Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mad Cat Theatre; The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show (reviews)

Mad Cat Theatre premiered its original production of The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show  at the Miami Light Project at the Goldman Warehouse on July 26, 2012.
Wrapping up Mad Cat Theatre Company’s 12th season, is yet another World Premiere, this time a play written by Jessica Farr and Paul Tei. The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is a deconstruction of Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Hamlet”. Their take not only allots the age old question “To be or not to be” but contemplates whether or not the question is even still valid in today’s hypermodern society. Through the use of music, multimedia and puppetry, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, directed by Paul Tei, is a tragedy of errors that remains in dialogue with the dead in order to build a method for which to go on living.
Paul Tei directed a cast that featured Troy Davidson, Ken Clement, Christopher A. Kent, Giordan Diaz, Carey Brianna Hart, Emilie Paap, Theo Reyna, Brian Sayre, James Samuel Randolph, and Jessica Farr.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The bones of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy are visible in The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, Jessica Farr and Paul Tei’s ambitious deconstruction of a world theater classic.... At 2 1/2 hours, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is quirky, engaging, alienating, provocative, frustrating and more.
...Tei creates plenty of striking stage pictures in the black-box theater at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a space he utilizes inventively with his talented creative team – set designer Sean McClelland, sound designer-composer Matt Corey, lighting designer Melissa Santiago Keenan and costume designer Leslye Menshouse. Davidson isn’t an electric or great Hamlet, but his performance works and he handles his dialogue well...
The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show takes on Shakespeare with an audacious, go-big-or-go-home attitude. The original wins hands down, but props to Mad Cat for adventurously challenging itself by trying to make a classic resonate in fresh ways.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theatre On Stage:
Theater should not be safe, comforting and familiar; it should be an unsettling stimulus for a fresh examination of life and society. Conventional expectations be damned.

Playwrights Tei and Jessica Farr certainly have accomplished that with their world premiere at Mad Cat Theatre Company. This Hamlet is a stylized mashup of Shakespeare, Brecht and 21st Century performance art that examines existentialism versus nihilism by setting the vacillating Dane in a fantasia of modern American politics and power.
Farr and Tei deserve laurels for shoving past mainstream strictures with intelligence and a unique artistic sensibility. But as with Mad Cat’s Macbeth and the Monster and so my grandmother died blah…blah…blah , it’s time to demand less throw-it-at-the-wall invention and more artistic rigor. Doubtless, Farr and Tei can explain the relevance of every moment to its themes. But the relevance isn’t vaguely perceptible to the audience in many moments and even long stretches. Perpetual clarity is hardly a necessary element of theater, but for this dinosaur of a critic, the audience’s comprehension even on an unconscious or visceral level is part of the artistic equation if you want them to connect to your piece.
Many of the staging ideas are delicious, such as Hamlet texting his “doubt truth to be a liar” love letter to Ophelia’s cell phone. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Skyped in. Secretary of State Polonius is a hand puppet operated by the venal President Claudius. Some ideas, though, go too far such as burying the German emcee under an accent so thick that we can’t understand her.
The cast is having an infectiously grand old time. Most performances seem comfortable and credible, an accomplishment in this upside down world. But one performance is barely adequate and another actor’s performance is flatter than Oklahoma, illustrating absolutely no feel for the words — when he can be heard or understood.

Back at the top of the list is the ever-dependable Ken Clement as a delightfully slick demagogue President Claudius. Clement is utterly convincing in everything he does, even when he’s operating Polonius the puppet. In the title role, Troy Davidson is as good as we’ve ever seen him. His somber and smart Hamlet has the bulk of the mashed-up dialogue, yet Davidson makes both the verse and vernacular sound plausible.
Christopher Kent... provides four solid and distinct performances as the leading player delivering a passage from Muller’s play The Hamlet Machine; the grave Fortinbras, the dissolute Osric and the wry Irish gravedigger.
Acknowledge that Tei has the courage of his convictions to consistently invest his productions with a refreshingly stylistic vision. He creates idiosyncratic work on stage that’s likely pretty close to the images in his head. So the only issue is whether individual audience members can plug into his wavelength. What you can’t argue with is that this, even with its occasional excess and sloppiness, this is theater.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
There are several words which come to mind in order to fairly critique Mad Cat Theatre’s world premiere of The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show, the 2012 version of Shakespeare’s great tragedy brought to life here by playwrights Jessica Farr and talented South Florida writer/actor Paul Tei. The first is “theatre” and the second is “intellectual.”
The ensemble includes Farr as Mueller, the copy-cat /narrator mumbling her important lines usually in a thick German accent; and the always reliable Ken Clement as Mr. President/Claudius who murdered Hamlet’s father and then married his widow Gertrude (Carey Brianna Hart.). Of course, there is the rest ofthe Bard’s band including Hamlet(Troy Davidson), the get-thee-to-a-nunnery Ophelia (Emilie Paap); her Smitten brother Laertes (Gordon Diaz); Hamlet’s pal Horatio (Theo Reyna;) the drummer (Brian Sayre) and, playing several roles (all well done) Christopher Kent. Kent’s singular moment s as an actor with egomania and his turn as the gravedigger with an impeccable accent are prize-worthy supporting moments

Vice President Palonius is actually a puppet *can you imagine any office holder as a puppet?} handled ably and humorously by the versatile Ken Clement.

Nods should go to the creative team st the black box theatre, as well. Set designer Sean McClelland, sound guru Matt Corey, lighting designer Melissa Santiago Keenan, costumer Leslye Menshouse and the rest of the technical talent.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Joined by co-writer Jessica Farr, Tei has brought us a circus of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Heiner Muller's Hamletmachine (Google it - ouch)) glued together by the Farr/Tei slick writing, sometimes brilliant staging and astro imaginations. It's just too bad they didn't bring an editor, for there were a few times when a seemingly endless scene elicited an urge to stand up and shout: “Enough already!”

And that's a shame, for Mad Cat has a lot to say, and usually they say it well, but with the Dog and Pony they're mired in current global and local political history (a tough place to garner laughs, belly or otherwise) and are at times ill-served by an uneven cast.
The many scenes mostly rattle by, stopped now and then by theatrical magic; viz Ophelia's corpse being carried off stage.

There's prancing and dancing, singing of sorts and really well done musical accompaniment...  For all, it's an interesting evening; what will pop forth next? Paul Tei stretches his theatre with every show and he does that here with some success and that's worthy of much applause just for the trying.
Chris Joseph went to see it for The Miami New Times:
In their latest play, The Hamlet Dog And Pony Show, which opened this weekend at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, Mad Cat throws the proverbial kitchen sink at its audience.
The use of fog machines, a live band, and actor James Samuel Randolph's voice as the disembodied spirit of King Hamlet was stylish and cool. Sean McClelland's simple nightmare carnival set design against Lighthouse's black walls made for a fantastical ambiance.
The entire cast turns in a solid performance. Davidson's ability to play a cool, not-quite-sane, not-quite-crazy Hamlet is impressive. Clement, as Claudius and the puppet, is hilarious. Christopher Kent puts on a virtuoso performance as a supporting actor, portraying with flair and conviction not only a guitar and bass, but also several characters, such as the Gravedigger, the Actor, and Mr. Osric.
Mad Cat Theatre presents its original production of The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show at the Miami Light Project at the Goldman Warehouse through August 12, 2012.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mondays are Dark

Has anyone taken advantage of the Theatre League's A Taste of Summer Theatre yet?  Let us know how it worked out for you, we're keen to know.

