Friday, October 24, 2014

The Scene for October 24, 2014.

It’s been slamming in our corner of the theatre scene, and from the looks of things, it’s just as busy everywhere else.
  
We’re sorry to see the Plaza Theatre close; they never managed to find the grand patrons to underwrite the costs of producing shows, which means they relied almost entirely on ticket sales to operate.  And with such high rental rates at their location, a slump in sales was deadly.  Our sympathies to the producers, and all the technicians and artists who would have worked there this season.
   
Do not miss And the Award Goes to: An Evening of Broadway Songs And The Carbonell Award Winners, playing Saturday night for two shows only at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.  It’s just what you think it is: a night of South Florida’s best performers singing top Broadway show tunes.
    
Here's what's playing on South Florida stages this weekend:  

opening...

 
Outré Theatre Company opens Back of the Throat at the Sol Theater in Boca Raton. Through November 9.
 
Miami Theater Center opens its original adaptation of Hedda Gabler this weekend; its exceptionally long rehearsal process has allowed a lot of buzz to filter out to the community.  Through November 16
 
Swing! opens this weekend at The Wick Theatre, through November 16.
  
Island City Stage opens POZ at Empire Stage this weekend, through November 23.
 

you still haven't missed...

 
The Slow Burn Theater production of Carrie The Musical plays at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater through November 2, 2014.
 
Entr’Acte Theatrix offers The Rocky Horror Show at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts through November 1, 2014.
 
Actors’ Playhouse  presents Murder Ballad at the Miracle Theater through November 2, 2014.
 
New Theater presents the world premiere of Vanessa Garcia’s The Cuban Spring at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.  Through November 2.
 
MicroTheatre Miami presents an offering of short plays through November 9, 2014.
 
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Thornton Wilder’s Our Town through November 9, 2014
 
The Last Romance  plays at Broward Stage Door through November 23.
 
The Slow Burn Theatre Company  production of The Marvelous Wondrettes plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through November 23, 2014.

coming and going...

 
Do not miss And the Award Goes to: An Evening of Broadway Songs And The Carbonell Award Winners, playing Saturday night for two shows only at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.
 

last chance to see...

 
The regional premier of Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through October 26, 2014
 


community and conservatory...


Lake Worth Playhouse presents the musical Mame through October 29.
 

for kids...

 
Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse plays at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center this Saturday only, as part of their Family Fun Day series. 
 
Miami Children’s Theatre presents Mulan through October 30, 2014. 
 
Rapunzel lets down her long at Actors’ Playhouse through November 1.

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New Theatre: The Cuban Spring (reviews)

cuban_spring_posterNew Theatre opened its world premiere production of Vanessa Garcia’s The Cuban Spring at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on October 11, 2014.
Penned by local playwright Vanessa Garcia, this family drama revolves around secrets, identity crisis of a separated generation, and the sacrifices one must go through to live in democracy.
Ricky J Martinez directed a cast that included Tanya Bravo, Nick Duckart, Ethan Henry, Carlos Orizondo and Evelyn Perez.
 
