Thursday, December 31, 2009

Catching Up / Wrapping Up

What lies ahead of you and what lies behind you is nothing compared to what lies within you. -Mohandas K. Gandhi

This has been perhaps the most exhausting December I’ve ever had with certainly many wonderful bonding moments with friends and family but with many more hours scrambling to finish things or get places. The day or two that life came to a near dead stop thanks to the snow storm were the only brief respite I found. My number 1 resolution going into this new year is to stop rushing around so much and calm the frak down. My yoga class starts next week. The irony may lie in how much energy I expend rushing to get to yoga class in time…

Anyway, it’s nice to see Mr. Miller back in the blogging saddle over at the Barksdale Buzz. I echo Bruce’s hopes that next year be the best ever for local theater. Along those lines, at some point Barksdale announced their Hanover season for 2010. Quite an interesting line-up that I’ll have to ruminate over a bit before I offer any commentary.

December was full of announcements of additional movie/TV stars coming to Broadway. I was a little surprised about the Valerie Harper announcement – maybe just because in my mind she’s still “Rhoda” and I don’t imagine her as an aging screen star. But then again, in my mind I’m still in my mid-20s. The Megan Mullally/Patton Oswalt announcement was noteworthy to me more for the announcement of a revival of “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.”

The site Popeater weighs in on the whole celebrity-on-Broadway phenomenon in an article that is an interesting read (and that includes an embedded link to a roundup of reviews of significant star turns of recent years). Of course, it may be more fun to respond to the Entertainment Weekly question as to who would make the best “Santaland Diaries” Crumpet, a rare engagement on that site with theater as a noteworthy medium.

I’ve started to hear the PSAs about the “Acts of Faith” festival on WRIR which is great. It’s hard to believe that whole calvalcade of shows will be kicking off in just a few weeks. Mark your calendar for the opening event – it’s free!

There are still a number of great shows leftover from the holiday season that are worth catching. There are just two more chances to see "Black Nativity," now at the Empire. I'll of course be seeing "Greetings" this weekend but will also carve out a couple of nights in the coming weeks for "Spelling Bee" and "Bus Stop." I was wavering a little on "Bus Stop" but a hot-as-a-volcano shot of Alia Bisharat on Facebook has convinced me that it's a must see (yes, I'm just that shallow).

There are all sorts of "Best of 2009" stories out there right now. I've done stories like that about Richmond theater in the past but am pretty much done with offering opinions for the year. Mostly, I hope you and your loved ones have a happy and safe New Year and I thank you for your participation, whatever it has been or continues to be, in helping to keep theater the lively and thriving art form that it is. Take care.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kids

I don’t really like kids. This may seem paradoxical for someone who has four of them, but it’s the truth. I can remember distinctly co-hosting a birthday party for a bunch of 6 or 7 year olds with my lovely wife some 20 years ago and feeling totally overwhelmed and freaked out. I still have flashbacks about that when any of my kids has a bunch of pals around and the chaos factor starts rising.

One side effect of my son’s involvement in local theater has been meeting a bunch of kids – his fellow ensemble members – who may be just delightful enough to cure me of my child anxiety. The recent production of “A Christmas Carol” had a great gaggle of talented kids who were always fun to be around, generally well-behaved and imaginative, and all well-able to hold an intelligent, respectful conversation with an adult.

I don’t know if it’s a chicken/egg kind of thing: kids with certain qualities are attracted to theater or working in theater builds certain characteristics in children. Whichever way it is, it made hanging around with them when the production was running and at the final cast party entertaining and fun. From the quiet and calm intelligence of Lillie Izo to the happy-go-lucky attitude of Xavier Dobbins, the assertive and sunny personality of Hanna Clinton to the mischieviousness that lies behind the stoic exterior of Charie Dacus, it was a fine group of new pals for Cooper.

Of course, Eric Pastore and Susie Redling are practically old Theatre IV veterans at this point so their engaging professionalism was expected. However, I hadn’t met Jessie Jennison before this show and she is perhaps the single most enchanting teenager I’ve ever met (close race with Ali Thidodeau who, since turning 18, has graduated from the ranks of wonder-teens to those of simply fabulous young women).

I am not closely acquainted with the cast of “Black Nativity” but if the incredible dancers that make up that cast are even half as mature and interesting as they appear on stage, then they are additional examples of the cool theater kids phenomena exemplified by the “ACC” crew. Yet another reason to support local theater: building character in another generation of performers. Or at least helping to make them more tolerable to be around.

More Links

Links are easy and about all I can manage this time of year. The announcement came last week that Idina Menzel would indeed be appearing in "Glee" in the Spring. All of you "Wicked" fans should be stoked. In other Broadway actors on TV news, reps from my current total obsession, "True Blood," recently announced some casting that includes a few actors that will be familiar to Broadway fans. Perhaps we're heading back to the days where the road to Hollywood started on 42nd Street?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Linking

Lest I be accused of focusing my linkage just on Style, here are two links to reviews of Sycamore Rouge's "Santaland, etc..." that did NOT appear in Style, one in the Progress-Index and the other in GayRVA. The wonderful Ms. Saine gets some nice props in both write-ups.

Also, I recently heard from the intrepid Chris Harcum, former Richmond theater vet now making a name for himself in NYC. Speaking of his name, it was mentioned by the editor of the New York Theatre Experience in a list of memorable performances in the company of Jane Fonda, James Spader and David Alan Grier, etc. Very nice! Congrats, Chris; can't wait to get up there to see you in something someday soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Missed One

Mary Burruss's review of "Santaland Diaries and Season's Greetings" at Sycamore Rouge must not have posted yet when I checked yesterday. But it's on the site today; check it out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nine…days from Christmas

This week’s Style has a review of Theatre IV’s “A Christmas Carol” from Mary Burruss – a review that appears to have attracted negative commentary within minutes of appearing online. One side comment: critics are often lambasted because of a lack of specifics in their criticism, something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of. However, when someone criticizes a critic and utilizes such adjectives as “hateful” and “misinformed” (and when that someone does not have the space limitations that a reviewer has), I need some specifics to take that criticism seriously. I can understand disagreeing with Mary’s review but what exactly is she “misinformed” about? My much less ire-inducing review of “Black Nativity” also appears this week.

Speaking of critcizing critics, I’m intrigued with the reactions so far to the new onscreen musical “Nine.” If you peruse Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see a very sharply divided response, some critics using words like “simply sensational” or “sophisticated, sexy and stylish.” More common are words like “disaster” or “cluttered and stagebound” and this nice bon mot: “Nine thrashes about in search of "cinema" the way a child thrown into the deep end of a pool flails for a flotation device.”

As a big fan of Marshall’s screen adaptation of “Chicago,” I’ve been looking forward to “Nine” and the previews featuring very lavishly shot footage of some gorgeous women has only reinforced my anticipation (I’ve never been a particular fan of Kate Hudson but she seems to have a show-stopper in “Nine,” though it looks like Penelope Cruz may cause the most jaws to drop.) The sharply mixed critical response has me wondering what exactly is going on. In my quick read through some of the reviews, I didn’t get a sense of what specifically might be wrong with the movie. The review that gave me the most distinct insight was the “Movie Dearest” blog. The review also provided additional insight by noting that the leading ladies are “GLBT faves,” a statement I scoffed at when I first read it but then when I thought about it a bit, I could see where he was coming from.

Anyway, I’ll be hoping to sneak away some night to check out “Nine” once it opens here. But in the meantime, there are still too many shows to catch! It’s not fair that, in the midst of all the holiday shows, JCC’s “Fiddler on the Roof” closes this weekend also. Oy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grab Bag

In browsing podcasts, I’ve checked in periodically with the Playbill Radio offerings. They’re pretty good and pretty good is better than the sometimes gawd-awful American Theatre Wing interviews. Anyway, PBR recently started offering Seth Rudetsky’s column in podcast format, to which I say “Brava!” He’s an often high-larious read and is an even more entertaining listen.

One side benefit for Richmonders of listening/reading Seth is that former-Richmonder Emily Skinner pops up not infrequently. Seth’s Dec. 7 column mentions Emily as an understudy for Linda Eder in “Jeckyl and Hyde” and semi-famously singing for Ms. Eder from off-stage when she had laryngitis. If you read Mr. Rudetsky’s bio, Emily’s name also shows up.

Speaking of Broadway, the news came out over the weekend that Jennifer Morrison from “House” would be joining the stacked-with-big-names revival of “The Miracle Worker.” To be honest, it just makes me less interested in seeing it. It may be an irrational prejudice, but I’ve only seen one movie star-centric revival before – “The Diary of Anne Frank” with Natalie Portman – which really wasn’t bad but was still underwhelming enough to sour me on similar productions for a long time.

