Friday, August 31, 2007

Going the Distance

The title of this entry is my little tribute to Cake, one of my favorite bands. For you screaming liberals in the crowd (um, like me…), the band is also very lefty political, so that’s something. There’s a great quote on their website today from Senator Larry Craig. Oh my, how hypocrisy hurts.

Anyway, speaking of distance, there’s a cool little article in the Times-Dispatch about an exceptional cross-country runner named Susannah Piersol and, if you are reading this blog, you probably recognize that last name. Susannah is the daughter of Carol who is also mentioned in the article.

I read somewhere recently (maybe in a Barksdale press release) that Irene Zeigler has already been pre-cast in Doubt. What an excellent choice! I haven’t seen her onstage in a long time. For some reason, I thought of Katie McCall for that show. But she hasn’t been on stage in years as far as I know. Anyone know what she’s up to? And I wonder who they’ll cast as Father Flynn. Who do YOU think would be good? There are so many good actors in town who would be great for the role and of course it always comes down to who actually auditions (assuming they’re be open auditions). It’s probably bad form to speculate but still I wonder…Is Larry Cook too old? Is Brett Ambler too young? Would Justin Dray do it? How about Chris Evans – one of my local faves – where has he been anyway?

OK, enough with the bad form. I’m excited to be going to see “Urinetown” tonight. Mary at Style will be reviewing it – I’m just going for fun, a very rare occurrence for me these days. I’ll be sure and post my thoughts, though, if it turns out that I even have any when I’m not in “critic mode.”

Have a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Disappearing acts

I’m still digging the Barksdale Blog – and have to admire its regularity. I certainly think about posting every day or two, though obviously I don’t get around to it that often.

But I’ve also been intrigued by what I HAVEN’T been seeing on the B-Blog, which is some posts that have magically disappeared after being available for moments or hours. The most infamous of these was “Robin Arthur’s Ass,” which an alert reader sent to me the after it apparently was posted (I never saw it online) then quickly removed. It’s hilarious but perhaps too racy for the site.

Then just this week, there was a very nice entry on “Urinetown” at the Mill. The entry itself wasn’t controversial in any way that I could see, but the comments it generated were interesting and seemed to be headed to a contentious place. Shortly after I first checked out the posting, I checked back and it was gone. Hmmm….

And in an unrelated (to what I was just talking about or theater at all, really) note, the latest Style had me scratching my head a little. One of the movie reviews trumpets “Stardust” as the summer’s sleeper hit. This is at the same time as many summer wrap-ups are calling the movie one of the big losers of the summer. Based on its anemic box office compared to its price tag, one article I read called it “Starbust.” So is Style falling out of touch with reality? Or is it just an unfortunate choice of subhead? When is some more theater going to open up in town so there's more stuff to talk about?

Friday, August 24, 2007

d. l. is advertising (and more)

I had the very enjoyable occasion to speak to Mr. d. l. Hopkins the other day for an upcoming story in Style – one that I think (hope) will incite some debate. Among other things, I found out that both Mr. Hopkins and I have sons 7 and 3 years old. It’s always cool – and sometimes funny – to find out the things that people have in common. One of my favorite stories is when Harry Hamlin accidentally called our house in confusion after my wife interviewed him for a story. What I learned: some celebrities can’t figure out their cell phones either.

When I Googled d. l. in preparation for talking to him, I came across this very funny YouTube video called Behind the Ads, stirring up memories of the Slice Man days. It’s definitely worth a look.

I was also perusing an interview with Corbin Bleu and came across this little exchange:

Do you have a role model?
I really, really respect Jamie Foxx... He's a beautiful singer, he plays the piano wonderfully, he's an incredible actor. He's just a very well-rounded person. I very much admire that.

Sounds like you want your career to follow in his footsteps. How do you plan to do that?
Playing a few roles, and then go do another album, and then go work on Broadway! [Laughs] I love change. I love trying new things.

Bleu does Broadway! That’ll certainly get hordes of teenage girls (more of them) interested in theater!

