capable performer, but her big number—“I Don’t Want to Show Off”—requires the steady build of a razzle-dazzle, bigger than life performance, and this Janet moved timidly, tentatively and somewhat awkwardly through the number—even with the cartwheel. “I Don’t Want to Show Off?” Mission accomplished. Ms. Barber’s “Bride’s Lament” was much more successful.

In a cast of broadly played, wacky, ultra-theatrical characters, “Beatrice Stockwell” (the chronically tipsy/”drowsy” chaperone) should be, as Man in Chair declares, a “demanding” presence onstage. As played by Patty Mosley, Beatrice was a bit low-key—a case of unfulfilled potential. Not a bad performance, but not a commanding one either.

The mis-steps are not fatal to the overall achievement of OSA’s “Drowsy Chaperone”. Though not a perfect show—it’s a very enjoyable journey through “life’s crazy labyrinth”. Stumble, bumble, fumble…plumble… along to Onstage Atlanta, where Man in Chair’s prayers for “a good play, a good story, a few good songs that will take you away and leave you entertained” are answered. “Isn’t that the point?” Amen.

Mame, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Saturday, October 16, 2010
It’s a new theater company, but one with some high profile talent attached to it, and there will be some to buy a ticket because of the names attached to this show. They’ve chosen one of the biggest, brassiest, “star”-driven shows in Broadway history. But, cutting to the chase, this production should never have been offered to a paying public. Someone—the producer or director—should have said, “look, folks, this one isn’t going to fly.” This show hasn’t one strength the audience can hook into for the 2 and ½ hour running time. In fact, this show fulfills almost every cliché of very bad community theater—a shame, considering it’s the inaugural offering of a new company.

You know you’re in trouble when the overture begins—what should be a typical high-energy orchestral piece, but rendered here by one very anemic keyboard and drum set. In fact, the show’s accompaniment was extremely weak, almost inaudible at times, and did not support the singers at all. The weakness and anemia carried over into the actors’ dialogue—unintelligible too much of the time—which means the audience missed several key plot points along the way and which contributed to the show’s agonizingly slow pace.

The leading actress in this production is billed above the title—a bit unusual for community theater—but it nonetheless sets a high expectation for her performance. Unfortunately, the expectations were not met. The actress was attractive, but didn’t exude the necessary command of the stage, the bravura, glamour, sweep and flair that Mame Dennis has to have. It’s her show, after all. This “Mame” seemed as tentative in her movements as anyone else and there was never a real connection between Mame and nephew Patrick, or best friend Vera Charles (who also did not demonstrate the voice or stage presence to portray a theater legend). Key scenes between the two ladies, such as “The Man in the Moon” and “Bosom Buddies” fell flat with no spark. Only in “If He Walked Into My Life” did the actress seem to find some energy and connection, but by then it was too little and way too late.

The ensemble for “Mame” was very small and very weak. Granted, there’s always double-casting within the ensemble, but the smallness of this ensemble made for some jarring double-casting. Characters which had been firmly established would suddenly show up singing and dancing in the chorus. The most notable episode is seeing mousy, plain Gooch and Ito (an almost stereotypical Asian housemaid) suddenly transported from Mame’s New York City townhome to sashaying, cake-walking and twirling their parasols down on the ole plantation and belting out “you charm the husk right off of the corn, Maaaaaaaame!” In a very practical sense, these chorus appearances lessened the impact of Gooch’s second act make-over—because we’ve already seen her made-over several times by that point.

Bottom line: this company simply didn’t have the necessary performing forces to pull off such a large-scale show and someone should have pulled the plug on “Mame” and gone in another direction. This limping, crippled production projects the aura of a very nice Junior League matron putting on a little show—or even a show produced by and for the residents of a senior center (in fact, several cast members list their membership in something called “Senior Follies” in their program bios). If that’s all you want for your ticket price, then you won’t be disappointed.

Dreamgirls, by Tom Eyen and Henry Kreiger
Who Could Ask For Anything More?
Saturday, October 16, 2010
My only point of reference to “Dreamgirls” was seeing Jennifer Holliday sing “And I Am Telling You…” on TV and the recent movie version. My expectations of the production running this week at the Fox were not very high. I figured I would be seeing the umpteenth touring production of the show, attempting to capitalize on the movie’s notoriety. Boy, was I wrong!

The program states that this particular production of “Dreamgirls” was intended to re-imagine or “re-vision” the show, in light of the movie’s success. It succeeds and exceeds that goal in a big way. This is one of those rare productions in which every aspect of the show—performance, set, costume, lighting, all reach a high level of achievement, blending together to give its audience an incredible experience. The non-performance elements are of such quality and utilized so creatively that they become part of the cast.