In good news for “Gleeks,” the TV show announced it would be fanning the fires of fandom during its hiatus with new content in the coming months. That’s nice but it won’t be the same as the whole show. Oh well – “Lost” is back in February so it’s not like there won’t be anything to keep me warm and happy during the freezing days of February.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chappy Chanukah!

What better way to celebrate Hanukkah than to see Theatre IV’s “A Christmas Carol”? Of course, given the myriad ways to spell Hanukah, perhaps Barksdale’s “Spelling Bee” would be more appropriate?

Anyway, I just needed an excuse to mention “A Christmas Carol” because I haven’t really talked about it in depth. There are many things I really love about this production:

♥ Joe Inscoe. How can you not love Joe? His Scrooge is kind of unique in my opinion. Maybe because Joe has such a genuine goodness to him, I think his Scrooge comes across less an evil ogre and more a seriously wounded individual, which then lends more poignancy to the scenes of Christmas past. It may be a subtle thing, and maybe just something I read into the performance, but still, it makes for a particularly effective variation on the old theme in my opinion.

♥ The matching of the Ebeneezers – from Eric Pastore to Chris Stewart to Joe – is an awesome bit of casting by Chase Kniffen. Particularly when Chris and Joe are onstage together, you can totally imagine Chris as a younger Joe. Both are charismatic and engaging in similar ways.

♥ In contrast to my esteemed critical cohort, Ms. Haubenstock, I love Ali Thibodeau’s big solo as Belle, perhaps because I’d probably love almost any opportunity for a big solo for Ali. I also heard influences from “Beauty in the Beast” in some of the music but it wasn’t in “Look Into Your Heart,” but more a touch of “Be Our Guest” in the beginning of the Fezziwig party song.

♥ The “Peace, Peace, Peace” dovetail with “Silent Night” is pretty brilliant work by Jason Marks and one of my favorite pieces of music I’ve heard in the theater in a while. And not just because my son starts the whole thing out (though that undoubtedly has some influence). Mostly, I just think it’s an ingenius melding of old and new that enhances both. Nicely done, Mr. Marks!

♥ David Janeski as both Marley and Bob Cratchit. My love of Marley’s ghost may have as much to do with the technical elements – great makeup and costume, cool entrace and exit – as David, but for Cratchit, it’s all about the acting. I’ve appreciated Mr. Janeski’s work in several productions but I don’t know that I’ve ever managed to point him out specifically. Here, he encompasses the heart and soul of the production – the loyal and steadfast worker, the warm and affectionate father, the lover of the season even in the face of adversity – and does a fantastic job of it. The extent to which an audience falls in love with the Cratchit family largely has to do with Bob (and maybe a bit of the the little hobbling boy as well) and my sense is that audiences are loving these Cratchits.

♥ Chris Stewart’s ghost of Xmas-Yet-To-Come. Scary? Hell to the yeah! Nice work by Chris and great idea of Chase’s to put such a frightening face on the typically faceless future.

There is a lot to talk about with this production and plenty of elements that I like, some that I think are just OK, and even a couple I do not particularly like at all. But the fact that I can list off a half-dozen that I love without even straining is an indication of a winner in my book. If you haven’t seen it, make a point of checking it out. Only two more weekends!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scrooge You

I missed the review of “A Christmas Carol for Two Actors” in the T-D on Wednesday; sorry about that. I love the idea I heard floated while down at Theatre IV last weekend of a “Scrooge-off” between the many Ebeneezer’s currently treading the boards in town. Joe Inscoe, Matt Hackman, Grant Mudge, and, of course, Lauren Leinhaas-Cook could make a grand chorus of “bah-humbugs.” (I’m not sure who is going to be Scrooge in the “Mrs. Bob Cratchit” reading; I should probably find that out.) Perhaps this could be held at CenterStage on one of the next two Mondays after the RichShakes show? Just a thought.

Celebration

I am both celebrating and mourning the year’s final episode of “Glee” that aired last night. This show would earn points solely by offering kick-ass performances of some of the best-loved show tunes ever every week. “I’m telling you” last night was a killer, certainly in the J-Hud vacinity if not quite surpassing it, and bringing “Defying Gravity” to a greater audience is one of the show’s finest public services. But in addition to these bonuses for the musical theater crowd, the show delivers some great biting satire, dark humor and a surprising number of genuine tear-jerking moments. Sure there are misfires (I was tired of the fake pregnancy subplot about 2 months ago), but no other show has riveted my attention so completely since “Lost” premiered more than 5 years ago.

And for other “Gleeks” out there, you’ll be excited to hear that it’s looking like Idina Menzel may be doing a guest stint next year. Together with Jonathan Groff, there will be some serious Broadway shine to the series come April. (For even more serious Gleeks, you may enjoy Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten moments gallery.)

Speaking of celebrations, I’m overdue in offering my rave – albeit a qualified rave – on African American Repertory’s production of “Black Nativity.” Hopefully my full review will come out next week, but in the meantime I cannot heap enough praise on the young troupe of dancers that enlivens this show. Mostly made up of middle schoolers, these 6 dancers were the absolute highlight of the production for me. Not only was their energy and enthusiasm addictive, it was tempered and enhanced by fine form and creative choreography (by Willie Hinton). The 4 girls were delightful but I was paying special attention to the athletic and charming boys (Johnnie Mercer, Jr. and Brandon Penn) for several reasons: they spend the first act half-naked, always an attention-getter; the two of them are such an interesting contrast and compliment to one another; and I have two sons who are both getting more and more interested in dance. Whenever the dancers were on stage, I was entranced by this production.

However, there was plenty of times – particularly in the second act – when the dancers were not on the stage. Luckily, the musicality of this production was first rate, with a great band and some phenomenal singers. Still, the second act was mostly a revival meeting/choir performance with no narrative and very little choreography/theatricality used to enhance the proceedings. As the production soldiered on toward – and eventually surpassed – the two hour mark, I was increasingly bored. I also thought it a bit of a shame that Dustin Faltz and Katrina Carol Lewis, two fine actors with sterling voices who play a fabulous Joseph and Mary in the first act, were relegated to the chorus. I did enjoy Margaret Joyner’s costumes in both acts, the colorful native ware in the first, the fine and fancy Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes in the second.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned early on when the distinct religiosity of the production was announced so clearly (the powerful and appealing preacher Alfred Powell states something to the effect: “you didn’t expect a sermon today did you?” Well, no, I didn’t.) Not that it matters much, but I was raised Catholic; currently celebrate in a dual faith home, supporting our local synogogue with our membership; and consider my beliefs largely in line with what I know of Thomas Jefferson’s. I only mention that because perhaps if I was an evangelical Christian, I would have been more swept up in the testifying of the second act. Mostly, as a theater lover, I was disappointed that theater took a back-seat to faith in the second act. When they were riding more side-by-side during much of the first act, I was deeply satisfied and entertained by the trip.

Overall, I’d say the production was a successful and welcome leap forward for AART. I hope they can continue to bring this level of energy, professionalism, and talent to the stage in their upcoming productions. Namaste.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sneaky

The T-D snuck a rare Tuesday review in today, Susan Haubenstock's take on Sycamore Rouge's "Santaland Diaries and Seasons Greetings." Check it out!

Nobody Blogs Anymore

As far as I can tell, Facebook has pretty much consumed and digested the relatively brief blogging semi-craze that had been going on over the past few years. FB along with Twitter are already chewing away at good-ole e-mail, which is starting to seem a lot like snail mail 5-10 years ago, that is, it’s an institution, people depend on it, and it won’t go away soon, but it’s losing audience / utility in large swaths.

Which is all to say that crusing the blogs I have listed over to the left is becoming a less-and-less rewarding exercise; it seems only Audra is blogging anymore, with Bruce chiming in once in a while as well. Oh well. It makes me consider changing up the little exercise in theater-related conversation that is this blog; it may be morphing in the months ahead. No definite ideas yet but they’re percolating.

In the meantime, you might be interested in Style’s theater reviews that came out today, one on “Scrooge in Rouge” and one on “Bus Stop.”

Many folks probably know what’s been happening with “S in R.” The hysterically funny Steve Boschen had a none-too-amusing accident a couple of weeks ago and, according to what I heard, broke one shoulder and dislocated the other. Steve’s a trooper but even he couldn’t recover from that kind of fall to keep doing the show. I believe Shon Stacy stepped in temporarily while a more permanent replacement could be found. If I hear any updates on this, I’ll post info (or, if anyone reads blogs anymore, feel free to post what you know in the comments).

UPDATE: Duh, if I would only read my email, I would be informed. Mr. Stacy has officially replaced Mr. Boschen, so my email tells me. FYI!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Something new

So someone near and dear to me pointed out that the Chesterfield Observer sometimes runs theater reviews, which I never knew before. I don't know how often they do it or whether they cover anything besides the Mill. But, in any case, here's a link to a review of "Greetings" written by the intrepid Joan Tupponce.

