Review: 'The Sound of Music' National Tour

Genevieve Croft

Premiering on Broadway in 1959, The Sound of Music is based on the memoirs of Maria Augusta von Trapp. Originally starring Broadway’s Grand Dame, Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, The Sound of Music has captivated audiences since its premiere. Whether you are a fan of the 1965 Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer film, or you enjoy listening to “My Favorite Things,” (strangely associated with the Christmas season-that still puzzles me!), The Sound of Music will forever air on network television year after year delighting and entertaining the young and the young-at-heart. A prototypical Rodgers and Hammerstein II collaboration, The Sound of Music seems to be the show that will never fade away-from high school and community theatre productions to the dismal version of The Sound of Music Live! Featuring Carrie Underwood in 2013 on NBC….the catchy songs, a tender, romantic love story, and a story based on true events are still the perfect formula for a popular musical.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

The Sound of Music is set in Salzberg, Austria just before the start of World War II. The large ensemble cast includes a wealth of talent of all ages. The musical is a lengthy two and a half hours. However, the high energy and instantly recognizable songs allow the audience to pay no attention to the time, are quickly drawn into the story of young Maria Rainer, and the von Trapp family. Audiences are pulled into Maria’s world, where she is a rather unconventional Postulant at Nonnberg Abbey. In the story’s opening, Maria is on the nearby mountainside, regretting leaving the beautiful hills where she was brought up. After returning late, Maria (in a wonderful scene with the Mother Abbess) apologizes for her lateness, explaining she was raised on that mountain- and was singing without permission (something that is not allowed in the abbey). In response, the Mother Abbess tells Maria that she should spend some time outside the abbey to decide whether or not she is ready for the monastic life. She will act as the governess to the seven children of a widower, Austro-Hungarian Navy submarine Captain Georg von Trapp. Although two and a half hours seems long for a musical production, the time passes swiftly. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast in collaboration with the amazing visual elements make this production exactly what an experience at the theatre should be-spectacle, magic and an absence from reality.

Director Jack O’Brien brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these familiar characters. His overall vision and concept was very impressive.

Scenic Designer Douglas W. Schmidt successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed and conveyed with precision for detail. I was impressed with Schmidt’s attention to detail in each location and especially the usage of some lovely three-dimensional projection style backdrops that really allowed the audience to see how vast and grand the mountains in Austria really are. I also very much enjoyed seeing some similar techniques in the walls of the abbey-in particular the Mother Abbess’ office. The backdrops made these stone walls seem very large, and open. It was most extraordinary to see some lovely windows created, and on the walls as well. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and attention to detail were incorporated from both, the scenic and lighting designers. 

There were quite a bit of scenic changes to accommodate the multiple locations required within the story. I thought that these transitions were executed quite marvelously. The transitions were seamless. There was never a moment when I felt that I had been “cheated” by the lack of details or amount of detail in each location. From the double-level sets that would glide in an out with ease, to the delightful use of color and texture, the scenic designs, in itself could have easily been a phenomenon of excellent theatrical skill and exhibition. It was a very powerful moment with 6 large Nazi Flags were dropped from the ceiling, and used as the backdrop of the Festival Concert. There was nothing more symbolic than seeing proud Austrian, Georg von Trapp sing “Edelweiss” (Austria’s national flower- used as an image of symbolism and loyalty to his country) before he bids farewell to his homeland, and reports to Bremerhaven to assume command in the Army of the Third Reich. This moment gave me chills.

The home of Georg von Trapp was as grand on stage as it was it the film. I especially appreciated large curved staircase, and the large walls that would dress many locations that were reminiscent of large pieces of lace. I was fascinated with the very end of the production, with the von Trapp children (led by Maria and Georg) traveled up the mountain, as they escape the Nazi’s after the Anschluss. I really felt that they were taking a long, and arduous journey to reach safety. As the family ascended into the hills of the mountains, my breath was taken away. This attention to detail was one of those things that would not have been missed had it not been there but added an element of legitimacy to the set. Again, another moment which gave me goosebumps.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Lighting was designed by Natasha Katz. Katz executed a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. One element that was absolutely awe-inspiring was seeing silhouettes of the Mother Abbess and Maria in some very tender scenes between them. I often found myself watching only the silhouettes speak to each other because the images of the actors were so clean and defined. I felt that it was a very powerful use of visual imagery. Through the performance, Katz’ cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the impression of the many different locations in Austria. The best “gem” from the lighting design, for me, was seeing many windows light up in the town of Salzberg toward the end of the production. Katz worked in cooperation with scenic designer, Schmidt, and was able to create a very unique and dynamic view of the town from inside the abbey walls. From the dimly lit halls of the abbey to the romantic lighting in the villa during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” Katz really devoted a lot of time, effort and talent in the lighting of this production. 

Jane Greenwood designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The von Trapp children each had a unique costume. From the traditional German dirndls and lederhosen to the humorous “curtain” play-clothes, each wore something that was significantly different from one another. I enjoyed seeing the women of the cast in some fabulous fashion from the late 1930’s. Everyone in the ensemble had extremely different costumes, and there was never a point in this production when I felt that costumes were similar to one another. Costume design was surely a huge undertaking in this production, with the massive number of characters in the story. Each ensemble player wore a unique costume (for each role) adding to their importance to the story. All this added authenticity to their roles. Costumes were visually appealing, while also giving an accurate depiction of their character’s personality and role in the story in the 1930’s Europe.

Kerstin Anderson was incredibly believable in the role of Maria Rainer. Through facial expression, and body language, Anderson convincingly portrayed the optimistic governess, with a niche for singing, and her positive relationship and familial bond with the von Trapp children. Her role was very loveable, and her enthusiasm and honesty on stage was nearly constant, having appropriate interaction with the von Trapp children, and lovely on stage relationships with Georg, Mother Abbess, and Liesl (played maturely by Paige Silvester). Anderson never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Ms. Anderson was wonderful in the role of Maria, and I believe, could certainly be held in the same category as others who have graced the stage in the role of Maria.

Captain Georg von Trapp was played by Ben Davis. Davis was very convincing through facial expressions and body language. In one specific scene, Davis and Anderson were engaged in a very tender moment, while expressing their feelings for each other (“Something Good”). They had a lovely relationship on stage, and this was evident in their rapport with each other during each scene. Even in earlier scenes, when Georg was very stern and disciplinary, Davis displayed some captivating moments with Ms. Anderson. I thought that the duality between Georg’s Naval Captain persona and his desire to be a more loving father was a nice contrast, and provided depth to his character.

Ashley Brown, in the role of the Mother Abbess was skillful in portraying the kind-hearted and maternal Mother Superior. Through facial expressions, and a dominant voice, Brown really brought down the house with “Climb E’vry Mountain” at the end of Act I. Her presence on stage was always strong, and she never faltered in her operatic and powerful vocal delivery.

Another standout was the ensemble of von Trapp children (Paige Silvester, Erich Schuett, Maria Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Johnson, Mackenzie Currie, and Audrey Bennett). Each member of the von Trapp family was convincingly cute, and provided the appropriate touch of humor with their adventures on stage. Their voices were like a chorus of angels, and it is evident that they devoted a lot of time and effort into their performance. With their delivery and facial expressions, the children did an excellent job. As each one matures and expands their resumes, they will certainly become well-rounded actors and actresses…and what a way to gain experience! The Sound of Music is surely one of the greatest musicals of the modern Broadway era.

This production of The Sound of Music is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the overture begins, and the recognizable songs are previewed, you will be fascinated and compelled to sing-along. Not only is it an excellent history lesson for audiences of all ages, but also, it is an excellent way to introduce Maria’s story to first time theatergoers. Whether you have never seen the show before, or you are film devotee, The Sound of Music will leave you with a spectacular theatrical experience. This production of The Sound of Music is truly a masterpiece. The Music Hall at Fair Park is alive with the “sound of music.”

Review: 'A Divine Evening with Charles Busch' at AT&T Performing Arts Center

John Garcia

In season four of RuPaul’s drag race when one of the contestants was eliminated, she said to RuPaul, “You have changed the world of drag forever.” I immediately thought, “No. Not really.” Why you ask? That form of drag combines heavily painted faces, extravagant costumes, wigs, and 99.9% of the time they simply lip sync to songs. Now some drag queen performers do tell jokes or do stand up in between their lip syncing numbers.

But for those in the theater world would say that it was Charles Busch who changed the world of drag into an art form that is impossible to duplicate. He blazed onto the New York theater scene in the 1970s. He does not pile on globs of makeup or wear outlandish costumes. Nor does he lip sync, he sings live. But foremost Mr. Busch is an actor. Since his childhood he fell in love with those classic films that starred such glamorous leading ladies like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, and others. He strongly felt connected to those femme fatales in those black and white celluloid films.

So with that inspiration he began his journey as a playwright to create works for himself to portray these screen stars in drag. His scripts mirrored those characters that flickered across the silver screen.

His work as a playwright is staggering and broke barriers in regards to not only playwriting but men portraying roles in drag. Now we know from our theater history Shakespeare was the first to use male actors in female roles because women were forbidden to be on stage. 

But here is where Busch stood out to show his acting craft. He never portrayed any of these roles campy or over the top. He transformed them into realistic women, in voice, body, and movement. Where he really excelled was his extraordinary comedic talents. So few actors can do what Busch can do in the world of comedy dressed as a woman. Using his face as a comedic palette, he painted subtle, yet hilarious expressions. One arch of his eyebrow to a comedic line or moment and he had the audience howling in laughter. His comedic timing, pace, and delivery is phenomenal. There is that golden rule that comedy cannot be taught. It is born in you. Busch was bathed in it! He would play all these grand leading ladies in his own plays, but slathered them in side splitting comedy. His make-up was exquisitely applied, never garish. His costumes reminded you of such film costume designers as Adrian, Edith Head, and Orry-Kelly.

As an actor and playwright he really started to achieve both critical and box office success in the 1980s with such comedy gems as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium, Times Square Angel, Psycho Beach Party, and The Lady In Question.

In the 1990s his winning streak as an actor and playwright continued with such mega hits as Red Scare On Sunset, Shanghai Moon, Our Leading Lady, and a revival of is his early hit, The Lady in Question.

One of his biggest hits (and this critic’s personal favorite) was Die Mommie Die! This was one of Busch’s finest comedic masterpieces. This comedy was about a former singing star named Angela Andrews, who no longer sings and is stuck in a loveless, ugly marriage to a film producer. Angela does have on the side a young lover (an out of work TV actor). She thirsts for happiness, so she plots to kill her husband and take her two children and make a new life. From there the comedy never ends from the first scene to the end. This hugely successful play was turned into an independent film that became a critical and financial hit, winning accolades on the film festival circuit. Busch won a Best Performance award at the prestigious Sundance Film festival for his work in Die Mommie Die! Another of Busch’s plays also made it to the silver screen, Psycho Beach Party (although Busch did not re-create the role he did on stage, but instead portrayed a different character for the film version). 

Recent new works that Busch has both penned and starred in include The Divine Sister, which again became a hit both with the critics and the box office. His 2011 comedy Olive and the Bitter Herbs was one of the few times that Busch was not on stage, but served only as the playwright. In that play-and in many past Busch productions- starred one of Busch’s favorite co-stars, Julie Halston. 

Busch has also done a couple of times for benefits a staged reading of Auntie Mame, portraying of course the lead role. His performance garnered him heaps of critical praise, so much so that many on Broadway felt he should portray the role in a revival on the Great White Way.

Busch has had his work represented on Broadway twice. In 2000 his play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife opened at the Barrymore Theater, where it was given a sea of critical praise and became a box office smash. It ran for 777 performances and earned three Tony nominations, including one for Busch’s script. His second Broadway venture became infamous, but it had nothing to do with Busch. Rosie O’Donnell brought across the waters from England the Boy George musical Taboo. She bought the rights, became the producer and planted the show at the Plymouth Theater. She brought in Busch to rework and retool the script. But the musical was plagued with so much gossip and rumors of the battles between O’Donnell and Boy George. New York Post Columnist Michael Reidel fed on those stories like a zombie from The Walking Dead. He published so many articles about the “drama” backstage, and the show was still in previews! Sadly the musical flopped and closed after only a 100 performances. 

But Busch does not only do drag roles. His fans were shocked when he appeared in a reoccurring role in the HBO dramatic hit series OZ. In the series he portrayed a death row inmate. Busch showed a completely different side of his acting talents on the series that were astounding.

In 2006 he co-wrote with his close friend Carl Andress the film A Very Serious Person, which Busch also directed and starred in. His co-star was the late great actress Polly Bergen. The film was part of the USA Film Festival here in Dallas. Full disclosure: I was personally asked by the organizers and producers of the festival if I would serve as mediator for the Q&A session that was to be held after the screening with Busch. I immediately agreed!

Busch is also famous for his cabaret acts. New York audiences have stormed into venues and stuffed themselves like sardines to catch one of Busch’s critically acclaimed one woman/man shows. The New York critics lavished Busch’s cabaret shows with glorious praise.

Now Dallas/Fort Worth audiences have the VERY rare opportunity of seeing this legend of theater live and in person as he has brought his new cabaret show titled A Divine Evening with Charles Busch to the Wyle Theatre. 

To kick off the concert, conductor/arranger/pianist Tom Judson glided over the piano keys and sang in a beautiful tenor voice the opening song that served as the intro for the Grande dame La Busch. Judson has a background in theater as well. He has appeared on Broadway in the Roundabout Theater production of Cabaret. He was also in the national tours of Cabaret and 42nd Street. He has composed the score to Whit Stillman’s indie film classic Metropolitan and has written songs for Sesame Street, Ann Magnuson, Lisa Kron and many others. 

Busch came into the spotlight dressed in a soft, black pantsuit, a billowing shawl with fringe that was adorned with sequined appliqués. To complete the look was this massive, bejeweled necklace made of sparkling copper hued gems. His make-up perfectly applied and a copper wig coiffed to perfection.

As the music transposed from Judson’s solo to Busch’s first number, three very familiar notes pinged from the grand piano. Musical theater addicts such as myself immediately knew, “That’s from Dreamgirls. He’s going to do ‘And I Am Telling you’”, and he does! But with side splitting results. He stops midway and tells the audience he is not a soul singer, but a chanteuse. And then went into a comical first number.

Busch possesses a rich, buttery, baritone voice with a grounded vibrato. His vocal belting was right on the money all evening long.

He informed the audience that this show was a mixture of old material, new material, and stolen material! 

Busch’s music repertoire really displayed his knowledge, history, and love for music. He did songs from Sondheim, Kern, and even Paul McCartney! But here is where the cabaret had a more emotional connection from material to singer. Each song had a story pertaining to Busch’s life. From his difficult childhood to where he is today. There were songs for hearty laughs, but also touching ballads that clinched your heart.

There were many stand out numbers, but here are a couple that really stayed with me. He sang two haunting Sondheim ballads which Busch said came from an album by his close friend Julie Wilson. Ms. Wilson was one of the greatest cabaret singers who earned a Tony nomination for the musical Legs Diamond. She passed away in April of this year. Busch’s lower register within his voice achieved deeply moving emotion that flowed within the lyrics.

It was announced this week which stars would be part of Lincoln Center’s Story Songbook series. These are concerts by some of the best Broadway stars and performers. Busch was announced as one of the headliners! His concert will be on February 26. Last night he performed for the FIRST time ever two numbers that Tom Judson specifically composed for the Lincoln concert. And we lucky audience members last evening got to hear them first. One was a fantastic up-tempo number titled “Lady at the Mic” which was peppered with jovial lyrics. The second was a melodic ballad that Busch had only rehearsed for the first time that very afternoon! But as he told the audience, he wanted to try it out now. It was a resounding success! He also did a marvelous vocal job on a Paul McCartney song that you could literally feel the audience being so moved by it.

From his treasure chest of songs, he chose some very hilarious songs that were winning numbers all evening long.

But personally my favorite number was his version of the Oscar nominated song “A Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie. He sat next to Judson on the piano bench and with his emotional approach to the lyrics; he transformed the song into a heart tugging ballad. His subtext and interpretation of the lyrics just moved you to tears. Judson added at the very end of the song a small, faint hint of Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” as Busch sustained the final note. Truly a magical moment.

Judson and Busch had several duets that they knocked out of the park. Their harmonies melted deliciously like buttah! Their chemistry was another major highlight of the evening. They played off each other like a solid comedic duo. Kudos to Judson as well on how connected he was to Busch. He followed him musically with sublime results. He instinctively knew where to pause or move the tempos by the emotion that Busch displayed within the song. That’s a rare gift in cabaret acts. Bravo Mr. Judson!

Busch did not just “sing” the songs, he buried himself emotionally within the lyrics of every song, be they up-tempo or ballads. He keenly understood the subtext of the lyrics. So each song (especially in the ballads) he carved deep into the subtext to bring out raw, honest emotion. When the song had a musical break and only the piano played, Busch stayed in the moment, walking back to the piano, reflecting to the lyrics and music. That is a master at work!

Within the musical numbers Busch had the audience bending over in laughter with his stories. These stories were rich with comedy. Not to give it away, but his stories about meeting his younger self, the internet, and Paul McCartney were hysterical! He had fun with the audience and would react or comment right there in the moment for laughter. He pointed out to three men sitting on far stage right and said they looked like a table of Bernie Sanders look-a-likes!

Busch also brought into his act one of his most famous and legendary characters that fans adore, Miriam Passman! As Miriam he told a story of her master class-I’ll leave it at that. Let’s just say he had the audience rolling in the aisles in laughter.

Here is a great example of Busch’s comedic talents. After a song, he mistakenly skipped over something. Now we the audience would have never known that. Mr. Judson whispered to Busch, who went to the piano. Busch returned to the mic and said, “Oh I skipped a part”. From there he went into a dead on Carol Channing impersonation about forgetting where she was within in the show. I died (along with the audience) in laughter!

This is by far your typical, paint by number, seen to death, same ole cabaret acts. It has a true arc, a story full of laughter with moments of dramatic honesty. It has an artist that clearly understands what a lyric means emotionally, whether for laughs or tears. Not very many artists get invited to do a concert at Lincoln Center, but Busch was and will in February! This cabaret show has one of the greatest treasures of the American Theater giving his gifts live and in person. If you work in theater or just enjoy attending it, then you must see Busch live and in concert. New Yorkers get to enjoy Busch’s talents throughout the year. How rare it is for audiences to get that chance to see one of the most beloved, respected, artists that actually changed the art of theater performing live right here in Dallas?! Now is your chance! Because if you miss it, your only other way to see Busch live in concert is to see him in New York, but good luck in trying to get a ticket cause his cabaret shows are always sold out!


