Thursday, January 30, 2014

The scene for January 31, 2014

Can you believe it’s already February?  Well, it will be on Saturday, anyway.

The year is just blown past. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that we’re not mired in any of the blizzards that have been walloping the rest of the country over the last few weeks.
Some recent news; the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center has snagged not one but TWO long-time South Florida Theatre companies.  New Theatre and The M Ensemble have both announced that they’ll be producing shows at SMDCAC, starting next week.  M Ensemble will open with Knock Me a Kiss in the Black Box Theater, while New Theatre opens Visiting Hours in the Lab Theatre.
It’s a nice feather in the cap for the three year old Cultural Arts Center, which has been a huge success since its opening.
Here's what's playing on the scene this weekend:


Other Desert Cities plays the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West through February 15.
Zoetic Stage opens its production of Assassins at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Parade Productions opens The Last Schwartz at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, through February 23.
Old Times opens at Palm Beach Dramaworks, through March 2.

you still haven't missed...

GableStage presents Anthony and Cleopatra at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach through February 9. This is their co-production with London's Royal Shakespeare Company and New York's Public Theatre.
Boca Raton Theatre Guild presents Pippin at the Willow Theater through February 9, 2014.
Slow Burn Theatre presents Parade through February 9, 2014.
Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater offers End of the Rainbow, through February 9.
The Kutumba Theatre Project opens Julie Johnson at The Galleria Studio Theatre, through February 9.
The Plaza Theatre brings in Renee Taylor to perform My Life On A Diet, through February 9.  Directed by Joseph Bologna.  Yes, really.
The Wick Theatre production of 42nd Street has been extended through February 15, 2014.
Island City Stage presents Secrets of the Trade at Empire Stage, through February 9.
Weisenthal plays at the Broward Stage Door Theater, through March 16.
Broward Stage Door presents Crimes of the Heart, through February 23.
Laffing Matterz is back for another season of dinner, music, and outrageous original comedy at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Thursdays through Saturdays, with some Sunday matinees.

coming and going...

Dixie’s Tupperware Party plays at the Kravis Center through Saturday.

The Kinsey Sicks: America’s Next Top Bachelor Housewife Celebrity Hoarder Makeover Star Gone Wild! plays at Broward Center on Saturday only, two shows.
The musical Once passes through the Arsht Center this weekend. See it by Sunday, or you’ll have to wait until next season.

last chance to see...
A Chorus Line winds up its run at The Maltz Jupiter Theatre this February 2.
The Theatre at Arts Garage finishes The Hummingbird Wars this Sunday, February 2.
Miami Stage Door winds up The Last Night of Ballhoo at the Byron Carlyle Theatre this Sunday, February 2, 2014.

Delray Beach Playhouse offers You Can’t Take It With You through February 16.
The  Lake Worth Playhouse presents Ain't Misbehavin' through February 2.
Pelican Playhouse offers The Seuss Odyssey through February 2.
Down In Front Theater Company presents Nuts at the Sunrise Soref JCC, through February 2.
FIU University presents June Moon at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center through February 2.

for kids...

Pocahontas plays at the Showtime Performing Arts Theatre through March 1.

Boca Raton Theatre Guild: Pippin (reviews)

pippinThe Boca Raton Theatre Guild opened its production of Pippin at the Willow Theatre on January 24, 2014.

According to musical theatre scholar Scott Miller in his 1996 book, From Assassins to West Side Story, Pippin is a largely under-appreciated musical with a great deal more substance to it than many people realize…
Currently enjoying an extremely successful revival on Broadway, Pippin uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe, led by a Leading Player, to tell the story of a young prince and his search for meaning and significance.

Keith Garsson directed a cast that included Reggie Whitehead,Mike Westrich, Patti Gardner, Troy Stanley,and Leah Sessa, with choreography by Ron Hutchins.


Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

BRTG’s edition of many Boomers’ favorite musical boasts standout and satisfying performances by Reggie Whitehead as the sinuous, sardonic leading player, Mike Westrich as the titular hero seeking meaning in his life and Patti Gardner in one (or is it two) vibrant roles that elevate the bar anytime she’s on stage.

Some physical aspects aren’t in the same praiseworthy category as Ron Hutchins’ lively choreography or Paul Reekie’s deft musical direction. But director Keith Garsson has produced an enjoyable rendition of the 1972 Stephen Schwartz/Bob Fosse hit that is currently enjoying a reimagined circus-infused revival from director Diane Paulus on Broadway.

The choreography by Hutchins (just off the Wick’s 42nd Street) retained a bit of the Fosse flavor – the classic vocabulary of bent arms, jazz hands etc. – but most of it was his design and he reaffirmed his position as one of the region’s most talented hands.

…three-time Carbonell winner Whitehead once again delivered polished assured dancing melded with a gleaming grin and a deliciously jaded singing voice of a charismatic narrator who has seen it all… If he and Hutchins are channeling their spin on the original steps and vibes of Ben Vereen and Fosse, so what?  Sit back and savor it.

Westrich has been steadily making a reputation in dramas..  and musicals... His strong clear voice and his sincerity are essential to keep the hero from distancing himself from the audience because Pippin is frequently a selfish callow fool. Instead, Westrich plugs into the yearning that every emerging adult during the past 6,000 years has felt for finding their special role in the world…

Even after watching Gardner for nearly 20 years now, it’s still difficult to analyze how she does what she does. Few of her characterizations in dramas, comedies or musicals seem cut from the same cloth...  Here she creates Queen Fastrada, one of the most conniving and sexiest stepmothers in any Broadway musical.

…the supporting cast is laudable as well. Leah Sessa doesn’t make a solo entrance until the second act as Catherine... But she instantly earns her spotlight with a droll, knowing, irresistibly lovely persona – not to mention an even lovelier voice. Troy Stanley is a massive looming presence with a sonorous baritone as Charles and he captures the extreme pragmatism born of decades of experience. Conor Walton is delightful as the preening peacock brother, the war-loving Lewis.

Director Garsson has made some terrific choices and some problematic ones. His casting of the leads is near perfect and he has coaxed musical performances from them that are first-rate. He has imbued the production with the irreverent tone that the piece demands...

On the other hand, his staging was static and lackluster including placing actors and crucial props (like the immolation platform and the talking head scene) where they could not be seen behind virtually opaque scrims…

Paul Reekie blended the voices together and led the band… his re-orchestrations sounded surprisingly full. Whether it’s in the score or Reekie’s idea, notice how the woodwinds play a bluesy klezmer-sounding passage anytime the characters invoke Jesus or Christianity in their bloody pursuit of warfare or power.

Small budget or not, Garsson and company (which just earned five Carbonell nominations)  have produced a fairly entertaining edition on its own terms that benefits from brio and gusto

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:

From Bob Fosse’s original transformative direction-choreography to Diane Paulus’s current Broadway revival set inside a circus big top, Pippin has usually been a triumph of production over material.

Now comes Boca Raton Theatre Guild to serve up its version of this consciously anachronistic musical history of the son of Emperor Charlemagne. Whether by design or by the company’s resource limitations, the focus is on Stephen Schwartz’s eclectic score and Roger O. Hirson’s episodic book. They prove to be more than serviceable…

Mike Westrich is an appealing, if naïve young royal, but the show belongs to Reggie Whitehead as the Player. He moves with rubber-limbed agility, sings commandingly and has charisma to burn. If his performance has a fault, it is its lack of foreshadowed menace early on.