And what did YOU think of High School Musical 2? (Don’t pretend you didn’t watch!) Though I thought much of it was hackneyed and some of it unintentionally hilarious (where were the backup singers hiding during Troy’s “Bet on It” romp across the golf course?), I was glad about one thing: they made Ryan the hero. Now for HSM 3 they just need to find a way to give Monique Coleman more to do.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sir Links-a-Lot

I’ve been a little crushed for time (again) these days, so haven’t had a chance to put together a well-considered final chapter in my RVA Mag response. But until I do, here’s some interesting bits of other media I’ve seen lately, some pertinent, some less so.

There’s today’s story about Fantasia on Broadway, which kind of follows on nicely after my popular culture rap below. There was this piece that somehow I missed a week or so ago about Benny Ambush and his current landing place. I miss Benny – he had a challenging go of it here but he remained upbeat in every interaction I had with him.

Both the T-D and Style give the Will Power to Youth program its due today. Though Style spelled Cynde’s name right…

And in case you were wondering, it certainly does seem like Mary Burruss is the new main voice in terms of the theater scene for Style. So it goes. She’s a good writer and I’ll be back to writing papers for grad school in another week. As the summer's swan song, I’ll have a piece on local theater coming out in the Richmond Guide sometime soon. And of course I’ll keep on blogging; I just can’t let go of the scene altogether.

A while back, I pondered what big name stars would draw me to try me hardest to get to Broadway to see them. Well, Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner in Cyrano would do it.

Finally, can I just say that I’m already giddy with anticipation about “Doubt” playing at the Barksdale in February? I can’t wait to see who they cast and, assuming the cast doesn’t totally suck, I look forward to seeing the show at least twice.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

High-minded elite (More RVA Mag)

That’s a loaded phrase, for sure, but to be honest, it’s not out of line with the reputation theater has had for a lot of people for a long time. But if that’s still where your head’s at, then you haven’t really been paying attention. At least since “Rent” hit Broadway in 1996, theater has rejoined the cultural mainstream. Need proof? How about hit movie adaptations of musicals like “Chicago” and “Hairspray.” The ongoing mega-popularity of experiences that mix theater with music, dance, and even circus, like Blue Man Group and Cirque de Soleil. And how about one of the most popular cultural experiences of recent history: High School Musical. Tonight when the sequel premieres, tweens, teens, and even older folks (like me!) will be enmeshed in the world of theater. Sure, it’s theater on TV but, hey, it’s still theater. And there’s no way to construe the audience HSM II will draw as high-minded elites.

I could mention the burgeoning hip-hop theater culture that is emerging or the gripping new plays like “Topdog/Underdog” that are starting to be appreciated not just on the fringes but in the mainstream. But Le Synge Bleu has already touched on that. What I’ll point out is that theater will always be an essential and ever-renewing cornerstone of popular culture because it is at the theater that people get the first taste of performance. Whether it’s a part of the kindergarten assembly or a skit done for the aunts and uncles at Thanksgiving, people who have a hunger for acting out usually hit the stage first. So even when people grow up to be movie and TV stars, they look back fondly on their days in theater, sometimes heading back for a stint in a high-profile role (Past: Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, etc.; Future: Claire Danes). Sometimes putting loving or satirical nods to theater in their work (ex.: the recent Shrek the Third movie). And, as David Leong's ground-breaking training program that works with lawyers and doctors at VCU shows, theatrical skills can be vital or at least helpful in many other walks of life beyond stage or screen.

I think theater could do more to gain traction with the culture at large but, all things told, I think it’s doing pretty well. Still, Tony, you ask the question, “What can I do?” which I’ll take as an honest request for suggestions. Next post, I’ll try to address it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Opportunity for Dialogue (More RVA Mag, Part 1)

Sorry Ms. Robin Arthur, but like it or not, blogs are where it’s at! (There’s more to that story but it’ll have to wait for some other day.) Why do I say this? Because only in a blog-filled world could I have gone on a low-grade rant about RVA Mag (and theater coverage in general) just a few days ago and then today get a considerate and interesting response from Mr. Anthony Harris, publisher of said mag. His response provides several opportunities for dialogue, I believe. So let’s get to it:

First off, thanks so much for your comment, Mr. Harris. It was a nice and unexpected surprise. You raise many good points and I’ll try to address what I can.

You ask, “Is there a theater scene in Richmond?” Oh my, yes. In fact, for a city the size of our town, there is a pretty remarkable theater scene. There are more than a dozen professional theater companies in Richmond and its environs and that doesn’t take into account the several dozen community, parochial, and scholastic programs in town. An average of one professional show opens every week here. Literally hundreds of people make their living producing, writing for, or acting in theater in Richmond. We have one of the largest children-oriented theater companies in the country with Theatre IV, one of the most respected GLBT-oriented theaters in the country with Triangle Players, and a theater festival (“Acts of Faith”) that has received national press coverage. But perhaps the best answer to your question springs from a source very close to you -- your own alma mater. VCU has a burgeoning theater scene led by a nationally-known fight director, David Leong, which has companions in programs at U of R, Randolf Macon, and Virginia Union.

I could go on and on about the theater scene here but trust me, its pretty fervent. Enough so that a magazine focused solely on Richmond Theater (Richmond Marquee) has sprung up to cover it. And maybe it’s just the circles you run in versus the ones I do but – between Theatre IV’s children’s shows, focused theater groups like Bifocals, seasonably popular offerings like Richmond Shakespeare’s summer shows, and educational programs like SPARC – I know a lot more people (regular people, not just theater people) who experience theater on a much more frequent basis than visual art. And as far as theater people go, I can’t go to Ukrop’s without running into a person (if not multiple people) I know from the theater world. They’re everywhere!

Gotta get to bed but as soon as I get a chance I’ll post my response to your question: does [theater] still have a place in the modern world except for the high minded elite? I have to say that the question is a little mind-boggling to me particularly if we are considering comparisons between theater and visual art (and given the “huh?” response I hear from so many people when they try to appreciate contemporary visual art). But I’ll try to keep my emotion in check when I respond.

Thanks again for your response, Tony, and please check back if you want to read more. And anyone else in “the scene” who wants to pipe up, please do!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Too little and maybe too much

During my recent visit to the Byrd Theatre, I saw an ad for RVA Magazine, an alternative mag that I know next to nothing about. But in perusing their website quickly, I only saw a single story about theater (a puff piece on Yellowhouse). What’s up with that? How can a magazine claim to be tapped into the local arts scene without coverage of theater? I found more articles about dance than theater and as many articles about roller derby as theater. For some reason, music is totally over-covered and RVA in particular seems intensely in touch with the visual art scene. I can only speak from personal experience but I’ve only been to two concerts in the past year, two art shows, and no dance performances (compared with a dozen plays). Are these other scenes really drawing a dramatically larger (richer? hipper?) audience than theater?

Though this criticism is directed at RVA, most of the local media are guilty. The T-D, Brick, and even Style generally underperform when it comes to covering theater – though Style I think is getting better with the welcome addition of Mary Burruss to the ranks of those covering live performance. I should also say that I generally appreciate’s level of coverage, posting more reviews from Joan Tupponce than I would have expected from a venue that is just a web presence.

What gets to me is that the existing reportage, which runs from less-than-expected to zilch, usually only covers the professional scene. In a perfect universe, the burgeoning college scene would also get the coverage it deserves, particularly given that – in my totally unscientific speculation – many of the popular college productions have drawn way bigger audiences than some of the less popular professional ones. Oh, but in those cases most of the theater-goers were college kids and we all know that their money and attention doesn’t count…

I could work myself up into a full-fledged rant about this but it’s Friday for one thing and also still so hot that I don’t want to do anything that might work up a sweat. But to give interested parties something else to think about over the weekend, I'll throw out another -- somewhat contradictory -- observation for consideration:

I am loving the Barksdale Blog but I honestly cannot keep up. I came back from vacation and started to peruse the new content (great piece on Vickie and Richard, Mr. Maupin) but had to move on after a couple of posts. I have the interest but just don’t have the time. To reiterate: I love that it's so informative and that Bruce in particular has put himself out there is such an accessible way. However, maybe it’s just me but it feels like too much of a good thing. Short and snappy are generally the guiding principles of the arts writing I do and also that I like to read. I know I’m just a blogger/critic who isn’t immune to rambling myself, but I think an outreach/marketing tool has to strike a balance between informing, entertaining and overwhelming. Just my two cents…

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A King’s Perspective

Stephen King writes commentary for Entertainment Weekly, which I sometimes find annoying in its cloying “regular guy” attitude but appreciate at the same time because, you know, he’s Stephen King and he hasn’t really had to do anything to earn his pesos for a decade or two. His latest piece includes something that strikes a particular chord for the critic in me with its reminder to appreciate the joy “art” generates and its admonishment of those who seem critical for criticism’s sake (hello, Mr. Neman!).

As with so many things, the piece immediately made me think of the local theater scene. I reflected on the simple genius of the Barksdale’s offerings at Hanover Tavern. I may have sighed a heavy sigh when I first read that oldies like “Barefoot in the Park” were going to be produced there. But, damn that was a funny show. Same reaction – and same result – with “Odd Couple.” The folks at Barksdale obvious recognize that some shows – no matter how old and potentially dated – generate joy. You leave a good production of “Barefoot” feeling happy, it picks you up and sends you off in the world feeling like the world is a hopeful place.

I often have to battle with my inner snob and I can’t help but look forward to more cutting-edge and challenging material (both “Urinetown” and “Mr. Marmalade” on Richmond’s Fall slate have my interest peaked). But I also have to remind myself that I could probably be happy seeing “Godspell” once a month for the rest of my life (maybe alternating with “Les Miserables”). As Mr. King would say, some shows simply kick ass.

Which also made me think that I should compile a list of theatrical moments of the last ten years or so that gave me a joyful reaction on par with the one that Mr. King describes in his piece. Stay tuned loyal readers (both of you...) for that one.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shrek, Neglect and other Dreck

I have been neglecting this ole blog for a while now, mostly because I’ve been out of town at the beach, enjoying a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of city living. But after a week of sun and sand (and a couple of days of beating the work madness back down to a low roar), I’m here again and already looking forward to a Fall full of interesting theater.

But in the meantime, it’s still summer (as the sweltering temps attest) and some summer shows are still winding down (as per the review of “Sleuth” in the latest Style). I totally missed the Steward School, SPARC, and New Writers shows this summer – did anyone else check them out? Were they good?

I also missed perhaps the biggest gathering of theater folks this summer at Erin and Tony’s engagement party, documented in a great series of pictures at JB’s blog. You’ll notice Mrs. Price featured in some of these pictures which is a bit ironic since my beloved recently bumped into Melissa at the “Member of the Wedding” auditions at the Barksdale. Both her daughter and mine were trying out for the lead role. I’ve thought about sending flowers (or Red Sox tickets) to Scott as an enticement to get him to cast my baby but I suspect he has integrity about that kind of thing…phooey.

And in a tangential theater note, I took my boys to see “Shrek the Third” last night, which IMHO was pretty dreadful and a dramatic downturn from the original. But I was amused at the framing bits of theater in the movie. If you think you’ve been subjected to an awful audience, check out the delightful bit of dinner theater at the beginning where even the three little pigs are heckling. And the dressing room in the alley was pretty inspired. A knowing understanding about the conventions of theater informed the big finale as well.

Even though American culture is dominated by movies and television, these scenes in Shrek show how theater is woven into the DNA of our artistic expression and continues to be a fundamental element of our cultural foundation.

Finally, a hardy welcome back to Richmond to Sara Heifetz; I look forward to seeing her back on stage in the not-too-distant future, perhaps after a certain blessed event…