A DIVINE EVENING WITH CHARLES BUSCH
AT&T Performing Arts Center at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

Friday, October 30 - 8pm, Saturday, October 31 – 7pm & 10pm. Tickets range from $65 to $45 and may be purchased at www.attpac.org by telephone at 214-880-0202 or in person at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Monday 10am–6pm; Tuesday thru Saturday 10am– 9pm; Sunday 10am–6pm). Note: May contain adult language.

Review: "The Addams Family" at the Plaza Theatre Company

Joel Taylor

Plaza Theatre Company continues to produce shows during the Halloween season that have a playful sense of the macabre and absurd. In 2014, during the Halloween season, Plaza performed LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which received a COLUMN Award nomination for Best Musical last season. For the 2015 Halloween season, Plaza chose to share the musical comedy THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Those that remember the original comic strip, the television series, or the more recent feature films based on the same characters as well as those that appreciate a sense of the absurd, irony and humorous macabre will enjoy this family friendly show. 

Every year, around Halloween, it has become increasingly common to see films and shows that focus on slash and slice and rely heavily on an abundance of blood, guts and gore, improper use of a chainsaw, axe, viral strain and long pointed metal fingernails. Unlike the slash and slice films and shows that are especially common around Halloween, The production of Addams Family uses satire and the macabre to bring humor to expected social expectations.

Charles Addams, created the fictional Addams Family, as an unrelated group of 150 single panel cartoons that made their debut in 1938 in the magazine, The New Yorker. The core of the Addams family has traditionally included Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandma, Wednesday, Pugsley Cousin It and Thing. The Addams Family was created to be a satirical inversion of what was perceived to be the ideal American family. They are an eccentric American family that delight in the macabre and are unaware, or simply do not care, that other people find them bizarre or occasionally frightening 

Although most of the humor comes from the fact that the family shares odd interests such as collecting torture devices, practice sword play throughout the house, detests bright colors, enjoys flowers without the actual flower petals, and wanting to go on the romantic vacation of a lifetime through the sewers of Paris, the family is not typically evil. Instead, they are close family that rely on the Addams Family values for keeping them together. Morticia is an exemplary mother. She and Gomez remain passionate toward each other. By merely speaking a few words of French, any French words will do, Morticia can provoke Gomez into kissing her arms. Both parents are supportive towards each other and their children. The family is friendly, hospitable and charitable to visitors, despite the visitor’s horror of the Addams lifestyle.

The Addams Family television series ran from September 1964-April 1966 and starred John Astin as Gomez, Carolyn Jones as Morticia, Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester, Ted Cassidy as Lurch. Lisa Loring as Wednesday, Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley, Blossom Rock as Grandma, Felix Silla as Cousin It, and Ted Cassidy’s hand as Thing.

Subsequently, the Addams Family characters and story lines were included in episodes of SCOOBY DOO, the animated television series and more recent feature films such as The Addams Family (1991) that starred Angelica Houston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci as Wednesday, Jimmy Workman as Pugsley, Judith Martin as Grandma, Carel Struycken as Lurch, John Franklin as Cousin It, and Chrisopher Hart’s hand as Thing.

This was followed by The Addams Family Values in 1993 and starred most of the same actors as the 1991 film, with the following changes; Joan Cusack played the Black Widow, Carol Kane as Grandma, and included cameo roles by David Hype Pierce, Peter Graves and Nathan Lane, who went on to play Gomez in the stage version of The Addams Family musical,.

Plaza Theatre Company performs plays in the round. Which means the performance takes place in front of an audience that literally surrounds the actors on stage. This necessitates creative use of space and action for moveable set pieces, props, cast members and dancers. Using a limited space for a large production can be a challenge. However, the production staff at Plaza Theatre, has a history of using this space to maximum benefit to bring to make each production feel intimate. Despite a few instances when during a dance number including all of the ancestors, Gomez (Aaron Lett) had to momentarily hesitate as he navigated between dancers to traverse to the other side of the stage as well as a scene that took place in the dark, when Gomez (Lett) and Mal (Jay Lewis) almost ended up in the lap of an audience member, the space is well used for maximum enjoyment.

During the preshow, songs with a Halloween theme are played while the audience is seated. They chose a wide range of Halloween related songs from the 1950’s to current material for use in the pre-show music. Throughout the performance, the musical score is well performed by the cast and works well with the choreography of Tabitha Barrus. She uses the entire performing space for well-designed and executed dance numbers by all of the actors throughout the production. Including the many dance numbers that the ancestors perform throughout the show. In one scene Morticia (Caitlan Leblo) dances a subdued version of the Tango with Gomez (Lett). During the dance, Morticia and Gomez use the entire stage space moving between the ancestors also dancing on stage during the scene. 

Costume Design by Tina Barrus who has an armful of COLUMN Awards for her work, is once again a major highlight of the production. The attention to detail for the costuming is apparent throughout the show. Morticia wears a form fitting, but not too sexy, floor length black dress that hugs her ankles, covers her feet and extends on to the floor giving the impression of tentacles. Gomez is wearing the expected pin stripe, tailored double breasted suit that allows movement to dance with Morticia, as well as practice fencing in a scene with Lurch. Wednesday is also appropriately wearing the basic black dress with white trim, reminiscent of the costume worn by Wednesday in the earlier Addams Family films. An exception to the black and white worn by Wednesday, are the few scenes in which she is wearing yellow that matches the yellow also worn in the same scene by Alice (Susan Metzger). Pugsley wears short pants and a shirt with red and white horizontal lines, Grandma wears a costume that is shades of grey and is designed to appear as if it is made of rags. Grandma’s unkempt grey hair work well with the costume design. Lurch wears a basic black suit, white shirt and tie. In order to give Lurch (Josh Leblo) the physical height that is expected of the character of Lurch, he wears black platform shoes. Mal Benieke (Lewis) wears a suit and tie that reminds me of the style of suits that I have seen businessmen wear in the Midwest region. The ancestors are in various historically period styles that range from cave man to a contemporary nurse and jilted lover in her bridal gown. With the exception of the caveman, the costumes for the ancestors are in the same off white shades that matches the make-up worn by the actors. G. Aaron Siler as Uncle Fester’s costume is a floor length, grey jacket that looks contemporary and antique at the same time. His costume also includes the light bulbs that light up when Fester places one end in his mouth. 

In the past few years I have seen several productions of The Addams Family musical around the area. Rarely, have I seen in previous productions such attention to detail in the costume design as I observed in the outstanding work by Ms. Barrus in Plaza’s production. 

During the pre-show and opening scene, four headstones are set around the stage to represent a graveyard. In one corner is what appears to be a large iron gate that leads to the family crypt, from which the ancestors enter early in the show and ultimately are allowed to return. This space is also used in the second act to move on and off stage a large four poster bed that also includes an oversize spider, on which Alice (Metzger) and Mal (Lewis) use when discussing the consequences of the game during the dinner in the first act. That space is also used as an entrance and exit by Grandma when she pulls her wagon of potions onstage for a scene with Pugsley. In another corner, the entrance and exit area is covered by a wall to wall and ceiling floor length red drape with gold fringe and tassels. Without spoiling a scene, the drapery and tassels are effectively used in a few scenes as sight gags.

The actors that make up the characters of the ancestors range in age from early teens to their mid-twenties. With the exception of the cave man ancestor, none of the male ancestors had facial hair or wrinkles. This gives almost all of the ancestors the appearance of eternal youth. The actors playing the ancestors moved well with the often complicated dance patterns created by Choreographer Tabitha Barrus. During the performance, the ancestors assist uncle Fester and help with staging elements in the park scene in which Lucas (played in the performance reviewed by Shreve) and Wednesday are making up from a disagreement and enter into a contest to determine which one is crazier than the other. 

Grandma, played by Keli Price, is fun to watch when she is on stage. Even when she has no lines in a scene, she is consistently the cantankerous old lady in all characteristics. Price, steps around the stage as would someone in advanced years, holds and contorts her hands as if arthritis is a major health issue. She brings out a crackling sound in her voice that gives the impression that she really is a spry 104 year old eccentric woman that enjoys her potions and hitting on 90 year old men as in the dinner scene. When she takes command of a scene, she dances sings and quips about hitting on young 90 year old men. 

Pugsley Addams, played by Henry Cawood, is the younger brother of Wednesday. Theirs is a relationship in which the younger sibling relishes being tortured by his older sister. Cawood plays this role with such enthusiasm that sometimes the character of Pugsley comes across as honest and endearing in an Addams sort of way. Such as the scene when he is stealing a potion from Grandma and the final scene when Gomez is telling Pugsley how proud he is of him. Though, there are also times when the character’s action comes across as forced, which loses the humor and sincerity. Such as an early scene when Wednesday has Pugsley on a rack and causing Pugsley to stretch out, seemingly in pain, when she pulls a lever. In that scene, Cawood anticipates each pull of the lever and overreacts out of synch with the timing of the apparatus. During the dinner scene, Pugsley sneaks away from the table in order to do a prank. During this scene he over-acts in a way that detracts from the full comedy of the scene.

Lurch played by Josh Leblo, has moments when his interpretation of Lurch works very well and at times is too stoic. When he, is on stage as Lurch, he walks in the Lurch manner that is slow and very methodically deliberate. The character of Lurch is stereotypically accepted as a character that is slightly above a zombie. Through most of the production, Mr. Leblo has a facial expression that is void of any emotion or movement, often at the expense of the full effect of the humor in a situation. Such as when he ushers the Beineke’s into the Addams home. In the scene he interacts with the Beinekes without the non-verbal communication that would normally be shown through the eyes, tilt of the head, or any non-verbal action that would convey even ironic communication. His most successful scenes are when he, as Lurch, is slowly and methodically clearing the stage during intermission. The audience applauded and cheered as this scene during intermission was taking place.

Wednesday Addams is portrayed by Meredith Stowe, she is the eldest child of Gomez and Morticia. Stowe plays Wednesday as a young lady that is conflicted with the desire to continue to fit in with her family and her own Family’s peculiar values and the desire to live a life with her new love who is a normal boy. Stowe handles well, the intricacies of playing a character in her late teens to early 20’s that is trying to fit in two different worlds. During a scene in which Wednesday is pressuring her father to do something for her, in this case it is keeping a secret from her mother, she uses the line that every daughter has used to a parent, “if you love me you will…” said with a pouty look that only a daughter can use so effectively. Stowe embodies the daughter so well, that an adult couple seated in front of me, were audibly commenting on the bad behavior shown by Wednesday. Stowe is a joy to watch as Wednesday as a real girl in real conflicting situations. The audience can clearly see the emotions at play in Stowe’s genuine facial gestures and body language. 

Mal Beineke, played by Jay Lewis, who is Lucas’s father. Lewis, shows believable emotion and actions as the father and husband that, over time has spent less time with his wife and son and instead focused so much more with his job. During a scene in the second act, in which Alice and Mal are discussing the revelations that happened during dinner, Lewis seems very real as Mal when he is confused as Alice tells him how their relationship has changed over time because he has not been involved with his own family. 

Susan Metzger portrays Alice Beineke (Mal’s wife and Lucas’s mother). Metzger is a hoot to observe. Metzger, embraces the emotionally conflicted personality of Alice, a wife, and mother that is always trying to play peacemaker, trying not to make waves and internalizes conflict and then externalizes the anxiety through rhyming. In each scene, she consistently shows, through facial expressions, tone and physicality, the emotion and conflict that the character is feeling at that moment. Such, as when arriving at the Addams home, seeing Wednesday wearing the color yellow, she comes to Wednesday’s defense when it is realized that they are both wearing yellow. Demonstrating that she is good with physical comedy as well as with the comedic timing of the lines she delivers, Metzger is a comedic riot during the dinner scene where she literally climbs on the table and performs. 

The role of Lucas Beineke is double cast. Brandon Shreve played the role of Lucas for the performance reviewed. Physically, Shreve is smaller than Wednesday, which adds to the physical humor of the show. Shreve plays Lucas as a less forceful character that allows Wednesday to take the lead in most of their interactions. During a scene in which Lucas tries to connect with Pugsley by using contemporary slang and attempts a high five, Shreve believably comes across as awkward, geeky and sincere. Later in the show, Shreve becomes much more energized and alive in the scene with Wednesday in the park as they compete with each other to see which one is crazier than the other. 

Uncle Fester, played by G. Aaron Siler, is the very eccentric brother to Gomez. Siler portrays the role brilliantly. Directing a show while also performing in the show is challenging and not often successful. Siler does both well. He clearly has delicious fun as Uncle Fester. In each scene that he is on stage, the audience sees the facial twitches and shrugs, such as seen in the opening number. In this production, Siler becomes is the Uncle Fester that has been enjoyed by audiences since the early 1960’s. Siler embodies Fester with a childish joy that is contagious. It is also delightful fun to see Siler place a light bulb in his mouth and it lights up…just as it did on the original stage version, television shows and feature films. 

Caitlan Leblo is the elegant Morticia Addams. Morticia is the strong willed matriarch of the Addams Family. The character, played notably in the TV and film versions by Carolyn Jones and Angelica Houston, respectively, is stern with her children, oozes sensuality with Gomez and the primary influencer of all decisions that involve her family. One of the strongest characteristics from Ms. Leblos’s performance is her ability to deliver lines, scolding, praises and almost every conversation with an almost completely stoic appearance. I said almost, because the stoic appearance was usually followed by a slight raise of an eyebrow, or tilt of the head, or a unique tone in her voice. Caitlan Leblo is fantastic as Morticia. In fact, she portrays the character so much better than most that I have seen over the past few years. She does an excellent job with the physicality of Morticia, whether walking, crossing her arms in the way that Morticia always did and has the stoic sometime unexpressive look that Morticia in the films usually had. Though, lacking is the slight twitch of the eyebrow, tilt of the head or body posture that emphasizes the irony of a situation. 

In the role originated by Nathan Lane in the Broadway version is J. Aaron Lett . This is the first production in which I have seen Mr. Lett and I hope it is not the last. Gomez, the patriarch of the Addams family is a difficult role to not only play but to play it well. The Addams lineage and heritage comes from Spain. Traditionally, the role of Gomez is played with a Spanish accent. A challenge is keeping the accent consistent. Lett succeeds in this challenge. This talented actor successfully portrays Gomez and completely understands the comedic timing, delivery the role demands. Lett is very energetic and is able to understand as he applies the dry humor, allowing the comedy to be funny and not try to force it to become over the top. Lett demonstrates a clear understanding of the role and character of Gomez consistently throughout the show. Beginning with the opening song, Lett takes charge of the show with his boundless energy and connection with other characters on stage. During scenes, alternately with Wednesday and Morticia, in which Wednesday wants her father to keep a secret and Morticia demands that no secrets be kept, through, his line delivery, and physicality, such as allowing the frustration of the situation to be visible through his face and physicality, Lett is consistently brilliant. 

I grew up watching the television series in the early 1960’s as well as the animated series and later the feature films. Over the years watching the shows on television, film and on stage, I have a developed a sense of how to expect the characters to act and display the characteristics that have made the Addams Family the loveable, creepy, spooky, and kooky family that many have grown up with. I have seen the characters played by talented and professional actors as well as students in high school. Each actor over the years has given their unique flavor and style to the characters being played. Sometimes, the interpretation works so well that I felt like a little kid again watching the television series after school. Or, as an adult, giggling and guffawing at the wit and delivery of the actors in the feature films. 

Sometimes the interpretation of the character by the actor does not have the maximum desired impact. With a few exceptions, the actors in this production consistently presented characters that resonate with the audience. If you, like me, grew up experiencing the Addams Family from the 1960;s to the present, you will get many of the references to the lines, situations, and the tongue-in-cheek humor. You will appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the characters and nod your head in appreciation to the wit and humor. If you were not fortunate to have had the Addams Family as a part of your life experience before now, you will still enjoy the show for the jovial wit, well timed delivery of lines, droll sense of humor, or like the elderly couple sitting in front of me, have comments when one spouse does or says something that will invariably land the person committing the error in hot water that even an Addams would not enjoy.

They're creepy and they're kooky, Mysterious and spooky, They're all together ooky, The Addams Family. 

Their house is a museum When people come to see 'em They really are a scream (pronounced Scree um) The Addams Family.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Plaza Theatre Company, 111 South Main Street, Cleburne, Texas, 76033
817-202-0600
Runs October 9th through November 17th, 2015 

Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $15.00 Adult, $14.00 Senior and $13.00 Children. For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.plazatheatre.com or call the box office at 817817-202-0600.

Review: 'Blithe Spirit' at Stolen Shakespeare Guild

Carol M. Rice

Noel Coward wrote his “ghostly comedy” Blithe Spirit in just six days. It was first presented in the West End 1941 and ran for a whopping 1,997 performances. A subsequent Broadway production later that year ran for 657 performances, and the play has become a staple of regional and community theatres the world over, not to mention several West End and Broadway revivals.

It’s easy to see why this is such a popular show, and not just because of the comedic plot. In addition to being relatively easy to produce on a single set, the cast of two men and five women is obviously attractive to theatre companies who inevitably have more women than men involved. This is not to say that the roles are easy to play, for they’re not, and because it’s now a period piece – that requires British accents to boot – it’s also not an easy one to direct. The comedy is hard to play with the right touch, and I’ve seen several productions over the years that just didn’t get it.

Fortunately Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production is not one of those. It was excellent from start to finish. The beautiful set, designed by many-a-hat-wearing Jason Morgan, was elegant and exuded the perfect amount of opulence. The only thing not quite up to snuff was a black wall behind a couple of doors that were supposed to lead outside. The small bushes helped some, but because everything else was SO well done, this was a bit jarring. Bryan Douglas also brought excellent effects to life with the lights. I especially liked the subtle lighting change whenever Elvira entered the room.