The set is a series of panels which move and reconfigure themselves with seamless, fluid movements. Sometimes backdrops, sometimes lighting fixtures, sometimes projection screens. They place the audience onstage, backstage, inside, outside, in London, in Paris—anywhere and everywhere. And yet, as contemporary as the set is, the show still effectively evokes the 60’s from the early days through the more turbulent, psychedelic era.

The costumes contribute greatly helping the audience transition along with the Dreamettes from the earliest, somewhat raw and primitive talent, to the sleek, glossy, highly buffed and coiffed performers. At the show’s end, when the Dreams come onstage for their final performance as a group, the picture of the three ladies in their white gowns—enhanced by the set and lighting—is incredibly beautiful.

Performances are of the highest quality—a high energy and fully engaged cast. Yes, the actress portraying Effie (Moya Angela) is excellent and perfectly nails the show’s signature song, “And I Am Telling You.” The audience began to applaud the moment they recognized the song’s opening notes, and Ms. Angela did not disappoint, giving a full-throttle, all stops out rendition which had the audience on its feet by the song’s end. This Effie made the song her own without any hint of imitating her predecessors in the role.

But Ms. Angela was given a run for her money in the performance of Chester Gregory as James “Thunder” Early. He was spectacular in every way. While those two were standout performances, the company as a whole was excellent. Musical highlights for this reviewer, included “Steppin’ To the Bad Side” and “Listen”—written for the movie but added to the show’s score.

This “Dreamgirls” is a superb, highly entertaining and exciting theater experience. Only a couple of performances left. See it if you can—you won’t be sorry.

The Secret Garden, by Book and Lyrics - Marsha Norman; Music - Lucy Simon
Saturday, July 31, 2010
“Secret Garden” is a favorite childrens story which has been told through numerous book editions, stage, TV productions, films and one Broadway musical production. Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon created a beautiful musical show, and New London Theater gives a good and credible effort in their production. I’ve never seen a New London show, and “Secret Garden” was a good introduction to their company. It was well worth the drive into Gwinnett to see and enjoy their efforts.

The show is almost a choral production with the ensemble providing important musical support and plot development throughout and New London’s singers perform admirably. An interesting two-level set and solid lighting weave together to create an appropriate and evocative atmosphere of an English estate on the sometimes gloomy, often stormy Yorkshire moors. The only visual disappointment comes, unfortunately, at the end of the show, when the audience gets a glimpse of the reborn garden. It could, and should, have had a much greater visual impact. It’s a shame, coming at the end of a show where so many things have been done right.

The show has a nice pace to it, and director Scott Rousseau uses his actors and singers efficiently as they move through the tale of a young girl transforming a tragic and unhappy family, guided by the ghost of the young girl’s aunt—and her determination to be happy in spite of her own life’s tragedies, which have brought her to this estate to live.

Also contributing to the pace and general musical excellence of the show is accompanist Henry Haddon. His accompaniment adds a wonderful flow, grace, and perfect support to what the actors are doing onstage. His work is a major asset to this production.

The show’s score contains some beautiful numbers, “How Could I Ever Know,” “Top of the Morning,” “Lily’s Eyes” and a beautiful duet between Colin and her mother’s spirit—all well done by a talented cast. It didn’t quite work for me to see young Mary and Colin played by older actors. Nothing wrong with their performances. They were obviously talented and gave a great effort, but I would have preferred to see age-appropriate performers in those two roles.

However, there is much to admire in New London’s production of “Secret Garden”. Congratulations to Mr. Rousseau and company.

Company, by Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by George Furth
"Somebody Force Me to Care"
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
It’s a great thing when audience patrons arrive at your theatre expecting wonderful theatre supported by high standards of performance and production, as I did this past weekend. For that’s what one expects from Stage Door productions—the highest standards, a designation they’ve earned with many excellent shows throughout their history. Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players proudly touts itself as Dunwoody’s only professional theatre. Well, in the sense that “professional” denotes excellence, SDP fall short of their own previous standards with their current production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”.

First disappointment is apparent when entering the theatre: the set is unimaginative with simple multi-level platforms (which the cast sometimes had trouble navigating) and childish, awkward looking representations of New York City fire escapes. Certainly not what audiences expect from Chuck Welcome, the staff designer. Occasionally there was a projection of a city skyline or burst of color, which injected a bit of energy into the set, but for the most part, it was just simply boring and bland.

