Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview with Dan Fedie, Louisville Ballet Costume Master

Interview by Scott Dowd.

Dan Fedie

Creating any piece of performance art is a series of collaborations usually motivated by the vision of one individual. In the case of ballet, that lead is provided by the choreographer who works with the dancers to physically and emotionally tell a story. The choreographer and artistic director bring together teams of designers whose creativity establishes mood, time and place, enhances focus, and extends the emotional impact of the performance. Although we see their names in the program, many of these designers are unknown to the audience. Some of them – like Dan Fedie, who has been costume master of the Louisville Ballet for 23 years – rarely have the opportunity to sit in the audience and enjoy the finished product because they are always back stage, managing the logistics of each performance. When artistic director Bruce Simpson discussed the impact of the contributions Dan Fedie has made to the company, he said: “Dan has been a key to the success of this company. There’s nobody who has been here longer or put more into the achievement of our goals over time.”

Dan Fedie.  Photo by Leah Dienes.
SD:  When did you get interested in costume design?
DF:  I didn’t really get into the costuming business until after high school. I started in college at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, where I got my degree in speech and theatre. I freelanced for two years and did an internship at Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, New York. Then I got my master’s degree in costume design from the University of Illinois. After that I moved to Louisville and started working. I found that my strengths were really in the construction of costumes more than design. I consider myself more a costumer than a designer.
SD:  What are your main areas of responsibility as costume master?
DF:  I’m basically manager of the costume shop. I’m in charge of deciding what costumes need to be built, pulled from storage and fitted or rented. I also do a little bit of designing if there is a problem with a costume that can’t be fit. When that happens, I go back and try to recreate that costume using the designer’s specifications. A lot of times the designer is not here to give me that information, so we do the best we can to maintain the integrity of the designer’s vision.
SD:  What percentage of the costumes do you build in the shop?
DF:  We build a few and rent about 25 percent of our costumes each season. The other 75 percent comes from our rep, which is extensive. It covers more than 45 years of ballet.
SD:  Once the season is over, do your costumes just go downstairs to be stored?
DF:  Costume and scene rental is actually an important revenue stream for the Louisville Ballet, so we pack them up and send them out as often as possible. I’ve sent costumes as far away as Israel, but most of our rentals are within the United States. I just sent some costumes off to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Florida.
SD:  How many counterparts do you have in this country?
DF:  There are quite a few ballet companies of varying size. I probably work with 10 to 15 shop managers on a regular basis.
Helen Daigle.  Photo by Peter Mueller, 2009.
SD:  You have been with Louisville Ballet for more than one-third of its sixty-year history. What are your thoughts on its direction today.
DF: It has grown a lot. When I came on board 23 years ago, Alun [Jones] and Helen [Starr] were at the helm. They had great vision and moved the Louisville Ballet from being a small civic company towards being one of America’s premiere regional companies. They were here 28 years. When Bruce [Simpson] took over in 2002, he had great momentum and vision to continue that trend and develop it into what it is now. They each brought a tremendous amount to the table artistically and kept in tune with what the city needed and appreciated. From a costume perspective, we made a sea change in 1995 when the company constructed the building on Main Street and moved from the converted firehouse at Bardstown Road and Rosewood Avenue in the Highlands. Up to that point, it was a constant battle to preserve the costumes because we had no climate control. We were running fans constantly, hanging bags of charcoal, changing out hangers to keep things from rusting or dry rotting.
SD:  You must have worked with a lot of dancers over the years.
DF:  I have a bulletin board filled with pictures, many of whom are no longer dancing. Ballet is such a special art form, but an individual dancer’s career is dreadfully brief. The body can only take so much, but it is amazing what they are able to accomplish. It’s kind of like a relay race where each runner gives everything they have during their leg and then passes the baton to the next person. That’s why Donna (my assistant and company shoe manager) and I do everything in our power to prevent injuries that can shorten or prematurely end a career.
SD:  The 60th anniversary celebration at the Brown Theatre will include a new work by resident choreographer Adam Hougland. What else will be on the bill?
DF:  It’s a compilation representing the growth of the Louisville Ballet over the last ten years. We’re going back to include a lot of works that have been introduced since the company’s 50th season when Bruce stepped in. Along with Adam’s new piece, we’ll be doing Lambarena, a Val Caniparoli piece that we did about five years ago; we’ll be doing Balanchine’s Theme and Variations; and we’ll be setting Mikelle Bruzina’s Sensei, a piece she has developed over the past two years that draws on her Japanese heritage – it looks at family life from childhood to mastery.
SD:  Louisville Ballet gives its dancers a
lot of opportunity to develop as choreographers and present pieces on the larger stage. And, of course, Adam Hougland has set new ballets on this company for five years or more. From speaking with him, I know that he is very much involved in the design process. Tell me about how you will translate his vision to the stage.
DF:  A lot of it is just listening to the
