Thursday, April 30, 2009

Translations and Time

I forgot to post this link to this review of "Translations" that was in yesterday's T-D. It's a review that still leaves me wondering whether "Translations" should be kicked up to the top of my "must see" list of currently showing productions or not.

Speaking of which, we've got two weekends here where no new shows are opening. I strongly recommend everyone take this chance to go out and see one of the great shows that have opened over the past few weeks. In addition to "Well," "Trailer Park," "Midsummer," "Annie," and "Translations," the Mill's "Altar Boyz" is still chugging along. Wouldn't your mom love some "Boyz" for Mother's Day? I know my kids' mom would!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


So I’ve outlined all of this reviewer methodology stuff, which may just be blah blah blah to anybody who’s still reading out there. But now I’ll get back to the thing that prompted all of this, a specific application of the general methodology.

There were aspects of “Annie” that I had problems with. Things that at first seemed worthy of some pointed critical comments in a review. Not to get all Simon Cowell on y’all but at least at the show I attended, there were some vocal issues, some deliveries that were “pitchy” as it were. I love Mr. Bass like a brother but there was a bit of sing-speaking through his songs. And bless her totally adorable little heart but Ms. Day did not nail “Tomorrow.” In fact, I can’t judge because I’ve only seen the show all the way through once but it may be a stretch for her to ever really belt “Tomorrow” because of her range. Push it too hard and too far up into that head voice and things will go flat for even the best singer.

But in songs that seemed more solidly in her range, she was awesome. “Maybe” was enchanting. And Mr. Bass was an exceptional Warbucks in every other way; in fact, I can’t imagine another actor in town off hand that could have done as good a job.

So when I sat down to write the review, I had a choice. I could be brutally and somewhat capriciously critical, pointing out issues that were real and likely ongoing with the production. But I stepped back a little and looked at the big picture. This production is exceptional in a whole bunch of ways. The technical aspects are impeccable and the ensemble as a whole is just fantastic. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe Ms. Arthur trimmed a bit out of the show or somehow worked some magic to make the second act – which has a tendency to drag in other productions I’ve seen – motor right along.

I realized that if I had an unlimited number of column inches to spend writing about this “Annie,” the number of positive aspects of the show would outnumber the negative at least 8 to 1. I’d have to work through the mesmerizing vocals of the Boylan Sisters (Alia Bisharat, Annie Steingold, and Robin Harris-Jones), the truly inventive choreography of ensemble scenes like the Hooverville number, and the fine FDR portrayal by Michael Hawke before I could even get around to Maggie Roop’s shapely legs. Though I appreciate “Annie,” it may not even make the top 10 of my favorite musicals. But this production prompted that singular “wild card” experience of leaving the theater smiling, humming the songs and generally feeling pretty darn good about life.

So, given the preponderance of the evidence, as it were, I figured it would be downright churlish (that one’s for you, Mr. Hamm) to spend any of my 300 words pointing out the few issues with a production that was so good in so many other ways. By following the formula, the negatives pretty much got pushed aside. It’s not like I didn’t notice them, they just didn’t make the cut.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Style's got three theater reviews this week: Ms. Burruss's take on "Well," then my review of "Annie" and Mary's discussion of "Trailer Park" all mashed up together. Funny that I've spent about 1,000 words so far on this blog talking about my 300 word review of "Annie." Funny or silly, I guess, depending on how you look at it.


Eighteen years ago today, my lovely wife and I were married. She is responsible for many amazing and exciting things in my life but one that I don’t often reflect on is this whole theater critic gig. It was through her (in her capacity as one of Style’s associate editors) that I learned that Style would be needing a theater critic and through her that I submitted my first reviews for consideration. It’s been a wild ride (both the marriage and the critic thing) but I don’t regret a minute of it.

News this morning is that ‘9 to 5’ scored big in the Drama Desk noms. Has anyone here in Richmond seen this? Even given all of the nominations, I’ve got about 5 other shows I’d like to see in NYC before that one.

Okay, so to follow up on my posting from yesterday, here’s a very rough and extremely reductive formula and probably the kind of thing that’ll get me kicked out of the reviewers union (if there was such a thing):

Positivity rating = [Musical Factors] * (Individual Performances * Company allowance) x (Technical Elements * Venue allowance) x (Strength of Material * Originality allowance) x Overall Experience + Wild Cards.

