Friday, April 25, 2008

It Must Be Spring

The Sun-Sentinel posted a bunch of listings for Children's Theatre taking place through the month of May.
It's a surprisingly long list of productions, even considering that they range from Jupiter down to Coral Gables. They don't include the National Children's Theater Festival at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, or Family Fun Day at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, which occur this weekend, the last weekend of April. But both events are worth catching. The Actors' Playhouse event features the World Premiere of PAINT! Marc Chagall's Musical Adventure. Family Fun Day revolves around Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus, a production that has traveled from Britain.
But there's one show that is stands out on this list: somehow, the Actors' Playhouse production of THUMBS! ended up on the list. I guess the Sun-Sentinel didn't read their own blurb, which reads:

Follow two cunning women, from two very different walks of life, who use
all of their wit and will to survive a game with a devious killer...

Doesn't that sound like a real treat for the kiddies? I guess they saw the serial killer's name, and made a stunning leap of logic. The killer's name? Tom Thumb. I suspect the name isn't related to his...stature.

The rest of the shows, thankfully, belong on the list. And at least one of these shows is bound to be convenient to you. Go on, see a show.

My Choice for "Most Ambitious Project" in South Florida for 2008

One of the most ambitious theater projects in South Florida opens tonight at the Broward Center: Jekyll & Hyde, presented by People's Fair Productions. What makes it so ambitious? The cast consists of middle school and high school students. That's right, one of the most complex scores in musical theater is being sung by kids.

Beth Feinstein wrote an article about the project in Monday's Sun-Sentinel.

John Keenan, the director, has been working on the show since September. The crew at the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center speaks of him with great respect; he's been presenting his plays there for six years.

Listening to the voices during their technical rehearsals, it's hard to believe that these are kids. Keenan has obviously worked hard with his students; the voices are well-supported, and the phrasing is perfect.

They've worked hard to get to this point; People's Fair is completely self-supported. Not one tax dollar will be seen onstage. Most of their funds come directly from ticket sales.

So come to the Broward Center and check it out: it will be $15 well spent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Scene for April 25, 2008 (updated 4/24)

The Sun-Sentinel says that TWELVE ANGRY MEN is a "must see" at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. There's also a positive review for M Ensemble's FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA.

The Miami Herald also liked FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA, calling it "masterfully played." The Herald also liked TWELVE ANGRY MEN. Christine Dolen gives a run down of the 13th Annual National Children's Theatre Festival, produced by Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. The centerpiece of the festival is the new musical for children, PAINT!, about the painter Marc Chagall. But there will also be a production of the junior version of INTO THE WOODS by they Musical Miracles, as well a piano performance by child prodigy Ethan Bortnick.

From the Miami New Times, we get yet another gonzo review from wannabe theater critic Brandon K. Thorp. You don't really learn anything useful about the show, but you get another wild ride from Brandon:
" might find yourself distracted by a strange, low sound, like the tortured bending of old wood. It seems to emanate from all corners of the New Theatre's small auditorium. In fact that sound originates in your own throat. It is a noise of mingled horror and shame that is the only possible response to this tale..."
It's apparent from this that Brandon didn't like THE MISSION at New Theater. But that might simply mean that his boyfriend wasn't there to tell him that it was actually a good show. Or he was having a bad day. Or he was hung over.

After reading many of his reviews of shows I've seen, the truth seems to be that Brandon really gets off on writing scathing reviews, and that makes it hard to trust his negative reviews. The show MIGHT be as bad as he says, but it's probably not. The Herald and Sun-Sentinel haven't reviewed the show yet, but between them you're more likely to get an accurate account of the show.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Scene for April 18 (updated)

The Miami Herald enjoyed Six Dancing Lessons in Six Weeks, produced by Rising Action Theater, as well as Tuesdays with Morrie at the Caldwell Theater. Christine Dolen was less than enthralled with Groucho, now playing at Broward Stage Door.

The Sun-Sentinel, however, enjoyed Gabe Kaplan's portrayal of Groucho. Bill Hirshman also liked Tuesdays with Morrie.