Is everything open yet?

You might think that almost every holiday-type production is open, what with AART's "Black Nativity," Theatre IV's "A Christmas Carol" and Sycamore Rouge's "Santaland Diaries" all debuting this past weekend (links are to the T-D reviews). But of course that would be neglecting "A Christmas Carol for 2 Actors" opening tonight to a full-house. And the fun will continue with things like the readings of "Lion in Winter" and "Mrs. Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" coming this Tuesday and a coupla weeks from now. Whew!

I know I haven't exactly been chatty in this space. Tis the season....to be busy doing other things. I hope this to change in the next couple of days but can't promise anything. I did see both TIV's "ACC" and AART's "BN" this past weekend and have plenty of thoughts. Will try to get them on virtual paper soon.

Friday, December 04, 2009

More Buzz on "Bee"

John P posted his take on "Bee" (aka "The Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee") recently. Everybody's loving this show!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Unpredictable. Fun?

Mary Burruss's review of Barksdale's "Spelling Bee" made me more intent than ever to sneak out sometime next week to see the show. I love "unpredictable fun," especially in a theater production. What I'm not enjoying is the unpredictability of theater reviews. I'm never sure when a review is going to come out anymore. With the T-D, I know something will show up within a few days of opening night (usually..). With other media outlets it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Or one never shows up at all. Kinda frustrating.

Anyway, this weekend is all about Theatre IV's "Christmas Carol" for me, though I hope to see AART's "Black Nativity" as well. Have you finished YOUR holiday shopping yet?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Thanks Post

Reviews from recently opened shows continue to pop up. Today, Susan Haubenstock’s take on “Bus Stop” is in the T-D. John Porter’s review of “Greetings” showed up on Thanksgiving eve. Style didn’t have any reviews last week but did run my lovely wife’s recounting of the “Sound of Music” auditions out at Short Pump. It’s worth a read.

I’ve been feeling very thankful over the past several days but it’s hard to conjure up those feelings on a tired Monday morning back at work. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, dear reader, and have strapped yourself in for the roller coaster holidays to come!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mondo Monday

John Porter posted his review of "Scrooge in Rouge" on his website yesterday. Makes for good reading. I'm not sure what's going to show up in Style today, but I'm eagerly awaiting at least a review or two.

Monday, November 23, 2009

“I Love Paul!”

With their almost completely unfiltered reactions, children can be great critics. At the end of “Greetings” last Friday, I asked my children what they thought of the show. Two out of the four immediately said variations of “I love Paul!”

Paul is, of course, Paul Deiss who plays Mickey Gorski, a developmentally disabled young man (“retarded” according to his dad) who helps bring about a tranformative Christmas visit between his brother, Andy; his brother’s fiancee, Randi; and his parents. Randi is played by my lovely wife, Holly, and I had to laugh at my children’s reactions because they didn’t say anything about their mother initially. After some prompting, they said all of the appropriate laudatory and supportive things about her but, for at least a couple of them, Paul was who made the big impression.

And I can’t argue with that. When I first saw “Greetings” fourteen years ago, I also came away particularly impressed with Mr. Deiss whose ability to so thoroughly and convincingly be Mickey – physically, vocally, behaviorally – is the pivot about which the entire show revolves. Without his consummate skill in a role that seems easily done too big, too small or just not quite right, the production wouldn’t succeed.

And, in my (admittedly biased) view, this production does succeed and with flying colors. I don’t agree with Ms. Lewis that this is “not so much a Christmas play:” the way it challenges assumptions, highlights the importance of relationships and mixes the mystical with the mundane, I think makes for a fantastic Christmas/holiday play. And in the best of holiday traditions, wisdom is found through the actions of someone simple, innocent and loving.

If anything, I think it’s a Christmas/holiday play for grown-ups who understand – and have understood for years – that you shouldn’t be a Scrooge. But where do you go when you move off that pretty simplistic baseline? How do you reconcile the seemingly conflicting holidays traditions? What can/should you believe in a world with so many belief systems? Ultimately, what is family?

I am incredibly proud of Holly for her work in this role and I loved seeing her onstage again. There is something eye-opening about seeing a person onstage, even if you see them every day. On Friday, I was struck for about the millionth time by how pretty my wife is. After a couple of decades in each other’s company, it’s great to catch a little touch of that initial crush again.

Also, I didn’t appreciate the real importance of the character of Randi last time the Mill did this show. Late in the play, when the characters are wondering why everything is happening tonight, Andy says “I’ve brought girls home before” and his mom says something like “But not THIS girl.” In her review, I think Ms. Lewis shows insight (at least more than I initially had) in focusing on the importance of the relationship between Randi and Mickey, a relationship that Holly portrays with honesty, intelligence and urgency. I get the impression that Randi is more than just “a waitress;” she’s a smart and thoughtful person thrown into an awkward situation that grows into an other-worldly one.

Another thing I loved about the production was the relationship between Randi and Richard Koch’s Andy, which felt loving and comfortable to me. Beside Richard being great at playing a somewhat tightly-wound character, I thought he showed a natural affection for Randi as well as for Mickey. As madcap as Richard can be in some roles, it is his warmth that always comes across most strongly to me.

I think it was a great choice for director Tom Width to cast John Moon as Phil, Andy’s dad, as much for their physical similarity as anything else. In the scene where they are really going at each other, it totally looked like a father and son. John also has a kindness that underscores his gruff exterior that comes to the fore at opportune moments. But he can sure portray a total asshole, too – the squirm-inducing dinner scene is all about John and he does a fine job.

And Jodi Strickler (as the mom, Emily), is just a delight. As much as I’ve loved her work over the years, I was newly impressed with Jodi in Barksdale’s “Well” last year. Jodi may not have as much to dig into as Emily as she did as her character in “Well,” but she still makes the most of what the play gives her. Her one-on-one scene with Lucius is among my favorites and the last scene between her and John Moon is sweet and priceless.

And who’s Lucius (if you don’t already know)? Well, you’ll have to go to the play yourself to see. You’ll be glad you did!

Trio

A trio of reviews have appeared in the Times-Dispatch over the past several days, including Julinda Lewis's review of the Mill's "Greetings" in today's paper. Over the weekend, Ms. Lewis also weighed in on Barksdale's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and Celia Wren made a rare guest-reviewing appearance to cover RTP's "Scrooge in Rouge."

The whole Tline crew went to "Greetings" on Friday and were all enchanted. More specific thoughts will be forthcoming, as soon as I clear the Monday morning madness off my desk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The African Company presents Richard III

One of those worthy events in town that I've ended up overlooking in the midst of everything else is the University of Richmond's production of "The African Company presents Richard III." It sounds like the kind of challenging work that Richmond should embrace; only 2 more shows left!

Also, there will be a free playwriting workshop offered by Carlyle Brown, author of the play, at U of R tomorrow. According to the official communique about the workshop:

"The writer of the Department of Theatre and Dance's most recent production comes to the University of Richmond's campus this weekend to do a talkback at the final performance. Earlier in the afternoon he will do a writer's workshop with both experienced and non-experienced individuals interested in playwriting.

Don't miss this valuable opportunity to experience a playwriting session with one of America's leading playwrights.There are eight places available for this workshop. Please sign up fast through Debbie Mullin (dmullin@richmond.edu) by simply writing to express your interest in attending."

There's no mention of the workshop being restricted to students. Could be a cool opportunity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two wrongs make a right

So I thought last night was the charitable admission night for “Scrooge in Rouge” – you know, donate canned goods and you can see the show. Well, turns out it was opening night (duh). I ended up keeping my boxfull of Sauer’s condiments and jars of Costco peanut butter but still got to see a great show!

I also thought curtain was at 8pm but it was at 8:30. However, I got to spend at least a slice of that time hanging around chatting with the dashing Elliot Lau who many just saw in “All That I Will Ever Be” at Shafer Street Playhouse last weekend. I wasn’t able to catch it but I heard it was a great show. And anything with Mr. Lau in it would be worth a look – that’s even before consideration of the special appearance by a virtual John Porter!

“SnR” was a hoot, pure and simple, with Steve Boschen very nearly stealing the show with his over-the-topligato portrayal of Lottie Obbligato. He would have stolen the show outright if he didn’t have to wrest it from such predigious competition, Kirk Morton and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook. Morton brings a wonderful antic energy to everything he does, particularly hilarious in his petulant Ghost of Christmas Past and brightly idiotic Fred. Leinhaas-Cook does a great gruff Scrooge and, while she doesn’t get as many of the goofy one-liners, she makes the ones she delivers work. Most of all, she remains a fine actress even amidst all of the silliness; I particularly liked her cheerful reaction to Scrooge’s post-mortem song, “Good Riddance, Goodbye!”

