Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Caldwell Theatre: Vices: A Love Story (7 Reviews)

The world premiere of Vices: A Love Story, marks the beginning of Clive Cholerton's tenure as Artistic Director at the Caldwell Theatre Company.
Opening on July 8 2009, the show's book, music and lyrics were written by Everett Bradley, Susan Draus, Micheal Heitzman, and Ilene Reid. Choreography by A.C. Cuilla, Clive Cholerton directed cast that includes Holly Shunkey, Marcus Bellamy, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Carlos L. Encinias, Lara Janine, and Leajato Amara Robinson.

John Lariviere reviews for Talkin'
The production design includes extensive projection work that enhances the visual experience. Director Clive Cholerton has tackled the daunting task of marrying all the facets of this show with great finesse.
It is difficult to take one's eyes off dancer Holly Shunkey. At a state of rest, her body is already a work of art sculpted by her craft. In motion, her lines near perfection in their strength and beauty.
She is well partnered with the handsome Marcus Bellamy. Choreographer A C Cuilla has given the couple some wonderfully choreographed moments both sensual and elegant; and both dancers are fearless in their commitment to the demanding choreographic vision.
The way in which the elements of dance and technical design have been incorporated in Vices: A Love Story elevate it to more than its components. Passionate, humorous and visually engaging, Vices: A Love Story is the show to see in south Florida this summer.
Kevin D. Thompson reviewed for the Palm Beach Post:
In Vices: A Love Story, the Caldwell Theatre’s daring new musical, a ridiculously attractive young couple (Marcus Bellamy, Holly Shunkey) goes through the ups and downs all relationships inevitably do. The main difference: They don’t speak one word of dialogue during the rollercoaster ride. All their desires, frustrations, hopes, inner-most thoughts and vices, are beautifully, skillfully and, at times, humorously, conveyed through music and inventive dance routines.
That you’re able to feel for and care about a couple (we don’t know their names) that never talks in words is a testament to the wonderful performances by Bellamy and Shunkey, Clive Cholerton’s sure-footed direction and AC Cuilla’s delightfully precise choreography. Bellamy and Shunkey ooze a raw sexuality, a simmering chemistry and a giddy playfulness that’s impossible to ignore. It doesn’t hurt that both dancers are — how you say? — off-the-charts hot and know how to use their finely tuned instruments for maximum effect.
Vices works so well because it’s a true ensemble piece in which everyone in the cast is allowed to shine. The four supporting players — Natalie Venetia Belcon, Carlos L. Encinias, Lara Janine and Leajato Amara Robinson — are magnificent. Standouts include Broadway vet Belcon (Rent, Avenue Q), who will move you close to tears with All the Money, a stirring ballad about a woman summoning the courage to walk out on a bad marriage and Julliard grad Robinson is mesmerizing during an a capella version of Some Like It, a scintillating number about sexual temptation.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the New Times:
Vices begins with a sexy dance and a hard funk-rock instrumental that is leaner, meaner, weirder, and more modern than any bit of music I've ever heard played on Caldwell Theatre's big stage. Watching those dancers, hearing that noise, it seems obvious that Caldwell's new artistic director, Clive Cholerton, is a hip young rebel out to drag the venerable-but-fusty company in strange new directions.
An investigation of the various cravings that intrude upon our collective consciousness, Vices is alternately vicious, clich├ęd, and novel. It maintains none of these moods for more than five or six minutes at a time and seldom combines them. It is the kind of concoction that comes out of a kitchen containing a few too many cooks. In this cakes, the cooks' names are AC Ciulla (choreographer) and Michael Heitzman, Ilene Reid, Susan Draus, and Everett Bradley, all of whom are either writers, lyricists, or composers, and it would be interesting to see a breakdown of exactly who did what.At its best, this is what Vices does: Through sound and movement, it drags the visceral realities of obsession into the theatrical space.
In the play's most compelling moment, the object of desire is desire itself, to give yourself to something and disappear within it. Slick-voiced Leajoto Amara Robinson does an elaborate step routine, slinking around the stage like a kitty cat and subtly coming on to the audience. "Some like it," he sings, over and over again, almost winking — he seems to be saying, "And I bet you like it too." And we do. Whatever it is.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Variety:
Although it needs work, this production clearly promises a life Off Broadway or in regional theaters able to attract the right terpsichorean talent. Staged by Caldwell chief Clive Cholerton, the string of vignettes is only about 70 minutes long, but the running time feels perfect for the summertime audience's attention span.
All the individual elements are noteworthy, especially the inventive costumes by Alberto Arroyo, but the tentpole here is Ciulla's work. Writhing bodies interlock only to break free in leaps and long-limbed extensions. It all echoes modern dance and contemporary ballet with scant hint of Broadway other than a Fred and Ginger homage. The choreographer's graceful work alternates between the emotional ecstasy of physical passion and the herky-jerky buffeting of human beings in a tempestuous cityscape.