Such a minimalist set puts pressure on the cast to add color and texture through their performances in order to pull the audience in and hold their attention while the story is told. Director Robert Egizio assembles a cast which includes several well-known Atlanta area performers—Marcie Millard, Kathleen McCook, Charlie Bradshaw and the Uterhardts—Geoff and Barbara Cole, among others. Yet only Ms. Millard delivers a characterization with exceptional energy and focus. While there were nice voices in the cast (always a plus in a Sondheim show), the performances were weak—particularly the men. Interesting in a show about marriage relationships that none of the matched duos seemed to project interacting, committed, loving or “at-ease-with-each-other” couples. Too many times the actors just stood on the platform as individual units and delivered lines and lyrics. As a vocal ensemble, the cast was admirable. As a cohesive acting ensemble, with rich, variable characters…not so much.

Musical director Linda Uzelac has certainly earned her stellar reputation and Stage Door is most lucky to have her. With this show, however, although the music itself was performed excellently, the transitions from dialogue to musical number were blaring and jarring in a sort of clunky way rather than smoothly interwoven into the show.

Individual songs were often disappointments—most notably “Not Getting Married Today.” Why did the directors and Ms. Uterhardt choose not to SING the song Sondheim wrote, but to speak it instead? A poor choice and one which robbed the audience of a masterfully written, full-of-energy, edge-of-your-seat song. Was it too much of a challenge or was the audience just not worth the trouble? Anyone drawn to this production because of the musical score is bound to be disappointed. Dustin Lewis, in the central role of Bobby, struggled with the vocal range of his music, most noticeably “Marry Me a Little”. In the climatic “Being Alive”, he begins with an odd, grimacing intensity which hasn’t been apparent anywhere else in his performance, but ends it with an “I’m Singing a Great Karaoke Number” attitude. Finally, Jennifer Levison, in the pivotal role of Joanne, is capable of visually projecting the attitude and feline swagger of Joanne, but oddly reined it in and seemed not to understand her signature song, “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Her delivery of the song—particularly at the end—seemed more like a disconnected, properly sung recital piece than a “let-it-all-hang-out,” raw aria.

From all directions, onstage and off, this show seemed to project an uninvolved, uninvested attitude—which creates the same “who cares” attitude in return from the audience.

Overall, this “Company” is the mediocre sum of its many disappointing parts—and certainly not the show which proves that Stage Door has pulled away from community theatre status to professional level.

The Music Man, by Meredith Willson
Ya Got Trouble, My Friends
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Producing the inaugural show of a new company is a daunting task. Next Stage Theatre Company headed by producer Jerry Harlow presents the venerable and well-loved "Music Man," directed by Rob Hardie, in a perfect venue—the Cumming Playhouse, a restored 1920’s school house which now serves as a county arts center, complete with upscale restaurant. It’s a beautifully restored facility and the former school auditorium, now a theatre, is the perfect setting for the nostalgic "Music Man."

Reading the program bios highlights that Next Stage gathered some very accomplished performers and technicians for its first production. And what comes from the stage are some beautiful voices and high energy—the show is generally well sung. The set, in concept, is nice—with a bandstand as the onstage focal point. Follow-through on that concept, though, is lacking, and the bandstand seems bare-bones in terms of detail, color and richness. More effective is the livery stable—the irony, though, is that very little happens there.

Choreography is lacking. Admittedly, it is difficult to choreograph for actors who are not truly dancers—but the show moves from a static staging to sudden repetitive movements and one over-used ballet lift. Costumes were colorful and true to the period (beautiful hats included), although the “loud” patterned knickers on Prof. Hill, a grown business man, in act two were a bit jarring.

So why isn’t the show a success? The Sunday matinee performance I attended looked to be sold out and the cast received a standing ovation at show’s end—yet during the show, the audience was subdued and unresponsive to the cast’s efforts.