Speaking of songs, one of the reasons to recommend this show is that, while the actors are all great comedians, they don’t coast on their ability to elicit laughter. Each has a winning singing voice as well and they all are put to good use in the calvalcade of 18 songs that spill forth in the short 80 minute, intermission-less show.

But what really pushes this production from great to exceptional is the costume design by Thomas Hammond. This is one of those shows where the costumes get nearly as many laughs as the cast. And some of the outsized pieces brought to my mind the wonderful memory of RTP’s “When Pigs Fly” so many years ago. Hammond truly is a comedian with cloth.

So definitely go see “Scrooge in Rouge” and that may be the last time I say it because I will be compelled in the next several days and weeks to make repeated encouragements for all to see “Greetings” at Swift Creek Mill and “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre IV. Does this signal the final death throes of my objectivity? Could be. Still, a beautiful bird told me that the IDR of “Greetings” went very well last night so be sure and make room for that one on your dance card.

Final note: be sure and check out Bruce Miller's comment in response to my "Merch" post. Three Bags Full -- I'm very excited about this!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Covered!

I wrote yesterday’s post before picking up the latest Style. Another notable thing about “Scrooge in Rouge” is that it’s cast graces the cover of the latest issue, as well as being featured in a few pictures inside the issue.

There is a short piece on the number of “Christmas Carol” variations due to be staged around town this holiday season. In the short space provided, I would have appreciated a little more on the actual productions than on “Die Hard” and the Jim Carrey movie. But that’s just me.

It was also interesting to see the Randolph Macon theater program get a shout-out. I’ve never seen a show of theirs, though I was tempted by an Ionesco thing they did a while back. Gotta make that happen sometime.

Also of great interest to me in this issue was the “Improving though Improv” article written by Don Harrison. I like that the ComedySportz crew gets a good mention; would have been even nicer if they had included a pic but there were probably rules about that. Still, Dave Gau and Christine Walters are a pretty photogenic duo.

I think its fantastic that Mr. Harrison brought an analytical bent to the story. I think his critical perspective on the proceedings is one of the benefits gained from having him as Arts editor. Sure, journalists are supposed to report but they’re supposed to ask the hard questions, too. Like what about the guest list to this gathering? It seems like a situation rife for creating impressions of who is on the “ins” and who is on the “outs,” at least as far as CenterStage is concerned. And some of the most exciting work being done in Richmond is happening on college campuses, which also happen to be populated with thousands of eager arts-interested patrons – was anyone from U of R or VCU there?

I think a bigger question that Mr. Harrison is getting at with his piece is: what was the point? And might the time be better spent hammering out concrete ideas or plans for energizing the arts scene versus playing nice (or semi-nice it sounds like) for a few hours? I may part ways a bit with my editor on this because I think there is a great deal of value in simply getting people together and trying to foster a positive attitude. However, I do wonder what the next step is supposed to be. And, will the rest of the arts community – like maybe even a couple of freelance writers – be invited to play along going forward? Or will CultureWorks only cater to a handpicked few?

Having a touch of analysis also grabs people’s interest and spurs comments, and those that the article has already generated are worth checking out.

(Update: I wrote the paragraph above about the article's comments before the prolonged and annoying back-n-forth about corporate welfare and such came to dominate the comments. I think there are other forums for debating city finances and priorities. It was an arts article and the people at the gathering were concerned about promoting/supporting/reporting on the arts. There's plenty of material to chew on just in that realm without bringing tangential issues into it, IMHO.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Xmas Carol for Two Venues

It’s pretty interesting that both Theatre IV’s “A Christmas Carol” and Triangle Players’ “Scrooge in Rouge” are in rehearsal at the same facility right now. I don’t know all of the details of either production but from all accounts they are two very distinctly different takes on the traditional Dickens tale.

In addition to featuring the talented Lauren Leinhaus-Cook front and center, “SnR” is notable for its venue, the newly re-opened and renamed Theatre Gym. Many a fine production has graced that stage and I’m looking forward to what else we might see there in coming months.

It’s been calm here for a few weeks now, as the storm of 8 mainstage shows opening over the next 3 weeks has been gathering (not to mention the various staged readings and special holiday-oriented performances). I hope Richmonders have carved out a slice of their holiday planning to make room for some shows!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Merch

Here’s something that I’ve wondered about for a while: I’ve only been to one CYT show (“Narnia”) and there were tables and tables of show-related merchandise for sale in the lobby. “Avenue Q” at CenterStage had its booth of show-schwag of course and was doing a brisk business.

I know Theatre IV will often have a polite little table doing children’s book sales for some of their shows but I’m curious why there isn’t a bigger push with various forms of merchandise for other productions. There are definitely shows I’d have bought t-shirts from in the past. It seems any of the shows featuring the Sanders Family or the folks from Greater Tuna would be rife for merch opportunities.

Could there be snow-globes for “Scrouge in Rouge?” A tie-in to sell David Sedaris books with Sycamore Rouge’s “Santaland Diaries?” Or even cute little stuffed elves? Ornaments with “Greetings” on them for the Mill’s next show? Or perhaps among the more lucrative possibilities: CD sales of the original music Jason Marks has composed for “A Christmas Carol?” With the Theatre IV cast singing? Or, thinking ahead, the mind boggles at the stuff that could be sold at Firehouse’s “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” in the Spring…

I’m sure there are issues I’m missing here but I know with live music and movies, merch is as lucrative and sometimes more lucrative than the “product” itself. Are there reasons theater isn’t jumping on this bandwagon?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kid’s Stuff

My review of Firehouse’s “This Is How It Goes” showed up in Style yesterday. I’m not sure whether to expound upon the review or just leave it be. I’ll be mulling over that today.

It’s funny how the universe (read: fate, God, etc.) works sometimes. I’ve had the occasion to think lately about the pros and cons of the life of a child actor. And I’ve recently found/heard a few interesting pieces that explore the topic. First, there was this bit on NPR, an inteview with the teenage star of just-closed Broadway production, Brighton Beach Memoirs. (It’s also worth taking a look at NPR’s theater “hub” for a whole host of interesting theater-related stories.)

Then, this past weekend, there was a story in the New York Times about the record number of child actors active in Broadway shows right now. It gives a good snapshot of what that life is like. I’d recommend it to any of the theater parents hanging around the Empire Theatre with me these days or folks who have big dreams about the future based on their child's "Sound of Music" audition last weekend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Venue News (Ven-news?)

Theatre IV is opening up the Little Theater at the Empire for Triangle Players’ upcoming “Scrouge in Rouge,” a welcome return of that cute little black box into circulation.

Also, I recently heard from the new management at the Hat Factory who would like me to tell anyone and everyone that the former Toad’s Place location downtown has two – count ‘em, two – different stages available for presenting theatrical productions. They are very amenable to working with theater companies in the staging of big productions (their main stage, nice lighting and sound equipment) or smaller pieces or staged readings or the like. Flynt Burton is the guy in charge and can be reached by going to the Hat Factory’s website and clicking on the Contact link.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Alternate Avenues

It was quite a scene at Short Pump Mall this past weekend, with scores of talented kids coming out for the “Sound of Music” auditions. At least one collection of performances has shown up on YouTube if you want to get a sense of the general atmosphere. I hear it was near-freezing when everything started, though it was balmy and in the 70s by midday when I showed up.

From what I heard, I expect Chase and Sandy are going to have a relatively easy time with the first cut – trimming the 500 or so wannabes to maybe 100 or so that really had serious chops. But from then on, I think its going to be tough; I saw many fresh faces with soaring voices even during my short visit to the proceedings.

Susan Haubenstock’s review of “Mahalia” was in Sunday’s paper. I’m glad to see a review of the show – I was under the impression the show opened last weekend and was surprised that no review had shown up last week. The AART folks might not be as glad as Ms. H’s review is not exactly a rave.

I caught the matinee of “Avenue Q” this weekend and was generally delighted with what I saw. Unfortunately, I was not as delighted with what I heard: my sole complaint about the show was a somewhat muddled sound quality. It probably didn’t help that I was in the third row, house left section so was probably not in prime position for listening. Still, you kinda hope every seat in the fabulously designed Carpenter Theatre would afford equal access to quality sound. It was disappointing because I was there with two “Q” newbies and I really wanted some of the clever lyrics in songs like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “Schandenfreude” to register with them the way they did the first time I saw the show. Neither of my companions heard the name of the kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Thistletwat. Me telling them afterwards was not nearly as funny.

This was my third stroll down Avenue Q. The first time I saw the show, I loved it and was one of the only people I know that defended its Tony win against “Wicked” way back when (I defended it in print but can’t find the review online, sorry.) The second time was a bit of a letdown. I was thinking that the show wasn’t as good without the initial shock value but now I wonder if part of the letdown was not having the phenomenal original cast that included John Tartaglia and Stephanie D’Abruzzo. This time, I was surprised to find myself enjoying some of the non-madcap parts of the show; Jacqueline Grabois's delivery of "Fine Fine Line" I found especially affecting.

