Monday, January 31, 2011


The first review of Swift Creek Mill’s “Once on this Island” is in (Ms. Haubenstock’s take in today’s T-D) and it’s a rave. Looks like the Mill might have a hit on their hands with this one.

And speaking of hits, SPARC’s “The World Goes Round” that closed this past weekend was a definite smash. Though made up of a cast of students, the show was a winner in all respects. Director/choreographer Deb Clinton did an amazing job of guiding some of Richmond’s finest teenage talent through a review of Kander & Ebb songs. Many of the cast members have appeared on Richmond pro stages in the past and, if we’re lucky, many of them will appear on pro stages again in the future (in fact, would someone just go ahead and plan a production of “13” already and sign up this cast pronto before they get any older?)

I would gush about individual performances but I don’t have the time and feel like it might end up being repetitive – how many different ways can you say “awesome” after all? But while many of the teenagers were exceptional, I do have to single out a couple because of an aspect of performing that goes beyond just being a good singer. Both Makenzie Mercer and Allison Gilman had trouble with their mikes during the Saturday performance but neither of them let it ruin their solos. Both had the presence of mind to carry on, knock the volume of their voices up a notch perhaps, and bring their songs to a successful close. The ability to adapt to circumstances on stage shows a level of professionalism uncommon among those so young. As Seth Rudetsky would say, “Brava!” I also got a great kick out of the kids who ventured out into the audience to sing. That kind of variable interpersonal contact could rattle lesser performers but not these kids, another testament to their uncommon maturity.

Final accolades must be paid also to Tony Williams whose musical direction and accompaniment during the show was impeccable. I also really liked the costumes, though there was no customer designer listed in the program. Whoever coordinated that aspect of the production did a fantastic job. And one final shout-out to Ms. Clinton: sure, you had some really great raw material to work with but to mold such an entertaining evening out of a horde of teenagers takes great vision and skill. Nicely done. My only complaint is that the show only ran for one weekend. This was one I gladly would have returned to at least one more time.

And while I’m on the subject of smash hits, have you heard about the next “Glee”-like TV show that is in development for next season? I might groan a little at the idea of a show -- entitled "Smash" -- built around the behind-the-scenes going on during the staging of a Broadway musical if such a talented bunch of people weren’t involved in the development with Mr. Spielberg himself at the top of the list. I’ll be awaiting casting information on this one eagerly.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tennessee and Tory

Mr. Porter on WCVE has weighed in on CAT's "The Fiddler's House." You can read his thoughts on his blog.

I’ve been reading a little bit lately about Tennessee Williams and the fact that 2011 marks 100 years since his birth. As such, centennial festivals in Williams’ honor have been scheduled in various cities throughout the country. But, as far as I know, no Richmond area theater is planning on anything Williams-related in the coming year.

Maybe that’ll change when 2011-12 seasons are announced this spring. Or maybe theater companies here are tired of rolling out the old faves, “Streetcar” or “Glass Managerie” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” But there are other interesting options. Take “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” currently playing in New York. Or even more challenging, wouldn’t it be cool if some company put on “Green Eyes,” the little-known one-act that just closed. The New York production was staged in a hotel room and could only be watched by 14 people at a time. I’m thinking a scrappy company like Night Light Collective could call the folks over at the Jefferson and work something out. Wouldn’t that be fun?

And in my random internet surfing, I also came across this item about a Tori Amos musical in development. I’ve always had somewhat mixed emotions about Amos. What do you think – would a Tori musical be a delight or a disaster?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Rich Griset’s review of This Beautiful City is in this week’s Style. He – like most reviewers in town – gave the show an appreciative rave. The winter season really starts to heat up this weekend with “Once on this Island” opening at the Mill. By my count, over the next 3 weeks six productions will be opening and that’s not even counting “The Color Purple” at CenterStage or the Kander & Ebb review that SPARC is putting on. Prepare to get busy!

For those of you who keep track of this sort of thing, the longest running musical on Broadway – “Phantom of the Opera” – celebrates the 23rd anniversary of its opening night today. It’s funny – in my experience, “Phantom” is a little like “Cats” used to be. It may have run forever but few people I talk to mention it as one of their favorite shows. So who is still going to see this show after 23 years? Just for the record: I have never seen it. It’s never risen to the top of my must-see list during those precious few trips I take to New York. Perhaps this year I’ll break down and give it a shot.

