Archive for May, 2014


When I go to the theatre for a show I arrive with a set of expectations that comes from decades of Broadway show patronage. I expect to see a show that has an established story; musical arrangements that progress and add to the story are also a must. I also appreciate a well thought out visual experience made by dynamic sets and lighting. The most important aspect of the experience has to be the performers that take the stage. A good cast can bring even a mediocre show up to new levels, most of the time.

My most recent Broadway show experience was with Mamma Mia at DPAC. The show is the product of playwright Catherine Johnson with music composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the 70s and 80s Pop group Abba. The show is comprised of the international chart topping music of the band. Since the show debuted on London’s West End in 1999 it has gone on to be performed around the world to much fanfare and acclaim even receiving 5 Tony nominations in 2002. In 2008 the musical was adapted into a feature length movie starring Amanda Seyfried.

As I waited for the show to start, I found myself “people-watching”. I surveyed the audience as they came in and attempted to figure out just who they were. I saw, numerous young fans that I called Teenie Boppers, a few fans that felt the night was right for full length feather boas, and I was even graced by the presence of a local drag queen. To call the audience an eclectic mix would be an understatement, maybe that should have been a warning to flee.

I admit, I went to DPAC as a Mamma Mia virgin, I had never seen the stage version or even the movie. I knew the ABBA songs; my mom would sing them while working around the house during my childhood. What I did know, I liked the songs and I loved theatre. There was a great potential for me to have a good night.

As far as the show goes, I had a hard time with it. As I have felt with other shows like this, American Idiot comes to mind; it felt much more like a rock concert than a Broadway show. The story seemed like it was a bit underdeveloped with some details overlooked. The lack of emphasis on actual story led to some awkward moments. She mails letters to her dads to invite them to her wedding the day before the wedding? Wait Huh?

Much like you would expect at a live rock concert, the volume of the music was set at a level that was bordering on “too damn loud”. It was a reprieve for the show that the audience knew all the words to the songs and sang along, because hearing the singing voices of the actors onstage was not possible. At the start of Act II the music hits so fast and so loud. It is unpleasantly alarmed you and pins you in your seat as you try to figure out if someone messed up or if that was supposed to happen.

In contrast to my auditory experience, the visuals were quite nice. The lighting design was simple yet effective. A very simple Greek style beach inn is the only set piece used. The revolving set pieces help travel between interior scenes, courtyard scenes, and straight to the front door of Donna’s Inn. Well-choreographed set changes utilized the ensemble to help the transition from scene to scene. Simple white stucco walls, small rust stains from metal meeting sea breezes, and a beautiful teal backdrop completed the set. A huge moon was projected to appear and fade giving us the appropriate time changes.

The cast had its highs and lows as well. Chelsea Williams carried the role of Sophie well. Her performance of “I Have a Dream” was impressive. Donna, played by Georgia Kate Haege had a decent singing/acting moment halfway through act II. Her performance of “Slipping Through my Fingers” in Act II had me thinking I was actually in a Broadway show, if only for that moment. The roles of the male characters would have to be the lows. Michael Colavolpe, who played Bill Anderson, had this creepy quality to him that really just made him hard to enjoy.

I know I’m not alone in this opinion, but I believe that the reason this show does well in so many different locations is merely because the audience is coming to an ABBA rock concert. There is a very shaky plot that attempts to weave the songs together, but it was clearly evident that this was just for show. It is impossible to have the words of the songs match 100% to the plot that we are provided. To me, that detail just kills the idea that this show is a true Broadway show. I can hear the audience at the water cooler at work saying, “I went to this ABBA concert” and a Broadway play tried to break out.” DPAC was able to bring a concert to North Carolina that many seemed to enjoy, but is it a true Broadway musical just because there are lines that attempt to connect the songs together? I don’t believe so.




The story of Sleeping Beauty is one that we have all heard at some point in our youth. It is the story of a princess cursed by an evil woman to fall into a deep sleep on her 16th birthday. The spell can only be broken by the kiss of a handsome prince.