choreographer – what they want and in what direction they want to go. I like to know about anything that has inspired him. I also like to listen to his music because that will evoke a feeling in me. In this particular case, I also take into account the fact that this is our 60th anniversary and try to find expression for that aspect of the piece. There are a lot of elements, and I am processing them all as I work through the productions that precede it. I will come up with some ideas; he’ll take a look at them; and I’ll take his comments and digest them. Then I’ll come back and present my vision until we’re both headed in the same direction. It’s really about finding things that we have in common, but it’s ultimately the choreographer’s vision that appears on stage.
SD:  How much time does that process take?
DF:  It can be very time consuming. But it is very rewarding when it is finished.
SD:  What music has Adam chosen for this piece?
DF:  It’s set to Two Fanfares for Orchestra: La Tromba
SD:  How many ballets are you currently working on?
DF:  We’re getting ready for Cinderella, which, at this point, will require four new costumes. I hope it won’t be more than that, but it will depend on the fittings. Of course, there will be repairs as we go along, because some of the pieces are from the original production that was built many years ago. So we’ll look at the condition of the fabric to decide our next steps.
SD:  I was fortunate enough to go downstairs to your costume storage for the video piece we created on How many costumes do you have in the basement?
DF:  We probably have 9 or 10 full-length ballets down there, and 400 to 500 small ballets – 10,000 to 15,000 garment pieces in all.
SD:  Does that include the shoes?
DF:  No. Shoes are another world altogether. Having my training in theatre, I was amazed when I moved into the ballet world at what this art form commands as far as footwear is concerned. If you don’t have the proper footwear to do the dance, you risk injury. It is so critical and you have to order far ahead because it takes a long time to receive the shoes.
SD:  How long does it take?
DF:  It can take up to a year to get an order of shoes in for a dancer. Donna Lawrence-Downs (my shoe manager) and I are trying to work out who we think will be here next season so we can decide when to place the orders.
SD:  Why does it take so long?
DF:  A lot of these companies are in Europe and they close over the summer months. So we have to have these orders in process before that to be sure we get them in August when we come back.
SD:  Bruce Simpson was telling me some dancers have a specific artisan who crafts their shoes for their entire career.
DF:  Many do. It really depends on the maker. The pointe shoe industry right now is aging. A lot of the most talented makers are getting up there in years and we’re hearing constantly that this person or that person has retired. So dancers find themselves back in the market looking for that perfect match.
SD:  Sounds like marriage.
DF:  There are definitely some parallels. Although they may never meet the person who makes those shoes, that craftsman is supporting their career. That artisan plays a significant part in determining how long that career will continue. 
SD:  And that’s only pointe shoes.
DF:  Yes. There are also ballet slippers, canvas or leather shoes, and then there are character boots. Those have a harder sole with a hard heel that can be used for character dances such as the Czardas where they stomp the feet and you want to hear the heel. Then there is the ballet boot, a soft boot the men wear. They have to be soft so that when they point their foot it extends the line through the toe. That gets to be pricey because most of these boots are custom made. They range anywhere from $350 to $600 a pair. So when I do order a pair, I want them to last a long time and I’m very, very protective of them. Once the show is done, they go back into stock. They’re hung up so they don’t get crushed and are used only for certain productions or roles and that’s it.
SD:  With that kind of meticulous care, how long will a pair of boots last?
DF:  It really depends on the choreography. The boots we had built for our new Nutcracker are already three years old and they will probably last another three to four years. If the leather begins to stretch it allows the foot to roll inside the boot and that makes the dancer prone to injury. I try to do one to two new pair a year if I can afford to do it.
SD:  The Nutcracker and Cinderella also include the company’s beautiful headgear collection.
DF:  When we built the new Nutcracker, Bruce was very involved in the creation of each costume element from fabric selection to headpieces. And Cinderella has its own set of headpieces constructed many years ago by Alun Jones. He will be taking a look at those again because he wants to spruce it up.
SD:  So Alun will be involved in this production?
DF:  He is the choreographer of this piece and because of that, we bring Alun and Helen Starr back in to stage the production. Alun is also the listed designer on this program, so he has control as to how the show actually looks and what needs to be worked on. When we are building new costumes, we bring him in for fittings. It’s really important to maintain the integrity of the production, and the choreographer is at the top of the pyramid. We want to make sure our productions are always reaching the highest level.
SD:  Tell me about the relationship of the choreographer to the designers – because it’s not only costumes, there are lighting and set designers as well, and it all has to work together.
DF:  That’s why the designers do a combined presentation to be sure everything is working together as one cohesive unit. We’re looking at color and atmosphere to put together the entire picture on paper. It’s important to know how color works with light, how color works on color, and to make costumes that allow you to see the characters. If you want them to pull forward and be the center, you have to design above and beyond what the other characters are. Then the scenic designer has to decide how to make that happen with what they’re doing.
SD:  Unlike the dancers, you don’t have a limitation on your career. What’s in the future for Dan Fedie?
DF:  I don’t know. This job is physically demanding and takes lots of long hours. It can be hard to get up in the morning sometimes. But I love where I am. The Louisville Ballet is a creative force in this community, and I am proud to be part of an organization in which everyone from the corps de ballet to the artistic director insists on maintaining the highest level of production every time the curtain goes up.