Lauren Morgan’s costumes, coupled with Marcus Lopez’s wigs, were wonderful. The overall look of Elvira, especially, was spot on. The maid costume for Edith was adorable, and the other ladies looked haughtily upper-class in their lace and furs, and the men were dashing in tuxes, suits, and dinner jackets. The only costume pieces that didn’t look as though they fit quite right were Madame Arcati’s wild dresses. Her hats and the cape were perfect, however, and since everything else was so good, I wondered if the ill-fitting dresses were a choice since her character was such a, well...character.

Mary Tiner beautifully played Madame Arcati as the larger than life character that she is. She was sincere, boisterous, and a little insane, which is exactly what the role calls for. Without trying, she was able to steal every scene she was in, yet still managed to give her fellow actors their moments as well.

Stacy Cook as Elvira was beautiful, playful, and mischievous. It was obvious upon her entrance that she was otherworldly, and she played up the comedy in all of her scenes masterfully.

Jason Morgan and Stefanie Glenn were Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. These roles are often done as throw-aways, but Mr. Morgan and Ms. Glenn brought new life to the Bradmans and made them memorable and interesting.

Augusta Abene was quite funny as the always running maid Edith. Her look of constant worry and cockney accent were delightful, and since one never knew when she’d break out into another sprint, she was very fun to watch.

Laura M. Jones started off playing Ruth as a confident woman who is well aware that she may not be as attractive as her husband’s first wife, but she’s got him now so it doesn’t matter. Then as Elvira made her way into Charles’ life again, she showed a more vulnerable side in her attempts to keep him. And then, of course, by the end, she was just fed up with it all. Ms. Jones gave a finely layered performance.

Stan Graner plays Charles, an author who invites Madame Arcati over not to get in touch with his first wife, but to get atmosphere for the book he’s writing. Mr. Graner is an accomplished actor and performer and in this role he seemed to be relying on “actor tricks” to get through his scenes instead of allowing his character to grow. However, he was still quite enjoyable to watch.

Co-directors Jason and Lauren Morgan do a fine job with this classic comedy, and it was nice to hear the laughter of the nearly sold out audience enjoying it. The British accents were consistent, too, which is not an easy feat. Blithe Spirit is one of those shows that comes around relatively often, so it would be surprising if you haven’t seen at least one production of it. Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s is one of the best I’ve seen, so if you haven’t seen this classic comedy, this production would be the one to catch. If you have seen it, this would be a good one to revisit.

Review: 'Fix Me, Jesus' at Theatre Three

Charlie Bowles

What is the price of having extremist political opinions on the children of a family? If children are what they see and hear growing up, can they be faulted for the outcomes in their own lives?

It was the beginning of a recession in Dallas, which had flowered for decades with oil and real estate booms, but by the mid-80s big oil moved to Houston and real estate dried up. Ronald Regan’s presidency caused a political sea change from a strong democratic stronghold in Dallas to the solid red state conservatism that rules today. For those who were in the money and part of the Dallas political machine, the recession hit hard, financially and emotionally, and the political winds of change came as a shock.

Fix Me, Jesus is a comic look at this time of Dallas history through the eyes of author, Helen Sneed. Her own life in Texas politics gave her a unique inside view of the families who were caught up in this turmoil. Fix Me, Jesus, which premiered in late 2013 opened its Southwestern Premier at Theatre Three in the Quadrangle tonight, which is a bit surprising since the action takes place in Neiman Marcus at Northpark mall in 1986. It’s been a long time coming home.

Annabell Armstrong is trying to find independence from her family and some political power in her beloved Democratic Party. Yet in a moment of existential crisis in the women’s dressing room, she finds her political career, love life, finances, and family are failing. And in the process, she discovers a cast of uninvited and largely unwanted memories who remind her of why she’s in this situation. The lessons are comical, shocking and touching.

Emily Scott Banks directed Fix Me, Jesus. Her choices for designers and production crew created a great setting, the Neiman Marcus dressing room where Annabell spent much of her childhood. Bruce R. Coleman, as scenic designer, and his crew of builders and painters filled the stage floor with a believable dressing room. I know this because I went in some of those in my younger days in the 80s. With pink and gray checkerboard tile flooring, gray leather seating benches and urn like sculptures next to silvered floor-length mirrors, the look set an immediate tone for high decadence and consumerism that was the style of Dallas then. Is it all that different today? This setting was then filled by Jennifer Woodward, Props Master, with various design items and props that showed visually the accoutrements of Annabell’s life.

Carl Munoz’s lighting made this set very bright and brought out its subtle colors. He also created a see-through mirror in a dressing room doorway to allow characters from the past entry to the set. Andi Allen’s sound design included music of the 80s and sound effects from the mall, especially store announcements from Neiman Marcus. I don’t know who the recorded announcer was, but he was believable and his announcements provided important time and context for the story.

Ryan Matthieu Smith designed costumes with the challenge that this was Neiman Marcus, the mecca for elegant dress in Dallas, and these people used the ritzy super store like most people use Target or Walmart today. Annabell wanted to find a dress for an evening gala, and there were a lot to try on. Party dresses, luxury dresses, elegant evening gowns, fur coats, with many colors and styles, they were always coming and going and Annabell was not finding any. There was a mother, who wore various types of rich looking dresses, especially her purple silk gown with gaudy diamond necklace, and a grandmother who most always wore black, though very rich black. Annabell as a child wore numerous little pieces that told us Annabell was used to fancy clothing from the beginning.

Emily Scott Banks also cast a group of actors who could take on the personalities of these flawed characters and provide shocking revelations all the while making us laugh about them. Only Annabell and Mrs. Craig were real during the time of this play. The rest of the characters were flash-backs to as early as 1963 or as late as a few days before the night in Neiman Marcus. The director had to integrate these memory characters into the action that was happening on this night, and this mostly happened by suspending the adult Annabell, though there were times when characters played out scenes from an earlier time or even interacted with her in the current time. But the time shifting all worked, as I never lost touch with what was current and what was in a previous time.

Mother, that is Annabell’s mother, played by Sherry Hopkins, was caught up in the political machine of her own family and had to scratch for independence while living in the lap of luxury. Hopkins did a good job of giving Mother a lot of unstated resentments against her husband and her daughter, along with a rash of effects from growing up with her own mother, called Grandmother in this story. With a steady diet of criticism about weight and looks aimed at Annabell from an early age, Hopkins showed us the origin of some of the challenges in Annabell’s life, one that reared its ugly head in the dressing room in Neiman Marcus. In time, Hopkins revealed Mother’s own inner crisis and the origins of her deepest fears about her husband, as she first confides in her own mother, with disastrous results and then as she provides advice to her own daughter, again with disastrous results. But through Hopkins’ emotional range we could see her quietly seething about her life under her tough exterior.

Shane Beeson played Doctor Maxwell Feld, a New Yorker who came to Texas to put his own form of psychological therapy into practice. Feld was experiencing his own family and professional crises and those affected Annabell. Beeson played Feld as a low-key doctor-type with calm voice and minimal movement, but his therapy with Annabell changed him too and Beeson showed this self-delusion and subsequent turmoil in the doctor’s feelings for Annabell, his patient.

Young Annabell was played by Sydney Noelle Pitts, a beautiful, precocious 5th grader with a real sense and comfort for the stage. While characterization of Young Annabell was mostly as recipient of vitriol by her Mother or Grandmother, Pitts seemed to have a presence on-stage that allowed us to fully accept her real and imagined appearances. I particularly liked how she handled timeline shifts as she sometimes came in during an earlier time and sometime during that night in the dressing room. In some ways, the memory of Young Annabell was a comfort and advisor to adult Annabell.

Brandi Andrade played Mrs. Craig, the Neiman Marcus sales lady who had worked with Annabell and her family for decades and knew the soul of Annabell more than anyone. Andrade gave Mrs. Craig just the right amount of deference to Annabell and her family as customers and cultural superiors, but showed an equal amount of love and care, and a bit of tough love, for Annabell. Mrs. Craig was Annabell’s mentor and maybe the only one who loved her for who she was. In time we learned of Mrs. Craig’s own crisis of conscience, but we identified with her completely because Andrade infused her with the spirit of a spiritual guide, albeit one who deals in $3,000 dresses.

I think the most difficult role was played by Gene Raye Price. Grandmother was the grand dame of the family, a political powerhouse in the community. She wielded an enormous weight with Annabell as the child grew and we began to see the origin of both Mother’s and Annabell’s emotional turmoil. Grandmother was everything Archie Bunker aspired to, but was much more expansive in her prejudice against everyone. Her bible and sole example of virtuous living was “Gone With the Wind,” the true description of Southern living. Price had the challenge of saying the vitriol all of us swear we never would think in a way that was believable. I applaud her success. Grandmother’s constant stream of judgements against every group or class of people who were known in the 80s was very uncomfortable in the audience, yet there was just enough humor included in Sneed’s text that we could laugh about it a bit while squirming. I’d like to think that if you were alive in this audience, you were insulted by something she said. And Price sold it. I don’t think there was a moment of shock that I thought was a put-on by Grandmother. It all seemed to be part of her persona, and an explanation of why Mother and Annabell had such emotional scars to overcome.

Brett Warner was Annabell, the child of this dysfunctional family. The crisis of the evening was about choosing a dress, something we could laugh off if we hadn’t seen it so often in shows like Say Yes to the Dress and Hot Wives of (insert name of town here). But we learned in time that the issues were much bigger than a dress. Warner showed us the actions of a nervous and self-loathing, but up and coming, powerhouse in Dallas democratic politics. Her father, who never appears, is none-the-less a powerful motivator for Annabell’s life and actions. He’s the one she most needs to love her, though there’s a tryst with the therapist to substitute for Father. I’m not sure who was the more anti-hero, Grandmother or the unseen Father. Neither author Sneed nor Warner, in her character choices, made this clear, so we were left to decide on our own who was the biggest threat against her. But Warner played out Annabell’s meltdown, which neared death, with great passion. Annabell’s self-deprecating and painfully funny pronouncements to Mrs. Craig both revealed her underlying hurt, while making us laugh at the situation.

Perhaps a motivation of showing this play right now was the political climate we’re experiencing. For Annabelle, who is steeped in democratic politics, the major crisis came after an election in which her get-out-the-vote efforts embarrassed the family and especially her father. And yet, it was the political speech Warner gave as Annabell before a large black church that thrilled me, and maybe Warner’s shining moment. Her political speech reminded me that I wish more of our candidates talked like that. Her moment of deepest despair with a gun in her hand was also poignant, viscerally scary, and powerful as a possible outcome of any existential crisis we may experience. I think Brett Warner may have been the perfect actor to play this part. 

This story started out to be a bit fluffy, a cute little story about a funny night in Neiman Marcus. It set me back when the story turned both sad and a little dangerous. Fix Me, Jesus, was not fluffy and it wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the human side of prejudice, the dysfunction of families and the devastating effects on children. It was about political discourse and how even reasonable people can disagree violently with people they love. And it was also a funny look at a time in Dallas that wasn’t that long ago, but seems so distant now.

I don’t know how anyone else will react to this story and I think it’s open to different interpretations. But I do think anyone who sees it will walk away thinking of their own lives or those of people they know. It will cause them to think, long after it’s over. Make a date to see Fix Me, Jesus at Theatre Three.

Review: "Hello Dolly" at Theatre Arlington

Eric Bird

I saw this musical for the first time on film and was very excited to finally see it on stage. When the curtains opened with the city outline in the background the ensemble immediately caught my attention with their energetic performances. The energy kept up throughout the entire show, resulting in a very enjoyable experience with amazing dancing, incredible vocal skills and the talented designing team that went into this production.

“Hello Dolly” is one of those musical theatre pieces that has been seen and enjoyed by thousands. It is based on the play, “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder. It opened on Broadway in 1964 and won a total of 10 Tony Awards. It has had three Broadway revivals as well as a movie in 1969 staring Barbara Streisand and Walther Matthau and directed/choreographed by Gene Kelly. 

Brandon Mason directed and choreographed this musical comedy. The visual imagery was impressive, with how the dancers interacted with the stage environment and also the other characters. There were a lot of very definite pictures in this production, which I especially enjoyed, such as when Cornelius and Barnaby are taught by Dolly Levi how to dance, then in Act II in the musical number “Elegance”, Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene and Minnie create delightful images from excitement to exhaustion as they travel the long distance from Irene’s Hat Shop to the Harmonious Gardens Restaurant. The choreography was lively and engaging. 

Alex Vorse served as the Musical Director for this production. Vorse had a wealth of amazing vocal talent to work with. Everyone knew what they were performing, creating a good, harmonious melody, which we first have the privilege to hear at the opening of the show and concluding with a strong Finale Ultimo. “Before the Parade Passes By” was another strong musical number where the cast performed admirably and created pleasant music.

Tony Curtis was the technical director and scenic designer for this production. When the curtains open we have the first image of a city outline in the back with the introduction of different elements for the different scenes, including Molloy’s hat shop and Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store with a cellar, which also served as a separate entrance to the stage. The restaurant of the second act was designed with a grand entrance stairway and two covered private dining areas that are used by the separate parties. The technical elements worked very well, adding more dimension to the performance and enhancing the imagery of the show.

The lighting was designed by Kyle Harris and was very good at illuminating the characters. I especially appreciated the use of blue and red lighting and how this was very effective in highlighting the characters and setting the stage for the emotional aspect of the show. There was a flashing light that was irritating however and detracted from the scenes, but overall the design was well done. 

Bill Eickenloff and Ryan Mansfield were co-designers for the sound. I had no complaints about the sound since the music was at a very comfortable level and the actors were very easy to hear and understand throughout the performance. 

Stefanie Glenn masterfully designed the costumes, fitting in perfectly with the 1890’s time period of the show. Dolly’s costumes were very well done, starting in a travelling suit, then another period-appropriate daytime dress and transitioning to an elaborate red evening dress complete with an extravagant headpiece. The other characters also had costumes that were well suited to them and appropriate to their age and class status, as we see in Vandergelder’s business suit and evening tuxedo compared with Cornelius and Barnaby’s costumes which were less fine. The costuming was fitting with the appropriate dress styles of the 1890’s and added to the reality of the show. 

Cathy Pritchett’s props design were very well utilized and very abundant throughout the performance. The hats in Irene Molloy’s shop were elaborate, fitting in perfectly with the scenes. The instruments used by the band looked realistic, and the parasols fit in perfectly with the choreography. The dishes in the restaurant were also appropriate for the show and helped create an engaging realism. 

Persis Ann Forster masterfully portrayed the matchmaking, meddling, and opportunistic role of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Forster is very comfortable to watch performing onstage and was exceptional at creating a real personable character that immersed me into the storyline of the show. The facial expressions and well timed lines worked excellently with her character. Her incredible singing voice was especially notable in “I Put My Hand In” and “Before the Parade Passes By”. Forster helped bring me into the life of Dolly and enjoy every minute of her performance. 

Steven D. Morris was exceptional in his portrayal of Horace Vandergelder, the widowed, gruff half-a-millionaire proprietor of Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store in Yonkers, New York. Morris has a very strong presence onstage that was immediately apparent when he performed the song “It Takes a Woman”. His gruff tone and his irritated, unhappy expression were constant throughout. Morris’ has impressive acting skills and created a dynamic, grumpy character that was enjoyable to see onstage.

Wyn Delano was very energetic and comedic in his portrayal of Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s chief clerk who is looking for excitement in New York. Delano is very dynamic in his performance, showing amazing vocal skill in “It Takes A Moment” to great comedic timing in the song “Dancing” where he learns how to dance. The combination of his well-delivered lines and dynamic dancing created a character that I thoroughly enjoyed. Delano portrayed a very interesting character that is low on cash, yet wants to have fun. 

Jonathan Hardin played the role of Barnaby Tucker, Cornelius’ energetic, naive assistant at Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed Store. His youthful innocence was very apparent by his tone and body language in his interactions with the character Minnie Fay, portrayed by Joanna Phillips. His energy was very strong during the songs “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Dancing”. Hardin was very consistent in the portrayal of his character and always had a very distinguishable expression.

Diane Powell played the widowed hat shop owner Irene Molloy in New York that wants to return to society after the loss of her husband. Powell has an incredible voice that was very evident during the songs “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes A Moment – Part II”. She has good acting skills, as witnessed in the courtroom scene where she responds to Cornelius in “It Only Takes A Moment – Part II”. Her interactions with Minnie Fay and Cornelius Hackl were dynamic and believable.

Joanna Phillips played the role of Minnie Fay, the naïve young girl who works in Irene’s hat shop. Phillips had a comedic entrance when she is opening the stuck door and she maintained that comedy and energy every time she was onstage. Her panicked expression when she found men in the hat shop was amusing to see and her interactions with Barnaby were very comedic and naïve, creating a plausible character.

Jessica Peterson and Zachariah Wiedeman played the roles of Horace Vandergelder’s loud, crying niece Ermengarde and the young, proud artist Ambrose Kemper, respectively. Peterson kept the crying at a constant, irritating level whenever she was onstage showing an immature young woman who wants to be free from all the restrictions her uncle has placed on her, while Wiedeman’s character constantly gave her loving, though sometimes irritated looks at all the crying. Both Peterson and Wiedeman performed admirably in their respective roles, creating an interesting couple. 

Lindsay Hayward played the scandalous Ernestina. Hayward was good at delivering her lines, showing her character’s low class and was realistic in the ludicrous things that her character did onstage, such as laying across on the dinner table and kicking her legs in the air to shock Horace Vandergelder. Hayward’s energy was constant throughout the show, making me curious about what she was going to do next to scandalize the other characters onstage. 

The ensemble was energetic and enjoyable throughout the evening, with good dancing, vigorous expressions and constant chemistry with each other as well with the main characters on the stage. This performed wonderfully, adding to the ambiance of the musical and creating a reality onstage that helped draw me in deeper into the storyline. 

“Hello Dolly!” is a fun musical that is being performed by some exceptional talent. I highly recommend checking it out. The energetic performances, with the comedic musical numbers will draw you into the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Her meddling in the lives of the other characters will have you enjoying every minute of the show. And who knows, if you need something found, advice, or a recipe, I’m sure Dolly will give you her card!

Review: Be Lovin’ It: Uptown Players’ HEDWIG Rocks the Kalita

Alexandra Bonifield

Amor omnia vincit. Maybe in Hedwig’s case, Wink-it? Love conquers all. Not every day, or every time, or every situation. But in Uptown Players’ production of the revered 1998 rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, running through September 13 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, love—in an honest, intense, human, revelatory, intimate, glorious, explosive way – does ultimately conquer its characters and sweeps the cheering, stamping, clapping capacity crowd right along with the Cupid-struck. A Holy Roller-style revival meeting couldn’t make truer believers out of dour skeptics. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!

