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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Theatre Review: Music Theatre Louisville "Ain't Misbehavin'"

I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.-- Zora Neale Hurston
Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller


Music Theatre Louisville opened their 2011 summer season last night with the grandaddy of musical reviews Ain't Misbehavin'. The title comes from a 1929 song written by Harlem Renaissance jazz composer Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller who wrote an important part of the soundtrack that accompanied the literary and artistic expression of ethnic pride that flowered in the decade between 1919 and the stock market crash of 1929.

When Ain't Misbehavin' appeared on Broadway in 1978 it was an anomaly--an African-American cast singing songs about the true African-America experience, without the stereotypes that comfort white audiences. The idea for the musical was developed by Richard Maltby, Jr. who received a 1978 Tony Award for directing the show. He shared that year's Best Musical Tony with Murray Horwitz (book). The show also brought recognition to the late Nell Carter who won a Tony for Best Featured Actress. In addition Ain't Misbehavin' received the 1978 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. A decade later the revue received a Tony Award for Best Revival.

In the decades that followed a number of popular shows have followed the path cut by Ain't Misbehavin', including Five Guys Named Moe, Smokey Joe's Cafe, The Wiz, and Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk, but none have captured the ribald, bawdy, raucousness and elegant poignance imparted by Waller's life experience. 

The Music Theatre Louisville production, directed by Rush Trowel, brings together an amazing company of local performers led on stage from the keyboard by Kentucky cultural treasure Harry Pickens. Sitting center stage with his back to most of the audience Pickens and the traditional five-piece southern band seated center stage gave voice to the beauty and depth of Waller's music. The addition of the piano to the traditional brass bands of the south during the first decades of the last century was an important musical development, and has also been credited by some as an important factor in the popularity of jazz.

Bolstered by participants in the Governor's School for the Arts the Kentucky Center's Bomhard Theatre was filled nearly to capacity opening night, which may have accounted for the cast's initial deer-in-the-headlights response. By the end of the first number, the song from which the show takes its name, the company was in full force. Making his MTL debut Greg Green is the company's strongest all-around performer but never overshadows the ensemble or distracts from the camaraderie and bon hommie the show requires. As choreographer Green incorporates the original work of Arthur Faria (1978 Tony nominee), to create movement as exciting and fresh as it was three decades ago. The Act I dance number How Ya Baby that features Green and another MTL newcomer Tymika Prince is a show highlight. Another newcomer to MTL, Yvette Nichols, adds her gorgeous voice and wonderful sense of comic timing to this talented quintet. Veteran MTLers Tony Owens and Gayle King have been too-long gone from the stage; their textured voices and command of the repertoire, especially evident in King's scatting, are a gift. A noted jazz singer King acts as Musical Director for the show. Tony Owens personal magnetism give him tremendous stage presence; here he manifests Waller's joie de vivre with a devilish twinkle and knowing smile that bring just the right note to the production.

This show incorporates the realities of the African-American experience, the hopeful, the potentially destructive, the misguided, and questioning and I noticed several people with younger children fidgeting nervously during The Viper-Reefer Part 1 which includes the simulated smoking of marijuana. The number in contextually relevant and important to the show, but judge for yourself whether or not your prepubescents are ready to receive it.

Music Theatre Louisville's Ain't Misbehavin' continues through July 2 in the Bomhard Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. MTL continues the season with Guys and Dolls July 15--23 and concludes with another Maltby show Big August 5--14. Subscriptions to the 2011 season are still available and you can get them by calling 502.498.2436 or online at www.MusicTheatreLouisville.com. For single tickets call the Kentucky Center box office 502.584.7777 or online www.KentuckyCenter.org.



 







Friday, June 17, 2011

Theatre Review: Pandora Productions "The New Century"

As a playwright and columnist Paul Rudnick is known for embedding his shrewd powers of observation in volleys of one-liners. (His unique and hilarious film critiques appeared in Premiere magazine under the nom-de-plume Libby Gelman-Wexner for more than a decade.)