Louisville Ballet presents Cinderella at The Kentucky Center March 9 & 10. The 60th Anniversary Celebration will take place at The Brown Theatre April 13 & 14. For ticket information, call The Kentucky Center Box Office at 502.584.7777, or go to

Monday, February 27, 2012

Walden Theatre Students Give Life to Arthur Miller's "The American Clock"

The American Clock

Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Lucas Adams

Reviewed by Keith Waits

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

Playwright Arthur Miller.

The American Clock arrived very late in Arthur Miller’s career, premiering in New York in 1980, more than 60 years after his masterwork, Death of a Salesman, helped form the post-World War II American theatre. Unfortunately, it lacks the bold and focused vision of vintage Miller, even while it traffics in worthwhile themes that would seem to be ideal subject matter for this great writer.

Miller draws on Studs Terkel’s book Hard Times in telling the story of the Baums, a wealthy family who suffers greatly during the Great Depression of the 1930s. For anyone familiar with the history, there is little that is truly new, even if some of it is forcefully presented. Individual character moments are powerful, but they alternate with clichéd images of suicide and surrender that have been better realized elsewhere, in the hands of other writers. In short, it is docudrama with not enough drama.

So if this is not Miller at his best, we may forgive some of the stiff playing, for it results, in part, from a cast struggling to push past the limitations of a script that is often too didactic for its own good. The actors get stuck delivering speeches more often than they interact, and only in the second act do they find good stuff to play. Once that happens, the story begins to more fully engage.

Some of the young cast manage to deliver the goods. Chief among them is Brooke Morrison, who, in her multiple roles, brings the surest understanding of character and circumstance to the stage and seems entirely natural in her every moment onstage. Sydney Welch displayed a knack for physical comedy in several diverting instances, while Peyton Froula and Catherine Young both made promising debuts in their first Walden Theatre main-stage production. Allison Spanyer is charming as the Baum matriarch, although she misses the depth and pathos of the script’s most developed character. Carter Caldwell and Ian Jackson, both more seasoned veterans, are confident and authoritative while stranded too often declaiming narrative exposition instead of playing characters. Still, they lead the company in a valiant effort to make emotional sense of the dense, verbose history lesson.

It is worthwhile recognizing that we can count on Walden Theatre to explore theatrical history with such choices, as The American Clock may only rarely find a host stage in Louisville. To be given the opportunity to examine the lesser known works of such important playwrights is illuminating, even if the results only help confirm why they are lesser known. 

