Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Of all the comments I had to truncate to the bare minimum, I’m most sorry about David Leong’s. I’ve known David a long time and appreciate what he has done at VCU. It’s unfortunate that 30 minutes of his insight and explanations had to be summed up in one rather negative comment about the market for actors in Richmond.
I had contacted David to ask him what Theatre VCU was doing to support the local theater scene, what he was doing to bolster opportunities in town for graduates of his program. What he clearly and concisely explained to me was that his program is populated with people with great ambitions and one of the jobs of the program is to foster those ambitions. While he had many nice things to say about the local scene, he was unapologetic about the fact that the University tries its best to get its graduates in front of producers and directors in bigger markets. His focus is clearly on serving his students, not on serving the local theater-going public. Which I think is appropriate.
David expressed some regret that TheatreVirginia wasn’t still around, saying that partnership with a LORT theater used to be a great aspect of the program. He also said that, while placing people locally wasn’t a specific focus of the current program, he was very proud of the VCU graduates who have stayed in Richmond and done well here.
So that’s the full story behind David’s brief comment in the published piece. FYI.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
All the best,
An aside: the ART CHEERLEADERs will make a special appearance at Richmond Montessori School on Friday February First in support of artist Mo Bennett's first rertospective art exhibit at the school's media center at 499 N. Parham Road. 3:30 to 5:30pm. They will also be wandering around at First Friday Art Walk and celebrating my birthday later that evening. All are welcome to come to the opening and/or come stand me a drink at 27.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Though it’s still hard to find the theater reviews in the T-D, theater-related news still sneaks in through other outlets. Almost every lead sentence about the recent Miss American pageant started out similarly to this: “Miss Michigan Kirsten Haglund, a 19-year-old aspiring Broadway star, was crowned Miss America 2008…” Haters out there may say theater is dead, but there’s obviously cheerful kids all over the country that are motivated by the Great White Way.
And speaking of cheerful kids, I was lucky enough to catch the exceedingly cute vocal stylings of Deb Clinton’s daughter singing “Popular” from “Wicked” at the Or-Ami talent show last night. She’s clearly following in her talented mom’s footsteps. For those of you who like the old crowd-pleasing musicals, Deb is staging “Guys and Dolls, Jr.” at the JCC at the beginning of April. And in case you’re expecting awkwards teens stumbling through their lines – well, I can’t guarantee there won’t be some of that. But one of the show’s stars, Jessica Story, also sang at the talent show last night and she has as big a voice as you’re likely to hear anywhere on stage here in town. Like in many of the community centers and the many faith communities in Richmond, the JCC has a burgeoning theater program. Big budget theater in Richmond may still be sparse but theater still thrives in nooks and crannies all over town.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
"Rumplestiltskin's Daughter" is everything Children's Theatre should be. Engaging for kids of a variety of ages and the adults who escort them, funny, enlightening with it's message, politically correct for our time, colorful and just the right length - a little over an hour with no intermission. It is also everything that the largest theatre company in the area should produce: new, well directed, well acted, well designed and crafted set, sound, and lighting, appropriate, fun, well thought out costumes, excellent make-up, choreography that is appropriate for the show and its actors, and wonderfully talented cast who's abilities are utilized properly to make a show that flows seemingly flawlessly across the stage. Thank you Bruce and Phil for taking a risk on something new! You obviously commited yourselves and your resources fully to this show. It is by far the best production I have seen TIV (perhaps due to my short time back in Richmond and actively seeing TIV shows, but then again maybe not).
But who cares about my opinion? The real critic in this case, (target audience aged that is) Elinor thought it was wonderful too. She especially enjoyed David Janeski's interpretation of Rumplestiltskin. She knows David from other shows and did not recognized him but not just because of the fake nose. She commented several times on the hilariously wicked duo of Jackie Jones and Matt James as the Queen Mother and the Duke of Bonfire. Jackie your costume has started a fashion war in our house. I know it is not your fault but honey, you do wear that -is it Versache inspired?- neo disco outfit so well! I know you are having fun in that, girl. I could tell by your wicked evil laugh.
I personally fell in love with Richard Koch as the King. He can take his make-up off in front of me anytime.
Biggest disappointment though- Billy Christopher shaved off his alluring whiskers. That might be the only directoral decision I had a problem with. Thank you Dawn Westbrook for killing my fantasy life.
Elinor and I both agreed that the songs were a little repetitive but big caveat here: I generally do not like the music in musicals and I did enjoy the entire show- I was not cringing during the songs which is often the case. (I do not miss the irony here that my favorite show of the season so far, "Urinetown" is a musical but hey, when it is good it is really really good). Elinor's favorite musical music currently is "Spamalot" which is played at least once everyday in her room at very loud volume. A tough bar is set there. IN summary: overall good rating but maybe a little repetitive.