Ciulla's paintbrushes are jaw-dropping dancers Marcus Bellamy ("Tarzan") and Holly Shunkey (national tour of "Contact"). In addition to their skill and physical beauty, they invest themselves totally in the acting.

Each singer has a solo moment: Carlos L. Encinas croons a Busby Berkeley paean to chocolate; Lara Janine nails comedy numbers, but her rueful lament "Johnny" is devastating; Natalie Venetia Belcon belts and soars in numbers like "All the Money"; and Leajato Amara Robinson stops the show with the a cappella list song "Some Like It" (as in types of sex), accompanying himself with body-slapping percussion.
Be sure to click through to read the entire review; Bill's review is everything the next review is not.

Sadly, instead of a theatre critic writing an intelligent review, we get Rod Stafford Hagwood dumping his load of sentence fragments in the Sun-Sentinel:
The choreo-musical Vices: A Love Story may not be perfection.

But it's as close as we mere mortals will ever see.

With nary a sliver of sentimentality or a hint of staginess, the lean musical having a world premiere at the Caldwell Theatre Company doesn't hit one false note.

Not one.

Not with the singing, which at times is so delicious you wish for an intermission so you can come back for a second act.

Not with the dancing, which ranges from tiny isolations that accent the humor to soaring lifts that make you gasp.

Not even with the tight-as-can-be band perched high over the amorphous set.
The cast -- no, that's not enough -- the dream cast...
OK, I have to stop there. I'm going to be sick. I don't know if I can continue reading the Sun-Sentinel if this is how they think a review should read. I have no problem that he likes the show, but the idea is to give the reader a sense of the evening. Instead, we're left with the creepy feeling that Rod is going to start stalking the cast, crew and artistic team...

Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
Vices: A Love Story... is an inspired, edgy, thrilling new piece of theater, one that will most certainly have a life beyond the Caldwell.
Ilene Reid and Michael Heitzman get credit for story, music and lyrics. Susan Draus and Everett Bradley also wrote music and lyrics, with Draus arranging and orchestrating. Emmy Award winner A.C. Ciulla created the explosive, sensuous choreography, a vital part of a show whose central characters are played by dancers who never speak. Cholerton staged it and oversaw ongoing developmental work during rehearsals.

Musical director Jon Rose is part of a versatile four-piece onstage band. The design team makes vital contributions to the production's urban edginess.
Dancers Marcus Bellamy and Holly Shunkey ... are physically gorgeous, dramatically expressive, mesmerizing dancers. Shunkey is a Pilobolus veteran once toured in the dance-driven show Contact. Bellamy is going to be in the new Julie Taymor-directed Broadway blockbuster Spiderman. They are major-league talents.
The show's four actor-singers -- Natalie Venetia Belcon (she was Gary Coleman in Avenue Q on Broadway), Carlos L. Encinias, Lara Janine and Leajato Amara Robinson -- artfully give voice to the couple's desires, fears and self-destructive behavior, and they kill (in a good way) the myriad musical styles the composers throw at them.
Vices: A Love Story has it all -- wit, insight, style, plus a terrific score, great performances and brilliant dancing.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
... slightly more than one month into the job, Cholerton has come up with a brash, energetic, sexy show on contemporary life and romance, easily the best new work from the company in the past 15 years.
Cholerton directs the production, but the prime force behind it seems to be choreographer A.C. Ciulla.
The score is never less than engaging, but without Ciulla’s choreographic ideas and their awesome execution by Shunkey and Bellamy, Vices might be just another musical revue. Still, the songs are arranged with a hip contemporary sound by musical director Jon Rose and there are plenty of standout numbers, including Belcon’s rafter-raising All the Money and Robinson’s body-drumming to Some Like It.
Factor in Sean Lawson’s stage-high projections and you have a winning package that could move beyond Boca intact. But even if the show is rethought and restaged, it is unfathomable that it will not have a life beyond the Caldwell.

Whatever the fate of Vices: A Love Story, a new Caldwell has been jump-started, and an already hot summer just got some welcome added sizzle.
Vices: A Love Story plays at the Caldwell Theatre through August 2, 2009.


  1. I see that Caldwell's production has received 7 reviews, and Florida Stage's production has 6 reviews. However, GableStage has 4 reviews, Broward Stage Door 3, and Actor's Playhouse 2. Am I missing something? Why is that Miami- and Broward-based reviewers (Dolen, Thorp, Hirschman) will go to Palm Beach to review shows, but Palm Beach-based reviewers (Erstein, Sjostrum, Thompson) seem to rarely go to Broward or Miami to review shows?

  2. That's an excellent question, Gene!

    I guess the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel see themselves as serving South Florida, while the Palm Beach Post considers West Palm Beach as its service area.

    Let's face it, low expectations are easy to meet!