Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Well, my "Is He Dead?" review didn't make this week's issue of Style. But my "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll" review did, so you can check that out. Also, if you want to read another opinion about the just closed "The Who's Tommy" at VCU, Style put up a review last Friday that I didn't see until today.

I've been behind the curve in mentioning this but there is a truly one-of-a-kind event happening tonight at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. The "Three Divas" concert features Debra Wagoner, Cathy Motley-Fitch and Desiree Roots -- three of the area's best voices -- and they'll be accompanied by the wonderful Sandy Dacus. If you go, remember that curtain is at 7pm, not 8. You don't want to miss a note of this!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good News

The box office news from Broadway is certainly good, with “American Idiot” apparently going gangbusters, a situation that can only be helped by Green Day’s impromptu performance after a show last week. Generally good notices on Denzel Washington in “Fences” should continue the positive receipts.

I’m not sure what the overall story is locally but I’m hopeful that the positive review of “The Crucible” inspires folks to head down to Sycamore Rouge. Also, I was pretty amazed by the full house at Barksdale’s “Is He Dead?” last Sunday. This is the kind of broad farce that has appeal for everyone – even my 6 year old – so I hope it grabs a decent audience. My review should be in tomorrow’s Style but I have to rectify some absences in my review. First off, due to space, I wasn’t able to give anything more than a listing of Millet’s partners-in-ruse, played by David Janeski, Derek Phipps and Joe Carlson. These guys are great and, if this play had been written as a modern-day movie, would warrant their own Marx Brothers kind of a spin-off. Carlson exudes an energetic jocularity that I expect typifies the 19th century American and is really the engine of the play’s plot. Janeski is a fine counterpoint as the practical German, and Phipps makes for an entertaining and somewhat dim Irishman.

I also was not able to expound on the only disappointment for me in the show, which is the squandering of substantial female talent in the cast. Joy Williams and Kimberly Jones Clark are both formidable actresses; it’s a little disheartening that they have so little to do in this show. Aly Wepplo is always fun to watch and she is a fitting object of Millet's affection here. But her role here is a bit of a stereotype, in contrast to her character in “Putnam County Spelling Bee” which was a real joy. Kristan Swanson is the only actress given much to work with and she does a great job with it.

I enjoyed Beau Marie’s performance very much, particularly his growing fervor in the second act. As would be expected, David Bridgewater tears into his bad-guy role with gusto and makes much more of it than is on the page. And the always-welcome Matthew Costello does well with his subsidiary, somewhat sad-sack role.

But I left the show remembering Joe Pabst most distinctly. His reactions onstage, whether as the snooty art buyer or the dutiful manservant, are always perfectly measured for maximum comic effect. Well done, Mr. Pabst.

It was interesting to read the little bit in the program about Mark Twain and the development of “Is He Dead?” I know a little bit about Twain’s experience with theater, which was not always particularly great. I read his collaboration with famous frontier writer, Bret Harte, called “Ah Sin,” for a class I took a couple of years ago. This play was setup to be a blockbuster: it involved two literary superstars and it starred Charles Bledsoe, a huge stage star of the day thanks to a particular sub-genre of plays that featured bumbling Chinese characters.

The character of “Ah Sin” was taken from a poem Harte had written, commonly known as “The Heathen Chinee,” that was arguably the most often reprinted poem of the latter 19th century and helped spur waves of anti-Chinese discrimination at the time. (It’s always intriguing to me to consider that, while discrimination against African-Americans is debated over and over again, the wholesale discrimination against Chinese immigrants – which transcended geography and class, was codified in American law and celebrated by an author as beloved as Twain – has mostly faded into obscurity.) The play was notable for my research because, in it, various epithets are hurled at the Chinese character; he is called everything from “a moral cancer” to a “slant-eyed son of the yellow janders [i.e., jaundice].” Good times!