Patti Gardner, Carbonell-nominated for the company’s Chicago last season, once again demonstrates her musical theater skill as Pippin’s scheming stepmother… Other standouts include Troy Stanley as the physically imposing king and Leah Sessa as a widow with child who is out to domesticate Pippin.

Otherwise, director Keith Garsson and especially choreographer Ron Hutchins have a challenge getting the ensemble to cohere. Hutchins seasons the production with some of Fosse’s signature pigeon-toed, hip-popping moves, while coming up with easier steps for the many untrained dancers in the cast.

Pippin is predicated on theater magic, which is hardly the Boca Raton Theatre Guild production’s strong suit, but the show is so likeable and the score so infectious that you might as well succumb to its — as one song puts it — simple joys.

Boca Raton Theatre Guild presents Pippin at the Willow Theater through February 9, 2014.

The Plaza Theatre: My Life On A Diet (reviews)

Plaza Theatre MyLifeOnADietThe Plaza Theatre opened Renee Taylor’s My Life On A Diet on January 16, 2014.

Starring Renée Taylor – Broadway & Hollywood Star, best known as Fran Drescher’s Mom on The Nanny. Based on her best-selling book My Life On A Diet: Confessions Of A Hollywood Diet Junkie, this hilarious show examines how Renee’s ability to laugh at situations, at others, and at herself, got her through the rough times of her life, and includes the personal weight loss programs of dozens of stars. Get ready for some juicy gossip, dishing, and lots of laughs.

Renee Taylor was directed by her husband, Joe Bologna.

Michelle F. Solomon wrote for Florida Theater On Stage:

There are obstacles that don’t make My Life on a Diet as delicious as it could be as a theater piece. The main drawback is that Taylor sits behind a desk for 90 minutes... She reads from the script perched on a small tabletop lectern and kept together in a 3-ring spiral notebook with the pages tucked into laminated dividers. It’s unobtrusive, but definitely there. Taylor, who will be 81 in March, knows the story (it’s a look back at her own 60-year showbiz career), but the printed word is relied upon about 80 percent of the time.

Taylor has a natural humor and weaves fantastic yarns about falling into enviable jobs on television with Jack Parr and on stage as a comedian at the New York City nightclub Bon Soir in the early 1960s, where she opened for a then unknown Barbra Streisand. She even had a movie part with Jerry Lewis.

There’s a point in the show where everything about My Life on a Diet becomes clear. The audience acts as therapist — the stage, the psychiatrist’s couch. When Taylor has her catharsis, she’s drawn the audience in like a famous relative sharing stories around a dining table. “Food and fame. These were my addictions,” she readily admits.

And who can’t relate to that?

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:

Taylor is an inherently funny woman, so who wouldn’t want to spend an hour-and-a-half or so in her presence? That is the attraction of My Life on a Diet, her amusing memoir-cum-diet advice tract. Not much theatrical happens, but that does not prevent the evening from being entertaining.

My Life on a Diet is also the title of a book of reminiscences that Taylor wrote with the assistance of her longtime collaborator and husband, Joseph Bologna, three decades ago. The show is simply Taylor sitting at a desk, reading that book, or at least a slightly edited version of that clever tome.

The recitation is full of name-dropping anecdotes and delicious tales of Taylor’s lifelong struggle with her weight. They are enjoyable to hear, but she has been performing this show, off and on, for the past year. Couldn’t she have taken the time to memorize some of it?

Like Kevin Bacon, it seems that few show business icons did not come in contact with Taylor. Marilyn Monroe. Barbra Streisand. Grace Kelly. Jerry Lewis. Joan Crawford. And of course, Fran Drescher. She’s got an anecdote about each one and they’re all amusing.

Ron Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Stunned Senseless:

If you stop and think about it too long, nothing about “My Life on a Diet,” through Feb. 9 at Manalapan’s Plaza Theatre, should work.

The one-woman show with Renee Taylor — who famously starred as Fran Drescher’s always-noshing mother on the 1990s sitcom “The Nanny” — is more like one of those entertainments booked for a corporate convention or maybe a Caribbean cruise. The theatrical factor is almost nonexistent. The staging is simply Taylor reading her script from a desk at stage right as images are projected onto a screen at center stage. That’s it.

Taylor doesn’t even summon forth many vocal dynamics in her reading, opting instead for the aural equivalent of a spoken lullaby. Again, it really shouldn’t work.

But it does. Taylor is a funny lady and an impressive name dropper. For 75 minutes with no intermission, she weaveMarilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Barbra Streisand, Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda, Cary Grant, Betty Grable, Lenny Bruce, Jerry Lewis, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Jack Paars and Perry Como into her narrative, in which everything — and I mean every single thing — is centered on Taylor’s quest for the perfect diet.

But the show would fall apart, crumble into pieces, if not for that screen. The projections — including the makeup of her diets, a few videos from her 60-plus-year career and photos of her famous friends — give punch to her punch lines. Without them, she is simply reading from the 1987 book that inspired the stage show. Even with her gift for gab, comic timing and Bronx accent, Taylor would probably face an uphill battle to get as many laughs as she does without it

My Life On A Diet plays at The Plaza Theatre through February 9, 2014.

Slow Burn Theatre: Parade (4 reviews)

ParadeWebsite-e1388552697452Slow Burn Theatre Company opened their production of Parade at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre on January 23, 2014.
The tragic, true story of the trial and lynching of a man wrongly accused of murder is brought to emotional and theatrical life by acclaimed playwright Alfred Uhry (DRIVING MISS DAISY) and Jason Robert Brown, one of Broadway’s most promising young composers (SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD). Daring, innovative and bold, PARADE won well-earned Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score in 2000. Its subject matter offers a moral lesson about the dangers of prejudice and ignorance that should not be forgotten.
Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Krissi Johnson, Tom Anello, Ann Marie Olson, Christian Vandepas, Jerel Brown, Kaitlyn O’Neill, Kaela Antolino, David Klein, Matthew Korinko, Renee Turner, Murphy Hayes, David Sirois, Rick , Dan Carter, Erica Mendez, Lindsey Johr and Kristina Johnson.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Courageous. Even if Slow Burn Theatre Company’s moving production of the dark and dangerous musical Parade wasn’t the success that it indeed is, the troupe would deserve honor for the fearlessness in choosing a pre-ordained tragedy about anti-Semitism that mixes soaring melodies with discomforting dissonance.
But this company specializing in large-scale thought-provoking musicals that few others attempt has again delivered an enviable piece of theater that challenges the audience as well as its artists.
Patrick Fitzwater, Slow Burn’s co-artistic director, has once again wrung affecting acting performances from his troupe while staging it with a choreographer’s bent for stylistic movement and tableaus. Much of the show moves so fluidly from one scene to the next that the engrossed audience cannot shake being dumbstruck long enough to applaud individual numbers.
Tom Anello masterfully creates the spiky and not terribly likeable workaholic Leo who keeps life and his wife at arm’s length… Anello’s withdrawn restrained Leo is the perfect depiction of someone who does not and cannot fit in, assuming he would want to, which he doesn’t.
But in a cast of strong voices, Ann Marie Olson is in a class by herself as his wife, Lucille, blessed with one of most glorious mezzo-sopranos in South Florida theater… As an actress, she bravely embraces Lucille’s disappointment that Leo has not been everything she hoped for in a husband. That disconnect is exemplified in that they have little overt chemistry for the first half of the show, which is as it should be.
The revised scale of this version has many of the 16 actors doubling and tripling in parts. This not only shows off their versatility but underscores the unabashed theatricality of the piece. Particularly intriguing is having Christian Vandepas play the conscienceless yellow journalist and then the governor whose conscience is awakened to take a politically suicidal stand in commuting Frank’s official death sentence and reexamining the case.
Several others have standout solos including Jerel Brown as treacherous janitor Jim Conley… Kaitlyn O’Neill is the grieving mother on the witness stand delivering the heart-rending song, “My Child Will Forgive Me.”
Some of the cast’s success with the score is due to the oversight of musical director Manny Schvartzman. He led the solid live band…
Something indefinable about the entire production isn’t quite perfect, but the cast and creative staff is so passionately committed to it and the raw material is so strong that it’s like watching the snowball roll down the mountain until it becomes a deadly avalanche.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
It is not just that Slow Burn Theatre Co. keeps taking risks with its dark, unconventional musical choices, but the scrappy West Boca troupe continues to deliver on its offbeat selections with high-impact, powerful productions.
Olson in particular has a powerful singing voice, as heard previously playing the Beggar Woman in Slow Burn’s Sweeney Todd. Anello bears a striking resemblance to Woody Allen, in both appearance and mannerisms, which serves to underline his character’s New York Jewish roots. He too is quite musical, managing the complexities of Brown’s score as the innocent man grows increasingly frantic.