This kinda-sorta represents the process that I go through to come up with my reviews. This is usually a subconscious process, particularly these days after doing it for 10 years. But every once in while – like with “Annie” this past weekend – I have to bring the specifics into focus more distinctly to come up with my final word. While the formula shows a final rating that you might think is numeric, I never come up with a actual number for any show. But I do often come up with a more general feeling, almost like a letter grade. The problem is that then I have to translate the letter grade into narrative, which can be tricky. The ‘A’s and the ‘C-‘s aren’t the problem – it’s the solid ‘B’s that are the challenge.

I don’t mean to be off-hand about this – it’s a process I take very seriously and that sometimes ties me up in knots. But without some kind of objective background like this – even if it is only a broad list of factors – I think it would be too easy to be flippant about work that very talented people have put hundreds of hours of work into, not to mention thousands of dollars.

So I think most of the factors are pretty self-explanatory but I should go into a little more detail about some of them. First off, crammed into “Musical Factors” is a potentially huge number of production elements, including individual vocal performances, ensemble vocal performances, overall musical direction, the band or orchestra, and even aspects of sound design and venue acoustics. The different allowances have to do with recognizing the constraints that go along with specific circumstances. For instance, I’m going to approach a show produced in a space like the Gay Community Center without expectations of Broadway-caliber lighting design. I’m just not. That doesn’t mean the lighting designer gets a free pass, just a little understanding about the challenges he or she may be dealing with. Similarly, producing a new or challenging work earns at least a little credit for originality.

The ‘Overall Experience’ factor has a lot to do with how the show is directed and also with what happens after you leave the show. For a musical, do you have that cliché experience of leaving the theater humming the tunes? For a drama, do you end up talking about or even just thinking about issues the show dealt with later on?

And Wild Cards, well, I hope that’s clear. Sometimes, one aspect of a show is so good or so bad that it has to be addressed. One performance – like maybe Scott Wichmann in “Richard III,” as an example – is so good it overshadows many or most of a production’s deficiencies. There are many negative examples here too. I caught some flack many years ago because of disparaging remarks I made about a production of “Children of Eden.” The production was actually pretty good but I will always have a problem with this show because of the way it changes the story of Cain and Abel, completely reconfiguring the instructive and moral content of one of the best known and fundamental Biblical stories. I just think it is a bad bad bad choice in so many ways that I will reiterate that opinion every single time the show is even mentioned. (Be forewarned.)

Anyway, there’s my review calculus laid out moderately plainly. Some time soon (maybe tomorrow if my review shows up), I’ll talk about how I applied it to “Annie.”

Monday, April 27, 2009


Oh, and I almost forgot -- folks are starting to announce their 2009-10 seasons. I always love this time of year because I start anticipating the shows to come. I'll chat up this topic down the road a piece but, in the meantime, anybody looking forward to anything in particular yet?

Review Calculus

Firstly, a monstrous congratulations to JB and Steve whose fabulous friends certainly know how to throw a wonderful party. You two are lucky to have found each other and it’s a privilege for all of us who get to bask in the reflected light of the love you both radiate.

Secondly, here are a bunch of links to reviews and a feature that you probably have read already but just in case you missed out: here’s Ms. H on “Trailer Park,” Ms. H on “Annie,” and Ms. Wren exploring “Park” a little more deeply.

Finally (for today), as I was looking over my review of “Annie” this morning, I realized more distinctly than I ever have before that there is a certain calculus that goes into my critical writing. To give you some background: the best writing training I ever had was the first Public Policy class I ever took. Every week during this class, we students were given background material on some issue of the day and, no matter how epic the topic might be – environmental protection vs. business development, gun control, the abortion debate, etc. -- we had to distill the essential elements into a one-page position memo.

The professor for this class was a fascinating and brilliant man named James Vaupel – his excitement about his subject was such that he constantly paced back and forth across the front of the classroom, talking quickly, gesticulating wildly and always with a big grin on his face. He taught certain methodologies for applying structured analysis to unstructured subjects. But mostly he demanded that we be distinct and choose our words with economy and precision.

Anyway, this morning I realized that, while it may not be exactly systematic, there is a certain methodology – and even a kind of math – that goes into putting my reviews together that on some level grew out of what I learned way back then. In the next day or so, I’ll describe how that plays out with particularly reference to my review of “Annie.” If you think this might be vaguely interesting, stay tuned. If not, well, you might want to stay away from the blog until Thursday-ish.