Yesterday I had my first rehearsal for the night of sonnets that Richmond Shakespeare is putting on Feb. 8th. I have a rather ridiculous history when it comes to acting. When I was a high school senior, I was in the ensemble of our production of “Once Upon a Mattress,” a task I was recruited for by my girlfriend at the time (a wonderfully talented singer who was playing the Minstrel) because of the lack of boys willing to try out. I was wisely paired with the best and loudest female singer in the ensemble so no one would hear anything that came out of my mouth. I had one line – something like “Get a rope!” – and I delivered it horribly.

Later, when I was working backstage for Theatre IV, the director of “Isn’t It Romantic” tried to block a scene to include some of us backstage guys. It was a scene in a cafĂ© and one of the characters was supposed to wave at successive passers-by while having a conversation with another character. All we crew folk had to do was walk by and give a friendly wave or salute. Well, apparently we all looked so awkward trying to look natural just walking across the stage that the director decided to just have the character pantomime seeing acquaintances walk by. Clearly, the audience’s imagination would be more convincing than our acting. As it happens, I think I was about 23 years old at the time and perfectly happy to stay backstage and behind the scenes where I belonged.

Time and experience have put me on stages of various kinds since then. I’ve done training and conference presentations and taught college classes and even had to open an awards show once. But my acting technique has not gotten any better. As I quipped to the very patient Freddy Kaufman who is directing the night of sonnets, I covered the emotions from A to B in my reading. But don’t let that dissuade you from coming to the Feb. 8th performance. I’ll only be on stage for a minute and a half or so and there will be many professionals there who actually know what they’re doing. And I’m trying to recruit a loud and talented performer who might consider singing through my sonnet so once again you won’t have to hear anything that comes out of my mouth. Shhh. Don’t tell Freddy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Buy local

Susan Haubenstock’s review of The Fiddler’s House was in Sunday’s T-D. Worth a read if you haven’t read it yet. My thoughts on the production will wait until my review is published but I will say that I concur with many of Ms. Haubenstock’s observations.

One of the intriguing things about Fiddler’s House is that is was written by – and the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre production is directed by – Richmonder Sheryle Criswell. Criswell’s play is the first in a whole season of Richmond premieres that CAT will be producing this year. That’s certainly a bold choice by the ever-intriguing company and it opens the door to a topic that I’ve wondered about for some time now.

Over the years, people have talked to me – or challenged me – with questions along the lines of “what would it take for Richmond to be a major theater town?” Some people have argued that we need to promote local playwrights like Ms. Criswell because only when we have home-grown talent doing significant new work will Richmond become a location of note in the theater world. Others have said that, regardless of the playwright’s home town, theaters in Richmond need to be doing more world premieres. This is certainly worthy of attention given the substantial amount of press directed towards Virginia Stage’s recent opening of SCKBSTD and work that the Signature in NoVA has done in the past that has eventually made it to the Great White Way (specifically Glory Days.)

I’m always intrigued by those who assert that only when Richmond gets better theater critics will Richmond theater garner world-class status. While I definitely think there are arguments to be made about the role of critics in the development and growth of a theater scene, I think that particular one puts the cart before the horse. Then there are those that tell me that, even with several fantastic collegiate theater programs in the area and one of the largest touring companies in the country located here (i.e., Theatre IV), Richmond is simply not big enough to foster a theater scene that could ever become significant on a national level and everyone should just focus on doing the best theater that can be done given the fiscal, demographic and institutional constraints inherent in producing theater in Richmond.

As always, I’m interested in what others – particularly others who are involved in local theater in a more day-to-day, livelihood-depends-on-it kind of way – think about this question. Or if they even think it’s a question worth asking. What do you think?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Speaking of

Last year’s lackluster season of American Idol pretty much put me off the show and, given that the only consistently coherent and honest judge left the panel, I wasn’t planning on watching much of this season. But, as you might have noticed, minutes after the premiere aired on Wednesday Facebook was alight with news about Richmond native Zak Resnick’s appearance. While it wasn’t clear during his 2 seconds of screen time on Wednesday, the former SPARC student and Artsie awards winning star of Barksdale’s 2009 production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” made it through to the Hollywood round. So hopefully he’ll get some more screen time in future shows. In the meantime, you can see an interview with him on the American Idol site. Congrats, Zak!