Director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater does his usual fine job molding the 16-member cast into an organic ensemble. Still, there are standouts among the supporting players, including Matthew Korinko as the politically ambitious prosecuting attorney, Kaela Antolino as the doomed 13-year-old Mary Phagan and Kaitlyn O’Neill as the girl’s mother.
It is probably worthwhile to keep in mind how Slow Burn manages to do such impressive work with such limited resources. But even with that aside, Parade is as good as any musical production you are likely to find among South Florida’s resident companies.
Richard Cameron wrote for The Examiner:
Making her mark as a Florida leading lady is Ann Marie Olson (Lucille Frank). Ann Marie's voice is strong, glorious with acting chops to match. Ann Marie has been seen in countless South Florida productions, but she really gets to shine in this role. Her husband played by Tom Anello (Leo Frank) also has a beautiful voice. Tom's accent and physicality match that of a stunned convicted criminal. The sets by Sean McClelland are spacious and multi leveled, creating various locations with ease. "What everyone loves about Slow Burn Theatre is they don't need a new ten million dollar venue to create magic. The lights with hazers, glorious sound, sets and live band, all keep them on the top of award winning list."
Patrick Fitzwater proves once again that he can direct and choreograph any Broadway musical. Musical Direction by Manny Schvartzman is heartwarming, living up to magic of Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Alfred Uhry.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Stunned Senseless:
... the cast and seven-piece band adeptly negotiate Jason Robert Brown’s score of pop-rock, ragtime, gospel and R&B, despite the near-constant shifting rhythms and sliding tones. At times, the cast sings with raw emotion. If our reaction is somewhat cool to the book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”), then that is all on us. “Parade” is a good show that is good for you.
Helmed by Patrick Fitzwater, the production is so seamless that applause sputters to life late between scenes and after songs. This is partly because we are numb while trying to digest the preceding action, and partly because of the fluid transitions
  Slow Burn Theatre presents Parade through February 9, 2014.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Scene for January 24, 2014

And it just keeps coming; even more shows opening this weekend!

One of the highlights is the 2nd Annual One-Minute Play Festival at the Deering Estate.  If you haven’t been to the Deering Estate, you’ll never have a better reason to go.  The festival will feature works by Michael McKeever, Michael Yawney, Juan C. Sanchez, Edward G. Excaliber, David Sirois, Mark Della Ventura, Alejendro Morales, Vanessa Garcia, Kimberly Patterson, Marj O'Neill-Butler, Edith Freni, Ron Mangravite, Ann Gillespie, Jessica Farr, James Carrey, Kimberly Ehly, Marla Schwartz, David Victor, Glenn Hutchinson, Brian Cohen, Kayley Rose, Mary Damiano, Brad Beckman, Marsha Myers, Allan Provost, Delores “Lola” Sendler, Cynthia Clay, Catherine Tully, Michael Rutenberg, Ricky J Martinez, and Andie Arthur. 

‘Nuff said. 

Here's what's playing on the scene this weekend:

Weisenthal opens at the Broward Stage Door Theater, through March 16. 
The Boca Raton Theatre Guild opens Pippin at the Willow Theatre, through February 9. 
Slow Burn Theatre Company presents Parade at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre.

you still haven't missed...
GableStage presents Anthony and Cleopatra at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach through February 9. This is their co-production with London's Royal Shakespeare Company and New York's Public Theatre. 
A Chorus Line plays at The Maltz Jupiter Theatre through February 2. 
The Theatre at Arts Garage presents The Hummingbird Wars, through February 2. 
Miami Stage Door presents The Last Night of Ballhoo through February 2, 2014.
The Kutumba Theatre Project opens Julie Johnson at The Galleria Studio Theatre, through February 9. 
The Plaza Theatre brings in Renee Taylor to perform My Life On A Diet, through February 9.  Directed by Joseph Bologna.  Yes, really. 
The Wick Theatre presents 42nd Street through February 9, 2014. 
Island City Stage presents Secrets of the Trade at Empire Stage, through February 9.
Broward Stage Door presents Crimes of the Heart, through February 23. 
Laffing Matterz is back for another season of dinner, music, and outrageous original comedy at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Thursdays through Saturdays, with some Sunday matinees.

coming and going...
The 2nd South Florida One-Minute Play Festival is being held this weekend at the Deering Estate at Cutler, in Miami. 
Tovah Feldshuh stars in Golda’s Balcony at The Parker Playhouse, through this Sunday only.  She left the Broadway revival of Pippin to be here, folks. 
The Plaza Theatre presents Skin Deep, a reading of a new play, on Monday evening only.


The venerable Lake Worth Playhouse presents Ain't Misbehavin' through February 2. 
Down In Front Theater Company presents Nuts at the Sunrise Soref JCC, through February 2.
FIU University presents June Moon at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center through February 2.

for kids...
Pocahontas plays at the Showtime Performing Arts Theatre through March 1.

Showtime Performing Arts Theatre presents the Teen/Young Adult version of Les Miserables.

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: A Chorus Line (reviews)

ACLThe Maltz Jupiter Theatre opened its production of A Chorus Line on January 14, 2014.
This poignant and inspiring Tony Award-winning long-running production follows the audition process of theatre "gypsies" as they try to land a job in a Broadway show. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this dance hit musical features memorable favorites "What I did for Love," and "One." This singular sensation is for anyone who has ever had a dream and put it all on the line.
Josh Walden directed and choreographed a cast that included Noah Aberlin, Alex Aguilar, Nikki Allred, Becca Andrews, Lindsay Bell, Anne Bloemendal, Jennifer Byrne, Michael Callahan, DeMarius R. Copes, Jessica Dillan, Elizabeth Early, KC Fredericks,  Camden Gonzales, Laura Guley, Jordan Fife Hunt, Logan Keslar, Adam Lendermon, Nick Lovalvo, Gillian Munsayac, Brian Ogilvie, Jessica Periera, Michelle Petrucci, Keil Peterson, Emily Rynsanko, Shain Stroff, and Brian Varela.

