Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hap Pulls a "Mark Twain."

I found out in a comment to my previous post, where I lamented the loss of Hap Erstein and his "Hapster" awards:
Thanks, but reports of the passing of The Hapsters has been exaggerated. They are alive and well...
Turns out that Hap and a few other arts writers have started their own project, the Palm Beach Arts Paper. It seems to have launched in November of this year.

The team is impressive: besides Hap, there's Sharon McDaniel, Greg Stepanich, Scott Simmons, and Katie Deits. They see what should be obvious to the publisher of the Post: that there is a vibrant arts scene in Palm Beach, and arts patrons want to know - need to know - what's going on in it. The major dailies like the Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel do not even seem willing to pretend to cover the local scene anymore, relying instead on "wire" stories out of Los Angeles or New York.

Maybe the publishers of the Post and Sun-Sentinel can afford to hop on a plane to visit those galleries, or see those shows. But the vast majority of us can't. We want to know about shows and showings that we might actually be able to get to.

I've added a link to their site to the side bar, and I've added a feed from Hap's blog for good measure. Congratulations, Hap; you are now more visible than the Sun-Sentinel and the Post, at least on the Theatre Scene!

Oh, and the Hapsters? Yes, Hap has indeed posted the 2008 Hapster Awards, a mere 24 hours before I complained of their absence. Here's the rundown of the Awards - read Hap's story for the meaty details.

1. Now you don't see them, now you do: Hap's take on the Carbonells.

2. "Tonight, the part normally played by ..." actors' illness and injury lead to casting changes

3. Yes, but is he Celsius or Fahrenheit? The show doesn't have to go on for Jeremy Piven

4. Landmarked but still shuttered; Hap's view of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse.

5. Hapster trades in aisle seat for stage role; turnabout at the Mosaic.

6. Where there's smoke, there may not be fire; Political Correctness rarely makes for Good Art.

7. Kravis Center invents its own Broadway: the title says it all.

8. From the We Have Our Doubts Department: It seems Hap and I concur on some topics.

9. In Memoriam: those actors who made their Final Bows in 2008.
If you're interested in the arts scene in Palm Beach, be sure to add the Palm Beach Arts Paper to your "favorites." I know that I've already bookmarked it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Year on the Theatre Scene.

Reviewing the Theatre Scene, I see that Christine Dolen has her year in review up. I won't recapitulate it, just go read it.

Of course, the loss of Bruce Adler and Jack Zink can't go unremarked; they've left a hole in the fabric of the South Florida theatre scene that might eventually heal, but will never be filled.

Looking back to last year's closing Theatre Scene entries, I have to note the passing of "The Hapsters."  Hap Erstein left the Palm Beach Post, and he has no clear successor.  Charles Passy and Kevin Thompson seem to be trading off, and the theatre-going readership suffers for it.  I've said it before, and I will say it again; we need each newspaper to provide a single coherent voice.  If it's going to be Kevin, fine. If it's going to be Charles, fine.  But pick one already, and give your readers the supporting structure they deserve.

But at least the Post has someone; the sorry mess that constitutes the management of the Sun-Sentinel hasn't been at all responsible to the needs of its readers OR the community.  Yes, Jack Zink left big shoes to fill.  But leaving them buried in the closet while occasionally doling out a few inadequate inches of space to Bill Hirschman or Mary Damiano (or that drooling idiot fashion editor) simply doesn't make the cut.  Hire Bill or Mary, or hire someone else.  But hire someone.

The lack of a theatre reviewer at the Post and the Sun-Sentinel have made it almost impossible to find their reviews; so in February, what had been simply a list of shows that were playing became a list of reviews, with a brief synopsis, and periodically, reviews of those reviews.  You may have noticed I'm not reviewing the reviews quite so much; I'm still picky, so I think the quality of reviews has improved.  Maybe it was just the natural course of evolution; you'll have to decide that for yourselves.

2008 saw the Theatre League of Florida step up and take a leadership role in saving the Carbonell Awards for 2009.  The League was able to gain a consensus of the producers of South Florida Theatre, convincing the Carbonell Committee that we do take these awards very seriously.  Hopefully, we'll see more of this in the coming year.

On a personal note, I left a job that had become increasingly unpleasant under the most inept management I have ever encountered.  I now have a dream job with one of the most successful arts centers on the planet.  It's allowed me to regain a semblance of sanity, and time to get out once and awhile.  I had some chances to see the theatre I've been reporting, and I expect to get out even more in 2009.

I hope that you, too, find time to take in more plays in 2009.  There's some great stuff coming up; don't miss it!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Scene for December 26th, 2008

It's the end of the year, but by no means the end of the theatre season! Here's what's playing for the end of 2008.

the reviews

While a lot was going on last week, only Brandon K. Thorp managed to get a review into print. He caught Palm Beach DramaWorks' production of Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs.
The absence of experimentation in modern popular theater could make you think that all the questions posed by the clowns and monsters of the Theater of the Absurd have been answered; the contradictions they unearthed, resolved. If that were the case, I do not believe The Chairs would be so funny or so frightening.
Brandon obviously enjoyed the piece, or was at least engaged by it. But he almost forgets to tell us about this particular production, outside of the mention of the actors' names. But he does slip in some actual review of this production:
Subtly, Bradshaw and Leonard turn up the volume, raising the temperature until the whole theater boils.