At times The New Century relies too much on your understanding of New York and New Yorkers. A bit of insider information: the title of the play comes from a real store called Century 21 located near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. A few of the jokes lose some of their punch in translation, but there are so many that the ratio is statistically insignificant.

Rudnick, who is the most-produced playwright in the Pandora Productions pantheon, created The New Century in 2008, bringing together three one-act monologues that he bound together with an epilogue. Producer Michael Drury directs two of the acts, but enlisted two skilled directors Steven Rahe and Georgette Kleier to set one monologue each.

The first monologue, Pride and Joy, directed by Rahe, introduces us to Helene Nadler, a Jewish mother who is very much the Long Island personification of his alter-ego Gelman-Wexner. Helene, played incisively by veteran actor Carol Tyree Williams, the mother of three members of sexe sans frontieres: a lesbian, a transexual, and a fetishist is alternately proud, sad, confused and confounded by the people her children have become. With the character of Helene and throughout his work, Rudnick draws on the Jewish tradition of hyperbole to sharpen the barbs of his humor. He is also unafraid of stereotype, which he uses as a distraction while setting up his punches.

Stereotype is the order of the day in the second act, Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach, who loses his New York privileges and is banished to south Florida where he takes revenge on his adversaries by hosting a cable television show called Too Gay! Drury direction is sharp and Eddie Lewis, one of the owner/operators of Connection, clearly revels in the absurdities of Mr. Charles--an over-the-top, limp-wristed sibilant-spewing caricature who delivers his remarks with relish. Joining Lewis are a fearless young actor Keil Dodd, who lists no credits aside from Pandora Productions and the multi-talented Laura Ellis. Dodd plays the part of Shane, Mr. Charles's "ward" who "discovers" Century 21 during the play's final act. Ellis is the cable television receptionist Joanna Mildberry and also serves as sound designer for the production.

The third monologue, Crafty, is directed brilliantly by Kleier and stars Susan McNeese Lynch as Barbara Ellen Diggs of Decatur, Illinois. Interestingly this was the least well received by New York reviewers. In his 2008 review of the show Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, "It's Mr. Rudnick's imposed hyperbole that's operating here, not. . .the character's own." As native midwesterner I found Lynch's portrayal of the craft-obsessed homebody who pastes her aunt's gallstone into a scrapbook commemoration to be the most natural and genuine of the three. Lynch, is clearly moved as she describes the loss of her son to AIDS. Her experiences and connections with friends and strangers who inhabited her son's world as a Broadway costume designer had my eyes watering. In Crafty Rudnick expresses the universal nature of pain, disease, death and the implausible hope that lets us all continue or daily lives.

The New Century continues through June 26 in the Thrust Theatre at the University of Louisville, located at the corner of Floyd and Warnock Streets. A parking lot is located on the south side of the theatre off Floyd Street. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling 216.5502 or go to www.PandoraProds.org.
  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Theatre Review: Bunbury Theatre "The Foreigner"


Saturday evening’s performance of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is the first time I can remember being part of an audience that actually screamed with laughter. Producing Artistic Director Juergen Tossman chose this play to wrap Bunbury Theatre’s 25th anniversary season because he credits the company’s 1997 production for putting Bunbury “on the map.” Over the last 15 years the company has successfully staged original works and classic plays, but few will have more appeal than this neat little story.

The Foreigner, which had its Off Broadway premiere in 1983, is one of a small body of published works left behind when Shue died two years later in an airplane crash at age 39. The ensuing decades have seen numerous regional productions of his tight situational comedy. The play’s success comes in part from Shue’s understanding of Off Broadway and Regional Theatre companies. With The Foreigner and his earlier work The Nerd (1981), Shue added to the repertoire two one-set gems that require relatively standard props and only 7 actors each.