Theatre at Arts Garage: Hummingbird Wars (reviews)

HummingbirdWars-Scenes-12The Theatre at Arts Garage opened its production of Carter W. Lewis’ The Hummingbird Wars on January 10, 2014.

When a soldier returns home from war in Afghanistan to the expected safety and security of his home and family, only to discover that his homefront has become the new battlefront, we experience a clear picture of today’s siege on the American middle-class.

Whether being laid off or downsized, whether losing your health insurance or being gouged by the coverage that you thought would cover but doesn’t, whether being kept on hold, or being passed from automated voice to automated voice when trying to reach the mortgage company, the electric company, the water company, the cable company… These experiences that all of us know too well have steadily grown from comic annoyance to what feels like a very real threat to our way of life.

Greg Johnson directed a cast that included Todd Allen Durkin, Jenni Hacker, Andrew Griner Jr., Gretchen Porro, and Joline Mujica.


Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

You think you’ve got troubles? The extended Everyman family in Carter W. Lewis’ jet black satire The Hummingbird Wars is struggling with more woes than the entire roster of ten plagues that afflicted Egypt. The world premiere at Theatre at Arts Garage is hysterically funny but unnervingly upsetting because the depiction of a society disintegrating around and under you is too damn recognizable to allow unimpeded belly laughs.

Carter, director Greg Johnson and the totally committed cast force the audience to face up to the terror that we keep tamped down inside that we are impotent to stop the world going to hell in a handbasket.

Johnson has a skilled cast of comic actors to work with, starting with Todd Allen Durkin as the war hero father with PTSD who only leaves the house to stand outside and peer in the window. He is wonderfully woebegone as he tries to deal with the Whack-a-Mole of problems. Durkin does so much with just a look…

Jeni Hacker at first seems as normal as any driven career woman, but she creates an upward spiral of angst as her impotence to affect the world circles the drain.  Andrew Griner Jr. is a convincingly oddball teenager, perhaps brighter than everyone else in the house, but who is watching his family slip down the rabbit hole. Gretchen Porro… and Joline Mujica… make a hilariously cooing couple. Kelli Mohrbacher isn’t seen, but her amiable voice is unnervingly seductive as a customer service agent on the telephone who hits on Kate, armed with very personal information she shouldn’t know.

If you’ve ever felt like a polar bear on an ice floe melting to nothing thanks to global warming, The Hummingbird Wars will resonate.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:

Playwright Carter Lewis uses a light touch to address heavy issues. In… past works… he has gathered current social ills and shaped his observations about them into entertaining, and often challenging, theater.

Certainly that is the case with his latest play, The Hummingbird Wars, a world premiere at The Theatre at Arts Garage. As expressed in Lewis’s hyper-articulate voice, his characters experience a barrage of contemporary woes in a highly theatrical atmosphere that is well worth letting wash over you, even if Lewis seems to be in his most downbeat mood about the zeitgeist.

Todd Allen Durkin, South Florida’s resident schlubby Everyman, heads the cast as Warren, back home and out of uniform, but still being bombarded by life. Jeni Hacker, taking a breather from her usual musical roles, embodies stressed-out Mel well, down to the worry bags under her eyes. Lewis often takes the risk of writing parts for young actors, believing that the right actors will somehow turn up. He, and director Greg Johnson of Montana Repertory Theatre, are fortunate to have the services of Andrew Griner Jr., Gretchen Porro and Joline Mujica.

The Hummingbird Wars is a pessimistic play, but Lewis serves its dark message with more than a little humor. The Theatre at Arts Garage has grown more adept at fitting increasingly complex designs on its informal stage, notably Michael Amico’s cookie-cutter home setting and David Nail’s lighting, complete with a terrific lightning storm. Lewis’s plays continue to be full of ideas worth gnawing on, and artistic director Lou Tyrrell seems content to keep championing his work.

John Thomason reviewed for Boca Magazine:

Few plays in recent memory have felt more plugged in to the zeitgeist than Carter W. Lewis’ “The Hummingbird Wars.” The play’s underlying themes resonate even deeper: In this surreal study of a nuclear family’s implosion, loaded firearms sprout on and around the furniture like weeds, invariably winding up in the backpack of the family’s teenage son.

Taken together—along with the onrush of water that, slowly but surely, seeps through the cracked walls of the house, thanks to a break in a pipe—“The Hummingbird Wars” offers a withering satire on 21st century malaise that feels ripped from tomorrow’s headline

So why does this arrestingly relevant piece of theater feel so lackluster in its current incarnation at Arts Garage? That’s the complicated question I’m still sorting through, as I continue pick through the rubble of this missed opportunity.

A good part of the problem lands on Lewis’ feet. Grand concepts still need to get the minutiae right, and even before the play’s accelerating weirdness takes over, his characters’ exchanges just don’t ring true.

But fault lies equally with director Greg Johnson and his cast, who fail to elevate Carter’s source material to any satiric zenith it deserves. This show is supposed to funny, and by and large it isn't. Griner is stilted and awkward as Pete; it’s enough, apparently, that he memorized his lines, and his performance is all rote recitation with zero emotional connection. Everybody else is at least capable; Mujica delivers her share of lines with more enthusiasm, but her character’s sense of humor never translates. Durkin, whose experience in this community raises his standard of expectation higher than his colleagues, merely goes through the motions. His boredom is palpable, and he feels as marooned onstage as his shell-shocked character is in his backyard, where he frequently wanders in a zombified stupor.

Only Porro seems to be fully engaged with this material, and therefore it is only her character’s story—she’s either paranoid or a victim of an encroaching surveillance state—that resonates deeply.

The best that can be said for the Theatre at Arts’ Garage’s “Hummingbird Wars” is that its technical elements are top-notch, from the glow of crepuscular light through the kitchen window (fine work from lighting designer David Nail) to the rumble of apocalyptic thunder, the running water and the bowel-shaking gunshots, courtesy sound designer Michael Kelly.

The Hummingbird Wars plays at The Theatre at Arts Garagethrough February 2, 2014.

Broward Stage Door: Crimes of the Heart (reviews)

crimesheartThe Broward Stage Door Theatre opened its production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart on January 17, 2014.

At the core of the tragic comedy are the three MaGrath sisters, Meg, Babe, and Lenny, who reunite at Old Granddaddy's home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi after Babe shoots her abusive husband. Winner of the Tony Award, the Drama Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, "Crimes of the Heart " is considered one of the finest plays in the American Theatre.

Michael Leeds directed a cast that included Faiza Cherie, Meredith Bartmon, Ursula Anderman, Nicholas Wilder, Erin Pittelman, and Samuel Floyd.


Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Crimes of the Heart is well acted, amusing and, when it should be, touching. The new production has been staged by Michael Leeds, who directs it with insight and grace, drawing effective performances from all six actors.

On its surface, Crimes of the Heart seems to be a comic study of the eccentric characters in a dysfunctional family. But though it’s no Streetcar Named Desire or Long Day’s Journey into Night, it did win the Pulitzer, and its deeper themes — relentless self-absorption, casual cruelty and abuse, the loneliness of the loveless — make spending a couple of hours with the Magrath sisters a richer experience.