Friday, April 24, 2009

And another thing...

Call me a regionalist but I forgot to mention that "Translations" opens at Sycamore Rouge tonight as well. No slight intended -- I have high hopes for this production based on the playwright (Brian Friel, whose 'Dancing at Lughnasa' I have a particular fondness for) and at least one of the cast members, Rebecca Anne Muhleman, who has done some spectacular work with Henley Street this season, including being the prettiest 'Hamlet' I've ever seen. So if you're a southsider, it should be worth a little jaunt toward Petersburg to catch this one.

News around the Newsroom

So the Firehouse opened “Great American Trailer Park Musical” last night and tonight’s the big “Annie” opening at the Empire. As always, things are hopping in the theater world!

But my attention has been distracted by a couple of things: 1) a stupid spring cold that had me unconscious under the influence of some fabulous meds most of yesterday and 2) news of some shake-ups in the arts editing world. On that second item: Brandon Reynolds, the Arts and Culture editor at Style announced his eminent departure today. He’ll be moving out to the left coast sometime around the end of June. I also caught wind of a rumor that another major print player in town will be looking for a new Arts editor soon. These changes, plus all of the moving and shaking at the T-D, means there’s going to be all sorts of possibilities for new directions in arts coverage in the near future. Something to keep in mind.

But before we get too deep in to that, I should offer a (too) brief huzzah in honor of Mr. Reynolds for his tenure at Style. Brandon is a great writer and always added a wonderfully wry twist on much of his coverage, putting some of the best headlines over my theater reviews ever. He also had a great view of the arts scene in general. He wasn’t always hip to what was going on in the theater world but, after much berating by Ms. Burruss, he actually went out to see a few shows and was always supportive (with appropriate levels of discernment) of theatre-related story ideas thrown his way. He also weathered my occasional rants with great patience and understanding – probably the one thing I will be most grateful for in my memory of his time at the helm.

Please join me in wishing Mr. Reynolds the best of luck in his future endeavors. And start tucking away those “I knew him when…” stories for after his name starts showing up in the credits for major motion pictures…

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spring into Midsummer

First off, yesterday I forgot to mention that Jake Ashley brings a lovable sad-sack energy to his portrayal of Amos in “Chicago.” Kind of a critic’s meta-joke there…

Now, on to Midsummer… I was talking to someone last Friday and mentioning that I was going to a production of “Midsummer” and they kind of rolled their eyes. This led to a little discussion about how many times certain shows get produced and that this can mute the excitement for seeing them, at least among people who see a lot of theater.

But really, when I thought about it, the problem isn’t that they get produced so often; the raw material they are working from never stops being awesome. It’s just that it gets harder and harder to find something new, vital, or surprising in the show, something to give it that ‘zing!’ or that intriguing sense of discovery. When a production finds that doorway into something new and ushers you through it, the brilliance of the material shines anew, kind of like when you put a fresh coat of paint up in a dingy room.

This current production of Midsummer finds many wonderful, manic, entertaining aspects of the show to make it bright and engaging. And, as I mention in my review, profoundly silly; there are many times when the sublime shades well over into the ridiculous. I can imagine there are many people who will be put off by the silliness, who might bristle at the more obscene or just plain dumb parts. But oh, what delights are available if you give in to the madness.

There are some amazing organic bits of brilliance here. Some are tiny – Brandon Crowder adjusting his pants after a particularly um, intense interlude, for instance – others are huge (much of what Adam Mincks does as Bottom). And as good as those boys are, this isn’t a testosterone-dominated show. Stacie Rearden Hall is lusty and lively and just all sorts of good in her many roles. She’s one of those actors who seems to be totally invested in a show’s onstage relationships. She does an astounding job with the ups-and-downs of Helena’s journey. And of course, Kerry McGee was enchanting as well as game for extreme physical mayhem, including being turned upside down. Did you all do trust falls during rehearsal?

Sandra Clayton may get a bit of a short shrift here in terms of stage-time but she does a fine job when she has to, particularly as Peter Quince. Also, don’t think that I didn’t notice that everyone had their toenails painted – nice touch! And I didn’t get to mention the costumes in my review but they certainly enhance the action; one example: Bottom’s helmet with the plastic cutlery was a stitch.