Spectacle: On opening night I entered that hallowed ritual space, the Kalita Humphreys Theater, as an innocent Hedwig virgin, and left cosmically satisfied, well beyond any aspect of critical carnal expectation. Hedwig brims over with experiential awesomeness for body, heart and soul. Orgasmic? That’s not to say that its physical realities in production sight and sound disappoint in any way. From twinkling ropes of Christmas lights strung in wild profusion over the audience to a multi-level, 70’s-evoking glam rock opera industrial girder set (Bart McGeehon) strewn across the stage with rock musicians perched strategically about to best create a balanced, blasting rock opera immersion ((Virgil Justice), to Hedwig’s array of dazzlingly raunchy David Bowie-esque costumes (including batwing chaps) and extravagant, magnetized wigs (Derek Whitener, Victor Brockwell, Coy Covington), what a feast for the imaginative sensualist in everyone. Upstage, multimedia projections reinforce the rip-roaring spectacle, incorporating shots of the destruction of the Berlin Wall with a phantasmagoria of pulsating colors and shapes to match the emotions of each moment (Bart McGeehon, Amanda West). Then there’s the music, directed by Scott Eckert, also playing keyboard and guitar, with Rick Norman on bass, Jason Bennett on guitar and Justin Labosco on drums. Eleven satisfying rock anthems emanate in a no-restraints range of rock decibels and styles, each pleasing unto itself but all building to the final transcendent, joyful reveal at show’s end.

Acting/singing/direction: Kyle Igneczi gives an unforgettable, non-stop, powerhouse, evocative performance as Hedwig. Perfect casting. Grace Neeley debuts at Uptown, treading a tightrope of challenges with masterful precision in portraying Hedwig’s less glamorous, seemingly passive-aggressive husband. Perfect casting. When the two sing together, their harmony is sublime. Alone, each rocks out in exemplary fashion. Major kudos to director Jeremy Dumont: for pairing this duo and making the most of their complimentary skills and talents. My respect for his creative touch expands by leaps and bounds.

Truth? This is a simple love story set within a rock musical, about two characters the audience grows to appreciate as honest beacons of love’s manifestation: the gender-bending Hedwig and husband Yitzhak. As I watched the truths of both characters manifest, I tingled all over, enraptured by what transpires. If you know the show, you understand. Go live it again. If you don’t, discover it here. The truth will set you free. Love can conquer most anything. At the Kalita Humphreys Theater, love and awesome rock triumph over all in Uptown Players’ Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I be going back if I can….

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Book by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask

http://www.uptownplayers.org (214) 219-2718

Location: Kalita Humphreys Theater

3636 Turtle Creek Blvd (at Blackburn), Dallas, TX 75219

PERFORMANCES SELLING OUT FAST. BUY TICKETS NOW.

Tickets: $30-$45

Review: 'Lovers and Executioners' at Circle Theatre

Carol M. Rice

Any time you’re seeing a play that’s in verse, you have to be ready to adjust your usual sense of understanding, especially in the beginning. While Lovers and Executioners is much more modern than most verse plays, having been written in 1998, it was translated and revised from a comedy by 17th century playwright Montfleury, a rival of Moliere. The rhyme and rhythm is still there, but playwright John Strand provides a much more modern feel to it.

The play begins with a rather dark scene for a comedy: Bernard leaving his wife Julie to die on a deserted island for supposed infidelity. Jump three years ahead and Bernard is planning to marry again. The woman he wants to marry, Constance, wants nothing to do with him. Her mother (never seen in the play) has made the match for Bernard’s money, and Constance has fallen for new-to-town young Frederic. Her other suitor, Don Lope, is not happy about either of these new men in her life and has no problem pulling his sword at any provocation.

Frederic turns out to be Julie in disguise, aided by her faithful friend and would-be lover Octavius. Obviously she didn’t die, and now she wants revenge. Octavius will do anything for this woman and he helps her be appointed the town judge. She then promptly arrests her husband for the murder of his wife. I’m not going provide any spoilers as to whether she executes him for his crime, thereby doing to him what he tried to do to her, or whether she forgives him. You’ll need to see the show to find out.

The supporting characters in Lovers and Executioners are the most interesting, at least in this production. Richard Stubblefield as Octavius gives by far the most layered performance. He is invisible when he needs to be, yet always completely in the scene, and his love for Julie is apparent and heart-breaking from the beginning. A truly exceptional, understated performance.

Shane Strawbridge makes the most of his role as Guzman, the clownish servant of Bernard, who for some reason also acts as Bernard’s confidante. Considering the huge class difference between these two men, this is an odd choice. It almost feels like a character is missing. However, Mr. Strawbridge’s hilarious, spot-on performance makes you glad he’s on the stage as much as he is.

Another stand-out is Eric Dobbins as Don Lope. With his Inigo Montoya-esque accent and bravado, he delivers some of the funniest lines in the play, often as asides. Brilliant. He also comes across as an excellent swordsman, but alas - he is the only one, as the overall fight choreography is woefully inadequate. In the production I saw, the actors seemed very uncomfortable with it and there were sequences where swords didn’t even meet. Admittedly, Bernard and Julie/Frederic are supposed to be lousy swordsmen, but the choreography itself seemed ill-rehearsed. Hopefully this will improve during the run as the actors become more comfortable with it.

Claire Floyd deVries’ set was beautifully simple with faux stucco, stone, and woodwork. John Leach’s lighting and Rich Frolich’s sound design were complementary and worked well with the production. The costumes by Robin Armstrong were overall quite stunning, although Mr. Strawbridge’s shapeless rags and modern loafers were a distraction. Despite the line late in the play about Guzman being in rags, I don’t think it was meant literally – especially as close as he was with the resplendently dressed Bernard.

The script itself is, perhaps, the biggest problem with the production, as it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a light comedy, a dark comedy, or a drama. The genres all seem to be present at various times and they don’t always work together. Director Robin Armstrong does what she can with it, but the second act begins to feel like a bizarre twist on Dr. Seuss after awhile, leaping back and forth between comedy and drama at will, complete with extra sing-song in the actors’ delivery.

Lovers and Executioners was the 1999 winner of the Helen Hayes Award: The Charles MacArthur Prize for Outstanding New Play, and in Circle Theatre’s production, it receives its Ft. Worth premiere. The production is well-done, so make it a full evening in downtown Ft. Worth by grabbing dinner at one of the surrounding restaurants before the show.


LOVERS AND EXECUTIONERS
Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth Street, Ft. Worth, TX 76203
Runs through September 19. 

Actual days: Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Tickets are $ 15.00 to 35.00
For info and tix go to www.circletheatre.com address or call the box office at 817-877-3040.

Review: 'She Loves Me' at Plaza Theatre Company

Angela Newby

Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

She Loves Me is the musical romantic comedy that lends one to understand the meaning of being secretly in love with someone else. As two anonymously write love letters to one another, they don’t realize that they actually know each other in real life, and despise one another. Will they fall in love, or miss out? 

The musical is the third adaptation of the play Parfumerie by playwrite Miklos Laszlo. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1963 and subsequently had productions in the West End in 1964. It would surface in 1998 as the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan feature You’ve Got Mail. The musical will also be receiving another revival on Broadway for next season.

Director Dennis Yslas has outdone himself. This show was incredible and I was in awe as I watched all the moving parts come together to produce one of the best shows I have seen all year. 

Music Director Cherie Dee Mega commanded the music. Mega highlighted the talent of the operatic cast and used them in ways that had the audience on the edge of their seats awaiting the next score. Each and every musical number was better than the one before it, and while it is easy to start strong, this was one musical that ended stronger than it started. 

Choreographer Joshua Sherman did an astounding job with the cast to highlight each of the musical numbers. The choreography only enhanced the show and allowed for the mood to be heightened at every turn. In "Twelve Days to Christmas" the stage held every cast member who worked seamlessly with one another to demonstrate one of the most beautifully choreographed songs in the whole show.

Tina Barrus' costume design was brilliantly done. The men of the cast were dressed in full suits that enhanced each of their body types and characters personalities. The three customers were nicely dressed in simple black dresses that were accessorized with hats, gloves, and furs. Ritter and Balash were wearing form-fitting flare dresses that were easy to move in and showed the aspects of their characters perfectly.

Set design by JaceSon P. Barrus was the most favorite set that I have ever seen. The attention to detail and use of the space showed his talent. Each and every scene was carefully designed to move flawlessly together in the short periods of time between the scenes. Barrus’s true talent though was shown in the revolving door on the back stage that moves the audience to the inside of the perfumery and outside. Further, the moving display cases were so interwoven within the show that they enhanced every element within the performance. 

G. Aaron Siler with light and sound design was meticulously planned and executed. The soft lights with red undertones enriched the love story that unfolded on stage. The carefully selected blue lights during scene changes only made one anticipate what would come next. The use of full spotlights and a dark room highlighted solos and drew the attention exactly where it needed to be. Sound was perfectly matched with the actors’ vocals and never overpowered. Timing was never an issue and the sounds only enhanced the performance.

Property design by Soni Barrus was the epitome of attention to detail. Each and every prop was perfectly selected to show the details of the musical. I loved the antique perfume bottles and powder boxes in the display cases that showed the expensive nature of the perfumery.

G. Aaron Siler, as Ladislav Sipos, did a superior job as one of the clerks of the perfumery. Through hurried movements, nervous gestures, and vocal inflection, Siler portrayed the unease of the love affairs amongst his fellow employees. Siler used a calm, fatherly tone to help George Norwak to take a risk. His rich voice was displayed well in “Perspective” and Siler let his eyes shine with understanding of what love really is. 

Arpad Laszlo, the delivery boy played by Drew Sifford was the comedic relief to the musical. Sifford was a joy to watch as he skipped and moved quickly through the set to his next location. In “Try Me” Sifford’s high energy and strong voice fully portrayed the confidence that Arpad had in himself to deserve a promotion in the perfumery. Sifford’s characterization went beyond vocals to his facial expressions, in particular his hand gestures. He was having fun on stage and it showed through his awesome performance. 

Paulie Cocke’s portrayal of Ilona Ritter was remarkable. Her deep, rich, and powerful voice was highlighted in her musical number, “I Resolve”. Cocke had huge facial expressions but continued to contort her lips to show either her joy or disgust with a fellow employee. She excelled in this role with eyes that shined with the joy and glamour of a woman in love as well as scorned.

Steven Kodaly played by Joshua Sherman was the antagonist of the employees in the perfumery. His arrogant nature was perfectly displayed by Sherman’s use of lifting his chin, scowls to the rest of the characters, and tone. Sherman’s vocals are highlighted in “Grand Knowing You” through his deep and passionate plea for what is next in his characters life. 

Matt Victory was George Nowak, a young man who was unsure of the woman he was in love with. Through Victory’s self-assured stance he proved his dominance on stage. His widened eyes, smile that went up to his eyes, and a shake of his head to show joy was only the start of his amazing facial expressions. Victory really shined through his inflection and powerful voice in “She Loves Me” and was only enhanced with his charming smile.

Mr. Maraczek performed by Jay A. Cornils is the pushy manager of the perfumery. Cornils nailed the haughty air of Maraczek through his arrogant tone and judgmental facial expressions. In “Days Gone By”, Cornils sang from the depth of his soul to capture the moment in the musical. Cornils becomes Maraczek and there is no denying that this shrewd manager was perfectly cast.

Meredith Browning performance as Amalia Balash was simply outstanding. Her mannerisms are warm and heartfelt when dealing with the customers, and completely opposite with Nowak. She had the presence of the girl next door, but the spitfire energy of a prideful woman. Through her simple smiles, doe eyes, and gentle touches, Browning completely encompasses the mixed up feelings of Balash. Browning’s vocal achievement reigns in “Dear Friend” and “Vanilla Ice Cream”, each one expressive and delightful. 

The musical was rounded out by a top notch ensemble. Stormy Witter, Elizabeth Shelton, Haley Nettleton, Jake Kelly Harris, and Noah Foster were superb in their roles. Their vocal talented shone in both “Sounds While Selling” and Twelve Days to Christmas”. Each had their own unique style that only enriched the musical.

Plaza Theatre Company has outdone themselves with She Loves Me. With an amazing set of actors, coupled with the talented artistic staff, this performance will be hard to top. Come and enjoy this musical that will remind you what falling in love is like!

Review: What lurks beneath? 'GOD OF CARNAGE' at Our Productions

Jason Kane

Have you ever been drawn into a Facebook argument and immediately wished you had stayed out of it? Or if you’ve ever been forced to endure a particularly awkward, lengthy parent-teacher conference, then you might understand what it feels like to be the characters in Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning 2009 play, God of Carnage (translated by Christopher Hampton). Presented by Our Productions Theatre Co. at Addison Theatre Center’s Studio, it’s a taut 80 minutes or so of 21st Century societal angst. Civilization exists as barely skin deep.

Stephanie Riggs, Co-Artistic Director of Our Productions, plays Annette, the long-suffering wife of bigwig corporate attorney Alan (Bob Reed). Alan is that constant, loud cell phone talker, the one who lets you hear every word of every private phone conversation he has and then berates you for eavesdropping. He’s a polar opposite of affable working class retail merchant Michael, played by Our Productions’ Co-Artistic Director Brad Baker.

Michael is a big bear of a man who constantly reassures everyone that he’s just a good guy trying to foster harmony until you push his buttons the wrong way. His wife, Veronica (Christine Phelan), wears a perpetual strained, fake smile as she strives to be the perfect hostess, peppering conversations with thinly veiled hints of her “selfless”, morally superior work documenting aspects of life on the African continent.

The play centers on the aftermath of a playground scuffle between the sons of the two couples. Veronica and Michael have drafted a written statement, clearly showing their child as victim of Annette and Alan’s son’s reprehensible violence. The latter take issue with the semantics of the drafted statement, and the conflict simmers and explodes from there. Each character takes turns being positively monstrous, with civil niceties hurled aside in favor of brutal honesty.

All four actors give impressive performances. Reed shines as Alan, a role he seems born to play. He finds the delicate balance between blowhard and pragmatist. Donald Trump without the xenophobia? He’s matched well by Baker’s Michael, as the men bond over their own nostalgic childhood experiences but clash over their disparate societal tiers and family outlooks.

Riggs’ Annette strikes a tone of almost-normal, even though a nervous stomach reveals that she’s teetering on the edge of uncouth behavior as much as the other three. Phelan, who—along with Reed—is also a newcomer to the cast since Our Productions mounted the play last year, struggles early on to establish her character securely. But by the time the proceedings reach fever pitch, she portrays every bit of the tightly-wound suburban socialite she needs to be, someone who would be right at home among the Desperate Housewives of erstwhile Wisteria Lane.

Director (and Co-Artistic Director) Mark Mullino keeps the action moving at a reasonably rapid pace, even when the playwright’s plot offers roadblocks. Several false exits take place, when Annette and Alan vow to leave but get drawn back in for specious reasons. (After all, if they leave, the play is over!) Plot devices like these contrived exit attempts threaten to derail the play’s momentum and tend to weaken the biting commentary, but the skilled ensemble keeps things barreling along.

God of Carnage is Our Productions’ second show of their first mini-season in Dallas. The Company definitely knows what it wants to do, and is a welcome addition to D/FW region’s roster of top-notch smaller theatre troupes.

God of Carnage runs through August 23rd in the Studio Theater at Addison Theatre Center, 15650 Addison Road, 75001. Tickets are available by calling (972) 724-2147 or visiting http://www.ourdallasproductions.org.

Review: 'The Glass Menagerie' at Theatre Three

Genevieve Croft

Written by one of the greatest playwrights of the American Theatre, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie opens the 54th season at Theatre Three with success. With a story and characters that mimic Williams own life, Williams put a bit of his own life into the story’s protagonist, Tom. Since its premiere, audiences have been drawn into the story of the Wingfield family. A favorite among educational and professional theatre companies, there have also been several film adaptations of The Glass Menagerie, with the most recognizable being in 1950 with Jane Wyman as Laura, and Kirk Douglas as the Gentleman Caller, Jim. No matter what the medium, The Glass Menagerie continues to entertain, and William’s work lives on in the theatre-no matter how big or small.

Set in the 1940’s, and told mostly as memory play-Tom Wingfield recalls and shares memories of his mother, Amanda, and his older sister, Laura. The three share a small, dingy apartment in St. Louis as Amanda longs for the comforts and admirations she remembers from her days as a fêted debutante. She worries about the future of her daughter, Laura, a young woman with a limp (after a bout of pleurisy [pronounced as pleurosis in the play]) and a tremendous amount of insecurity and shyness about the outside world. Tom does the best to support the family, while he is faced with the boredom and banality of everyday life. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura (or as she puts it- a “gentleman caller”), and pressures Tom to find a suitor for Laura. Tom invites home an acquaintance from work for dinner, much to the delight of his mother.

Set Designer Bruce Richard Coleman nicely transformed Theatre Three’s Norma Young Arena Stage into the small apartment of the Wingfield family. I was impressed with his attention to detail, using wonderful period props to dress the set while also creating a very intimate space for audiences. I was also impressed with Coleman’s overall vision and design. One of the gems was the use of levels that Mr. Coleman incorporated into his scenic design, allowing the audience to experience the different areas of the Wingfield home. I loved how something so simple could really draw the audience into the play. These playing areas provided effective stage pictures of a simplistic life when families joined together for dinner at the table, read the newspaper and listened to phonographs on the record player. It was an excellent way to transform the remaining space into the time period.

Lighting was designed by Lisa Miller. There are few things a lighting designer can implement in such a straightforward play to represent day and night. However, I felt the mood was established and consistent throughout the course of the play. There were some lovely silhouettes that were established giving the allusion of a dark inner personality of each of these characters. I especially enjoyed seeing a very tender scene between Laura and Jim, in a darkened room (lit by low warm candlelight-in the midst of a loss of electricity in the plot). At times, I feel that lighting can be an afterthought in such a straight production; however, Ms. Miller really brought some nice details (window lighting, and transition lighting to demonstrate a pause in Tom’s memory as he recalls the events for the audience). 