Bill Hirchman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

The past is too much with us, to misquote Wordsworth. Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart urges us to get past our pasts if we are to have some hope for the future.  That homespun homily is delivered with endearing warmth in Broward Stage Door’s production of this 1979-80 comedy performed by a competent cast under Michael Leeds’ sure direction.

The actors are serviceable, but once again it’s Leeds’ solid leadership that shines. He subtly moves his players around the MaGrath kitchen to keep the play feeling fluid. He adds or allows scores of understated bits of business that may or may not land in the audience’s consciousness but which unconsciously give the production a filled out feeling.

Ursula Anderman makes the most of the best-written role as Babe, an other-worldly former debutante whose emotional reaction to everything around her is a walking non sequitur.

Meredith Bartmon inhabits the love-starved Lenny beautifully, creating a lonely woman who has tragically accepted being taken for granted. But when her sisters empower her, she blossoms like a springtime sprout coming out of the hard winter ground.

Faiza Cherie makes a fine red-haired Meg driven by self-destructive demons whispering in her ear. Clearly loyal to her sisters, Cherie’s Meg regularly hurts people around her with her self-centered and thoughtless choices. But Cherie, Leeds and Henley manage to makes audiences care about her, seeing her external behavior as a product of her inner turmoil.

Crimes of the Heart plays at the Broward Stage Door Theatre through February 23, 2014.

Wick Theater: 42nd Street (reviews)

chtumb3The Wick Theatre opened its production of 42nd Street on January 9, 2014
Come and meet those dancing feet in this toe tapping musical spectacle. Young Peggy Sawyer is plucked from the chorus to save a show when an aging star who likes the spotlight get’s injured. The quintessential Broadway Musical includes the hits “Lullaby of Broadway”, “We’re in the Money”, ”Shuffle off to Buffalo”, and “42nd St”.
Norb Joerder directed a cast that included Julie Kleiner, Jim Ballard, Aaron Brower, Alex Jorth, Christopher George Patterson, Jeffrey Bruce, Missy McArdle,  Alison McCartan, Janet Wiggins, Alexandra Kathryn Dow, Sophia Ludovici, Lindsay Nantz, Casey Weems, Brooke Martino, Lauren Bell, Abby Perkins, Frank Vomero, James M. Hansen, Elliot Peterson, Stephen Petrovich, Sean Zia and Sean McGee.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
That percussive sound rolling through Boca Raton this weekend was the deafening echo of 32 tap shoes pounding the stage of The Wick Theatre’s production of 42nd Street.
The answering rumble wasn’t thunder; it was audiences almost unconsciously clapping in relief that this kind of ably-produced mainstream musical theater had not vanished in a post-modern world of snide cynicism.
…what a production: The glorious dancing ensemble atop stacked huge coins in “We’re In The Money,” the “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue”-like pas de deux in the “Forty-Second Street Ballet” and the electric and infectious joy of “Lullaby of Broadway,” all of it is pure hallelujah…
If the overall production hadn’t been so strong, we wouldn’t have waited this long to spotlight the two most dazzling elements: Julie Kleiner glowing like neon from the stage as Sawyer and the outstanding choreography of Ron Hutchins.
…gifted with a troupe capable of whatever he asks, Hutchins’ talent blazes as if he was hit with a carbon arc lamp. From the precision stampede of the group numbers to the delicate moves of the duets to blazing solo turns, this is classic Broadway choreography as it is rarely seen in South Florida. How much is Hutchins’ original footwork and how much is that of the original choreographer/director Gower Champion is impossible for a civilian to say, but Hutchins has indisputably led and forged the terpsichorean excellence on view.
…if there ever was a breakout role for (Kleiner), Peggy Sawyer is it. Her quirky lovely face is blessed with expressive eyes and a beaming smile that can convey an endearingly naïve girl at one point and later a slyly knowing young woman. She has a unique voice that sounds like a breathless teenager one moment, a sultry woman the next and a Broadway belter the next.
All of which delays mentioning her stunning ability as a dancer.
The show’s breezy tongue-in-cheek tone and sprightly pacing is pretty close to perfect, which it should be since this is director Norb Joerder’s 15th run at the material, literally. He knows exactly how to simultaneously respect and lampoon the period…
…most of The Wick’s supporting cast is dead on. Tall, handsome Jim Ballard creates the producer with a tough hide but an enduring love for fickle Broadway… When he gives that speech to Peggy about “musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language,” every devoted theatergoer should feel their throat close. He also has some chemistry with Kleiner, understandable since they have appeared together in Doubt, In The Next Room and other works.
Jorth… is a solid choice as the grinning charismatic Lawlor. Tasked as the other lead tap dancer, his bliss is evident from his feet-blurring solos to his earning his place at the front of every chorus number
Bower, who played the jaundiced boarder in the Maltz’s Cabaret, is fine as the vain diva Dorothy. Once again, Missy McArdle creates a tart-tongue seen-it-all Broadway baby, half of the Marsh follies’ composer-lyricist team with Jeffrey Bruce.
Patterson’s ebullient tap dancing has been the outstanding element of a half dozen shows at the Broward Stage Door and he’s finally in a production equal to his talents.
But special attention must also be paid to the ensemble, many of whom create specific characters rather than simply be faceless cogs in a dance machine: Alison McCartan, Janet Wiggins, Alexandra Kathryn Dow, Sophia Ludovici, Lindsay Nantz, Casey Weems, Brooke Martino, Lauren Bell, Abby Perkins, Frank Vomero, James M. Hansen, Elliot Peterson, Stephen Petrovich, Sean Zia and Sean McGee.  When the Wick announced it was doing 42nd Street, many observers scoffed that there wasn’t enough local talent up to the job. Well, while some of these dancers are from out of town, most either live here or have local roots in their past.
Obviously, one reason that theater founder Marilynn Wick chose 42nd Street was her Costume Museum features pieces from the 1980 production, designed by the late great Theoni V. Aldridge and the 2001 Broadway revival by Roger Kirk. What we see on stage are likely not the 30-year-old pieces. But executive producer Kimberly Wick and her staff at their Costume World rental company have recreated a dazzling parade of wardrobes, from the workaday rehearsal costumes to pinstripe suits to shimmering gowns, all feathers and spangles and fedoras and spats.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
…the company is back on track with a lavish, spirited production of the Depression-era backstage musical 42nd Street… serving up the show’s abundance of production numbers, grafted onto the song trunk of Harry Warren and Al Dubin. They include such familiar tunes as We’re in the Money, Shuffle Off to Buffalo and Lullaby of Broadway, choreographed here by Ron Hutchins with giddy abandon and a devotion to excess.
As Peggy, Kleiner is all wide-eyed and spunky, but she is the standout tap dancer the show requires. In 42nd Street’s climactic number — and Pretty Lady’s — kind of a Slaughter on Tenth Avenue knockoff, she shows she has the necessary star quality. Ballard is aptly brusque as Julian and Bower is pure diva but also more talented than the character is said to be.
Credit director Norb Joerder — a longtime veteran of the Jupiter Theatre -- with managing the large cast and the show’s complex traffic flow. He is not one to give the show a startling new conceptual spin, but his 42nd Street is still a massive achievement that packs an entertaining wallop.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
If there was ever a reason to check out the new Wick Theatre in the former Caldwell Theatre space in Boca Raton, its latest production of 42nd Street is it. The show has been extended and no wonder — this is one of those big, brash Broadway musicals that the Wick is beginning to build its reputation on and gain a following.
The Wick's production combines the sepia tone of the '30s movie with the modern Technicolor of the Broadway show to great success, which is especially evident in the glorious costumes by Kimberly Wick and Costume World. Norbert Joerder, who is directing his 15th production of 42nd Street, explains in program notes that he has tried to recreate Champion's original version and boy, oh, boy, what a swell recreation it is. But even though he suggests it’s a re-creation, there's an energy about this 42nd Street that, even if you've seen it before, leaves room to enjoy this fresh take on the tap happy, standards-packed musical.
…in order to have a good 42nd Street, you have to have those dancing feet. Joerder brings up his curtain on the show with just a peek at the dancing feet, then lifts it for a full onslaught of tap frenzy. Kudos to choreographer Ron Hutchins who made every ensemble member appear as if they were born to dance.
Julie Kleiner owns the show as Sawyer, bringing the audience along for her journey, and with her natural dance ability, she's absolutely convincing when everyone is wowed by Peggy's quick steps. Kleiner's comic timing is impeccable, too…
Jim Ballard, who was so wonderful in Working, the last production at Caldwell, and Palm Beach Dramaworks' The Fantasticks plays Broadway show director Marsh as a no nonsense Wall Street type, but never leaves room for any softness.
Standouts include Alex Jorth as Billy Lawlor, the confident leading man… You can almost see a twinkling star go "tink" off of his left front tooth as his perpetual smile makes his enthusiasm for the lyrics genuine... Christopher George Patterson probably has the best happy feet in the cast as dance director Andy Lee — he lights up the stage as he leads "the kids" (the dancers) through their routines.
Alison McCartan gets some great laughs as Ann "Anytime Annie" Reilly. She could have easily handled the lead role of Peggy Sawyer. We're hoping to see McCartan in a lead role in something on the South Florida stage soon. Aaron Bower gives her prima donna Dorothy Brock just the right amount of desperation, lifting a role that could get trapped in divadom to one that carries with it a dose of sympathy.
And it's always fun to watch Jeffrey Bruce. Here as Bert Barry, co-author of Pretty Lady, he takes some risks that payoff in laughs and seems to be having a ball.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for the Stunned Senseless:
Filled with memorable hits such as “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” “Lullaby of Broadway” and, of course, the titular tune, the show overcomes the digital orchestra thing with bright and brassy direction from Norb Joerder and wowie-zowie choreography by Ron Hutchins.
Supporting cast members Missy McArdle and Jeffrey Bruce slide in some of the bigger laughs as the co-authors of the show-within-a-show. And there is some dazzling dancing (no, seriously, dazz-a-ling) from Alex Jorth and Christopher George Patterson as the juvenile lead and dance director of “Pretty Lady,” respectively.
But man, oh, man, can these kids dance. For two hours (with a 15-minute intermission), they hoof it, and hoof it hard.
42nd Street plays at The Wick Theater until February 9, 2014 has been extended through February 15!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Actors’ Playhouse: End of the Rainbow (reviews)