As you'll see below, there are a couple of readings on Tuesday this week, in case you're not going to be able to see a show on the weekend.

Without further ado, here's your reading list for the week beginning July 30, 2012;

Tuesdays are Not So Dark
The Drama Queen starts out by talking about last week's Short Play Soiree at GableStage, and Dog Sees God, part of Conundrum Stage's Ghostlight Series at Empire Stage, but moves on to David Kwiat's poetry reading tomorrow night (July 31) at GableStage.

On and On about Outré
Florida Theatre On Stage is excited about Outré Theatre Company's reading of Dog Sees God, held at Empire Stage as part of Conundrum Stage's Ghostlight Series.  Consider that with their staged reading of tick...tick...BOOM, and the future looks quite bright indeed.
I don’t want to slather the praise too thickly on this shoestring company that won’t be tested by mounting a full-fledged production until late this fall.

But if these two shows are any indication, South Florida’s theater scene may be on the verge of welcoming a significant new voice.
He concludes with a well deserved kudos to David Gordon and Empire Stage.

Speaking of New Companies with Bright Futures
The Examiner is excited about the offerings from Slow Burn Theatre for next season.
The Slow Burn flame has lit a burning fourth season blazing with the Tony Award winning musicals Avenue Q, Side Show, Sweeney Todd and The Wedding Singer. Theatre Chat bets this could be South Florida's hottest tickets for musical theatre.
Speaking of Puppets
OK, we admit that that is a sloppy segue into the Miami Herald's interview with Jim Hammond of The Puppet Network. But our early drafts were so much worse.

Words Wanted
Florida Theater On Stage reports that City Theater is looking for a few short plays. 
City Theatre will begin accepting ten-minute play scripts next month for consideration for production in its annual Summer Shorts festival, highlighted by its National Award for Short Playwriting.
Lights! Camera!
The Palm Beach Post tells us about how kids at G-Star School of the Arts are stepping it up a level.

Christmas in July
South Florida Gay News reports that Parade Productions has signed Michael McKeever to reprise his star turn in David Sedaris' The Santaland Diaries this December.  They will also be mounting The Whole Caboodle, a collection of some of McKeever's shorter plays.

Never Shut Up
Mission Paradox tells us that there is no "down time" for your theater's marketing department.
You have an arts exhibition in July, it closes in August.  The next thing is in November.  What are going to do between those times?

If you aren't talking about it the entire time, then yes, you ARE disappearing.  People only check in while they think they'll find something new or fresh. If they keep coming to your site to find it hasn't changed since your last production, they'll eventually assume you've closed.

So when your show closes, keep talking, even if it's only to say "No news - but we're working on stuff!"

Speaking of Not Updating Your Website
The Miami Herald carries GableStage's season announcement: highlights include an adaptation of Hamlet by Tarell Alvin McRaney and Bijan Shebani, and Stephen Kram's Sons of the Prophet.  Of course, these plays appear nowhere on the GableStage website.

In Search of... Comps
A theatre insider reveals that while you can't get free tickets to national tours of Broadway shows, you can often find cheap tickets - on You Are What You Cheap.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Scene for July 27, 2012

If you think it's only the weather that's hot this summer, you haven't been reading the reviews of the shows that are playing.  Or the advance articles for the shows that are opening this week.  Wherever you live in South Florida, there is excellent theatre playing near you this weekend.  If you're a member of the South Florida Theater League, you've got an amazing selection of ticket deals.  If you're not a member, join.  Or if that's really too much bother, you can simply click on the Discount Tickets tab above, which takes you to WLRN's Cultural Connection, which offers same-day discount tickets for many theaters in South Florida.

And don't forget to indulge in A Taste of Summer Theatre.

Here's what's playing on The Scene this weekend...


The Naked Stage returns to the theatre scene with Turn of the Screw at Barry University's Pelican Theatre.

The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show is the latest world premiere of an original play from Mad Cat Theatre Company, at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.  Great advance article at Florida Theater On Stage.

The man who wrote the movie that became the stage musical Hairspray plays at the Parker Playhouse this Saturday night only.  Filmmaker and author John Waters performs his one man show, This Filthy World.

you still haven't missed...

Teatro en Miami Studio presents Smile, through August 19.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill plays at Broward Stage Door through August 26.

Palm Beach DramaWorks' long-awaited production of The Fantasticks is currently the most-reviewed production in South Florida, playing through August 5, 2012.  As expected, it's been selling out; get your tickets now.

Actors' Playhouse presents Real Men Sing Show Tunes and play with puppets  at The Miracle Theater through August 12, 2012.

The Donkey Show is going full tilt at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through August 12, 2012

Kutumba Theatre Project presents Baby GirL at Empire Stage through August 5, 2012.

RACE plays at GableStage through August 5, 2012.


Andrews Living Arts Studio in Fort Lauderdale offers HAIR, through August 5th.

Main Street Players opens Closer, through August 12.

passing through...

Divorce Party; The Musical returns to The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, through August 19.

last chance to see...

Teatro Avante presents The XXVII International Hispanic Theater Festival at various venues in Miami through July 29, 2012. Never fear; some of it's in English, some is super-titled, and several pieces have no speech at all.  It's this week's Miami Herald Stage Pick.

Hairspray at the venerable Lake Worth Playhouse ends its run on July 29, 2012.  Theatre critic Bill Hirschman said "it was
surprisingly good. The most interesting aspects were talented folks who
some professional non-Equity houses might want to scout out"

for kids...

Fort Lauderdale Childrens' Theatre presents its production of Hairspray at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, through Saturday.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater offers Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, through August 4.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

South Florida Theatre League Needs YOU.

Via email, from the Theatre League:

Join the South Florida Theatre League at the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs Townhall Meeting on August 7
The biggest funder of the South Florida Theatre League is the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. Please join our efforts to keep arts funding alive for the Theatre League and our member organizations.

Please join us at the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs Townhall Meeting on August 7.

VOTE and encourage your audience members and supporters to vote in the August 14 primary election.

This is an important vote for us as the Miami Dade Mayor and 4 commissioners are on the ballot.

Plan to join us for the Public Budget Hearings in September to speak to the County Commissioners regarding the importance of the arts and the critical financial support provided by Miami-Dade County.

During this informative evening, you will have the opportunity to participate in democracy in action! Last year, there were dozens of arts groups represented at the hearings - this had a tremendous positive impact on the budget – and we need a good turn out again this year. If the Miami-Dade funds you receive are important to you, then you must stand up and participate as a speaker at the hearings.

How can your group get involved now?

1. Sign up for our Arts Action Alliance blog at artsactionalliance.wordpress.com.We will send you updates and keep you informed

2. While on the site sign up for our email newsletter which will provide you with up to date alerts and important up to date information.

Please attend
an Important Town Meeting
hosted by the
Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council
for an Update on
"The Proposed FY2012-2013 County Budget on Cultural Programs"
with remarks by
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
3:00pm - 4:30pm
Coral Gables Congregational Church
3010 DeSoto Boulevard, Coral Gables


Monday, July 23, 2012

Mondays are Dark

Twitter is burning up with missives from people attending The Donkey Show at the Arsht Center, but the hottest ticket in South Florida is The Fantasticks at Palm Beach Dramaworks, which tweeted that the musical is almost sold out for the next eight days.  Not surprising, considering that it's the longest-running musical in history.