Assisting the lighting and set, sound designer Rich Frohlich carried through with his selection of music throughout the play. I especially appreciated his vast selection of songs. I believe music can make or break a play, allowing the audience to experience the setting, mood and theme of a production. It was nice to hear the quintessential sounds of the Big Band Era, allowing audiences to travel back to the 1940’s, when Benny Goodman ruled the radio. As an audiophile, I was greatly satisfied by the library of songs Frohlich selected and chose to take audiences back to 1940’s. The instrumental underscoring of each scene was also a nice touch to enhance the emotion to each scene. 

In addition to direction and scenic design, Coleman also designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. I especially enjoyed the dress that Amanda wore in the second act-a wonderful example of her days as the belle of Southern charm. In contrast to her mother’s dress, Laura was dressed in a lovely more modern 1940’s dress with blue flowers-an allusion to her nickname that is mentioned throughout the story. Costumes were visually appealing, and were well executed.

Allison Pistorius was very remarkable in the role of Laura Wingfield. Through facial expressions, voice, and a youthful appearance, Pistorius convincingly portrayed the twenty-something, painfully shy young girl with the innocence of a child, lost in the world of her glass animal collection. Ms. Pistorius had some wonderful and complex moments with her gentleman caller, Jim (played wonderfully by Sterling Gafford) in the penultimate scene of the play, giving her character more depth and dimension.

Another standout performance was Connie Coit in the role of Amanda, a faded Southern Belle seeking to regain her glory days, and to marry off her daughter. Ms. Coit was very powerful as the matriarch of the Wingfield family, with incredible chemistry with Tom (played impressively by Blake Blair). Not only did Coit come across as the domineering mother figure, but also provided the appropriate dose of comedy to many of the most intense and dramatic scenes.

Theatre Three’s production of The Glass Menagerie is definitely worth seeing. The meticulous care for detail is evident in all aspects of the production, and makes for a wonderful experience. This is a classic of the American Theatre, and Theatre Three’s production does not disappoint. The Glass Menagerie has entertained audiences for generations, and launched Tennessee Williams’ career as one of the great American playwrights.


THE GLASS MENAGERIE
Theatre Three
2800 Routh Street Suite 168 (in the Quadrangle), Dallas, Texas 75201
Through August 23

Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30pm
Hooky Matinee-Wednesday, August 12th at 2:00 pm
Saturday Matinee-August 22nd at 2:30 pm
(Note: Only one Saturday Matinee per show)

Tickets prices are $35.00 and $32.00 for seniors 65+. Student tickets are $17.50. For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatre3dallas.com or call their box office at 214-871-3300.

Review: 'The Color Purple' at Jubilee Theatre

Charlie Bowles

Purple means royalty. But in many cultures it also triggers thoughts of spirituality, recovery and resurrection. In African Ashanti culture, it’s associated with Mother Earth and healing. It can suggest wealth, but also imply oppression. Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple, explained her use of the title. “I … noticed in nature purple is everywhere …. And in that sense, it’s like the people in the novel. You think they are unusual … but … all of the trials and tribulations of Celie are happening to people all over the planet right now.” The Color Purple is going through a reawakening. Given its message, that’s good when there’s such upheaval in the streets and women and minorities are still violently oppressed. The message of Purple struck Oprah Winfrey so deeply she became a public promoter of the story, produced a 2005 Broadway musical, as well as its return to Broadway later this year. She was lauded for her role as Sofia in Stephen Spielberg’s 1985 movie. So it’s natural when someone mentions The Color Purple, Oprah springs to mind.

The Color Purple – The Musical opened its regional premier at Fort Worth’s Jubilee Theatre in Sundance Square and I was privileged to see this outstanding production. If you’re longing for a theater experience with a fantastic cast, music that drives you to tears and makes you jump for joy, and a production that grabs you at the opening and sends you out the door shaking, singing and loving life, you must see Jubilee’s production. 

Alice Walker’s 1982 story is, at its core, a story of struggle and redemption in post-slavery Georgia. Marsha Norman’s book for the musical captures and distills the themes in Walker’s novel and shows these characters going through expansive transformations. Music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray convey emotional struggles that expose the underbelly of life in the Deep South and still celebrates the triumph of life.

Akiń Babatundé directed this production with a flair for Broadway, with spectacularly visual stage images in an intimate theater where sounds and images fill the senses. It seemed every bit as powerful as the big box theater, yet close enough to connect intimately with the actors.

Music soars in this show and Geno Young, Musical Director, took these talented singers and turned them into a powerful musical ensemble that explored the songs and deeply moving messages. Songs run the gamut of quiet, soulful ballads to foot-stomping rafter-raising full-ensemble, anthems. And then Young went upstairs and played them on his keyboard. It sounded like a band and his backing for these singers enabled them to soar. Ballsy. Powerful. Jazzy. And spiritual. Every actor sang with pure tonality and Bessie Smith type voices. Solos filled the space with soul and spirit. When two or three sang together, they balanced perfectly. But when the ensemble joined in, big lush harmonies penetrated you like a wave flowing in from the ocean.

Actors moved as they sang, both in purposeful stage movements and in dances from the early 1900s, as well as an African tribal dance. Shaté Edwards choreographed the show while director Babatundé got credit for musical staging. I’m not sure where the separation was, but the collaboration was magical. There were nineteen actors singing and dancing and moving and they always committed to their moves within the subtext of their character, creating moving stage pictures that made the scenes alive and interesting.

The stage seemed simple at first. Designed by Donna Marquet, a white painted stage floor lay in front of a large white painted backdrop, with something like a Jackson Pollack painting. Several low white platforms stacked across the floor in front of the backdrop and a couple of tall flat towers stood to either side of the stage. In time, though, platforms moved and towers became little hidden enclosures that turned and traveled across the floor. This simple setting was complex enough to be Celie’s childhood house, Mister’s farm, an African village, Harpo’s juke joint, a church, and even a town jail.

This setting was lit by Nikki Deshea Smith with subtle hues that brightened the stage and actors, but also changed color on those white surfaces. The backdrop, for instance, shifted to a light violet or a hint of mauve at times, but later shifted to a golden yellow, creating a sunny African countryside.

David Lanza designed sound with pre-show music like Willie Mae Ford Smith and St Louis Blues to set the time period. There were a few sound-effects. But what was excellent was the perfect balance between singers and music. Every word was easily understood whether in solo or as an ensemble. The tonal qualities and emotional messages were clear, without losing the power of Geno Young’s backing music.

Shows costumed by Barbara O’Donoghue are generally distinctive, unique and well-suited to every story. But this time she was inspired. A large ensemble played numerous parts and had to appear different, if only for a moment. At times they dressed as an ensemble and wore the same pieces. The overall theme was white with tans and light brown accents or counter-colors. Celie wore a poor-looking blue print dress. There was an African tribe with colorful prints and grass-tasseled pieces. Head dress adorned most actors and these ran the gamut from simple men’s panama or fedora-like hats to fancy women’s ‘crowns.’ I won’t even describe Miss Celie’s pants, which were fun and colorful and set the tone for one of the best songs in Celie’s transformation. Madalyn Russell added to this visual smorgasbord distinct and representative hairstyles and makeup that created an overall ensemble look while allowing individual characters to be distinct, changing with the passage of time and with the transformations of characters. Celie’s hair, for instance, started as short and scraggly with corn-roll pig tails, but changed over time to more mature styles until we saw her in a positively business-like cut.

The Color Purple centers on the story of Celie, a young teenage girl who’s raped and abused by her step-father and then her husband after being sold like cattle. Mister publicly abuses her as a wife and drives her younger sister away. As Celie, Ebony Marshall Oliver portrayed the deep despair of an abused child and wife as well as the self-loathing which such abuse creates. But she also showed a survival spirit and transcendence to a woman of forgiveness and humanity. In a moment of deep pain, she at once showed abject joy of birthing a baby, and then total loss as Celie’s step-father takes it away. We see Celie reacting to accusations of being ugly by Pa and Mister as the skilled actress took those words and turned them into a look of self-hate. In those moments, probably more devastating than any physical abuse, Marshall Oliver showed what it looks like to experience what John Bradshaw called “soul murder.” It causes Celie to accept the abuse, as if she deserves it.

But Marshall Oliver was also an extraordinary singer. Celie sings in twenty of the twenty-nine songs and Marshall Oliver uses her vocal strength, finesse and skills to reach deep into her emotions to find Celie’s sub-text, all the while filling the theater with pure and luscious melodies. Her duets with JuNene K as Shug Avery showed the emotional growth Celie goes through as she learns from her mentor. “What About Love” is a duet that cements Celie’s and Shug’s relationship, a moment of discovery of Celie’s sexuality, and allows Celie to explore feelings of love with a woman. But the song that nails Celie’s transformation, the song that brings an audience to its feet, is her stunning solo, “I’m Here.” Marshall Oliver delivered it with power, purity, resolve, and emotional courage.

Celie encounters other women along her path who teach her lessons. The first is her own sister.

Kristen Bond played Celie’s younger, more intelligent sister, who is blessed with ambition and a desire to learn and teach. Bond did a nice job of showing us a giddy pre-teen girl innocently adoring Celie with child-like sisterly qualities. When Celie is sold, Nettie becomes Pa’s new target, but runs away. We heard in Bond’s voice a resolve to escape, punctuated by desperation, followed by fear of Mister’s violence. Bond responds to that in “Lilly of the Field” as she’s banished. Nettie reappears in “African Homeland,” as Bond narrated Nettie’s letter to Celie while the ensemble acted out life in the village. Bond showed Nettie’s maturity, teaching Celie that survival is possible.

Sofia comes from a home like Celie’s, but she learns to protect herself from abuse. She entices Harpo, Mister’s son, with her ballsy strength and open sexuality. Chimberly Carter Byrom makes Sofia strong, a bit brash, confident and demanding, the type of woman everyone, man or woman, fears a little. Byrom makes her loud, pointing fingers at the men, demanding to be respected. But Sofia eventually encounters abuse herself, by the white Mayor and his wife. In jail, for defying the Mayor, Byrom looked whipped, mentally and emotionally beaten, because Sofia’s sentence is to be a maid to the Mayor’s wife. The thing Sofia feared most, being enslaved, happens in spite of her self-protections. And Byrom’s whole body showed the shame from that failure.

Shug Avery is Celie’s mentor. A talented performer, she’s idolized by women and loved by men. JuNene K gave us a full experience of Shug’s stardom and open sexuality with a palpable sensuality that permeated Shug’s speech, songs, movements, and interactions. In a scene in the bathtub, as she’s being healed and washed by Celie, we see her connect with Celie very deeply. Celie experiences her first feelings of love through this and JuNene’s demeanor revealed how Shug loves this attention. Shug is always gentle and understanding with the hurting Celie and JuNene played this in a way that we just knew Celie would be okay with Shug. But Shug has a personal demon as well, sexual addiction. And in JuNene’s portrayal showed the pain self-abuse causes.

Shug sings eight of the songs, including duets with Celie, such as “Dear God,” “What About Love?” and “The Color Purple.” Their duets were sweet, with lovely harmonies, and revealed the messages of love and strength Shug conveys to Celie as her mentor. However, her signature song and JuNene’s spotlight stage moment, among several, was her haunting and touching solo, “Too Beautiful for Words.” This is the moment Celie looks at herself in truth. JuNene’s performance took our breath away. So powerful! It makes me tear up just remembering it.

The last important women teachers for Celie is a group who opened the show, joined the ensemble on most songs, and hovered around the action to comment on Celie’s plight. Like a Greek Chorus, they were Jarene, played by Crystal Williams, Darlene, played by Deon Q. Sanders, and Doris, played by Liz Francisco. These quintessential older church ladies with booming voices and bigger-than-life presence were not only the strongest singing voices, but also were comic relief for the story, as most of their comments brought howls of laughter. With four songs just for the group, they introduced or provided character information, such as “That Fine Mister” as Mister appears on the scene, and “A Tree Named Sofia” when we see Sofia the first time. But I think their overture moment was when they introduced Shug Avery with “All We’ve Got to Say,” a mixture of adoration and scorn. They were Odetta Holmes, Rosetta Tharpe, and Bessie Smith combined and when they sang you wanted to stand up and yell, “Amen!”

Pa, step-father of Celie and Nettie, was played by a generally scowling Selmore Haines III. He also played Old Mister, the young Mister’s elderly father. As Pa he was the instigator of troubles for Celie and Nettie. Pa fathers two children with Celie and presumably tries the same with Nettie. Haines had to maintain this ever-present forceful hatred for women and children, with no apparent back-story for why. He represented incest and family abuse. And while the audience had to hate Pa for despicable actions, Haines had to find something in this character to appreciate. This may be the hardest part of acting and I applaud him for letting us see this. As Old Mister, he played a very different role. Mister’s father, a former slave who got a plot of land to farm in post-war Georgia, sees his son’s treatment of everyone on the farm, like the hated slave owners he probably had to endure, and he is ashamed. Haines two distinctly different characters made us see the origin of Celie’s journey and connected us to the distant past.

Mister is the real villain of this story. He, like Pa, is forever angry, hateful of men and women alike, although Shug Avery is the woman he wants. Calvin Scott Roberts played Mister with a very strong subtext that allowed him to commit fully tot his role. We saw Mister’s bad attitude as he arrives to buy a bride from Pa. He wants young Nettie. He gets Celie, but reinforces Pa’s accusation that she is ugly. Roberts’ gives us this gift, this violence and hate-filled view of the world, by playing it forcefully and believably. This story required a Satan-like character. Unlike Pa, though, he finds transformation. Robert’s beautiful “Mister’s Song” in the end reveals the true character of Mister’s heart. In his strong baritone voice, he asks, Tell me how a man do good, when all he knows is bad?” It was a stunning turnaround and a song that connected deeply with the audience.

Harpo is Mister’s son who falls in love with the assertive Sofia and gives into her whims, to his father’s disgust. Gabriel Lawson played Harpo through many emotional changes, such as a puppy-love when Harpo first meets Sofia, a confused rope tugged between his father and Sofia, and as a loving husband after reconnecting with her. Lawson’s duet with Byrom in "Any Little Thing" was a sexy, jazzy romp that shows their real love. Their voices blended perfectly and their chemistry sizzled.

Finally, there were other actors who played multiple roles and filled the ensemble with serious solo talent in acting, dancing and singing. I don’t think I heard an ensemble player or minor character who could not lead a show themselves. Some had short solo parts and all were tonally precise and just as strong vocally as the leads. Each member of this cast, regardless of their part in a particular song, was totally committed to their character’s subtext. It didn’t matter which actor you looked at during a song, you felt that character’s belief in the lyrics and music. Of particular note was Squeek, played by Ja’Shaelyn Carmichael, with her very high irritating, squeaky voice as she becomes a love interest for Harpo, and Babakayode Ipaye, who preaches a sermon and commands his African tribe, both with a booming voice that rose above the music and the chatter on stage. I loved this ensemble.

The Color Purple – The Musical depicts the results of domestic abuse and incest, racial as well as sexual prejudice, and constant implied violence, but it takes these hard truths of life in early 20th Century life and turns them into a stunningly beautiful view of how people survive the atrocities and become strong and healthy. Akiń Babatundé, writes, “I am particularly struck by the symbolic meaning of the title…. I wanted to examine aspects of how the color purple is described … as the experiences to which Celie was never blind to … experiences that led to her coronation and the crowning glory of love and the awareness of self-acceptance.” That vision by the director shone through a total commitment by actors and designers as they told a story that applies to us all. 

If you want to see Broadway-quality musical theater without leaving Texas, get over to Sundance this month.


THE COLOR PURPLE – The Musical
Jubilee Theatre
506 Main Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102

Plays through August 23rd

Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 pm. Saturday-Sunday Matinee at 3:00 pm.

Tickets for Thursday evening and Saturday & Sunday Matinees are $25.00.
Tickets for Friday and Saturday evenings are $30.00.

This production contains strong language and adult situations and is recommended for audiences over 14 years of age.

For information and tickets, visit www.jubileetheatre.org or call 817-338-4204.

Review: 'Two Rooms' at Proper Hijinx Productions

Carol M. Rice

We in America tend to be sheltered from many of the horrible events going on in the world. The Internet has, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your opinion, brought many of these atrocities to our attention, but in the early 1980s, we were mostly limited to newspapers and broadcast news for our information about world events.

This is why most Americans don’t know much about the Lebanon War, a three-year event which started on June 6, 1982 and “officially” continued for three years. Officially is in quotes because there has been unrest in this area ever since, with only brief respites from fighting. Many of the people who have died were civilians.

Beirut was one of the central locations for the fighting, and it is here that the events of Two Rooms are initiated. The program doesn’t let us know the year, but because such things are still going on in the world, that could have been on purpose, making it more of an “everyman” situation. Michael, a teacher, has been taken hostage and spends his days in an empty room, blindfolded and handcuffed. He is often beat up by his guards for no reason. All of this is because he, as an American civilian, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

His wife Lainie is doing everything she can to get him released, but because she’s getting nowhere with the State Department and isn’t willing to speak publicly via the press, she takes matters into her own hands in the only way she knows how – by emptying Michael’s office of furniture and attempting to recreate his empty prison cell so she can at least try to feel what he’s going through. This room becomes her safe haven, and the place where she can sense Michael and talk to him.

Two Rooms has been described as both a political play and a love story, and this is certainly true. The relationship between Michael and Lainie is extremely powerful, even before they are able to interact with each other within the play. Plus, the audience knows it’s not real when they do, which makes it even more heartbreaking.

As the imprisoned Michael, Michael McGough is physically right for the part. We as the audience believe from his gaunt appearance and the way he stiffly moves, that he’s being mistreated. The fight scenes choreographed by Jeremy Stein and effectively carried out by Mr. McGough and Daniel Faghi-isa are excellent. Mr. McGough has a tough job to do since he is blindfolded for at least 90% of the show and can’t emote with his eyes. Because of this, he needs to do more with his voice, as his delivery tends to be somewhat static, especially in the beginning. 

Meagan Joy Black portrays Lainie with the right amounts of self-determination and self-preservation. She has an extremely expressive and likable face that she uses to the best of her ability Like Mr. McGough; however, her vocal delivery could use some more passion at times.

