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.


Anonymous said...

While the term "Broadway in Richmond" could be misconstrued in a number of ways, we have to remember one thing - it is a Broadway show that is now a national touring company, Equity or not. So in that regard, yes, it is Broadway in Richmond. A good majority of the national tours out there now are non-Equity, and while the qualitiy differs between tours (i.e. Wicked is not watered down from what you'd see in New York, vs. the inflatable set for the Cats tour), the producers do this for one single reason - to save money. If they can put out a tour of a big name show, but pay young people who are starving for work much less money by doing non-Equity, of course they'll do it. Big-name Broadway stars do not tour anymore - that went out with the mid-90's (although Roger Bart is currently on tour with "Young Frankenstein"). I've seen some great non-Equity tours, and some terrible ones. You just never know what you'll get, but the hope is that the quality of the production is terrific.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

I thought Jacqueline Grabois was FANTASTIC!!! As well as Jason Heymann! Definitely my faves. The ensemble member, Ashley Eileen Bucknam, I also thought was pretty incredible (I think she was the yellow Bad Idea Bear).

Just looking at Mr. Kornblum (Brian) 's headshot, it screams non-Equity tour. I found myself thinking that I could see a show this good at Barksdale (at a fraction of the ticket price). Ms. Johanson didn't do it for me. She is very different from Ann Harada and should really have been allowed to steer the character in a different direction (which she sometimes did, but was completely out of sync with other character choices she was making).
I didn't care for DiRoma's performance at all. And his puppet's mouth frequently kept moving after he was no longer talking. Really weird.

I had a grand time. I hope that Ms. Grabois and Mr. Heymann might find an occasion to find themselves on a stage in Richmond again sometime soon!

Susie said...

The opening of "Mahalia" was pushed back a week due to illness, so it opened on Nov. 6.