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The overall picture may seem a bit disjointed and fuzzy, but the world premiere of The Cuban Spring at New Theatre incisively depicts the complexities of Cuban-American families in modern Miami as their American-born generation conflicts with parents struggling with ghosts of their birthplace
Garcia doesn’t break new ground for anyone living the dilemma, but her valuable insight is that neither generation’s feelings are as simple as outsiders might believe. Some émigrés have desperately mixed feelings about returning and their children are increasingly intrigued at newly-opened opportunities to see the Old Country.  She documents the inevitable clashes with a three-dimensional vibrance, a sense of assured authority and an ability to elicit empathy for those caught in the vise.
While some characters initially seem archetypes, director Ricky J. Martinez and a cast of skilled actors inject that necessary third dimension from the very first scene — essential for the play’s success because the characters don’t gain depth until Garcia starts revealing secrets that add layers to these denizens.
Martinez has cast the show beautifully. Orizondo, one of our favorite and rarely seen actors, brings a wonderful believability to the hangdog Miguel’s still bleeding heart. Perez has been playing a riff on this voluble matriarch for years, but never better than here. Duckart injects a wild card energy and vitality into the proceedings. Henry, one of the region’s best actors, is just as believable in his angry frustration at his wife’s crippling angst as he is in his abiding love for her.
Last but not least is former New Theatre mainstay Bravo who hasn’t been seen locally very much, so this is a welcome return home. From her first intense monologue about a dream of giving birth, she is a force of nature. She is totally American with a driving Type A personality that Bravo and Martinez are not afraid to make actually a touch off-putting. She can be dismissive of tradition while still honoring it.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Receiving its world première at the New Theatre, "Cuban Spring" has a veteran cast handling the anguish of those American born Cubans unable to visit Cuba, not because of political restrictions, but because of the ingrained resentments and longings of their own family members.
Well directed by Ricky J. Martinez, this is a play about secrets, husband and wife, parents and child. Playwright Garcia has filled her two acts with incident after incident; there are monologues, yes, but this is not a talky affair. It's a different and interesting look at the dreams and secrets of expatriats in Miami.
Tanya Bravo excels as Siomara, the edgy, newly pregnant wife of John, a black man who dragged himself from the gutter to success in the white world and who knows no Spanish and understands little of Cuban culture. Ethan Henry, with his wide range, gives a fascinatingly frustrated portrayal of John. Miguel (Carlos Orizondo) and Olga (Evelyn Perez) are Siomara's parents, Orizondo quietly grounded and well loved and Perez bursting with enthusiasm and care for her family. Nick Duckart (Dionysus) is Miguel's brother, loudly bilingual, ready for any adventure, unfortunately with less stage time than the others and that's a shame, for Duckart always entertains.
Kathryn Ryan reviewed for Edge Miami:
"What does it mean to be a Cuban American? This is only one of the questions that playwright Vanessa Garcia posits in her play, The Cuban Spring. On another level the play is about familial ties to country as well as loved ones
Perez, Henry and Duckart give the play its gentle humor. Perez's Olga observes that her daughter is on the "ninth cloud" instead of cloud nine. Duckart's rhythmic accent on top of a fast delivery also adds to the play's comedy. Henry's reaction to his new found Cuban family contrasts with his upbringing as an African-American from Mississippi also makes for some delightful moments. He reminds them, for instance, that black is black no matter where the person is from Cuba, Hawaii or the deep South.
Director Ricky Martinez understands that a change in pace is necessary to keep the story moving. He directs his actors to deliver lines at times tersely and at other moments poetically. Bravo's face positively glows in her more poetic moments alone onstage. Martinez's actors deliver these divergent aspects with a delicacy and a deftness that is noteworthy.
 
New Theatre’s world premiere production of Vanessa Garcia’s The Cuban Spring plays at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center through November 2, 2014.





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Slow Burn Theatre: Carrie The Musical (reviews)

CARRIESlow Burn Theater opened its much-anticipated production of Carrie The Musical at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater on October 16, 2014.
Carrie White is a misfit. At school, she’s an outcast who’s bullied by the popular crowd, and virtually invisible to everyone else.
At home, she’s at the mercy of her loving but cruelly over-protective mother. But Carrie’s just discovered she’s got a special power, and if pushed too far, she’s not afraid to use it. Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, the musical of  Carrie  hasn’t been seen since its legendary 1988 Broadway production. Set today, in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine,  Carrie  features a book by Lawrence D. Cohen (screenwriter of the classic film), music by Academy Award winner Michael Gore (Fame,  Terms of Endearment), and lyrics by Academy Award winner Dean Pitchford (Fame,  Footloose).
Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Anne Chamberlain, Shelly Keelor, Christina Flores, Jessica Brooke Sandford, Ann Marie Olson, Alexander Zenoz, Kristian Bikic, Matthew Korinko, Kayla Fast, Jennifer Chia, Colleen Campbell, Bruno Vida, Ricardo Silva, Michael Friedman and Josh Lerner.
 
