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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Revamped Beauty Fails to Capture the Magic of Original Production


PNC Broadway in Louisville's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Beauty and The Beast

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Rob Roth

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

On this past Sunday Broadway in Louisville’s latest offering closed what I assume was a financially successful run of a new and completely revamped touring production of Disney’s first theatrical musical, Beauty and the Beast.  The show has been reworked from top to bottom by the original production team, from the costumes, to the set design, to cuts and additions to the score. And I was left thinking of the old adage (one that is ironically paraphrased within the show): if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

To say I was disappointed with the changes is an understatement. The show holds a special place in my heart; it was the first show I saw on Broadway during its initial New York run with the original cast (Susan Egan, Terrance Mann, Tom Bosley, Gary Beach, etc.) and I saw the original touring version several times. It was a wonderful show, but sadly, NONE of the changes to the new version are for the best.

First and most unforgiveable, they cut the show’s sweetest number ("No Matter What," a heartfelt ballad illustrating the love between a father and daughter) and another, more forgettable one ("The Maison De Lune") to make room for an unnecessary and instantly forgettable new pop song ("A Change in Me," originally added for Toni Braxton in her Broadway run). The scenes, which were written to include the songs, now end awkwardly and abruptly, hurting the flow of the story.

The new costumes by the original designer (Ann Hould-Ward) are pretty but frequently fail to create a sense of what they are supposed to represent. The enchanted wardrobe, for example, looks nothing like a wardrobe, more like what any wealthy woman would be wearing during the French Revolution. The enchanted feather-duster also looks like nothing more than a French maid’s uniform, with a few feathers. If you didn’t know who these characters were, you would never know what they were supposed to be. Similar issues occurred with many of the other costumes.

The new set designs, again by the original designer (Stanley A. Meyer), have been so streamlined and simplified that they look no more fanciful than what you’d see in a good high school theater production. Very little is three-dimensional, and most are simply painted-on-cardboard illusions. The library set is a particular disappointment in this regard.

Matt West’s choreography has also been simplified, and again, the changes are no improvement. How director Rob Roth could have compromised his original vision with this sell-out of a production is beyond me.

The show is somewhat redeemed by strong performances by nearly everyone. Hilary Maiberger is lovely and in fine voice as Belle, and she truly kept me entertained and took my mind off the show’s flaws whenever she was on stage. Darrick Pead is energetic and sympathetic as the Beast, although he really needs to reign in the unscripted mugging and milking he did several times in his funnier moments (a charge I also level at Shani Hadjian as The Wardrobe). George Hamilton look-alike Hassan Nazari-Robati also stole every scene as Lumiere.

Overall, the show probably satisfied its target audience of undiscriminating little girls, but adults used to the original production will undoubtedly find this lacking.

Featuring Chris Brand, Alyssa Brizzi, Skye Bronfenbrenner, Kieron Cindric, Taylor D. Colleton, Laura Douciere, Kyle Dupree, Erin Edelle, Matt Farcher, Shani Hadjian, Amanda Grace Holt, Stacey Jackson, Charlie Jones, Kevin Kelly, Brian Krinski, Jimmy Larkin, Jessica Lorion, Hilary Maiberger, Brian Martin, William A. Martin, James May, Stephanie Moskal, Hassan Nazari-Robati, Darick Pead, Stephen Petrovich, Sarah Primmer, Sean Reda, Andrea Rouch, Michael Whitney, and Jason Wise.

Beauty and The Beast

October 23 -28, 2012

PNC Broadway in Louisville
The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY, 40202
502-589-7777



Monday, October 29, 2012

“Ragtime” Is A “Polished, Spirited Production” from CenterStage



Ragtime

Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow

Directed by John R. Leffert

Review by Rachel White

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.



At the turn of the twentieth century Henry Ford invented his famous assembly line, Booker T. Washington graduated from Harvard, immigrants were crossing the oceans to America in huge numbers, and the syncopated rhythms of ragtime were in the air. There is a great deal of irony and tragedy behind each of these great events. Ragtime, the musical, scurries over any complications or ironies and instead sells hope, the American dream, and a good time. CenterStage embraces that idea with a highly polished, spirited production.