The play was a dud. Not a “close after one night” abject failure, but a mediocre play that faded surprisingly quickly given the hoopla surrounding its development. Anyway, the whole experience did nothing to inspire Twain to focus any more on playwriting and reportedly left him pretty bitter. It may have been one of the reasons he never pushed “Is He Dead?” Like they say, once bitten, twice shy.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Seeing the Future

I'm only moderately embarrassed to say that I used to watch "American Idol" religiously. Only moderately because in the past there were usually several people competing that were pretty darn good. The subsequent success of people like Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, etc., bares that out.

This season I DVR the show and skip through everything except Crystal Bowersox's and Soibhan Magnus's performances (and then skip the ridiculous "judging"). I watch Crystal because she is always exceptional, I watch Soibhan because she is always interesting.

I'm thinking that I should've been watching more closely, however, so I would have a better sense of the Broadway stars of tommorrow based on the number of people from "Idol" showing up there. It was announced a while back that Ace Young and Diana Digarmo were joining the cast of "Hair." Now there's video showing them in action. It kinda makes me wonder (and cringe a little, too) to think of Katie Stevens or Tim Urban or (gulp) Big Mike appearing on Broadway in a year or two.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The fabulously talented and nearly constantly working Melissa Johnston Price posted a notice on Facebook that today was “Hug an Actor/Techie/Theatre Geek Day.” If you’re reading this, you undoubtedly know one of these types so get out there and hug someone!

If you are having trouble finding an actor/techie, etc. just out on the street somewhere, you could always go to Martini Night at the Firehouse tonight, where doors open at 7pm before the performance of “Sex Drugs Rock & Roll.” Not only will you find theatre types there, I would expect hugs will be exchanged much more freely after a couple of martinis.

I haven’t expounded on “Sex Drugs…” mostly because my Style review isn’t out yet. I think I packed my most cogent thoughts into it and hopefully it will be in next week’s issue. But, in a nutshell, I can say that this is a bravura performance by Robert Zukerman. He does some amazing things on stage and his ability to transition from characters like the emotionally fragile bottle man to the sleazy, angry, ravenous rock lawyer is breath-taking. I am glad that the Firehouse brought such a rollicking, challenging show to Richmond and supported it by hiring some exceptional talent like Mr. Zukerman and director David Denson.

We have been blessed in this town by some truly remarkable one-person shows over the years and this production takes a prominent place among them. However, I can’t say it’s my favorite of those, maybe because there is a pretty bleak worldview lurking amongst many of these stories. While the show is bracing and fun to watch, it’s a bit like a really strong, dark beer with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Intoxicating but also a little off-putting.

And while I’m expounding just a little, I wanted to mention something that has been kicking around my head over the past couple of days. It’s no secret that acting is a vocation where the superficial, i.e., physical beauty, plays a part more prominent than most any other profession (except perhaps for modeling). There aren’t that many professions where you can lose a job for not being blonde enough or skinny enough or tall enough – and that’s just the way it goes. But in a bit of a paradox, it’s also a unique realm where, thanks in part to stage magic and thanks even more to really compelling talent, people who are not necessarily traditionally beautiful can seem strikingly gorgeous. So it’s an arena where physical beauty can seem the primary concern and yet, at the same time, can seem totally irrelevant.

I’ve met some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known thanks to theater; I was even lucky enough to marry one of them. The cast of “Tommy” at VCU right now is full of some seriously gorgeous kids. But I’ve also met actors who project such a compelling personality, people who many may not consider stunningly attractive, who I just cannot take my eyes off of when they are on stage (there are about a half-dozen people I could list here but I don’t want to somehow imply that anyone I mention is NOT physically gorgeous in their own way). I’m sure others have written about this paradox more eloquently than me but still, it’s something I’m finding fascinating right now.

And with that, as Seth Rudetsky would say, Peace Out! And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And another...

Mary Burruss's review of "Butterflies Are Free" is in this week's Style. FYI!

Late Addition

I just noticed that John Porter posted his review of "Tommy" last night. Many thanks, Mr. Porter, for a nicely articulated (as always) rave.

Rock Rolling

As “The Who’s Tommy” rolls into its final weekend at VCU, it’s interesting to read the reviews and raves about “American Idiot” on Broadway. The two shows seem like they may be similar in many ways: kick-ass songs, great staging, soaring performances, but some narrative rough spots. I was ambivalent about “AI” but am feeling more than a little compelled to try and see it now.