Perhaps the answer lies in the vision that the director seems to have created for the show. Much has been written about Meredith Willson’s "Music Man" being his tribute to Main Street, turn-of-the-century America. River City, Iowa, in Willson’s show is very much a mid-western Mayberry…a town of simple, ordinary, lovable and hard-working Americans living a life of virtue, charm and grace in a more innocent time. Not a perfect life, or a life without problems, but certainly a solid life. In Mr. Hardie’s eyes, however, River City has little charm and no grace, for he presents it as a town of fools and buffoons. The show is full of unnecessary “bits” which are overplayed, distracting, and more often than not fall flat—as evidenced in the audience’s lack of response. Scene changes were tedious because of contrived bits which involve a man-hungry woman pursuing her prey. The bits became more annoying each time they occurred. His actors always seem to be aiming for the easy, cheesy laugh through exaggerated, physical shtick. All of his actors, including his leading lady (though she has a lovely voice) mug, twitch and jerk their way through their roles—plowing through the opportunity to show the gentle, tender, character-driven moments which Willson wrote into his script and which gives a necessary contrast and depth to the story. Establishing and developing character seems not to be a priority in this production. Where is the moment that Marion’s hard shell begins to crack and melt as she falls in love with Harold Hill? Where is the moment that Professor Hill reaches the painfully shy and tormented little boy, Winthrop? Where is the moment that Hill himself falls under the spell of life in River City with a librarian? Such moments humanize Willson’s characters and allows the audience the chance to invest in them—in other words, care about them. But these moments race by with no attention, buried in the exaggerated mugging and physical clowning of the actors.

Moments which provide "Music Man" with a bit of suspense and tension, such as Marion’s discovery of Harold’s “credentials” deception and her decision to suppress it, are given away. Most seriously missed is the moment when River City hears its boys’ band for the first time, led by a handcuffed Professor Hill, finally confronted with his lack of credentials and his highly unorthodox “think system”. Will the town hear the band as it truly is…or as it hopes it will be? Will this moment convict Professor Hill or make him a hero? The chance to draw the audience into the moment was completely torn away—and it’s only the show’s climax.

Why Mr. Hardie chose this route for his presentation of "Music Man" I can’t say. Perhaps he was looking for a different take on a much-performed show. Perhaps, for him, character development took a back seat to getting laughs (which he didn’t get in Sunday’s performance). Perhaps he was trying to project Professor Hill’s “think system” onto his production. Whatever the reason, what’s missing from this "Music Man" is heart. And heart, encased in affection for a beloved bygone era, lively music and colorful characters, is the center of "Music Man."

The Color Purple, by Music by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis & Stephen Bray; Book by Marsha Norman
Bravo, Fantasia and Company
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Fans of Steven Spielberg’s great film adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”—with its stunning visuals and powerful performances—may feel that the definitive version of the story has been told. Not to take anything away from Spielberg’s work, but the musical currently onstage at the Fox Theater, has a power all its own and is worthy of sell-out audiences, proving the old adage “there’s more than one way to tell a story.”

Oftentimes touring companies of big Broadway shows have the feel of discount productions, with B or C-list performers. Not so with this one. There is not a weak spot in the outstanding cast, and not a slow moment in the show’s narrative. The visual picture that “The Color Purple” presents is impressive. The set beautifully captures the place and time, with set pieces moving in and out of the picture with ease, and combined with the costumes provides a visual setting of depth and color for the actors and audience.

The cast is headed by Fantasia, one of the “American Idol” winners. I admit I did not see much of her American Idol season (though I do remember her rendition of “Summertime”), and haven’t kept up with what’s she’s done since (except a vague awareness that she played herself in a TV movie). I was sure she was a talented singer, but that doesn’t always translate to success in musical theater. Not so here! Fantasia gives a tremendous performance as “Celie”. Even if you think the role was signed, sealed and delivered by Whoopi Goldberg in the movie (and hers was a great performance), you will not be disappointed by Fantasia’s take. Her characterization matches her vocal ability and the transition she is required to make through the course of the show from young girl to mature woman is impressive. She IS Celie, and you never doubt it or question it. She skillfully handles the extremes of Celie’s hard life (“God shore is taking His time getting’ around to you, ain’t He?”) and is most adept at communicating the sly, dry humor which occasionally escapes from Celie. The Easter dinner scene where Celie finally finds her voice and emotional escape from Mister is beautifully delivered.

Fantasia, good as she is, is matched by the company surrounding her, several of whom originated their roles in the Broadway production. Strong, outstanding performances from every direction: LaToya London (Nettie), the oh-so-funny Church Ladies, Felicia Fields (Sophia), who gives Fantasia a run for her money, Atlanta’s Stu James (Harpo), Rufus Bonds (Mister), and Angela Robinson (Shug Avery). In fact, it was a uniformly excellent ensemble—even though there were several substitutions for the performance I attended.

The music is integrated seamlessly into the story and contributes to the high-energy level the show has. There wasn’t a dull moment in the score but particular favorites include “Miss Celie’s Pants”, “What About Love?”, “I’m Here”, “Celie’s Curse” and a naughty, very funny “Any Little Thing”—expertly rendered by Harpo and Sophie.