Palm Beach Shakepeare Festival just dodged a bullet: the leading lady for their upcoming production of W. Somerset Maugham's The Circle had to leave the show due to illness. Like so many of our local theaters, there is no understudy. But the show must go on, and will, thanks to a casting shuffle, according to the Palm Beach Post. Hap liked Groucho, but didn't care for Tuesdays with Morrie.

Not reviewed, just opened, and only playing through Saturday is Self Help: The Comedy. This two hander is playing in the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. You may be scratching your head and wondering which of the two theaters that is. The Abdo New River Room is the banquet hall located between the Au-Rene and Amaturo theaters. Yesterday, IATSE stagehands from Local 500 turned the room into an intimate 200 seat theater. You can learn about the show and reviews from prior productions HERE.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Scene for April 11, 2008

The Herald recommends "From the Missippi Delta" and "Tuesdays with Morrie." The former production, mounted by the M Ensemble, features Carolyn Johnson, Brandii Edwards, and Carey Hart. The latter, produced at the Caldwell Theater, features Peter Haig and recent Carbonell winner Jim Ballard.

The Sun-Sentinel's Stage Bill is heavy on choral and orchestral performances, but RENT is playing at Palm Beach's Kravis Center Meanwhile, Marc Kudisch, a Broward native, brings it home with Neil Berg's 100 Years of Broadway. He appears with five other performers and Neil Berg at the Piano at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse.

I can't find a Stage Capsules in the current edition of The New Times, but Brandon liked the current version of Forbidden Broadway.

The Palm Beach Post also recommends Tuesdays with Morrie, and gives us some background about how Caldwell's Micheal Hall came to produce it in his new space. Camelot plays the Kravis Center, starring Lou Diamond Phillips. But the most interesting show of all might be Gabe Kaplan playing Groucho Marx in the aptly titled GROUCHO. This is an updated version of Groucho: A Life In Revue. And guess what? Kaplan is on the short list of performers that Groucho had personally approved to portray him! It's playing at the Broward Stage Door Theater through May 11.

As always, for more complete theater listings, check out

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Carbonell Awards Cerermony, 2008

I'd like to be able to write of my own experience of the Carbonell Awards; after all, I helped put them together this year. But sadly, I wasn't able to attend due to my work schedule. I did stay to meet and greet my many colleagues and friends who attended, but I left as soon as the event was seated; I had to return before dawn to coordinate the Symphony of the Americas setup the following morning.

The Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald both covered the event; I was even able to eventually find where the Palm Beach Post hid their story on it. But none of them covered it like Brandon K. Thorpe of the New Times covered it:
....most people do not look like Tara Vodihn, and discussing the brute facts of the Carbonells may well be less pleasant than an idle contemplation of Tara’s overwhelming hotness.
While I personally don't find Thorpe to be a particularly reliable theatre reviewer, he is certainly the most entertaining read. At his best, it's not thoughtful theater critique so much as gonzo journalism. Where Bill Hirschman and Christine Dolan report the winners and losers, Brandon comments on Who Got Robbed.

He and Christine Dolan commented briefly on the actual ceremony itself, which is of particular interest to me (I was the Production Coordinator who worked with the new producer of the event, Wizard Entertainment). Typically, it's tough to get the event started anywhere close to the advertised time, and then it always drags over the alloted schedule. But this year, we got the show started five minutes late, and ran only fifteen minutes over the planned two hours and fifteen minutes. I actually was hugged this morning by someone for the improvements they saw in the production. So I was very interested to read their impressions.

Christine Dolan writes in her blog:
...the awards show itself was a bit more low key but classier and more efficient than in some years past.

Brandon's take was, predictably, quite...different:
... the ceremonies ... wobbled from “totally inspired” to “fucking dumb.”
Both of them liked the talent involved, but Brandon wasn't too keen on Christine Andreas serving as the Master of Ceremonies, because "Remind me—Christine Andreas has what to do with South Florida?" Well, at least as much as Florence Henderson, Rupert Holmes, and Jonathon Rhys-Davies, all former emcees for the event.