AP Onstage January14Actors’ Playhouse opened its production of End of the Rainbow at the Miracle Theater on January 15, 2014.

It's December 1968 and Judy Garland is about to make her triumphant comeback...again. This savagely funny drama offers unique insight into the inner conflict that inspired and consumed one of the most beloved figures in American popular culture. This powerful new play also features over a half dozen of Judy's signature songs performed live on stage. End Of The Rainbow was a huge hit in London's West End, and on Broadway just last season, and features an evening of explosive acting, classic songs, and fierce emotion.

David Arisco directed a cast that featured Kathy St. George, Michael Laurino, Terry McCain, and Colin McPhillamy.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Actors’ artistic director David Arisco has given South Florida a fresh production of the play, though the look of it is highly influenced by the one that played Broadway. That’s not a knock on set designer Tim Bennett, lighting designer Luke Klingberg or costume designer Ellis Tillman, whose work captures Garland’s late-’60s style; it’s just an observation.

Channeling Garland’s upper-fueled energy, St. George almost dances around the stage, nearly ricocheting off the furniture. She strikes Garland-style poses and tries to incorporate some facets of the star’s distinctive voice in her speech and strong singing, but truth be told, she doesn’t sound much like Garland.

As the dozen-years-younger Deans, Laurino gives as good as he gets when Garland lets the f-bombs fly, and his convincingly played exploitative actions help make Anthony’s case that Deans sees his wife-to-be as little more than a meal ticket.

But McPhillamy’s work, as is so often the case, is adroit and lovely. His Anthony is a gentle, vulnerable, observant soul, spot-on with a quip but never cruel.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

Actors Playhouse’s production of Peter Quilter’s script is shot through with witty gallows humor and compassion for a wounded soul. Most of all, it has a marvel-inducing tour-de-force by Kathy St. George under David Arisco’s direction

Even with renditions of Garland’s signature tunes and reproducing the icon’s mannerisms, St. George doesn’t convincingly channel Garland. But St. George’s portrayal of someone resembling Garland in Garland’s dramatic circumstances remains engrossing from an entertainment standpoint, touching from a dramatic standpoint and fascinating from a voyeuristic train wreck standpoint, all on its own terms.

In New York, Quilter’s script seemed unexceptional and the direction there didn’t help it much at all. But Arisco has managed to make the scenes work far more effectively. Poor Michael Laurino has the thankless two-dimensional role of Deans, but he manages to make Deans seem more genuinely concerned about Garland as a person…

The always wonderful Colin McPhillamy fares far better as Anthony who is quite comfortable with his homosexuality in 1968. His empathetic pain for Garland is palpable, especially when he begs her to run away from this fatal trap and set up a sexless marriage with him in an anonymous small town life on the coast. This role, too, failed on Broadway despite the work of dependable veteran Michael Cumpsty, so McPhillamy deserves credit for making it land just right.

John Thomason reviewed for The Miami New Times:

End of the Rainbow is a straightforward drama tinged with acrid comedy. Three characters love, argue, and piss down one another's legs in an increasingly trashed hotel room that's never big enough for Garland's ego.

David Arisco's direction successfully brings out the best and worst in all three central characters — not one is demonized, even when their decisions are misguided and self-serving. Moreover, he creates at atmosphere of immersive realism, effectively rendering Quilter's script invisible; in the hands of Arisco and his remarkable cast, the dialogue never sounds written. Every outburst or gesture has the truthful resonance of spontaneity.

As Mickey, Laurino — in addition to looking the part of a '60s nightclub owner, with his sideburns and shag of tousled hair — delivers an intuitive performance, seemingly free of studied calculation.

McPhillamy, meanwhile, is an absolute charm, portraying the play's most kind-hearted, likable character as a veritable godsend. He's also unself-consciously funny and, when he needs to be, tragically distraught.

Saving the most tornadic for last, Kathy St. George achieves the feat of disappearing utterly into her cultural icon. Her looks, her age, her voice, even her height mirror Garland's circa 1968. It's no surprise she won wide acclaim for her title role in a similar show, And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland, a few years ago.

Jack Gardner reviewed for Edge Miami:

As is to be expected with Actors’ Playhouse, the production values are extremely high. The set by Tim Bennett is beautifully designed and executed. The costumes by Ellis Tillman are perfect late ’60s period. The musical direction by David Nagy is excellent and the band is a well put together ensemble. Director David Arisco led a very talented cast through accurate portrayals of real people.