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The primary pleasure of Slow Burn Theatre Company’s run at the legendarily miserable (but subsequently overhauled) musical Carrie is enjoying how glowing talent, unbridled earnestness and total commitment provides a worthy reason to watch what remains a flawed piece of raw material.
Despite the unsubtle overheated sturm and drang, this edition renovated for a 2012 New York revival has virtues that Fitzwater has underscored. They start with Gore’s music, and Pitchford’s compassionately exposing motivations for people indulging in despicable behaviors.
As usual, director-choreographer Fitzwater skillfully stages the show and elicits credible performances.
…the show is almost worth seeing twice just to savor the performances. The winsome and winning Chamberlain has built an enviable reputation as a solid actress who can issue a gorgeous pure “head voice” or a Broadway belt… Now she has a lead part right in her wheelhouse and she does it justice. Her Carrie starts as a church mouse without succumbing to stereotypes and then – this is the challenge – convincingly grows into someone discovering confidence and self-worth... There’s an especially telling moment when her plaintive little girl voice suddenly gives way to an agonized rock n’ roll wail at the moment she feels betrayed. If this Carrie is not magnetic enough to carry the audience through the first half of the show, that’s how the part is constructed and no fault of the actress.
Keelor, who has been working locally in revues like Waistwatchers and Respect, finally gets to show what she can do both as an actress and a singer. The role of Margaret almost screams to be played as an over-the-top scenery-chewing Gorgon driven to fanatical lengths by her retreat into religion. But Keelor and Fitzwater refuse to succumb. She somehow finds the internally-consistent justifications for what Margaret says and does, even when she’s planning to sacrifice her own child in the heartfelt, heart-breaking tour-de-force “When There’s No One.” She delivers a credible, rather than cartoonish character. She has a fire-and-brimstone vocal quality to invoke the horrors of Hell for her child, but she also has touches the depths of her character’s angst with a voice as capable of a lullaby as a rant.
Olson, who was superb as the wife in Slow Burn’s Parade, lends her liquid voice to the gorgeous duet with Carrie, reminiscing about romance, in “Unsuspecting Hearts.”
Shout-outs also to Sanford who somehow makes Carrie’s friend a believably conflicted teenager and Flores whose despicable wild child Chris is also driven by internal forces. Both have standout voices as well.
Rick Pena’s costumes, as usual, evoke individual character, but special note is due his outfit for Carrie… and Margaret... Credit, too, to whoever came up with the hair styles (probably Fitzwater who is a hair stylist) including Carrie’s long brown hair tightly bound in a single braid over the shoulder and Margaret’s strange coif of long blonde hair.
Fitzwater has said that companies should not limit themselves to “perfect works,” especially when a show has virtues worth exploring. He did it just last season with the musical Chess, which has a flawed book, but he managed to highlight an exciting score with strong singing actors. It is a noble sentiment that should be rewarded. But audiences need to manage their expectations in such cases and cherry-pick the facets of a show that are worth celebrating, as is the case here.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Sun Sentinel:
Carrie: The Musical is just as unwieldy, weird and wonderful as you’d imagine a show with such a contradictory title would be.  At least, that’s the way it is as staged by Boca Raton’s Slow Burn Theatre, with direction and choreography by Patrick Fitzwater, who has honed in on the work’s central theme of bullying
…there is salvation to be found in this cast’s singing. You can hear the operatic aspirations lying under this straight musical — there’s no real comedy — adapted from Stephen King’s 1974 novel about a misfit teenager with telekinetic powers that became a hit movie in 1976 (it made Sissy Spacek a star). The vocals from the Slow Burn Theatre company are glorious, supported by a tight, five-piece band under the direction of Caryl Fantel and kinetic lighting by Lance Blank that tip the scales ever so slightly in favor of seeing this production.
A mean-spirited mob — numb and dumb — descends upon Carrie (an explosive Anne Chamberlain), teasing her unmercifully because the awkward teen is woefully unprepared by her mother, Margaret (Shelley Keelor, a combination of steel and nuance) for her first period, which takes place in the gym showers.
Led by mean girl Chris (Cristina Flores, feral and cruel), the taunts spiral out of control, even when Carrie sympathizer Sue (Jessica Brooke Sanford, heartbreakingly conflicted) tries to intervene.
John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Slow Burn's version is fast-paced, engaging, and laden with neat special effects, but the show is still an imperfect hybrid of its current incarnation and its former self -- and of musical-theater jubilance and King's terrifying source material. The lyrics, by Dean Pitchford, contain few surprises, and Lawrence D. Cohen's book contains even fewer scares.
There are no such caveats about director Patrick Fitzwater's cast, his most unimpeachable since January's Parade. As Chris Hargensen, Carrie's chief antagonist, Cristina Flores brings complexity to her contemptuous character, offering just enough insecurity to humanize what could be a one-dimensional villain on the page. As Sue Snell, an initially cruel classmate whose moral awakening triggers most of the action in Carrie, Jessica Brooke Sanford is an effortless picture of guilt, regret, and redemption.
Playing Carrie's oppressively religious mother, Margaret, Shelley Keelor is full of outsized grandiosity, but her scenery-chewing is smartly limited to her introductory scene. The more she's onstage, the more her vulnerability punctures her character's fundamentalist hysteria and she becomes a figure every bit as tragic as her daughter -- misguided, lonely, and desperate.
And as the title character, Anne Chamberlain delivers arguably her best performance yet, one that evolves from shoegazing interiority to emotional and physical transcendence; at times, she almost seems to levitate. It's a triumphant, inspiring performance that digs deep and soars high.
Jack Gardner reviewed for Edge Miami:
The cast in this production is superb. All of the actors on stage are first class young talents and can sing and dance with the best of them.
Shelly Keelor, in the lead role of Margaret White, mother of title character Carrie White, does well as the religious fanatic mother even if, at times, the music doesn't seem to quite fit well with her voice. She has the characterization down pat, and she certainly has some strength behind her vocal chords.
Anne Chamberlain's Carrie almost at times became 'cute' rather than scary, but her singing voice sold the numbers. As Chris, Carrie's nemesis, Cristina Flores gave a standout performance and, in the role of the regretful Sue Snell, Jessica Brook Sanford gave us some of the best singing of the evening.
One of the real standouts vocally was Ann Marie Olson in the role of the gym teacher, Miss Gardner. Olson has a rich warm voice that was absolutely wonderful to hear.
Slow Burn's cast tries hard and is filled with talented people who are wasted on this material but, in the end, it was a yawn-inducing two and a half hours.
The Palm Beach Post did publish a review, but it’s behind their paywall and frankly the quality of their reviews do not merit the expense.