With Saturday evening’s Bunbury Theatre production the stage was literally set as soon as I entered the theatre. Susan S. VanDyke’s beautiful set was a perfect representation of a timeless, Georgia fishing lodge. Into this world enter (stage left), Sgt. “Froggy” LeSeur and the play’s central character Charlie Baker played by Matt Orme and Ted Lesley, respectively dressed immaculately by costume designer Camille Bathurst. Before Orme and Lesley uttered their first lines Bathurst had already told us much about their characters. It may seem a bit much to go on about set and costumes, but anyone who has attempted to stage a play will understand the importance and difficulty behind these achievements. Where Bathurst came up with the insignia for the KKK costumes that drive the show’s climax I don’t think I want to know. Suffice to say that, along with a strong performance by Dan Bullington as Owen Musser, there was a tangible sense of danger that is usually missing. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. . .

(L to R) Neleigh Olson, Alice Chiles, Dan Bullington,
Ty Leitner, Ted Lesley and Matt Orme
Part of the satisfaction in Shue’s writing is his ability to neatly tie-up all the loose ends of his stories at the end of the play. This requires a lot of exposition at the beginning; Orme and Lesley spend the better part of a quarter-hour setting up the action. Once that task is accomplished “Froggy” makes a strategic withdrawl only to reappear later to move the story along and serve as the deus ex machina at the conclusion. The episodic nature of this functionary role is demanding and veteran character actor Orme makes it look easy.

The story centers on Lesley’s character, Charlie, a foreigner of unclear origins who brings a bit of wonder to innkeeper Betty Meeks’s troubled life. As Meeks, Alice Chiles is a pure delight. The entire company is blessed with a keen sense of comic timing, but Chiles characterization is remarkable in its naturalness. Over the years I have seen this show a number of times and even performed it once—and I can honestly say I have never experienced a stronger actor in the title role. As Charlie, Lesley skirts mawkish caricature and gives a sensitive, layered character able to unfold organically as the story progresses.

The Foreigner runs through June 26 at Bunbury Theatre, located on the third floor of the Henry Clay Building at Third and Chestnut Streets. For tickets and more information go to www.BunburyTheatre.Org or call 502.585.5306.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Theatre Review: Kentucky Shakespeare, the Complete Wrks of Wm Shakespeare: Abridged

Kentucky Shakespeare opened their 51st season of free performances in Central Park last week with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged, a comedy created for the 1987 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The creators were three Americans: Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield who eventually took the show to London's Criterion Theatre where it ran for a record 9 years and received a 1997 nomination for the Olivier Award.

The Kentucky Shakespeare production is directed by the company's Producing Artistic Director Brantley  M. Dunaway who took over as leader of the company just over a year ago. Originally created as a vehicle with lots of room for improvisation Compete Works demands a cast that is nimble, high-energy and willing to put themselves on the line for every performance. Dunaway has found that in Ash Law Edwards, Kevin Rich and Kyle Curry.




Ash Law Edward
















                                                                  
Kyle Curry


                                                                                                                                                                                         
Kevin Rich
Watching these three put me in mind of a late night cram session at Delta Tau Chi (a.k.a. Animal House) as Bluto, Otter and Pinto frantically try to cover an entire semester's work in ninety minutes.






 










After a half-hour hold for passing rain clouds Saturday evening's performance got underway around 9:00 p.m. During the pause the audience was regaled with a soundtrack that included the music of the B52's, Bob Dylan and other just-as-incongrous selections. Finally Edwards stepped to the front of the stage, tore down the fourth wall and, in a slightly befuddled manner appropriate to the tone of the production, prepared the audience for what was to come. After some historical perspective on the plays from Rich, who brings a wry, quasi-cerebral note to the production and a fractured account of the Bard's early life accumulated and regurgitated by Curry, the trio presented an original 12-minute interpretation of Shakespeare's most well-known play Romeo and Juliet. Drawing from their own strange ideas, pop culture and the numerous variations on the story, most notably Natalie Wood's riff on Juliet from Jerome Robbins' West Side Story (1961), the trio gives a very original interpretation of Shakespeare's words. I have to say that I had never considered Romeo's relationship to Tybalt in quite that way before. If Dunaway's concept for the balcony scene is indicative of the creativity we can expect the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is due for a renaissance.

