Monday, April 30, 2012

Arsht Center: Death and Harry Houdini (5 reviews)

The House Theatre of Chicago opened its production of Death and Harry Houdini at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on April 26, 2012.
Death and Harry Houdini delivers a roller coaster ride through the life of the great Harry Houdini, brought to the stage by the great Chicago company that presented last season's acclaimed The Sparrow. Award-winning magician, Dennis Watkins, performs Houdini's most renowned and dangerous escape—the dreaded Water Torture Cell—in this dark and tumultuous story guaranteed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Nathan Allen directed a cast that included Abu Ansari, Johnny Arena, Carolyn Defrin, Marika Mashburn, Shawn Pfautsch, Trista Smith, Kevin Stangler and Dennis Watkins.

Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
Mortality issues are at the forefront of Nathan Allen’s take on Houdini, though they are upstaged by the numerous classic feats of magic that are salted throughout the play.
Although its strength is in its ensemble work, Death and Harry Houdini requires a star presence with very specific sleight-of-hand skills and underwater lung power.

It certainly has them in the charismatic and wily Dennis Watkins, who not only plays Houdini but is credited with designing the magic effects in the show.
Understandably, the rest of the show cannot measure up to the magic, though the cast sings and plays various instruments quite capably. Carolyn Defrin is particularly endearing as Houdini’s wife, Bess... Shawn Pfautsch is appealing in the underwritten role of Harry’s little brother, Theo, and Johnny Arena is aptly nefarious as the proceeding’s Ringmaster. is hard to shake the impression that the play could have gone deeper with its exploration of Houdini and what drove him to risk so much so often. Then the theatrical experience might have been a satisfying drama with some magic tricks, instead of the other way around.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
There’s magic afoot in the Carnival Studio Theatre at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts – magic and mystery, song and dance, and vividly theatrical storytelling. Nathan Allen’s Death and Harry Houdini, a play written a decade ago when the House Theatre of Chicago was just getting started, blends all those artistic elements into an entrancing, sometimes heart-stopping exploration of a superstar escape artist with mommy issues.

At least, that’s the Houdini that Allen and charismatic actor-magician Dennis Watkins offer up. Watkins, with his showmanship and daring, is vital to the success of the play Allen wrote with him in mind.
Allen tells the story of the man born Erik Weisz, hitting key biographical plot points without seeming heavy-handed. As a playwright, he’s more interested in what drove Houdini than in a blow-by-blow of his life and strange death on Halloween in 1926.
The acting ensemble works together with the detail and shorthand that come from years of shared experience. Carolyn Defrin, who played the plain-Jane mysterious high school girl in The Sparrow, is adorably effervescent as Bess – and who else would defy her mother-in-law with a tap dance? Shawn Pfautsch is Harry’s loyal, inventive brother Theo, a shy guy whose quiet little “hello” when he spots Bess suggests unrequited love at first sight. Marika Mashburn, her hair pulled into a severe bun and a big mole slapped onto her unsmiling face, gets plenty of laughs as Houdini’s demanding mama, but she’s really too young for the part, especially given how close the audience is to most of the action.
...theatergoers watch each other cringing, gasping and shuddering as the seemingly fearless Watkins does things like walking barefoot along a bed of broken bottles, fishing a string of razor blades from his mouth and dangling upside down for minutes in what could so easily become a water-filled coffin. Part theater, part magic show, Death and Harry Houdini is another polished – and thrilling – production from the House.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
The House Theatre of Chicago's Death and Harry Houdini is playing right now at the Arsht Center in Miami. And that's good, good news for anyone who likes their theatre as original in concept and execution as only The House seems able to produce.
The show is set in a far from ordinary circus...  a stage full of wondrously ingenious props, brilliant costumes, funny dances and songs and death defying acts as far as you can throw a straitjacket, chains, and a tank of water. And Harry regurgitates razor blades, his mother channels Queen Victoria, Death, of course, is ten feet tall and breathes through a gas mask, and did I mention the magic, the music, the dances, the acting? No, I didn't mention the acting. Because there's no need to. Everyone just was, and that's all it takes to be perfectly believable.
Eight actors will convince you there's a hundred on stage as they play God Save The Queen on kazoos, ring bells, sing and dance under big black umbrellas as they bury the poor old lady...  They can also play the trombone, saxophone, guitar, ukelele, mandolin and drums. I missed the portable grand piano but I'm sure there was one.
It's happened each time I've watched a House Theatre of Chicago production. I'm smacked right between the eyes by the glorious imagination of it all... I saw House's The Sparrow last year at the Arsht and now I've seen Death and Harry Houdini and I'm really sorry that's all I've seen from The House Theatre of Chicago.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
Stupendous! – Original!  Unique!   Entrancing!  Add all these superlatives together and  throw in a few more and one might find the best way to describe Death and Harry Houdini, Nathan Allen’s superb theatrical achievement currently at the Carnival Studio Theatre at the Adrienne Arsht Center here.
One doesn’t know where to begin to give credit to this impressive play written  for and originally produced by the House Theatre of Chicago, the Windy City company’s second offering to be transplanted to Florida under an agreement with Arsht.
Above all, there is actor/magician Dennis Watkins, for whom Allen wrote this tribute piece.  It is unthinkable that anyone but the enigmatic, charming, charismatic Watkins could possibly have the skills and artistry to take on such a demanding role.
Although it is primarily Watkins’ show, the  entire cast is superb, whether singing, dancing to the excellent choreography of Tommy  Rapley,  appearing in a barber shop quartet, or scaring the audience with an eerie stilt-inspired symbolic scarer known as Death (Kevin Stangler).
Several of the cast plays multiple roles but, as in magic itself, one would think the cast consisted of  many more than the obvious eight performers listed in the program.  It is a dream ensemble backing up Watkins.
Michelle F. Solomonreviewed wrote for Florida Theater On Stage:
When the lights go up, it’s welcome to the big top: “Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls” (although this isn’t a show for the kiddies) as The Ringmaster (a perfectly sinister Johnny Arena)  introduces us to the world of Houdini. In playwright Nathan Allen’s original script, death becomes an obsession for Houdini (born Erik Weisz) as we see the pain in the young man’s face as his father suffers, then dies from cancer.
The sensory overload in scenes such as this one, are many in Death and Harry Houdini, but it is so carefully crafted that it’s more entertaining, than overwhelming.
Watkins plays Houdini with a boyish charm, yet bringing out an eccentric side that borders on insanity.
There’s plenty of magic throughout performed not only by Watkins, but the other players in the ensemble, and it is methodically placed and perfectly timed to give the audience time to breathe from being consumed by elements of Houdini’s story...
Bess is played by the marvelously energetic and talented Carolyn Defrin, who appears as if this role was tailor-made for her. The story takes us through the couple’s dealing with Houdini’s aging mother (an absolutely flawless Marika Mashburn, who only speaks German throughout the play), and delves a bit into the psyche of his younger brother, Theo (Pfautsch as the perfect yin to Watkins’ yang), who has also devoted his life to Houdini’s dreams.
Houdini was a master magician, but the finely crafted work of Death and Harry Houdini is magic in itself. Part drama, part magic show, and all-out entertaining, this is a South Florida, one-of-a-kind event that audiences need to experience before it disappears.
The House Theatre production of Death and Harry Houdini plays at the Arsht Center through May 20, 2012.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mondays are Dark

Well, the Air & Sea show got rained out: hopefully, you took advantage by slipping in to a theatre to see a nice, dry, play.  And in case you think  you missed it, The Boca Raton Theatre Guild just extended its limited run of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill to include performances on May 5th and 6th.