Speaking of Richmond natives making a splash on the national scene, the opening of SCKBSTD (with book by Clay McLeod Chapman) got some love from today, announcing the opening of the show at Virginia Stage. And speaking of Richmonders currently involved in something national in scope, Hannah Zold has been on the road with the national tour of the Elvis-centric “All Shook Up” tour. I haven’t found any website for the tour except for this Facebook page so I’m not sure about all of the tour dates. But if you happen to be in Macon, GA, around Feb 9th or 10th, be sure and check it out.

Speaking of national tours, several weeks ago I mentioned playing poker over Thanksgiving with the “back-up Santa” who was traveling on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular national tour. Well, in case you think only some hack would be playing that role, the actor in question – the very talented and extremely nice Robert J. Townsend – recently picked up a “Best Actor in a Musical” award at the Los Angeles-area Ovation Awards for his work in “The Story of My Life.” Congrats, Robert!

And speaking of awards, the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle recently went live with a website. It doesn’t have much on it yet but it does provide a list of nominees and award winners for the past 3 years. It’ll also be the go-to place for details of the 2011 awards event as specifics are nailed down. So stay tuned for more news, coming soon!

In the meantime, the number of running shows increases by one this weekend, with the opening of "The Fiddler's House" at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre. You can check it out or you might consider heading over to RTP to see "This Beautiful City," which by the way was just reviewed by John Porter. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Energizer Nuns

The Barksdale announced last night that "Nunsense" would be extended yet again, now continuing to Feb. 27. That will mean the production will run a total of 3 full months by the time it wraps -- quite an impressive feat. Congrats to the "Nunsense" cast and crew for creating such a popular show!

Primed for a Premiere

My piece on Clay McLeod Chapman is in this week’s Style. I’ve known Clay for many years now and have been happy to read about his continued success since leaving Richmond. This latest project – the world premiere of a full-scale production of SCKBSTD at Virginia Stage – has been particularly exciting since it represents so many great things: a prime opportunity for Clay, of course, but also a high-profile world premiere in Virginia. And new Bruce Hornsby songs!

Clay is a great interview because he talks a lot, and also because he says so many interesting things. He started our conversation talking about getting ready for opening night saying, “We’re burning the wick at every possible end at this point.”

He has a very realistic and humble perspective on landing this opportunity. “I want to chalk it up to my talent but really, it was just dumb luck in an elevator,” he told me. Literally, a guy overheard producer Michael Rafael talking about working with Bruce Hornsby in an elevator. Out of the blue, he said, “I just read this book. I hear this guy does theater. You should check him out.” And that is how the whole ball got rolling.

It was very interesting getting a perspective on Hornsby. Clay said, “Bruce is a bit of salty bastard. Rather than holding back, he likes to find the edge and keep on going.” Talking about his role in the process, Clay said, “In terms of the darkness of the material, the roles have been reversed. I’m more interested in telling a story that has darker themes but finding a light in the darkness. Bruce is up for messing with his fans. It was a surprise to me but it makes sense. He forged a career doing what he wants to do. It’s impressive to know that these are the songs he wants to write and there hasn’t been any compromise.”

Though the public at large may not be very familiar with director John Rando, you theater peeps probably know him best as the director of the original production of Urinetown. Clay had some insightful things to say about working with him. “John definitely knows how to deal with something that has a challenging title,” he said. “But I still think this is a stretch for him. It’s not Urinetown or Wedding Singer. He’s really taking on something that is darker.” His ability to do so impressed Clay a lot. “I am going to follow that guy wherever he wants to take me,” he said.