The Old Man and Semiramis are just a janitor and housewife, or just a son and mother, and by interpreting their formless lines with simple, unpretentious empathy — by taking them at their word, and damn the experimentation — Leonard and Bradshaw make them believable stand-ins for everyone.
The Chairs runs through February 1 at Palm Beach DramaWorks.

  Mr. Zero (Oscar Cheda) and his Mrs. (Maribeth Graham) continue their long-running argument in <em>Adding Machine</em> at GableStage.
It's surprising to find anything opening this weekend in South Florida. It's also surprising that GableStage is opening a musical. But in fact, GableStage is opening Adding Machine this weekend. You can find a promo piece in the Herald.

Broward Stage Door Theatre is also opening a musical; Showtune.

still playing

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], plays at the Arsht Center through January 18.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is playing at the Rising Action Theatre Company through Jan 18, 2009.

Mezzulah, 1946 runs through January 18 at Florida Stage, in Manalapan.

Regrets Only at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West runs through January 10.

last chance to see...

Gutenberg! The Musical runs through January 4 December 28th at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater.

for kids

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Additional GUTENBERG review

I missed this one for this week's The Scene, and since it was called to my attention while I was at the show last night, I'm putting it up seperate instead of updating The Scene.

This was in the Miami New Times. I was fooled; generally, when Brandon has a column in the Broward/Palm Beach edition, he isn't in the Miam edition.
This is the kind of broad, toothless, meta-theatrical concept — like Forbidden Broadway — designed to appeal to musical-loving old people who don’t mind having a laugh at the expense of their favorite idiom. But Gutenberg turns out to be for someone else. Really, this is a show for members of the current, Adderall-besotted generation: young people with bleak outlooks; folks who like their humor discordant, absurdist, and sooo random.
The Last Temptation of HelveticaI second this: I found the show VERY amusing. There's an awkward moment where one character mentions that he LOVES cats, and the other said, "Yeah, but his cat DIED." It was one of those moments we all have; someone blurts out something that's true, but not actually relevant, and consequentially horribly inappropriate.


Gutenberg! The Musical runs through January 4 December 28th at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater.

Pancho Padura as MONK tempts Wayne LeGette as HELVETICA

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Scene for December 19, 2008

It's been a busy week for me: trying to tie up all the loose ends before I take off for the Holidays. When I get back I'll be neck deep in new productions. But never fear, dear reader, I will still find time to bring you all the Theatre Happenings in South Florida!

the reviews

Florida Stage opened Mezzulah, 1946 last week. It's the tale of a "Rosie the Riveter" who didn't want to return to the confining niche that women were expected to fill following World War 2.

Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald had her review out on Saturday. And it seems she really enjoyed this one:
The cast, which also includes a blustery Anthony Giaimo as Mezzulah's uncle Charlie, David Michael Holmes as her tongue-tied would-be beau and Erin Joy Schmidt as her former right-hand gal at the Boeing plant, is a group of regional theater veterans shaped by Tyrrell into a finely calibrated ensemble. Along with Richard Crowell's imaginative set and lighting, Erin Amico's terrific period costumes, Matt Kelly's subtle sound design, and vintage a capella songs that underscore the era and serve as transitional moments, that rich acting and artful direction bring Lowe's distinctive voice -- funny, quirky, unexpectedly touching -- to vibrant life.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed it for the "Shiny Sheet" (Palm Beach Daily News). She may not have been quite as taken with the production as Dolen was:
Michele Lowe's trademark humor is the redeeming feature of Mezzulah, 1946. Her simplistic plot and improbable premise are its downfall.

The play's heroine, Mezzulah, is a self-taught genius in aviation design employed at a Boeing factory in Monroe, Wash., during World War II. It's a stretch to believe that a
relatively uneducated 19-year-old could design the sophisticated aircraft Mezzulah is supposed to dream up in her attic study.

Of course, I would suspect that the such a thing is a metaphor, and that this isn't a play about building a sophisticated aircraft so much as it's a play about someone trying to push beyond the boundaries forced upon them by society. But there are other things that bothered Sjostrom:
Lowe also has the characters burst into a capella renditions of popular tunes from the war years that usually have as little connection to the story as 1970s rock tunes do with the products they hawk on TV.
Ouch! She concludes:
This is a sweet, slight play that might dispel the bad news from Wall Street for a couple of hours. But unless you were unaware of the injustices done to women workers after the war ended, it doesn't have much more to offer.
Mary Damiano reviewed Mezzullah, 1946 for the Sun Sentinel. And like Christine, she found it to be a strong production.
Lowe has created a rich portrait of a small town and its inhabitants, although on occasion it all seems too precious for its own good. Still, Lowe does a nice job of illustrating both the innocence and timelessness of social mores, such as the ongoing struggle between working women and stay-at-home wives and mothers.