The Team
TheatreMania tells us who's involved with the Palm Beach DramaWorks production of Proof, which opens on May 23.

We Be Weebles
The Producer's Perspective had Stephen Schwartz in for an audience talkback after a recent performance of Godspell.

It's Magic
The reviews are already out for Death and Harry Houdini, but there were a bunch of advance stories.  Florida Theater On Stage discusses the mixing of magic and theatricality, while The Miami Herald reflects on the merging of 19th century magic with 21st century technology.

Following Up
TheatreFace shares the story of a patron who saw a play, and a few days later received a "thank you" email from the theatre.
The first thing it did was reinvigorate, in my mind, the experience I'd had at the theater. I remembered sitting next to my wife, holding her hand, during the final act. I remembered bantering with friends before the show. I remembered admiring the space in which the performance had been held. I remembered a few particularly compelling moments from the production. I remembered having a good time.
'Tis The (off)Season
You know we're coming to the end of the official theater season when they start talking about City Theatre's Summer Shorts.  This year, the program of one-act plays stays at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts; BroadwayWorld fills us in.

But It's Not Over Yet
The Examiner lists some of the shows coming to South Florida stages in May.

Big One Oh
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre offers a celebration of their tenth anniversary season that appeals to South Florida Gay News;
Fresh off a pinnacle of eight Carbonells for their ninth season, the theater launched a costume exhibit on April 16 at the Grand Court in the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, featuring costumes from their own collection as well as those from Costume World, the largest supplier of costumes to theaters around the world.
In all fairness, you don't have to be gay to appreciate theatre costumes.  It's a great exhibit in a great venue; lots of parking, easy to get to, and a fabulous good court.

NOT The Usual Suspects
The Examiner reports that New Theatre's next fundraiser incorporates plays written not by playwrights, but by members of the community.
This year’s celebrities include J. Ricky Arriola, President and CEO of Inktel Direct Corporation, James R. Kaufman, CPA, Managing Principal of Kaufman, Rossin & Co., and lobbyist Eric. R. Sisser, President and CEO of Eric R. Sisser, Inc. Returning to Miami Stories this year as Master of Ceremonies is David Samson, President of the Miami Marlins
Starting Over, Every Time
Butts In Seats mulls over articles suggesting that arts organizations should have a set life span at the outset.
Based on my reading of both articles idea of a transitory organization makes sense. We are discovering that the 501 (c) (3) model doesn’t really work for everyone. A temporary formation allows groups to essentially experiment with structures that work well for the participants and make sense for the particular community. It could be for a few months to accomplish a single project or it could be for a span of years. The board and the staff may be one in the same or they may be different entities.
Green Theatre
The Minnesota Playlist goes over the various efforts being made to create a template for environmentally sound theatrical production.

So Change.
Parabasis weighs in on the programming issue highlighted by the outcry over The Guthrie's next season.
Change is coming, it must come, it always comes. But it won't come from words. Just actions. This conversation may spur some change, spur some action, and that's its use. That's good enough. For me, though, I'll keep focusing on what is to be done. And try to do that.
More Guthrie response
2amtheatre blithely rattles off what they think is a wonderful season of diverse plays.  It has the advantage of complete anonymity, since no one's heard of any of the shows or any of the playwrights.  But that's also its disadvantage.  That would be a great season for a small company dedicated to new works; but it's niche programming, and The Guthrie is much larger than that tiny little niche.  I was a Florida Stage staffer; I know that there's an audience for new plays.  But I also know that it's not a large audience.

Seen on Broadway
Florida Theater On Stage reviewed the Broadway production of Leap of Faith, starring Miami native Raul Esparza.  And why are they reviewing Broadway plays?
Over the next two weeks, we’ll give you a look at what we took in, seen through the prism of Florida theatergoers. Among the shows are Leap of Faith (starring Miami’s Raul Esparza), Other Desert Cities (announced for Actors Playhouse), Peter and the Starcatcher (based on books by the Herald’s Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson), Once, Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Columnist, End of the Rainbow, Venus in Fur and a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (with an African-American cast).
Leave 'em Alone
This isn't strictly a theater story, but it's about casting; the Miami Herald reports that the TV show Magic City has had a problem finding actresses who didn't, um, who haven't, er, who were "natural."
“I’ve actually had better luck finding synchronized swimming groups than I did finding real boobs,” said Bill Marinella, local extras casting director. “We did a lot of research and reached out to burlesque clubs and just finding people on the beach and literally walking up to them on the street and saying, ‘Hey, you look like you’re right out of The Great Gatsby.’ ”
And it's not just boobs:
Marinella had to look out for a long list of period-inaccurate body features: implants in breasts, yes, but also lips and butts; tattoos; shaved chests and waxed bikini areas, too-skinny females and too-ripped men.
It's something that's been forgotten in our ever-increasingly narcissistic society; actors are supposed to be "tabula rasa," a blank slate onto which a character can be created.  But too often, young actors fill that slate.  We're not saying "don't," but we are advising "leave room."  This period production is a perfect case in point; whatever you do, consider how it will work into your professional life.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Scene for April 27, 2012

We've had a nice little break in the weather, unusual this late in the South Florida season.  And the weather isn't the only thing harking back a couple of months; there's lots of plays to see on South Florida Stages.

Here's the scene for this week-


The Irish Theatre of Florida opens The Country Boy at the Crest Theatre, through May 5.

The Red Barn Theatre in Key West opens Short Attention Span Theatre, through May 12.  Sounds like the perfect break between pitchers of margaritas.

you still haven't missed...

A Measure of Cruelty plays at Mosaic Theatre through May 13; an intense drama ripped from the headlines.

Little Shop of Horrors plays at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through May 20; if you like the show, you'll like this.

Last Call plays at Empire Stage through May 5, 2012; a surprising little hit for First Step Productions and Empire Stage.

Avenue Q comes to the Andrews Living Arts Studio in what's apparently an open-ended run; luke-warm notices, but the buzz on the street is that it's pretty good.

Laffing Matterz plays the Broward Center's Abdo New River Room, for its third season of dinner and comedy; still pleasing the crowds.

last chance to see...

Music! Music! Music! winds up at The Plaza Theatre this Sunday, April 29.  Haven't heard much buzz on the streets, but Missy McArdle is in it, and she always delivers.

"Master Harold" ...and the boys finishes its critically acclaimed run at Palm Beach DramaWorks
onApril 29, 2012.  Not sure how many seats are left, but it's worth snatching them up.

The Stage Door production of The All Night Strut! at their second stage in Coral Springs through April 29th.  A very pleasant night of music; you'll be tapping your toes.

passing through...

Robert Dubac's Free Range Thinking comes to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, for a limited engagement that ends this Saturday.  He has a video.

Life in a Marital Institution
, a one-man show with James Braly, plays the Kravis Center Friday and Saturday only.  And he's got video, too.

The Boca Raton Theatre Guild presents Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill, through this Sunday only.

The House Theatre of Chicago brings its production of Death and Harry Houdini to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, through May 20.