“The Color Purple” is a story which deserves to be heard on many levels. This production is a powerhouse telling of Ms. Walker’s work. It runs through September 27. Go see it—you won’t regret it.

The Wild Party, by Andrew Lippa
Risk Vs. Payoff
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The tag-line for “The Wild Party” touts the show’s stylish depiction of the “glamour, sensuality and decadence of Manhattan in the Roaring Twenties.” OSA’s production succeeds on several levels, offering strong components to its audience. The set is strikingly impressive. OSA’s stage is not the easiest to deal with, but this set makes good use of space with depth and perspective. Only one quibble or perhaps a question: As impressive as it is, it doesn’t suggest a Jazz Age Manhattan apartment (yes, there are some period pieces)—this could easily have been a house in Anytown, USA. Maybe some sort of skyline visible through the window or a fire escape stairway would have helped. And the decaying, dilapidated look is at odds with the show’s statement about stylish glamour-- perhaps there’s a connection or symbolism there that I missed—nevertheless, it is an impressive set. Choreography is also notable— interesting and well-executed by all. Actors appearing inside the set—perched over doorways, within walls and windows—is very effective and well-done. Congratulations to Anthony Owen who is responsible for both set and choreography.

The show is musically strong (with one exception) and accompanied by an excellent band—although at times a bit overpowering (particularly from percussion) for the onstage voices. But those moments are few and the ensemble between singers and band is very good.

“The Wild Party” features a high energy, hard-working cast. The two female leads contribute the strongest voices and characterizations in the cast. Mary Nye Bennett’s “Queenie” offers a strong, confident performance. Marcie Millard’s entrance as” Kate” certainly gets your attention--also strong and impressive. These two ladies definitely relish their roles. Unfortunately the leading men do not reach that same level—particularly Timmonte’ Hood (Black) whose sound is often weak, small, unfocused and suffers greatly in comparison to the other leads--not a strong casting choice. A general observation in listening to the show: it seems that more and more vocal style in music theatre requires screaming and harshness. Yes, “Wild Party” is a harsh piece, but still you find yourself wishing for a truly sung piece and you wonder how long some of these performers will last when their vocal stylings depend so much on the jugular vein. Sign of the times, I guess.

Onstage does a good job with the material, portraying the decadence of the Twenties. The show is lacking, though, in portraying the advertised glamour and sensuality, and the distinction between sensual and sexual. The show is definitely sexual. But several of the cast members seem tentative, awkward and self-conscious (or inexperienced) with the groping, grabbing, fingering and thrusting—and it’s noticeable because it’s such a major component to the staging and it’s constant. Too much so.

The most notable flaw is the show itself. For all of the impressive things happening onstage, there isn’t any character or circumstance that causes you to care about these people or what happens to them—nothing compelling. Maybe that’s intentional—perhaps the audience is expected to be nothing more than voyeurs. But in this reviewer’s opinion, that disconnect becomes a negative factor.

So, is the payoff worth the risk? “The Wild Party” is certainly a well-mounted show (pardon the pun), but the show itself doesn’t come up to the level that OSA gives its production. Nevertheless, I’m sure the production will generate much discussion. Congratulations to Onstage Atlanta for taking the risk.

The Producers, by Mel Brooks
Unhappy, Unhappy, Verrrrrrrrrrry Unhappy
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Rosewater's production of "The Producers" is advertised as the metro Atlanta premiere of the Mel Brooks hit. Although the national tour of the show did play Atlanta, this is the first production by a local company. Their excitement shows, some good ideas surface, and they certainly work hard, but the production ultimately is not a good one. It's a problem every community theatre has: how to effectively stage a big, brassy musical without the big, brassy resources. It can be done, and has been done, but it requires great creativity, imagination and a the ability to reimagine a show--resources this "Producers" lack. The vision for this production appears to be channeling the movie.

One big problem is the music. Actors give very timid, hesitant musical entrances and often seem out of sync with the band. Many times singers wander far off pitch--as though they can't hear the band. Too much of the music has this cautious, hesitant, plodding feel to it. And too many times the singers, including the leads, seemed to not really know the numbers they are performing. Add to this the problematic sound: dialogue not amplified, and then up for musical numbers--but usually in a hit and miss, sometimes blaring, fashion, which is jarring and annoying.

