Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

 

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I have a confession. I have sinned against Dionysius and Stephen Schwartz. I openly and loudly sang during the performance of Pippin. I loudly and joyfully applauded during musical performances and hooted and hollered between numbers. Once was a mistake, twice was a choice. When Adrienne Barbeau said “Sing along” I listened. I followed her directions to a “T”…after all, I am a trained professional. What makes my sin even more grievous is that I know what it feels like to be on stage, in the moment, only to be stopped by rude or obnoxious audience members. As such, I vowed at the age of 8 to NEVER be that person.

In an effort to be the ideal theatre patron I have developed a bit of a ritual that I stick to when attending a show:

  • First, I conduct research of the show before I go to see it. I try to know, at least, a synopsis of the show before the curtain opens.
  •  Second, I am in my seat promptly when the house opens and I have consumed the amazing, mouthwatering, probably really bad for me, cashews before the house lights dim. I sit quietly and with an open mind waiting for first measure of music to fill my soul.
  •  Finally, I quietly, and inwardly, applaud the musical numbers so as not to break the momentum of action on stage. I laugh at the appropriate moments, and stand for the entire cast during the curtain call.

Last night was very different for me, because, damn it all to hell, I was forced out of my ritual while watching Pippin at DPAC!

After seeing this show, I am torn. I don’t know if I should be praising Stephen Schwartz as a musical genius or if I should be singing the praises of Diane Paulus for the revival and new concept for Pippin.

Director Diane Paulus’ revival of this modern classic has brought Pippin into the present time. She has successfully adapted the show to audiences that are more attracted to spectacle than they are with the plot and the subsequent meaning of the lines. She has created a world that allows characters to interact with audiences who, instead of witnessing the actions, become a part of it. Her new direction adds a combination of raw athleticism, musical talent and a dash of fascinating technology to the original choreography of the late Bob Fosse. Throw in some magic for good measure and you have the stunning staging of Pippin.

Even though the show is written in such a way that modern amenities are available, the storyline of this brilliant musical takes places during the Carolingian Renaissance,

Picture this; the stage is engulfed in an epic battle scene between the Catholic Army of Charlemagne and a group of Non-Believers. Instead of violence of sword and shield this fight is contested through acrobatic feats and other daring moves using hoops large and balls as large as a person. Teams of acrobats were climbing up a red pole that was symbolic of soldiers being cornered. Those same acrobats would perform a maneuver that saw them sliding down the pole at full speed only to stop themselves inches from the ground. The maneuver left the audience loudly gasping and in awe. Once the battle is over, we are left with a distraught Pippin and the illusion of a talking man whose head has been magically separated from the rest of his body.

Kyle Dean Massey plays the title role of Pippin and will not disappoint you in his performance. Every note, laugh, smile, dance move, and breath he takes draws an audience into his internal struggle between good and the perception of evil.

The Leading Player was portrayed by the understudy of the regular owner of the role Sasha Allen, who was out due to injury, Lisa Karlin stepped in and played the role for the DPAC audience. I will admit I was a bit disappointed in learning that I wouldn’t see the originally cast Lead Player. But, holy flying acrobats, Lisa Karlin was AMAZING. If she was that amazing, it makes me wonder if Sasha Allen is as commanding of the stage or was she merely brought in for the namesake. With every line delivery, movement, and song Lisa Karlin takes over the entire stage, demanding the audience to watch every magical move she makes.

Stephen Schwartz has created a masterpiece that literally and figuratively supports the idea that theatre is merely a memory. It is there for the moment, but must move on, leaving us with only the emotions that we felt during the performance. In this day and age we can go onto Google or YouTube and watch the videos of the performances, but that will never replace the joy and raw emotions that are felt “in the moment.”

Schwartz has helped to teach me, with Pippin, that theatre can be an alternative to life. It can serve to blanket us from the unwanted. It allows us to leave our lives of anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment behind as we travel to a place where none of those things matter. If only for a few hours, the world that exists in our imaginations can be allowed to take place before our eyes…on stage.

 

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Wicked

In 2003, the musical Wicked premiered at the Gershiwn Theatre on Broadway. From the start, this show was a success. It quickly became a true phenomenon of fan dedication with crowds filling the theatre on Broadway, and many others all around the world, steadily for the past 12 years. In 2004 the show was honored with three Tony Awards and with 7 other nominations. The Durham Performing Arts Center is the latest in a very long line of venues to play host to this juggernaut of stage success as they welcome the Munchkinland Tour to their stage for 2 weeks of shows.