The Slow Burn Theater production of Carrie The Musical Plays at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater through November 2, 2014.






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Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Scene for October 17, 2014

We’ve finally gotten a break in the weather.  It was a cool and refreshing 78 degrees when we ventured out in the pre-dawn murk.  Proof that at last, Summer is truly gone.
 
While the weather is cooling down, the theatre scene continues to heat up. Carrie the Musical and The Rocky Horror Show open this weekend, to get us in the mood for Halloween.  Meanwhile, it’s your last chance to catch Mothers and Sons at Gablestage.
  
Here's what's playing on South Florida stages this weekend:  

opening...
  
Slow Burn Theater opens its much-ancticipated production of Carrie The Musical at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater.
 
The Plaza Theatre opens Exceptions to Gravity, through November 2.
 
Entr’Acte Theatrix opens its production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, through November 1, 2014.
  

you still haven't missed...
       
The Last Romance plays at Broward Stage Door through October 23.
 
The regional premier of Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through October 26, 2014
 
Actors’ Playhouse  presents  Murder Ballad at the Miracle Theater through November 2, 2014.
 
New Theater presents the world premiere of Vanessa Garcia’s Cuban Spring at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.  Through November 2.
 
MicroTheatre Miami presents an offering of short plays through November 9, 2014.
   
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Thornton Wilder’s Our Town through November 9, 2014
  
The Slow Burn Theatre Company  production of The Marvelous Wondrettes plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through November 23, 2014.
 

coming and going...
 
The Asolo Repertory Theater touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Friday only.
 
Through the Looking Glass plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre this Saturday only, as part of its emerging artists series.
 
Lynn University presents The Broadway Boys on Saturday and Sunday to kick off Libby Dodson’s Live at the Lynn Theatre Series.
 

last chance to see...

 Jamaica Farewell winds it up at Empire Stage on October 19, 2014.
 
The GableStage production of Terence McNally’s Mothers and Sons  ends its run on October 19, 2014. 
 
Broward Stage Door’s production of What’s New Pussycat ends its extended this Sunday, October 19..
 
The national tour of Annie ends its stop at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2014.

Teo Castellano’s Third Trinity  finishes its run at The Miami Light Project on Sunday, October 19.
 

community and conservatory...
        
Florida Atlantic University present The Cherry Orchard in its Studio One Theatre through October 17.
 
Barry University presents Picasso at the Lapin Agile through Sunday, October 19.
  New World School of the Arts presents Rock’n’Roll, through October 19.
   Nova Southeast University presents Betty’s Summer Vacation, through October 19, 2014.
  
Lake Worth Playhouse opens the musical Mame, through October 29.
   

for kids...
    
 Miami Children’s Theatre presents Mulan through October 30, 2014. 
 
Rapunzel lets down her long at Actors’ Playhouse through November 1.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Palm Beach Dramaworks: Our Town (5 reviews)

PBD_show70Palm Beach Dramaworks opened its production of Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town on October 10, 2014.
The beauty of ordinary life is celebrated in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, as the citizens of Grover's Corners experience birth, love, marriage, and death, and the attendant joy, heartbreak, and transience of being alive.
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that included Nick Arenstein, Allie Beltran, Michael Collins, Elizabeth Dimon, John Felix, Joe Ferrarelli, Patti Gardner, Cliff Goulet, Sawyer Hyatt, Dave Hyland, Hal Johnstone, Kenneth Kay, Emiley Kiser, Dan Leonard, Margery Lowe, Colin McPhillamy, Char Plotsky, Joshua Stoughton, Justin Strikowski and Patrick A. Wilkinson
 