Via email, the Palm Beach Theatre Guild informs us that they've made a cash offer to lease the Royal Poinciana Playhouse, with "no response from lessor or owner."  We don't know when they made the offer, or how much it was for. Our advice to the Sterling Group; take the offer, and let the PBTG succeed or fail.

Just a reminder that Conundrum Stages's
weekly Ghost Light Playreading Series continues this Tuesday at Empire
Stage. And don't forget you can indulge in the Theatre League's A Taste of Summer Theatre.

The Hits Keep Coming
BroadwayWorld reports that Burt Reynolds spent the weekend with Glenn R. Wilder holding a stunt workshop at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre (BRIFT).
Reynolds... recalled his recent stint on the hit tv show Burn Notice. Wilder coordinated the stunts for the show because, according to Reynolds, "I wanted to beat him up again. I’ve been beating him up forever."
We're glad they're friends.

What DC's Got That We Ain't Got
The Drama Queen sums it up after a visit to Washington DC's Arena Stage; we ain't got a regional theatre sending productions to Broadway.  Sure, we have theatre as good as anywhere in the world, and we have South Florida talent all over the world's stages, and yes, even scrappy little companies like New Theatre have commissioned plays that are produced across the country, but no one's sending their actual productions to The Great White Way.

From Donkeys to Dogs & Ponies
The Examiner fills us in on the latest project from Mad Cat Theatre: The Hamlet Dog & Pony Show, opening this week at the awkward to type The Light Box At Goldman Warehouse.  It's another re-interpretation of a Shakespeare classic show, although we suspect there will be a lot less disco.

We're Tops
...or at least, amongst the top.  The Stage Door over in Naples brags that their Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall made the top 25 in world wide ticket sales in Pollstar Magazine's Report for mid-year 2012.  But two South Florida venues rank in the Top Ten; the Kravis Center came in at Number 6, and the Broward Center came in at Number Ten.

Storm Damage
The Palm Beach Daily News reports that The Kravis Center has settled with their insurance company regarding damage from hurricanes Jeanne and Frances back in 2004.
The Kravis, which sought $29 million in damages, alleged that the delay increased the risk to the property beyond the amount for which it was originally insured.
Meanwhile, The Miami Herald reports that the Miami-Dade County Commission has agreed to cough up $5 million towards Arsht Center repairs. A storm drain failed during a May thunderstorm. 
Commissioners agreed that the money needed to be released quickly so the repairs could be completed before the center’s next season starts in October. But many sounded unhappy about pouring more money into an already expensive building.
The funds cover the deductible as well as a forensic examination to determine if the failure was due to shoddy materials or workmanship.  We'll see if the Arsht Center also has to fight for 8 years to get its claim settled.

Burning the Golden Goose
reports that the Miami City Commission has decided that Miami needs a park more than the TV show Burn Notice.
...the show employss about 150 people, spends $25 million in Miami and pays $240,000 a year to the city, an amount TVM productions says it is willing to increase if commissioners allow them to stay the extra year.
Commissioner Sarnoff is behind the move, just the latest bone-headed scheme to thwart arts and  entertainment in Coconut Grove.  As Michelle Spence stated:
"I support 100% the green space, and I am excited that it is moving in that direction," she said of Mr. Sarnoff's plan. But "if we have business happening right here in the heart of the Grove… what is the issue with giving them another year?"
But apparently the City Commission believes that Miami doesn't need those jobs, or the tens of millions of dollars the production spends in Miami while filming each year; they voted not to renew the company's lease. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Teatro Avante: XXVII International Hispanic Theatre Festival (reviews)

Teatro Avante opened the XXVII International Hispanic Theatre Festival on July 12, 2012.
The acclaimed International Hispanic Theatre Festival (IHTF) of Miami, presented by Teatro Avante, American Airlines, the festival’s official airline, the Adrienne Arsht Center and its producing and academic partner, Prometeo Theatre of Miami Dade College, is celebrating its 27th season by presenting some of the best theatre companies from Latin America, Europe and the United States in various locations in Miami and Key Biscayne, July 12 – 29, 2012.

We are privileged to announce that this year the award-winning IHTF of Miami honors U.S. LATINO THEATRE in recognition and admiration of our country's preservation and contribution to Hispanic culture.

Join us as we, once again, raise the curtain on Hispanic Culture.
Because of the nature of programming, we will collate all the reviews of all the plays in this one article.

Chris Joseph attended the opening production for The Miami New Times:
An actor whipping out his genitals is one hell of a way to kick off a theater festival, but it was Teatro Avante's choice for opening the 27th annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival (IHTF). The scene is part of Short Eyes, the legendary Puerto Rican poet Miguel Piñero's chilling 1974 play about inmates confronting a child rapist in a New York jail. Its staging at this year's festival was both a stroke of brilliance and fortunate timing, given that news had just broken that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had covered up an assistant's years of sexually assaulting boys.
Short Eyes, performed by the L.A.-based Urban Theatre Movement, might just be the festival's highlight. The staggering production was peppered with dark humor and viscerally intense moments. The story is based largely on the playwright's experiences in Sing Sing, where he served time for armed robbery. The inmates, led by Longshoe — portrayed brilliantly by veteran character actor Mark Rolston, who incidentally played Bogs, the inmate who wanted to rape Tim Robbins's Andy Dufresne in the 1994 film Shawshank Redemption — torment white, middle-class Clark, the prisoner sentenced for raping a young girl. They viciously beat him and then plot his murder in the shower. The sexual politics and unnerving portrayal of violence made for fantastic theater.
Celeste Fraser Gelgado  reviewed Nada Del Amor Me Produce Envidía (I Don’t Envy Love) for The Miami Herald:
...an enthusiastic crowd filled the Prometeo Theater for I Don’t Envy Love, which has been running in Buenos Aires with Merlino as the star since its debut there in October 2008 (she had to fly back in time for her weekly Saturday performance).
Merlino enlisted writer Santiago Loza and her husband, director Diego Lerman, to build I Don’t Envy Love around seven famous tangos of the era...  In a brilliant move, the play does not represent the romantic drama of Lamarque’s songs and films. Instead, the songs the seamstress loves are a counterpoint to her mundane and loveless life.
Merlino’s performance is both hilarious and poignant.
Not a single person left when the play ended. Instead, everyone stayed in their seats for the post-performance chat, eager to share their own reminiscences about Lamarque and, like the seamstress, bathe a little longer in her light.
Teatro Avante presents The XXVII International Hispanic Theater Festival at various venues in Miami through July 29, 2012.

Arsht Center: The Donkey Show (3 reviews)

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts engaged American Repertory Theatre artistic director to create a Miami edition of The Donkey Show, the immersive theatrical experience inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream that she created for ART, and again for Broadway.
It's the ultimate night fever - a crazy fun house of disco mirror balls and feathered divas, of roller skaters and hustle queens, enchanted by an ever-so-light sprinkling of Shakespearean magic.

Come party on the dance floor to all the '70s disco hits you know by heart as the show unfolds around you! Get the bouncer's attention—and you'll hustle right in! Get down and boogie with the star-crossed lovers, or watch from the sidelines - if that's the way you like it. And don't stop til you get enough! You can party into the night and live out your own fabulous disco fantasy.