I strongly encourage all theatre lovers in Richmond and surrounding areas to go see "Rumplestiltskin's Daughter". We may have good theatre around here but we rarely have really great theatre and so we must indulge ourselves in it while it is available.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
"In the end, Sara was able to devote herself fully to both the funeral and the birth and give herself over to each. She is a strong, amazing woman, and I wish her and her new family the greatest healing and the most rewarding joy."
When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She starts with a
hardship. When God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility."
Greatly enjoyed the Festival of New American Plays at Firehouse last week. "Tiny Bubbles" was hilarious! Kudos to director and cast for a job well done- would mention all names here but of course have recycled program already and have such a poor memory I wish not to offend anyone by butchering the spelling of their name or leaving someone out.
"Pet Shop Days" not such a good play after all but congrats to cast and BC for an entertaining evening. BC looks so hot with those whiskers he has grown for "Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter" I almost forgot myself and the several roadblocks that would keep us from having a torrid love affair. Oh well- that's what fantasies are for anyway, right?
Just to respond to the suggestion that I might be biased in regards to the Firehouse in terms of reviewing shows: I have worked with many theatre people in this town. That allows for insight as I believe another blogger mentioned referring to their time in Austin as a critic (thank you). Anyone who knows me will tell you that there has been no friendship, job opportunity, love, money or other bribe that has kept me from giving my true opinion about a show- performance or otherwise. I am in all senses of the word a cheerleader for local theatre, all local theatre. But I also want us all to go "a little bit up" so I call 'em like I see 'em.
Looking forward to lots of upcoming openings and reviews.MB
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
It was interesting to read about the genesis of “Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter” this past Sunday. The picture of young Gianna Galiffa peaked my interest as well. My sources say she is a nice local girl, not a hired talent from out of town, which is a little surprising given that she’s playing the title role in such a big production. Could yet another extremely talented local actress be entering the Richmond scene? One need look no further than the cast of “Little Women” at the Mill to see how many of them there are here already. We need more female-centric plays (anything but “Quilters” please…) in production around here to showcase all this talent!
Monday, January 21, 2008
Before the grades are published however, I just want to thank everyone I spoke to or tried to speak to for being gracious and available for chatting about this. In particular, I want to thank Robin Harris-Jones and Sara Heifetz, both of whom I spoke with at some length but whose comments did not make it into the final article. I ended up speaking to about 8 or 9 people and had another 3-4 lined up to speak to, which ended up being a lot to squeeze into 500 words. For those who will be mentioned in the article, I hope my transcription of your comments accurately reflected your intended meaning.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
But until then, here are some things that didn’t end up in the review:
The set. I ended up feeling a bit mixed about the set. Like many aspects of the production, I think the ambition exceeded the execution. The second level with the tower room where Bel-Imperia is locked was pretty impressive. But the little chambers under the second level were odd and the façade of the whole thing, while it didn’t look as bad as cardboard building blocks, also didn’t quite convey “brick” convincingly.
I liked Anthony Santiago as Balthazar, though not quite as much as I liked him in “Spinning into Butter.” I didn’t really get a strong impression of Brad Tuggle as Horatio. I like the chemistry between him and Frank Creasy’s Hieronimo in their brief moments together, but I would echo Mary again and say I wasn’t quite feeling the fire between him and Kerry McGee’s Bel-Imperia.
I enjoyed Dean Knight as Lorenzo’s page a lot. I wish he was given more to do and more stage time in which to do it.
Sorry to say but the entire Portuguese court kind of left me flat. The whole subplot involving political infighting at the Portuguese court was a time-waster in my opinion, adding far too little to the show for the time and focus it demanded. Not to be mean about it but that was how I felt.
I touch on this in the review, but I think the text of the play is problematic. Until the trial of Pedringano, there is a deathly lack of humor or distraction from the grim main events. There were some moments of lightness after that, but the whole piece is a pretty grim affair. Hamlet’s no party either but I think I laughed at least four times as often the last time I saw that. Also, whereas Shakespeare has such moving and soaring poetry, I didn’t think there was much inspiration to be found in Kyd’s rhymes. There was a fairly large proportion of “moon/June” kind of poetry (or at least “tale / nightingale” which is really just about as bad).
The one soliloquy that approached poignancy was Hieronimo’s “What good is a son?” speech. It was a good speech but almost a little too bittersweet. I also didn’t get at all why Hieronimo first discovers his son, is distraught, then apparently refuses to accept that it’s his son, and then “re-discovers” him and falls again into pain and rage. Why go through that circle? It was confusing to me.
Though I’ve written a fair amount of negative stuff above, I did like many things about the production. But you’ll read about those in my review, when it comes out and if you are inclined to pick up a copy. In the meantime, I'm open to opinions both contradictory and complementary...