The Florida Stage production boasts an intriguing set by Richard Crowell and some fine ensemble performances. Wittig shines in her double duty as two distinctive characters: Clementine, the determined war widow, and Sally, Mezzulah's very pregnant friend. Allyn, who originated the role of Mezzulah in its world premiere in Pittsburgh, plays Mezzulah as an old soul in a young body, a woman who can see the future and longs to play a part in it.
Kevin D. Thompson reviewed Mezzulah for the Palm Beach Post. He likens the play to The Shawshank Redemption.
Lowe's show, after all, is all about dreaming big and never letting anyone - or anything - stand in your way. It's a girl power story told with verve, passion and the right dash of kooky comedy so the audience doesn't feel as if it's being preached to or beaten over the head with a heavy message stick.
Yes, Thompson found it to be a strong, and even uplifting, production:
Mezzulah, 1946 is the kind of feel-good story that's the perfect tonic in these uncertain economic times and is a must-see for all young women who have nothing more than hope and a dream to achieve something great.

As the title character, the flame-haired Allyn gives a bravura performance under Louis Tyrell's sure-footed direction. Despite her diminutive stature (she's really not much taller than a fire hydrant), Allyn, making her Florida Stage debut, imbues Mezzulah with a fiery passion that's almost infectious.
It looks like Jan Sjostrom is the odd one out, this week. Thompson even singles out the songs that bothered Sjostrom so much:
There are also several short songs sprinkled in (Don't Fence Me In, Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition), that could have felt out of place but don't, mostly because they're sung a cappella and aren't showy, Broadway musical-like numbers.
The result: Lowe takes a heavy subject, lightens it up a bit and ultimately makes us care more about it - and her soaring show - in the process.
Brandon K. Thorp wrote up the play for the Palm Beach/Broward edition of the New Times. He's now using his huge volume of print space to cover multiple shows each week. And we do appreciate the effort!

Anyway, his take on it is typically Brandon.
Will Mezzulah design planes? Will her widowed mum find true love? Will Rosie's female friends regain the independence they discovered in the war years? These are the initial questions posed by the play, and they are both hideously dull and, as it turns out, totally beside the point.
Vastly more interesting, unanticipated questions soon dominate the drama: Why is Mezzulah's dead daddy hanging around his cemetery, and why doesn't he have shoes? And what's up with this strange, ghost-like woman who lugs a trunk full of broken china everywhere she goes? Will poor, shy Suzannah Hart ever let her husband read her poetry? And, dear Christ, isn't it about time for Mezzulah's friend Sally Cauley to have that baby? She's painfully, outrageously pregnant — she looks like a snake that ate a bowling ball.

What would we do without Brandon to shake things up? But this is all relevant, and he quickly gets on to the meat of his review:
These questions won't exactly decide the fate of the free world, but they do inspire a lot of interest. Thank playwright Michele Lowe, whose writing gains strength and vibrancy the more ambitious she gets; the tale actually becomes more focused every time she drags a new plotline into the story. And thank a stunning cast (composed largely of theatrical carpetbaggers down from New York or someplace), which populates Lowe's Monroe with characters as real and surprising as life.
Mezzulah, 1946 runs through January 18 at Florida Stage, in Manalapan.

http://www.soltheatre.com/index_files/image5851.jpgThe other half of Brandon's review is Sol Theatre's production of The Reindeer Monologues. It replaces the previously scheduled production of Mart Crowley's For Reasons That Remain Unclear. Read Brandon's article to learn the story behind that, but the upshot is that they had to mount a replacement play in a very short span of time, and they apparently did it very well.
Monologues opened last Friday and will run through Sunday, December 21, with no breaks or interruptions. That's ten straight days of theater that libertines, perverts, and heathens shouldn't miss; an explosion of holiday cheer so bewilderingly wrong that Baby Jesus may decide to stay in the womb this year
It sounds like a companion piece to the movie Bad Santa, doesn't it? Or maybe it makes Bad Santa seem like a Rankin Bass special.
The Reindeer Monologues features all eight of Santa's reindeer, summoned to the stage one by one to discuss the terrible allegations recently made by Vixen against their boss.
You can read Brandon's review to find out about those allegations. They are, shall we say, "squicky."
The eight reindeer are played by four actors, with three of the four female roles going to Julia Clearwood. She handles them with the same lusty felicity with which she always dispatches her comic roles, hitting the floorboards with the energy of Tina Turner and working the crowd until everyone within eyeshot is rapt.
...Jim Gibbons and Angel Perez play Dasher, Comet, Prancer and Cupid with gusto and delight that is absolutely un-fakeable: they treat Monologues like a compelling novelty, which goes a long way toward helping audiences feel the same way.
The weirdest actor in Sol's stable is Daivd Tarryn-Grae, who cannot help but steal any show that puts him in a dress. This is just such a show: He is the last reindeer you'll see, Vixen herself, played as sort of a Hedwig with hooves.
Mary Damiano reviewed the play for Miami Artzine:
A wicked irony runs through The Eight: Reindeer Monologue from the very first moment, when Donner (Julia Clearwood) arrives on the scene wearing leopard print stilettos, carrying a matching purse--there's something about a reindeer wearing leopard that feels downright cannibalistic.
Jim Gibbons plays Dasher, a kilt-wearing Scots-deer, as well as Comet, a juvenile deer-linquent who credits Santa for reforming him. Angel Perez plays Hollywood (formerly known as Prancer) as a coke-snorting, manic star bitter about Rudolph stealing his spotlight; and Cupid, as the openly gay reindeer who doesn't mind feeling the crack of Santa's whip.
Wearing a clingy red evening gown and looking for all the world like he's taken the stage to impersonate some 1940s movie star, Tarryn-Grae brings an unexpected vulnerability to Vixen.
She concludes her review much like Brandon did:
So if you're ready to O.D. on December sweetness, if you're sick of Christmas songs spouting good cheer and you're just too cynical to fully embrace the whole holiday brouhaha, the Sol will give you a fresh perspective on the most wonderful time of the year.
You can see The Reindeer Monologues through this Sunday, Decemebr 21, at Sol Theatre Project.