Both Mr. McGough and Ms. Black are too young for their roles, but both do a fine job overall. Director Stephany Cambra has done a very nice job with a difficult script. However, while the show is very well-done, as a whole it suffers from a lack of intensity. The pace feels a bit slow because there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.

Part of the lack of intensity comes from Angela Davis as Ellen, the representative from the State Department. Ms. Davis is an accomplished actress, but she is far too happy in the role. Because of this, most of the scenes she is in feel too comfortable, and because the role represents all that is wrong with the government and their lack of urgency in trying to get Michael released, this resulted in her scenes feeling somewhat flat.

Jeff Burleson as Walker, an ambitious yet possibly sincere reporter, is the strongest actor in the four-person cast. He plays Walker as both likeable and unlikeable at the same time because from the beginning we knew we probably shouldn’t trust him. He was cajoling, tentative, bold, angry, sweet...whatever he thought Lainie needed to hear from him so he could get his story. The only scene in which he was less than believable was when he was supposed to be drunk on champagne. Then he seemed to be holding back, and when he finally slips and reveals some of his true feelings about the case, it wasn’t as powerful as it could have been.

The only designer given credit in the program is Anne Marie Coleman as sound designer, and the sound was hit and miss. Sometimes we had music to depict the passing of time, but not always. What was there was good, but it just wasn’t consistent.

Kate McCay is listed as the show’s production manager, and I wonder if she is who we can thank for the other design positions. Lights were simple yet very effective – just eight stage lights on trees at the corners of the audience and one shining through a window at appropriate times. There were no blackouts and everything flowed well. Even with such few lights, the simple crossfades helped set the scenes. This is important because there really was no set. The concrete floor and white walls of the basement space at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas were perfect for this show, with the only set pieces being a mat (although a yoga mat was an odd choice) and a stool brought in occasionally for Ellen so she’d have a place to sit.

Costumes were also hit and miss, for in the early 1980s, Ellen most definitely would be wearing pantyhose, and Michael’s prison garb looked like it had merely been rubbed here and there with paint to “age” it. I did like him coming out at the end in a beautifully clean version of what he’d been wearing.

Two Rooms is a show I truly love because of its many complex layers. I have seen several productions of it, and it’s deceptively difficult to do well, but this was one of the best. Despite its flaws, Proper HI jinx’s production is well worth seeing, and I highly recommend it. The fact that this new company chose it for their inaugural production was a brave step, letting us know that they’re serious in their first foray into the DFW theatre scene. They’ve also announced a full season of three shows, also to be done in the Contemporary basement, and their choices are bold and exciting. This is a new company I will definitely keep my eye on.


TWO ROOMS
Proper Hijinx Productions
Basement Space at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. 5601 Sears Street, Dallas,75206
Runs through August 9 

Actual days – Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm. Tickets are $12.00. For info go to https://www.facebook.com/properhijinx. For reservations email properhijinx@gmail.com or call the CTD Box Office at 214.828.0094 

Review: 'Motown: The Musical' National Tour

John Garcia

Motown: The Musical (MTM) is from that never ending conveyor belt of jukebox musicals that keeps churning them out like a factory onto Broadway. Only a few jukebox musicals have achieved that rare feat of becoming both an artistic and financial success. Some receive critical approval, but lackluster box office. Or they hit the mother load with the money pouring in, but the critics rake them over the coals. This genre of musical theater definitely does produce heated discussions whether they are truly “original” musicals or not. They do have their fair share of supporters and detractors. 

MTM premiered on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in April 2013, where it was met with lukewarm critical response from the New York press. The musical itself is stuffed with over 50 songs from Motown’s illustrious canon of Platinum and Gold hits. MTM was a modest hit with 738 performances before closing in January 2015. But it did receive four Tony nominations, but not for best musical. There is still talk of the show to head across the ocean to the West End in 2016. There are also rumors circulating around the Rialto that the musical will return back to Broadway next year.

The musical’s book is based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography- To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, and the Memories of Motown. It is Gordy in fact who penned the musical’s book. If you know your R&B history, then you know that Gordy was the creator, founder, and the master mind behind Hitsville U.S.A., a title that Motown was crowned with due to its unparalleled success in churning out hit after hit from some of the greatest artists of Soul, Pop, Rhythm and Blues. Motown also discovered their very own unique sound that no other record company could duplicate. This musical uses for its majority of its score a plethora of Motown’s classic hits. The birth for its name came from their hometown, Detroit; back in 1959 that city was the mecca for car manufacturing. Thus Gordy put Motor and Town together to create his record company’s name, Motown. Gordy’s record company signed onto its roster a pantheon of some of the greatest artists of music: Diana Ross & the Supremes, Michael Jackson & the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, the commodores, Rick James, and on and on.

AT&T Performing Arts Center has brought to the Winspear Opera House this jukebox musical’s national tour to begin its run here on Wednesday evening and running through August 16.

If there is one major element that can make a jukebox musical work with the use of published, well known songs is how to make them fit into a cohesive story with finely defined, fleshed out characters that possess a believable arc both in subtext and emotion. The music has to fit smoothly and with conviction into the book so that the audience will “think” that these well-known songs were actually composed for that particular musical. Unfortunately Motown’s book is like Donald Trump’s hair, stiff and paper thin. You get a sense that Gordy and his production team tried with all their might to shove as many songs from the Motown catalogue into the prosaic book. Characters appear oh so briefly on stage and then vanish, or they make cameos then disappear in a split second for the reminder of the night. Many of the songs are done in concert form. They are sung in the recording studio, at auditions, concerts, TV shows, and so on. Many of the songs are not sung from beginning to end. Instead we get a verse or two, or just a hint of the chorus of a song, and that’s it. While the songs are legendary, many simply do not fit into the confines within the muted book. To create dramatic structure Gordy brings in racial conflicts and the Vietnam War. Yes, they are moving to see unfold onstage, but by desperately trying to connect these issues to Motown’s history making chart hits, it creates a clunky, cluttered, and pabulum book.

To make matters worse, Gordy sugar coats his personal life avoiding some major issues within his musical book. He had three marriages and eight children. He was actually still married when he had the affair with Diana Ross. There is no mention of his mistresses or girlfriends. From all these relationships he bore children. The public did not officially know that Ross’s daughter Rhonda is Gordy’s own daughter till years later.

It is Motown legend the artistic wars that Gordy had with his stars and composers. They could not handle his Machiavellian power over their music, art, image, and careers while under contract. Many books have been written about this. I still vividly remember when the Jacksons and Ross left Motown. The press was all over that. While it is brought up in the in the stage version, it feels like an afterthought, not completely fleshed out. Gordy’s book fails to truly capture the very public and ugly battles between himself and his megastars.

On stage there are a couple of scenes regarding Gordy’s masterminding and creating a film career for his muse Diana Ross. There are a couple of brief scenes dealing with the film Lady Sings the Blues, a film about Billie Holiday, which earned Ross her only Oscar nomination (she lost the statuette to Liza Minnelli in Cabaret). But Gordy’s stage book never mentions the mega flop The Wiz. This was a $24 million dollar film based on the hit musical that flopped loudly at the box office. Many could not believe that Gordy and director Sidney Lumet thought that Ross could actually play Dorothy (she was in her mid-30s when the film was made). In fact Ross fought hard to play the role. Gordy and Universal Pictures lost a ton of money producing the film. 

Gordy’s stage book also quickly rushes over the firing of Florence Ballard, one of the original Supremes. The musical Dreamgirls (which everyone knows is about Ross, the Supremes, and Barry Gordy) used this to great dramatic effect in the role of Effie White (AKA Florence Ballard). In the Motown musical Gordy’s book rapidly passes through this dramatic firing. I so was hoping the stage musical would go into much fuller detail to see Gordy’s personal point of view regarding Ballard and her being fired. Ballard actually sued Gordy and Motown (and won). Gordy should have written a scene involving Ballard’s firing, and then give her a song from the Motown canon to sing regarding her dramatic departure. 

The musical begins and ends with the infamous Motown 25th Anniversary TV special. Many of Motown’s illustrious roster of stars appeared on the telecast. It also reunited the Jacksons. By that time Michael Jackson had left his brothers and was now a solo artist who achieved mega success with his albums Off the Wall and Thriller. It has been heavily documented that Michael wanted no part of the TV special. But his parents, brothers, and others were pushing him hard to appear on the telecast. He agreed on one condition, in that he would be allowed to sing alone on stage one his current hits from Thriller. Mind you, he recorded these two solo albums without Gordy and on the Epic label. After much heated debate, it was agreed. And all that everyone can remember from that telecast is Jackson’s legendary performance of “Billie Jean” and showing the world for the first time his moonwalk dance. So it was quite puzzling and perplexing that at the end of the stage musical, there are no Jacksons and no adult Michael Jackson in his black sequined jacket and white rhinestone glove appearing with the rest of the stars on the telecast finale with everyone singing together.

All of these dramatic artistic moments of Gordy’s battles should have been fully explored within the book for his stage musical. To make the emotion have an authentic arc, you had to show warts and all, the good and bad of Gordy’s professional and personal life to truly work here.

What does make the musical work is the music. It is an incredible, dazzling, and wondrous trip down memory lane when so many of Motown’s biggest hits are sung on stage. Every number was met with ear splitting thunderous applause, whistles, and screams from Wednesday’s audience. You just savor all that fantastic music from so many of Motown’s artists that made them legendary hits. Song and song it was like a banquet table buckling under the weight of all those mega hits. You just couldn’t get enough of them. That is what makes this musical so spectacular and heart pumping thrilling, is the music.

This national tour is loaded with some of the most lavish, soulful, and vocally powerful singing that had ever graced the Winspear stage. These magnificent vocals ebb from the artists on stage into the audience. It was hair raising, bone chilling vocal finesse. The vocal riffs, the roaring of belting with such force, the lush harmonies-it was singing like you’ve never heard before. Every single person, from ensemble to leads, had superlative vocals that just had you screaming and applauding like crazy from your seat! Combining their singing with the fantastic choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams made for sheer musical theater heaven.

The ensemble is overflowing with electrifying talent. They sing, harmonize, and pull out all the stops in bringing those classic hits to life. They portray a plethora of various characters with strong conviction, always staying in the moment. Song after song, they sell these golden hits like superstars.

Josh Tower provides a sublime performance as Berry Gordy. He commands the stage just like Gordy did with his Motown Empire. His chemistry with Allison Semmes as Diana Ross oozes sexual heat and passion. Tower’s energy never wans and his stage presence beams brightly on stage. He has several solos throughout the evening, but his real shining moment vocally is his last big solo in Act II. As the song changes keys and goes higher and with more belt, Tower effortlessly glides through the song with the vocal power of a majestic lion. 

I saw Diana Ross live on stage back in San Antonio Texas in the 1980s. A concert where she changed gown after gown, each one beaded in ways that would make Liberace green with jealousy. And each gown came with a humongous floor length coat made with yards of tulle and chiffon, covered in jewels. So in MTM, it was really a touching and exciting treat when Allison Semmes as Diana Ross recreates her concert scene singing her famous hit, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand”. She did exactly what Ross did with the song. Ross (Aka Semmes) goes out into the audience and picks several people to sing the chorus. She then tells the audience to reach for your neighbor’s hands lift them up and sway them high in the air singing along with her. I still so vividly recall that moment at Ross’s concert. Semmes recreates that concert sequence beautifully. Semmes has clearly done her homework in studying Ross. She nailed down the soft voice (speaking and singing) and Ross’s mannerisms. She maneuvered her massive red, multi-tiered tulle cape just like Ross did. She achieved loud laughs when she did the hair tossing gesture that Ross actually does in real life on stage. Vocally Semmes did a flawless job singing many of Ross’s big hits, both with the Supremes and later on in her solo career. She even physically resembles Ross. Semmes delivers a tour de force performance as Miss Ross.

Jesse Nager nails Smokey Robinson’s speaking voice. That soft, raspy, slightly high pitched voice that we all have heard from Robinson Nager recreates to eerie perfection. With bouncing off the walls energy, Nager gives a crowd pleasing performance as one of Motown’s biggest stars. Vocally his shimmering tenor vocals glisten within Robinson’s many hits. Nager also adds many of the biggest laughs within the production with his comedic chops.

As Marvin Gaye, Jarran Muse delivers a raw, masculine, and extraordinary performance as the soul legend who gave us so many great hits. Muse has a stunning singing voice that just astounds you. In one song he sings acapella with vocal riffs that were just unbelievable! Throughout this song the audience kept applauding and cheering over and over again as he sang. That’s how magical Muse is. When Gaye and Gordy have a heated fight over Gaye leaving Motown, Gordy shouts that he treated Gaye like a son. Gaye screams back he has a father already. Those lines do bring a sharp pain in your heart. For as we all know that Gaye was shot and killed by his own father years later. Muse delivers a peerless performance.

San Antonio native Nathaniel Cullors steals the show from the adults as young Michael Jackson. This kid can sing, no I mean the kid CAN SING! My god I don’t think I’ve heard a young boy sing with such voracious vocals. His high golden tenor voice soars into the rafters and he belts like a tornado hitting the audience. The stage production incredibly recreates Michael and his brothers’ legendary TV appearance on the Hollywood Palace special that Diana Ross hosted. From the set to the costumes, it was perfectly recreated. Cullors sang Michael’s solos that truly reminded you of the future king of Pop. I’m sure many felt like I did watching Cullors performance. It made you think of the real Michael Jackson. Now knowing Michael’s painful childhood, his father’s beatings, the loss of being a normal boy, and his tragic death, you feel the loss of Jackson and his talents as this tiny tyke brings him back to life on stage. Cullors has no hint of stiff, childlike acting. Instead his acting craft and technique is honest and constantly in the moment. He is phenomenal.

There are so many great performances from the cast, but we must give a standing ovation to Martina Sykes as Mary Wells. She has powerhouse vocals that had the audience awarding her with deafening applause. She is utterly magical as Wells. Also kudos to Doug Storm. He achieves hearty laughs as the redneck cop doing crowd control at a Motown concert held in a Southern state. Storm’s walk across the stage yelling at the crowd was hysterical. Later on he again generates rip roaring laughter as Ed Sullivan. He magically transforms his face to resemble the legendary TV host, right down to his posture and walk!

As for the production elements, well they are AMAZING! 

David Korins’ scenic design meshed gorgeously with Daniel Brodie’s projection design. The book goes through history at a fast, neck breaking speed. We jump years and eras in a flick of a second. Thankfully Korins and Brodie aides the audience immensely with their designs to let us know where we are. 

Korins recreates several key set pieces that are exact replicas of the originals. Such as the centerpiece for the Motown 25th Anniversary telecast, the Jacksons TV debut, and so on. The set pieces are finely adorned with props and detailed in design finesse. Such as Gordy’s Los Angeles home as well as his family home back in Detroit. Korins created long strips of beams that stretch across the stage or go high into the fly rail. These beams move all evening long to create the various locations. I did miss however not seeing the backdrop of streams of crystals that was used for Diana Ross’s solo concert scene that the Broadway version had. There is also this very detailed 3-D set piece that resembles a row of homes in Detroit, they curve and float far upstage. This is not a painted backdrop, but an actual built set piece designed with eye popping results. 

Daniel Brodie’s exquisite projection design is used with stellar success here. He projects his videos and images not only onto the two massive projection walls placed directly center stage (which move all evening long), but also the side panels and even the beams that Korins has designed. Brodie uses these beams to project time periods and locations to let the audience know where we are within the story. The projections are mind-boggling! Brodie beams out video images of everything, from the 60s psychedelic swirl of colors and images to the 70s cartoonish/disco era. He also created a series of vignettes containing some of our nation’s darker periods, such as Vietnam, the deaths of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the uproar of racial tension, and so on. His projections for the concert scenes also add so much to the scenic design, such as Diana Ross’s solo debut. For the finale he projects a montage of the actual album covers of Motown’s musical history of hits.

Costume design for this musical was done by Esosa. All of us who are Project Runway fans know him as Emilio Sosa, who placed second in Season 7 and on Season 2 of Project Runway All Stars he made to the finale, but sadly did not win. His costume design for MTM are works of pop art. He studied intensely not only the time periods, but also what the artists actually wore in several iconic concerts/TV appearances. He designs an array of dazzling tuxedos for the various male groups with satins of various colors. From bright yellow to midnight blue to shimmery silver. Of course his best work is for the Supremes and Diana Ross. When they are in Paris, Esosa has them in heavily beaded copper hued cocktail costumes. For their debut at the Copa, they are adorned in floor length powder blue gowns dusted with rhinestones. For another concert scene they wear these stunning sequined gowns of golds, blues, and silvers. For Diana Ross he pulls out all the stops. Her gold beaded gown for one scene is gorgeous. Sitting so close I could see the great detail that went into the formation of sequins and stones that Esosa designed within the gown. For Ross’s solo debut he designed a blinding white gown beaded beyond belief! It was pure Diva Ross fabulous! Allison Semmes (as Diana) looked just like her in this incredibly designed gown that must have weighed a ton with all that beading. Her final gown is a masterpiece. A red confection of red encrusted sequins and rhinestones, topped off with a massive billowing tulle cape! You will marvel at the artistry created by Esosa’s costume design in this musical.

One of my all-time favorite lighting designers is back-Natasha Katz! I swear this lighting designer can do no wrong! She is the lighting designer for the current critically acclaimed hit An American in Paris that I just saw on Broadway in May. Katz received this year’s Tony Award for Best Lighting design for An American in Paris-and rightfully deserved it! She first made me a fan of her work when I saw the original Broadway production of Elton John’s Aida, which earned Katz her first Tony Award. Once again she brings her prodigious lighting design to impeccable life in MTM. She uses everything that is available in the latest in lighting technology at her fingertips for her creations of light. Her color palette is rich and lush. There are gobos, ions of piercing light and specific spears of light to enhance a musical number. Observe what she designed for Berry Gordy’s final big solo, the lighting design is just so detailed for this number. The concert scenes she bathes the sets and actors in pure showmanship razzle dazzle! My coined term of “emotional lighting” she uses with first rate success here. Several ballads and full out company numbers have the emotion pumped up even higher thanks to Katz’s unrivaled lighting creations.

Overall the only major flaw here is the somber, prosaic book. Unfortunately this book is a prime example of why some lovers of musical theater hate about the jukebox musical. It is difficult to take many of Motown’s biggest hits to fit into the pedestrian book. Try as he might, Gordy alas could not create an emotional, organic, unbreakable, dramatic thread connecting book with song. 