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Well this culture vulture is having a fab weekend so far. Henley Street's "Spanish Tragedy" Friday night, the Latin Ballet's, "Legend of the Pointsetta" yesterday and this evening will find me and my family at Barksdale for BJ Kocen's "Stretchin' at the Barksdale" concert series. How will the laundry ever get done?
I enjoyed my evening with Henley Street from start to finish and since I am not reviewing the play, I am free to express my opinions on the blog. I want to congratulate Henley's Artistic Director, Alex Prevetera, on understanding the principle of "A little bit up with each production". Stoner Winslett, of the Richmond Ballet told me that this was the success of her "Nutcracker" production; twenty six years ago, when she took over the show, she contacted a mentor from New York who said that the secret to show biz success is to take the production "a little bit up" every year. In the case of Henley Street I saw a wonderful growth between their first production to their second.
From theup-grade of food at the opening reception to the quality of the performances, set, and tech I think they have "gone a little bit up". I was most impressed with the much improved line delivery and stage presence of Michael Slater who is clearly working very hard and getting some excellent training.
The general level of performances was at Richmond Shakespeare level- good solid performances but in my book could still work on character depth and taking the song out of the text - and sometimes there is that playing the mood of the scene thing that makes me nuts. That is not a slam (I see the avalanche of outraged responses in my mind). Everyone can always improve. That is part of what keeps us going to theater- watching companies and performers grow and get better. This is acompliment to HS. It is their second production and they are doing great! "The Spanish Tragedy" is no cakewalk either. It has a lot of elements that are problematic onstage regardless of who is producing it ie: lots of murders, blood, death scenes and what can be difficult text. Choices have to be made about how to show blood or not show blood, if yes, how to show the blood- metaphorically by means of silk scarves or ribbons etc or with reality in mind using sticky slimy glycerin and food color which is messy and can be dangerous on a stage with lots of scene changes. But a clear choice must be made and I feel it was not. The audience is taught to suspend it's disbelief for all the bloody parts until Hieronimo bites out his tongue at the end. Great effect- blood pouring out of his mouth- but a little confusing after no other blood in the show. And it is always trouble for actors to die onstage. All that being still and breathing can get in the way of a convincing death.
Costumes are an issue with this show as well. Someone please tell me what era was being portrayed here or was the idea not to have a specific era? I saw a variety of last century decades of clothing parading across the stage and what looked like aluminium foil crowns on actor's heads. At one point an actress came out with half her hem fallen out and Pedringono's skirt was work sideways so she could have use of what should be the zippered back as a pocket. Attention to detail is one of those things that separates the good from the great. A cohesive design thread can be really helpful if you are mixing eras otherwise it just looks like someone ran around to thrift stores in order to have something on the actor's bodies.
I would like to see a little more scene work on the love scene between Horatio and Bel-Imperia- I just was not getting that they are really hot for each other at all. I mean he has got to be "something" enough to make her forget her beloved late husband so quickly. And she has to be "something" enough to be tempted. The audience needs to feel that.
Ok- enough whining. Back to the good stuff...I already said how great it is to see Michael Slater grow as an actor...what a joy to have Stephan Ryan in this show. I am pleased to see top shelf actors like him supporting this company. Stephan is great. So understated and with that wonderful gift for bringing reality into this difficult verse.
David Bromley has also taken his performance "a little bit up".
Dean Knight seems to be the only person who truly understands the benefits of comic relief in a tragedy. He is charmingly sadistic in his bit about the non-existence of a pardon for Pedringano.
It was nice to finally meet Frank Creasy, a frequent blog respondent, after the show. He plays the lead, Hieronimo. A complex and wordy part. This part is intense. Frank, get Alex to pay for a full body massage before next weekend- you deserve it. A tad more relaxation and depth of character would serve this performance- I bet much of this tenseness was due to opening. I personally would have been a basket case.
Kerry McGee and Leslie Cline both put in good performances as Bel-Imperia and The Viceroy of Portugal despite completely strange and seasonally conflicting costumes.
So now I have commented on this show almost as long as the show itself. I am sure I could go on but it is time to make breakfast.
Keep up the good work Henley Street. You are on your way to being a real contender and I for one am proud of you. You are brave, smart, and moving forward. Just the kind of new blood we need around here to keep everyone working and on their toes.
Looking forward to Dave's review coming out soon.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I caught Final Jeopardy at the gym today, which grabbed my attention because the category was “American Theatre History.” This was the answer: “This 1943 musical was based on a 1931 play that starred Tex Ritter as a cowboy and Lee Strasberg as a peddler.” Do you know the question?
I admit that I guessed but still I got it right. The correct question begs two more questions: “What was the name of the play?” and “What was Tex’s real first name?”