The timeless story originally made famous by Charles Perrault, and compiled by the Brothers Grimm, has been adapted into many different forms over the centuries; film, stage and small screen. In 1959, Walt Disney adapted the story into an animated feature that was initially perceived to be a disappointment. Over time the original animated feature has become one of the classics that exemplify Disney.

In the original story, there is very little mentioning about history of the various characters. Folktales of the 17th century aren’t exactly known for their character development. The lack of fleshed out backstories has paved the way for Disney to revisit the story once again with an emphasis placed on developing the backstory of the villain, Maleficent .

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is perfect. Her portrayal of the evil faery is the new standard for any others that ever attempt the role. Her portrayal gave physical form to the character much like Heath Ledger gave new life to Joker in the Batman series. She gives the character the edge that is needed while also adding wit and a little humor. In the scenes where Maleficent is seen watching over the growing Aurora, her internal conflict is perfectly translated to the screen. Jolie also manages to develop good chemistry with the many CGI characters she shares time with, something that can be very difficult.

Jolie’s co-stars, Elle Fanning and Sharlto Copley, were acceptable in their roles or Aurora and King Stefan. Fanning looked every bit the part of the enchanted princess and Copley was his usual awkward looking self. The three pixies played by Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple served as comic relief and were only mildly annoying; a Disney staple for comic relief characters.

The visuals of the movie are as impressive as Jolie’s acting. The near 100% CGI based world where the film takes place looks well developed and “real” to the eye. The special effects were also well thought out and never became too much to take in. The visual presentation of Maleficent has been panned by many, but I found it to be perfectly in line with how I imagined/remembered the character.

The adaptation of the story that Disney is attempting is not your typical Disney fairytale. The story is very dark with very strong themes of betrayal and revenge that are front and center throughout. There is much higher level of violence that is atypical of Disney movies. A few of the CGI characters can also be viewed as a bit scarier than some would expect. The normal portrayal of “Hero” and “Villain” is also very blurred with Maleficent seeming to switch back and forth from scene to scene.

All things considered, this movie exceeded my expectations. Jolie lived up to the hype and the new take on the story was interesting. My only word of caution would be for parents that take small children to see it. It could a bit too much for kids under 10 or so. Can we say nightmares? For everyone else, do your best to find a non-3D version of this movie and check it out. You will not be disappointed.


What have the Wachowski’s been up to lately, you ask?  Well, apparently it involves a crapload of mescaline.    According to IMDb, Jupiter Ascending involves “a young destitute human woman…targeted for assassination by the Queen of the Universe.”  Funny they should put it that way, because I happen to be the Queen of the Universe and I certainly wouldn’t  target a homeless person for assassination, I would just TCB all by myself.  

You wouldn’t be able to tell from the poster, but it stars Mila Kunis, apparently aging in reverse ala Benjamin Buttonthough that might be the result of excessive photoshopping.  Hey!  I wonder if her costume will involve tight black pleather like in Max Payne?

We open with a panoramic shot of a brightly lit city.  Then, Sean Bean is talking to some other guy who is looking for Mila Kunis, and then Mila Kunis is in a hosptial ward and some guys are trying to kill her.

Dear trailer: make more sense.

The trailer ignores me, and makes even less sense.  Because Channing Tatum appears, with the scruffiest facial hair and stupidest expression this side of an Amsterdam coffee house (the kind where they don’t serve coffee).  Also, he is wearing a ton of eyeliner and now I just want to punch him in the face.  To be fair, that is my default reaction to Channing Tatum.

Anyway, why does Mila Kunis need him to save her?  Can’t she save herself?  She’s an independent woman!  Oh dear, I begin to fear that they are  the movie’s supercouple.   Let’s all join hands and concentrate on making that not happen.   While we’re at it, let’s concentrate on pretending that Tatum isn’t speaking in that stupid, affected, voice.  Although, it might not actually be him talking.  I heard they had to put peanut butter under his lip to make him move his mouth while someone else read his lines.  Because he is dumb, is what I am getting at.