The set has a rough, unfinished look--with some odd touches, such as the lace tablecloth on Max's desk. Other pieces, such as the piano, which isn't a piano at all, but a built set-piece, looks really odd, has no real purpose, and is cumbersome to move on and off stage. In fact, all of the scene changes are cumbersome and interminable...including a 30-minute intermission. Act I is performed on one stage (in the round), while Act II moves next door. It's an interesting idea, which does not work. Moving the band seems to be the reason for the long intermission. But things don't imporve with the new location. Awkward staging and slow pacing continue. The set for the show within a show, "Springtime for Hitler" is clunky and unfinished looking, with a big staircase which the actors navigate with clumsy, hesitant movements.

Among the large cast, Peter Perozzi takes the acting prize. His first appearance as Franz Liebkind brings a desperately needed snap and energy. Though sometimes vocally weak, he still gives a wonderful performance and is a welcome sight whenever he appears. Allan Dodson is interesting to watch in his first scene as "keep it gay" director Roger DeBris. But he is hampered by an unattractive, ill-fitting costume, not at all what the director-in-drag should wear. Roger badly needs some real glamour, flash and a heavy application of make-up. Dodson gives it a good effort, but his movements seem awkward and uncomfortable. His "common law assistant", play by Ryan Young is appropriately flamboyant and fabulous, right down to his hilarious soprano obbligato on "Keep It Gay". Also giving a good performance is Gretchen Gordon as Ulla--a great look, great attitude and consistent.

As for the two leads: Allen Cox, as Leo, is also consistent, energetic and gives a decent performance (but couldn't someone have found him pants that were long enough, instead of sewing the black "ruffles" to the cuffs on his Act II costume? Very cheesy.) Not so lucky is Brandon Wilkinson as Max Bialystock. He has the look and an occasional good moment, but overall, it's a tentaive, weak performance. Max doesn't need a beautiful, operatic voice, but he does need a singing voice as big and confident as his personality. Wilkinson's biggest number, "Betrayed", is his lowest point...disappointing and lackluster when it should have been a showstopper. And in his final moments with Leo ("Prisoners of Love"), he appears to know neither the lyrics or choreography...a very clumsy finale.

Most of the problems of "The Producers" seem related to direction, both stage and musical. You can see the potential in much of the show, but ultimately, it's an unfulfilled, disappointing and "what might have been" production.

A Sunday Afternoon At Loehmann's, by John Gibson and Anthony Morris
On the Clearance Rack
Monday, June 1, 2009
For much of the time that Peachtree Battle ran, playbills and websites trumpeted "A Sunday Afternoon at Loehmann's" as the next hit from the pens of John Gibson and Anthony Morris. Well, it's here...and it's bad. "Loehmann's" features a script that steals Southern hooks and plot devices from "Steel Magnolias' to "Designing Women" to "Sordid Lives" and takes them to embarrassing lengths. The show is simply badly written, badly directed and often badly performed.

Of the cast members, Angela Mitchell fares the best, comfortable and natural in her performance. Justin Miles and Alan Phelps also contribute nice moments here and there. But, by and large, the show is full of truly embarrassing elements that contain no real humor or sharp satire- just seems to be striving for the lowest common denominator. Jasmine Burke and Pam Sharpe mug and overplay to the point of seeming desperate in their roles. Kelly David Carr, as blind handyman, Ben, has the distinction of contributing full frontal nudity to the show, as well as a couple of ass shots. Carr's total performance has a certain appeal, but the nudity is gratuitous ("Look at us! We're showing you a penis!") The rest of that scene, with Carr using a frying pan as a cover, has far more comic potential than the nudity.

The scene in which Ms. Mitchell's character mourns the death of her lesbian love (a war casualty), is painful, not because of the character's grief, but because of the excruiciating a cappella rendition of "His Eye is On the Sparrow" performed by another actor. Truly, truly bad-and something the director should have restaged or removed. Just as painful is the childbirth scene in Loehmann's dressing room: Wendy Adams on her back, legs straight up in the air, while every other cast member enters the dressing room, peers down, and comments on her need for a wax job. Congratulations, though, to Ms. Adams for her ability to hold her legs in that position for an extended time!

It's possible to be naughty with style, flair and wit, but "Loehmann's" misses by a long shot from the script, to the direction, to the performances.

"Peachtree Battle", by the same playwrights (John Gibson and Anthony Morris) was an undeniable smash and became Atlanta's longest-running show. Regardles of "Peachtree Battle's" fame and prestige, "A Sunday Afternoon at Loehmann's" is a low point in Atlanta theatre. Lighting did not strike twice.