Lake Worth Playhouse presents The Music Man through April 29.

for kids...

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
returns to The Playground Theatre, April 25- May 25.

The National Children's Theatre Festival
is this weekend at Actors' Playhouse  at the Miracle Theatre, and the centerpiece production is the World Premiere of Peter Rabbit and the Garden of Doom.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Broward Stage Door: Little Shop of Horrors (2 reviews)

The Stage Door Theater opened its production of Little Shop of Horrors at its Coral Springs location on April 13, 2012.
One of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows of all time, LITTLE SHOP features 60’s style Rock-n-roll, Doo Wop, and Early Motown. A down-and-out skid row floral assistant becomes an overnight sensation when he discovers an exotic plant that brings him fame and fortune.
Dan Kelly directed a cast that featured Michael Kinden, Bob Levitt, Erica Lustig, Matthew William Chizever, Kassiopia DeVora, Amber Hurst-Martin, Jasmin Richardson, and Marcus Davis.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Director Dan Kelley, who certainly knows from shtick, has wisely not gilded this lily, which is a quiet satire at its heart. Stage Door is famous for the variable quality of its shows from the sublime (Light in the Piazza) to the wretched (Singin’ in the Rain). This entry skews solidly toward the beguiling category, much like its satisfying The Drowsy Chaperone, also directed by Kelley.
We caught one of the last previews for scheduling reasons, so the production had another few days to fine-tune the show. But the only real fault that was that most of the evening could have used a little more zip. This was clear any time Chizever came on stage; you could feel the whole enterprise kick up a notch from the electricity he brought to a wide array of parts.
The best news is that the pre-recorded music tracks – enabling the score to have a full sound on a budget – are once again the skilled work of former Floridian David Cohen. If you must go with canned music as Stage Door opts to in order to give its audience the sense of a full band, Cohen delivers multi-layered pristine soundtracks with room for the singers to caress the lyrics.
Kelley has cast the show well, especially in the vocal department. Linden has to work to seem appropriately woebegone with a stooped posture and nasally timbre, but he lands the songs and lyrics as well as anyone could hope for.
Lustig is unimpeachable as the leggy, busty heroine with equally bad taste in boyfriends and clothing. She nails the weird meld of baby doll and clarion soprano voice that Ellen Greene patented for the role when she created it in the original production.
Audrey II’s deep Motown baritone voice with its expressive melisma comes from Marcus Davis..
The strongest element of the entire show after the Menken-Ashman contributions is Chizever. He doesn’t have the lead role, but he runs away with every scene he’s  in because he invests each of his daffy characters with vibrancy and vigor whether it’s a skid row bum, a talent agent, a well-heeled customer or the wife of the Life magazine founder.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Stage Door’s new production of the 1982 Off-Broadway hit is, unsurprisingly, far more modest than the 2003 Broadway-bound version that had its out-of-town tryout at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. That one featured Broadway veterans and pricey design elements. This one, staged and choreographed by Dan Kelley, is simpler yet plenty entertaining, thanks to the material and a company of non-union actors with good voices.
Though the actors have to perform Ashman and Menken’s ‘60s-style score to recorded tracks, they sell the songs, particularly in the case of the girl-group street “urchins” Chiffon (Kassiopia DeVora), Crystal (Jasmin Richardson) and Ronnette (Amber Hurst-Martin). Linden and Lustig get all nerds-in-love on Suddenly Seymour, and Lustig is properly pitiable yet wistful as she imagines a better life on Somewhere That’s Green.
But it’s Chizever who earns MVP honors in Stage Door’s Little Shop, playing the demented dentist, a businessman-botanist and all manner of people (male and female) interested in Audrey II. A quick-changing chameleon who’s perfectly at home chewing the tacky scenery, Chizever works like fertilizer on the show, feeding it energy and a glorious goofiness.
Little Shop of Horrors plays at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through May 20, 2012.

Mosaic Theatre: A Measure of Cruelty (reviews)

Mosaic Theatre opened the world premiere production of Joe Calarco's A Measure of Cruelty on April 19, 2012.
As a peaceful South Florida neighborhood is rocked by headlines, a local bar owner struggles to keep the peace with his son. But as a storm grows ever closer, the men are forced to come to terms with each other and their long-guarded secrets.
Richard Jay Simon direct a cast that featured Dennis Creaghan, Todd Allen Durkin, and Andrew Wind.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...Calarco’s script is a baffling surprise. This excoriating yet compassionate examination of the societal and human roots of violence has emerged on the Mosaic Theatre stage nearly fully-formed, a triumph that sears then cauterizes then rips open the scarred soul all over again.
...Cruelty has been truly blessed by director Richard Jay Simon’s steady vision and riveting performances from Dennis Creaghan, Andrew Wind and an indelible tour de force by Todd Allen Durkin eclipsing even his superb work last month in GableStage’s A Steady Rain.
...let’s make this crystal: The local familiarity with this specific incident has virtually nothing to do with this play’s devastating impact. You could switch in different names and specifics and have the same effect.
Likely, only other directors will appreciate Simon’s deft work at creating stage pictures and establishing a steady drive. But it his leadership in excavating precious ore out of this mine that is a signal achievement.
This is one of those benchmark productions that people will reference for the next decade in discussions about South Florida theater, as in, “Yes, such and such show was great, but did you see A Measure of Cruelty?”
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
As vital as the issues depicted in A Measure of Cruelty are, Calarco’s script isn’t likely to have a long life beyond its Mosaic premiere without some clarifying, significant rewrites.

Though it certainly isn’t a docudrama about the horrific 2009 attack on the 15-year-old Brewer, who was doused with rubbing alcohol and set on fire after a dispute stemming from a $40 video game debt, the then-fresh case is a vital element of the script.
Under the direction of Richard Jay Simon, who shaped the play while Calarco was busy with his own theater work, all three actors give intense performances – Durkin especially. At a critical moment, when Buddy is demonstrating to Derek how a terrified Michael Brewer must have felt, watching the confrontation is nearly unbearable.
Thematically, A Measure of Cruelty aims to demonstrate how one macho admonition – be a man! – can lead to disaster, as all three characters prove. Yet the relationship of Buddy and Derek is muddy, even mystifying... Though he writes vivid scenes and speeches, Calarco has crafted an 85-minute script that is too diffuse. A Measure of Cruelty simply doesn’t coalesce into a powerful, memorable theater experience.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Remember the Florida kids who poured alcohol all over a buddy and then lit him up? That the basis for A Measure of Cruelty and Joe Calarco has driven home all the horror of that act with a tight, almost poetic at times, one act that nails three generations of cruelty...
Durkin gives us a bitter soldier, horrified at the acts he committed and witnessed, anguished at the loss of his wife, perhaps assuaging his guilt by sheltering Derek, whom he despises... Durkin's range, as Buddy, is mesmerizing from start to finish.
Wind drowns the stage in words, an endless outpouring of teen cool...
And Creaghan ties it all together with his quiet regret at growing old, the secrets, the failures, the misdeeds.
Ultimately a sad piece, but you'll long remember the fine work by all three actors and the smooth direction of Richard Jay Simon.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
Director Richard Jay Simon moves this drama along at a stunning pace, with the prowess of Durkin and two other award-worthy performances –  Dennis Creaghan  as  Teddy (the father) and Andrew Wind (as Derek, one of the young criminals).   Both Creaghan and Wind give A-One performances, even though the intense dramatic role goes to Durkin.
Technically, this production is in an  A-class, with  set designer Douglas Grinn providing a realistic neighborhood bar for the action, and lighting and sound by the creative team of John Hall and Matt Corey respectively.
A Measure of Cruelty plays at Mosaic Theatre through May 13, 2012.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mondays are Dark

A weekend that started out dark and stormy turned into a beautiful Sunday afternoon

We had pretty good week of theatre, last week; look for the review pages to come out in a little while.  And we have a good crop of stories for your Monday reading list; you'd hardly notice we no longer include the Sun-Sentinel.