Ok, Space, Planets, more Sean Bean, more eyeliner, pretty dresses, music I don’t like..  Naked ladies, cyborgs of some kind, spaceship transformers, falling off tall buildings, lots and lots of guns…the Wachowski’s may be overselling here.  It might be to make up for the fact that around the 90 second mark Tatum swallows the face of Kunis.  Seriously, watch it.  It’s like he is one of those boa constrictors that can unhinge his jaw to swallow a small child.  I bet he tastes like oiled up stripper and Aspercreme, too.  I hope she got paid extra!

Well, it looks like spoiled milk, but I’ll check out a science fiction movie for giggles.  Maybe I’ll even decide to like that parts of the movie that do not involve Channing Tatum.


In addition to, Michael Smith is also a regular contributing writer for the Fayetteville, NC weekly newspaper, Up and Coming Weekly.

This week’s edition of Up and Coming Weekly features an article about the Operation: CeaseFire Movie Night program.

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Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly



A Million Ways to Die in the West


Rated R.  I’m going to feel free to consider that a good sign.  One question.  If, as reported by several online sources, filming began back in 2010, how on Earth did this cult classic waiting to happen slip past my hypersensitive radar?  My fake Vulcan ears are glued to ground on movies about geeky stuff like LARPing and role-playing!  I mean, I am a genre whore–I kept track of  Trick R Treat, Fanboys, and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane from rumors of their production to their tragic shelving and, finally, their triumphant release (except Mandy Lane.  Not bad, but hardly a triumph).  In this case, movie purgatory kept a movie down so far that I had never even heard of it until a trailer popped up on IMDb a few months ago.  Yes, it is released now.  And Peter DInklage is there!  And Summer Glau!  And Why can’t I find a copy!  WHY!  Sorry, I went to my sad place.  You know what might cheer me up?  The trailer!

Please note, before I even started watching the trailer, the promo posters had me frothing at the mouth to watch this bad boy…

Movie voiceover guy starts us off right by hitting the movie’s key demographic where it lives…a parking lot Renaissance Faire style set-up.  I used to work at at a Ren Faire, and while we did have twenty pounds of bosom lacked into ten pound corsets, we did not have Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) packed into plate armor.  Nor did we have Peter Dinklage camping it up, and hey!  It’s that guy from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia who plays that sweaty milk drinking guy!

Hm.  So far, three or four main guys–there’s the hot chick!  Oh Summer Glau, I missed you.  Can you do me a favor and contribute a cameo to all the shows I love over the next year?  I can picture you in Mad Men playing, um, yeah, can’t do it.  Maybe you can just run a round in that pseudo-medieval boiled leather miniskirt and kick things?  Cool, thanks.

Anyway, then Danny Pudi (Community) shows up and does his Danny Pudi thing, but slightly toned down, which reminds me that I’m going to miss Community next year because it is canceled.  That’s when things get a little…left of center?  It’s like, watching From Dusk til Dawn and having no idea about the vampire subplot that takes over halfway through.  Because suddenly, the geeky gang calls up a real live succubus.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s where the movie loses it way.  From this point on it’s mostly yelling and running and it’s dark, so I guess this is a comedy horror?  But not the good kind, like Shaun of the Dead.  Because they are taking it to a sort of misogynistic place, at least based on the trailer, and I’m not down with that.

But you know what?  It still looks pretty awesome and I want to see it.





In addition to, Michael Smith is also a regular contributing writer for the Fayetteville, NC weekly newspaper, Up and Coming Weekly.

This week’s edition of Up and Coming Weekly features two articles from Michael.

First there is a feature about the upcoming Out of Sight Dining Event to benefit  The Vision Resource Center on June 6th.

Second, Michael sat down with filmmaker Mike Boettcher to talk about, and review, his new movie, The Hornet’s Nest.