If you love the night life, The Donkey Show will be your midsummer night's dream come true.
Allegra Libonati interpreted Diane Paulus' staging with a cast that included Stephanie Chisholm, Leah Verier-Dunn, Inger Hanna, Rudi Goblen, Derick Pierson, Shira Abergel, and Jimmy Alex  . Choreography by Rosie Herrera.

Michelle Petrucci reviewed for BroadwayWorld:
An infectious blend of Miami heat and Studio 54 spice, The Donkey Show brings the 70s alive by way of an over-the-top, rollicking disco extravaganza.... A fantastical night out with the girls or the gays, this gender-bending piece of immersive theatre is just pure fun.
Although there is some semblance of a Shakespearean storyline buried in there somewhere, it hardly matters if we are even aware of the connection between these lovers swapping lovers here beneath the disco ball and the original characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even the most traditional theatre-lovers can easily get swept away with both spectacle and nostalgia.
Stephanie Chisholm is a commanding Tytania in both stature and attitude, and her turn on silks is breathtaking. Plenty of dudes played by chicks resulted in humorous bouts of lust and jealousy, most significantly by Carolina Pozo and Leah Verier-Dunn.

If one question mark remains after the confetti has settled and the glitter washed off, it is the strength of the voices and sound design throughout the evening. Overpowering tracks seemed to drown-out the weaker singers or make us wonder if they were in-fact singing live.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The Donkey Show is the Arsht’s attempt to lure a younger, broader, more diverse audience into what some might call theater, but it’s really theatrically enhanced performance art. Set in a sensory overload environment evoking Studio 54, the show is a hybrid of circus, karaoke, dance, light and sound. It’s loud, infectious, silly. Is it fun? Absolutely. Entertaining? You bet. Theater? I’ll go out on a trapeze hanging from the ceiling and say no. Narrative or theme isn’t even secondary; it’s tertiary.
The minimal dialogue was not written by the Bard. Instead, the creators selected and programmed disco songs whose lyrics echo the skeleton of Shakespeare’s plot. The words are inserted in the mouths of a fantasia of 1970s stereotypes whose characters are a very rough analog to the residents of Will’s Athens.
The overall experience is overwhelming and, if you allow it, thoroughly satisfying.
This version, produced by the Arsht, is helmed by Paulus’ associate Allegra Libonati who has vastly expanded the project’s scope with the direct involvement of Arsht exec Scott Shiller. The production team features the real stars: Libonati, local choreographer Rosie Herrera, imported lighting designers Al Crawford and Zakaria M. Al-Alami and production stage manager LisaMichelle Eigler. They move the audience’s focus so fluidly from one end of the stage to another so that actors who were over here a moment ago, magically pop up 50 yards away.
First among equals, certainly the most noticeable, is Miami-based Stephanie Chisholm as Tytania. Tall, lithe and wearing hot pants, mask, a gossamer cape and butterfly pasties, she marched around the stage with a regal air appropriate to the Queen of the Fairies. She delivered the high point of the show when Tytania is hoisted above the crowd in a cargo net and gyrates in various aerial acrobatics, sometimes barely hanging on with one limb. Another standout is local actress Shira Abergel who brings the strongest voice in the cast to the music.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Call it immersive theater, interactive theater, environmental theater — whatever rings your bell. Label it or don’t, but know that The Donkey Show, the big summer deal at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, isn’t like any other version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream you’ve ever seen.
How much of Shakespeare’s story you extract depends on several factors: how well you know the original, how carried away you get dancing to songs like YMCA and You Sexy Thing, and how many of the club’s $10 drinks you consume. But craft and cleverness, artistry and humor are all at work in The Donkey Show, and Shakespeare’s tale of love misguided and requited, the malleability of identity and a sexually charged fantasy world gets played out in a novel way.
What’s particularly impressive is how unrecognizable the performers are when they switch from male to female roles, and how quickly they go back and forth. Kudos to Abergel, Chisholm, Leah Verier-Dunn and Carolina Pozo, along with Luis Cuevas as Dr. Wheelgood (aka Puck on Rollerskates), Felix Sama as DJ Rudolph Valentino (Rudi Goblen assumes the role for the rest of the run) and singer Inger Hanna, who belts a fierce It’s Raining Men as a post-show treat. Dancing to Rosie Herrera’s choreography, the guys and gals playing fairies and club kids pump up the crowd in Club Oberon...
To purists, The Donkey Show probably comes off as faux Shakespeare and faux disco. But whatever this immersive-interactive-environmental thing is, it’s genuine fun.
The Donkey Show plays at the Arsht Center through August 12, 2012.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Scene for July 20, 2012

This week, there are not only two productions of HAIR, but now there are two productions of Hairspray.  We don't know why.  On a more somber note, The Naked Stage has pushed back it's opening of The Turning of the Screw until July 27, due to an illness in the cast (and not so the director can attend BATMAN:The Dark Knight Rises, no matter what certain gadflies claim).

And don't forget to indulge in A Taste of Summer Theatre.

Here's what's playing on The Scene this weekend...


Teatro en Miami Studio opens Smile, through August 19.

Lady Day opens at Broward Stage Door, through August 26.

you still haven't missed...

Palm Beach DramaWorks' long-awaited production of The Fantasticks is currently the most-reviewed production in South Florida, playing through August 5, 2012

Actors' Playhouse presents Real Men Sing Show Tunes and play with puppets  at The Miracle Theater through August 12, 2012.

The Donkey Show is going full tilt at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The XXVII International Hispanic Theatre Festival also plays at the Arsht Center.  Never fear; some of it's in English, some is super-titled, and several pieces have no speech at all.

Kutumba Theatre Project presents Baby GirL at Empire Stage through August 5, 2012.

Cabaret Verboten plays at the Theatre at Arts Garage through July 30, 2012.

RACE plays at GableStage through August 5, 2012.


Andrews Living Arts Studio in Fort Lauderdale offers HAIR, through August 5th.

Hairspray plays at the venerable Lake Worth Playhouse through July 29, 2012.  Theatre critic Bill Hirschman said "it was surprisingly good. The most interesting aspects were talented folks who some professional non-Equity houses might want to scout out"

passing through...

Divorce Party; The Musical returns to The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, through August 19.

last chance to see...

The Immigrant winds up its run at the Broward Stage Door Theatre on July 22, 2012.

Florida International University offers As The Globe Warms, "A new American soap opera presented in six episodes. An exclusive work-in-progress written and performed by award-winning stand-up novelist Heather Woodbury".  Through July 21.

Florida Atlantic University's summer season consists of Showtune: A Jerry Herman Musical Revue, running in repertory with  Love's Labor's Lost through July 21.

Area Stage in Miami offers HAIR, through July 22.

The Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival offers Twelfth Night at Carlin Park, Friday and Saturday night only. We missed posting it last week because they don't seem to list themselves anywhere.

for kids...