What is Safe?
The DC Theatre Scene ponders what constitutes "safe" programming in the ever-risky field of live theatre.
I’ve always been fascinated by the accusation of playing it safe in the theater. In my opinion, the words “safe” and “theater” are diametrically opposite. There are very few things riskier than the theater business. Even the most commercial productions on Broadway only recoup their investments 20% of the time, and are considered alternative high-risk investments.
Another Take on Programming
Parabasis makes a game out of Artistic Directors' explanations of their seasons.'s time for everyone's favorite game, Artistic Director Excuse Bingo!  Place your bets on which of the following well-worn cliches we'll hear...
New Programming Initiative

City Theatre isn't bringing Summer Shorts to Broward County this year, as they've done in other years. Instead, they are teaming up with the Broward Center  to co-produce Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage PlaysTheaterMania fills us in on the cast, creative team and the play. 

You might also recall that BroadwayWorld reported that City Theatre is working with Orlando Repertory Theater to bring The Brand New Kid to The Kravis Center, as mentioned here a few weeks ago.

Critical Dialogue
No Plain Jane weighs in on a subject dear to our hearts.
But the questions we need to ask are: a world where “everyone’s a critic” where do we find the support platforms for people who want to be more than the tweeters, or more than the volunteers writing consumer guides? In what ways can we expand the role of the “serious” arts writer or critic? How do we make robust critical discussion a vital part of the culture and community? Is it possible for the main-stream media to be place where we are going to get this? How do we make online platforms viable?

In short: how do we make today’s writers, today’s publications, today’s dialogue better?
A Bad Crowd
It doesn't look like The Broward/Palm Beach New Times will be providing a review of Last Call; John Thomason was too distracted by the audience.
The world premiere of First Step Productions' Last Call on its opening night at Empire Stage last Friday was a miserable experience... The fault lay entirely with the audience, especially the contingency of inebriated Neanderthals in the front row who apparently thought that the show — set inside a bar — was an interactive production.
It's Global
The Globe and Mail also discusses poorly behaved audiences.
There is a growing tension in the performing arts between desperately wanting an audience and bemoaning its behaviour... But when those sought-after new audiences do show up, they don’t always behave the way that venerable institutions and veteran audiences expect.
It's an Epidemic
Butts In Seats also deals with patrons misbehaving, although it's in response to another article complaining about divas.
I have actually had the occasion to pull customers aside and tell them I won’t tolerate them treating my staff in a certain manner more recently than saying the same to an artist.
Round-ups are articles made up of several different stories.  And this week, they're pretty popular.

Florida Theater On Stage rounds up stories about Mad Cat's scholarship program, Jupiter Theater's call for supernumeraries for Amadeus, a schedule change at Stage Door, and another round of short plays in Lake Worth.

The Miami Herald rounds up with stories about The Playground Theatre, a collaboration between Asolo Rep and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center (we've got to come up with a better name for that), the final show of the season at New Theatre, GableStage returning to its roots, Free Range Thinking at the Broward Center, a Zoetic Stage play reading being directed by Parade Production's director in Boca Raton, and more.

Talk About a Round-Up
The Miami Herald reports that Actors' Playhouse rounded up over $150,000 in donations at their annual fundraiser.  Again.  Of course, the Playhouse has been raising around that amount for years; but with prices going up, it really means that their net gain has been dropping steadily.  Just sayin'.

Growing  up
BroadwayWorld reports that The Main Street Players will be presenting 13, a musical with a score by Jason Robert Brown.

River City in Lake Worth

The Examiner tells us about the Lake Worth Playhouse production of The Music Man.  The Playhouse is one of South Florida's oldest community theatre groups.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Scene for April 20, 2012

It's your last chance to see a great production of Into The Woods; but lots of other stuff is playing, too.

Here's the scene for this week-


A Measure of Cruelty opens at Mosaic Theatre this weekend; it plays through May 13.

you still haven't missed...

Little Shop of Horrors plays at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through May 20.

Last Call plays at Empire Stage through May 5, 2012.

Music! Music! Music! opens at The Plaza Theatre, and plays through April 29.

"Master Harold" ...and the boys plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through April 29, 2012.  Expect this one to sell out; the critics are raving, and DramaWorks has been playing to packed houses all season.

Avenue Q comes to the Andrews Living Arts Studio in what's apparently an open-ended run.

The Stage Door presents The All Night Strut! at their second stage in Coral Springs through April 29th.

Laffing Matterz plays the Broward Center's Abdo New River Room, for its third season of dinner and comedy.

last chance to see...

Slow Burn Theatre's critically acclaimed production of  Into the Woods ends its all too brief run on April 22nd.

passing through...

The national tour of South Pacific plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through April 22, 2012.


Lake Worth Playhouse presents The Music Man through April 29.

for kids...

The Ugly Duckling serves as the centerpiece of Family Fun Day at The Aventura Arts & Cultural Center this Sunday, April 22.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Empire Stage: Last Call (3 reviews)

First Step Productions and Empire Stage opened the world premiere production of Terri Girvin's Last Call on April 12, 2012.
Two worlds collide when our bartender's needy and quirky customers fight for her attention as she deals with a barrage of desperate phone calls from her self-medicating, about-to-be-homeless mother. A typical day in a bartender's life is full of snap judgments and snappy comebacks, but on this night Terri is forced to choose between coming to her mother’s rescue – or her own.
Michael Leeds directed Terri Girvin.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Energetic and expressive, good at miming the fast-paced routine of a bartender’s busy night, Girvin has crafted an autobiographical show that digs into an unusual family history while offering revelatory tidbits about what goes on in a neighborhood bar.
Directed by Michael Leeds, with an absolutely vital and superb sound design by Phil Pallazzolo and David Hart, Last Call keeps tugging the engaging, funny Girvin from present to past, from the bar to the giddy messed-up life of her mother Gwen. Girvin plays herself and sometimes her mom, with other actors supplying the voices of the bar’s customers, Girvin’s remarried dad and her three brothers.
Last Call is a modest little play with great sound design. It is, by turns, funny, touching and sad as Girvin flips the script on the typical bartender-customer relationship, in a good way. This time, the bartender is the one telling the stories.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Well-directed by Michael Leeds, Last Call is an eighty-five minute autobiographical one act set in a New York neighborhood bar and Girvin is the bartender and sole performer who splendidly interacts with the taped customers' voices and sound effects. She also plays the part of her own mother. Who calls incessantly throughout the show.
The voice-overs and the sound effects are extraordinarily well done. It requires no stretch to visualize the lone drunken regular, the rowdy group of guys, the girls and their wine, the anxious guy waving his money for attention. Two sound designers get credit for this excellent work: Phil Palazzolo and David Hart.
By its nature, Last Call fits well into the small space that is Empire Stage. The set is sparse, but that's just fine as Girvin paints a no longer young woman proud of her different upbringing by her different mother, but equally saddened by her mother's slow descent into a personal hell.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The world premiere of Terri Girvin’s funny and even touching tour through the interior life of someone people take for granted is a modest gem worthy of dropping in at faux tavern inside the tiny Empire Stage.
Last Call instantly grabs the audience as Girvin enters the bar to set up for the night. Girvin, a diminutive woman with a faint blue collar air, wins us over with a self-deprecating, world-weary wit, a sharp eye for human foibles and a willingness to expose the secrets of a good bartender such as placing the napkins on the bar in a way that cuts down the number of steps she’ll take on the 11 miles she’ll walk tonight.
The transplanted New Yorker has been developing the piece for quite some time with local director Michael Leeds and sound designers Phil Palazzolo and David Hart. The end result is an amazingly smooth and fluid piece of theater.
Last Call is one of those nice surprises for serial theatergoers who will find themselves suddenly charmed by an entertaining and intriguing piece of work.
Last Call plays at Empire Stage through May 5, 2012.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mondays are Dark