My tour of Munchinkinland began under the watchful eyes of a dragon that was omnipresent throughout the show. A giant map of The Land of Oz was projected on the screen. I studied it closely and I memorized all the local attractions listed. I even deciphered the map legend.

From the program, I reviewed the bios of each member of the cast so that I knew who I would be traveling with. My excitement grew to the point where it bordered on frustration that the show would not begin when I wanted it to.

Having been a fan of the original Broadway production, I had set some very high expectations for the performance that I was about to see. On the other hand, I knew going in that I wouldn’t be hearing or seeing the originals that I have pictured every time one of those memorable songs comes across my Pandora station. To be honest, of course I would have preferred to see Kristen Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and Joel Gray in the performance. But I put that aside in hopes of seeing the beginnings of a new generation of Broadway caliber performers; I was not disappointed.

Each actor that took the stage brought new, fresh qualities to characters that I already loved. Carrie St. Louis, Laurel Harris, and John Davidson took on the roles of Elphaba, Glinda, and Oz respectively. As high as my expectations were, I didn’t leave wishing I could erase the performance from my memory. Quite the contrary, I played their scenes over and over in my head all the way home. Now, with an even more enhanced love of the characters and story.

It is very difficult for any actor to step into the character shoes of a previous actor. Harris and St. Louis had some very large character shoes to fill. Each woman brought their own interpretation of the character’s personalities to their respective roles. While they were not able to change the music or movements, the two added their own original characterizations and vocal tones that garnered them a much deserved standing ovation for their phenomenal performances. While the performance of John Davidson did not jump out at me in a positive way, he also did not take anything away from the show; his performance was solid.

From the performances themselves, there is no way to find one musical number that stands out on its own. Each song is beautifully written by Stephen Schwartz and performed with such conviction by all cast members. That being true, one number in particular brought me to tears.

For Good is a gut wrenching song that describes a moment that all of us can relate to; thanking a dear friend that has created the biggest impact in our lives. The lyrics “Because I know you, I have been changed for good” describes my small obsession with this musical. The tears that I shed during this song were close to sobbing like a little girl who has found lost her puppy.

Costume Designer, Susan Hilferty is a genius! The spectacular costuming brings to life the odd, magical, mysterious, illusionary characters from the land of Oz. Hiferty uses strange angles of hair, crazy uneven hemlines, over the top colors, and cute preppy clothes to create distinct visual personalities of each character.

Nowhere is the impact of the costuming more apparent than with Elphaba and Glinda. As the play opens you soon feel the anguish of a person who is different, who doesn’t fit in, and who is a social outcast. In the world of Oz the costumes feed the irony of what is “normal” and what is not.

Set Designer Eugene Lee creates a beautiful city that all audience members wish to travel to. Each scene change was a flawless transition that offered audiences a spine tingling representation of what the other side of the rainbow could be. There is never any doubt about where you are, and there is never any doubt about how this musical ties into the Wizard of Oz storyline.

Kenneth Posner served as the Lighting Designer. The scenes featuring Shiz University, Ozdust ballroom, the vacant castles, and the cornfield are beautifully illuminated by a phenomenal light design. The lighting also is a crucial element in creating the most spectacular of all scenes; Elphaba’s first flight during the song Defying Gravity.

James Lynn Abbott brings a new and fresh dance arrangement to the tour. The unique and innovative dance moves are reminiscent of Bob Fosse, with leaning poses and no straight lines. The well-choreographed dancing number Dancing through Life is fun and carefree, clearly demonstrating the laid back and fluid movements of Fieryo.

There are a lot of thought provoking ideas woven through the story and in the way they are presented:

What is normal?

How can you truly interpret someone’s actions?

One must listen and watch to have a true understanding of what is going on around them.

Don’t pass judgment, because things aren’t always as they appear.

The most unlikely combination of personalities can result in a most rewarding relationships.

Stephen Schwartz weaves subtle hints throughout the script and music that creates the bond between Wicked and The Wizard of Oz. Secrets are shared that only a Wicked audience will learn. Several audience members let out a collective “Ah” when the biggest secret was revealed at the end of the show. It is awesome that a new group of “Wicked Geeks” were born last night

All things considered, the night lived up to every expectation I had. Well except for one…I wanted to be cast as Glinda the Good Witch so I could wear that amazing gown

Peace, Love, and Broken Legs

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In addition to EasternCarolinaStyle.com, 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 Trace Adkins’ upcoming performance of The Christmas Show at the Crown Theatre on December 10th.