Kathy St. George gives a tour de force performance as Judy Garland. She has nailed the mannerisms, speaking voice and singing voice of the legendary entertainer so that at times you do believe that it might possibly be Judy Garland up on stage.

Michael Laurino is excellent as Mickey Deans…

Colin McPhillamy plays one of Garland’s show pianists. As the gay Scotsman who is obviously in love with Garland in his own way and genuinely cares for her, he gives a moving and emotional performance.

The Actors’ Playhouse production of End of the Rainbow plays at the Miracle Theater through February 9, 2014.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Island City Stage: Secrets of the Trade (reviews)

ICS Jan OnstageIsland City Stage opened its production of Secrets of the Trade at Empire Stage on January 9, 2014.

A smart, ambitious kid from Long Island dreams of a career on Broadway and hopes that his idol, a theater legend, can give it to him.  Will a door to success be opened for him, or will their complicated relationship force him to question a life in the theater?

Andy Rogow directed a cast that included Bill Schwartz, Alexander Zenoz, Niki Fridh, Peter Librach, and Larry Buzzeo.


Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Both a coming-of-age and a coming-out play, Secrets of the Trade is getting its South Florida debut in an Island City Stage production at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage. That Tolins’ 2008 blending of comedy and drama resonates with many in the attentive audience is obvious: Clearly, the decade-long journey of the play’s key character stirs memories both pleasant and painful. But the truths contained in Tolins’ script don’t erase the play’s flaws.

Director Andy Rogow made a smart casting decision in giving the rather maddening role of Kerner to Schwartz. The actor infuses the character with an urbane charm, and he keeps Kerner’s motives just questionable enough that the older man’s periodic interest in Andy isn’t as simple as it first seems.

Zenoz, a young actor just beginning his professional career, believably ages from a kid just three years beyond his Bar Mitzvah to a Harvard student in the throes of first love to a writer giving a different medium a try. But he doesn’t yet have the charisma or skill to overcome the way Tolins paints Andy as a once-happy kid who angrily rejects his parents, in life and in art. Zenoz’s Andy comes off as spoiled, miserably irrational and tough to cheer on.

Rogow gets solid supporting work from Larry Buzzeo as Martin’s sometimes-snippy assistant Bradley, Librach as Andy’s dad and, especially, Fridh as the suspicious and jealous Joanne. This time, the Island City design team — Michael McClain (set), Preston Bircher (lighting), David Hart (sound) and Peter Lovello (costumes) — keeps things simple. If only Tolins, whose too-long play meanders and digresses, had done the same.

Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Stunned Senseless:

Equal parts coming-of-age and coming-out tale, Island City Stage’s “Secrets of the Trade” starts funny and cute, but increasingly becomes gripping and bittersweet.

Director Andy Rogow slyly keeps the mist hanging around the characters’ motivations, which are not simple or straightforward. Does Martin simply want to mentor Andy? Or does he have something more prurient in mind? Is this a wacky, wonderful and whimsical laugh-riot or a brutal, badass, backstage melodrama?

Librach and Fridh… pull double-duty in quick-but-sharp bit parts, playing a waiter and an agent, respectively. There is some sharp acting going on here. Zenoz has a nice, slacker-like grip on Andy’s slightly neotenous nature, taking him from puppy-dog enthusiasm to something approaching old-dog savvy in a believable manner. The acting is a subtle art with him, full of tiny calibrations.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

The production has an array of moderate strengths and moderate weaknesses, but the second act is more satisfying because Tolins delves deeper than the obvious set ups of the first act.

The capable cast is surprisingly good, although poor Alexander Zenoz is saddled with a full first act of playing this immature groupie. Only as Andy matures a bit in the second act — still needy, still obnoxious to his parents, still “nobody understands me” – only then does Zenoz get to show a bit of range. But that’s what Tolins wrote and what Rogow respects.

More interesting is Bill Schwartz’s Kerner, totally committing to his character’s self-centeredness, the posturing, the carefully-masked fragile ego. And yet, Schwartz makes it clear that this flawed human being is quite aware of his shortcomings, quite aware that he is feeding off Andy’s idolatry, and actually cares about Andy’s maturation – so long as Kerner doesn’t have to put himself out.

Also in keeping with Tolins’ subtler approach, Niki Fridh and Peter Librach do a credible job portraying Andy’s parents – simultaneously baffled and supportive, but with limits. Larry Buzzeo also makes a solid impression as Kerner’s assistant Bradley, obviously a post-enlightened Andy.

Island City Stage’s production of Secrets of the Trade plays at Empire Stage through February 9, 2014.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Kutumba Theatre Project: Julie Johnson (Reviews)

KutumbaJan OnstageThe Kutumba Theatre Project opens Julie Johnson at The Galleria Studio Theatre on January 18, 2014.

Julie is on the verge of a breakdown, when she decides that she "doesn't wanna be stupid no more", so she changes the course of her life. Set in Hoboken, NJ, Julie takes courageous steps to improve her mind by going back to school and journeys toward a new and exciting life. Julie and her best friend, Claire, explore a newfound interest in each other along the way. Julie Johnson is an inspiring story of courage told with lots of humor!

Kim Ehly directed a cast that included Valentina Izzara, Doug Wetzel, Casey Dressler, Skylar Voelker, and Julianna Rector.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

Julie Johnson doesn’t work without an appealing Julie, and Kutumba’s production certainly has one in Izarra. She is quirky as she reveals to Claire the stacks of science magazines she has hidden from her hubby, as if they were porn; sympathetic as she bears the verbal abuse of her self-centered daughters Lisa (Skylar Voelker) and Frankie (Julianna Rector); needy and determined as she interacts with her influential teacher, Mr. Miranda (Doug Wetzel). Izarra’s radiant Julie weathers each setback, and the audience roots for her as she pursues her dreams

Ehly has said that she launched the LGBT-focused Kutumba to bring stories that reflect the community’s experiences to the stage, focusing most frequently on lesbian-themed plays. Julie Johnson, a piece about one woman’s successful search for her authentic self, is a resonant realization of Ehly’s mission

Michelle F. Solomon wrote for Florida Theater On Stage:

The drawbacks of Julie Johnson is that elements of Hammond’s story make it rife with predictability, yet Kim Ehly and her Kutumba Theatre Project cast manage surprises around every turn.

Ehly’s insightful direction steers clear of making Julie a “gay play,” instead neatly keeping the focus on character and emotion. It helps that her two lead actresses, Valentina Izarra as Julie Johnson, and Casey Dressler as Claire, embrace their roles with a refreshingly tender abandon as they struggle in their search for identity.

Izarra… doesn’t have an ounce of pretentiousness in her genuine Jersey girl portrayal.

Julie Johnson’s minor flaws are outweighed by Ehly and Company’s deep commitment to the play and the director’s vision… The chances she takes as director and the choices she allows her actors to make — from the ’80s inspiration to how the characters interact — give Julie Johnson the jolt it needs to outshine its own predictability and elevate its status to genuine originality.

The Kutumba Theatre Project  presents Julie Johnson at The Galleria Studio Theatre through February 9, 2014.

GableStage: Anthony & Cleopatra (Reviews)

GableStagedGableStage opened its co-production of  Tarell Alvin McCraney’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra at the Colony Theater on January 10, 2014.