Ragtime centers on three American families living around New York City at the turn of the century. Among these are an African American couple, an upper middle class white family, and two Jewish immigrants. Despite some technical difficulties, the show is extremely well done, with solid professional vocal performances, dancing, and staging. Among the vocalists who really stood out was Emily Fields, who works well as the compassionate but bored Mother who wants more. Mother takes in an African American baby whom she has found in her garden, and upon discovering that the baby belongs to her servant, Sarah, attempts to take the baby in. Fields has a pure voice with a wide range, and her style is warm and confident. 

Other strong performances came from Tymica Prince as Sarah and Alonzo R. Richmond as Coalhouse. They play a troubled African American couple struggling through life long before Civil Rights. “The Wings of A Dream” was a solid and touching duet between the couple. Tamika Skaggs was another standout who stole the scene at the end of Act I with her rich gospel solo in “Till We Reach That Day.”

The more personal scenes came between Tateh (Monty Fields) and his daughter (Kitty Helm). They are two Jewish immigrants who have just arrived in America. Their relationship felt the most authentic and specific. There is an emotional moment when Tateh has to send his daughter to live with his aunt because he cannot afford to feed her. This felt like the most specific and realistic relationship of the play. 

What I missed from Ragtime was what united all of these people ultimately – the writers don’t seem to know. This isn’t the fault of the production. Even the prospect of starvation is quickly swept aside, and things are easily solved. Musicals often do this, but it seemed that an opportunity for richness was missed in favor of easy endings and snappy tunes. 

CenterStage’s production is aptly timed, and many of the tumultuous events surrounding the turn of the twentieth century are still haunting us at the turn of the twenty-first. It attempts to remind us that ragtime, syncopation, and music can bring people together in spite of the weird craziness going on in the world.

Ragtime

October 27 - November 11

CenterStage at
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
Call 459-0660 for tickets


“Non-stop Laughter” Can Be Found in Louisville Rep’s Season Opener


November

By David Mamet
Directed by J. R. Stuart

Reviewed by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

Sean Childress as The President in David Mamet's November.
Photo courtesy of Louisville Repertory Company.

Louisville Repertory Company’s (LRC) production of November by David Mamet is a hilarious romp filled with laughter from the moment the lights go up to the moment the lights go down. Under the direction of J. R. Stuart, and with a talented quartet of actors, this production is a blessing from the sky during this election season.

November is a satirical comedy which centers its story on the President of United States several days before his re-election. Needless to say, tensions are high, especially when the president himself has learned that he hardly has any campaign TV ads being broadcast around the country. He knows, along with his personal advisor, that most likely he’s not going to be re-elected, and worse, he will have no presidential legacy, not even a library to his name. And so, with David Mamet’s characteristic theatrical-foul-language and with the most politically incorrect verbiage you can imagine, the president (played here with serious hilarity by Sean Childress) embarks on a personal quest to “make things right” by doing and saying all the wrong things. And the non-stop laughter begins.

LRC’s production is very enjoyable, mainly because the actors worked together and did not miss a cue –  well, almost. There were a few hiccups. But when you have to deliver Mamet’s dialogue at the speed of light, and you have to keep a serious face when being part of a ridiculous story plot, stopping to breathe sometimes seems important.

You don’t have to be on “Mitt’s Team” or “’Obama’s Team” to enjoy this show. There is no “blue team or red team” here. There is simply the fact of a chaotic day at the Oval Office. And when you hear the President of the United States used the “F-word” countless times and be the most political incorrect individual on the face of the earth, you will be shocked into laughing – just like the audience was laughing on the night I attended.

But as I said before, what makes this production very enjoyable is not only the ridiculous plot (the Presidential Pardon of not one, but two, turkeys is a major plot point in this play), but the talented quartet of actors who put everything on stage to make this satire a welcome theatrical experience. Aside from Mr. Childress, Michael Roberts as Archer Brown, the President’s advisor, is spot-on with his one-liners, his delivery, his attitude and, overall, his facial gestures. Brandon Saylor as A Representative of the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-products Manufactures (I told you it was ridiculous) is frustratingly funny. And Tiffany Taylor as Clarice Bernstein, the President’s speech writer, is comically inspiring. There is a fifth actor, but he only appears for the last five minutes of the show. Rich Williams as Dwight Grackle is also someone to laugh with because…well, you don’t need a reason. Trust me on this one.