If you attended the awards, please do leave comments one what you liked - or didn't - about this year's event.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Coconut Grove Playhouse; The Incompetent versus the Clueless

Part I: The Incompetent.

Two years ago, the board of directors of the Coconut Grove Playhouse were forced to close its doors when their failure to oversee its fiscal management resulted in $4 million dollar deficit. They owed money to everyone; suppliers, the unions, their own employees. There was an attempt to cover their payroll and few critical bills with a grant intended for renovations of the condemned building.

They had to return that grant. They had to borrow more money to do it. They closed down, and not only did they put their employees out of work, they owed many of them back pay and reimbursements made on behalf of the Playhouse.

That same board said they had a plan. It took over year before they'd tell anyone what it was. And when they finally told us the plan, it was underwhelming.

Their plan was to raise money by seeking corporate sponsorships and private donors and a partnership with a University theater program. Which ain't much of plan, considering it's what every theater in South Florida works on.

So on April 1, they presented "three plans" to "save" the theater. Well, actually, no. April Fools! What they presented plans to re-develop the site of the theater, which happened to include theater spaces.

This incompetent board continues to demonstrate their absolute ignorance of the difference between a "theater" and "theatre." A theater company is not a room with chairs facing a stage, it's not a building. To succeed, a theater needs an artistic direction, it has to have a purpose, and the means and will to give voice to that purpose. Theater requires leadership, a guiding force with a clear sense of artistic mission.

The Grove's board of direction hasn't provided that. And judging from the "scenarios" presented, they haven't done one damned thing that will result in a viable theater. The Coconut Grove Playhouse was an entity that created the shows that played on its stage. It once stood for something; it brought something unique and valuable to the community. It brought vision and insight.

This board of directors has sold their souls to a developer. There's no other word for it. Aries Development Group may have the best of intentions, but you can't have theatre without an artistic purpose. And nothing put out by the board indicates that it's working towards that goal. Instead of theatre, we're getting more redevelopment. Instead of defining an artistic mission, they point to proposed shops, condominiums, and parking spaces. That's not theatre, that's development.

Part II: The Clueless

Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff recognize that something's not right and put forth a solution, but they also miss the mark - badly; they suggest the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts manage the building.

Recognizing a lack of leadership, they suggest we turn from an organization that took twenty years to run up a 4 million dollar debt to one that ran up nearly twice that in its first year of operation.

I'm sure that Manny and Marc are looking north at the example of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center not only runs its own facility, but handles the nearby Parker Playhouse, the Miniaci Theater, and a facility in Miramar still under construction. But it's foolish to throw more responsibility onto the management of the Arsht Center while that company is still trying to learn how to run its current facilities efficiently and profitably.

One area pundit, the Coconut Grove Grapevine, sees this latest idea as a step in the right direction:
" least people are starting to think in new ways about saving the institution."
But that's not quite true: what is being saved is the idea of a performance space on that location. There has been no move to save the institution at all.

But at least Diaz and Sarnoff recognize that the Playhouse needs new management. They haven't yet realized that while the Playhouse has received hundreds of millions of dollars over the last twenty years to make improvements to the building, that building is structurally unsound, and parts of it are outright condemned as unsafe. Its safety systems are failing - the theater was required to have a Fire Marshall on the site during plays its last few years of operation. The roof leaks badly. What did the board do with all that money?

I've said it before, and I will say it again; saving the Coconut Grove Playhouse requires a galvanizing leader with great artistic vision and real business savvy. Their current board of directors hasn't even started the search, and the current board hasn't displayed any leadership of any merit.

In fact, two years since they closed the theater, the less than inspiring chair, Shelly Spivak has the gall to blithely claim:
"...the Playhouse board is early in the process of developing a recovery plan for the theater..."
It's about two years too late for "early plans," Ms. Spivak. And so far, the only plans you've shown us are architectural.

It's time to admit it: the Coconut Grove Playhouse is dead.