One final tidbit I’ll add is that there is an interesting connection between Clay and another playwright who has gotten attention in Richmond lately, Kyle Jarrow (who wrote Love Kills that was recently at the Firehouse). Here’s the story from Clay: “When I got the call [to work on SCKBSTD], I had never written a musical before. It’s a situation where first you say, “Yeah!” and then figure out how you are going to do it. Kyle Jarrow is a friend of mine and just by chance we had similar opportunities come up at the same time. We were both used to doing smaller shows and now we have these jobs doing larger scale things. So we got together and asked ourselves, ‘How do we try to do that?’ We said, ‘OK, now class is in session.’ And we collaborated on this indie musical called Hostage Song. It was an amazing experience. We created this musical, which is one of the personal favorite things I ever did, and we realized that it’s not as impossible.”

Speaking of things that aren’t impossible, it’s clear that independent filmmakers have more chances than ever to succeed, as is evidenced by the movie Antihero that will play at the Byrd next week (see the article in this week’s Style). I mention it because at least one, probably several, local theater faves are featured in this movie.

And one final bit of randomness, I was really interested to read Spinner’s listing of the best guitar riffs of all time. I like the article because it provides online samples of 50 really awesome songs. But it’s also the kind of thing engineered to incite controversy…just like when you award the “Best” of anything (like for instance, the best theater productions and performances in Richmond). It’s something I like to keep in mind, particularly as I look toward the 2011 RTCC awards...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Passed, Present and Future

Last week was a bit staggering in terms of the deaths of several monumental individuals who played important roles in the development of professional theater. These included playwright Romulus Linney; director and administrator Michael Langham, and theater pioneer Ellen Stewart. Their contributions were noted and lauded over the weekend, perhaps most poignantly when Linney’s daughter, Laura, skipped the Golden Globes. May they rest in peace.

The Times-Dispatch review of “This Beautiful City” came out last week. Give a look if you missed it.

Looking to the future, the Acts of Faith preview was last Friday, giving interested Richmond theatergoers a peak at what’s in store on stages over the next several weeks. I could only stay for the first half – I had an important appointment requiring the loss of my shirt in poker – but saw enough to have my emotions flung all over the place. I was heartened to see the cast from RTP’s “This Beautiful City,” whose voices and energy carried just as well (maybe better) on the big stage as they did in the little Altamont theater. The cast from Cadence’s “Godspell” had me all choked up with just a couple of selections from the show. That music is just amazing and, after the preview, I feel pretty confident Cadence will do well in presenting it.

The lead from the Mill’s “Once on This Island” – who I think is Kris Roberts? – was adorable and has a great voice, though a couple of notes seemed to go astray in her song. I expect that’ll tighten up as opening night approaches. The leads from CAT’s “The Fiddler’s House” had me a little concerned as their interactional rhythm was a bit rough. Here’s hoping this last week of tech and rehearsal helps smooth that out.

I was disappointed not to be able to see the second half of the preview but I was at least able to catch the fairly bizarre scene of Bruce Miller relating aspects of “Legacy of Light” accompanied by Audra Honaker’s tuneful humming. While that was a tad odd, it couldn’t match the presentation from “For Our Children Productions” in terms of weirdness. Devil masks on kids – I’m sorry but that’s creepy.

The whole event was presided over by the lovely Stacey Cabaj, a welcome presence regardless of the role she is playing. Even though the Acts of Faith festival has been going on for 7 years now, this was the first time I’d ever attended the preview event. You can bet I’ll make it a priority in the future. This kind of collective “appetite whetting” makes me wish something like this could happen near the end of the summer as well to preview all of the fall’s planned productions. Can you have a preview without a festival?

Friday, January 14, 2011

City Story

I’ve been trying to avoid the phrase “Laramie Project Lite” to describe “This Beautiful City” because it sounds diminutive and not altogether laudatory. But I don’t mean it that way. Compared to the monumental, ambitious, sometimes harrowing “Laramie,” just about anything seems more lightweight. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, “This Beautiful City” is also light as in funny. Sometimes very funny. And that suits the subject given that the true story of Ted Haggard is sort of tragicomic – with big doses of Schadenfreude mixed in – versus the outright tragedy of Matthew Shepard.