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
For such a seemingly simple play, Our Town requires the audience to generously invest their attention and imagination. Thornton Wilder’s classic set in a small town in New Hampshire only works when its visitors travel more than halfway there.
But for those willing to make that journey, the gossamer delicate play can vibrate the heartstrings and the synapses, as it does in Palm Beach Dramaworks’ deft production.
Hundreds of third-rate productions by high school and amateur theaters have flattened it, hyped it and botched it by playing it too condescendingly cute or too ham-handedly literal or any of a dozen other potential missteps.
But resident director J. Barry Lewis and his troupe of 21 thespians – the most ever on a Dramaworks stage – hit that elusive sweet spot.
Besides the insightful leadership of Lewis, the play features an ensemble of actors, most reunited having played at Dramaworks on and off throughout its history… All create recognizable types in any community, yet invest each with a specificity and uniqueness that keeps them from being cartoonish stereotypes.
Kiser, in particular, is perfection as the mature-for-her-age youngster, then the awkward lovesick girl and then the toughest challenge as the deceased Emily who is stunned at what she learns about life. In a speech usually mangled by high school student actors, Kiser movingly bids farewell to Life as exemplified by acknowledging such shards as sunflowers and clocks ticking.
Holding the center ever-so-gently is Colin McPhillamy, so brilliant in Exit The King last year, creates a chatty genial persona for the Stage Manager. His slow high reedy voice bespeaks a veteran observer who has been a de facto philosopher for years without ever thinking of himself as one.
Lewis is best known for his ability to plumb and communicate the most intricate depths of intellectually complex works. But here he has simply dove deep into the emotional truth of the work. Although he certainly has shown an ability for moving people around the stage without calling attention to his work, the theatricality of this piece allows him to create some striking stage tableaus.
…Dramaworks’ stage mirrors the 1938 original. Scenic and lighting designer Paul Black has created the unadorned backstage of a 1930s theater, complete with bare brick back wall and weather-worn wooden catwalks under an iron girder, much of it evocatively painted by Rebecca Pancoast. The scenery is just plain tables and chairs left over from a rehearsal. The attention to detail is stunning down to broken slats in the vent for an air handler.
There may never be a perfect mounting of Our Town. It is a work of genius but it always gives you the sense that a better production is out there somewhere. It’s almost an unattainable goal for theater artists that they, thank goodness, never stop striving for. But Dramaworks certainly has delivered one of the deepest and most satisfying runs at it than we’ve seen in this region in a long, long time.
 Jan Sjostrom reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
The classic play is being given an unpretentious and thoughtful production guided by J. Barry Lewis at Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach. - See more at: http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/news/local/dramaworks-our-town-classic-beautifully-staged/nhmXz/#sthash.F36YcU9Q.dpuf
The classic play is being given an unpretentious and thoughtful production guided by J. Barry Lewis at Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach.
The 21-member cast features many Dramaworks veterans and some of the finest players in South Florida. They include Elizabeth Dimon, playing the motherly Julia Gibbs; Margery Lowe as the gossipy Mrs. Soames; and Dan Leonard turning his dry wit to the portrayal of Charles Webb.
A welcome newcomer to Dramaworks’ stage is Emiley Kiser, playing Emily Webb with effortless radiance. Emily’s life and death provide the through line to the story. Our tour guide is Colin McPhillamy, portraying the stage manager with folksy matter-of-factness.
The show is not without humor. Leonard’s dry delivery of Charles Webb’s advice to George before his wedding is LOL funny. But the message to live our lives to the fullest while we can keeps surfacing to the end, when we’re wished a good night’s rest — a metaphor for the eternal rest that comes all too soon.

Dale King wrote for Palm Beach Artspaper:

True to its promise to provide “theater to think about,” Palm Beach Dramaworks opened its 2014-2015 season this past weekend with Thornton Wilder’s unadorned but hauntingly personal play, Our Town.
The inhabitants of Grover’s Corners include some of South Florida’s best-known thespians...
In their roles as George and Emily, Ferrarelli (in his professional debut) and Kiser are exceptional and very natural. They both aptly display a grasp of emotions perfectly suited to their parts. 
Dimon warmly depicts Mrs. Gibbs, and Kay’s occasionally stern demeanor is nicely juxtaposed with Dimon’s loving touch. Patti Gardner plays Mrs. Webb with a charming flair. As her husband, Dan Leonard can also be stern, but is clearly a soft touch. The way he comforts his daughter’s fears before her wedding is delightful.
Adding finely observed touches are Michael Collins as Simon Stimson, the choirmaster whose drinking problem is spoken about in whispers; Lowe as Mrs. Soames, a friend and neighbor who adds a comic touch during the wedding by commenting over and over to the audience about how beautiful it is, and Felix as Professor Willard, whose geology-obsessed cameo is a hoot.
Director J. Barry Lewis draws fine work from all the players in this now-classic work of the American stage, and Dramaworks’ production lets Wilder’s austerely presented but powerfully realized slice of life speak for its eloquent self.