The Complete Works zooms through Shakespeare's comedies, most of the tragedies and the histories before intermission. Act II opens with Edwards, alone again, vamping the sonnets. Much of the second act is devoted to what is perhaps Shakespeare's most important work, Hamlet. This includes a thorough, audience-enhanced, psychoanalytical consideration of Ophelia portrayed, in the Elizabethan tradition, by a sometimes recalcitrant Curry (who also handles Juliet and most of the other female characters). This portion of the show is very funny and works best with a large, enthusiastic audience so I encourage you to bring as many of friends as possible when going to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare--it won't cost you anything and you will all have a great time. The season opener continues through June 26. Performances begin at 8:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday with a pre-show beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Most of the seats are available for a free-will donation, but preferred seating is available up front on a first-come basis for a $20 donation.

The season, with its enhanced festival status including performances by the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and the Louisville Youth Choir, continues on June 29 with Shakespeare's As You Like It. The spoof on Elizabethan conventions of romantic love is directed by Rob Clare, an internationally known interpreter of Shakespeare and former member of of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Look for an interview with Mr. Clare and more about Kentucky Shakespeare including calendar listings at www.Arts-Louisville.com.

 





Saturday, June 11, 2011

Audition Notice: Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company


WHAT: Auditions for the 2011-2012 season of Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company

WHERE: Walden Theatre, 1123 Payne Street, Louisville, KY 40204

WHEN: Sunday, June 19 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. &
              Monday, June 20 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

WHO: Everyone who wishes to be considered  for a role during the 2011-2012 season--including actors    who have performed with the company in the past. Please be aware that these are the only auditions that will be held for the season.

Please note: Actors should be prepared to read from a script. If you have not auditioned for Savage Rose in the past year at the TAL general auditions or privately please prepare a short classical speech approximately 1 minute in length (about 20 lines).

*A sign-up sheet will be posted 15 minutes prior to the beginning of auditions.

2011-2012 Season

The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Also being cast is the Words, Words, Words Play Reading Series:

The Atheist's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur
The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
Cupid's Revenge by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
Law Against Lovers by William Davenant
Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

info@SavageRoseTheatre.com or 599.3011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Theatre Review: Cirque du Soleil "Alegria"

If you haven’t experienced a Cirque du Soleil show personally you have not experienced anything like Alegria. The show will be at the KFC YUM Center until Sunday; there are two performances each day until June 12. Please don’t let the opportunity to be part of this celebration pass unnoticed. Everything else I can tell you is just commentary.

Cirque du Soleil has become a mountain on the cultural terrain. It’s difficult to believe that prior to 1986 there was nothing like it on the planet. Although Cirque carries elements of ancient traditions I doubt there has ever been anything like it in the history of the world; a unique combination of high concept visual art, music, dance, acrobatics and music. One of the earliest works developed by the team was Alegria, which has been touring the world since 1994.

In Spanish “alegria” means jubilation and Alegria, the show, is a celebration of youth, energy and possibility. Although opening night audiences in Louisville were predictably conservative in their initial response, by the end of the evening everyone had enthusiastically joined the party. My shoulders and hands were aching by the end of the evening from constant applause.

Alegria is a collection of amazing feats of strength, flexibility and balance, but the collective is more fascinating than the individual components. With Alegria, Cirque’s founder Guy Laliberte has created an international family with members from Mongolia, Canada, Belgium, Russia, Sweden, France, the United States, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, Belarus, Denmark, Ukraine, Argentina, Portugal and Brazil. He has used the underlying artistic principal of distortion and expansion to highlight what is essential to our humanity. In creating the fantastic worlds of Cirque du Soleil these artists become a reflection of human potential.