There is much good effort exhibited in this production. In his director's notes, director Lucas Adams makes explicit notes on the parallels with the current state of affairs in the U.S. to the Great Depression and stock market crash of 1929 that triggered it. The parallels are less directly made in the artistic choices of costuming the cast in modern dress that only makes allusion to the period, so that when Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Jackson are explaining themselves, the resemblance their sleek look and stylish haircuts give to contemporary financiers is no coincidence. It is a noteworthy attempt to connect the material to the times and lend it some relevance, even if the limitations of Miller’s text hamstring its full effect.  
The American Clock

February 23-25 & March 1-3 @ 7:30
February 25 & March 3 @ 2:00pm

Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY
(502) 589-0084

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Collaboration of Bourbon Baroque & Squallis Puppeteers Produce a "Captivating" Performance of "Les Sauvages"

Bourbon Baroque and Squallis Puppeteers present
Les Sauvages
Review by Anna Blanton
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Anna Blanton. All rights reserved
On Friday night I attended Les Sauvages presented by Bourbon Baroque in collaboration with Squallis Puppeteers. Les Sauvages was written by Louis Fuzelier and Jean-Philippe Rameau as an extra divertissement – a short performance, typically a ballet, that is presented as an interlude in an opera or play – for the March 10, 1736, performance of the opera-ballet Les Indes Galantes (1735). 
The concept of turning Les Sauvages into a puppet opera was the brainchild of John Austin Clark and Nicolas Fortin, artistic directors of Bourbon Baroque. The simple, rustic plot and small amount of singers required made Rameau and Fuzelier’s work ideal for a puppet opera.  Squallis Puppeteers would be the perfect candidate for Bourbon Baroque to team up with due to their knack for bringing larger-than-life characters to life in the form of puppets.  During the early stages of this project, Squallis and Bourbon Baroque decided to add an extra twist by making the characters animals.   
Damon (puppeteer Zach Brammel) from Les Sauvages.
Photo by Anna Blanton.
There are four main puppet characters in Les Sauvages: a white buffalo named Zima, a coyote named Adario, a Spanish stallion named Don Alvar and a French peacock named Damon. The synopsis for the play is your typical love story. Adario, the coyote (Nora Christensen), is in love with Zima, the white buffalo (Shawn Hennessey). Don Alvar, the Spanish stallion (Stella Christensen), and Damon, the French peacock (Zach Brammel), are also in love with Zima. For reasons of her own, Zima rejects Damon and Don Alvar, and Adario and Zima run off together and live happily ever after.
In Elizabeth Kramer’s February 19 Courier-Journal article, Squallis puppeteer Shawn Hennessey said, “This is the most complex thing I’ve ever made, and it’s probably one of the most complex puppets for Squallis.”  I could definitely believe that statement after seeing the puppets on stage.  Each of the main characters was at least ten feet tall and was operated by one person inside the puppet. The designs were absolutely beautiful. I was very surprised and impressed to find out that the four main puppets were produced from mostly donated and recycled materials. From examining the puppets up close after the performance, the makers appeared to have used a variety of different techniques, including sewing, paper-mache and some impressive engineering skills.  Each of the puppets had moving mouths and appendages. The two features that stood out the most were the peacock puppet’s tail plumage, which was stunning and vibrantly colored, and the ability of the buffalo to kick up her hind legs. The ingenuity displayed by the Squallis Puppeteers was exemplary.       
The fine puppetry craftsmanship was complimented by Bourbon Baroque’s exquisite accompaniment. The entire ensemble was tight and had great energy. The ensemble displayed great precision playing and clarity that I have not heard in Louisville with any musical ensemble in a long time. The quick passages were in perfect unison down to the trills. I also enjoyed the authentic baroque sound with the use of baroque instrumentation, styling and tuning. The strings used little or no vibrato, giving the tone a very pure, clean sound. The dynamic changes and swells were achieved with great finesse in regards to the string player’s bowing technique. 
For those who may have not noticed, the orchestra was tuned to an A415 pitch, or an A-flat.  Historically there were many different pitches to which a group of musicians tuned, based on local tradition or, in the baroque era, to the pitch the local organ was set, as it was impractical to tune otherwise. This pitch varied from about A=392 Hz in Italy to as high as A=465 Hz in France, according to Nicolas Fortin. The A415 has become the pitch standard for baroque music. The A415 also gives the ensemble as a whole a darker, warmer sound. The A440 standard we are used to today did not become universal until the 20th century.
The lead vocalists and chorus were also highly skilled and sounded great. Teresa Wakim, soprano, stood out with her suppleness in all registers and pure tone. I particularly enjoyed the duet between Adario and Zima performed by Ms. Wakim and Mr. Hudson. The voices mixed together very well and the vocal lines soared over the orchestration with ease.
The production staff also gets some special praise for the excellent lighting and staging. The colored lighting by Theresa Bagan really set an exotic mood for the production; and the staging and scenery by Nick Covault and Gerald Kean was subtle, not over-done, leaving the production classy, not tacky. 
I was not the only person to be enthralled by the performance. The whole audience seemed to be captivated. Throughout the performance, the audience was laughing and clapping.  Some children could even be seen singing syllables along with the cast. Every man, woman and child in the audience had a great experience. On opening night there was standing room only, but at the end of the performance everyone was on their feet applauding. The entire cast, puppeteers, chorus, production members and music ensemble left the audience wanting more.
Curtain call from Les Sauvages. Photo by Anna Blanton.
Les Sauvages

