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


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.


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


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 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?