Click the link below to read more
(You will be routed to UpandComingWeekly.com)

Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly

 

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The stage musical genre has crossed paths with popular music on a few occasions over the last 30 or so years. When that inter-mingling of styles occurs, it is often met with praise and varying degrees of success. Mamma Mia, from Abba, was a resounding success on Broadway and as a touring show. American Idiot, by Green Day, was also a success, albeit a more subdued one; finding most of its acclaim as a tour after a short Broadway run.

The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is the latest entry into the world of stage musical by an artist, or artists, known more for their work on other types of stages. Which artists have taken the leap into the world of Broadway theatre now? Stephen King, John Mellencamp, and T Bone Burnett. These three men; King, Mellencamp and Burnett, have combined their distinctive talents to venture into a world where none of them can claim any past experience or success.

The Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is described by Mellencamp and King as a “haunting tale of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.” The trio, including Burnett, called the show a “southern gothic, supernatural musical.”

The show has just begun a national tour that will cover 20 dates coast to coast. On November 14th the show made its 4th stop in Durham, NC at the wonderful Durham Performing Arts Center. When the curtain opens at DPAC, the cast was met with a nearly packed house that was curious to see what King, Mellencamp, and Burnett had done.

The story, as written by the master of the genre, Stephen King, is full of emotion that rarely, if ever, transitions to anything even close to “happy.” The story is full of anger, hatred, remorse, sadness, and ultimately vengeance.

When I walked into the theatre and got my first look at the stage I knew that this show was different. On stage there was a single old style microphone on a stand, front and center, with a spotlight shining down on it. There did not appear to be any tradition set pieces at all; merely a semi-circle of older style wooden folding chairs. To the left was a section of the stage set up with instruments waiting for musicians to pick them up and put them to work. To the right was a table with a set of common items that were to be used to produce specific sound effects to add to the story. There was a backdrop hanging from floor to ceiling at the back of the stage with the image of a creepy looking old shack of some kind. Overall, a truly minimalist approach to a set design that was very reminiscent of a 1940s radio broadcast studio.

As the show started my initial thoughts of, “this is different” were immediately affirmed. A harsh red light blanketed the stage as Jake La Botz performed the opening number, It’s Me. Drastic swings in the light design took the place of set changes. The ghosts were always bathed in a heavy white light with the living were all drenched in sepia tint that aged them.

Once the music starts, you find yourself on an emotional roller coaster of a story that takes you up and down and pays off at the end with a set of twists that will leave you with a nearly dislocated jaw. Each set of brothers would hit you with lines and lyrics filled with high energy based in anger and hatred. Each of the female characters would bring you emotionally down with songs and lines riddled with such depression and despair. To balance the angst and dreariness, The Shape and The Zydeco Cowboy would interject unexpected laughs in the middle of it all.

The cast itself was also a bit of a roller coaster when it comes to their individual talents and how they were used. Billy Burke and Gina Gershon are both powerhouses on stage when comes to delivering the emotions of their respective characters; Joe and Monique McCandless. But, they are also, clearly, not stage singers. Neither of them delivers a musical performance that is going to make you want to cover your ears to spare them from harm, but they are also not anything you will look back on and think of as something noteworthy.

A similar, albeit reversed, statement can be said for each set of brothers in the story; Drake and Frank McCandless (Joe Tippett and Lucas Kavner) and Andy and Jack McCandless, (Travis Smith and Peter Albrink). These four men all deliver solid performances vocally in song, but their spoken elements often come off as insignificant.

Where the cast gathers steam is in the supporting cast members. Kylie Brown, who plays Anna Wicklow, delivers a vocal performance in A Rose for Poor Anna that will make you sit up in your seat and listen. Jake La Botz as The Shape is dynamic in the way he takes over the stage and in the dark gravely vocals that he pairs perfectly with his songs It’s Me and Lounging Around Heaven. The absolute strongest performer has to be Eric Moore, who plays Dan Coker. His soulful solo, Burn This Cabin Down, at the end of Act 1 completely steals the show.

The trio of unique talents that is King, Mellencamp, and Burnett have created a story, a story-telling style, and music that is different and refreshing. They have started out on a venture that could possibly open them up to new avenues to showcase their individual talents. Is this show going to garner any of them even a sniff at a Tony Award? Not even close. What it will get them is night after night of packed houses of audiences that walk out of various theatres impressed by and shocked at what they have just experienced.