Miami Herald's Christine Dolan covered the opening of the Unhinged Theatre, and their production of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot.
If References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot isn't quite the powerhouse debut that the company members intended -- and it isn't -- it's worth remembering that Unhinged is a young troupe with time and the drive to grow.
This new company is filled with new artists: the company was formed by current and former FIU students. And even the most talented individual improves over time.
Salvador Dali is a complex script that needs textured, deft performances to fully draw the audience into its unsettling, magical world. Under Leon's direction, the cast turns in performances that are passionate but don't rise to that level. Grau, for example, is credible as a proud, frustrated man with minimal education, but Benito's heavy accent makes the exchanges with Gabriela less potent than they should be.
Overall, Dolan finds it a good production, if not a defining one. She also expresses surprise - and not for the first time - that this company is doing the same play previously announced by the Alliance Theatre Lab for their January slot. The reason for this surprise is that part of the licensing process is exclusivity: the licensing body (that is, the copyright holder or their agent) won't allow more than one production within a given area for a give amount of time.

But this is not the first time a licensor has screwed up: a few years back, both Actors' Playhouse and GableStage were granted rights to SLEUTH, even though the theatres are only a mile apart or so. Apparently, one of the companies used a Miami return address; but since both Miami and Coral Gables are in the same county, the second license should never have been issued.


The Chairs opens tonight at Palm Beach Drama Works. The Palm Beach Daily News has a story about it. So does the Palm Beach Post.

Regrets Only opens at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West. It runs through January 10.

still playing

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], plays at the Arsht Center through January 18.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is playing at the Rising Action Theatre Company through Jan 18, 2009.

Gutenberg! The Musical runs through January 4 December 28th at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. The Theatre Scene will be there on Saturday; say hello to the man with the camera..

last chance to see...

The venerable M-Ensemble's production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.

Edge Theater isrunning its production of Ambition in Wilton Manors through December 21. This is one of the few plays where every single critic was
in complete agreement. No website: go to the Theatre League website for ticketing information.

for kids

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Boys are Back in Town

Christine Dolen reports that Gary Waldman and Jamison Troutman are back.

The partners have produced shows all over South Florida and now they have returned to the 26th Street Theater in Wilton Manors. True to form, they are hyping the 30 year old building as "South Florida's Historic Playhouse."

Originally a small movie theater, the space was converted to a legitimate stage house in 1988 by Brian C. Smith. After his organization closed, it was a second facility for Broward Stage Door until two years ago. Stage Door rotated between mounting their own shows and renting the space out to other companies. Several of those companies were reportedly in negotiation for the space at one time or another, but nothing came of that - until now.

Waldman and Troutman have a ..colorful...history in South Florida. Insiders might describe them as having had a string of failed companies, and would probably ponder the list of designers and technicians left unpaid in the wake of unannounced closings. One hopes that those tales are exaggerated.

They are kicking off operations with a show titled The Sounds of Simon -- The Music of Paul Simon in Vision and Light, which as the title suggests is a revue of Paul Simon hits. It starts previews on Christmas eve, and opens on January 1st for a run through January 11th.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Job Postings at the Broward Center

I've been asked to post a link to the Jobs Page for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Performing Arts Center Authority is seeking a Technical Coordinator for the Miramar Cultural Center.
The MCC is a first class facility; brand new sound and lighting package, the whole nine yards. They are particularly interested in people with a strong background in sound, and some experience with lighting.
They will be hosting a wide variety of events; concerts, recitials, plays, and everything in between.
Tell them the Theatre Scene sent you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Show Down

From the Palm Beach Daily News:

A performance by Broadway singer and actress Barbara Cook scheduled for Tuesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach has been postponed.

The postponement was a mutual decision between Cook and the center until the economic environment looks more favorable, the Kravis reported.

"GUTENBERG" closes early.

The Actors' Playhouse production of Gutenberg! The Musical will be closing on December 28 instead of January 4th.

Dinner & show packages are still available through the new closing date.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Scene for December 12, 2008

We have a little cool snap to put us in the mood for the upcoming Holidays.

the reviews

Christine Dolen of the Miami Herald reviewed Gutenberg! The Musical at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. Director Dave Arisco has been trying to get this one the schedule for a couple of years, trying to tap into the success he had with The Big Bang a few summers back. And with the economy tanking, you're going to see more small musicals in the future. And Christine caught on to it very quickly:
The theater is again presenting a wannabe wacky two-man musical, supposedly created by the two guys performing it for us, a roomful of potential backers. The notion for this one isn't as grandiose as trying to squeeze the planet's history into the running time of a Broadway musical. No, this is just a frolicsome made-up biographical musical about Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press.
Thankfully, it's not a costume comedy piece set in medieval Germany. Or maybe not so thankfully...