If you’ve seen Midsummer before and are thinking ‘why do I need to see it again?’ I can answer that in three words: “Crowder as Thisbe.” I don’t want to ratchet anyone’s expectations up too high but, really, words don’t do it justice. Just go and laugh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We Both Reached for the Gun

Ms. B’s review of “Steel Magnolias” and my take on “Midsummer Night’s Dream” are now on the Style website. Are you surprised about my Midsummer rave? I didn’t think so.

More on MSND soon but back to “Chicago.” In our household, the most lasting impact of seeing Theatre VCU’s latest production has been the Tline children (ok, mostly Cooper) challenging themselves to hold the monstrously extended “the” that Billy Flynn sings during “We Both Reached for THE Gun.” The little punk was only a fraction of a second from getting there this morning with only a little wavering near the end. I expect he’ll get there in the next couple of days. Vocal calisthenics are what count as fun at our house. Are we geeks or what?

The production that Ms. D’Beck has put together is pretty phenomenal with the dancing being a distinct highlight. Too often I end up not thinking very consciously about the dancing in a show but then something like this show comes along that makes you realize what an impact great dancing can have. Also, for those more in tune with the technical side of things, the lighting for this show is just exceptional. The lights are a great physical echo of the “Razzle Dazzle” the show talks about and have real personality. Kudos to lighting designer Katherine Jenna Ferree.

Of course, I there’s no way to talk about this production without mentioning Maggie Marlin, who is just crazy-talented. Her “I Can’t Do It Alone” tired me out and I was just watching it. But that in no way should be interpreted as a dis of Kimberly Exum as Roxie or Michael Rieman as Billy who both do a great job. I think Rieman has a real future ahead of him – catch him now before you have to pay $80 to see him on Broadway.

Two actors who have been active on the local pro stage – Margie Mills and Matt James – also make quite an impression. In re: Mr. James who is a stitch in his role (don’t want to ruin just what role just in case…), my son Cooper was pretty astounded that a boy could sing such a high part with such strength and clarity. Nice work, Matt.

Someone who probably gets overlooked among all this other talent is Josh Marin as the Master of Ceremonies. His take on the various jury members during the trial are understated but hilarious just the same.

Finally, the Theatre VCU band (under Leilani Mork’s direction) does a knock-out job with the score which really, is just about one of the funnest scores around. I think this show closes this weekend and it’s been selling out most all of its performances. Just warning you…

Monday, April 20, 2009


It was nice to wake up on Sunday to two theater reviews in the T-D. Ms. Haubenstock’s appreciation of Barkdale’s “Well” includes this compelling list of couplets: occasionally hilarious, sometimes profound, increasingly skewed. I have to say that this pretty much encapsulates the kind of play I’d like to see. I'll have to fit it in somehow over the next few weeks.

Ms. Lewis’s review of Richmond Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” made me laugh in the way she is very complimentary about the show and then sticks a nice little jab in about the “audience experience” right at the end. It certainly was a bit humid at 2nd Pres on Saturday.

I will warn folks right now that this production of “Midsummer” is one of those rare productions that I may need to talk about multiple times in the days and weeks to come. There’ll be more details on why when my review comes out in the next couple of days but to put it succinctly: I haven’t laughed that hard in a long long time.

But before blather on about "Midsummer, I’ll have to talk about “Chicago,” Theatre VCU’s production that I saw on Saturday night. But that’ll have to wait until I have a few more pages of my grad school paper under my belt -- so more later!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I've always been a little shaky on old theater lore but I seem to remember that there used to be this phenomena called “overnights” where critics would weigh in on a production the morning after it opened.

Well, it’s not exactly an overnight because the show opened a couple of weeks ago, but the T-D has this review of “Endless Forms Most Wonderful” at the Science Museum in the paper today even though Ms. Haubenstock just saw the show yesterday. Ah, the power of a daily paper!

The buzz on the Internets about “Well” is pretty good after opening last night but I haven’t read a critical perspective yet. Perhaps tomorrow. And I’ll just relate a little bit about my own experience last night. I took in Richmond Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which basically had me laughing until I was crying. I have a new person to envy and that’s the husband of Stacie Reardon Hall. This is a production where everything is set to 11, including the sensuality part and, if Mrs. Hall brings even half of the lusty energy she shows on the stage home with her, well, Oh My, Mr. Hall must be a happy man.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Guess I should complain more often...