Fort Lauderdale Childrens' Theatre presents its production of Hairspray at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, through Saturday.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater offers Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, through August 4.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kutumba Theatre Project: Baby GirL (4 reviews)

The Kutumba Theater Project opened its inaugural production of Baby GirL, a new play by Kim Ehly, at Empire Stage on July 13, 2012.
A new dramedy written by local actress Kim Ehly asks “What if you were conceived twice in one lifetime: once by the illegitimate passionate sex of a young couple in love, and next by a “missionary position” lovemaking…, conservative couple who long to have a child but the “little guys” never make it to the egg? What if you were adopted by the married couple, only to find out you are everything they can’t stand? After coming out as a lesbian and being alienated by her adoptive family, Ashley, a spirited young daydreamer, goes on an extraordinary journey to find love and a place to call home.
Kim Ehly directed a cast that included Sally Bondi, Clay Cartland, Miki Edelman, David R. Gordon, Noah Levine, Nori Tecosky, Jessica Welch, and Lindsey Forgey

Michelle Petrucci reviewed for BroadwayWorld:
Kim Ehly has a valid and relevant story to tell here, but the comedic moments ring truer than the most dramatic. Although handled with care by both actor and director, there were merely slight sparks of honesty and poignancy hitting their marks throughout the evening.

Lindsey Forgey drives this play as Ashley... While completely believable in the role, her interactions with... funny man Clay Cartland and the witty Jessica Welch were the most dynamic. Local favorite Sally Bondi does what she does best with her motherly quirks that almost always land the punchline.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Ehly’s vision, faith and persistence have paid off. Baby GirL is sweet, funny, touching, unsettling, tender. It’s an artistic offspring that would make any playwright proud.

Doubling as director, Ehly delivers a fact-inspired, imaginative piece about a young lesbian named Ashley.
Ehly’s writing and Forgey’s playfully appealing performance make Ashley pretty much irresistible.
Ehly also gets strong work in multiple roles from the seven other actors in her cast. Bondi plays Ashley’s adoptive and birth mothers, the second a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for. Gordon is adoptive dad and bio mom’s second hubby. Cartland and Noah Levine are funny as they morph into a variety of characters, straight and gay, and Tecosky and Jessica Welch play various women in Ashley’s life. Miki Edelman gives a master class in versatility, playing a loving grandma, a bitter and suspicious aunt, and other distinctive women who help Ashley on her path to self-discovery.

Ehly makes a persuasive case for looking beyond blood bonds to find family in those who love us. And in Baby GirL, she makes an impressive play-writing debut.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
For all the worries about South Florida theater, one encouraging sign is the emergence of tiny companies bent on producing thoughtful and entertaining evenings of theater with little more on the balance sheet than intelligence, imagination and enthusiasm.
Which brings us to the pleasant surprise that is Kim Ehly’s touching and rollicking play Baby GirL, the inaugural effort of her newly-minted Katumba Theatre Project in association with Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.

Like all first efforts, it needs a bit of work. But this wryly comic look at a young lesbian searching for her birth mother is an infectiously endearing tale of how we make our own families.
Ehly the playwright also benefits mightily from the play being staged by Ehly the director. She obviously has a dead-on feel for pacing the play properly, for physical movement, for the quirky humor she intended and knows the value of ending scenes with an instantaneous blackout as punctuation.
The show’s virtues include an eight-member cast whose enthusiasm is contagious. Forgey, the leading lady at several Slow Burn Theatre Company musicals, is an appealing protagonist, narrating her life to us with a benevolent grin at the foolishness of her own actions and those around her.

The other actors play multiple roles, relishing the absurd stretches in characterizations that they slip on and off, such as Nori Tecosky and Jessica Welch portraying lovers, friends and bed partners. Noah Levine and Clay Cartland, in particular, deliver a rogue’s gallery of wacky and whacked out friends and relatives. But the true chameleon of the group is the old hand Miki Edelman who skillfully delineates five distinct women ranging from a nasty embittered aunt to a nurturing grandmother. It’s not just that the characters are all separate entities, but every one is believable even when they’re meant to border on being cartoonish.
At the risk of sounding paternalistic, another pleasure is the production’s complete comfort with the heroine’s sexuality. It’s not a matter of angst other than the comic adolescent confusion and the telling-the-family crises. Ashley and her friends have no self-consciousness at physically expressing their desires and affection. It puts sexuality in its proper perspective as an element of Ashley’s life but not the central drama. That feels liberating for the audience regardless of their sexuality.
The production still needs work. Several key plot points aren’t immediately clear although there has been no attempt to be ambiguous...  Further, the play comes to an end like Wiley E. Coyote running into a brick wall. Thematically, the idea in the finale makes sense, but the audience is shaking its head at the 30-second scene, wondering, “Is that it? Is it over?” We need a little more substance to our closure.

But Baby GirL is worth making an effort to see.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
Perhaps it’s an assumption to say that when a playwright writes a semi-autobiographical piece, its characters have a little more heart and soul. There’s just something that resonates and hits a bit closer to the bone... Kim Ehly’s play is so successful in reaching in and grabbing so many emotions that in the span of under two hours you’ve empathized, sympathized, shed a tear or two, laughed more than a little, and discovered that somehow you, too, have become part of the family she’s created.
Ehly, who is a well-known actress on the local scene, understands how to create rich characters, and as a director, also shows that she knows how to work with her actors to give the characters the depth necessary to make this play work well. And work well it does.

Forgey, who was so good as Little Red in Slow Burn Theatre’s recent Into the Woods, commands the stage as Ashley, revealing so much vulnerability as the character that you can’t help but like her. Sally Bondi, playing the dual roles of adoptive mother and birth mother, has to play opposite ends of the spectrum and does so with skill. Clay Cartland, Jessica Welch, Nori Tecosky, Miki Edelman and Noah Levine also have their hands full playing 25 characters between them, but each inhabits their roles so that all are fully portrayed. David R. Gordon plays the affable father and the birth mother’s new husband, with an easy charm.

While there are a couple of tweaks needed... these are minor flaws. Ehly shares pieces of her life in Baby GirL and what she ends up delivering is a very original play that’s cause for celebration.
Kutumba Theatre Project presents Baby GirL at Empire Stage through August 5, 2012.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Last Gasp for Hollywood Playhouse?

This was posted on Facebook by Rene Barrett:

To Friends of the Hollywood Playhouse:

This is a call for help. The City Commission of Hollywood meets for the last time before their summer break and a public forum is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18 at 5:00 pm at the City Hall commission Chambers. We need people willing to get up and speak on behalf of preservation of the Hollywood Playhouse.

Here is the update: The City of Hollywood is in negotiations with the Trans Capital Bank as well as litigation over the reverter clause in the Charter ceding the property for the use as a theater in perpetuity. While it may be legally true that the reverter clause was fractured in order to secure a mortgage to save the theater property, the City’s obligation should not have changed as a public cultural trust.

At the outset of this effort to save and restore the Hollywood Playhouse, the City Commission was asked to create an advisory board that would have the ability to work with the bank and outside interests to develop a viable plan for the future of the Hollywood Playhouse. That Board would answer to the City Commission.

The Hollywood City Commission has not created that advisory board. The Hollywood City Commission has not even taken a public position on the disposition of the property.

There is an understanding that the Hollywood City Commission offered to allow the bank to take the property to create condominiums and make the property taxable. If this is true, the politicians on our City Commission then would appear to have violated a public trust and endangered the future of this very unique and potentially valuable cultural center for its citizens for the prospect of a few shekels in the city coffers. The bank refused the offer.

We have been advised that the Trans Capital Bank wants to see greater flexibility in the reverter clause to make the property more attractive for investment as a cultural center.

At this time, we need speakers to ask the City Commission to 1) Create the Advisory Board; 2) negotiate in good faith to secure the future of the Hollywood Playhouse; 3) publicly affirm their position and intent to protect the public trust of the Hollywood citizenry by securing that property for the future as a unique historical cultural center for the City of Hollywood. Speaker after speaker with the same message would be good.