In Gutenberg! The Musical!, Bud and Doug literally wear many hats. So that we can keep track of the numerous characters -- which include an evil monk, a couple of drunks, an anti-Semitic flower-selling child and Gutenberg's amorous, illiterate assistant Helvetica (she's named for the font, or is it the other way around?) -- the actors don different baseball caps, each with a character ''name'' (does ''Drunk #1'' count as a name?) written on it. Yes, they differentiate the characters by using a variety of British accents (though the story is set in Germany), but it's helpful to be reminded of just who is supposed to be speaking or singing at a given moment. It's the baseball cap equivalent of a cheat sheet.
But this is a musical, and we can't judge a musical solely on some gimmicks introduced in lieu of multiple actors or dozens of quick-changes. We need to consider the music.
Though some of the music hits the level of decent generic Broadway parody, Gutenberg! itself isn't the least bit witty. The guys sometimes explain the genre of the songs we're hearing -- the ''charm'' song, the ''I want'' song -- as well as defining metaphor and foreshadowing. Yawn.
It's obvious to me that Christine found that everyone was working to overcome bad material:
The actors, bless their hard-working souls, do everything humanly possible to sell both Bud and Doug's show and Gutenberg! The Musical!. LeGette and Padura are both experienced, capable musical comedy performers (I know this from seeing them in other shows), but the dead-on-arrival ''entertainment'' they're trying to deliver here makes both break out in an anxious sweat.

Mary Damiano review Gutenberg for The Sun-Post, and pretty much had the same exprience as Christine Dolen:
The joke is funny for about five minutes of the show, most notably when Bud and Doug stage an entire cast chorus line by hanging the hats on a clothesline. If only every moment, or at least half of them, could have been as inspired as that one.
And although, like Christine, Mary noted the similarities to The Big Bang, she concludes:
Gutenberg doesn’t need to suffer from comparison to The Big Bang — it does a good job of suffering all on its own.

Gutenberg! The Musicalruns through January 4 at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater.

Brandon K. Thorp had a bunch of "stage capsules" in this week's Miami New Times. He's already reviewed Seafarer, and while it appears he has not seen the current production of The Complete Works of William Shakespear (Abridged), he does seem to have seen M-Ensemble 's production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone.
This production is yet more proof that August Wilson is damned near indestructible. If he wasn't, the blunt direction and hammy, uneven acting of this play would cause a mass exodus at each intermission, yet people stick around for Wilson's crazy poetics — and maybe, maybe, for actress Lela Elam.

The only thing that makes this Joe Turner palatable at all is the performance of Ms. Elam. Relegated to what's almost a walk-on role and utterly incidental to the plot, Elam's the kind of artist who owns any stage she touches.

The M-Ensemble production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.


Florida Stage opens Mezzulah, 1946 this week. During WWII, with the men called into military service, women donned work clothes and took to the assembly lines. Now that the war is over, not all the women are ready to head back to the kitchen...

You can read alot more about Mezzulah, 1946 on the Florida Stage FurtherMore page, including conceptual art of the production design, photos from the rehearsal, and an interview with the playwright.

Although not technically an opening because it's been touring the schools, this is the first chance the general public has had a chance to see it.

"It" is the exciting production of Macbeth, produced by GableStage and directed by Mad Cat Theatre's Artistic Director Paul Tei. Since it played in schools and had a tight budget, Tei's adaptation runs about an hour long, and has a cast of THREE; Erik Fabregat, Margie Eisenberg, and Deborah Sherman. Sherman, when she's not touring schools, is the Artistic Director of the Promethean Theatre.

I use the word "excting" because so many other people are talking about it: Mary Damiano, Christine Dolen, and Beau Higgins all have a blurb up about it.

There's a lot of talent behind this production, people, and the best part is that you can see it for FREE. It's being paid for by The Children's Trust, and performances will be followed by a discussion with the cast.

Students, Parents and the Public are invited to attend free performances on Friday, December 12, at 8pm and Sunday December 14, at 1pm and 3pm at Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center, Florida Memorial College, 15800 NW 42d Ave, Opa-Locka.

Additional Free Performances are on Friday December 19, at 8pm and Saturday, December 20, at 7pm at Sanctuary at ArtSouth, 250 North Krome Avenue, Homestead.

Broward Stage Door Theatre opens La Cage Aux Folles on Friday. It's La Cage, what else can I say?

still playing

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], plays at the Arsht Center through January 18.

The venerable M-Ensemble's production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.

Either I missed it, or subconciously skipped it, but Edge Theater is inflicting running its awful production of Ambition in Wilton Manors through December 21. This is one of the few plays where every single critic was in complete agreement. No website: go to the Theatre League website if you really want to go see if it's as bad as they say.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is playing at the Rising Action Theatre Company through Jan 18, 2009.

last chance to see...

Mosaic Theatre's critically acclaimed production of The Seafarer closes Sunday, December 14th.

The Gates of Choice plays at the New Theatre also closes on Sunday in Coral Gables

She Loves Me winds it up at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton on Sunday.

for kids

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

The Miami Children's Theatre presents its version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meanwhile, at the Playhouse at the Other End of South Florida..