February 24 & 25, 2012

Bourbon Baroque & Squallis Puppeteers
Performing at
The Louisville Visual Art Association at The Louisville Water Tower
3005 River Road
Louisville, KY 40207

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Great, Timeless" Lieber & Stoler Music Makes "Smokey Joe's" Worth a Trip Across the River

Smokey Joe’s Café
Words and Music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Directed by Lee Buckholz
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kate Barry. All rights reserved. 
Brooke Aston, Matthew Chappell, and 
Julie Evins in Smokey Joe's Café.
Photo courtesy of Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Last night I realized that I need to re-evaluate my definition of musical theater. Obviously, this genre must have singing and entertainment value; and dancing is always a plus. But what about a plot? Is a storyline that important to a musical? What if there was a common theme between songs but dialogue, conflict-resolution and even characters were taken out of the picture? I’m not talking about some cutting-edge post-modern off-off-Broadway production, of course. I’m talking about Smokey Joe’s Café at Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Using the great, timeless rock and roll music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Lee Buckholz has staged a musical that kept his audience’s toes tapping from start to finish. Producing Artistic Director Bekki Jo Schneider said in her curtain speech that this is a production about “the neighborhoods of the past.” This is clearly illustrated through this series of musical vignettes illustrating a simpler time – before social media and cell phones. The music and the staging produce a world that is all about finding love, living in the “neighborhood” and big dreams about success.
The first act highlights the neighborhood motif while the second act melts into a café setting. With each song, the performers portray the characters within the songs in a concert-meets-musical-theatre style. Highlighted performances that come to mind are Julie Evins’ adorable rendition of “Falling,” as well as her sultry performance of “Trouble” with Brooke Aston. Willie Illeana Kirven belted with dynamic force at the end of Act One with “Saved.” Stellar performances were given by the men (Matthew Chappell, Lamont O’Neal, Alonzo Richmond, Christian Bradford and Lem Jackson) in “Dance with Me,” “Keep on Rolling” and especially “On Broadway.” Their dancing, harmonies and chemistry was on the level of the music groups of the 50s and 60s that Leiber and Stoller wrote for.
The second act delivered some great numbers as well with "Teach Me How to Shimmy," "You’re the Boss" and "Loving You." The stand-out performance after intermission belonged to Sarah Oster’s "Pearl’s a Singer," distinguished by her confidence and diva presence. Towards the end of the show, I began to question some directorial choices. I wondered why “Charlie Brown” didn’t incorporate the dance of the same name as it was originality written. In songs like "Yakkity Yak," the underwhelming choreography took away from an otherwise great sounding number. I felt a bit snubbed during “I (Who Have Nothing),” an amazing song sung by Matthew Chappell. Derby Dinner’s stage is in the round, a venue that sometimes works in its favor and other times…not so much. For the first part of this song, Chappell’s back was to my side of the audience. When singing a song with such emotional force and power, there is something lost when all your audience can see is the back of the singer’s head.
One more thing: a live band is incorporated into this production. I was glad to see that there is proof of talented musicians across the river in an age when so many local theatres use canned music for musicals. Derby Dinner Playhouse has a really entertaining show happening across the river filled with great dancing, incredible talent and good old fashion rock and roll played loud by a live band.

Smokey Joe’s Café
February 21-April 1

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129

Creative Adaptation of Kentucky Author a "Triumph" for Looking for Lilith

Beyond the Blue Mountains

Adapted from the book by Jane Wilson Joyce
Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis

A Review by Carlos Manuel

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

A scene from Beyond the Blue Mountains
Photo courtesy of Looking for Lilith.