On the other hand, by most appearances “Spider-Man: The Musical” continues to flounder, what with Alan Cumming dropping out of the project now (never really saw him as the Green Goblin anyway but, oh well…) I continue to vacillate between hoping against hope that this project actually makes it to the stage and wondering why they still keep trying.

Sycamore Rouge opens “The Crucible” this weekend so check it out. This production has a huge cast filled with some folks new to the Rouge stage but familiar to Richmonders (Jeff Cole, Stephen Ryan, Rick Gray, etc.) Worth special mention is the appearance of the doyenne of Richmond theater, Una Harrison, as Rebecca Nurse.

Finally, I wrote about “Tommy” a while back and mentioned the choreography without mentioning the choreographer. The lovely and talented Bethany Lynn Emery was the one who came up with the steps and she did an exceptional job, IMHO. Sorry for leaving her out before. My bad.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


You've probably already seen the reviews of Firehouse's "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll" and the Barksdale's "Is He Dead?" that have been in the T-D over the past several days. Good notices, fer sure, and I'll be adding my two cents from Style any day now.

The weekend was my chance to catch-up on all of the media that the pesky network people at my work screen out so I can't read it / see it / hear it. If you haven't yet, you should check out the new weekly "BarksTales" vodcasts from Barksdale / Theatre IV, hosted by the very entertaining "sage of the stage" David Janeski. I laughed out loud on some of the bits from the interview with Matthew Bloch from "Butterflies are Free" and the conference room scene in the inaugural episode was also great. Great deadpan from Phil Whiteway too. For the more education-minded, they slipped a nice piece on "Hugs n Kisses" in there as well.

I continue to be impressed with the theater coverage that the NPR show "All Things Considered" features on a regular basis. Here is a link to their performing arts "hub" where, among other things, you can pull up their interesting story about Menier Chocolate Factory theater in England, which I had never heard of. It has been the initiating company for many recent West End / Broadway transfers, like the just opened "La Cage Aux Folles" starring Kelsey Grammar. They are just opening a production of "Sweet Charity" so I guess we can expect that to move over here in another year or so.

Finally, there was a fascinating story on "This American Life" last week that equated some of the investment misconduct that caused the recent financial crisis to the Mel Brooks' musical, "The Producers." They even went so far as to rewrite the lyrics to one of the songs with Wall Street-oriented language. Enlightening as well as entertaining. And that's not always so easy to pull off.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What I'm looking forward to

I'll post my preliminary thoughts about Firehouse's "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll," which I saw last night, after I finish writing my review. I'm not sure when the Firehouse announced their next season but I'm already looking forward to the fall's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I've never seen this story on stage, just the movie version. I expect the Firehouse will assemble a killer cast and I can imagine a few great possibilities in the different roles already...

Speaking of casting, this announcement about a revival of "Harry Potter Succeeds in Business Without Really Trying" should have thousands of fans making plans as well as a few Broadway producers already counting their money...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another Helping

Mr. Porter posted a couple of his reviews yesterday, a rave about "Elizabeth Rex" and a qualified endorsement of "Butterflies are Free."

A couple of days ago someone commented with a question about my thoughts on “Full Plate Collection,” which I saw during its successful run at Theatre IV’s Little Theatre last month. In short, I thought it was an impressive and highly-entertaining debut for this new play. Above all, it was a wonderfully smart show, addressing issues of feminism and empowerment in a playful and creative way. I was a little mixed on some of the songs but “Rack ‘Em Up” was a scream, a fantastic tribute to mammary glands that must have greatly taxed Ms. Ziegler’s thesaurus.

The performances were consistent in their excellence, though I have to say that I loved Laine Satterfield’s “Boopsie” most of all, in part because she had a few fabulously twisted/funny lines. Melissa Johnston-Price and Debbie Walton as the hosts were delightful and little Hanna Clinton is growing into an impressive stage veteran. I also loved Stacie Reardon Hall’s “bad mommy” but I don’t want to explore that one too closely; I’m sure it points to something deeply psychologically wrong with me.