OK, I know I really had no sway as far as this goes. But I was happy to see Ms. Lewis's review of "Normal" in the T-D this morning. I guess I can imagine that, even though I had no direct impact on the situation, maybe in some karmic way my complaining about it was like the flap of the butterfly's wing that finally got the review published. A boy can dream.

Speaking of dreams (all hail the segue master!), I'm looking forward to Richmond Shakepeare's "Midsummer's Night Dream" this weekend. Barksdale's "Well" is on Ms. Burruss's docket but I'll be trying to get over to it later in the run. And in terms of karma, I have to feel that something's working in my favor having gone ga-ga for Kerry McGee in "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern etc. etc." and then finding out that she's in the "Dream" cast. Maybe when I think about wanting to see more of an actress, it also has some psychic influence in the universe. In which case, I'll have to look over the seasons that theater companies are going to be announcing any day now for a good role for Kate Winslett...or Scarlett Johansson...or...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review Illogic

So I know things are tough in the whole print business these days and I sympathize. But here’s something I don’t get: the Times-Dispatch runs a review in today’s paper of a concert in Charlottesville by the Dead (formerly the Grateful Dead, apparently not so grateful now since the death of Jerry Garcia). So maybe a handful of Richmonders besides Ms. Ruggieri from the T-D went to this show. But is this news? Does anyone care about the review since most people will never see the show? At the same time, a review I know exists of Stage 1’s “Normal” – a show that hundreds could still see (and hopefully WILL still see) – sits unpublished on someone’s hard disk somewhere.

Maybe it’s just a reflection of my particularly foul mood these days but this seems like totally asinine priorities to me and like an editing decision that does an active disservice to the arts community and theatergoers of Richmond. If column inches are so precious, why waste them on something that is so absolutely irrelevant? Like it or not, media shapes (as well as reflects) the community it serves and the T-D seems to be encouraging people to leave Richmond -- maybe to chase the Dead to their next gig in Albany, NY? – or at least reinforcing the impression that nothing relevant artistically is happening here. I know Style has not always been exactly perfect on this score but this specific case is kind of ridiculous and, if it reflects the general attitude at the T-D, I can only hope the paper dies a quicker death than its current slow fade so that something more relevant and vital can take its place.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Internets are abuzz with the news that producer / director McG has taken on a feature film adaptation of "Spring Awakening." I have to admit I only know the director's work from "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" so I don't really know that he'd be my intuitive choice for this job. But apparently, he's done dozens of music videos so he might be just the right guy.

I know there are some "Awakening" acolytes out there -- what do you think of this project?

Building on Strengths

I’m happy that, just as I went into one of my periodic dark periods here on the blog (sorry – outa town for a long weekend), Bruce over at the Barksdale blog hopped back online after a long dark period. Always fun to hear Mr. Miller’s take on things.

Ms. Lewis had a review of “Steel Magnolias” in print yesterday. I didn’t realize Toney Cobb was directing this production. Toney’s a fine actor and, in my experience, a really nice guy. I hope the show does well for him.

I also heard that there is a review of “Normal” from Ms. Lewis out there that may or may not eventually end up in print. I hope so – the more reviewers who chime in, the better, as far as I’m concerned!

There’s quite an amusing video of the folks in “Annie” dancing to hip-hop over on the Steingold sisters’ blog. Check it out for a laugh. I was thinking “Annie” opening this weekend but they’re still not drawing the curtain until April 24. Hasn’t this show been in rehearsal like forever?

Thursday, April 09, 2009


I was on the way home from an early visit to the auto shop when I heard Grant Mudge on WCVE doing his first "Bard Bites" piece -- a great spotlight on theater in general and on Richmond Shakespeare specifically. Congrats, Grant, and I hope your "Bites" get posted to the WCVE site so I can hear ones that I'm surely going to miss on days I don't have to take my car in.

Speaking of WCVE, check out Mr. Porter's reviews of "Pulp" and "Normal" online if you haven't already.