Beyond the Blue Mountains—adapted by Looking for Lilith Theatre Company from the poetry of Jane Wilson Joyce, and under Kathi E.B. Ellis’s direction – is a powerful, moving and creative theatrical piece that presents the “the spirit and endurance of the women who went west with their families – whether they wished to or not.”

This play is an experience no one should miss, mainly because the creativity of the troupe in taking poetry and turning it into “theatre” is a phenomenal achievement. And then there is the incredible acting approach, using movement and experimentation through well-known theatre techniques such as viewpoints, devising, composition and Theatre of the Oppressed, to name a few.

It is clear, at least to me, that the Looking for Lilith members know what they’re doing and take their work seriously. It is also clear that they have spent time shaping, reshaping and refining their craft to the point that it seems easy and flawless. Yet the trained eye can easily see that endless hours of rehearsal and thought process have gone into creating this moving humanistic theatre piece.

As an ensemble work, it would be unfair to single out any member of the company. Yet because the script, although non-conventional, still follows a linear plot, the audience can easily keep up with the story and note the magnificent acting from each actor. Such is the case with Dawn Schulz, who plays Nancy Clay, an energetic and filled-with-wonder 13-year-old girl; or Shannon Woolley Allison’s portrayal of the ever-suffering father, Gabe Clay; or even the clean and matured work of the youngest member of the ensemble, Noah Bunch, who was exceptionally on cue for every movement, every line and every choral recitation. Each and every member of this cast deserves praise and respect because, except for the young male actor, everyone is a female actor portraying husbands, wives, men, women and children in the Boyle County, Kentucky, wagon train – showing an understanding of the body to represent the human being, young and old, and the human condition, good or bad.

The triumph of this production also comes from a director who understands theatricality and has a clear grasp on Jane Wilson Joyce’s poetry, and for the first time in the four years I have seen shows at The Rudyard Kipling, I am excited to say that the set design by Christé Lunsford has meaning, serving a definite purpose other than being a set of platforms to define the acting space. The lights, which have always been used just to define the beginning and the end of a play, are now employed in a manner that helps the piece have dimension, color (without actual color gels) and a certain feeling of isolation and despair. And because the program doesn’t mention a lighting designer, I can only guess the director had a lot to do with the look and mood of such artistry. The costume design by Lindsay Chamberlin, the fight choreography by Lee Look, and the sound and original music by Laura Ellis also deserved to be mentioned because they all achieved their goals.

Yet, like everything in life, not everything is perfect. There were moments when the stories carried themselves almost to the melodramatic side, either because the actresses wanted to bring the pain and agony of those who suffered, or because the director decided to add background music to certain recitations. I do understand music as a leitmotif, but because the words were so sincere and real, the music almost turned such moments from the sentimental to the melodramatic. And as good as the movement was, the directing did not allow such synchronicity to flow from one part to the next, but rather, stopped it to indicate the beginning or the end of a situation. Yet, with these minor flaws, Beyond the Blue Mountains is a theatrical experience I highly recommend to any theatre artist or theatre enthusiast, and to any person who wants to see something artistic, poetic and moving. 

Beyond the Blue Mountains

Feb 23, 24, 25, March 1, 2, 3 at 7:30pm
March 3 at 2:00pm.

For show only reservations,
call 502-638-2559.
For dinner and show reservations,
call 502-636-1311

Looking for Lilith
At The Rudyard Kipling
422 West Oak Street
Louisville, KY 40203

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sweeping and Romantic "Widow" Proves Opera Is Not Just for Buffs!

The Merry Widow

By Franz Lehár 

Libretto by Victor Léon and Leo Stein based on Henri Meilhac’s L’attaché d’ambassade

Directed by Michael Cavanaugh

A review by Keith Waits

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

Emily Pulley and Christopher Feigum
 in The Merry Widow.
Photo by Erica Cody Rucker.