My concerns about the show run along the lines of wondering how invested stage-goers can get in characters that are supposed to be “icons” rather than real people. There’s a certain emotional distance built in with the setup that complicates things. For instance, the blurry line between the Rosemary character being symbolic versus real made me have a mixed reaction to her final scene. Though Kimberly Jones-Clark’s performance was wonderful, I ended up feeling a little more manipulated than moved.

Having said that, I really enjoyed the handling of the Babs character, and the way her portrayal – with a first-rate performance by Courtney McCotter – highlighted the complexity of the whole objectification issue. Sure, Babs is shallow and obsessed with the superficial but that’s the plate everyone wants to buy. Hmmm…

So, all-in-all, a fun and feisty night of entertainment that makes you think without being boring or pedantic. That’s a triumph in my book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mean Pinball

While I’ve had trouble pulling up the online version (this should be the link), the latest Style has a story about “Tommy” at Theatre VCU. I appreciate that there’s a story about theater even though it’s the music issue. The band for the show certainly does kick some butt. On opening night when curtain was quite a bit delayed, they did some great covers of era-appropriate songs, particularly some tunes by the Allman Brothers, which happens to be director Barry Bell’s favorite band.

I’m not impartial in any way in regarding this show, in part because of my son’s participation, but also because the enthusiasm of the cast and the huge crew associated with this show has been pretty infectious; I guess that’s one of the benefits of them all being college kids and thereby having scads of energy. There are many actors whose performances I adore in this show, among them Caylyn Temple as Mrs. Walker and Jaci Camden as The Gypsy.

However, this is a show that’s hard for me to love unconditionally. It’s a completely sung-through show that I think could really benefit from some dialogue, in part because the rock-song lyrics don’t always provide a whole lot of character depth. The fact that they could change which character gets killed early on in the show (I won’t spoil the secret in case anyone doesn’t know) between the movie and the play says something about the non-specificity of the lyrics. The final plot twist as encompassed in the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” could use a little explication as well. In general, the first act doesn’t provide a whole lot of opportunity to really know the characters, a situation that improves in the second act. Also, the most iconic characters are a bit one-note, due largely to them having one big song then little else used to flesh them out – Uncle Ernie, Cousin Kevin, The Gypsy (who is only on stage for one scene).

But given that, many of the songs are just knockouts, with the dynamic pulse of “Pinball Wizard” beating behind much of the show. The numerous projections and effects that Bell employs make up for some – but not all – of the shortcomings of the show as written. And, though one-note, those iconic characters are pretty entertaining, particularly the Gypsy. And this production’s choreography (have to lookup the choreographer…) varies from fun to electrifying.

In general, I think it is an A minus production of a B-ish show. I think my lovely and talented son does a pretty good job of being deaf, dumb and blind but, of course, I’m a little biased there.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I’ve heard many mixed reactions to the TV show “Glee” over the past several months but I would expect many musical theater geeks are going to be going a little ga-ga over tonight’s episode that marks the return of the show after a long hiatus. Both Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel are going to be featured, with Groff a potential love interest for off-stage/off-screen BFF Lea Michelle’s Rachel. Here’s hoping these stage stars translate to the screen as well as Lea has.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Names in the News

It’s so cool to see a picture of the lovely (Richmond born and bred) Emily Skinner on Playbill’s site, particularly in connection with an announcement that the Chicago production of “Billy Elliot” will be running through October (at least). Congrats to Emily for an extended run of what sounds like a great translation of the Broadway hit.

Also, in “named shows” news, here’s an item sure to make many people feel old. The original “Annie” – Andrea McArdle – will be playing Miss Hannigan in a production of the musical in North Carolina this summer. Seems like the basis for another theater trivia quiz: can you think of other situations like this that have happened for other shows? A prominent Oliver growing up to play Fagan, for instance? One of the Sound of Music kids playing Maria? Hmmm….