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Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly


X-Men: Days of Future Past




 Ace Young as Joseph and Diana DeGarmo as Narrator. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014. Photography by Daniel A. Swalec

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat National Tour 2014. Photography by Daniel A. Swalec


As the audience waited in great anticipation for the 2 millionth visitor to enter DPAC last night, I quietly sat in my seat. I sat mesmerized by a smoke screen shielding the view of center stage; behind it was the colorful production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  As the 2 millionth visitor award was presented, I watched a lifeless smoke stack begin to take on recognizable shapes; shifting shapes from giant ships to trains to crayons.  The journey through the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers begins with a simple alarm clock, jolting Joseph out of bed.

When I found out that the roles Joseph and The Narrator would be played by the husband and wife team of Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo I was anxious.  I found solace in the thought that, “If their fellow American Idol alumni Clay Aiken, Fantasia, and Carrie Underwood can do Broadway…so can Ace and Diana.”  I was half right, sorta kinda.

Diana DeGarmo brings a high energy character to life on the stage, keeping us informed of the story through her narration and song. However, I do question the use of a handheld microphone for her character. Yes, it gave her a prop, but it reminded me of when she competed on American Idol.  I wish she could have had both hands free to use to interact with the cast. All things considered, Diana DeGarmo is the anchor of the cast; she also carries the duo of leads onstage with a powerful personality, energetic smile, and phenomenal voice.

Ace Young has his strengths and weaknesses; he is an amazing dancer, but only an average actor. That dichotomy made me question the casting of him as Joseph.  He would have been able to “rock out” in one of the brother roles.  It is easy to see him as the lead in Rock of Ages or maybe even Roger from Rent. That being said, I don’t believe Ace’s style of singing was what Sir Webber had in mind for Joseph. His voice was once described by, former American Idol judge, Simon Cowell as “nasal”. I have to agree, he voice sounded very nasal in all of the songs he performed.

Andy Blankenbuehler takes the beautiful music from Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics of Tim Rice and creates a new production for the Broadway Tour.  His directorial concept takes the Book of Genesis story from clothing of the biblical times to clothing of the modern age.  Mix in some amazing Technicolor lighting, simple yet wesome moving set pieces and the journey is set. And thank you Andy for making the opening overture not boring and the curtain call the most amazing one I have ever experienced!

It is impossible to write about the show without mentioning the high energy choreography.  For the final number of Act 1, I felt that I was watching a high impact jazzercise video. I found myself I was waiting for Richard Simmons to prance on the stage to begin Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  Heck, I wasn’t even on stage and I was out of breath and sweating from their routines!

The words on this page will never be able to do justice to the set and lighting design.  Such great detail was put into the backdrop. Much thought was put into the multiple uses of the muslin curtains hanging from the fly system.  The quick transitions from one scene to the next were flawless and created beautiful scenes.

Although the characters of the 11 brothers are inherently bad because of their actions in selling Joseph into slavery, I still I fell in love with each and every one of them.  I wouldn’t mind if those cast members had a spin-off musical entitled 11 Cool Brothers and a Dude with a Coat.  The contrasting styles of song that each brother brings are unique; the audience is left wanting to hear more of their tales.  From back-woods country, to Parisian flair, to the Reggae beats; we witness the unique contrasting personalities that the family members possess.

One of the fascinating things about seeing and performing in live theatre is the ability to escape reality, and Joseph helped create that parallel universe.  Random singing, dancing, flashy costumes, and an Elvis sighting help me forget that I was sitting in Durham, NC and transplanted me to ancient Egypt.  I’ve known the music, known the story, but had never experienced a live performance of Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I’m truly glad that I went and witnessed this Webber classic.




In addition to, Michael Smith is also a regular contributing writer for the Fayetteville, NC weekly newspaper, Up and Coming Weekly.

This week’s edition of Up and Coming Weekly features an article about the upcoming Special Operators Challenge on May 31st.

Click the link below to read more
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Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly