Monday, July 31, 2006
(a blog-only review!)
I had totally forgotten about Gus, the Theater Cat. When you think about the dance-happy, plotless spectacle that is “Cats,” you tend to remember the splashy characters: swaggering Rum Tum Tugger, magical Mr. Mistoffelees, even the evil-doing Macavity. But in SPARC’s exceptional 25th anniversary summer production, the cat that left the biggest impression on me was Gus whose bittersweet remembrances of his former fame loosened my tear ducts, thanks to a pitch-perfect performance by Michael Jones.
Gus’s scene was only one of many unexpected delights in a production that defied any belittling categorization you might bestow on the result of a summer educational program. The production values were first rate; the craftsmanship that went into the lights, make-up and choreography were professional quality; and most impressive of all, there was nary a weak link among the performers.
Finding talented young men would seem to me to be a particular challenge but “Cats” had a surprising slew of them. Adam Mincks worked an unabashed sexual strut as Rum Tum Tugger and backed it up with strong, tuneful vocals. As played by Hank Bamberger, Mr. Mistoffelees leapt and spun with dazzling grace. And Munkustrap was an engaging and entertaining master of ceremonies, thanks to Chris Adams’s confident performance and crystal-clear voice.
But even these talented actors were no match for the women when it came to delivering that pure “Wow!” factor. Every time Jane Barton (as Demeter) opened her mouth, only the sweetest melodies flowed out (here’s hoping she can take the occasional break from her fashion design studies at VCU to grace more local productions with her splendid voice). And 15 year-old Allison Thibodeau rendered a soaring, stirring beginning to “Memory” so good that you’d be lucky to hear something as well done on Broadway. Picking up the melody from Thibodeau was Emily King, who was similarly stellar. It’s hard to make as old a warhorse as “Memory” fresh again, but Emily King, one of only two professionals in the cast, infused the song with so much raw emotion, it also had me holding back tears.
The entire company proved to be lithe and limber dancers, with Bamberger and Amy Kaeberle (as Victoria) the dazzling stand-outs. “Cats” is a show that lives and dies by the dancing and, as innovatively choreographed by Pam Turner, this show had at least nine lives' worth of energy. Joe Doran’s top-notch lighting design also lent an indisputable aura of professionalism to the production.
Of course, my long list of superlatives wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the amazing talent of the man who brought it all together, director Tom Width. Time and again over the years, Width has proved his singular ability to move big casts around in appealing and purposeful ways and he certainly shines with this production.
“Cats” will never be my favorite show; the manufactured tension around both Macavity and the “Jellicle Choice” makes for an artificial plot that never really holds water and, in a bad production, barely holds one’s attention. But when done right – like SPARC’s “Cats” was – it can catch even a cynic like me unawares, turning a hackneyed trifle into something magical.
I had the same reaction as the esteemed Melissa Rugieri as far as Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington struggling through “You’re the One that I Want.” It was a bit ironic given that the curtain on the Barksdale/Steward School production of “Grease” was probably up by that time of night and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could have been singing the same song at the same time. Spooky! And I’ll give 10-to-1 odds that the high school kids singing that song did a better job than Bucky and Kellie.
What was clear in the live show versus the TV show was who among these kids are performers and who were simply above-average singers. Lisa Tucker has been getting a fair amount of press because she is a surprisingly good singer, clearly the most underrated of the Idol crew. But at the concert, she also proved pretty wooden on stage, trying only half-successfully to work up a “competition” between different sections of the audience on how much noise they could generate.
As for the AI winner, Tay-Tay, I wouldn’t even say he quite got above average as far as singing ability, but he certainly was a showman with a heck of a lot of energy on stage. Of all of them, I’d say only Chris demonstrated actual charisma as well as kick-butt vocal chops. Even our boy Elliot, whose warm personality comes across even in a stadium full of 10,000 people, could use some work on engaging a crowd. He’s definitely got the voice, though – his “Trouble” was a major highlight.
Finally, my favorite part of the night was spying on the activity in the wings. If you had binoculars and you watched the stage left area, you could see various Idols hanging around, checking out the other performers, and chatting with each other. Elliot spent a fair amount of time there as did Katherine. They hung out together for a while, so you could see that she’s about a head taller than him. It reminded me of when I used to work backstage: sometimes more interesting things are happening in the wings than under the lights.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
The paper has attempted to quell some of the blowback it's been getting on this issue with a "To our readers" note below the fold of today's Metro section. For me, this note doesn't exactly put my mind at ease. In fact, most of it is written in pseudo-positive marketing speech that I used to employ all the time when I wrote fundraising copy. The stated "goal" is to offer more event coverage -- and yet the specifics listed later (shifting listings to the web site, launching a weekly email newsletter, etc.) essentially add up to fewer inches of copy in the physical paper devoted to the arts. This seems like a sideways strategy to achieve this "goal."
I'll reserve judgement on the "revamp" of the Weekend section but it also sounds suspicious. "Quick information hits for busy readers"? That to me translates to sound-bites or capsule reviews versus anything in-depth. The cute little denigration of their product ("you can't lost it, the dog can't eat it...") also means you can't grab it when you leave the house and read it on the bus; you can't rip out a listing and carry it with you; and you can't carry it and a cup of coffee up into bed and peruse it at your leisure on a Sunday morning. If they're telling me that things are better online, should I subscribe to the paper at all?
I guess the best summary is included right there in the second-to-last paragraph: "some of the information we now print in the newspaper will remain there." So basically, some of it will remain, but rest assured, some of it will be cut.
Look, I understand a paper is a business and in the marketplace today you have to do what you have to do to remain competitive. But this note smacks of the pandering, inexact language that politicians use and that real reporters used to take politicians to task for. If you have to cut things, say something like "we've decided that for the best interest of the paper / economic reality forces us to / editorial priorities have shifted such that... some things have got to go and here they are." All of the "happy speak" about slimmed down coverage grabbing my attention like a bottle rocket sets off fireworks for me alright, but not in a good way. Mostly, it makes me suspicious, a little angry and a little sad.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
One of the most impressive things about HAT that I know of is their focus on doing shows in Richmond that are local premieres. As someone who has had to sit through several productions of the same play, I always appreciate a premiere. They’ve also had some great people working with/for them including Julie Fulcher, Joy Williams, and Scott Wichmann.
I apologize in advance for anyone else I’ve left off of my list. I expect it will continue to grow as time goes by. But one thing I should say: I won’t be keeping track of all of the church, school and community groups that also do theater, even though some of them are quite good, devote significant funds to their productions, and have a lot of great people working for them. I’m sorry if this seems a little arbitrary but I’ve got to draw the line somewhere. There’s just too much theater in this town for one already overwhelmed individual to keep track of it all.
Which is why it’s such a shame that the Times-Dispatch is apparently planning to keep track of even less of it…But that’s a subject for another day.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
It almost goes without saying these days: If you surf the web enough, you find some wacky stuff. For instance:
Apparently, there’s been talk for a few years about a Batman musical. This would be completely ridiculous (in my opinion) if the people associated with the talk weren’t Jim Steinman (from Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” fame) and Tim Burton of the big-screen Batman. There’s even a song floating around that Steinman wrote for the Joker to sing. After listening to it, I’d say the talk isn’t completely ridiculous just seriously ill-advised.
I also found this little ditty – a funny bit of theater from the folks at Saturday Night Live. Theater not only thrives on stage, it infuses all other media!
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Our family car has XM radio in it. If you have been turned on to satellite radio you probably agree with Melissa Ruggieri and me and exalt it as the next best thing since double-stick tape. If you still haven’t been turned on to it, here’s what might push you theater fans over the edge: XM28 – On Broadway. It’s a channel of showtunes, 24/7.
Three personal asides I should mention: I rarely am in charge of the radio in the family car (usually around 4th or 5th in line in terms of getting my choice, that is until the 2-year old gets another couple months behind him at which point I’ll drop to 5th/6th). And when I am in charge, I usually dial up the classic rock stations because, well, I’m sort of a dinosaur when it comes to musical taste. And lastly, I’ve never really been a big fan of out-of-context show tunes, mostly because I only listen to classic rock.
But every once in a while, XM28 becomes the featured favorite in the minivan, and it’s always a surprisingly pleasing and eclectic blend. This past Sunday at around 10am there seemed to be a focus on distinctly non-going-to-church selections (“Two Ladies” from Cabaret and “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy). Later in the day, I heard selections from two shows I’ve never seen; one peaked my interest (“Dancing Through Life” from “Wicked”), one dispelled any interest I might have had (“Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” from Will Rogers Follies, one of the worst expansions of a pithy little phrase into a whole song I’ve ever heard). Somewhere along the way, there was a great old rendition of “Can’t Stop Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine” from Show Boat.
What’s cool is our nearly-6 year old – a budding theater fan – now wants to know what show each song is from whenever we listen to XM28. If you want to sample shows you’ve never heard or be reminded of ones you’ve loved in the past, I encourage you to dial up the XM. And I promise, I’m not getting any kickbacks for this endorsement (at least, not yet…)
Monday, July 24, 2006
“We are recruiting actors in your area to work at $11-13/hr with very flexible scheduling that allows for other productions and life commitments.
The position description is two-fold: (1) leading a small group of theater participants through a highly interactive game via immersive glasses (2) wireless mic work in front of the theater. Typically an actor will switch positions each hour or as necessary in an (approx) 6-8 hour shift. Please see the attached pdf file for further information regarding the opportunity.
Upon review of the information, the interested parties should contact me and I will conduct a telephone interview to learn more about the prospective hire, review the position requirements, learn about their availability for hours and transportation. I will then schedule each party for an appointment only audition that runs approximately 15 minutes. If the auditioner is successful, then they will receive training materials and instructions as well as a training tape and an opportunity to sign-up for training for the next 3 days (pending availability).
Here is a list of the attachments you should have:
Audition Read Sheet
KD's Phone Interview
Susan M. Sprout”
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Well, we had a swell time and the show was the highlight. We caught the early show (1pm) and both of the kids got into being trees (waving arms, going “woooooo…”) in the forest where Hansel and Gretel were lost. They particularly enjoyed yelling back at Beau Marie whenever he asked for it (which was quite often). Judging from a somewhat objective point of view, the show was just, ya know, sort of OK for your standard mid-day distraction for the kids. But the experience as a whole was pretty magical, thanks totally to the talents of Beau Marie and Shania Taylor, the dedicated thespians putting it on. When the show started, you could tell the crowd was in a sort of sleepy, bored, post-lunch funk. The standard “are you having a great day at the museum?” kind of questions were getting dreary, groaning responses. Any pep seemed to have popped off for Poughkeepsie hours ago.
But Mr. Marie and Ms. Taylor were persistent, clever and over-the-top in terms of silliness. By the time they were done, 8 year olds who had been slumped in their seats only 20 minutes before were laughing, yelling, and enthusiastically playing along. Things occasionally seemed on the verge of spiraling out of control but they always reigned it in and actually were able to get the story across reasonably well. My hats off to Shania and Beau for a couple of very entertaining performances.
The rest of the Science Museum experience was a comparative disappointment. For one thing, my guys are probably a little too young to get the most out of all the science stuff. But my older son, who is nearly 6, was trying his darndest to get some actual information out of the displays but it was too LOUD for me to explain things to him. His inability to read was certainly a factor but even if he had been looking for clarification of some of the more complicated concepts, I couldn't have given them to him over the general commotion.
It seems like the museum is trying for fun as well as informative, a tough balance to achieve. But if the fun could be a little less noisy, the informative might come across more clearly. I'll certainly try again with these guys again down the road. But my expectations will be aligned a little differently. Given the results of this past weekend, maybe we'll plan to see BOTH showings of the play next time...
Friday, July 21, 2006
A line-up like this always conjures images for me of the shows running in rep and the characters from one show mistakenly wandering into the other.
Medea: "Forego my resolutions, O my soul, Force not the parent's hand to slay the child."
Willum: "Hey, leave your kids alone! If you wanna kill someone, I’ve got this guy who’s been hanging around my apartment you can help me with. You boys want a sucker?"
Later, Willum’s dinner party ends tragically/hilariously when he puts on the coat he’s received for his birthday and it explodes into flames, leading to a raucous fire extinguisher fight.
This is what happens when theater nerds get silly. As you can see, it’s not pretty.
Just as an aside: Virginia has a pretty horrible connection to "The Nerd:" gifted playwright Larry Shue, who also wrote the oft-performed "The Foreigner" died in a plane crash in Weyer's Cave, Virginia; he was only 39. Imagine what additional comic masterpieces he might have produced...