In the explorations afforded me in my role as a reviewer, it has been fascinating to discover in the history of performance arts the antecedents of more contemporary forms contained in works created generations ago. This thought seems to have been very much on the mind of director Michael Cavanaugh, who in The Merry Widow has updated the dialogue in this light opera to make overt reference to current events. These efforts are sometimes anachronistic but just as often underscore just how modern this particular material can be made to seem to a new audience.
The music itself has several instances where the structure and tone of certain songs bear a distinct relationship to Broadway musical theatre forms that would emerge some 40 years later. “Marsch-Septett,” in which the male cast members sing hilariously of the virtues of the fairer sex, would not be out of place in a Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Lowe show, while the romantic complications of the story prefigure plot archetypes that are still being employed today, and not just in musical theatre.
All of which serves to frame this particular reviewer’s take on this production, for I am by no means an expert on opera. In fact, as a form, it has always been elusive to me. I can respect the precision and craft behind the composition, and recognize the measure of talent and commitment required to bring a full production to fruition, but I have yet to be caught up in the passion that true opera afficianados feel when the overture begins.
This production, which engages the audience so easily with the sweep of the waltz rythyms and the broad comedy of the dialogue scenes, seems designed to reach out to new, uninitiated audience members like me and seduce them to the form. In that purpose it largely succeeds, for I know that I will be back next season. For the more discerning ear, it might still be engaging, but perhaps there would be small reservations. Do the references to the collapse of the Greek economy devastating the European system as a whole or the shameless plugs for ubiquitous local arts funder Brown-Forman seem like a needless updating of a classic, late 19th century masterpiece? 
Good questions, but for others to decide. For me, a populist approach to the material makes practical sense in challenging economic times, and as a neophyte opera fan, I found the whole thing far more entertaining than I had anticipated.  The principal cast was long on charm and strong of voice, led by a delightful turn from Emily Pulley as Hanna Glawari, the wealthy widow from Pontevedria whose sizeable fortune is the focus of the plot machinations.  She was well-matched by Christopher Felgium as Danilo, her former lover who seems determined not to fall for Hanna a second time. Each of their duets displayed good chemistry and soaring vocals, most notably late in the third act when they perform the famous selection commonly known as the “Merry Widow Waltz.”
The grizzettes of chez Maxim in The Merry Widow
Erica Cody Rucker.

Stephanos Tsirakoglou was imperious and full of comical bluster as Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian Ambassador in Paris; while Abigail Paschke was a very good Valencienne, his wife with a roving eye for Camille de Rosillon, played nimbly by Victor Ryan Robertson. The chorus filled out the action forcefully, thanks to good choreography from Herald Uwe Kern that kept the energy flowing and built to a bawdy and rambunctious climactic third act number, “Reminiazenz,” in which the girls of chez Maxim’s stylishly execute a classic can-can.
The orchestra, under the baton of Jason Raff, was comprised of an ad hoc group of local musicians pulled together in recent weeks after attempts by Kentucky Opera to negotiate a separate contract with the musician’s union.  Under the circumstances, with less rehearsal time than is customary, their playing was, for the most part, highly accomplished. Yet, even to this untrained ear, there were moments when their performance strained at the effort, with recognizably discordant results among the strings in particular.
The set design by Erhard Rom was sumptuous and grand enough to provide a visual match for the magnificent score by Franz Lehár, with a standout set piece being the colorful glass pavilion featured in the second act.  Combined with equally grand costumes, the visual look of the production sealed the deal on this highly engaging romantic comedy set to 3/4 time.
Editor’s Note: This last production of Kentucky Opera’s 2011-12 season was protested by musicians from the Louisville Orchestra, who were present in front of The Brown Theatre carrying signs and handing out leaflets to passers-by. The ongoing dispute between the union musicians and Louisville Orchestra management still has no end in sight, with the musicians recently rejecting an offer to resolve the impasse through binding arbitration, citing inaccuracies in the statement from management.

The Merry Widow

February 17, 2012 @ 8:00pm
February 19, 2012 @ 2:00pm

Kentucky Opera
at The Brown Theater
233 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40205

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Classic Neil Simon Play at Hayswood Offers Good Chemistry and Timing

Jeff Ketterman & Carrie Cooke in Barefoot in the Park.

Barefoot in the Park

By Neil Simon
Directed by John Hardaway

Reviewed by Kate Barry.

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kate Barry. All rights reserved. 