Ultimately, I don’t think you can avoid invoking “Laramie” when talking about TBC because of a very good reason: both shows do an exceptional job of developing a sense of place, of presenting the story of a whole community, not just of a handful of characters in a specific setting. That broad-based sociological perspective is one of the things that make TBC a fascinating piece of theater. While essentially a documentary, the show enhances the dialogue lifted directly from interviews by wrapping some of it in song – spare, simply melodic songs by Michael Friedman – that are delivered exceedingly well by the cast in RTP’s production.

Some of the most riveting scenes involve juxtapositions of different viewpoints where the political is rendered dramatically personal. Each cast member plays multiple roles and, among the many exceptional portrayals by Andrew Hamm, the most bracing is of Mikey Weinstein whose stunning rebuke of the “churchification” of the military plays out next to a group of Air Force cadets earnestly declaring their faith as expressed in on-base prayer groups. And while I expect there is a field-day of parody that could be had in the explication of Ted Haggard’s hypocrisy and whack-job denial of his sexuality, TBC is ultimately more effective and intriguing by focusing on people’s reactions, from confusion to anger to glee.

However (did you sense there was a however coming?), the “research project” perspective also contributes to some of the shows problems. While a remarkable majority of the scenes present full-bodied, well-rounded characters, a couple still ended up presenting caricatures. And while that may be unavoidable, it left me feeling like the authors were trying to have their cake and eat it to, at least a little bit. We are clearly meant to empathize with the empowered trans girl (a flawless portrayal by Lanaya Burnette) but laugh at the Revolution House of Prayer zealots. There is reverence and respect in songs like “Freedom” and “Urban Planning” while a teenage girl’s confusion is wrapped up in the joke of a song, “Whatever.” It’s seems like if you are going to present these characters with dignity, don’t they all deserve respect?

But even as I write that, I realize I’m overthinking this a bit, which is also ultimately a good indictor of the value of this show, at least in my opinion. This is a show that could have been largely a joke at Ted Haggard’s expense or an over-obvious put-down of hypocrisy and, instead, ends up being reflective and thought-provoking, not to mention very entertaining.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight each member of the cast, since each has at least one moment – usually many moments – where they do great work. I loved the brittleness Christy Mullins gave to the Colorado Springs Economic Development Woman. Scott Melton’s Associate Pastor at Haggard’s church seems genuinely lost when Haggard’s “indiscretions” are exposed. Tarnee Kendell Hudson has many delightful moments but none so powerful as her turn as a New Pastor at the Emmanuel Church. And, in a scene both deceptively simple and insightfully complex, Jason Campbell renders Haggard’s son Marcus with refreshing regular-guy straightforwardness.

As far as its technical aspects, this is not a production I would place among RTP’s best. The set (by Philip Milone) is simply functional with pianist Kim Fox (who does a fine job as musical director) and a percussionist placed neatly in two islands. But having video and slides projected on a loose sheet evokes community theater, as does the somewhat flat and spotty lighting. The costumes (by Ashley Davis) were also fine, though I thought some, like the Emmanuel Choir Member outfit, were a bit cartoonish.

I hadn’t been planning to see TBC and was lucky that last night opened up so I could. If I were you, I wouldn’t count on luck; make plans to see it now or it’ll be gone before you know it.

First, the links

I’ve done some monkeying around with the links on the left nav bar recently. You’ll see Matt Polson listed among the “Otherwise Occupied” folks now, as the young videographer / director branches out into new projects. Also, as the number of active bloggers continues to plummet, I’ve moved a bunch of blogs to the “On Hiatus” area. These are blogs that haven’t had fresh material in the past 3 months.

I went to see “This Beautiful City” last night and will post some comments as soon as I can, hopefully by the end of the day. While looking for a review of the production at the T-D site, I stumbled across all sorts of other theater news out there. Locally, the talented Mr. Cosby will be delivering Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at City Hall today. This should be an energizing and celebratory event and I recommend checking it out.

The ongoing Spiderman saga continues with news both good (I guess) in terms of Glenn Beck’s endorsement (that he couldn’t deliver without an insult to boot – go Glenn!) and bad in terms of the production’s opening night getting kicked a month back…again.

On the left coast, the original “God of Carnage” cast will be getting together for a short run. Through a lucky circumstance, I’m going to be in LA for work during that time so you can bet I’ll be trying my hardest to wrangle me a ticket. I’m very intrigued to see what a LA theater experience will be like.