Les Misérables, by Claude Michel Shonberg
Les Miz at a Discount
Saturday, September 27, 2008
This production of a much-loved show advertises itself as a scaled-down, more intimate (if such a thing is possible with Les Miz) production which focuses on character and music. That approach has worked before with "Chicago" and "Sweeney Todd", but doesn't work as well here--or at least it doesn't in this particular production. And I think the problem is the venue--the huge, cavernous Fox Theatre. It seems that if you want to present such a production--smaller scale, more intimate--it should be presented on a stage which is also smaller scale and more intimate. As presented on the Fox stage, this production just seemed to take place on an empty stage, as though the producers ran out of money before they got around to sets. And, like it or not, theatre is a visual art, and audiences expect to see something on the stage other than actors and an occasional chair or bed--especially if those actors are dwarfed by the size of the stage and your perspective as an audience member sitting in the loge. The set pieces on either side of the stage were well-done, but they were lost in the vast space between them. The rear-stage projections, designed to compensate for missing production values, were about as effective as looking at the back wall of the stage.

This type of production places a large load on the shoulders (and voices) of the cast--who must take up the slack in grabbing the audience's attention and holding it for almost three hours--and once again difficult to achieve in such a huge place. This cast was adequate, not bad, but not outstanding--though there were flashes of vocal and dramatic intensity...from Eponine ("On My Own") for example. And "One Day More", as always, is a thrilling, chill-inducing number.

But other numbers, such as "Master of the House" and Javert's suicide, were disappointments in both vocal delivery and staging.

Sadly, rather than an innovative, fresh look at "Les Miserables", this production was a discount version and a disapointment. Of course, the only thing NOT discounted was the ticket price and this "Les Miz," all things considered, is no bargain. Let the buyer beware.

Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by William Hauptman (book), Roger Miller (music and lyrics), based on the novel by Mark Twain
"Big River"--Big Show
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Theatrical Outfit’s “Big River” delivers a good evening at the theatre. The show is big, energetic, well-staged, well-sung and admirably performed. The Balzer Theatre is certainly a wonderful asset to the city of Atlanta, and TO’s productions are consistently high quality, worth the trip into the city, and offered at reasonable prices.
Based on an American literary masterwork (Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”), “Big River” has a clever, imaginative score by the late Roger Miller which perfectly matches the tone of Twain’s classic—and TO presents both admirably. There are a few mis-steps—mostly having to do with casting. Watching the ensemble men, led by Tom Sawyer, sing and dance “The Boys”—it was obvious the boys were a little long in the tooth for the kind of antics and dialogue they were tossing around. Shortly after, though, the men morphed into other roles and contributed to the show in a most positive way. Rob Lawhon, seen mostly as Tom Sawyer, is unfortunately mis-cast in the role. Mr. Lawhon, so very, very good in TO’s “Lost Highway” (as Hank Williams) is obviously a most talented man but this was not a good choice for him. Tom’s antics and language (particularly as performed in the broad, exaggerated style of the show) just seemed inappropriate and out of place coming from a mature man.
The other casting mis-step (and I know I’m dodging lightning bolts here) is Tom Key as Pap, Huck’s father—or rather his performance of “Guv’ment”. His delivery of the number was mugging to the max, and it seemed to be Tom Key mugging and not Pap. "Guv'ment" was jammed with so much grunting and straining that the song itself was lost. The audience seemed a little uncomfortable as well, with scattered laughter which seemed forced, as if to say “we’ve gotta laugh…it’s Tom Key!”
However, once he moved into the role of The King, it was a different story. Mr. Key and Jeff McKerley (who choreographed) were a thoroughly entertaining duo, and their “When the Sun Goes Down in the South” was a rousing highlight and crowdpleaser. It was great fun watching two of Atlanta’s favorite actors together—obviously having such fun themselves.
The ensemble was also one of the show’s highlights—singing, moving and acting beautifully…as well as serving as the show’s instrumentalists, just as beautifully. The show was full of great small moments and small touches provided by the ensemble (though I wonder how the folks of Arkansas would feel about how they were portrayed). Only one quibble: the number in which the runaway slaves are returned south was a bit bizarre. The group, at gunpoint and singing beautifully, were behind a short wall and were moved from one side of the stage to the other in a way that made you wonder: Are they moonwalking? Or headed to Concourse C at Hartsfield Airport?
Finally, Brandon O’Dell and Eric Moore were outstanding in their roles as Huck and Jim. Mr. Moore has a truly magnificent, rich voice. Mr. O’Dell’s exuberance and humor, with perfectly executed asides to the audience that were sometimes nothing more than a sly smile or sidelong glance, gave the show a wonderful center. Their delivery of “Worlds Apart”, with Huck gently washing Jim’s face and feet after his humiliation at the hands of the King and Duke, was a beautiful high point.
The show is too long (it begins to wear thin during the last 30 minutes) and ends rather oddly and abruptly (though the cast redeemed that with their choreographed curtain call). But Theatrical Outfit’s “Big River” is a very good production and faithful to the spirit of both Mark Twain and composer Roger Miller—very much worth your time.