We've had a nice little cool front blow through over the weekend; a good excuse to stay indoors and catch one of the numerous productions playing on area stages.

Here's your Monday reading list!

The Next Generation
The Miami Herald fills us in on the high school troupe that will represent Florida at the International Thespian Theatre Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, this coming June.  There's just one little hitch:
Somehow, the troupe will have to raise almost $20,000 to fund that trip. The school and the district can’t afford to front them the money.
Speaking of Fundraising
Mosaic Theatre has found someone who's matching any donation made up until April 17.

Feel it
The Examiner reports that The Playground Theatre will be offering a "sensory-friendly" performance of A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, but doesn't tell us what that means.

From Postponed to Canceled
Caldwell Theatre Company, a South Florida institution for 37 years, canceled its final production of its 2011-12 season, the world premiere of Christopher Demos-Browns' Our Lady of Allapattah.  The news was broken by Florida Theater On Stage,
The Caldwell Theatre Company, the region’s second oldest professional theater still in operation, has cancelled its last show of the season and is considering every possible scenario for its future, its artistic director announced early Wednesday afternoon.

“Every option is on the table,” said Artistic Director Clive Cholerton, who has been fighting for years to restore solvency to the Boca Raton theater.
Aggravating the attempt to recover from the financial problems was transparency.  Cholerton had publically acknowledged the financial challenges for years and discussed the possibility of seeking Chapter 11 protection in February. In contrast, Florida Stage had been in fiscal trouble for some time but managed to keep it quiet while insiders tried to fix the financial situation, even selling season subscriptions during the weekend that the board of directors voted to shut down the theater.

The Miami Herald followed up with a report that the company had worked out a ticket exchange with Palm Beach Dramaworks for Our Lady ticket holders.
“As much as we wanted to personally honor our ticket holders, it simply wasn’t feasible,” Cholerton said in a statement. “We continue to explore all of our options and will make a formal announcement when all of the facts have been addressed. We are incredibly appreciative of the generosity of Bill Hayes and Sue Ellen Beryl of Palm Beach Dramaworks.”
Florida Theater On Stage followed up with a report that another Palm Beach County theatre would honor Caldwell tickets:
The Plaza Theatre, a new company that opened in the former home of Florida Stage in Manalapan, will redeem tickets from the Caldwell’s Our Lady of Allapattah show with admission to its current production of Music! Music! Music!
Talkin' Broadway summarized the entire story.
The Caldwell Theatre has been called South Florida's "Cinderella Theatre" and Boca Raton's "Jewel in the Crown." Despite the financial issues at hand, Cholerton remains open about the possible future of the Caldwell Theatre as they continue to make plan for the 2012-2013 season. "Every option is on the table" he said.

In Miami, the Coconut Grove Playhouse is still closed.  The Miami Herald reports that it may be awhile long before we'll see any forward momentum, and The Miami New Times concurs:
Neither side seems willing to budge -- and that likely means an even longer wait for the Coconut Grove residents who staged a "Give It Back" protest in support of reviving the playhouse earlier this month.
It's no surprise to anyone that the Aries Group, which has wanted to develop the Grove site all along, is the sticking point.  Grovites have been opposed to any development beyond simply having a theater on the spot for decades, but the Grove board and Aries blithely moved ahead with their (failed) plans.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Slow Burn Theatre Company: Into The Woods (3 reviews)

Slow Burn Theatre Company opened its production of Into The Woods at the West Boca Performing Arts Center on April 13, 2012.
Journey into the dark side of Happily Ever After… Slow Burn Theatre invites you to a twisted fairy tale land deep in the world of Sondheim’s popular musical – complete with dead giants, less-than-charming princes and one particularly ambivalent witch. Enjoy the exquisite score as your favorite fairy tale characters learn “Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white” when you venture “Into the Woods.” Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine.
Patrick Fitzwater directed and choreographed a cast that included Conor Walton, Anne Chamberlain, Rick Pena, Lindsey Forgey, Matthew Korinko, Lisa Kerstin Braun, Mary Gundlach, Lindsey Johr, Andy Fiacco, Noah Lavine, Tina Lilly, Ann Marie Olson, Krista Johnson, Jamie Kautzmann, Alisha Todd, Justin Schneyer, and Sean Muldoon.

Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
...we lucky Floridians don’t have to go that far or wait that long to see a first-rate staging of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical. Slow Burn Theatre has mounted a must-see production of its own in West Boca Raton.
...with the smooth direction of Patrick Fitzwater and the stellar musical direction of Manny Schvartzman, the talented cast emerges from the dry ice haze. The beauty of watching this production is to see each of the main characters soar in their individual moments, then seamlessly come together as an ensemble for the big production numbers.
Matthew Korinko as the Baker and Lisa Kerstin Braun as his wife are a perfect duet. Korinko shows a range of emotion especially on the riveting No More, while Anne Chamberlain’s tender take as Cinderella on No One Is Alone is pure perfection. Mary Gundlach commands the stage as the Witch each time she arrives with a voice that most likely can be heard all the way to Miami-Dade. Rick Peña as Jack, Lindsey Forgey as Little Red and Conor Walton as the foppish narrator (an unusual, but very fun way to play this character) steal scenes with some of the best comic moments. The duet of dueling princes, Noah Levine and Andy Fiacco, in Agony is precise and played to the hilt.
Into the Woods is a complicated challenge that many theater groups have tried and failed to execute, but Slow Burn Theatre proves that even small companies can have big dreams and make them come true.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Slow Burn Theatre Company’s current production of Into The Woods is a solidly delightful and enthralling evening that should not be missed by lovers of musical theater in the region – and that includes people in Miami-Dade loathe to travel to the wilds of western Boca Raton.
Starting with the unobtrusive but rock solid leadership of director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater and musical director Manny Schvartzman, this production again features a large non-Equity cast who would be steadily employed by the region’s musical theater production houses if there was any justice, plus a team of skilled designers who have created a fully-realized fantasy world with a tenth of the resources of many other companies...
Slow Burn’s virtues are so many that it will be impossible to give everyone their due. But let’s start with how well the cast conquers Sondheim’s sadistically intricate words and music, especially a cast with day jobs and limited rehearsal time. It’s a major accomplishment that not only have most of them mastered the tongue-twisting words and rollercoaster melodies, but that the ensemble en masse maintain the diction required to land the torrent of words in the title number.
One sterling example is Anne Chamberlain as Cinderella rationalizing that making no decision is the safest decision in “On the Steps of the Palace.”