Paul and Corrie are a couple of kids starting their life together in the middle of New York City in the early 1960s. Fresh from their honeymoon and two weeks after saying “I do,” these kids are experiencing what it’s like to be married and what it’s like to pave your own path with someone by your side through all of the bumps that might be encountered. In Barefoot in the Park, Neil Simon crafted this classic American romantic comedy in the peak of his career, having woven his wonderful humor into a contemporary statement on what it means to be in love in the modern era. In Hayswood Theatre’s new production, I noticed many strong and interesting choices made by director John Hardaway, as well as some setbacks that were sometimes out of this company’s control.
What makes romantic comedies such a treat to watch is the chemistry between the lovebirds on stage. If you can make your audience believe that you’re head over heels for your lead, you have won the battle of suspending disbelief. Carrie Cooke and Jeff Ketterman prove victorious over and over throughout the production as Corrie and Paul. Resembling Lucille Ball and Ricky Ricardo at times, this pair of actors fully embraced each joke and gag, which made for an entertaining execution. Whether it’s the constant endless new discoveries of domestic life that lie in the way of Corrie’s newlywed passion or Paul’s “stuffed shirt” worrying, Cooke and Ketterman’s chemistry created a bright energy bolstered by an already delightful script.
While this production was funny and entertaining with all of the physical humor of people walking on window ledges and arriving to the newlywed’s apartment completely out of breath after too many flights of stairs, certain drawbacks kept this performance from being flawless. Haywood Theatre is a tiny space, which means actors will be able to hear audience members and vice versa. On the evening that I attended, a fellow audience member experienced an awfully loud coughing spell throughout the duration of the play. This spell was annoying and distracting to both actors and audience members. Even though the theater is small, it would have been appropriate, not to mention considerate, for the coughing person to excuse himself/herself.  
In addition to this distraction, there were other weaknesses among director John Hardaway’s choices. Two moments come to mind in the second and third act. To signify a change in time in between scenes, a simple black out occurred in the middle of act two. Even though it allowed for actors to change costumes and to prepare for their next cue, the usage of a black out felt awkward and could have been better planned and executed. The other was a verbal fight between Corrie and Paul. This comedic scene falls short when both characters exit and we are left to watch a blank stage for several moments. I realize that space and resources are limited in such a venue, but the choice of taking both actors off stage put the scene at a disadvantage.
Hayswood Theater did a great job with handling the comedy of Neil Simon’s classic script. The jokes were well timed and the set was adorable with vintage looking furniture and decorations. The theater utilized its resources to the best of their ability, producing an end product that was a lot of fun to watch.
Barefoot in the Park
February 17, 18, 24, 25, & March 2, 3 @ 8pm
February 19, 26 & March 4 @ 2pm

Hayswood Theater
115 S. Capitol Ave
Corydon, IN 47112

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bunbury’s “Gin Game” Is a Heartfelt Production of a Funny and Touching Play

The Gin Game

Written by D.L. Coburn
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Reviewed by Keith Waits

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

For those of a certain age (at least as old as me) or erstwhile historians of local theatre history, we know Louisville has an important claim on this play. As Juergen Tossman’s program notes remind us, The Gin Game was given an early production at Actors Theatre – one of the first entries in the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 1977. (Was it even called that back then?) It was a hit in New York and has been a popular choice in theatres around the country ever since.

Matt Orme & Liz Vissing in The Gin Game.
Photo courtesy of Bunbury Theatre.
Certainly it is an economical play to produce: an aging couple playing gin for 90 minutes will not strain anyone’s budget, but more importantly, it is also economical in its storytelling. A lean and focused script heavy on dialogue that delineates the developing friendship between two contrasting characters: the irascible and quick-tempered Weller Martin, played by Bunbury mainstay Matt Orme; and the sweet-natured Fonsia Dorsey, played by Liz Vissing. Four sharply written scenes full of humor, rage, and tenderness chart a modestly scaled but nonetheless affecting relationship that assiduously avoids clichés enough to remain fresh and meaningful to audiences more than 35 years after it was written.

The script is fertile ground for two good actors to work in, and this production features fine work from a couple of veteran players. Liz Vissing never gets too prim and proper, and balances the character’s lack of guile with a nice starchy quality. Matt Orme builds his frustration with such care and intelligent observation that Weller’s explosive anger seems entirely natural. Together they discover the humor organically, from within the story, anchoring their work in the humanity of the characters. The discipline of the performances perfectly matches the restraint of the script.

The production is beautifully designed by Steve Woodring, who gives the spare but nicely detailed setting an understated, rueful flavor, with equally no-nonsense but still evocative costumes by Thomas Leigh.

Bunbury has delivered a swift yet heartfelt reading of a funny and touching play that has never worn out its welcome. The Gin Game hasn’t been around Louisville for some time, and it would be a shame to let this one pass by. You have one more weekend to catch it.

The Gin Game

February 9-26, 2012

Bunbury Theatre
at the Henry Clay
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY
(502) 585-5306