1...The Palm Beach Theater Guild succeeded in saving the building that's known as The Royal Poinciana Playhouse. It's now a Town Landmark.

I have no idea what they can do with it. The Town Council has a law in place that requires that half the patrons must be residents of the Town of Palm Beach. If the fact that its house is three times the size desired by producing regional theatre weren't enough to turn off prospective partners, requiring them to cap their audience is certainly a complete deal-breaker.

It was the Town Serve Law that led Florida Stage to decline participation, and I imagine that being stuck with a theatre large enough to seat your entire subscriber base in one week also contributed to the decision.

The Kravis Center expressed interest - if a new theater on the site. There is a precedent: the prestigious Broward Center for the Performing Arts manages the Parker Playhouse, a venue similar in nature, history and size to the Royal Poinciana; but the Parker is marginally better set up for receiving tours than the Royal Poinciana; it has a loading dock that opens onto the stage. But it seems likely that the Kravis Center would pass on managing the current facility.

The Guild has a list of things they must accomplish if they want to see a return of the plays that once graced the Playhouse stage:
  1. They must gain control of the property. Right now, the Playhouse is privately owned by a developer that wanted to raze the current structure (possibly preserving some of the facade) and do precisely what the Board of the Coconut Grove Playhouse wants to do: create a mixed-use site with a much smaller theatre that suits current production trends.
  2. The Town must exclude the Playhouse - or at least its producing partners - from the Town Serving Zone. There just aren't enough theater patrons in the Town of Palm Beach. I lived there for 15 years, I know of what I speak.
  3. The Playhouse lacks most of the amenities sought by professional touring companies; things like a receiving dock for tractor-trailers. It needs more electrical power, more infrastructure for rigging, sound, and lighting systems, more support space backstage, and more wing space. Clear Channel Communications was quite correct when it said that the Playhouse was inadequate for producing Broadway shows. I've been a technical director in South Florida for twenty years, and a production manager who has worked on Broadway shows. I've been in the Playhouse, I've even put a show into the Playhouse. With labor costs as high as they are now, it makes no fiscal sense for a Broadway tour to navigate the obstacles posed by the current limitations of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse.
  4. The Playhouse/Theater Guild needs to find an artistic director who actually knows the community. Palm Beach, Florida, is not Ogunquit, Maine. Artistic Advisor Bradford Kenney is making the same mistake made by Ohio's Carousel company when they tried to take over the Jupiter Theater; what works when you're the only theater for a hundred miles doesn't work when you are one of thirty or so venues in close proximity. People can see quality programming in numerous venues across South Florida. What can the Poinciana Playhouse offer that cannot already be found at the Kravis Center, the Broward Center, and all the regional theatres across the area?
But at least the Palm Beach Theater Guild is taking a sensible approach to the problem: they do understand that they need a strong artistic vision to succeed, and they've demonstrated that they can accomplish difficult tasks successfully. I hope that they find a way to re-shape the Poinciana into a Playhouse that can stand among the best of South Florida Theatre, but I don't envy them the task.

Will the Coconut Grove Playhouse "Return?"


The article in today's Herald misleads you with its title:

Grove Headline

You might be led to believe from this title that the Coconut Grove Playhouse is going to come back in some form or another.

But it's not.

One of the first highlights of the "plan" lays it out in no uncertain terms:
The 1,100-seat Playhouse would return as a 300-seat theater with a ''footprint'' set aside for a 600-seat theater, though it is uncertain when or if the larger house would be built.
No matter how you spin it, it's pretty clear that the 1,100 seat part of the Playhouse will have to be demolished to install two smaller theatres. Or at least, to build a small theatre and leave a "footprint" for a larger one to be built later. Further along, we also learn:
...three design schemes were proposed by UM grad students and professional architects. Though differing in details, each included a 600-seat theater, a smaller theater with 150 to 200 seats, underground parking, and a combination of office, retail and residential space.
This shouldn't surprise any Theatre Scene reader, or anyone who is aware of the structural problems that doom the very fabric of the Playhouse to a wrecking ball. And if you're a student of history, you'd know that the board of directors of the Playhouse has been committed to tearing down the building for years. It's likely one reason they allowed the building to decay to the point where a large portion of it has been condemned for the better part of a decade. Why spend money shoring up the structure or repairing the roof when you want to replace it with condos and shops and restaurants and a much, much smaller theater?

So say goodbye to the building, but we should not shed tears; it's like a pet that has languished until it totters into the walls of your home, blind, deaf, and incontinent; it's suffering. The physical shell of the Playhouse is simply too diminished to house anything.

Now you may be saying "but a theatre is not a building; so even though the building is finished, it does not follow that the company is. After all, a theatre is its people."

To which we are forced to reply, "what people?"

The Coconut Grove Playhouse has no people. It has no artistic director, no creative team, and no staff of artisans. There isn't even a stated artistic mission. A company is made up of people, and it's something that the Coconut Grove Playhouse completely lacks. They have a building that's ready to collapse, they have rooms full of costumes that have rotted in Florida's dank humidity, but they have no COMPANY.

All that's left is the Board of Directors.