So forget about that! What makes Motown the Musical so intoxicating is the music, the unprecedented vocals of this cast, and its exceptional production design of set, light, and costume. 

At Wednesday’s press night performance the audience went into a frenzy of shrieking screams of applause and whistles. I have not attended a national tour that received that kind of response not only after EVERY musical number, but DURING the number itself! I found myself swaying away, moving my head, and just enjoy all that great Motown music sung by this sensational, miraculous, and stupendous cast! This alone is the very reason why you need to see this production! You will not hear a cast sing like this using one of the greatest catalogues of music ever created!


MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL (National Tour)
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House
Through August 16, 2015

Center Members get first access to the best available tickets. Call Membership Services at 214-978-2888 or go to www.attpac.org/support. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased online at www.attpac.org, by phone at 214-880-0202 or in person at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Monday 10am–6pm; Tuesday thru Saturday 10am–9pm; Sunday 10am–6pm). Theater located at 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201. Ticket info:
http://www.attpac.org/on-sale/2015/motown/?gclid=CJvb3Jn56cYCFQuQaQodsqkC2w

Review: 'Sweet Charity' at WaterTower Theatre

Juliana Adame

Sweet Charity, along with the original productions of Pippin and Chicago, also starring his wife and muse Gwen Verdon, is one of Bob Fosse’s most famous projects: he directed and choreographed the original Broadway production in 1966. The show was nominated for nine Tony awards, and has a number of revivals, West End productions, and international productions. The stage production was adapted for the big screen three years later, also directed by Fosse, and starring Shirley MacLaine. Some famous faces taking on the role of Charity include Debbie Allen, Ann Reinking, Charlotte d’Amboise, Christina Applegate, Molly Ringwald, and Paige Davis, not to mention supporting appearances by Bebe Neuwirth, Dennis O’Hare, Chita Rivera, Donna McKechnie, and many more throughout the years.

Open on young, high-spirited, and undeniably likable Charity, a taxi dancer at the Fandango Ballroom dance hall in the Big Apple in the mid-sixties. She’s waiting to meet her boyfriend, Charlie, who, when Charity gets too carried away in her own fantasy, pushes her into the lake and steals her handbag. Back at the club, Charity tries to convince the other dancers, as well as herself, that Charlie’s actions were purely accidental. Nickie, a fellow dancer, tells Charity that she’s too much of a push-over. After the iconic “Big Spender”, Nickie and Helene, Charity’s closest friends of her fellows, try to comfort her, but this only leads Charity to vow to make some changes in her life. An international film star, a come-to-Jesus moment, an elevator ride of a lifetime with the possible Mr. Right, and a quick romp with some hippies lead Charity to the life she’s always wanted.

The production itself is deliciously, nostalgically mod and all-around fun- and the style is wonderfully Fosse, as well as undeniably Neil Simon. Under the direction of Michael Serrecchia, WaterTower’s production of this Fosse classic is a charming good time with legs for miles that’s a downright good time. The minute you walk in the joint, there’s no doubt this will be a production for the ages: Chris Pickart’s set design features an onstage band, perfect for the Fandango Ballroom, as well as perfect showbiz bulbs, and an undoubtedly old Broadway/Fosse feel, setting the mood perfectly. This is perfectly coupled with Jason Foster’s spot-on mod lighting design- it’s hard not to be completely taken with his use of oh-so-sixties style go-bos during the Club Pompeii dance scene. For two hours, one is transported into the world of yester-year.

As far as the ensemble of characters, this cast is pretty up there. As Charity, Whitney Hennen is completely charming and lovably Charity, with high kicks and high notes to boot. She’s got the modern feel of Christina Applegate, with the spunk of Gwen Verdon, and is just downright adorable and perfect in the part of the original girl power girl.

In the contrasting roles of the dashing Italiano hotshot film star Vittorio Vidal and Charity’s meeker beau Oscar Lindquist, Luke Longacre walks this fine line with serious precision, making the viewer double take, and fall in love with either/or. His vocals are as spot on as Vittorio Vidal’s pencil mustache, and his manic elevator panic will have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The ensemble is as sharp as they are downright sexy, perfectly encapsulating the mid-sixties, Jane Fonda-esque typical vixen feel, which is truly a pleasure to watch for any Fosse junkie. As Nickie and Helene respectively, Kia Boyer and Lindsay Longacre provide an edge that borderline foils Charity, yet still give the audience some strong ladies to root for. Boyer is perfect, reminiscent of the likes of a Jenji Kohan heroine (such as Natasha Lyonne or Mary-Louise Parker) of the era, and Longacre is the original down-on-her-luck NYC gal with the vocals of Ann Harada- Brava, ladies!

Sweet Charity is a musical theatre treasure and a must for any Fosse enthusiast and WaterTower’s production does not disappoint. It’s got perfectly placed nostalgia, glamour, dancing girls, and a little extra meat for the more serious theatre goer. This is a production not to be missed by any lover of theatre classics, or really anyone in the mood to have fun or a few laughs- they’ll show you a good time.


WaterTower Theatre presents
Sweet Charity
July 24 - August 16, 2015
at the Addison Theater Center
15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001
Box office: 972-450-6232
online: www.watertowertheatre.org
Twitter @WTT

Review: 'Into the Woods' at Garland Civic Theatre

Chris Jackson

Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“Careful the wish you make, / Wishes are children. Careful the path they take- / Wishes come true, / Not free.” Stephen Sondheim

“Everybody gets a chance to shine in Into the Woods,” says Stephen Sondheim in a Masterworks Broadway interview, “that’s what makes it perfect for community theater and schools.” Indeed, this musical has become perhaps the most popular of Sondheim’s works not only for its twists on familiar fairy tales, but also because each beloved character DOES get a chance to shine. Garland Civic Theatre has put together a production that gives their cast a chance to do just that!

Into the Woods debuted in San Diego at the Old globe Theatre in 1986 and premiered on Broadway on November 5,1987 wining several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason as The Baker’s Wife), in the same year as Phantom of the Opera. Often produced, including a 1988 US national tour, a 1990 West End production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, a 2002 Broadway revival, a 2010 London revival, in 2012 as part of New York City’s outdoor Shakespeare in the Park series, the popular and much-loved musical was released as a movie in 2014. 

As every theater junkie surely knows by now, the musical pulls together the plots of several Grimm fairy tales that explore the consequences of the various characters’ wishes and quests. Tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their desire to begin a family, all the characters eventually interact, including the witch who placed a curse on the couple.

In GCT’s production, Aaron Gallagher makes a fine Baker, singing well and giving his character real presence with his focus and obvious understanding of the role. This is especially true in the second act when he gets to show true depth of emotion that comes across as organic and heartfelt. He has a voice to match, and uses it to good advantage, especially in the second act duet with his father. As his wife, Melissa Hight, in spite of being hampered by a frizzy wig that hides much of her face, is also one of the highlights of the show. She has a lovely voice and an innate understanding of the nuances and even humor in the role and nails each beat. She too shines in the second act, bringing real conflicted feelings to the scene with the prince, and evidences real chemistry with Mr. Gallagher making their scenes together some of the best in the show.

Also a standout vocally is Cameron Anthony as Cinderella. Her lovely soprano voice works well for the role and she uses it wisely and effectively. She makes a nice transition from the early, rather cowed Cinderella, to the more self-assured young woman in the later scenes. Unfortunately, she too is hampered by a black, curly wig that tends to hide her face and distract from the audience seeing her reactions and emotional choices. Also unfortunate is the amalgamation of parts that has been put together for the dress she wears to the ball, being neither attractive nor appropriate to the character or moment. In spite of these distractions, she still manages to pull us in and make us care about her character.

The Witch, played by Bridget Lynch, is a featured role that has been played by many famous singing actresses since being created by Bernadette Peters in the original production. She has some of the best numbers in the show, and Ms. Lynch does them justice with her powerful voice and confident presence. After her transition to her younger self, she too is hampered by a bright pink wig and fussy costume that distracts from her strong performance. In spite of this, she is never a less than commanding when on stage.

Chelsea Wolfe (don’t you love it!) is Little Red Riding Hood and has a wonderful time with the role, singing and acting pertly and hitting all the jokes. Perhaps not quite as innocent looking as one might expect, she nevertheless creates a true and fun character. Jack is portrayed by Ethan Armstrong with believable naiveté, full of awkward moves and youthful enthusiasm. He too sings well, even if he seems to be rushing the tempo at times. His scene with Little Red about the objects Jack has stolen from the giant is a delight.

Josh Hensley is the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince and seems to be having great fun in both roles, especially relishing the Wolf’s lascivious encounter with Little Red. He sings strongly and his duet with Jacob Catalano (also vocally strong) is a highlight. He needs to stop illustrating what he is saying and doing quite so much so that his character is more believable. Mr. Catalano, as Rupunzel’s Prince, has less to do, but cuts a nice figure on stage and has good presence.

Conor Poull welcomes us to the familiar stories as The Narrator and later as the Mysterious Stranger. Mr. Poull sometimes seems out of rhythm with the other actors and his narrations and comments occasionally slow the show down, but his final scene with The Baker, as the Baker’s father, is really nice and heartfelt with perceptible emotion and strong connection evident throughout.

Shelby Ramsey, Bridget Lynch and Shannon Ryan are Cinderella’s Stepmother and stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda. They too express lots of evident glee in playing these characters, filling their moments on stage with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. Brandy Nuttall as Jack’s Mother also has comic energy and presence and uses her time on stage effectively. Her frustration with Jack is as evident as her concern and love later in the play. Rapunzel, played by Shannon Ryan, is good at listening and reacting, especially while the Witch is singing “Stay With Me.” She manages to be an effective presence despite seldom being on stage.

Josh Hensley is Cinderella’s Father and the Steward and without much time on stage, he too still manages to impress with his confident bearing and line delivery. Shannon Souddress plays Cinderella’s Mother, Granny and the Giant’s voice and is believable in each role, with a sweet singing voice.

Music Direction and keyboards are under the talents of M. Shane Hurst with additional keyboards by Terri Lucas and percussion by Michael Dooley. They all play from their upstage position, and Mr. Hurst has obviously worked carefully with his singers on Sondheim’s difficult songs. As each character has their big vocal moment, they seem prepared and confident. The balance between singers and musicians is, unfortunately, not settled yet and so the audience has difficulty hearing and understanding some of the lyrics. I anticipate that this problem will be corrected as the run continues.

Light design by Josh Hensley uses lots of intense colors which tend to work in this fairy tale setting. Lighting levels are generally appropriate to the scene and illuminate the action as needed. The spotlights were a little wobbly on occasion or a tad late, but this too, I’m sure will soon be corrected.

Scenery and costumes by Mr. McClaran are, I’m assuming, deliberately designed and chosen to create a “grab bag” effect, as though children had rummaged through trunks of “dress-up” old clothing and scenic elements to put on their fairy tales. Red Riding Hood’s hair is bright red and black and one of the stepsisters has two-toned hair also. Surely this is all a deliberate choice to enhance the playful, childlike approach to the various stories. The set is roughly divided into three areas with a circular metallic gold painted platform center. Some of the forest is realistically painted while other elements are pure fantasy. Columns and a nicely arched bridge with a brightly painted floor complete the environment.

The costumes, as stated, seem to have been pulled and put together at random, with lots of bright red and a super abundance of sequins and sparkly fabrics. This works in a fun way most of the time, but occasionally the actors are overwhelmed by the wigs and excessive ruffles and boas. This is especially true of Cinderella’s ball gown and the apparel choices for the Step Mother and Step Daughters. The witch’s second costume is also distracting. 

British accents come and go and I wonder why even try since none of the productions I’ve seen attempted anything but good, clear stage diction. Really strange was an Italian accent for Cinderella’s Stepmother but perhaps that was just for fun. In all, lots of bright colors, sparkles and movement keep the eye engaged and as Director, Mr. McClaran moves his actors through their many entrances and exits neatly and with mostly interesting results.

At three hours, including intermission, the show needs to be tightened and I’m sure will be as the run progresses. Sondheim’s music and Lapine’s witty book are always a joy and you could certainly do worse than spend an evening in these woods with this talented group of performers. GCT’s Into the Woods presents us with lessons to be learned and some profound observations under the silliness and lovely music. Take the time to discover them and you won’t be disappointed.


INTO THE WOODS
Garland Civic Theater
Granville Arts Center
300 North Fifth Street, Garland, TX 75040

Runs through August 15th, 2015

All tickets are $27.00
Discounts are available for KERA members and groups of 10 or more.

Friday, Saturday performances at 8:00pm
Sunday performances (July 26th and August 2nd) at 2:30pm

For tickets and more information go to www.garlandartsboxoffice.com or call 972-205-2790

Review: OTHELLO: Rage-rockin’ the Bard with Second Thought

Alexandra Bonifield

Chaos is come again.….

Chaos “comes again” with the heat of a raging forest fire and tension of a python squeezing prey with steel-taut coils in Second Thought Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello. It runs through August 8 in Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus. The play begins with pre-tsunami calm as actors in character stroll through the house mixing with patrons, sit alone praying or slouch brooding against back walls framing a tiered, industrial bare in-the-round set. Without warning, the audience finds itself hurtled into the heart of the show’s maelstrom of intrigue and betrayal. Mayhem and murder creep in on virile lions’ paws, ripping into every character with savage cunning. Director Joel Ferrell seizes upon one of Shakespeare’s cruelest, most destructive, most tragic plays and whips it into a rock music-punctuated crescendo of sorrow, deception and death. A brilliant flash of strategic, vengeful catharsis concludes the performance. No character remains un-bloodied; surely, no audience member departs unshaken.

Meet the Moor, Othello: Venerable Tyrees Allen presents first as a noble, dignified, confident, authoritative hero and leader (so huge banners unfurled on opposite sides of the playing space attest). He’s a general long accustomed to leading without challenge, Sober and commanding, he appears unassailable. He trusts his officers without question. Pity, that. His cascading disintegration before your eyes is the stuff to make nightmares of. Simply put, Allen owns the role.

OTHELLO (Tyrees Allen, Alex Organ)

OTHELLO (Tyrees Allen, Alex Organ)

Meet villain Iago, Othello’s ensign: Tall, lean marathon runner fit, Alex Organ emerges as a true monster across the first half of the play, but only in the audience’s eyes. When Othello summons him, this Iago brims over with self-effacing accommodation and obsequious camaraderie. All a mask of deadly deception. He ensnares the audience into collusive conceit with clenched-teeth half snarls, passionately articulating seething rage and psychopathic desire for revenge against the unsuspecting Othello. All the while, cool, calm and decorous in outward demeanor. As master manipulator, Organ’s Iago ascends in predatory slow burn until his nefarious goals explode with horror. An exquisite but grotesque portrayal. Take your eyes off him, I dare you. Don’t turn your back.

Cassio, Othello’s Lieutenant: Shakespeare seems to have it in for people of noble intention in this play. If ever there were an undeserving victim, it’s Cassio, newly appointed Othello’s as right hand man, and Platonic friend to Desdemona, Othello’s bride. In contrast to Organ’s bleak dissembling intrigue and spiteful aura, Blake McNamara embodies a wholesome space of pure light. Also tall but fair-headed and uncomplicated in gesture or word, he operates from good intentions, with no guile or “agenda”. Like Othello, he is too “good” to see Iago’s machinations. Victim of a smaller tragedy within the play, McNamara’s Cassio suffers with acceptance and open sorrow when his drunken brawl, set up on by Iago, gets him demoted from Othello’s command. A quiet actor, McNamara elicits genuine sympathy for his principled character.

Desdemona, Othello’s wife: Another undeserving victim of Iago’s hateful machination, Desdemona suffers tragically when accused of infidelity with Cassio. I have always felt this character to be on the stupid side. Joel Ferrell directs Second Thought newcomer Morgan Garrett in a surprisingly reflective, vibrant, transcendent interpretation. No weak victim, this Desdemona. As a woman of intense religious faith, she never wavers in her devotion to God or husband, no matter how the latter treats her. She is a stronger character, ultimately than her “commanding” husband. Shakespeare has her sing “ Willow, Willow Song” as her doom approaches. “Sing all a green willow must be my garland. Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve….” For some reason, Director Ferrell switches it to the 1779 English folk hymn “Amazing Grace”. Although recognizable and powerful in its religious sentiment, it does not reinforce Desdemona’s circumstance and acceptance of the horror she faces with the same potent sadness. (My only quibble with the production)

Emilia, Iago’s wife: A secondary character in terms of line count, Emilia often gets directed as a shrill marital annoyance badgering Iago. A foil. She calls briefly for justice in a second act speech (sometimes cut as “superfluous”) right before his annoyance turns to murder. Director Ferrell guides seasoned Second Thought actor Jenny Ledel into a full-voiced, commanding performance. An equal on any stage to the charismatic Alex Organ, Ledel exudes a forceful presence that elevates the battles waged between Emilia and Iago. Almost a proto-feminist character in this production, Emilia stands firm for justice, honor and protecting the rights of the innocent like no other character in the play. She is the production’s true hero, while not its protagonist. Ledel’s crisp, intelligent facility with Shakespearean language is a joy to hear, as occasionally the rock-based score drowns out other actors not quite as professionally skilled.

Written somewhere between 1601 and 1604, over 410 years ago, Othello stands in bold testimony to the universal genius of William Shakespeare. Second Thought Theatre’s contemporary production rocks the Bard, way hard. A tragedy, a thriller, a love story gone awry, a violent tale of pure evil played at fever pitch – forget cable TV and come sit shivering in Second Thought Theatre’s seats like I did, and love every tortured, horrifying minute of this live staged production.

Review: 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at Runway Theatre

Rachel Elizabeth Khoriander

Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

When The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee appeared on Broadway in April of 2005, it was quickly nominated for six Tony awards. It won two, including Best Book. A slightly quirky, offbeat look at the lives of precocious spelling bee contestants as seen during a county competition, this is not your traditional musical. Its writers and script are highly encouraging of improvisation, and the play itself is audience-interactive, character-driven, and slightly irreverent.

