Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First Things First

I want to talk about “The Rocky Horror Show,” the fun, sometimes frenetic production I saw at the Firehouse on Saturday (review in the T-D last week). But first, there are a few other items I need to put out there.

First, since this is more of a journalistic thing versus a strictly theater-related thing, you might not have heard that Arts and Culture editor Don Harrison has left the staff of Style Weekly magazine. If you are a theater admin type, you probably know Don and you know that he has always been a supporter of live theater in Richmond. As the number of pages has continued to shrink in print media, Don gave the go-ahead on more stories and reviews that would show-up online only. He has always been open and amenable to the various and sundry theater-related pitches I’ve thrown his way over the years.

Personally, I’ll always be grateful to Don because he was the first Style editor who considered my reviews worthy of submission at the Virginia Press Awards, resulting in a 3rd place in critical writing in 2010 and a 2nd place last year. Professionally, I have ongoing respect for his fervor for holding city officials accountable for the management and development of CenterStage. If you are a city resident, or if you eat in restaurants in the city, you are paying for CenterStage and you should be more concerned with what’s happening with that money (I say that with the acute sense that I should be more concerned). Don can’t do all of the work, though apparently he is among the only people paying attention, as per this $250,000 a year “oops” he uncovered just recently.

If you want to continue to follow the things that Don is interested in, you can tune into his blog for the latest.

A week ago, I was lucky enough to catch “As You Wish: An (un)staged reading of ‘A Princess Bride’” down at Sycamore Rouge, and, if you missed it, well, you missed out on a treat. Putting the classic movie on stage diminished the fun visual moments inherent in the story but put the focus squarely on the fantastic dialogue throughout the script. And even if it was a reading, there were some standout performances, the trio responsible for kidnapping Buttercup being most prominent. Foster Solomon garnered the most laughs with his Fezzik the giant, Walter Schoen was a spot-on Vizzini and Jeff Cole a stalwart Inigo Montoya. An additional shout-out must be given to Stacie Rearden Hall who made the most of her “ancient booer” tirade: “Bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence!”

I saw “Spring Awakening” for the second time last Thursday. As many shows as I see in a year, I don’t usually make a point to see a production twice (unless there’s a Timberline directly involved somehow…) But besides indulging my lovely wife in her ongoing SA fanaticism, I was curious to see what the difference might be between the opening night performance and a show later in the run. I think there were differences and though they might have been subtle, they were significant. I think the Sandy Dacus’s band rocked a little bit more; in particular, I heard more percussion on some songs than I remembered hearing on opening night. Also, I think rather than trying to take in the production as a whole, I spent more of the show zeroing in on specific aspects. I spent less time watching the video screen which made it on ongoing pleasure to turn my attention back to it and notice how the images enhanced the production. While transfixed by Ali Thibodeau on opening night, this time around I had trouble taking my eyes off Oliver Houser. Within a sometimes extreme and emotional production, he gave a stunningly naturalistic and honest performance.

Perhaps most of all, the stirring “Purple Summer” at the show’s end grabbed a great deal more than on opening night. I felt the intense emotion of that song like I hadn’t before and it made the whole night a bit more cathartic.

The night I saw the show, the orchestra was nearly full and the overwhelming majority of folks in the audience were older folks (i.e., like me). But unlike opening night, I didn’t notice any major holes in the crowd when I came back for the second act, signifying a lack of major walk-outs during intermission. Maybe it took until the last week of the show, but it seems like people finally understood what they were in for with the show and didn’t turn away shocked or dismayed. So that’s a good thing.

As for that other possibly shocking musical making a splash this summer, stay tuned for my take on the Rocky Horror Show tomorrow. Oh, and, in case you happen to read this, I love getting your arts calendar email blasts but there’s no “Picture” in this show. Just FYI.

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