If you can't be there (but we do need a presence), a one line message to email will suffice: "Form an Advisory Board Now"

bfurr@hollywoodfl.org; hosheehan@hollywoodfl.org; passeff@hollywoodfl.org; rblattner@hollywoodfl.org; frusso@hollywoodfl.org; lsherwood@hollywoodfl.org; pbober@hollywoodfl.org

Thank you

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mondays are Dark

The summer keeps heating up - and we're not talking about the weather.  Critics and patrons alike are raving about The Donkey Show at the Arsht, Real Men Sing Show Tunes at Actors' Playhouse, and The Fantasticks at Palm Beach DramaWorks.

Just a reminder that Conundrum Stages's weekly Ghost Light Playreading Series continues this Tuesday at Empire Stage. And don't forget you can indulge in the Theatre League's A Taste of Summer Theatre.

Here's your Monday reading list:

Less Than Six Degrees
Florida Theater On Stage explains how the reading of This Little Jew Girl came to take place at GableStage tonight; through personal contacts.  It's a case study in how small the theater world is; the playwright was working with an actor who worked down here, who worked with Laura Turnbull, who's married to Avi Hoffman, who the playwright's mother recognized from his Too Jewish... shows, one thing leads to another, and we get to see it at 7:30 tonight at GableStage.  

BTW, everyone appearing in this show will gain a Kevin Bacon number of three.   Less than six degrees, indeed.

A Mashup for Midsummer
The Miami Herald examines the latest offering from the Arsht Center; Diane Paulus' Miami version of The Donkey Show, an immersive mashup of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with an homage to Studio 54, the dance club that defined Disco in the 1970s.

The Bard Ain't Lost
The Palm Beach Post reports that the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival is doing its thing in Carlin Park again; this time it's Twelfth Night. And even though it starts with a plane crash on a remote island, it's not a mashup with the TV show Lost. It plays - weather permitting - through July 22.

The Kudos Keep C--, er, Pouring In 
Lake Worth Playhouse, south Florida's most venerated community theater, has been getting lots of praise for its production of Hairspray; Bill Hirschman has mentioned it several times, and South Florida Gay News actually reviewed it.

That Nice Clean-Cut Young Man
Florida Theater On Stage interviews Antonio Amadeo, actors, director, set designer, and co-founder of The Naked Stage, which is getting read to open The Turn of the Screw after a nearly two-year hiatus.  And yes, he's really as nice as everyone says.

A Labor of Love
miamiartzine talks with Kim Ehly, whose new play Baby GirL opened at Empire Stage over the weekend. BroadwayWorld has a production fact sheet up.

Board Brings Ballet to its Knees
The Miami Herald looks into the mess at Miami City Ballet. Faced with mounting debt, the board of directors forced the resignation of artistic director and company founder Edward Villella, the only artist in South Florida who is a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a National Medal of Arts winner, and an inductee to the National Museum of Dance Hall of Fame.

The board's action came on the heels of the company's incredibly successful performances in Paris and New York, as well as being featured on PBS television.

A Black Hole of Arts Funding?
Eye On Miami believes that some of Miami City Ballet's financial woes can be attributed to the existence of the Arsht Center.
I know the current regime at the PAC is trying its best, but the building was a colossal mistake because the donor base in Miami is so limited. In supporting the building, performing arts organizations have been cheated of opportunities to raise funds themselves.
Of course, Zoetic Stage, The Project Theatre, and Mad Cat Theatre Company might have some views on this matter.

Adding It Up
The Examiner takes a look at the costs of producing theatre in an attempt to understand why theatre companies like the Caldwell, Coconut Grove Playhouse, Promethean, and Florida Stage have all ceased operations.

Reaching Out
Treasure Coast Palm has an interesting story about a cooperative fundraising venture started by Actors Helping All (AHA)
The plan is simple: charities and other organizations looking to raise money with an event that features more than meatballs in a crock pot can contact AHA for either a two-hour doo-wop musical or improv murder mystery with all proceeds going to the benefit.
Knowing Is Half the Battle
Mission Paradox points out that while managers can't control anything related to performance, they can absolutely control the patron's experience in the rest of the building, and that's where management should focus its attention.  Leave the art to the artists. 

Labor's Love Found
The Huffington Post examines how unions benefit the performing arts.

Pay the Piper
You can dance if you want to, but if you use someone's choreography, you owe someone some money.  DanceUSA discusses choreography and copyright law.

Theatre Resource Guide
Stage DirectionsTheatre Resources Directory is finally online.  This is the best resource for finding everything you need to do theatre.  And we do mean EVERYTHING.  It's been available in print for years, but it's taken awhile to catch up to the 21st century.

The Coconut Grove Playhouse is still closed.  The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was making real progress towards settling the defunct company's debts, a necessary step before anything else can be accomplished, when he ran into a snag.  Aries Development Group rejected a settlement and countered with an offer to move ahead with the same development plan it's been pursuing all along.  Grovites have opposed that plan from the beginning.

Aries needs to get a clue and step aside; they have turned themselves into an obstacle to overcome instead of a partner in the Grove's future.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Palm Beach Dramaworks: The Fantasticks (7 reviews)

Palm Beach Dramaworks opened its production of The Fantasticks on July 13, 2012.
In this captivating love story about a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall, the narrator, El Gallo, creates a world of moonlight and magic, then pain and disillusionment, until the boy and girl find their way back to each other. The score, which includes "Try to Remember," is as timeless as the story itself!
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that included Jim Ballard, Jennifer Molly Bell, Cliff Burgess, Tangi Colombel, Dennis Creaghan, Cliff Goulet, Jacob Heimer, and Barry Tarallo.  Musical direction by Craig D. Ames.

Michelle Petrucci reviewed for BroadwayWorld:
This beautifully designed and crisply-performed version breathed new life into an aging show with such high potential to miss the mark. However, director J. Barry Lewis wisely reminds his audience that there is much more to this love story; that there lies a great deal of complexity amid its simplicity.
Jim Ballard’s El Gallo is just the right amount of creepy and his smooth voice makes his “Try to Remember” hard to forget. It was a pleasure to see a dancer in the role of Luisa.  Jennifer Molly Bell does a great job of making complete sense out of the childlike character, and Jacob Hiemer is an unapologetic and vibrant Matt with a spark of boyish charm. Barry Tarallo and Cliff Goulet are a joy to watch as the comic pair of fathers whose cleverly staged duets have you tapping your toes.

While the performances were excellent, this production’s success was in large part due to its creative team. A purposefully bare stage was smartly designed by Michael Amico to provide opportunities for seamless blocking and quick scene transformation. Craig Ames’ beautiful blend of voice, piano and harp is immediately noted during the opening, and John Hall’s lighting comes alive in “Round and Round” during the second act.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Dramaworks is giving its summertime loyalists a Fantasticks that is, well, fantastic. Artfully directed by J. Barry Lewis, with exquisite musical direction by Craig D. Ames, the production is beautifully sung by its cast of familiar South Florida actors and newcomers. With Ames at the piano and Kay Kemper playing the harp, a score full of familiar songs... is delivered with shimmering simplicity and purity.
Anchored by a dashing Jim Ballard as the roguish narrator El Gallo, the cast deftly navigates the show’s sweetness, humor and sobering second act. Soprano Jennifer Molly Bell is an always-appealing Luisa, never off-putting despite the 16-year-old’s flights of romantic fancy and teen self-absorption. Jacob Heimer is likewise engaging as know-it-all Matt, Luisa’s neighbor and would-be beau, and his duets with Bell on Metaphor, Soon It’s Gonna Rain and They Were You are grand.