And speaking of Grant, he recently posted a Facebook link to this article about the lack of opportunities for young theater critics. While I find the article and the comments very interesting, there is a subtext that I don't see addressed but is very much alive in my experience. My sense is that many people don't see the need for or appreciate the value of the critic in the whole artistic process. I need only refer to a comment (that I've mentioned before) of a local thespian who said what a critic did was fart after a meal prepared by others. There are those I know who would prefer that critics just disappear back into the woodwork that we crawled out of. Given that, it is kind of amazing to read a piece like the one in the Guardian that just kind of takes it for granted that a critic is an important part of the process, that maybe there should be some focus given to nurturing new insightful young critics. Sounds good to me, but then my perspective on the issue is a bit skewed. What do you -- theater professional or theater fan -- think about it? Would nurturing critics only encourage them, when you'd really just wish they'd go away?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


I forgot to mention another opening last weekend, the dramatization of Charles Darwin’s life that Doug Jones wrote for the Science Museum called “Endless Forms Most Wonderful.” If you and/or your kids are on spring break and wondering what to do, a trip to the Science Museum is always good for a half-day or more of fun.

And before this one slips my mind, AART is opening “Steel Magnolias” this weekend at Pine Camp. I believe that this is a revival of Living Word’s 2006 production but I’m not sure if it’s got the totally same cast.

So the following is a little bit more about “Normal.” I should warn you that there are some details of the show discussed and, while I’ll try not to spoil anything, if you don’t want to know anything at all about the show, I wouldn’t read on. Consider yourself warned!

It occurred to me the day after seeing this show that it is a little bit like those horror movies where you feel like yelling at the characters on the screen, “don’t go back into that abandoned house!” or “don’t get out of your car!” only in a family-dynamics kind of way. You want to yell at Gayla, “put down the blow dryer and LISTEN to your daughter!” or yell at Robert, “grow a freaking spine!” And yet, the characters go down their fated paths and you KNOW disaster is waiting for them.

Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the horror formula has worked for decades and continues to work. And there is no denying that you feel great sympathy for the Freeman family and the seemingly intractable situation they find themselves in. But for me, that sympathy was undercut by frustration at the characters for making what seemed to me like obviously bad choices.

It was also helpful to me in figuring out how I felt about “Normal” to compare it with “Rabbit Hole” that just closed at the Firehouse a while back. Both productions were/are compelling but also confounding. I’ll talk about that more later but my small window of time for blogging today is closing quickly.

But before I go, I’ll say a little bit more about Zachary – an excellently drawn character wonderfully rendered by Dave Amadee. I love that a late-teenage / early 20-something guy is shown as the most emotionally engaged member of the family. He’s the one who tries most directly to break through to Polly, he’s the one who gets frustrated enough with his dad to literally try to push him into action, and his song about his mom – though too self-consciously and sometimes annoyingly full of “like” teen-speak – was a highlight of the show for me. In the whole show, the scene where I felt most personally wounded was where Zachary ends up on the receiving end of a particularly callous remark. Even days after seeing the show, remembering that scene feels like a punch in the gut.

Which is certainly indicative of some powerful theater. Difficult at times, and challenging, but definitely powerful.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Where oh Where

I keep waiting for either a review of "Normal" to show up on the T-D site or any of three theater-related articles to show up on the Style site. But as of about 11:30am Tuesday, nada.

UPDATE: I guess I need to be more patient! It's now 12:30pm and Ms. Burruss's review of "Altar Boyz" and my take on "Normal" can be seen on the Style site. The feature on Patti D'Beck is available here.

One of the Style pieces will be (update: make that, IS) about Patti D'Beck, the director behind the upcoming production of "Chicago" at Theatre VCU and the summer production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the Barksdale. While we wait for the print media to give us some more contant, I'll fill you in on some additional tidbits about Ms. D’Beck. When I spoke to her, she said she has a hard time even getting started on a project until she has some kind of organizational thought about the work, a “hook” that helps her tell the story. For “Chicago,” for instance, in the song “Razzle Dazzle” Billy mentions a three-ring circus. So Patti says she had this image of Billy as a ringmaster at a circus and also as something of a magician. She would like to create almost a “Circe de Soleil” atmosphere with the show. I guess we’ll see if she succeeds.

One thing that I don’t think gets mentioned in my piece is that Theatre VCU is only able to do “Chicago” while there is an active touring version of the show out on the road because of her calls to the Weislers – theater producers and Broadway fixtures for decades. Think Richmond doesn’t benefit from local artists’ and their connections (a la Chase Kniffen bringing new musical “Normal” down from NYC)? Think again!

Patti also gave me a little preview of what Theatre VCU is planning next year in terms of productions. I don’t think I’m supposed to give you details (might have to check on that) but I will say that they’re planning two musicals, something Patti says they haven’t done before.