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In addition to EasternCarolinaStyle.com, 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 performance of Sister Act at the Crown Theatre on November 14th.

Click the link below to read more
(You will be routed to UpandComingWeekly.com)

Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly

 

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By Alisha Zygmuntowicz

When the movie Dirty Dancing came out in 1987, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I found myself drawn to Baby Houseman’s idealism and desire to make the world a better place. Fast forward twenty-seven years and I find myself reminiscing of how carefree my life was and how anxious I was to get my grown up life started, much like Baby. As I was preparing to attend Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage at DPAC, I was thrilled with the prospect of getting to see the story unfold in person. Eleanor Bergstein, the screenwriter for the film and book writer for the musical, was able to enhance the original movie experience by adding “more Baby and Johnny scenes, more about the family, more songs I couldn’t afford the last time, and, most exciting of all-more dancing.” She recognized the audience’s desire “to step through screen and be there while the story was happening.” She hit the target.

Dirty Dancing opened in November 2004 at the Theater Royal in Sydney, Australia and toured throughout Australia and New Zealand, boasting eighteen months of sold out performances. A new performance followed in March of 2006 at the Theater Neue Flora in Hamburg, Germany. The production was a huge success achieving the highest advance in European history. In October of 2006 performances opened on London’s West End and become the longest running show in the history of Aldwych Theater, closing in July 2011. It went on to tour UK for an additional two years. The world tour has performed on stages from Toronto, Canada to Cape, South Africa. DPAC is the stop after the official opening at The National Theater in Washington D.C. for the current US tour.

The story follows Frances “Baby” Houseman’s family vacation in the Catskills the summer of 1963. You experience a love story, sexy dancing to everything from rock and roll to R & B, and the clash of two very different worlds. Baby is drawn in by the Kellerman’s staff’s boisterous after hour’s activities and the resort’s dance instructor, Johnny Castle. As she becomes involved in their personal lives, you see her idealism and naivety drive her choices. She falls in love, fights with and grows closer to her family, all while learning to dance to help out the female dance instructor, Penny.

As the first act opened I found myself absorbed by the music. The echo of This Magic Moment sung by Jennlee Shallow is still in my mind, where I am sure it will stay for a while. The music, as iconic as it is for the movie, was chosen by Eleanor Bergstein before writing the story so it fit the stage even better than it did the screen.

Much like Baby, played by Jillian Mueller, I was enthralled by the dancing. To add to the overall nostalgia of seeing the dance routines was Mueller’s striking resemblance to Jennifer Grey’s as Baby in the original film. Johnny and Penny, portrayed by Samuel Pergande and Jenny Winton, made ballroom dancing look as easy as walking for you or me. The ensemble’s dirty dancing in the staff quarters was raunchy but fabulous.

To add to her uncanny resemblance to Grey, Mueller portrayed the role of a girl blossoming into a woman, pushing the limits while seeking her father’s approval in a way that would have made even the toughest of movie fans happy.

Doug Carpenter, portraying Billy Johnny’s cousin, caught my attention as well as the rest of audience’s attention in the second act. His performance of In The Still of The Night was stirring. The audience cheered with the “No one puts Baby in the corner” line. Shallow and Carpenter stole the final act with The Time of My Life confirmed by the standing ovation during the final bows.

An aspect of the show that I truly appreciated was the clever set changes, props and projected backgrounds. Positioning the orchestra above the stage moved them from an unseen support role to at times a more central focus to add to the flow from scene to scene. The props used were just enough to set the scene and not distract from the actors; a bed and chair in Johnny’s room, barn doors, stairs and small stage for the staff quarters. The projected backdrops completed the scene.

Another positive was the lighting. The design kept you focused on the action, created the ambiance of the scenes. At the end of Act 1 the lights moved to the audience, it was like starlight moving across the crowd, a nice touch.

Throughout the show, the crowd was absorbed and engaged erupting into applause at all the big scenes in the story; Carpenter’s In The Still Of The Night, Rice’s Lisa’s Hula, and the unforgettable line “no one puts Baby in the corner.” Carpenter and Shallow also got a huge applause at the end.

In the end, I left DPAC feeling that this was a wonderful show that left me wanting to see it again, soon. It allowed me to leave real life for two hours and get lost in wonderful music and dance.

DD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In addition to EasternCarolinaStyle.com, 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 performance of Nunsense at the Gilbert Theatre.

Click the link below to read more
(You will be routed to UpandComingWeekly.com)

Michael Smith at Up and Coming Weekly