Barry J. Tarallo as Luisa’s father Bellomy and Cliff Goulet as Matt’s father Hucklebee may look slightly goofy in their striped-and-checked getups from costume designer Brian O’Keefe, but their wonderful voices enrich the vocal blend as they scheme to have their kids fall in love by pretending to be enemies. Dennis Creaghan as the grandly hammy old actor Henry and Tangi Colombel as Henry’s sidekick Mortimer are clever clowns. And Cliff Burgess, though he speaks not a word in playing The Mute, proves the most versatile and communicative of actors...
...Dramaworks has built its reputation and a loyal audience by doing first-rate productions of all kinds of theater — recent and vintage works, plays and musicals, American and world classics. The Fantasticks adds to the company’s string of successes.
Hap Erstein reviewed for The Palm Beach Post:
Although it ran off-Broadway for 42 years — a total of 17,162 performances, more than any show in modern history — The Fantasticks is a very fragile piece of theater... Fortunately, Palm Beach Dramaworks’ J. Barry Lewis understands that directors embroider the show with added staging business at their peril.
Much of Matt and Luisa’s expressions of love border on purple poetry, as does El Gallo’s narration. Jacob Heimer and Jennifer Molly Bell deliver the former with exaggerated earnest, while Jim Ballard hits the right note of sinister chill with the latter.

Somehow, what sounds arch in book writer Tom Jones’s dialogue seems natural and affecting in his lyrics, paired so succinctly with Harvey Schmidt’s music on such numbers as the opening ballad Try to Remember, the love duet Soon It’s Gonna Rain and the jazzy male duet, I Can See It. The entire score is rendered simply, yet effectively by Craig D. Ames on piano and Kay Kemper on harp.
Lewis does not skimp on the show’s dark tones, but he also embraces its abundant comic relief. Barry Tarallo and Cliff Goulet all but steal the show as the two sage, but clownish fathers, capably handling the evening’s two vaudeville song-and-dance turns...
Out-buffooning them in support are Dennis Creaghan as a dithery old Shakespearean and Tangi Colombel as his sidekick Mortimer, who specializes in extravagant stage deaths. The most original performance, though, comes from Cliff Burgess as the stage-managing Mute, conveying plenty of attitude in his silence.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News:
The finely crafted production of The Fantasticks at Palm Beach Dramaworks is a good example of the maxim less is more. Director J. Barry Lewis’ pared-down approach suits the odd little musical and Palm Beach Dramaworks’ intimate stage.
The production is anchored by the magnificent Jim Ballard, playing El Gallo, the story’s mysterious master of ceremonies and villain. He’s a commanding presence, and his rich baritone voice invigorates all his tunes, but especially the old chestnut Try to Remember.
Among the production’s chief delights are the comic characters. Cliff Burgess as The Mute manages the minimalist props with grace and humor. Cliff Goulet as Matt’s father Hucklebee and Barry Tarallo as Luisa’s father Bellomy play the buffoons with panache, and display considerable song and dance skills in Never Say No and Plant a Radish.
This quirky show has enough brains to qualify as Dramaworks’ promised “theater to think about” and enough fun to recommend it as a fine summer outing.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
...Palm Beach Dramaworks” director J. Barry Lewis put together a talented ensemble with stage presence  and rich voices for an A-One production to tell this wonderful tale about a young man and a young woman whose love is tested and triumphs.
If you’ve seen The Fantasticks before, it won’t matter.  Seeing  this production is like watching a new show,  thanks to astute direction, a cast with golden voices  who seem to be having a good time in their roles, plus the  artristry of musical director Craig  D. Adams, at the piano with an assist from harpist Kay Kemper.
Hunky Jim Ballard turns his Narrator gig into a memorable moment as he kicks off the music as a baritone-headliner singing Try To Remember.  He appears made to play this role.
...Jennifer  Molly Bell and Jacob Heimer – both display rich voices and believability... Their duets  are emotionally fulfilling.

The rest of the cast, as well, is played to perfection: Barry J. Tarallo and Cliff Goulet as the two fathers who  plot the romance,  South Florida favorites Dennis Creghan and Tangi Colombel who appear to having ball hamming up their roles  as aging actors, and Cliff Burgess  as a mute who becomes a prop-master, without saying a single line of dialog.
John Thomason reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
The show's egalitarian success is owed to the seemingly simple choreography and minimalist set design and musical score... For Palm Beach Dramaworks, which is known for its lavish scenic designs and exceptional rendering of difficult classics, to produce a show like this is akin to Martin Scorsese directing an episode of Two and Half Men. Weird, but it would probably be the best Two and Half Men episode you've ever seen.
The songs... are catchy, clever, and beautiful on their own, and they are the best part of this shapeless experiment. But otherwise, with its mix of Brechtian distancing devices, strained slapstick, and shambling storytelling, The Fantasticks never connects on an emotional level, and the humor is borderline pitiful. The show's abrasiveness, coupled with director J. Barry Lewis' unhurried pacing, can make for a long evening if you're not riding the musical's peculiar wavelength.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to see this production, a testament to Dramaworks' impeccable standard of quality. Dressed in one of Brian O'Keefe's many wonderful, nostalgic costumes, Ballard is outstanding as the bandit.
Bell completely inhabits her character's kooky-princess delusions, her voice reaching heavenly octaves, while Cliff Burgess, as the show's mute stagehand, manages to inject personality into what could have been a thankless role. And Tarallo and Goulet bring infectious chemistry to their unusual partnership.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s classic chamber musical is a refreshing tumbler of iced lemonade on a sweltering night in West Palm Beach, a cocktail of reassuring sweetness spiced with a tang of reproving caution.
The success is due to director J. Barry Lewis and musical director Craig D. Ames who understand exactly what the authors were going for and have applied everything they know to bring it out. Lewis, known for incisive analysis of complex dramas, invests his skill at detail in lightly adorning this musical with inventive bits of business and stagecraft that freshens the familiar fare.
Ames may be the strongest, unassailable force. He skillfully melded and guided the cast’s vocalizations in rehearsals.

With unflagging energy, the entire cast throws itself fearlessly and without a shred of self-consciousness into a tale of sentiment that would curdle at the hint of a wink.
Jim Ballard’s smoldering good looks, playful mien, soulful acting and rich baritone make for a charismatic narrator, leader of the troupe and the droll mastermind of the staged abduction of the heroine.
Jennifer Molly Bell, blessed with a delightful soprano that sparks “Much More,” and Jacob Heimer never shy away from the lovers’ intentionally overblown ecstasy and hubris, which makes their harsh comeuppance and reconciliation so effective.  Their sadder-but-wiser duet “They Were You,” is the most touching moment of the evening.

Barry J. Tarallo and Cliff Goulet are well-cast as a pair of baggy pants comedians masquerading as fathers, and save some praise for Cliff Burgess whose rubbery body language and soulful face as The Mute provides a Greek chorus of silent commentary.

The only crime is the joyful highway robbery of every scene by Dennis Creaghan and Tangi Colombel as the bedraggled, over-the-hill actors used by El Gallo as his decrepit supernumeraries. Creaghan’s hammy Shakespearean actor who cannot remember his lines and Colombel as an Indian who specializes in overblown death scenes are an unalloyed delight.

Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
There are so many perfections in the Palm Beach Dramaworks' production, but perhaps where it shines the most is under the direction of J. Barry Lewis and the musical direction of Craig D. Ames. The pair shows mastery here of what resounds as a complete understanding of the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical.
Every actor proves that they are just as invested in the Dramaworks production as the directors. Ballard is dashing as the sinister El Gallo and recalls Robert Goulet’s famous portrayal of The Bandit. Ballard, with his deep baritone, sets the tone off the top with his beautiful interpretation of what has become The Fantasticks most recognizable song, "Try to Remember."
Um, what?  Jerry Orbach is the actor most famous for playing El Gallo - he originated the role. And actor/singer Ed Ames is the one who had a chart hit with Try to Remember back in 1965. AH. According to Goulet's website, he did play El Gallo - in 1990, the 30th Anniversary National Tour production. Which happens to be when they replaced The Rape Song (It Depends On What You Pay) with the much weaker Abduction.  We learn something new every day. Where were we?
He has a difficult sell, however, but sell it he does, with one of the show's most problematic songs and one that has found numerous detractors (myself among them) through the years... "It Depends on What You Pay"...

Rape is an odd word in this comic musical about two young lovers. Even Mr. Jones has had his own call to consciousness over the years, and for the current New York revival has rewritten the song to replace the word "rape" with "abduction." In a professional capacity, I will leave my personal wincing at the stage door and acknowledge Dramaworks' choice to preserve and keep the original intact.
I was already looking forward to this production; now I literally can't wait.  As El Gallo says in the play, "I know you prefer Abduction, but the proper word is Rape."  It gives the song much more sting.
The wonderful chemistry between the ensemble is a pleasure to watch especially between Barry J. Tarralo and Cliff Goulet as The Fathers. They come off as the best of bar buddies and their duets are some of the show's highlights. Dennis Creaghan as the dusty (literally) old theater salt named Henry and Tangi Colombel as his sidekick, Mortimer, provide some clownish comic relief and are definite crowd pleasers.
As the young lovers, Jennifer Molly Bell as Luisa and Jacob Heimer as Matt are a joy.... Burgess as The Mute never says a word throughout the two hour play, but offers some of the most expressive dialogue through his actions and mere presence.
Palm Beach Dramaworks' presentation of The Fantasticks is theater art at its best, and a summer production that's as picture perfect as a starry, starry night.
The Fantasticks plays at Palm Beach Dramaworks through August 5, 2012.

Actors' Playhouse: Real Men Sing Show Tunes (4 reviews)

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater opened the world premiere production of Real Men Sing Show Tunes and play with puppets on July 13, 2012.
GET REAL! And GET READY for a song-filled adult comedy about REAL MEN behaving like, well...REAL MEN. Get an inside glimpse of what it takes to be a man in a modern world shared with women, children, and yes, even puppets. REAL MEN, who make a habit of juggling their balls every day; fatherhood, mid-life crisis, dating, marriage, potency, sexuality, and the lack of it. REAL MEN, answering the one pertinent question that’s on everyone’s mind...
David Arisco directed a cast that featured Stephen G. Anthony, Paul Louis, and Nick Santa Maria.

J.W. Arnold reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
...Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria would have us believe that real men not only eat quiche, but sing show tunes…..and play with puppets, too. That’s the premise of the wacky musical revue the duo cooked up and premiered last weekend at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables.

The testosterone courses through the Miracle Theatre as Louis, Santa Maria and fellow funnyman Stephen G. Anthony—accompanied by pianist and music director Manny Schvartzman—take the stage to enlighten the audience with a hilarious show about the joys of manhood...
The zany musical numbers are perfectly staged by Director David Arisco and complemented by bawdy puppets designed by Louis with help from costume designer Ellis Tillman.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theatre On Stage:
Real Men is a goofy, spoofy hoot that may have seemed all the funnier because, in full disclosure, I am a real man who regularly sings show tunes in the car and would play with puppets if I had any.
Developed in readings over a year by Louis and Santa Maria with director David Arisco, Real Men is light, bubbly summer fare, but it has a polish and a consistency that its forebears haven’t had.
The production also benefits that the numbers are performed by the authors and local stalwart Stephen G. Anthony, all of whom have highly-developed singing and acting chops that smoothly switch from loopy to introspective when the numbers turn contemplative.
The tunes are generally bouncy and the lyrics wittily observant about male foibles. Since men never lose their adolescent obsession with sex, much of the show has a decidedly blue tinge and a bit of well-placed locker room language. But there are some touching songs, such as “A Real Man” in which the trio reminisce about their fathers.
And then there’s the puppets. Louis and Santa Maria have been involved for years in puppetry through professional children’s theater. As a result, the show is graced with a score of creatures ranging from a tiny finger figure to a 10-foot tall Grim Reaper. As with Avenue Q, the Sesame Street-like puppets designed by Louis and built by Louis and costume designer Ellis Tillman are often both furry and filthy such as three buxom Hooters waitresses.
A tip of the hat is due musical director, arranger and pianist Manny Schvartzman, who has helmed several shows recently for Slow Burn Theatre Company in Boca Raton. Also due credit (and barely mentioned in the program) is the busy backstage crew and assistant puppeteers Gaby Macias, Kris Cardenas and Andrew Arisco.
Real Men is another entry in the Menopause the Musical sweepstakes – the search for a low-budget easily-transportable middlebrow mass entertainment rooted in universally-recognized social prototypes. Because of its quality, Real Men has a solid shot at the Holy Grail and the duo may well be on the road with it a long time.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
What else could you ask for in a season ending Summer show? Singable songs? Witty lyrics? Smart book? Good performances? They're all there and then some in Real Men Sing Show Tunes... and play with puppets at Actors' Playhouse.
Bow down now to some very talented people: Stephen G. Anthony, Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria.   The three are veteran actors, comedians, singers, each with their own distinctive style but working well together under David Arisco's slick direction. More big props to Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria who wrote the book, music and lyrics.
And fear not, this is not a weak male copy of the old girlie standbys with their lyrics set to familiar melodies. This is an evening of close to thirty original songs that really work. It's vulgar, of course, sometimes tender and always right on point.
I confess I like silly, and there's a lot of that going on here, but it's clever silly and that's just great.   As they say in the business: “This show's got legs.”
Howard Cohenreviewedwrote for used the tickets sent to The Miami Herald:
Think of the sketch-driven Real Men Sing Show Tunes as an episode of Saturday Night Live in which practically all the sketches work. If that sounds impossible — there’s such a thing as an SNL in which all the sketches work? — then you will begin to realize how sharp the writing is and how important the deft and daft stage work of director David Arisco is in making this production work as well as it does with its ingenious use of puppets, props and lighting.
Oh, yes, Real Men Sing Show Tunes can be crude. The tease, “Although puppetry is featured in this production, this risqué and witty musical is not suitable for children…only the childish and immature,” applies — except when it doesn’t. This canny trio slips in a poignant, thoughtful moment in the second act.
With this comedic production, Actors’ Playhouse closes its particularly strong 24th season and heads into its silver anniversary 2012-13 season on a creative roll.
Actors' Playhouse presents Real Men Sing Show Tunes and play with puppets plays at The Miracle Theater through August 12, 2012.