The cast at CenterStage was great, I thought, and I particularly enjoyed Grabois as Kate Monster. I could tell the she was not an experienced puppeteer though because from my vantage point the puppet of Kate often blocked my view of the actress and the puppet’s mouth was not always in sync. Brent DiRoma was fantastic as Princeton but I thought his voice as Rod was a bit forced. I really loved the Christmas Eve, Lisa Helmi Johanson, who was just the right mix of sassy and sweet.

Besides the sound, the show was impressive technically and found the lights extremely effective, a definite improvement over what I’ve seen in places like the Landmark that seem more in tune with concerts versus theatrical productions.

I was curious how the show sold; the matinee still had seats in the back of the orchestra so was far from a sell-out. I had been wondering whether a two-day run was right for “Avenue Q;” apparently the Jam Theatricals planners know the audience better than I do. Another thing I didn’t know: apparently the cast is non-Equity for this show (according to Wikipedia). I think that really muddies the claim that this show represents “Broadway in Richmond.” Hmmm….

I know some local theatre peeps caught the show this weekend; I saw a few at the matinee. I’d be curious what others thought about this first big traveling show to open here in a long time.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wild Things

The Tlines spent the evening enjoying alternate art forms tonight. I took the youngest to see “Where the Wild Things Are” while the other boy was squired to appreciate some ballet (a new online review of which showed up on the Style site today). Variety is the spice, right?

I hadn’t been to the IdeaStations site in a while but I went there today after hearing John Porter’s review of “This Is How It Goes” on the radio. I really like how they’ve carved out a spot just for the theater reviews. However, I wish they were a little more timely in posting the ones they have. Of course, I feel that way about Style too sometimes, which, because of the vagueries of the publishing schedule, often has theater reviews in hand for a week or more before they see the light. My review of “TiHiG” being a case in point…

But, even though I don’t have a published version to refer to, I have to say I agree with much of what Mr. Porter had to say. (UPDATE: Mr. Porter has posted his review on his blog, FYI!) The way I would sum it up is that “TiHiG” is a play I respected more than I enjoyed. LaBute is a challenging playwright and I admire the fact that he goes places few others dare to go. And I love plays that make you think. But this one largely annoyed me. I think the unreliable narrator is a fine device but I guess I’ve mostly seen it employed in cases where the narrator is self-deluded. Here, I felt that the narrator was simply hostile and by the end of the show I wondered why anyone would want to put themselves in this guy’s hands for a couple of hours. I ended up being a little sorry that I had.

Having said that, I found Tyhm Kennedy’s performance bracing and thought Bill Patton did an exceptional job directing. It’s kind of surprising to feel that way in a situation where I ended up not liking the play much. My full review should hit the magazine next week and maybe I’ll expound some more at that point if it seems worthwhile to do so.

As far as “Where the Wilds Things Are,” I was looking forward to seeing this because it seems like a movie that has polarized reviewers. Some have praised it for its lyrical and unflinching take on a young boy’s view of the world. Others have trashed it for any number of reasons, mostly I think for trying to take a 10 sentence long book and stretch it into a 90 minute movie.

Having seen the movie, I understand the response now. I was alternately entranced and frustrated by it. Max Records as the boy, Max, is fabulous and the early scenes I think do an exceptional job of capturing the mixed-up collection of impulses, both endearing and infuriating, that make up a 9-year old boy. Max’s first discovery of the Wild Things is amazing – a little scary, a lot confusing, and a little bit magical. But a lot of the second half of the movie meanders with not much verve and too much pensive moony-eyed moments thinking about sadness and uncertainty. Still, it was hard for me not to love the work of Lauren Ambrose, as endearing as she ever was on Six Feet Under even if was just her voice.

Tomorrow’s the madness of “Sound of Music” auditions at Short Pump Town Center and then a little stroll down “Avenue Q.” It’s also closing weekend for CAT’s “Rappaport” and Sycamore Rouge’s “40 Acres.” As much as I’d like to catch either of them, I think if I get to another show this weekend, it’s going to be the Richmond Improv Festival. The 4 o’clock show’s only $6.50 for students! And if you’re going to be downtown for “Avenue Q” anyway, well, why not?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Critical thinking

Style has a preview of "Avenue Q" this week. I'm looking forward to this show, as much because it'll be the first production I'll be seeing in the new Carpenter Theatre. Should be fun.

Many weeks ago, Grant Mudge posted some links to blog posts by Isaac Butler. Butler may be mildly familiar to Richmonders because he directed Clay McLeod Chapman's "Volume of Smoke" at the Firehouse a few years ago. In these posts, Butler asks some great questions and makes some good points about the role of critics. The series is available in multiple parts; if you are interested you can read them all here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Going to Butler's blog was a little like falling down the rabbit hole for me in that it led to one of those classic experiences of clicking on link after link following the trail of other people's thoughts. One place it led was another series of posts on critics on the blog of James Comtois that, while focused on movie critics, also was fascinating reading. (Three parts to that one, here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Finally, Comtois linked to critic Roger Ebert's post about the rules for critics. That one is going to be added to my browser Favorites so I can refer back to it. The downside for that one, though, is that it doesn't really deal with how theater critics are different from movie critics, and there are some distinct differences.

There were many choice nuggets in all of these words about critics. I may dredge some up from time-to-time but I'd be curious about any responses to the following one in particular. It was written in reference to the "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" scale that Siskel and Ebert used:

"When push comes to shove, one of the jobs of a popular film critic is to ultimately let the reader know if he or she recommends the movie or not. In other words, a review should answer the reader's question, 'should I see this or not?'"

Several times in the past, editors have talked to me about a rating scale, either a 5-star system, or a letter grade, or a Thumbs-up, or something similar to the "Buy It, Burn It, Trash It" scale that the guys at Sound Opinions use. The opposition to such scales is usually along the lines of them being reductive, they don't give the reader credit for figuring out based on the details in a review whether it is worth seeing or not.

What do you think?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Vote!

The word on the street (and across the airwaves) is that there isn't a whole lot of excitement about the election today. That's a shame because for Virginians, there is just as much at stake today as there was a year ago, maybe more.

So, as a lame attempt to get people in the mood for voting, here's a choice I'm posing to you, both of my loyal readers: What recent Broadway "stunt casting" announcement is your favorite? Would it be Abigail Breslin in "Miracle Worker?" Or Scarlett Johansson in "A View from the Bridge?" Alternative write-in candidates are certainly welcome. Polls are open until 7pm...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is how I'm not

New reviews from Susan Haubenstock for Firehouse's "This is How it Goes" and John Porter for CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport." I was at the opening of "TiHiG" along with 2/3 of the Richmond Critics Circle and will be weighing in on it in a few days. Stay tuned...

40 Acres review

Mary Burruss's review of Sycamore Rouge's "40 Acres and a P.O.W" hit the interwebs today (actually yesterday...when did it get to be 1 am?). Read all about it (it's not exactly a rave...)

Lottery Game

I’m happy to see that Mr. Miller “un-scrubbed” the Barksdale Buzz. I have no inside information on what prompted either the original cleansing or the restoration.

I’m happy because I have been mulling over responding to his “new ideas” post since he put it up last weekend. The truth is that I don’t know nearly enough about the administrative business of theater to know what it would take to make Richmond theater work better or draw bigger audiences or solidify its shaky financial ground. I have some ideas but I really have no basis for thinking they would really do any good.

For me, what these ideas amount to is a version of the lottery game. Do you ever play that? You think, what would I do if I won the lottery? What if I really could expend my energy doing just what I purely enjoyed or what I thought was worthwhile without any concern about whether it made money or furthered my career?

I have a kind of theater-world version of that game that I run through in my head. If I could use all of my time just to try to make Richmond theater more successful, what would I do? Here are some of the things I think about:

--> It’s my perception that there is a lot more that the state could be doing to foster a more positive environment for the performing arts. I’d find out in what ways exactly is Virginia less supportive of the arts than other states, I’d research appropriate mechanisms for changing that situation, and then lobby my hardest to implement some changes.

--> I’d walk into some enterprising high school or college with both a strong theater program and a strong media arts program and propose a joint project to produce a weekly theater-focused podcast. I’d bring theater artists in and interview them in front of a theater class, let them ask questions too, record it all and throw it out on the internet. I’d also try to get WRIR to broadcast it.

--> I’d try to organize theater-focused excursions / trips, like Barksdale/Theatre IV’s annual overseas trips only local. Summertime would be great to do a “Shakespeare in Virginia” tour – hit shows in Williamsburg, Richmond and Staunton, maybe even extend it to DC. How about a historic theaters tour that does Hanover Tavern, Lime Kiln and then the Barter in Abingdon?