Cabaret, by Kander and Ebb
Come To the Cabaret? Uh, No Thanks
Monday, July 14, 2008
There seemed to be some good things, or solid starting points, in APT’s “Cabaret”--a capable, although very young, cast (judging by their program credits and bios), a workable, attractive set, and excellent onstage musicians. But whatever might have been good about “Cabaret” was totally lost and wasted in what was absolutely the worst sound I have ever heard in ANY theatre or public venue--certainly one claiming professional status. Musical numbers, dialogue, singing voices were unintelligible, totally lost and wasted in the unbelievably bad sound. Audience members seemed to cope by talking to each other, sleeping or playing with their cell phones.

And, by the way, what qualifies a theatre company to claim professional status? What obligations are due performers and audiences from a professional company? I cannot emphasize strongly enough the frustration of having purchased a ticket to a show in which I could not understand a single line of dialogue or lyric.

It’s impossible to review any aspect of this show except for the totally visual aspects. The three leads (Brian Clowdus, Kelly Cusimano and Nick Morrett) gave curiously passive performances, particularly sad for the Emcee and Sally Bowles. Those two characters are anything but passive. The Emcee’s performance of “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” and “The Money Song” totally missed the mark. And Sally’s performance of the title song was delivered on automatic pilot, devoid of the bittersweet irony and borderline desperation which makes the song such an effective closing to the story we’ve just seen. Was it because the actors (and maybe directors) knew that their performances didn’t stand a chance against the sound? Kayce Grogan-Wallace seemed to try harder, but once again her efforts were pointless against the environment (although it was interesting to watch an African-American play the bigoted, racist Fraulein Schneider, who refuses to marry Herr Schultz because he’s Jewish. Was that intentional?). The blandness carried over into the musical numbers and choreography (the choreography particularly vulgar, complete with licked crotches, for such a young cast).

The directors (according to the program there were two) did not seem to understand the dangerous, chilling, “living-on-the-edge-of-Armageddon” world of Hitler’s Berlin--a crucial, crucial point on which “Cabaret” turns.

Costuming missed the mark as well, seemingly collected from grandma’s lingerie drawers and someone’s collection of old bridesmaids dresses, and did not at all evoke the “divine decadence” so dear to Sally Bowles’ heart.

And what was the deal with the Emcee’s nudity at the show’s end? Though strategic areas were covered by his hands, what was the point at the show’s end? Was it just an “in your face” gesture to the audience, or the company saying “how cool are we, we’re not afraid to be naked onstage.” However it was intended, it was odd. What did it add to the story?

This show is offered at ticket prices ranging from $22-28. Anything that might have been a strength about this production was wiped out by the horrible sound. Given the money obviously spent on this professional production, the fact that the directors and producers did not consider the sound to be an aspect to be professionally handled shows a definite disregard for both performer and audience. I hope the actors were well paid by this professional company, because the pay-off certainly wasn’t to be found in the onstage performance. And the audience members who bought a ticket are just up the creek, I guess.

Atlanta Christmas 2019
by Thomas Fuller
Atlanta Radio Theatre Company
A Christmas Tuna
by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, Jaston William
Southside Theatre Guild
Another Night Before Christmas
by Sean Grennan & Leah Okimoto
Academy Theatre
20th Century Blues
by Susan Miller
Live Arts Theatre
A Christmas Tuna
by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, Jaston William
Southside Theatre Guild
Almost, Maine
by John Cariani
Centerstage North Theatre
Another Night Before Christmas
by Sean Grennan & Leah Okimoto
Academy Theatre
Atlanta Christmas 2019
by Thomas Fuller
Atlanta Radio Theatre Company
Daddy Long Legs
by John Caird (book) and Paul Gordon (songs)
The Legacy Theatre
Its a Die Hard Candy Cane Holiday
by Marc Farley
Agathas: A Taste of Mystery
Its a Die Hard Candy Cane Holiday
by Marc Farley
Agathas: A Taste of Mystery
Midnight at the Masquerade
by The Murder Mystery Company
The Murder Mystery Company in Atlanta

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