It's the same Board that let their building crumble, and allowed Artistic Director Arnold Mittelman run up the largest debt of any South Florida theatre company. It's the same Board that watched staff go unpaid for weeks before the Playhouse closed. It's the same Board that took over a year to pay some of that former staff's back salary. They screwed the same staff who had made purchases out of their own pockets to ensure that there were things like paper towels in the restrooms, and costumes onstage. It's a Board that does not understand loyalty.
Two years and eight months after the Coconut Grove Playhouse closed its doors, Spivack says, "Where we are is a point of moving on and turning the corner. This is the future.''
And what, exactly, is that future?
An artistic partner -- with a pool expanded beyond educational institutions to include an existing producing theater company or nonprofit cultural institution -- will be chosen to produce ''quality regional theater'' and operate education programs.
This bears pointing out: the brilliantly mindless plan offered by Board Chair Shelly Spivack and her coterie of clueless cohorts fellow board members is to hire some other regional theatre company to become the Coconut Grove Playhouse!

What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, for one thing, existing regional theatres already have their own boards of directors, and their own artistic missions, and their own identity.

You should also note the wording "expanded from." The Board's original plan was to partner with The University of Miami, Florida International University, Barry University some prestigious university with a strong theatre program. Strangely, it seems that none of our universities want to partner with a failed theatre as part of a program to educate future theatre professionals.

Shocking, isn't it?

Oh, wait, I almost forgot the bribe:
In addition to the $20 million for construction, the new theater partner will get access to several major cultural institution grants from the county, money that has been ''held in abeyance that can help with the ramp-up costs for the theater partner,''...
Money that was "held in abeyance." Hmm. Part of this is probably the grant that was rescinded when it was discovered the Playhouse was using a capital development grant to cover its running costs - a big bozo no-no. More of it may be the funds that were withheld when a local politician was contacted by a developer who claimed that the Playhouse had violated a contract to re-develop the property.

I suppose it's possible that some artistic director or some producer is looking to get mired in an organization that has a track record of poor financial management, massive debt to critical vendors and labor unions, dwindling attendance, a deteriorating physical plant, a re-development plan that is sure to be fought tooth and nail by the inhabitants of the community, and no connection to the thriving artistic community around it.

But they fired Arnold Mittelman already.

I'm not the only one that's doubtful about describing this as a "return": Christine Dolen wrote about it in her own blog:
All of which leads to myriad questions. What about the 1926-vintage building's historic designation? Who could best produce the kind of theater outlined in the board's plan? How important is the Coconut Grove Playhouse to the health of theater in South Florida? Can the theater come back?
The community blog for the Grove, Coconut Grove Grapevine, is trying to be more hopeful:playhouse2
Just the fact that there are serious talks going on is a great thing. Let's hope they can move faster than the three to five years predicted. They still need to pay off the $4 million dollar debt and of course there is the usual talk of changing the structure on the present site. Let's hope some of the facade can stay.

I suspect that the facade will be the only part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse to survive this fiasco. And given the state of the Playhouse, that's oddly appropriate.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Carbonells on for 2009

Christine Dolen has broken the news; the board of directors of the Carbonell Committee voted to continue the awards for 2009.
``The response to our planned suspension of 2009 judging has validated the importance and relevance of the 33-year-old awards. The community has rallied together and pledged to work as a united front to confront the challenges that lie ahead.''
- Carbonell chairman Leslie J. Feldman
This was due in no small part to the Theatre League rising to the occasion and gathering members of the theatre community together to call for the awards to continue. It was a lively discussion, and remarkable focused for all the passions flaring. But one thing was clear, almost everybody wanted the awards to continue, although everyone was also clear that changes must be made in the long run.
After the board's latest vote, Lasher said, ``I'm thrilled. I am so proud of our theater community uniting and making the decision that this is too important to lose. Sometimes, it takes thinking you'll lose something entirely before you appreciate it.''
Kudos to Meredith Lasher and the leadership of the Theatre League, and to the Carbonell Committee for being open to the League's input.

The POST on Local Theatre

Palm Beach Post's Kevin D. Thompson talks with the Palm Beach theatre community, and concludes:
In a depressed economy where money is tight, will people trim arts spending from their budget? So far, it hasn't stopped most local theater lovers.
This is not a new phenomena; theatres were packed during the Depression.
"In tough times people need entertainment, whether it's going to the movies or to the theater," says Lou Tyrrell, Florida Stage's producing director. "I don't think spending money on a show will be the first thing people cut from their budgets."
That's not to say that producers are not worried; theatres across the region have been tightening their belts; Florida Stage has reduced salaries to reduce its operating budget by $700,000 dollars. The Maltz is trimming, too:

The Maltz slashed $186,000 from its $5 million budget in July. "It's better to be tight on a budget and frugal," Trimble says. "If we're wrong, well, we'll have more money in the bank at the end of the year."

Here's something we can hope that news editors pick up on; when things are tough, people want to go out. When people go out, they want to know what the best shows are, and they do that by looking for the reviews. But with this economy, no one is going to jump on a plane and hop up to New York for the weekend.

So if you're not printing many reviews of the shows playing around South Florida, those people are less likely to buy a newspaper.
After all, the point of reading a news paper is to find out what's happening around us, and if you're busy picking things off the wire, you're not serving the needs of your target audience: us.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Scene for December 5, 2008

The year is rolling along now, we're at the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers, Chanukah and Christmas are almost here, and 2009 is looming over the horizon. And wouldn't you know it? Theatre tickets are great presents. Hint Hint.