--> I’d try to organize a series similar to Acts of Faith but with a topic that would really get some attention: the Civil War. Some people are convinced we’re still fighting it, that race is still as big an issue as its ever been. Bring it front and center and put it on stage. Shows like “This is How it Goes” or “Topdog / Underdog” would fit nicely; I’d hope to be able to find others. Doing it in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, would attract national media, I’d bet you.

--> If I had a space like Hanover Tavern or Willow Lawn at my disposal, I’d have pre-show dinner parties. It’d be like dinner theater only I’d merge in a “Coffee and Conversations” aspect, have the director or actors or designers there and open the floor for questions. I love the C & C’s but the audience is limited by their midday time.

--> I would make a push for “stunt casting.” I’d work with a company that has a role in a show that could possibly go to someone who wasn’t necessarily a theater vet and pull any and all strings to recruit someone famous or semi-famous. Doug Wilder? Rob Ukrop? Melissa Chase? Jason Mraz? Elliot Yamin? Lisa Shaffner? The media loves famous people and, love it or hate it, stunt casting draws audiences.

--> I’d work with theater companies and the administrators of some key public spaces to get permission to perform “teaser” scenes from their productions in prominent places where people meet or are mingling, such as James River Plaza downtown at lunchtime or Short Pump Mall or the Shops at Stony Point, or the middle of University of Richmond’s or VCU’s campus in the fall, etc.

--> I’d organize a Richmond Theatre showcase in the fall and invite every theater company in town to perform a scene from their fall show. DC does something like this at the Kennedy Center and it seems pretty nifty.

--> I’d petition the Arts Council or RAPT or someone to fund a person whose job would be "Richmond theater advocate" and do all of the things above and more. That person could also work with different companies to coordinate their schedules so everyone’s best shows aren’t all appearing in the same 3 week period in September and October.

As I said, I have no idea whether any of these kinds of things would actually do any good. But they seem like they’d be kinda fun just the same.

After looking over this list, it occurs to me that (not to counteract Mr. Miller), what Richmond needs is not necessarily more good ideas, but more people willing to make the good ideas happen. I’m not really sure where those people would come from.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Enchanted

It’s a little late to write anything about Barksdale’s “Boleros for the Disenchanted,” but I feel I have at least a little something interesting to add even though the show closed many days ago. The afternoon after I saw “Boleros” last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Patricia Herrera, a new professor at University of Richmond who is currently teaching a class called “Latinos on Stage.” She had brought her class to see an early performance of the show and it was great to get to talk to someone so knowledgeable and articulate so soon after seeing the show.

Dr. Herrera expressed a sense of surprise and delight that a Richmond company had launched a project aimed specifically at the Hispanic audience. She had many interesting things to say about the show itself. Like me, she loved playwright Jose Rivera’s poetic style and admired Bruce Miller’s staging of the play. She found the story compelling and felt the dance at intermission established a special kind of intimacy between audience members.

We talked some about how refreshing it was to see a story of a couple’s life together unfold without bells or whistles or gimmicks; it was just a very realistic story told very well. I mentioned a fear I felt during the show that it was going to take a turn into magic realism, not an uncommon feature among Latin American literature. I thought the realism itself was pretty magical, if not always the most pretty or easy to accept.

One aspect of the show that I missed totally that Dr. Herrera enlightened me on: she was distracted by the non-uniformity of the accents. Some of the accents she experienced as Caribbean sounding, others more French. I think this points to the specific challenges of staging a play like this. I didn’t notice a dialect coach in the program and am wondering if one was used. Calling Amanda Durst!

In terms of performances, both Dr. Herrera and I were enchanted by the young Eusebio, Luis Vega. He’s a good-looking hunk who expertly projected good-natured, smart and sensitive. Carmen Zilles was extrememly charming as the young Flora, though a couple of times I thought her line readings of Rivera’s sometimes florid language were a little flat. What truly blew me away though was her brief interlude of song in the second act (as the nurse, Eve). I haven’t heard such a sweet, pure voice in a long time; the fact that she only sang such a short snippet was a first-rate tease. I would travel a good distance to see/hear her in a musical if she plays in one close by (Mr. Miller, can you bring her back maybe for a staging of a Hispanic musical next season? Please?)

So, sorry for the late assessment, but all-in-all, a great production in my opinion and an exceptional first step in what I hope will be many more of these kinds of audience-broadening experiments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A scrubbing?

As I did my morning survey of local media, I skimmed the Barksdale Buzz and did a double-take. I couldn’t find any content on the site having to do with the RTCC awards or recent statements about the state of Richmond theater or anything (it seems to me) that could be considered somewhat controversial. I don’t want to assume too much based on one morning’s perusal, but I’m wondering whether the Buzz has been scrubbed and why.

In terms of content that IS there: Style has Mary Burruss’s preview on “Bootleg Shakespeare” in this week’s issue. I hear they’re expecting a sell-out so buy a ticket soon if you want to check out what is sure to be an entertaining experiment. (Correction: Bootleg is free (thanks Anon) and no reservations. So I guess you should get there early!)

UPDATE: I had meant to mention this originally (the addled mind wanders...) but the Firehouse has a new blog going and seems to be adding content regularly (so far). The blazing red color is a little daunting but it's still definitely worth checking out, particularly in anticipation of "This is How it Goes" opening tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Treading water

I’ve been doing much more reading than writing in the past week, preparing for the end of the semester and the flurry of personal productivity I’m hoping I can muster. In the midst of all of the recent health issues that have plagued the Richmond community, I was sad to hear that Sir Lloyd Webber was recently diagnosed with cancer.

As I consider whether a trip to NYC is in my immediate future, I was delighted to hear that tickets for “A Little Night Music” starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones were now on sale. The luscious CZJ was a crush of mine even before the movie version of “Chicago” came out.

Speaking of luscious, is it common knowledge that Alia Bisharat will be starring in “Bus Stop” at Hanover Tavern? Nobody tells me anything… And can it be true that this beautiful and personable local theater vet is only 21 years old?

I’ve been reading the reviews of “Oleanna” on Broadway which has put in mind to remember the amazing production that we saw here in Richmond in 1995 starring Rick Brandt and (RTCC presenter) Jeanne Boisineau. From what I’m reading, it seems like the Brandt / Boisineau duo could have outdone Stiles / Pullman…

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend news

Ms. Haubenstock's review of CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport" was in Sunday's paper. My lovely wife and I managed to squeak in a viewing of "Boleros for the Disenchanted," though on separate nights. Divide and conquer, indeed. More thoughts on that in a day or two.

It was closing weekend for several shows and we've entered sort of a mini-lull before the next barrage of shows that open right before Thanksgiving. Of course, these days, even a lull time is hardly empty, with Henley Street presenting "Bootleg Shakespeare" on Oct. 30th (in association with the Barksdale) and the provocative "This is How it Goes" opening at Firehouse on Thursday. It's also an opportunity to catch shows you might have missed at the Mill, Hanover Tavern, Sycamore Rouge or CAT.

After this weekend (according to my schedule), there are two weekends free of openings, not counting "Avenue Q'"s quick run in town. I'm thinking ahead and planning my holiday shopping for those weekends 'cause I know things'll be crazy busy after that!

I'm also mulling over Mr. Miller's "new ideas" post at the Barksdale Blog and will probably not be able to refrain from saying something about that soon. A post that ends with a plea for people to buy tickets is not one that can be easily overlooked, IMHO.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dartsies?

That prolific blogger, Mr. Miller, posted his Fartsies – further action required etc. etc. – list the day after the RTCC awards on Sunday. I expect that post was brewing for quite a long time, maybe since the nominees were first announced. I understand the frustration that I think underlies his post – with so many great efforts in local theater, for an awards show to apparently overlook some of your favorites seems unfortunate at best, a crime at worst. There was a fair amount of that kind of grumbling when the nominee list first came out and my only surprise is that there isn’t more of this kind of “we was robbed” kind of reaction now.

I will state unequivocally that I am very proud of the list of nominees that the RTCC put together and even prouder of the ultimate choices made to receive the illustrious (?) engraved hockey puck. In the two years we’ve gone through this process, the strange alchemy that results in consensus has produced honorees that I think are thoroughly deserving of special recognition. There are inherent problems with anything labeled “Best” and with these kinds of award shows in general. I expect I’ll blog about that at a later date. Whether the people and productions that were given Artsies on Sunday were truly “the Best” of last season – there’s simply no objective way to determine that. Still, each of the Artsie winners so impressed the collective RTCC panel that he/she/it was put at the top of a very competitive list. That’s something they should all be proud of, I think.