Finally, the Acts of Faith kickoff is tonight at the Empire. It should be quite a cavalcade of local stars. Are you going to be there?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Better and Between

I heard through the grapevine – well, actually from one particularly wonderful grape – that Derome Scott Smith of African-American Rep Theatre had suffered a seizure earlier this week. This source assures me that Derome is fine and recovering at home and also that the rehearsals of “Jitney,” due to open at Pine Camp on Feb. 5th are proceeding. Please join me in sending out healing and restorative thoughts and prayers to Derome.

Just because we’re in a “between” period when many shows have recently closed and others are prepping to open and so there are no theater reviews, don’t think there’s no reason to pick up a Style. In fact, the Arts coverage in this week’s issue is dominated by a piece by former critic/still theater gadabout Mary Burruss on nudity on stage and still-critical Rich Griset on an upcoming production of “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.” Be sure to check them out.

I really appreciate Ms. Burruss’s article on nudity because it is one of those subjects that I think, at this point in our cultural development, wouldn’t be such a big deal but continues to be. However, even if you don’t have any problem with the actual nudity, there are interesting questions that arise with its inclusion in a production. There are the legal issues that are touched on in the article, some specific to our own wonderfully backward state. But then there are the myriad artistic issues: is the nudity called for? Does it serve the piece? Does it distract an audience more than it engrosses it? And particularly in this economy, there is even the cynical mercantalist slant: will it bring in a bigger audience?

On a basic level, I think theater is a celebration (and sometimes a condemnation) of everything that makes us human and certainly our naked bodies are a fundamental part of what makes us human. But then, why do some people still get so shaken up when actors are naked on stage? Is it just another version of the discomfort people feel at extreme emotions – overwhelming fury, hysterical grief – or physical violence portrayed on stage? What do you think?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Grab bag

Everyone I work with can’t stop talking about the weather that may or may be arriving tonight. I don’t know if it’s that social atmosphere or the actual stirred up meteorological atmosphere, but for whatever reason I can’t really think of a theme to organize topics along today. So here’s a bunch of random items in no particular order.

Billy Armstrong has taken over one of the lead roles in his own “American Idiot.” I’ve only read one review but it seems that this particularly punk/pop star can handle the stage pretty darn well.

This past weekend saw the closing of a couple of long-running show but don’t fret, the opening of the first show of the season is imminent. RTP’s “This Beautiful City” will open this week and, despite my aversion to all things related to Ted Haggard, I’m intrigued by this show. One of the cast members, Andrew Hamm, posted something on his blog about the show a couple of months back that is worth looking over before you go see the show.

I expect many/most of the people who read this blog know about Robyn O’Neill’s excellent email alert system with all sorts of key info about local theater sent to you automatically. If you don’t, I think you can go to the “Drop me a line” link at her website and get added to her list. Do it if you don’t want to miss out on anything.

We’re coming into what is traditionally a slow time on Broadway so there are many deals available, specifically through a site called “Season of Savings.” If you are planning a trip northward, it’s worth a look.

Finally, put Feb. 8th on your calendar if you are looking for a different kind of performance. Richmond Shakespeare’s Second Tuesdays series is going to be doing something special that night, involving people reading Shakespeare’s sonnets. These people will not necessarily be actor types. Several of them might in fact be of the more critical persuasion. So, if you’ve ever really wanted to turn the tables on a critic, well, your chance is coming up!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Fela! Broadcast Update

Well, I talked to a very nice manager person over at Bow-Tie (thanks, George!). He told me that his particular location wouldn’t be able to tap into the National Theatre Live network because they are committed to a “No Commercials” policy. He said getting involved with any of the simulcast networks usually involves promotion through commercials. They have done special broadcasts before but they’ve involved getting DVD copies of performances from a company called ScreenVision.

So Bow-Tie is off the list. But there are plenty more theaters in town…

National Theatre

I was intrigued to read about the National Theatre’s planned broadcast of the Broadway show, “Fela!” next week. It’s a show I’ve heard mixed things about so not one I’d make a priority on any trip to NYC. So the prospect of seeing it in a movie theater for a fraction of the Broadway price was appealing. But then I went to the National Theatre website to look for venues and found that there isn’t a single one in Richmond. The closest is in Charlottesville, or you could go up to DC.