Chamberlain finds every nuance in the classic Sondheimian ambivalence...
Others wring out every emotion from their guts such as Matthew Korinko’s distraught baker in “No More” or Mary Gundlach in just about anything she sings as the witch, but notably “Last Midnight,” “Lament” and “Children Will Listen.”

Still others, with fine voices, bring a comic sensibility to their roles along with strong voices, notably Lindsey Forgey as the daffy determined Red Riding Hood discovering sex, and Noah Levine as Rapunzel’s fatuous prince and Andy Fiacco as Cinderella’s even more fatuous prince...
Believe this: Slow Burn’s productions are not Carbonell eligible only because co-founders Fitzwater and Korinko are prudently not ready to add the expense of the third weekend required by the Carbonell rules. The rest of the musical houses in the region should be grateful. These folks would give them one hell of a run for their money.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach Arts Paper:
With a cast of 19 and some two dozen intricate musical numbers, this is easily the largest undertaking for the three-year-old company, which manages to negotiate the show’s substantial demands with seeming ease.
Heading the cast as the Baker, who must learn a few things about marital teamwork in his quest for four objects that will erase the curse of childlessness, is co-artistic director Matthew Korinko. A reliable utility player in the past, he steps into this pivotal leading role with assurance and an authoritative 11 o’clock number, No More. He is well paired with Lisa Kerstin Braun as his spunky wife...
Other standouts in the cast include Slow Burn veterans Anne Chamberlain as a sweet-voiced Cinderella (who sings the show’s concluding message song, No One Is Alone, an anthem of community) and Lindsey Forgey as a no-nonsense -- yet drily comic -- Red Riding Hood, a match for any hungry wolf.
Director Patrick Fitzwater employs the physical surroundings expertly, deploying his actors without incurring traffic jams... and Manny Schvartzman leads a capable five-member musical combo that accompanies this heady sylvan romp, which comes recommended for Sondheads and for the Into the Woods uninitiated.
Slow Burn Theatre Company presents Into the Woods at the West Boca Performing Arts Center through April 22, 2012.

Andrews Living Arts Studios: Avenue Q (reviews)

Andrews Living Arts Studios opened its production of Avenue Q The Musical on April 6, 2012.
Avenue Q  was the winner of the TONY “Triple Crown” for BEST MUSICAL, BEST SCORE and BEST BOOK  in 2003. With 2,534 performances,  Avenue Q ranks 21st on the list of longest running shows in Broadway history.

Avenue Q is a musical in two acts, conceived by Robert Lopez and local Florida resident, Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics. The book was written by Jeff Whitty.   Avenue Q is a coming-of-age parable, addressing and satirizing the issues and anxieties associated with entering adulthood. The musical uses puppets alongside human actors.

Warning: the characters use abundant profanity in dialogue and musical lyrics and there are episodes of "full puppet nudity" and puppet “sex”.
Robert D. Nation directed a cast that included Nora Emmanuel, Peter Gorobetz, Rachel Klein-Muller, James Lott, Donni McCarthy, Christie Oliver, Kenneth Stigger, Pamela Stigger, Todd Storey, Clayton Stults, and Jay Reese.  Vocal Direction by Rachel Klein-Miller

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Just how strong are the songs and jokes in the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q?  So sturdy that even with shaky voices, so-so acting and laugh-killing scenery changes, the enthusiastic and earnest cast at Andrews Living Arts Studio nearly pulled off the sassy satire of urban life. Nearly.

A forgiving undemanding audience may enjoy the evening because this R-rated,  irreverent, profane and ribald riff on Sesame Street is just innately that funny. Pickier listeners will tire of some singers who can barely be heard in the second of the tiny theater’s three rows or how many actors with pleasant voices keep hitting flat notes.
Some of the performers under the direction of Robert D. Nation, in fact, have a flair for making the large Muppet-like creatures come to life, especially Lott and Storey.
A serious problem is that scene changes occurring in blackouts take too long and bring the pace to a screeching halt. This is not the theater’s fault: It has so little money that it cannot afford morphing sets and enough lighting instruments to light one area of the stage while another is changed.

Once again, credit Andrews Living Arts and Nation for aiming high. The shoestring company, which performs in an old mechanic’s garage, has bravely attempted difficult works like Equus and Angels In America. This time, it’s climbed out on a financial limb by renting the puppets, videos and pre-recorded music tracks in hopes that this might be their breakout hit in an open-ended run.
The Andrews Living Arts Studio production of Avenue Q is currently selling tickets through May 6, 2012, with hopes to extend if sales warrant.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Scene for April 13, 2012

And the season churns relentlessly along; the Caldwell Theatre has cancelled its final production of its 2011-12 season, which was to have been the world premiere of Our Lady of Allapattah. by South Florida playwright Christopher Demos-Brown.  Caldwell management has arranged an exchange deal with Palm Beach DramaWorks for those patrons interested in going to West Palm Beach to see Proof.

On a brighter note, Actors' Workshop and Repertory Company is naming its performance space after the late Bhetty Waldron, a fixture in the Palm Beach theatre scene for many years, and founded the Quest Theater & Institute, Inc.  They're dedicating it this weekend, and have all sorts of activities planned as part of the celebration.

Here's the scene for this week-


Slow Burn Theatre opens Into the Woods, for an all too brief run that ends April 22nd.

Little Shop of Horrors opens at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, where it plays through May 20.

First Step Productions and Empire Stage open the world premiere of Last Call, through May 6, 2012.

Music! Music! Music! opens at The Plaza Theatre, and plays through April 29.

you still haven't missed...

"Master Harold" ...and the boys
plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through April 29, 2012.  Expect this one to sell out; the critics are raving, and DramaWorks has been playing to packed houses all season.

Avenue Q comes to the Andrews Living Arts Studio in what's apparently an open-ended run.

The Stage Door presents The All Night Strut! at their second stage in Coral Springs through April 29th.

Laffing Matterz plays the Broward Center's Abdo New River Room, for its third season of dinner and comedy.

last chance to see...

Zoetic Stage's critically acclaimed world premiere of Moscow at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts winds up its run on April 15, 2012.

Match plays at Key West's Red Barn Theatre finishes its run on April 14.

passing through...

The national tour of South Pacific plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through April 22, 2012.

coming and going...

The Aventura Arts & Cultural Center presents Simply Streisand: Back to Broadway, Saturday night only.


Lake Worth Playhouse presents The Music Man through April 29,

Florida Atlantic University presents Dangerous Liaisons through April 22.

for kids...