Reviews of the two pro shows opening this past weekend are now linked to in the “Now Showing” section over there to the left. Sounds like Ms. Lewis from the T-D had a entertaining weekend of theater! I was at opening night for “The Who’s Tommy” at Theatre VCU, of course, and had a great time. I won’t offer a complete review – because I can’t really be impartial – but I’ll makes some comments later this week (maybe tomorrow). Come back if you’re interested.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Name Game

Recently, during intermission of CYT’s wonderful production of “Cinderella,” my family and I were talking about title roles. Kaylin Mercer was stunning and delightful in the title role of that show, assisted in no small part by an extremely charming prince, Davis Harrison (I always find it particularly heartening when a dynamic young male performer gets a chance to shine.) Beyond Kaylin’s great performance, the conversation was spurred by our realization that Cooper has been fortunate to have the opportunity to play the title character in three shows – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (alternately known as “Willy Wonka, Jr.” so there is potentially a dispute there), “Oliver,” and the just opening “The Who’s Tommy.”

This got us wondering just how many shows we could think of where there even IS a title role. We decided that some shows – “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera,” for instance – didn’t really count because, for instance, in “B ‘n B” the character’s name is Belle, not Beauty. So how many shows are there with a character’s name in the title? We came up with “Billy Elliot,” “Annie,” “Peter Pan,” “Really Rosie,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge,” “Jack and the Beanstock,” “Shrek,” and “Mary Poppins.” As you can see, the bulk of these tend toward the child-oriented. I’m sure there are dozens of grown-up shows that I’m not thinking of but, overall, I was surprised that we couldn’t come up with more.

One new addition to this particular canon would be the current Broadway production, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which sounds like a winner to me. If I was going to NYC anytime soon (sigh…), it’s the show I would want to see, with “The Glass Menagerie” being a possibility, too. I would NOT care to see “The Addams Family.” I love Bebe but really? Honestly, I had the same reaction to “Shrek.” I just didn’t see the value-add of putting that story on stage.

Of course, folks might argue that putting “The Who’s Tommy” on stage wasn’t a value-add either. Check it out at Theatre VCU and let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Bluefish, etc.

Hey, did anyone go to the Virginia Production Alliance's Master Class on Tuesday? It's a great idea and I wish I had heard about it before it was too late. Cheers to Irene Zeigler, Jennifer Massey, and other Richmond folks for agreeing to share their stories.

An anonymous commenter asks about RTP's "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove." Sorry that Style didn't cover that one but Ms. H at the Times-Dispatch gave it a rave and there's a fantastic review by John Porter at his website . I also have to apologize because I was using old information for reference and didn't realize the show ran through this weekend. I've added it to the "Now Showing" listing.

Speaking of coverage, there's a nice piece on Richmond Shakespeare's Elizabeth Rex in the current T-D and a review of CAT's Radium Girls in this week's Style. And if there was any doubt that there are theater lovers in Richmond, the news that "Wicked" broke box office records should dispel that notion. Maybe?

NOTE: "The Who's Tommy" opens on Friday, not tonight, if anyone was confused by my last post. FYI!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring Fever

Another flurry of shows is getting ready to open in the next two weeks, starting this weekend with Richmond Shakespeare’s “Elizabeth Rex” and Barksdale’s “Butterflies are Free.” Next weekend, Sycamore Rouge, Firehouse and Barksdale/Willow Lawn will be opening shows. Sneaking in there will be “The Who’s Tommy” at Theatre VCU – opening tomorrow night. It’s not a professional show but I’m recommending it to anyone and everyone because there is a boy near and dear to my heart playing the young Tommy. Eric Stallings – a standout in last year’s “Altar Boyz” at Swift Creek Mill – will be the grownup Tommy and the show is going to be a technical whiz-bang, based on what I’ve seen in rehearsal.

For those who might wander back here after my long absence, I can’t promise that the blogging will continue. Beyond my usual general crazy busy-ness, I’ve had a little bit of a crisis of faith as far as Richmond theater goes. Some of the reasons for that may or may not show up here in the future. In the meantime, like so many other things, it’s one day at a time.