When the opportunity to review the show presented itself, I was immediately intrigued. Besides my obvious interest due to a love of the theater (and musicals especially), this particular play was appealing because of the memories it evoked from my distant past. Because the truth is... I am a spelling N-E-R-D. If you were to rifle thoroughly enough through my closet, you would unearth a file box containing a number of medals inscribed with the names of county and regional bees. You might even find a state plaque and a trophy or two. And, were you to inspect the contents of my unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary with the curiously well-worn cover, you might discover a system of personal codes—a series of dots and crosses next to individual words. Though I have succeeded in suppressing the more obvious and annoying aspects of my fixation (I no longer correct people unless they request it, much to the relief of all who knew me as a child), I still sometimes mentally shudder when I see a particularly creative butchering of a commonly misspelled word. This is not because I think that those who misspell words are stupid; rather, it's because there is little more beautiful than the written word and, in my mind, the intricacies of letter placement are part of that beauty. A misspelled word is, quite simply, ugly. So imagine my glee at spending an entire evening surrounded by people who share my obsession!

“Now, now,” you'll say. “Those were characters, not real people. You're still a bit strange.” My response: “I can pretend if I want to. SO THERE.” But the beauty of Runway Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is that it is not too difficult to pretend.

Runway presents the play in its black box theater, which provides the perfect level of intimacy between the actors and its audience, allowing humor to accurately hit its mark. The set is simple, yet skillfully recreates a school gymnasium, complete with bleachers bearing school colors and posters championing the mascot—the porcupine. For the bee itself, walls have been festooned with pennant streamers, and a judge's table has been set up next to the gym entrance. One particularly interesting piece is the rotating platform that allows the bleachers to transform into an Indian ashram during one of the final numbers. For the remainder of the play, all of the action takes place within the gymnasium, which allows the talents of the cast to take focus.

Vahn Phollurxa plays Chip Tolentino, the incumbent spelling champion. Phollurxa brings a certain level of sensitivity to his character; one particularly noteworthy example of this is the manner in which his face falls and shoulders slump when another child remarks that he is not memorable. Phollurxa is also able to evoke a good laugh from the audience during a particularly unfortunate moment in his spelling bee career (I won't say more to avoid spoilers), and his stuttering and awkward mannerisms accentuate his discomfort and dismay. His singing is melodic and sincere, and he is never quite as endearing as when expressing disgruntled consternation about his intermission activities.

Chelsea Monty's version of Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the highly-strung textbook stage child, elicits sympathy from the audience. Monty's subtly pained expression and tense posture hint at her character's inner conflict. Additionally, her preening mannerisms and the way in which she inclines her head expectantly wonderfully express her high level of anxiety. Monty also impressively maintains a fabricated speech impediment throughout the show, which is a feat in itself.

Cole Cloutier is Leaf Coneybear, the sensitive and insecure dreamer of the spellers, and he will steal your heart. His ad-libbed moments are some of the funniest bits in the show, and his portrayal of Coneybear is refreshingly innocent. Moments that stand out include the enamored tousling of his beloved curly hair and his fascination with observing audience members through the hole in his number placard. Cloutier never breaks character, continuously performing one original action after the next while the bee progresses around him. The result is a treat to watch and creates one of the most endearing characters I've encountered in a long time. His vocal performance is also strong.

Jason Solis's performance as William Barfee, the obnoxious loner, is solid. It's easy to play Barfee as overly obnoxious or to make his sinus issues too off-putting, but Solis does a good job of balancing Barfee's overt confidence with a subtle display of insecurity, creating a sympathetic character and eliciting many laughs. Additionally, Solis displays great agility during his dance scenes and his vocal endurance is admirable, making “Magic Foot” a highly memorable number.

Faith Lawrence is Marcy Park, the overachieving private school girl who is “all business.” With her stiff-backed posture and lack of facial expression, Lawrence's Marcy is intimidating and robotic. While this creates a strong character for the majority of her performance, it is troubling that there is little discernible emotion when her character changes course. Despite this slight hiccup, Lawrence's impressive gymnastic skills make for a very convincing rendition of her solo number, “I Speak Six Languages,” and her vocal stamina is superb.

Robin Clayton plays Olive Ostrovsky, the shy newcomer. Clayton expertly expresses Olive's uncertainty through numerous mannerisms, including a shuffling gait, constant nervous rearrangement of her pigtails, and a hunched posture that suggests she wants to be swallowed up by her overalls. For all this, Clayton's version of Olive has an indomitable will that is often expressed through her stubborn independence. One particularly noteworthy example of this is when she refuses to submit to the moderator's adjustment of her pigtails. Clayton's performance of choreography is also strong, and a moment in which she and Barfee waltz is especially amusing. And despite her character's timidity, Clayton can certainly hold her own when she opens her mouth—her vocal tone is rich and striking with her lower registers being particularly strong. Even so, her solo number, “The 'I Love You' Song” is one of the most memorable songs in the show, not just because of the beauty of the music and the strong singing, but because her balled fists and intensity so movingly express the difficulty with which she is holding herself together.

Elizabeth McWhorter is Rona Lisa Perretti, the bee's moderator. McWhorter has a lovely voice and blends beautifully with other cast members in the show. Her gentle mannerisms and placid expressions diminish her character's intensity, but emphasize Perretti's sweet nature. The various “Rona Moment” numbers are convincing and heart-warming, and her “everywoman” performance gives the audience members someone to relate to amid the idiosyncratic behaviors of the other characters.

Vince Connor is Vice Principal Douglas Panch, the slightly sinister foil to Rona Lisa Perretti. Connor's blustery delivery and dejected stance emphasize the character's seething nature and provide a good contrast to Rona Lisa's sweetness.

Caleb Cothren plays Mitch Mahoney, the bee's ex-con “bouncer.” Cothren's version of Mitch is less stoic than other performances I have seen, and while this detracts from the early mystery surrounding his character, it adds to the impression of his kindness. Portions of Cothren's performance, particularly when he is escorting contestants off stage, seem a bit rushed, but overall he gives a substantial performance.

Chris Pettit and Drake Leach as Dan Schwartz and Carl Grubenierre, Logan's overbearing stage fathers, have great energy and are memorable despite the size of their roles. A moment involving Pettit and a can of hairspray stands out as particularly funny.

Noelle Salter as Olive's mom proves to have a clear and powerful voice during “The 'I Love You' Song.” Unfortunately, the gusto with which the song begins somewhat detracts from the build to a powerful end. Still, the combination is striking, and Salter certainly adds considerably to the performance. Greg Kozakis is Olive's Dad, and the lovely timbre of his voice provides a good counterpoint to Salter's rich soprano.

Erych Walter plays Jesus, and his performance, though small, is humorous and well-timed.

An additional smattering of honorary cast members are audience members turned spellers, and their inclusion both increases audience investment and offers cast members considerable opportunity to ad-lib. This is a brilliant piece of the show, but must be handled carefully. Unfortunately, the night I attended, one audience participant who seemed to be a would-be actor had memorized the entire show thereby ruining the joke and distracting from the brilliance of the main cast.

Costume Designer Jessica Cothren follows the lead of the original Broadway production with certain characters, while adding novel touches to others. While Olive, Marcy, and Chip are clad in expected styles, William is a bit less polished without his customary necktie, and Logan is a bit more youthful and groomed in her floral dress. Of particular brilliance is Cothren's treatment of Leaf Coneybear, who is a bit more of a free spirit in this production than in others. His personality is expertly captured in his socks and sweater, which appear as though he may have just finished them moments before arriving at the bee.

Lighting Designer Scott W. Davis uses lighting not only to highlight actors as they perform individual numbers, but also to add visual complexity. Blue gels are used to evoke the emptiness of the gym prior to the start of the show, and, as the contestants begin to arrive, they change to warm amber. Spots are used effectively to indicate moments where characters are stepping outside of the main plot to speak to the audience. The lighting in “The 'I Love You' Song” is of particular interest and makes the dreamy quality of Olive's internal world shine. Side lighting causes the face of Olive's father to be partially cloaked in shadow, while a hazy purple glow illuminates and emphasizes the ephemeral nature of Olive's mother. In this scene, lighting greatly adds to the emotional component, though it was momentarily distracting when a cue was dropped and then remembered halfway through the song.

Musical direction is outstanding, and the cast and live musicians prove their skill by performing many complicated songs without a clear line of sight due to the hidden placement of the band. Sound design is expert enough to render itself virtually invisible, and the technical prowess of the crew means that there are no interruptions in the audience's enjoyment. Choreography is detailed, but seems effortless and showcases each performer. A combination of inspired lighting and choreography during “Pandemonium” and a time lapse near the middle of the show add amusement and great visual interest.

Strong technical teams combined with cast members who can make the most enigmatic and eccentric of characters lovable make Runway Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a fun and thought-provoking experience. After hearing the long menu of words contestants must spell all night, you may also find yourself quite humbled. Or perhaps strangely buoyed up and nostalgic. Regardless, don't miss this one, or you'll be disqualified.


THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

Runway Theatre
215 North Dooley Street
Grapevine, TX 76051

Runs through August 9th.

Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Regular ticket prices are $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for students and seniors.

For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.runwaytheatre.com, or call the box office at 817-488-4842.

Review: 'American Idiot' at OhLook Performing Arts Center

Genevieve Croft 

 Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Based on the 2004 Green Day album of the same name, this modern-day “punk” rock opera has similar roots to The Who’s Tommy, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. All began as a concept album, with a conventional plot and complex characters telling a story through song. All have successful stage adaptations or films, and all have become popular in their own right- whether in film, on stage, or as a reference in popular culture We have seen it time and time again…ABBA’s Mamma Mia, Billy Joel’s Movin’ Out...even ELO’s score from the film and stage versions of Xanadu…American Idiot is no different. After all, what is the formula for a successful Broadway musical…a popular band, a best-selling album, and a concept from the album with the potential to take life on stage.

American Idiot is set in Jingletown, USA in the recent past (9/11 didn’t seem that long ago, did it?). Fed up with the state of the union, three friends (Johnny, Tunny, and Will) ponder their “do-nothing go no-where” lives, opting to do something about it. Johnny and Tunny depart for the city with a group of other jaded youths, while Will stays home, tied down with the ultimate responsibility-impending fatherhood with his girlfriend, Heather. American Idiot explores many of the themes associated with modern youth: love, lust, rage, and drugs. The political and social commentary of the story are set against a background of the electrifying and energetic music of Green Day, a band that epitomizes the aforementioned themes and ideals in modern music.

Director Jill Blalock Lord brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and sound that enhanced the story being told by these characters. This was the first time that I had seen American Idiot, and Lord did a fabulous job of casting, and creating a vision and concept for the stage-one that I had only been able to envision from listening to the album. Every aspect of this production of American Idiot did great justice to the concept that I had woven in my mind-the story of Jesus of Suburbia (Johnny) in the stage adaptation of the rock opera. What a pleasure to see such a fantastic production of this show-especially being the regional premiere. This production was so full of energy that the ninety-minute production flew by, as I waited for each of my favorite Green Day songs to come to life on stage. Set Designer Taylor Dobbs successfully transformed the very intimate proscenium stage into multiple locations. The stage and set was designed in such a way where many locations could be conveyed, without overcrowding the space. Simple use of elevated platforms, and different levels in the staging provided quick, seamless transitions from scene to scene. I especially appreciated the symbolism of the empty stage-it really gave a glimpse into the emptiness of these character’s lives. It seemed that Johnny was seeking to fill a void in his life-whether it was love or drugs, or seeking to “find himself.” The openness of the set, and the platforms really represented the ups and downs, instability and uncertainty of his life. 

Jill Blalock Lord designed lighting, in addition to directing. Lord did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate to each scene, and lighting effects that set-up the mood of each song. Through the performance, her cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially liked her integration of strobe lighting and many colorful lights for each scene. It was evident that mood of each scene was conveyed nicely through the color choices used on stage. The usage of the strobe light was another touch that kept the energy up throughout the production. The use of the strobe consistently created some nice stage pictures and silhouettes. It is not often that lighting in a production moves me. However, I believe that in this production, the lighting effects used truly created the spectacle and enticed me into the world of the story.

Assisting the lighting and set, Sound Designer Taylor Dobbs carried through with his own detailing, and I especially enjoyed hearing songs such as TLC’s “Waterfalls” prior to the beginning of the production. It certainly reminded me of the early 2000’s, and was a nice touch. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the right music to set the mood in a musical production. I think that designers might be tempted to play music from the actual production, or songs from the same artist who composed the music and lyrics. Dobbs resisted both of these temptations, and chose some fantastic cuts that brought me back to the days when I was in college. It allowed me to reminisce, and immerse myself into the production. I also enjoyed hearing snippets of news magazine programming reporting on the events post 9/11, and of the War in Iraq. Bill O’Reilly’s voice was incredibly recognizable, and was a nice touch to start out the production.

Jill Blalock Lord and Hannah Blalock Choat worked as a team and designed costumes that were very appropriate to the time period. Each actor had a distinct look, and each costume personified each character. Not only were the lighting, and the music very electrifying, but also, the costumes also assisted in making each character come alive with energy and enthusiasm. The second alternative rock movement was re-emerging during this time. These costumes epitomized how I remember stores like Hot Topic, before it became mainstream. It was eclectic and very punk rock. Costumes were fabulous in this production. 

Chris Clark was incredibly believable in the role of Johnny. Through facial expression, and body language, Clark convincingly portrayed the aspiring musician, seeking to find himself in a new generation of Americans. He never faltered in his delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. I really connected with his personality-it was very real and was an excellent representation of the youth of America at that time. Clark’s performances of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends” were very moving. Mr. Clark is very dynamic and talented- in his acting and in musical abilities. 

Another standout was Drew Brown, in the role of Tunny. Throughout the course of the story, audiences see a complete transformation in his character. He changes from an apathetic youth, to a military man being shipped off to war. Brown’s change in this production displayed a nice duality and dimension to his character. His performance of “Before the Lobotomy” was very expressive. Brown’s performance as Tunny was a nice contrast to role of Johnny. Both were very real, but different representations of American youth at that time.

Emma Lord skillfully played Johnny’s romantic interest, identified as Whatsername. With very few lines of dialogue, Lord gave a fantastic performance relying mainly on facial expressions and body language to tell her part of the story. I believe it can be difficult even for the most esteemed actors to portray a multi-dimensional character, and in most situations, they are given dialogue to assist them. It takes a dedicated actor or actress to convey a complicated character without much dialogue. I thought that Ms. Lord gave the audience a great deal of insight to Johnny’s character, and provided audiences with another facet of his personality. Her portrayal was a touch in a plot that was heavily dominated by male characters.

This production of American Idiot is definitely worth seeing. Not only is this the Regional Premiere of this production, but also the attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the audiences hear the opening guitar riff of “American Idiot,” the cast comes out full force, and full of energy. Audiences will be engaged and entertained all the way to the end- as the company concludes the performance with “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” –a Green Day fan favorite. Whether you are a diehard fan of Green Day, or are introduced to their music for the first time, you will certainly leave the theatre with a fantastic rock opera experience. Be cautious though with bringing youth- there are several occurrences of language and adult content. You have a short amount of time to see the regional premiere of this production…you’d be an idiot to miss it!


GREEN DAY’S AMERICAN IDIOT

OhLook Performing Arts Center, 1631 W. Northwest Highway, Grapevine, Texas 76051
Plays through July 26.Fridays and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2:30 pm. 

Ticket prices are $15.00 per person. 

For information or to purchase reserved seats visit www.ohlookperform.com, or call 817-421-2825. 

Review: Fit to FIT: CrossOver Arts Theatre’s “Dangerous Things on Dark Nights”

Alexandra Bonifield

Some shows just fit FIT. Crossover Theatre Arts’ Dangerous Things on Dark Nights “fits” the bill at the auspicious intersection of mission, mantra and manifestation. Providing a setting for new, unproven playwrights to produce new, unproven, short works exists as one of the way cool assets of FIT (Festival of Independent Theatres), continuing at the Bath House Cultural Center through August 1. The selection committee takes risks in choosing the year’s slate of plays. An expectation of polished, “finished” work doesn’t enter into the picture. Everybody starts somewhere.

“Dangerous Things On Dark Nights” (l to r) Isabella Montague, Maya Pearson, Alexandria Lofton.

“Dangerous Things On Dark Nights” (l to r) Isabella Montague, Maya Pearson, Alexandria Lofton.

CrossOver Arts Theatre involves youth and the community in all their creative endeavors as part of their mission. In producing as their first-time entry into FIT a short play about relationship mishaps penned by a young, aspiring playwright and college sophomore psychology major, CrossOver uses the opportunity to fulfill its mission at FIT to best advantage. Whether Naomi Cohen refines and reworks her play or never writes another one, she will remember and value this experience that honors her honest endeavor. It takes guts and initiative to write a play, particularly one with painful emotions.

Cohen’s play follows three high school best friends as they explore questionable behavior, clash with one another and ultimately move on with separate lives. Cohen primarily uses serial monologue to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. A format that clashes with a story arc based on interaction, sometimes it works, sometimes not. It tends to make the play static, doesn’t drive action more than a staged reading with music stands would. Yet her characters are clearly realized, believable, interesting individuals, even as they exist in a world of reflection rather than conflict and resolution. What’s the takeaway for the playwright? Hopefully, she will feel inspired to expand and develop the piece into dynamic scenes. Show, not tell. What does each character want? Do they get it? Do they change their minds? Do they surprise themselves and the audience with wisdom that reflects upon the human condition? And what does they audience take away from viewing? Something really fresh, a type of art’s birth.

Acting by Alexandria Lofton, Isabella Montague and Maya Pearson is unaffected and genuine. It’s not polished or “pro”. It “fits” the work’s scope at this time. All high school students at Booker T. Washington School for Performing Arts, these girls will surely remember the summer they got to star in a brand new play at FIT by a former schoolmate as a high point of the summer. Now that constitutes real community engagement. Kudos to Director Dennis Raveneau, Artistic Director of CrossOver Arts Theatre. He gives these aspiring young artists a unique opportunity and directs them kindly with attention to detail and respect. Peer into a corner of their world and cheer them on. It would be only fitting.

CrossOver Arts Theatre’s Dangerous Things on Dark Nights performs again at FIT 5pm July 18, 8pm July 23 and 8pm August 1.

http://www.crossoverarts.org/about.html

 Info, tickets: http://www.festivalofindependenttheatres.com