Skippyjon Jones is the centerpiece of Family Fun Day at the Broward Center this Sunday, April 15.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Broward Center: South Pacific (4 reviews)

The national tour of South Pacific opened at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for a two week run on April 10, 2012.
A stunning reinvention produced by Lincoln Center Theater, South Pacific swept the 2008 Tony Awards, winning seven honors including Best Musical Revival and Best Director for Bartlett Sher.
Set on a tropical island during World War II, the musical tells the sweeping romantic story of two couples and how their happiness is threatened by the realities of war and by their own prejudices. The beloved score's songs include "Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "This Nearly Was Mine" and "There is Nothin' Like a Dame."
Director Sarna Lapine re-created Bartlett Sher's staging with a cast that included Jennie Sophia, Marcelo Guzzo, Shane Donovan, Cathy Foy-Mahi, Christian Marriner, and Hsin-Yu Liao.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
This second national tour of South Pacific at the Broward Center envelops the willing participant in a sense that when the American Musical Theater is at its best – intelligently executed, sensitively acted and lushly produced – that it takes a back seat to no other art form.

A strong cast blessed with expressive voices and solid acting chops underscore the mature nature of the Rodgers and Hammerstein warhorse often sugar-coated in productions echoing the criminally sanitized film versions.

It isn’t just the sobering theme of prejudice; this cast dives into the adult emotions of complicated romantic relationship swirling against the backdrop of war and death.
Jennie Sophia is an endearing Nellie with a soprano that caresses the score and who doesn’t lose that Arkansas accent when she’s singing. Shane Donovan brings a reliable tenor to Lt. Cable... and for once, this is a manly battle-weary soldier rather than the usual practice of casting some dreamy-eyed swain.
Also worth praise is Cathy Foy-Mahi as the gimlet-eyed Bloody Mary always looking for an angle, Hsin-Yu Liao as the charmingly delicate Liat and Christian Marriner as the comical wheeler-dealer Luther Billis, this time with a non-regulation moustache and goatee...
But especially memorable is Marcelo Guzzo as Emile. Like most of his high-profile predecessors, Guzzo is a baritone from the opera world who has no experience in eight-shows-a-week musical theater and for whom English is not a first language. Which makes his success here so surprising and welcome. His rich voice romances the music and lyrics like a warm embrace.
The original staging for Lincoln Center by Bartlett Sher and Christopher Gattelli has been rejiggered into more two-dimensional blocking for a proscenium stage by Sarna Lapine and Joe Langworth. You yearn for that wide ranging movement we saw on the PBS Live At Lincoln Center broadcast in 2010. But it has a steady fluidity that never drags, although South Pacific remains and feels like a long show by contemporary standards. I’ve always thought the Thanksgiving Show scene should be cut by half.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
South Pacific, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this week and next, hails from the glory days of American musicals. The Pulitzer Prize winner is not, however, a relic... the gorgeous music, the compelling story, intriguing characters and timeless themes are undiminished in their power to move an audience.

The touring version was put together by the assistants to the Broadway creative team, and they’ve done the original proud...  The impact of a far-smaller orchestra isn’t as great, but NETworks (the producer of this non-Equity tour) hasn’t stinted on the powerful voices that the Rodgers and Hammerstein score demands.
The dashing Emile, for instance, is played by Uruguayan baritone Marcelo Guzzo, whose lush and booming voice would doubtless reach the tip-top of the balcony without a microphone. Though new to musical theater acting, the handsome Guzzo conveys the passion Emile feels for Jennie Sophia’s Nellie Forbush...
The slender, lovely, upbeat Sophia is fine as Navy nurse Nellie, initially subdued but blossoming as the show goes on. Emotionally, she turns on a dime... Nellie’s journey involves one of the show’s toughest themes — the crushing foolishness of prejudice — and Sophia handles that artfully.
Donovan’s voice is tender as he sings Younger Than Springtime to Liat, withering as he dissects prejudice in You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught. Director Sarna Lapine lets the two get away with acting that is too melodramatic, however.
The show’s two comic characters definitely deliver, Cathy Foy-Mahi as the delightfully conniving and insulting Bloody Mary, Christian Marriner as supreme huckster Luther Billis.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
The music is entrancing, (a nine piece orchestra electronically enhanced), the singing and dancing fair to middling, and the acting ranges from opera ham to road show routine.

Unfortunately there's simply no sparkle to the show, no feeling for the era.  Inexperienced non-union actors?  Directorial problems, perhaps?   (“You move there and you cross here.”)  Sarna Lapine recreated Bartlett Sher's direction from the 2008 Lincoln Center production on which this version is based.

As in the original, this version has an opera singer in the role of Emile, the plantation owner who woos Navy nurse Nellie Forbush. Baritone Marcelo Guzzo, who plays Emile, is a handsomely strapping man with a big, booming voice.  And I couldn't get away from the sense that he couldn't wait to unleash that voice.   Acting be damned.   Jennie Sophia, who plays Nellie, sings well but because the two prefer (or have been directed thusly) to break the fourth wall, rather than sing to each other, there is little chemistry between the two lovers.

Tenor Shane Donovan plays Lt. Joseph Cable, the Marine who loves the native girl.  He's well cast as the young hero and quietly believable.
Two good things came out of the evening, however.   One, just sitting there, listening to those songs once more, and two, the determination to reread Michener's wonderful Tales of the South Pacific.
Beau Higgins reviewd for BroadwayWorld:
The National Tour based on the Tony award winning Lincoln Center revival of a few years back, brings us a SOUTH PACIFIC I only wish Rodgers and Hammerstein could see.  And yes of course, I wish all my readers could and will see it too.  For this is a SOUTH PACIFIC that is as bewitching as it is beautiful and from the moment the overture started, I loved it, loved it, loved it!
Jennie Sophia is a marvelous Nellie Forbush.  Her singing is as beautiful as she looks, and she is truly heartbreaking when battling with the racist demons within her.
Last night (Marcello) Guzzo seemed to have a few moments of difficulty when he began to sing, making us think that we may have an Emile de Becque who would be gargling the score rather than singing it.  Fear not.  Within a few moments Mr. Guzzo got his bearings, and his glorious voice and finely tuned performance enveloped us and he truly made last night’s performance of SOUTH PACIFIC, “some enchanted evening.”     
Lt. Cable is beautifully performed by the very sexy and very talented Shane Donovan.  A fine singer and actor, it is unquestionable why Liat would fall in love with him at first sight.
Comic relief is largely supplied by the assorted nurses and sailors who inhabit SOUTH PACIFIC.  They are led by Christian Marriner as Luther Billis, who was fun in a rather understated performance of a part often played over the top.
Cathy Foy-Mahi comes close to stealing the show as Bloody Mary.  It is she who gets to tell us of the wonders of BALI HA’I.  Her delivery of this song, and her whole performance is absolutely lovely.  Hers is a Bloody Mary of elegance and heart and Ms. Foy-Mahi is nothing short of beguiling.
The national tour of South Pacific plays at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through April 22, 2012.

Palm Beach DramaWorks: "Master Harold" ...and the boys (4 reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks opened its production of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold" ...and the boys on April 6, 2012.
When a South African white boy and two black workers he has known all his life connect on one rainy day, their wide-ranging discussions illustrate all that unites us and the gulf that still divides us.
William Hayes directed a cast that featured  W. Paul Bodie, Jared McGuire, and Summer Hill Seven.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach Arts Paper:
Revived by Palm Beach Dramaworks as the first of a projected annual exploration of works with racial themes, the play receives a taut, well-performed production under William Hayes’ understated direction.
As Sam, Paul Bodie is the solid center of the production, projecting dignity and strength in a soft-spoken manner that suggests awareness and acceptance of his place in society. But when provoked, Bodie shows a steely anger that is undeniable.