And if you really like trivia, here’s a doozy of a question: “You might think Tex’s son’s second wife is related to a relatively well-known theater composer whose most famous show played in Richmond during the summer of 2006. But she isn’t! Why might you think the two are related but how can you tell they aren’t?”
The first correct answer to all four of the queries posed above (or correct question, as the case may be) gets a prize. Honest! Start Googling…
Well, the show opens tonight. And in contridiction to my expectations, this article in USA Today actually makes me curious about the show. There are 10 new songs in it!? Doug Wright worked on the libretto!? Hmmm...
Also, I found out the other day that Richmond native Emily Skinner played Ursula when the show was workshopped. There's a YouTube video somewhere that dubs Emily's voice in over a scene in the original animated version (I'll link to it when I get a chance...). It's interesting. Maybe still not compelling enough to get me up to see it but interesting just the same...
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
I’ve heard some good and some bad about “Sweeney Todd” on the big screen. I’m having trouble getting motivated to see it because, after seeing Patti Lupone as Mrs. Lovett on Broadway, I can’t imagine Helena Bonham Carter doing the part justice. Based on the John Doyle production I saw, the prerequisite for any future Mrs. Lovett should be that she can convincingly play (or at least carry) a tuba.
I did see an equally devastating and uplifting tragedy over Christmas however, also based on theater. If you have the patience for subtitles and the occasional stilted performance, you should check out “Ran” by the Japanese director Kurosawa on DVD sometime. It’s an epic tragedy based loosely on “King Lear” and it is full of pageantry and awesome visuals. It was filmed before CGI so the scenes of legions of soldiers riding into battle actually involved thousands of extras and hundreds of horses. It’s pretty amazing.
I’ve also been canvassing the acting community out there in reference to an upcoming Style piece (not unlike Mary’s) so don’t be surprised if you hear me calling in the next couple of days. Beware!
Was watching TV the other night- rare at my house- and saw a commercial for Barksdale. A very nicely produced, beautiful commercial for Barksdale. Is this a new thing or have I just missed it because I do not watch much television? Way to go Bruce and Phil! I adore anything that promotes theater around here, especially when it is so pretty. A very smart idea, marketing wise, to go after the folks who are not already in the theater loop aka a typical television audience- and prime time too!
Hope to see lots of you at State of the Theatre Coffee and Conversation.
And for you geography geeks: I could be wrong but according to my sources Baltimore has a population of 1.4 million and Greater Richmond of 1.2 million (Hanover and Petersburg must be included because of Hanover Tavern and Sycamore Rouge). And anyway Baltimore has 76 area theaters and theater companies compared to Richmond's
22. So even if my population stats are wrong, and Baltimore is twice as big as I think, Baltimore still has more than twice the number of active theaters and companies. Funding is part of it - read upcoming article in STYLE for more information.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Also, in the news this morning was the announcement that the Batten family may be putting Landmark Communications up for sale. Landmark owns Style Weekly. I expect there’s no reason to quiver in my boots yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some changes coming down the road.
As I tuned into Lettermen and Leno last night to get a glimpse of the world of TV in strike-torn times, I saw a couple of familiar faces. Halfway through Gov. Huckabee’s stint on Leno (gotta say – it’s hard not to like a guy who wants to dismantle the IRS…) there was a Bon Secours hospitals spot that definitely had Jen Meharg and might it have been Joe Pabst as well? This may be an old commercial for all I know but it’s nice to see Jen joining her hubby Scotty Wichmann in getting some commercial work.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
This issue also has a review of “Moonlight and Magnolias,” the first real pan I can remember reading from MaryB. I’m sure there will be those who disagree with Mary (I haven’t seen the show so will not weigh in) but what I greatly respect about her review is her clear placement of everything as her opinion and her acknowledgement that others were enjoying themselves. There are too many critics who state simply that something is intrinsically bad without giving much context, or even worse, freely use the pronoun “we” in their reviews, trying to insinuate us into their negative opinions (yes, I’m talking about Mr. Neman). Nice work, Mary.
Note also the piece on the ArtsFund that includes some insightful words from Mr. Mudge. Arts funding is something that needs to be addressed and I hope to write more about it here. I was talking to Bruce Miller the other day and he was giving me comparative figures on the amount of support arts organizations get in Virginia versus other states. It’s pretty staggering. People who blithely talk about how Richmond theater is lame compared to other cities are usually blaming the victims. It’s amazing how well the theaters here are doing given their comparative disadvantage. When I get more specific numbers from Bruce, I’ll be sure and post them.
Finally, I picked up last week’s Brick and noticed a picture on the back page of the kids from “A Christmas Story” signing autographs. Since I only pick up a Brick occasionally, I don’t know if they’re stepping up their theater coverage – I tend to doubt it – but that picture was at least an acknowledgement that theater exists here. You gotta accept the small victories.