And in honor of Larry's addition, I hearby make a solemn vow to see "Hansel and Gretel" before this summer runs its scorching course. I saw a production at the Science Museum years ago -- perhaps something like "Here's Pi in Your Eye"? -- and have wanted to go back ever since. "Galileo and Shakespeare" was actually on my review schedule for last Fall but something came up at the last minute. There's so many reasons to see "H&G," after all: it's co-written by Shanea Taylor who has been very impressive in the RSF shows; the Theatre IV production of "H&G" a couple of years ago co-starred my lovely daughter and I'd like to see how the SMV Gretel stacks up against my flesh and blood; and it's tied into the Science Museum's exhibit on candy -- a genius bit of synergy if you ask me. What could be better than that? It's also inside -- a plus during these past couple of days that have almost hit triple-digits.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Here’s a link to my piece in the latest Style about upcoming productions of “Grease” and “Cats” (by Barksdale/Steward School and SPARC, respectively). I strained my brain as hard as I could but I couldn’t come up with some semi-pithy way to talk about Cats slipping on Grease (or perhaps frying in it?). A funny image, perhaps, but not really relevant to anything. Talking to both Mr. Kniffen and Mr. Seward made me want to run right over and check out the Cramer Center at Steward School. It sounds simply gorgeous. I’ve been out there a dozen times for soccer/field hockey games and didn’t know there was a Broadway caliber stage lurking in one of the buildings.
Mr. Width gave me a little preview of how the grand finale/rise to heaven is going to happen in “Cats.” I have complete faith in Tom’s ability to create something truly magical. I’m taking all of my kids and even my mom to see the production, so it better be good!
In the meantime, it seems that my post on Macbeth generated some actual feedback! Yay! Here’s a link to my review to the production. Some folks out there seem to agree with some of my points but those of you who don’t – and perhaps vehemently disagree – don’t shy away from posting your opinion as well.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Also, a warm welcome to Slashtipher Coleman to the "No People Like Show People" listings. He's got a blog as well. Check it out, why don't you?
Monday, July 17, 2006
Update (07/18): The gathering at Mary Schroll's house to celebrate Kate's life will start at 4pm on Saturday. The service at the church will be a small one for Kate's relatives. Friends are encouraged to come to Mary's. Her phone number is 321-6300.
The following information was forwarded on to me by Jackie Jones concerning the death of Kate Kilgore, who has died just 6 months after her father, Barksdale Theatre co-founder Pete Kilgore, died.
It was confirmed that Kate suffered a massive heart-attack. The family is having a private memorial service on Saturday, July 22, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Hanover. Kevin, her brother, is scheduling the time of day for her memorial service. Immediately following the service, family and friends are invited to 3412 Noble Avenue, Richmond (the home of Mary Schroll) for a casual gathering to celebrate Kate's life.
Of special concern is finding a good home for Kate's two female kitties, Moe and Tiger Lilly, who are both 10 years of age and very, very sweet indoor cats. If you may know of someone who is looking for wonderful companions, please contact Mary Schroll.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
So this is where it gets difficult. Saw MacBeth last night at Agecroft, didn't really like the production. No time to elaborate right now. Review forthcoming...
Update (07/17/06): Here's a link to the Times-Dispatch review, wherein the production is described as "interesting" and "quirky." I'm pretty sure my review will appear in Style in this Wednesday's edition and I'll post a link as soon as there is one.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Ms. Haubenstock obviously was swept away by Ms. Armstrong's amazing voice and it sounds like Mr. Width did a great job with the production as per usual. Only a few small qualms with this review: what does 'packed with musicality' mean? and whatever it means, wouldn't you expect it from the voice of a singer? and finally, if the music was so great, how about a shout-out to the musical director, who I believe is the always wonderful Paul Deiss?
Unfortunately, I don't foresee a trip to "Mahalia" in my future, unless I can convince my boss to let a whole gang of us from work go see it as a field trip. Hmmm.... come to think of it, that just might work! One of the joys of having a truly excellent boss is that he's predisposed to go along with your reasoning about something being work-related, regardless of how far-out that reasoning is. I'll start lobbying him next week...
In the meantime, I'm looking forward to "MacBeth" tonight. Nothing like a cheerful, little comedy to brighten your mood after a long week. ):-\
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Way back in 1981, Showtime taped a production of “Purlie” which starred a pair of actors who were two of only a handful of African-Americans who headlined popular TV shows in that era. Can you name them?
One of the lead actresses in that production would go on to play the mother of one of the most popular African-American actors of all time. Can you name her and the TV show she would later star in?
OK, answers: The Encores! production of “Purlie” last year starred central Virginia native Blair Underwood. If you want to go even further, the original 1970 production on Broadway ended its run at the theater now called the Virginia (it was the ANTA back then).
The 1981 production starred Robert Guillaume who would go on to star in the TV show “Benson” and Sherman Hemsley, the beloved George Jefferson of “The Jeffersons.” The production also starred Clarice Taylor who would co-star as Bill Cosby’s mom on “The Cosby Show.”