Leslie Gray Streeter wrote for the Palm Beach Post, who obligingly hid it behind their obscenely expensive pay wall:
“Our Town” is one of those classic American works whose power comes in its seemingly benign nature. Some seven decades after its debut, Thornton Wilder’s look at the cycle of life in a quiet New England town might seem as sleepy as Grover’s Corners itself. But as Palm Beach Dramaworks’ current adaptation proves, its emotional gut punch sneaks up on you in the quiet.
The play is traditionally performed on a minimal set, without props, so Paul Black’s hauntingly spare design — a stark wooden scaffold with two descending staircases — becomes a character itself... The very spareness of it is wrenching, because Wilder’s words, the competent actors and the imagination of the audience are enough to conjure the details of small town life as reliable as the newspaper and milk bottles delivered to the Webb and Gibbs families each morning.
Kiser, particularly, is heartbreaking as she navigates Emily’s life stages and begs to reverse them, helplessly, against the inescapable things that the other townspeople, and Wilder, and the audience, know must stand.
Dramaworks breathes new life into this reliable work, making even its inevitability fresh and stirring.
Glad we only spent a buck.  $15 bucks a week?  The Post publisher is smoking crack.  We don’t pay that for our NYT digital subscription.

The blog Lacunae Musing caught the show, and it's a far superior critique:
In celebration of Dramaworks’ 15th season, it has staged a beautiful, memorable rendering, with the largest cast in its history, many veterans of other Dramaworks shows.
Although it is the traditional minimalist set, with no props other than the chairs and tables... It is evocative of New England. It speaks of earlier times, a simpler way of life, but life, nonetheless, as we all still live it in all its cycles.  The minimalist set asks us, the audience, to use our own imagination, enter the play, and to fill in the blanks.
So why does this play never tire, in spite of the number of times we’ve seen it? It is a play about everyman – us – and it is a celebration of what it means to be part of a community. It’s about the transience of life, something we become increasingly aware of as we age, putting our brief humdrum existence in context (“The cottage, the go cart, the Sunday-afternoon drives in the Ford, the first rheumatism, the grandchildren, the second rheumatism, the deathbed, the reading of the will. Once in a thousand times it’s interesting.”). It is a call to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary.
How fitting that the Stage Manger role should go to Colin McPhillamy… He is the consummate actor (and fellow blogger). He gives a tour de force performance inhabiting the role of the authoritative, omniscient guide for the audience, easily transitioning to briefly becoming a character in the play and then back again as the “stage manager.”
Emiley Kiser, a Dramaworks newcomer, plays Emily Webb... Emiley Kiser is the kind of actress who just radiates her youth, making the transition from teenager to young adult on stage, the perfect choice for the fabled girl next door in the mythical town of Grover’s Corner.
Ferrarelli plays his role with the breathless expectation of the future, a life with his childhood (albeit secret) sweetheart, one that he takes for granted will last, well, forever.
The other major roles are all played by Dramaworks’ veterans and their experience and love of working together shines in their professionalism.
…special mention should be made about the lighting, designed by the same person who handled the scenic design, Paul Black. With lighting, he captured the characters bathed in moonlight, drew the audience focus to certain characters while keeping others in dappled shadows, and making the characters in the cemetery seem, well, other-worldly. The lighting was not obtrusive, but greatly enhanced the production. Costumes of the period were spot on, thanks to Robin L. McGee’s efforts and when you needed to hear that railroad in the distance, sound designer, Matt Corey was right on cue. Indeed, it’s these little things that help make a brilliant professional production.
Finally, it takes a special director to bring all of these elements together into a seamless, fulfilling creation. J. Barry Lewis had never directed Our Town during his long career and it took a confluence of events… a theatre company reaching maturity, with actors uniquely qualified for the roles, and professional designers and a stage well equipped to bring out all Thornton Wilder intended. A deft director’s hand is critical to avoid the sense of sentimentality and to focus on the weighty universal truths behind the cycle of life of the play’s characters. He is careful to capture the humor Wilder interjects here and there as well as to counterbalance the tragic elements.
  
Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Thornton Wilder’s Our Town through November 9, 2014

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Arsht Center: Peter and the Starcatcher (reviews)

aaPeter and the Starcatcher - UM - CopyPeter and the Starcatcher made its regional debut at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on October 9, 2014, a co-production by the Arsht Center and the University of Miami Department of Theatre Arts.
Winner of five Tony Awards, Rick Elice’s PETER AND THE STARCATCHER is the innovative and imaginative play with music based on the best-selling novel by Miami native Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. In this high-flying adventure, twelve actors play more than 100 unforgettable characters – plus most of the scenery and furniture – in an exhilarating journey to answer the century-old question: How did Peter Pan become The Boy Who Never Grew Up? This epic origin story proves that one’s own imagination is the most captivating place in the world!
Henry Fonte directed a cast that included Nicholas Richbert, Tom Wahl, Abigail Berkowitz, Thomas Jansen, Joshua Jacobson, Timothy Bell, Timothy Boehm-Manion, Robert Fritz, Alejandro Gonzales Del Pino, Liam Merkle, Matt Sawalski, and Michael Mancini.
 
Howard Cohen wrote for The Miami Herald:
So much is going on in this fizzy prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan prequel, Peter and Wendy, audience alertness is a must to soak up all the puns, plot and pratfalls. But if you’re not so inclined and miss a joke, or a plot point, Rick Ellice, who co-wrote the touring juggernaut Jersey Boys and wrote the Starcatcher script, keeps throwing things at the audience. Something will stick.
Twelve talented actors, most of them University of Miami theater students who work with seasoned Equity pros Nicholas Richberg and Tom Wahl, perform not only their main roles but dozens of others, including roles as scenery and props. Rolling waves in this seafaring tale? Give cast members a rope and have them simulate a roiling sea upon which the action unfurls…  It’s theater-on-the-cheap writ large, and it looks fantastic.
Happily, the UM students, in the fourth coproduction between the school’s Department of Theater Arts and the Arsht’s Theater Up Close series, erase the lines between the pros and themselves.
Everyone is on equal footing — Richberg, as the flamboyant Freddie Mercury-like Black Stache/future Captain Hook, and Wahl, as Lord Aster, father of the young heroine Molly, along with Timothy Boehm-Manion, Joshua Jacobson and Timothy Bell as the orphans.
Sophomore Thomas Jansen, in the pantomime mame role as Mrs. Bumbrake… makes the most of his amusingly alliteration-heavy dialog. Jansen deftly spews bon mots like, “Betty’s blowing her bloomin’ breakfast,” as the storm-tossed sea — or thunderously flatulent love interest seaman Alf (Michael Mancini) — gets Bumbrake’s bloomers in a bunch.
Molly, played by Abigail Berkowitz, a UM musical theater major senior, is particularly well-pitched as the 13-year-old girl who blends precocious proto-feminist ideals with her strange new feelings…
Elice’s script, set in 1885, takes jabs at pop culture… Black Stache’s malapropisms —“As elusive as the melody at a Philip Glass opera” — amuse, but director Henry Fonte allows scenes to play on far too long. Black Stache’s mishap in the second act overplays its joke by at least five beats.
Likable when it should be lovable, the silly Starcatcher’s family-friendly take on never-ending childhood would benefit from a good trim and focus.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Probably the funniest thing I've seen on stage the past twenty years is Nicholas Richberg as Captain Black Stache, (get it?) the pirate, with his treasure chest. A little accident befalls him and his seemingly endless stream of OMG's takes funny to a level in the heavens. Richberg has the lead in "Peter and the Starcatcher" now playing at Miami's Arsht Center, and lead he does, brilliantly.
The show is a joint production of the Adrienne Arsht Center and the University of Miami Theatre Arts Department so we have student actors working with two professional Equity members, Richberg and Tom Wahl. Students they may be, but the kids hang step for step with the pros.
Fluidly directed by the UM's Henry Fonte with unique music by Wayne Barker. Set design by Yoshinori Tanokura with sound by Matt Corey, lights by Eric Haugen and costumes by Ellis Tillman. The musical director/conductor/pianist is NDavid (no typo) Williams and the percussionist is Mark Schubert. The prop design (including the sailing ships) is by Puppet Network and Monica Soderman.
A well-deserved standing ovation at the end for Peter and the Starcatcher.
 
The regional premier of Peter and the Starcatcher plays at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through October 26, 2014

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Actors’ Playhouse: Murder Ballad (3 reviews)

1.Murder Ballad.MainstageActors’ Playhouse opened its production of Murder Ballad at the Miracle Theater on October 8, 2014.
Enter the passionate and violent world of a Lower East Side Bar and a Love Triangle gone wrong. MURDER BALLAD centers on Sara an Upper West-Sider who seems to have it all, but whose downtown past lingers enticingly and dangerously in front of her. Featuring a contemporary pop-rock score and a setting where the audience is placed in the bar and up close and personal with the actors, this sexy, explosive new musical explores the complications of love, the compromises we make, and the betrayals that can ultimately undo us.
David Arisco directed a cast that featured Blythe Gruda, Chris Crawford, Mariand Torres, and Mark Sanders.
  