LRC opens its twentieth season with November, and what a great way to commemorate 20 years of theatrical achievements. If you are tired (like I am) of all the political TV ads, Facebook political postings, political emails, political mailings, and all the political rhetoric going on right now, head to The MeX Theatre at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and watch LRC’s production of November. You will be entertained and will laugh out loud, a much needed cure during this election season.


November

Oct. 26, 27 and 29 and Nov. 2 and 3 at 8:00 p.m.; Nov. 4 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets $16; Industry Night (Mon. Oct. 29), all tickets $11;
Groups of 10 or more $11 each

Get your tickets today! Call 502-584-7777
or save ticketing fees by stopping by The Kentucky Center box office or ticketing drive-through.

Louisville Repertory Company
The MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
502-584-7777

Friday, October 26, 2012

Satire of the Hopeless Pursuit of a Worthy President at The Alley Theatre


Electile Dysfunction

Written & Directed by Martin French

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.



With each Presidential election campaign I experience, the rancor and polarization of the discourse grows greater and more absurd in its make-up. A process designed to unite us in common purpose has developed into an opportunity to divide and conquer. It is a sad situation for sure, most especially for satirists. This new production from The Alley Theatre illustrates the predicament.

The title indicates a taste for sexual innuendo and double entendre, and there is certainly enough of both in good supply, but the greater challenge is finding less obvious targets to skewer from within a campaign that already occupies a surreal place so far from good sense and practical solutions as to be unrecognizable to any U.S. citizen who values either. So it is perhaps a wise choice for Martin French to focus on the process itself instead of the particulars of the current day-to-day political campaign, delivering sharp observation within an audience-interactive structure that never forces the audience into any semblance of loyalty to anyone named Romney or Obama.

Attendees are taken through nine settings in which they are introduced to the two candidates, both named with some wit: Whig Wanderer David F. Mirkin, who raises vague ineffectualness to a high art; and Anita Peruke, who is equally bland and inoffensive, in spite of the fact that she is a lesbian with a white-trash mistress. The juxtaposition of sexual hot buttons and a smooth and expedient style in this character is one of the show’s smarter choices, highlighting the unquenchable hunger for making controversy palatable that has come to characterize recent American politics.

Just as a focus on the manipulation of the media has made The Daily Show the most effective political satire on a national level, Mr. French’s script is most on target when spotlighting the fraudulent nature of broadcast coverage of the campaign. His debate moderator, Hampton Stonejaw, successfully combines Jim Lehrer’s venerable stoicism with the smarmy, pasted-on charm of a hundred interchangeable CNN/ MSNBC/ FOX automatons.

Yet while the text contains some funny dialogue, it is functionally an outline for moments that require audience participation for its fullest effect. You will be asked to choose a candidate before entering the show, and in the end your votes will determine the winner. Along the way you will be shuffled through three separate performance spaces, getting a full tour of recent Alley Theatre renovations in the process.

Todd Zeigler and Felicia Stewart make for unctuous and nearly impenetrable candidates, although it struck me that the preview performance offered Ms. Stewart better opportunities to score with the audience, and that that these are largely thankless roles overshadowed somewhat by the supporting cast. Kimby Peterson was a trashy delight as Anita Peruke’s mistress, Shooter Demerde; Rachel Caudel was hilariously pious and self-righteous as her wife; and Christopher Folan is almost pitch-perfect as Hampton Stonejaw. “Almost” is the operative word, however, since the preview audience of a handful could hardly provide the energy to feed off of. Mr. Folan’s smart work needs a more forceful, harder edge, and the performance as a whole requires an audience ready to engage with the eager cast.

In these last, exhausting days of the prolonged political season, some laughs at the expense of our partisan obsessions might be the perfect antidote. This entirely original production is the first of three politically minded plays that will populate local stages in the next two weeks, and promises to be the loosest and most unpredictable.

Electile Dysfunction

Friday and Saturday, October 26-November 10
All shows 8:00 p.m.
All seats $10

The Alley Theater
1210 Franklin Street
Louisville, KY 40206
502-589-3866