Jared McGuire (Hally) capably handles the substantial verbal demands of his role...  Summer Hill Seven draws the shortest leg of the performance triangle... but he radiates an authenticity that frequently draws attention to him.
Michael Amico’s tea room set is not the showiest design he has done for the new Don and Ann Brown Theatre, but it is another triumph of character-rich detail and atmosphere.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The obscenity that was racism in South Africa in the mid 20th Century depicted in Master Harold…and the boys may be less virulent today, but Athol Fugard’s 1982 play remains a gut punch of theater because the poison so clearly persists around us all with a dispiriting universality.

Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production starts sluggishly, absent the whiff of apartheid needed to fuel dramatic tension. But once the plot takes its crucial left turn, the drama under William Hayes’ direction surges powerfully toward an inexorably stunning and heartbreaking conclusion.
The production only has two shortcomings. The minor one is that while the accents are admirably authentic sounding to a North American’s ear, some of the verbiage gets lost in the enunciation.

More crucial is what’s missing in the early scenes. Two facets must be clear without it ever being said: Hally has a deep affection for Sam and Willie that goes beyond companionship. Second, Hally must exude being so deeply infected with the false entitlement of white superiority that he doesn’t even know he harbors it... McGuire doesn’t that bring any of that in the door with him.

But McGuire redeems himself in his anguished conversations on the phone with his mother and father...
It is Bodie’s performance under Hayes direction and speaking Fugard’s words that gives the production its strong emotional core... 
Seven has the thankless role of the ebullient simple soul Willie, but Seven is always present in the moment, always listening... Seven gives Willie warm eyes, a generous smile and good heart without slipping into caricature.
Dramaworks has richly earned its reputation as one of the finest purveyors of theater in the state, and expectations are raised with each production. Master Harold…and the boys remains a thought-provoking and passionate production of substance.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...even though Master Harold is set in 1950, just two years after apartheid laws were enacted, the play is as powerfully resonant as ever.
As staged by artistic director William Hayes on Michael Amico’s beautifully quaint set... this Master Harold doesn’t ever shrink from the realities outside the tea room door... McGuire fully inhabits Hally’s pain and cruelty, resisting the impulse to soften the character early on. So when he turns on Sam, his actions seem inevitable, not that the result is any less disturbing.

Seven’s Willie seems deceptively sweet, benign and often comical, until he matter-of-factly reveals his repeated pattern of physical abuse. Then that sunny smile feels a little creepy.
The heart and soul of Master Harold…and the boys is Sam, embodied for the third time by Bodie, who most recently played the role at GableStage in 2004. Honed over time, Bodie’s performance is exquisitely detailed, a mixture of warmth, dignity, hurt, outrage and mature compassion. Bodie was nominated for a best actor Carbonell Award for the 2004 performance, and his engrossing work here is every bit as fine.
John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
In light of the tragic recent events in Sanford, it seems like the appropriate time for a play about racism — especially the insidious kind that manifests itself when "provoked."
McGuire, in his South Florida acting debut, is a kinetic presence from his first entrance; his flawless execution of a conflicted character is a joy to watch.
Séven is fine as the slow-witted Willie, a shoegazing role that operates mostly on the play's periphery.
...Bodie, an underused local actor, brings a studied grace and a careful, restrained consideration to the role of Sam.
Special praise must be reserved for Dramaworks' indefatigable design team, going the extra mile with a layered set that presents, with uncanny realism, rain pattering down on the panes and foliage placed outside the glass doors of the tearoom.
...despite all of this and despite the timeliness of the subject matter, there's something inherently unsatisfying about Master Harold. Fugard is a didactic writer, interested in civics lessons as much as great drama, and the elliptical nature of the play allows for few thrilling moments. Portions of it sag like an overused mattress, a chore for even great directors like Bill Hayes to overcome. Dramaworks' Master Harold can feel a bit like eating your veggies, but my — what gloriously arranged veggies they are.
"Master Harold" ...and the boys plays at Palm Beach DramaWorks through April 29, 2012.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mondays are Dark

We hope you had a lovely Easter and/or Passover.  Here's your post-holiday reading list.

Some Enchanted Evening(s)
South Pacific opens at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this week; Christine Dolen at The Miami Herald gives us a nice history of the musical, while Broadway World runs down the facts of this production.  From The Herald:
The music, of course, is sublime. It’s easier to mention the South Pacific songs that haven’t become classics than it is to list the ones that are well-known treasures...
Tragic Magic
Miami Artzine talks with the creative team of Death and Harry Houdini, the next House Theatre of Chicago production coming to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Miami is the first city to see Death and Harry Houdini, although this is the second time House Theater of Chicago has brought a production to the Adrienne Arsht Center having presented The Sparrow in the Carnival Studio Theater last year.
Florida Theater On Stage reports that Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, a new play which had its regional premiere at New Theatre, has gone on to receive a citation from the American Theatre Critics Association ‘s new plays competition.
The award was created by ATCA in 1977 to recognize excellence in playwriting by honoring the best new plays not yet produced in New York City. Since 2000, it has been generously funded by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, making the $40,000 Steinberg/ATCA the largest national new play award of its kind.
Speaking of New Theatre
TheatreMania reports that New Theatre will present its 6th Annual Miami Stories, which is either a play reading festival that also servers as a fundraiser, or vice-versa.

Master-ful Play
The Shiny Sheet has a great story about Athol Fugard's Master Harold and the Boys, which opened Saturday at Palm Beach Dramaworks.  Jan Sjostrom talks with artistic director Bill Hayes, and the three cast members.
Hayes sees Dramaworks playing a role in initiating a dialogue about race that could lead to broader perspectives and a healthier society. Discussions two years ago, when the company examined the works of August Wilson in its master playwrights series, convinced him that Dramaworks’ audience was keenly interested in racial issues as well.
Four Questions
Audience Wanted is inspired by a Passover Seder tradition, and finds four questions that arts organizations should ask themselves every year.

Teen Perspective
The Groundlings was at this year's Carbonell Awards, and talks about seeing A Steady Rain at Gablestage.

Google your Audience
The Producer's Perspective tells us how to make use of a cool tool from Google.
If you’ve been reading this blog for longer than, oh, a day, then you know I love research like Mama Rose loves her Dainty June.  Too many decisions are made in this business by folks sitting around an ad table (who probably haven’t purchased a theater ticket in the last decade), without consulting the people that actually have to figure out how to get a babysitter, how to get the best seats, and how to afford our high prices. 
Arts for All
The Examiner fills us in on the latest production from Voices United; Portal 108.  It's described as a "living museum" that will be presented at the Arsht Center on April 14.
The culturally diverse ensemble is comprised of 50 students, ages 10-20. The student actors, singers, dancers, musicians and visual artists represent 18 schools and colleges in Miami-Dade County.
Hee Haw, and so on
The Miami Herald reports that the Arsht Center is bring in Dian Paulus down to put together a production of The Donkey Show, a disco take on A Midsummer Night's Dream; and get this; they're casting locally.  Also, Christopher Durang will be participating in CityWrights. And there are a couple of college productions on the horizon.


... in Miami, the Coconut Grove Playhouse is still closed.  But The Coconut Grove Grapevine shows there's still a lot of community support for a theatre in the neighborhood.