However, that still doesn’t alleviate the impulse that Bruce exercised on Monday. And even as involved as I was in the RTCC selections, I feel that impulse, too. So you can consider the following the Dartsies, perhaps? Dave’s Alternate Richmond Theatre Spectacular Individual Efforts? Hmmm… Not as compelling as the Fartsies; I may have to work on it…

Bruce started his post talking about Lighting Designer Lynne Hartman, whose work I adore. In my opinion, some of the best stuff she did last season was for “Endless Forms Most Wonderful” at the Science Museum. For this small-scale show tucked into the other – and much more limited -- Carpenter Theater, her lighting design often did double-duty as pseudo-set design, establishing locations like a church or the forests that Charles Darwin wandered through. It was incredible and unfortunately largely unseen by even the most attentive theater lover.

And while we’re talking tech, I thought Theatre IV’s “Sideways Stories” might have been the most dazzling show of the season on a purely technical basis. But herein lies one of those problems: exceptional work in support of a not-quite-exceptional show can be problematic and tends to lose out in the final tally. Bruce mentioned Ford Flannagan’s work in “Normal.” I think Ford did fine work but personally I thought his character was an ineffectual dud and the show ultimately a bit muddled. I advocated for Dave Amadee whose portrayal I enjoyed a great deal but again, in that particular show, it was unfortunately a little easier for people to overlook him.

Other performances I think lost out simply because of the sheer numbers of worthy choices. I thought Rochelle Turnage in AART’s “From the Mississippi Delta” was exceptional but there were so many incredible leading actresses in a play last season, she also ended up off the final list. And of the women who were nominated, any of them could have received the award, maybe in an alternate universe, should have received the award. In this category, in particular, I think the way it worked out was that Robin Arthur was phenomenal, impressive, surprising and delightful while everyone else was simply phenomenal and delightful.

But where things really get crowded is when you start taking in the supporting performances. One of the things that was so great about “Thoroughly Modern Millie” is that the excellent supporting cast was so deep. Three of its supporting actors received nominations but Carolyn Meade easily could have snagged one as well. And as far as plays go, Terry Gau was wonderful in Henley Street’s “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead,” Matt Hackman did great work in “All My Sons,” and any number of folks in “Hamlet” or “Henry V” could have received nods (my personal favorites being Timothy Saukiavicus in “Hamlet” and Sarah Johnson Cole in “Henry V.”)

There also were situations that almost deserved their own categories. What do you call the musical embellishment Andrew Hamm gave Richmond Shakespeare shows like “A Midsummer’s Night Dream?” Can you even nominate someone for Musical Director of a Shakespeare production? Then there was Philip Brown creating the character of Henry over several different Richmond Shakespeare productions, an amazing feat of depth, consistency, daring, and of course, hunkiness. Between “This Wonderful Life” and “Fully Committed,” Scott Wichmann deserved some kind of recognition for just the sheer number of characters he played last season, not to mention the nimble and fully-realized portrayals he delivered (though perhaps my favorite Scott moment was a crossover – his George Bailey from “TWL” showing up in the staged reading of “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge”).

As for the shows at Hanover Tavern, what can I say? I expected there would be advocates for “A Sanders Family Christmas” (a production I didn’t see) among the critic’s circle; and surely “Mona’s Arrangements” was a significant and noteworthy event in the season. Maybe among this particular circle, people were more tickled by the antic silliness of Firehouse’s “Trailer Park” than they were moved by heartfelt Americana of “Sanders?” You won’t ever hear me proclaim that the way we go about this is perfect; I do apologize though for the perceived injustice that results from it.

And already, just a couple of months into this season, I’ve started my own speculation about next year’s awards, a speculation that points to the positive aspect of the awards, in my mind. Because, while right now I’d be happy to give an award of some kind to Maggie Marlin (for instance) for her stunning turn in “Boy’s Life,” I’m also waiting in anticipation for the next great performance that will supplant hers on the top of my personal nominee list.

Breaking news!

...not really, but the Times-Dispatch did run an article about the RTCC awards today. Definitely a case of better late than never, as far as I'm concerned. Thanks to Angela for coming to the event and for her fine reportage!

Here and There

All I know about CAT's "I'm Not Rappaport" is that Jennifer Frank is directing. That's certainly a good sign and I expect she's put together a great production. But I wish more companies would list the people in their casts on their website (I particularly like Firehouse's practice of listing the entire cast and technical crew on their site). Most Richmonders may not know a specific actor, director or designer but then again, they might. Who knows if people who had second thoughts about seeing "Boy's Life" at the Firehouse were swayed because they recognized Maggie Marlin's name from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" or Landon Nagel from "Children of a Lesser God?" Just a thought...

One place where it seems like it is all about name recognition sometimes is Broadway. I've read a couple of things about "After Miss Julie," famously starring Sienna Miller who is on Broadway at the same time as ex-beau Jude Law appears in "Hamlet." Some folks have liked it, some have not. Regardless of the mixed reviews, I'm very intrigued by this play because I can imagine a number of Richmond companies -- and a bunch of lead actresses and actors -- who could do a smashing job with this show. I'd love for someone to try...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Other People’s Writing

Joe Inscoe has written what I consider an extremely insightful and articulate comment in response to Bruce Miller’s recent post on “Shining City.” It’s an interesting piece of perspective from someone who’s played many places, has many years of experience, and who is a thoughtful, intelligent guy in addition to being a great actor. Worth checking out.

Speaking of insight, I was recently directed to Angela Lehman’s blog, The People’s Snob, specifically to check out her response to the conversation recently here and at the Barksdale Buzz about critics and their role in the artistic process.

I love everything about Angela’s post. In particular, I found two exceptional nuggets near the end:

1) “Of those 240,000 people, several thousand of them have never even heard of your organization/group/company.”

I am regularly amazed by how often I come in contact with people – longtime Richmond residents – who have either never heard of Barksdale or Theatre IV or only have a vague idea that they do kid’s shows or something. Barksdale/Theatre IV is among the biggest arts organizations in the state and some people here don’t know it exists. And Firehouse, Triangle Players or Henley Street? Forget it.

2) “Richmonders, if you ever think you've gotten a bad review, you need to stay the heck out of New York City”

Amen, sister. When I received a fairly infuriated email in response to my review of “Normal” at Stage 1 last spring, I looked up the New York Times review of the show (I offer the following NOT to drag up any old, bad feelings but to provide material support to Ms. Lehman’s statement).

Here are the most negative phrases from my review (read the whole thing here if you like):

“...Stage 1’s enthralling and frustrating new musical, ‘Normal.’”

“…too much of the story concerns the tribulations of the clich├ęd Freeman parents, with two excellent actors constricted by characters that never seem to reach an epiphany.”

I end the review with what I thought was a moderately supportive statement:

“'Normal’ has had only one other production off-Broadway and, while not perfect, it is the kind of challenging new show not usually seen in Richmond. That alone makes it worthy of a look.”

Here are the most negative phrases from the New York Times review:

“[‘Normal’] is both awful and not much fun.”

“[T]his ill-conceived show is such a grueling misfire that it puts the audience in the painful position of hoping that poor Polly will either croak or eat a Ho-Ho so we can all go home.”

‘Nuff said?

Jack Parrish wake

I believe this information is making the rounds but just in case you hadn't heard: there will be an Actor's Wake for Jack Parrish at the Barksdale Theatre on Sunday Nov. 1 starting at 5pm. Dawn Westbrook-Boyd and Steve Moore will be hosting. Please come help us celebrate Jack's life and legacy.

Essie Simms update

Jackie has already commented on my last post to this effect but for those who don't read the comments, here the latest on Ms. Simms:

Essie Simms was transferred back to Westminster Canterbury Thursday afternoon. She continues to progress and is in good hands there.

Several folks have inquired about visiting. Although Essie would love visitors, we must hold off for now. Julie Fulcher will let us know when the coast is clear and also keep us abreast of Essie's progress.

In the meantime, cards would boost Essie's spirits. Her address is:

Essie Simms
c/o Westminster-Canterbury
Health Care Services-Room 9252
1600 Westbrook Avenue
Richmond, VA 23237

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catching up

Never had a chance to link to the T-D review of Sycamore Rouge’s latest, “40 Acres and a P.O.W.” Sorry for the delay.

Sunday’s paper also had a profile of Aaron Anderson, who was gracious enough to present our special recognitions at the RTCC awards on Sunday. He seems like a pretty amazing guy and was certainly delightful to work with on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An appreciation

As I write this, it’s about 24 hours exactly since we called a wrap on the 2009 Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards. I’ve spent most of today enjoying the company of dear old friends of mine who live in Thailand who chose this weekend of all weekends to drop into Richmond. But throughout today, my interaction with them was interrupted by pleasant flashes of memory from last night. There were so many wonderful things to smile about, if not outright guffaw about, that it made for a completely delightful day. In my mind, at least.