At first I thought this was kind of appalling but then wondered, has any theater-aware person approached folks at any of the local movie “palaces” and let them know about this ongoing “stage on screen” program? So, when I get the chance at lunchtime today, I’m going to call over to Bowtie on Boulevard and ask. Can’t hurt, right? And if enough people call and ask, perhaps some movie theater will do something about it, right? Anyone want to volunteer to call the Byrd, the Westhampton and/or the Ridge?

I know there are live-theater purists out there who don’t think too highly of the transfer of stage to screen. Personally, I think it’s great, particularly on a movie screen where, while it may not be the same as live, it’s at least as big or bigger than live. What do you think? Does broadcasting live theater diminish the art form? I’d be very curious to hear that rationale debated.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Just writing the phrase “back in the saddle” makes me think about when I was in middle school about a million years ago and I attended an All-Sports Camp one summer at Notre Dame. My counselor was a nice college student who snuck me and about a dozen other kids out of the dorm one night so that we could hang out next to the basketball stadium. Aerosmith was performing there and was so loud we could hear the whole thing clearly from outside. We only risked being out of the dorm for about a half-hour but in that time I clearly remember hearing both “Train Kept a-Rollin” and “Back in the Saddle Again.” Good times.

I write that was a sense of foreboding knowing the Steven Tyler will be featured in the upcoming season of American Idol. I’m far from promoting Kid Rock as a model of coherence but I tend to agree with his statements to the effect that Tyler “…is a sacred American institution…” and that doing Idol is “…the stupidest thing he’s ever done.”

And while none of that has anything to do with local theater (except in a very very tangential way that I can’t really talk about), it does set the stage for my return to the blogosphere. Some of the holiday shows are still running their course while at the same time things gear up for a veritable explosion of shows opening at the end of January / beginning of February. So I find myself both looking back and looking forward.

In the looking back department, it seems clear that the holiday period was very good to several companies, given the extension of “Nunsense” at the Tavern, the heap of good reviews and near-sell-out performances of “The Winter’s Tale,” and the continued warm response to “White Christmas.” Even in the non-pro world, things seemed bright – JCC’s “Oliver” sold out and the performance of SPARC’s “Twelve Elves of Christmas” that I attended was packed.

I was glad to see that Mr. Porter was also back in the saddle around mid-December and posted a slew of reviews on his site the week before Christmas. In case you missed them, here are some links:
Winter's Tale
White Christmas
Comfort and Joy

Congratulations to Bruce Miller and the Barksdale Buzz team for being named one of the top theater blogs in the country. I hope that this will inspire him to continue to post intriguing and occasionally challenging thoughts for all of us to ponder and discuss.

In the looking ahead department, the trials and tribulations of the “Spiderman” musical continue to draw national media scrutiny. I would be disdainful of this over-focus on one production if I also didn’t think that anything that draws more attention to live theater in this media saturated age is a good thing. However, easy to overlook amidst all of the national bluster and of more immediate interest to locals is the imminent premiere of “SCKBSTD” at Virginia Stage in Norfolk. The talent behind it is Virginia-centric (Bruce Hornsby, Clay McLeod Chapman) but with loads of national cred (the cast is full of Broadway vets). If you want to see perhaps the next big thing from Virginia heading to Broadway, you might want to take the ride down to the Tidewater. And if you have any hints as to how to pronounce the show’s title, I’d be happy to hear them!

Of course, right here in Richmond there is plenty to be excited about as well. As it usually is, the winter season here is filled with intriguing shows, starting with RTP’s “This Beautiful City” and story of Ted Haggard. While it may not have the searing backdrop of the Matthew Shepard story that “The Laramie Project” had, Haggard’s ongoing (and somewhat ridiculous) denial of his homosexuality also presents plenty of ripe material for theatrical exploration.

The new year is here and full of new possibilities. I can’t help but be hopeful about what it might bring. Heck, call me a Pollyanna but I’m even holding out the possibility that Steven Tyler might not even be a total train wreck on Idol.