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Every couple of years, Actors’ Playhouse – home of the mainstream musical – says what the hell and mounts an edgy modern work that nourishes the creative soul of artistic director David Arisco and the theater’s more adventurous patrons… Add to that list this production of the off-Broadway cult rock opera Murder Ballad that mixes love, lust, loss, passion, fury, pain and violence in a fatal triangle as old as Mankind but as current as last week’s tabloid.
Mercilessly insightful lyrics about a doomed search for self-validating love and excoriating driving music are delivered with courageous abandon by a quartet of highly skilled musical theater actors, whipped on by Arisco who has posted what may be a personal best in staging.
The superb actors wring out every drop of toxic emotion with their bravura voices, their agonized facial expressions, their sensual body language without ever overacting or hitting a false note. Gruda may be remembered as the sister in Floyd Collins or Songs For A New World). Crawford spent last season in Zoetic’s Assassins and Dramaworks’ The Lion in Winter. Sanders was the father in next to normal and the standout, pouty sullen Torres, is a standout from New York originally from Miami.
Arisco creates memorable tableaus with the scenery he’s given… his command of movement without a choreographer is unparalleled.
Staging a show in the round is always a challenge and Arisco ensures most audience members never feel that they are seeing the actors’ backs too often. Even with performers singing to each other from the far ends of the performing area, he invisibly directs your attention where it should go, helped by Eric Nelson’s nimble lighting.
The rest of the creative team is also working at the top of their game. Mitch Furman’s sound makes every lyric crystalline. Ellis Tillman created costumes that seem as if they just came out of a Soho closet but which illuminate their personality. Gene Seyffer’s set design and Jodi Dellaventura’s set dressing/ props create the environment that must stand in for so many locations. This sung-through work is also a triumph for musical director Eric Alsford plus his whipcracking band Martha Spangler on bass, Roy Fantel on percussion and Sandy Poltarack on guitar.
Lee Zimmerman reviewed for the Miami New Times:
Frankly, this may be one of the most original and entertaining offerings Actors' Playhouse has ever presented, and considering the theater's 27-year history, that's saying really saying something.
The usual accolades can be called upon for inclusion here -- "sexy," "seductive," and in this case, "superlative," but in fact, those adjectives only begin to describe this intimate encounter. The first thing that strikes the audience on entering Actors' Playhouse Balcony Theater is the stunning set by Gene Seyffer. The upstairs theater's usual standard seating has been totally uprooted, with the entire space transformed into an expansive recreation of a Greenwich Village tavern, complete with vintage wall decor, a working bar, guest tables, and a pool table.
…the songs are uniformly compelling and serve a much better purpose than merely moving the story along. Thankfully too, the lean but capable four-piece band under the direction of Eric Alsford is also adept, neither too showy nor too subdued when it comes to giving the score its due.
Gruda, Crawford, Sanders, and Torres are all accomplished singers, as good, in fact, as any to be found in any musical, on Broadway or off. Torres is especially magnificent, with a voice that can wail with anguish or emote as needed to guide the developments along. Artistic director David Arisco, whose diversity and daring when it comes to tackling new works is a marvel in itself -- again rises to the challenge of overseeing what could otherwise have been a calamity of confusion and missed and muddled cues. It's evident once again that Actors' Playhouse is indeed fortunate to have him and, that he, in turn, is also blessed to have the theater's palate of presentations to work with.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Actors' Playhouse described their new show as immersive. And that it is. Any more immersive and skivvies and bras would be hanging from the chandeliers. ...this is "Murder Ballard," the pop rock opera (well, almost) that puts the audience in the lower Manhattan neighborhood bar where the bartender and his girlfriend do the horizontal hoo hahs on the bar top, the billiards table and anywhere else that won't knock the patrons off their stools.
And is it any good? I'll say. Four wonderfully physical actor/singers backed by a driving band build the pressure from the first minute to the eightieth. No spoken words here, just ballads and belts telling the oldest tale of them all.   
It's slick direction from David Arisco as he moves his players around, on and under the furniture. Fearsome fights and lusty maulings. Oh, how the other half lives.  And these people can sing. Beautifully. Whatever it takes.
Actors' Playhouse has transformed their upstairs balcony theatre into the neighborhood hangout, the King's Club, complete with bandstand, bar, billiards table, and patron's chairs and tables. A major effort done well. A few rows of regular seating surround the stage, but if you want to see and feel the sweat, hear every brilliant note, just become part of the show, then grab a table and be prepared for a rare and exciting evening.
   
Actors’ Playhouse  presents  Murder Ballad at the Miracle Theater through November 2, 2014.

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