One of the things that was amazing to me was that, after months of planning, so many aspects of the night came together in the very last days, if not last minutes before the event. Dr. Anderson’s onstage mayhem with Joe and Jeff: they choreographed it little more than two hours before they did it. My little bit with John at the start of the evening was John’s idea literally as I was getting ready to walk out on stage. These, and many more elements of the evening, came together so well (IMHO) because of the great talent and supportiveness of more people than I even know to thank. But I’d like to give some shout-outs to at least a few people, in thanks and recognition. Many apologies to any and all deserving people I inadvertently leave out.

I have to start at the end. Long after everyone had left the Empire, the last person hanging out there was Matthew Landwehr, still cheerful, still as friendly and engaging as he was some 6 hours plus before when, coincidentally, he was the first person I saw when I arrived at the Empire. He is truly a jack of all trades and helped tie up many ends that were still loose as 7pm approached.

Bruce Rennie also worked his butt off making the transition from Ugly Ducking to RTCC awards. And yet still managed to look pretty damn dapper. Derek Dumais provided uncredited technical assistance in the setup process. And my lovely daughter Bryce gave up most of her Sunday after a busy homecoming weekend to round out the tech crew, never complaining, eager to help out. Someone musta raised her right.

Bryan Harris and the band were exceptional, prompt, ready to go, and willing to adjust to all sorts of last minute curves. My only regret is that they didn’t get to do “Easy Street.” Mr. Phipps, very sorry you couldn’t be there and I hope you are feeling better soon!

Virgil Hazelett was about the most professional “Most Powerful Man in Richmond” I could ever imagine. He was the first or second presenter there for rehearsal. Of course, he may have just been eager to stand next to Audra for a while.

And Ms. Honaker: she presented awards, she won an award, she performed, and of course, she rocked an absolutely amazing dress. And you should have seen her celebrate in support of friends when they won awards. Very nice.

Of course, many people were doing double duty last night. Each person from the tick..tick..Boom! cast performed twice, Brett adding his voice to the stunning “I Believe” performance that had me a little choked up by the end. And the irrepressible Mr. Tyre not only performed twice but had to get dolled up in two totally different ways. I think the results were well worth the effort.

All of the presenters were incredibly game for it all. I so admired all of them – including Mayor Jones – for being willing to stray into territory that was undoubtedly far out of their comfort zone in support of the evening. It was hilarious good fun listening to Melissa Chase and Harry Kollatz run lines. Ms. Chase may be the most cheerful, friendly and approachable person I’ve ever met, with Sabrina Squire perhaps a close second.

And Debra Wagoner, with her voice still in recovery, had to shoulder the additional stress of my not sending her the patter that had been scripted for her until Sunday afternoon. D’oh! But the consummate professional that she is – and supported by the spectacular Jenn Meharg, also rocking a stunning dress – she knocked her presentation out of the park.

And speaking of that patter: I cannot thank Bo Wilson enough. If he had only written the actress jokes – perfectly delivered by Jason Marks – he would have more than earned considerable kudos for the evening. He had so many clever concepts that grew into great, snappy little bits. The man has a mad imagination and I am so grateful he was willing to apply it in support of our little show.

All of those who received awards were so gracious. All of the nominees who did not receive awards were also so gracious. They are all winners in my book.
It was a show that wouldn’t have flowed nearly as smoothly without Amy Wight Kube, who brings a welcome and exceptional detail-orientation to such a far-flung, diffuse endeavor. If there was an “i” to be dotted or “t” to be crossed, you can bet Amy was the one who did it, and I am so lucky she came on board for this ride.

The other members of the Critics Circle – what a great gang to work with. What I admire about them all is that they all really care about this business we are in. You have no idea the wrestling we did to come up with the list of nominees and then the additional rounds of votes and discussion and pleadings and analysis we went through to reach our list of winners. And though each of us may have come out of it with a selection or two we might have wished had gone the other way, everyone rallied behind the process and the event as being bigger than any of us individually. As was said last night pretty eloquently, the night was really about something more than choosing who would get an award. We were really celebrating us all, everyone who works in theater here in the Richmond area, everyone who loves and supports theater here.

And last, but far from least, Aaron Gilchrist. Who knew? He was indeed the consummate host. I knew he was a charming guy. I knew he was a smart journalist. But I had no idea he was so quick-witted, comfortable on stage, imaginative and charismatic. I think he gained a legion of new fans last night, and rightly so.

And OK, one more ‘last:’ that fight thing with Joe, Jeff and Aaron. Wasn’t that cool? Those guys were great.

Oh, and I just realized I have to add one more ‘last:’ epic amounts of thanks to my lovely wife and awesome family; they are the ultimate support crew. Holly recorded the voice-over intros around midnight on Saturday, Sage recruited pals from school to be award “lackeys,” my lovely neice Kiera was a deligent and tireless backstage worker, Cooper stuffed himself into a monkey suit and even little Mason stayed up way past his bedtime, all as part of making the evening work.

Thanks to everyone who came; I hope you had a good time. And I hope I see you all at the awards again next year!

Monday, October 19, 2009

And the Artsie Award goes to...

Thanks to everyone for last night -- what a great time (more commentary to come)! Below is a list of people/shows that received awards. I had heard that the T-D was going to publish a list but haven't heard whether it did. I know that Aaron (poor early-waking Aaron!) mentioned the awards on the news this morning, though. Yay!

Congratulations to all -- people who received awards, nominees, presenters and to the whole community!

Best Musical
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Direction - Musical
Patti D'Beck
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actor - Musical
Zak Resnick
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Actress - Musical
Audra Honaker
"tick, tick…Boom!"
Stage 1 Theatre Company

Best Supporting Actor - Musical
Timothy Ford
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Supporting Actress - Musical
Ali Thibodeau
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Musical Direction
Paul Deiss
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Choreography
Patti D'Beck
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Best Play
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Direction - Play
Rusty Wilson
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actor - Play
Joe Inscoe
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actress - Play
Robin Arthur
The Clean House
Barksdale Theatre

Best Ensemble Acting
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Richmond Shakespeare

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Play
Larry Cook
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Play
Marta Rainer
Rabbit Hole
Firehouse Theatre Project

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design
Joe Doran
Altar Boyz
Swift Creek Mill Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design
Sue Griffin
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design
Ron Keller
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design
Bryan Harris
Eurydice
Firehouse Theatre Project

Outstanding Achievement in Hair / Makeup Design
Sue Griffin
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Barksdale Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Dialect Direction
Amanda Durst
Multiple Productions

Outstanding Achievement in Fight Choreography
Vanessa Passini
Henry V
Richmond Shakespeare

Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater
Wamer "Buddy" Callahan
Dr. Louis "Lou" Rubin

Friday, October 16, 2009

A request for help

I received a note from Bill Blair who is coordinating communication and support for Jack Parrish's widow, Kathy. With Jack's passing, she is suddenly faced with many expenses, specifically related to his funeral. Bill has been working with people at Barkdsale and the Virginia Museum to raise money to help her out. Here is the key information from his note:

"Those I haven't been able to reach are the local theatre folk and was hoping you could blog something asking those who can to send checks (and made out to) Christopher Dunn, 3014 Floyd Ave, Richmond, VA 23221. The sooner the better as I do not know what those funeral expenses will be but do know that Kathy does not have the money to pay them."

It's a horrible thing to be faced with such a great loss and then have to worry about finances at the same time. Please help if you can. Thanks.

As promised...

...Mondo Johnny has filled in the full story of his little health crisis on Monday. I'm very glad to have him back in good voice and on the mend.

What a weekend

Style recently posted a couple of additional reviews, worth checking out because I don’t think they’re making it into the print edition. Mary Burruss holds forth on “The New Century” and I give a capsule recap of “The Ugly Duckling.”

As if there isn’t enough to see and do this weekend, Sycamore Rouge opened their world premiere production of “40 Acres and a POW” last night, reportedly devoting a moment to the memory of Jack Parrish during intermission. They are some classy and thoughtful people down there at the Rouge.

Things are hurtling full speed ahead toward Sunday’s RTCC awards. One thing to ponder: “Ugly Duckling,” which closes this weekend, features perhaps the most celebrated cast in terms of RTCC awards. The entire cast and the director are all RTCC nominees, one way or another. Director Jan Guarino is up for an acting award, but still, that’s just further testament to her versatility. Eric Pastore, Aly Wepplo, and Durron Tyre are all members of Best Ensemble nominees and Gordon Bass and Ali Thidodeau are each nominated individually. That’s some serious talent doing their best for the kids!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

He Will Be Missed

Bruce posted a fine testament to Jack Parrish on the Barksdale blog.

I will only add one thing: an actor asked me a couple of years ago for my thoughts about his performance. He was playing the character of a king. I told him he did a fine job but, for an actor to give a really great portrayal of a king, he must project regal power with every action. The audience must feel not like they are watching a performance but they are actually in the presense of royalty. More than any other actor I ever saw, Jack could project royalty, but not by sacrificing humanity. It was always thrilling to watch him. Rest in peace, Jack.