GableStage is collaborating with two of the world's most prestigious theaters – The Public in NYC and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK – on what promises to be one of the most exciting cultural events in our city's history! Adapted and directed by Miami's own award-winning playwright, Tarell Alvin McCraney, the production is set on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French. It will open at Stratford-upon-Avon and then transfer to Miami Beach – where our audiences will see it at the COLONY THEATRE on Lincoln Road – before it moves to The Public in New York.

Tarell Alvin McCraney directed a cast that included Jonathon Cake, Charise Castro Smith, Samuel Collings, Ash Hunter, Chukwudi Iwuji, Joaquina Kalukango, IanLassiter, Chivas Michael, Sarah Niles, and Henry Stram.


Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

One of theater’s great pleasures involves savoring the way imaginative artists can conjure large-scale, complex worlds using relatively simple techniques…  Director-adaptor Tarell Alvin McCraney and his collaborators work that magic and more on William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, in a version now getting its U.S. debut at Miami Beach’s Colony Theatre.

…anyone who comes prepared to this Antony and Cleopatra… who surrenders to its fast-paced, impressively acted story, will be rewarded. The play is yet another reminder of Shakespeare’s timelessness and his deep understanding of human nature. Unsurprisingly, given the budget, companies and talents involved, this is also a Shakespearean production of a quality seldom seen in South Florida.

As the play’s tempestuous lovers, Jonathan Cake and Joaquina Kalukango thoroughly suggest that the conquering warrior and his capricious queen are passionately addicted to each other.

Chukwudi Iwuji is both stirring character and enlightening narrator, helping the audience navigate the shifts in action between Egypt and Rome (or Haiti and France)…

Former Miamian Charise Castro Smith demonstrates her versatility as Octavia (Caesar’s sister/Antony’s wife) and Iras, Cleopatra’s caring attendant.

McCraney, a recent MacArthur “genius grant” winner, has spoken often of his love of Shakespeare and his determination to share that love with hometown Miami audiences... With his bold, action-packed production at the Colony, he is sharing his passion in a way that enriches theater in South Florida.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s vision transplanting Antony and Cleopatra to 18th Century Haiti under Napoleonic occupation is less jarring and more intriguing than doubters might expect.

Instead, McCraney’s choice ensures that an exotic vitality vibrates through this landmark co-production of GableStage, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Public Theater, exciting the imagination with a visceral rather than cerebral approach.

McCraney… was asked by the RSC to do a “radical edit” of the play. With an eye to bringing the show to the multi-cultural Miami, he explored the analog between the periods: imperialistic entitled Rome and upstart hedonistic Egypt, comparing it with colonial France in the 1790s as it occupied Haiti a few years before its revolution. The vision of a Napoleonic officer in his tunic adorned by epaulets colliding with a chocolate-skinned beauty in flowing white robes feels valid enough not to be distracting, if not an essential interpretation.

Kalukango creates such a vibrant, engaging lifeforce that it’s not hard to see why Antony is attracted to her.

Cake has Antony, the man of action, seem to search for the right words to express himself as he discovers he is neither infallible nor invulnerable.

The rest of the cast is uniformly solid, but especially notable is Samuel Collings’ Octavius Caesar, the politician always one step removed from everything so he can assesses the most deft move; and Chukwudi Iwuji as the wryly intelligent observer Enobarbus.

Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:

It may be unfair, but one is judged by the company one keeps, and GableStage is currently in very good company. Long a booster of Miami-raised playwright-director Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Coral Gables theater is currently presenting this hot property’s latest audacious venture, his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.

…the production’s chief asset is the story clarity rendered by the well-spoken, classically trained actors. Primary among them is Brit Jonathan Cake as Mark Antony, the noble Roman warrior reduced to a fool for love over the exotic, seductive queen Cleopatra. She is played by Joaquina Kalukango, a Juilliard-schooled American actress who assumes a thick Creole-tinged accent. Some of her cadences seem to fight with Shakespeare’s poetry, but Kalukango manages to overcome such problems, projecting a regal command that almost transcends language.

The Haitian flavor is evident in a group of island musicians elevated on Tom Piper’s space, elegant, but evocative set and in the occasional injection of voodoo within the Egyptian arsenal. Overall, the pluses and minuses of the cultural transfer seem about a wash.

…this is easily some of the best, most elegant and hot-blooded Shakespeare seen in South Florida in many years.

Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:

…you should go to see this piece. The acting, with a couple of exceptions, is excellent, as is the staging.

….just enjoy the good things in this powerful show. It's easy, with Jonathan Cake as a hearty, charming Antony and Samuel Collings as the sly Octavius Caesar. Both are terrific. All of the men are standouts, particularly Chukwudi Iwuji as Enorbarbus and and Chivas Michael in his three roles.  But unfortunately that is not true of the two women in the cast. Charise Castro Smith as Antony's Roman bride and as Iras, Cleopatra's attendant is, well, ordinary. Joaquina Kalukango as Cleopatra is hard to understand and exudes such little sex appeal and royal bearing that Antony's infatuation is certainly suspect.

John Thomason wrote for The Miami New Times:

Mounted at the Colony Theatre and coproduced by GableStage, Stratford-upon-Avon's Royal Shakespeare Company, and New York's Public Theatre, McCraney's take on the other star-crossed lovers sidesteps many of the problems associated with presenting Antony in decades past.

McCraney's decision to have it both ways — to suggest Haiti while otherwise remaining faithful to Shakespeare's historical period — is one of his few experiments that isn't fully realized.

But otherwise, his decision to suture his personality into Shakespeare's is more than welcome, helping revive an ancient text for the modern, moviegoing sensibility.

McCraney couldn't have corralled a more peerless ensemble of international actors to translate his idiosyncrasies. Across the board, this ensemble's mastery of Shakespearean dialogue, combined with the propensity for modern-day body language, is a lesson in craft.

Of the supporting players in this cast of ten… I was taken with Henry Stram as Proculeius, a messenger to the volcanic Cleopatra whose reports on Antony's affairs in Rome are delivered with fear and trembling. Cheeks crimson, lips aquiver, he's the picture of milquetoast trepidation in the presence of an unpredictable monarch. Chivas Michael draws heartbreaking pathos from his trio of roles, especially in the part of Eros, Antony's effeminate servant turned would-be assassin, harrowingly changing his register from fey to steely. And as Antony's BFF — and the play's occasional narrator — Enobarbus, Chukwudi Iwuji is the production's unsung hero, anchoring the action when emotions roil and spittle flies.

As for the title characters, it doesn't get much better than the contributions from Jonathan Cake and Joaquina Kalukango... Kalukango brings a wry self-awareness to the part, elevating Cleopatra's mercurial whims to high comedy. She's an actress playing an actress, and she knows it and owns it. Cake plays his part as a keg-tapping dervish of outsize passion and sexual proclivity, perhaps closer to the mythical Dionysius than the historical Antony.

Antony and Cleopatra's bond is a fractious one, and Kalukango and Cake play up their relationship like the sort of couple that shouldn't be together, except the sex is so hot. They are oil and water that sometimes mix, and when they do, the chemistry is palpable.

...when Antony's initial self-inflicted sword thrust fails to strike him dead, McCraney and Cake find humor in the result, a moment of Mel Brooks-esque farce at the apex of Shakespeare's tragedy. Decisions such as that one help to not only resuscitate a play most companies wouldn't attempt, but also replace it with a strange and fascinating new heart.



GableStage presents Anthony and Cleopatra at The Colony Theater through February 9, 2014.