A few thoughts for you to consider before attending: the people on stage are working to make a personal connection with you so don’t be afraid to react. When the Fluer shouts “Alegria/Jubilation” he isn’t shouting at you—he is calling to you. Don’t hold back if you feel like responding. I think you’ll find that your experience gets better with active participation. Also, there are some amazing clowns in this production and if you are seated on the floor chances are you are going to encounter them, prepare yourself to join in the fun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Theatre Review: Shrek: The Musical

©2010 DreamWorks Theatricals (Joan Marcus)
Pictured: Eric Petersen (Shrek)

PNC Broadway in Louisville is wrapping the 2010-11 season with Shrek, the musical, an irreverant blockbuster sure to entertain all ages. Fans of the 2001 film will enjoy hearing their favorite lines again, and the story remains essentially the same, but with the musical version creators David Lindsay-Abaire (Book & Lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (Music) have updated this already modern fairy tale as an irreverant comment on tolerance and acceptance. Don’t let that scare you. While the message is as pungent as an ogre’s gym socks it never overpowers the story.

Telling the tale this week at the Kentucky Center for the Arts is a young, talented and energetic cast able to maintain their enthusiasm even as they look forward to the conclusion next month of Shrek’s year-long American tour. The company is led by Eric Peterson in the eponymous role of an ogre who apparently loves his solitary life in the swamp, fighting to regain his solitude after Lord Farquaad, played by David F.M. Vaughn, banishes all of the storybook creatures of  Duloc to his boggy budoir. Duloc is a lot like Disneyland, complete with a castle and uniformed dancers who smile and wave as if their lives depend on it—which they do. The name of the town is thought to be a nod by the film’s producers to their university Notre Dame de Lac. The musical also pays homage to a number of popular Broadway shows pop-culture idioms. 

Shrek, The Musical  also gives us insights into the main characters through songs that tell the personal histories of Shrek, Princess Fiona, Donkey, Lord Farquaad, and the Dragon.  It may have been the sound system or my aging ears, but some dialogue was difficult to understand, especially  during the big production numbers. If you have any hearing issues I urge you to pick up one of the infrared sound enhancement devices supplied free-of-charge by the Kentucky Center.

©2010 DreamWorks Theatricals (Joan Marcus)
Pictured: David F.M. Vaughn (Farquaad), “Gingy”
and Keven Quillon (
Guard).
As befits a Broadway production of this calibre the creative team has made use of a wide-range of contemporary storytelling devices that include the use of a giant, articulated Dragon puppet. I applaud the producers for their tongue-in-cheek approach to design that gives the audience credit enough to be in on some of the jokes rather than spending inordinate amounts of time trying to hide the obvious. Their lower tech solitutions such as the rodentia frug in Act II set a wonderfully intimate tone . I am particularly grateful that no one attempted to muzzle Alan Mingo, Jr., as Donkey in a latex proboscis. His characterization and vocal expressions were excellent and masterfully conveyed the character.



That being said Peterson seemed not at all inhibited by the makeup required to turn him into a hulking, green monster and Vaughn clearly reveled in the possibilites offered by the prostethics to put his comic villian Farquuad over the top. Say Farquaad five time, fast.

One of the best numbers in the show is the 11 o’clock number "Freak Flag" performed by the ensemble in their roles as storybook creatures. Led by Blakely Slaybaugh as the increasingly militant and slightly delusional Pinnochio (sans cricket), and featuring Louisville’s own Sarah Peak as the Ugly Duckling, it is an irreverant take on the nature of fairy tales and the rigours of living up to society’s expectations.

Shrek: The Musical operates on multiple levels with plenty of fart jokes for the under-13 set (and guys) and a larger message that will give adults something to think about while laughing at the fart jokes. 

The PNC Bank Broadway in Louisville presentation of Shrek: The Musical continues through Sunday, June 12, 2011 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Get your tickets at the box office: 502.584.7777 or www.KentuckyCenter.org.

The 2011-2012 season begins September 12--30 with the return of Wicked. Season ticket-holders will also have the best seats in the house for Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Blue Man Group and Billy Elliot. For more on season tickets call 502.561.1003 or go to www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com. Current season ticket holders have until June 24, 2011 to retain your current seats or make exchanges before other orders are processed.