In the meantime, there's a lot of theatre to see on the South Florida theatre scene.

the reviews

Mary Damiano's review of She Loves Me at the Caldwell Theatre was published after last week's Scene was posted. Or maybe the Sun-Sentinel just had it tucked out of sight. For the Caldwell, it's probably just as well, because Damiano didn't like it:
Caldwell's production of She Loves Me is a disappointment. It's devoid of charm and sparkle, the very things needed to make implausible plots work.

Leading man Benjamin Schrader tries to channel Jimmy Stewart -- he probably researched the role by watching The Shop Around the Corner -- but fails.
But wait!! There's been a re-cast! Leading man Benjamin Schrader has left the show to do Avenue Q, and Terry Hardcastle has taken his place. Hardcastle has never failed to impress me in any role he's played, and his sizzling presence is sure to give the show a shot in the arm.

She Loves Me runs through December 14th at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton.

Damiano also caught The Seafarer for the Sun-Sentinel, and she enjoyed this one a lot more than She Loves Me.
There's a moment in The Seafarer when you can't help but watch Gregg Weiner....you can see his character's whole life in his eyes at that moment, as he watches, contemplating every bad decision in his past and the possibility of a shortened future.

That moment is the core of Weiner's deeply nuanced performance, one of the embarrassment of riches of the Mosaic Theatre's production of The Seafarer by Conor McPherson.
Yes, the critical love-fest for The Seafarer continues, and I'm neither surprised nor disappointed, having seen the show.
Director Richard Jay Simon has a real knack for assembling talent. Simon also gets the best designers to give the production its depth and detail. The result is a nearly flawless production, which shows why Mosaic Theatre has become one of the best theaters in the region.
Mosaic Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer runs through December 14 in Plantation.

  Cast members include, from left, Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin and Matt Rippy.
The Miami Herald has Christine Dolen's review of The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], now playing at the Arsht Center in Miami.
(the play)is the antithesis of a linguistically impenetrable, mind-numbingly lengthy, deadly serious Shakespearean production. This is Shakespeare as it was back in the Bard's day: bawdy, irreverent, sublimely entertaining.
This production features the original cast - at times. The trio opens the show, and Matt Rippy will stay with it the entire run, but co-creators Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin will rotate in and out of the show.

Those who know and relish Shakespeare's plays will appreciate the myriad fleeting references to the tragedies, the comedies, the history plays. The compact, nutty versions of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet (the latter done fast, faster, fastest, then backwards) are clever distillations of the originals. The more you know about Shakespeare's
work, the more you'll get from the RSC's labors.

But even if you're a relative Shakespeare innocent (or worse, a Bard hater), the way The Complete Works works will probably crack you up.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], plays at the Arsht Center through January 18.

Bill Hirschman reviewed New Vista Theatre's production of Enter Laughing; the Musical for the Sun-Sentinel. His take on the show is entirely different than Mary Damiano's review from last week.
Every time you are about to give up on finding something barely entertaining in New Vista Theatre Company's Enter Laughing, somebody unleashes a showstopping song or a truly funny joke flies by.
...the production, under Avi Hoffman's direction, can't overcome the material's shortcomings
Hirschman isn't impressed with the leading man,
A key failing here is the casting of Will Larche as the naif. Larche has a fine voice and an affable personality, but he exudes the charisma of a loaf of white bread.
but observes:
But every 15 minutes or so, somebody cuts loose with the show that should have been. For instance, Broadway vet Crista Moore, as the lovelorn actress, nails The Man I Can Love,
Enter Laughing, the Musical concludes its run at The New Vista Theatre this Sunday, December 7.


Gutenberg! The Musical opens Friday, Dec 5th at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater. It's Wayne LeGette, Pancho Padura, and a lot of hats.

"In this two-man musical spoof, a pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers' audition for their new project - a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg

With an unending supply of enthusiasm, Bud and Doug sing all the songs and play all the parts in their silly historical epic, with the hope that one of the producers in attendance will give them a Broadway contract - fulfilling their ill-advised dreams."

If you saw the Actors' Playhouse production of The Big Bang, you're probably feeling a little deja-vu. And that's a good thing.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told is now playing at the Rising Action Theatre Company. Christine Dolen blogged about it here.

still playing
Mosaic Theatre's critically acclaimed production of The Seafarer runs through December 14th.

The venerable M-Ensemble's production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.

The Gates of Choice plays at the New Theatre through December 14, in Coral Gables

She Loves Me runs through December 14th at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton.

last chance to see...

Lucky Stiff at the Stage Door Theater in Coral Springs closes this Sunday, December 7.

Enter Laughing: The Musical runs through December 7 at the New Vista Theatre in
Boca Raton.

coming and going

SLEUTH opened Tuesday at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, and plays through December 14th. The Palm Beach Post has an article about it.
A national tour of Annie plays at the Arsht Center this weekend. Christine Dolen reviewed it for the Miami Herald. It's directed by the show's original director, Martin Charnin. A non-union tour, Dolen finds a lot of talent in show.

for kids
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

The Miami Children's Theatre presents its version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.