One last note about the piece on Ms. D’Beck: in talking to Bruce Miller about getting Patti onboard to direct last summer's smash, "Guys and Dolls," he said he Googled Patti as soon as he heard she was coming to VCU. I think this is just another great example of Mr. Miller’s great vision and commitment to staying aware of what’s going on around town. I sense that the wheels are always turning for him, a skill that has served Theatre IV / Barksdale well over the years and hopefully will keep them strong in these challenging times.

Monday, April 06, 2009


I drove into work this morning with the piercing "severe weather" alarms sounding on WCVE, forecasts indicating the potential for tornadoes in Virginia. As ominous as they were, the noisy signals resonated with a weekend that was a true whirlwind of activity. Two big shows closed (Mindgame and Mona’s Arrangements), two big ones opened (Normal and SCM’s Altar Boyz), and Theatre IV’s Fairy Tale Ball brought the buzz downtown.

Even more ominous and disorienting for me was the story from Style that the job-cutting hatchet was going to sweep another wide swath of people from the staff of the T-D. As I perused the comments about the story, I was driven to both amusement and melancholy by the reader who said, “My thoughts go out to everyone at the TD who got laid-off (even Dan Neman...).” I’ve given Mr. Neman a hard time in this space but when it comes down to it, I respected his somewhat thankless role and his attempts to keep reviews of the 57th or so lame horror movie he’s seen this year fresh. Whether he is really gone from the T-D or not (I’m not convinced he is), no self-respecting journalist likes to see another journalist kicked to the curb.

Speaking of reviews, Ms. Lewis’s rave on “Altar Boyz” make it into print today. While we wait for her take on “Normal,” there is the fine feature story that Ms. Wren had on the production in Sunday’s paper.

Another disorienting event was the announcement that Jam Theatricals is bringing a new series of touring shows through Richmond in the coming year. The two big musicals they’re bringing are among my favorites and the exceptionally long run of Wicked marks a surprising hopefulness on the part of Jam as far as the Richmond market goes. I hope their hopes pan out with good results because I’d love to see more big shows coming through town. Well, truthfully, I’d love to see two big GOOD shows come through a year, enough to bolster people’s interest in theater without overrunning the market.

As I compiled my review of “Normal” last night, I realized that, more so than any other show I've seen this year, the word count I had at my disposal was criminally limited. “Normal” is a challenging show and is hard to sum up in three paragraphs. So, barring inconvenient interruptions from life, work, school, etc., I’ll be looking to blog about it further in the days to come. Stay tuned…

Friday, April 03, 2009

Kids and Boyz

This morning, after being awakened by my daughter’s alarm -- which was buzzing away noisily at 6am on a day she didn’t even have school -- I was thinking about how children can be both the absolute joy and desolate bane of one’s existence. I expect that’s going to be an aspect of the experience of watching “Normal” at Stage 1. I’ve been looking forward to this show since I heard the cast list – a whole host of powerhouse performers who I’ve enjoyed many times in the past. It also features someone in a pivotal role who I know as a delightful person but who I’ve only really seen perform a few times, Ali Thibodeau. The lovely Ms. T will also be featured in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in a few months, another great incentive to make reservations now to see that show.

And speaking of TMM, I spoke to director Patti D’Beck yesterday (look for the story in Style next week) and caught a brief snippet of her “Chicago” rehearsal at Theatre VCU (opening next week). Oh my – I think that’s a show that’s going to rock.

So while lying awake at 6am, I tried to think of pleasant things that might assist me in drifting back off to sleep. I spent some time comparing and contrasting the other students in the Art History class I’m taking who, except for me and one other grad student, are all lovely undergraduate women (boys will be boys). Then I had a moment of regret because I thought it’d be fun to do a compare and contrast (re: hotness or any other factors) of RTP’s “Altar Boyz” and the Swift Creek Mill production, which opens tonight. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the show that RTP put up and, given my man-crush on Eliot Lau, probably could not do an even-handed job. However, if anyone else who has seen both shows would like to take on that task, I’d be very interested in your perspective.

Even at this late hour, I’m trying to imagine whether there is any chance that I might get out to see “Mona’s Arrangements” before it closes this weekend. The only possibility may be if a deluge washes out soccer games on Sunday. Of course, with my luck, the final matinee will probably be sold out. Good for Barksdale, for me, not so much.

Have a fine weekend!