You’ll thank me for this some day, perhaps during a late night Trivial Pursuit game…
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
While I’m talking about Style, the cover story in this issue is very interesting, required reading for anyone who cares about media coverage in Richmond. I’m not one of those people who is disgusted with everything the Times-Dispatch does or stands for or anything. But I think monopolies are generally dangerous things and the TD has a monopoly on daily news coverage in Richmond. I’m glad we have Style as an alternative but the resources it has are miniscule in comparison. That people at the TD somehow think they are above talking to other media outlets – or in some cases are afraid to talk to other media outlets – is a sad commentary on the state of journalism.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Still, I do still manage to see something else besides theater once in a great while and last week we packed up the wee ones and took in the Sara Evans concert at Innsbrook. Ms. Evans has an amazing voice and my 11-year old daughter knows virtually all of her songs, many of which have some great lyrics (“Perfect” is a particularly favorite of mine).
Well, the show was wonderful. Sara (we’re on a first name basis now…) had a cute personality, even though she did a lot of that Katherine McPhee-style waving at the crowd (can she even see who she’s waving at?) And she covered a lot of her hits and some songs I hadn’t heard before but instantly liked. Most impressive: the sound quality was exceptional; clear as a bell and loud enough but not ear-splitting like so many concerts tend to be these days.
But on the way home, I did think for a moment about what a great value theater is, particularly musical theater. At Sara Evans, we were probably 50 yards away from her and had to stand much of the show to see anything. The crowd was generally well behaved but there were still several words tossed around casually I would have preferred my 5-year old hadn’t heard. At a good musical, you have singers that are also usually awesome plus a story that hopefully is entertaining plus you can sit down relatively close to the performers and the crowd generally sits in respectful silence and listens. All and all, not a bad deal…
Monday, July 10, 2006
I’ve also added a permanent link to Bridget’s group over in a new section on the left here called “We’re All In This Together” (sorry, I’ve got “High School Musical” on the brain…) I’ve added links to TVJerry’s site since Jerry’s site has been the go-to place for production information in town since its inception. You’ll also see Liz Marks Casting’s site listed because, well, Liz gets people work and is great at her job. And we all love getting work, now don’t we?
Finally, the lovely and talented Jackie Jones has a site of her own up and it’s a winner. I’ve already had a great time listening to the accents she’s used in her voice-over work. Check it out yourself by clicking here.
Friday, July 07, 2006
OK, just being dramatic but I have to say that receiving the Modlin Arts Center catalogue for their upcoming season has me, in the infamous words of Shprockets, as happy as a little girl. Sure, David Sedaris should be great. And gotta give a shout-out to d.l.hopkins: as the UR Artist-in-Residence next season, he's going to be doing some cool things.
But what really got my motor running was the Ionesco double-bill. Yes, it's true: I'm a sucker for a good absurdist play. Oh sure, I'll travel across the country for a production of "Les Mis," could see "Godspell" once a week for the rest of my life, and have been transfixed by Tennessee Williams' work many times. But in my heart of hearts, my most favoritest play is the most famous of all absurdist works, Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." And one of the first shows that turned me on to theater in the first place was an absolutely hilarious production of "Rhinocerous" that my high school did some 25 years ago. I've had a soft spot for Ionesco ever since and Modlin's promise of "Bald Soprano" and "The Chairs" together is already written in ink on my calendar.
I've also gotta hand it to the folks at Modlin: they are embracing all media with a vengeance. They've got a MySpace page apparently and, of course, a blog! Looks like I've got to make some room over there on the left for some more links!
Did everyone have a great Fourth of July?
Thursday, July 06, 2006
But I took a new job about 9 months ago with a pretty small company and there’s a woman here (let’s call her Brenda) who is an old friend of Melissa Johnston’s. This led to a very interesting conversation about "The Goat" at the Firehouse, which Brenda brought some of her more conservative friends to. Suffice it to say that these friends have not been eager to see theater with her since. So whenever a new play opens, she asks me whether it has bestiality in it.
Well, several weeks ago, a different woman at our company died, a somewhat sudden and tragic death from a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The glorious Cora Harvey Armstrong sang at this woman’s funeral and, as per usual, her amazing voice transfixed and uplifted everyone there. In conversations afterward, I casually mentioned the upcoming production of “Mahalia” that opens at the Mill in a week or so. Now suddenly everyone knows I’m the theater guy which isn’t such a bad thing, I guess. More to the point, the production of “Mahalia” should get at least a couple dozen people attending that don’t usually go to theater. And that’s certainly a good thing.