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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for December, 2010

Wanzie’s Glittering Star-Studded “A Christmas Carol”

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Wanzie’s Glittering Star-Studded “A Christmas Carol”
Based on a novel by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wanzie and Matthew Arter
Footlights Theatre, Orlando FL

You’ve seen it with ghosts, you’ve seen it with puppets, you’ve seen the one man, the three man and the full metal cast of thousands crammed on to a 30 by 40 stage, you’ve even seen it with duck, but have you seen it done with washed up pop diva’s? I thought not. In this extremely loose adaptation of the classic holiday ghost story Mr. Wanzie has called in the likes of Carol Channing (Carol Lee), Cher (Miss Sammy), Liza Minnelli (Gidget Galore) Rip Torn (Doug Ba’aser) and Marlee Maltin (Doug Ba’aser) to do the honors. Channing arrives late, forcing the narrator (Wanzie) to start the show repeatedly as Channing discovers she’s not backed by a choir, isn’t facing the audience and can’t sing “Hello Dolly.” She does get the lead as Scrooge and that cheers her padded pasties enough. Deaf Bob Cratchit (Maltin) finger signs his demands for a day off and Scrooge retires to his bed chamber where he’s visited by the ghosts of Stardom Past (Cher) Stardom Present (Lucille Ball /Miss Sammy) and Stardom Future (Barbara Streisand / Miss Sammy). Will little Liza Tim survive, or be hustled off to rehab heaven? Will Scrooge transform into the unctuous and sappy holiday icon we loathe or will he retain some capitalist backbone and stand up to the workers demands? How many ways can we possibly end this show?

Given that there only the mildest hint of Christmas curry here, the chance to see Orlando’s top dragsters make this worth the walk though the P-house parking lot. Miss Sammy holds the top honors for actually looking like the film icons of the past. Doug Ba’aser did the heavy funny lifting, both as the deaf actress and the master puppeteer of Scrooges childhood. Gidget Galore sang “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and Doug White was a hysterical Big Bird. There’s just enough of a thumbnail of the orginal story and a mercifully merciless adaptation to flush all those straight laced version that your mom would enjoy out of your head. This show lifted my spirits enormously, and I didn’t even stop by the bar.

For more information on the Footlights Theater, please visit http://www.theparlimenthouse.com or http://www.Wanzie.com

Sweet Evalina

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Sweet Evalina
Written and directed by Kyona Levine
Starring Jennifer Marshall, Val Gamble, Dynell Ma’aseia
Sparkyl Entertainment at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre

In a world of minimal expectations, early pregnancy and a mindset that ties all tragedy into a master plan of menace, it’s hard to escape. Down by fictional Wauchula (not the one near Zolfo Springs) Betty (Gamble) runs a juke that she inherited from her mother. Daughter Jean (Marshall) dreams of higher education and a professional job that doesn’t involve riding herd on drunks. She’s got the grades, but just can’t seem to get a response from those fancy pants schools like Gainesville. The local received wisdom reiterates “how can you leave?” and they hide behind a curse put on the town by mysterious Evalina (Ma’Aseia) Evalina was the runaway orphan who they taunted until she cursed them, and now everyone who leaves comes back in box. It Brigadoon, but with an option lock instead of a time lock. OK, there’s one exception, wandering Teddy (erob) comes back to clean out his deceased mama’s house and take another pass at uptight Betty. The local censorship committee has mixed feelings – he’s cute, but he left. Must be something wring in that boy’s head. Misery and poverty are a safe harbor but there’s a happy ending – Jean is now a Gator, Dee (Tracie Turner Jackson) discovers her long lost sister, Betty accepts her daughter is a responsible adult with a future, Evalina find community and all the men folk get some decent reefer and make up with their women.

While there are some small nits in the story the town of Wauchula is full of interesting and well drawn characters. Jean’s friend Rabbit (Levette Davila) with her ghetto attitude and talcum powder tight pants was a joy, and Dee began by calling down Hell fire and damnation but made up with everybody late in the second act. Evalina was at her best as the hissing demon who demanded an offering of sweet potatoes to lift her curse. Without a doubt, that’s the homiest sacrificial offering I’ve ever heard of. Local acting stalwart Elizabeth Judith did a fine redneck fashion show, and everybody was in love with town flirt Bernice (Rhyanmichele Adams). On the male side, Teddy was sweet, Mason (Xavier Gonzales) sweeter, Stan (Chaz Roberson) had a dead on stutter, and Lou (Essex O’Brien) felt he couldn’t make it in the major leagues because he came from too small a town. If he was half as good as he claims, UF would have come down and kidnapped him.

There’s a lot going on in this story, with four or more independent sub-plots it takes some attention to follow who did what to whom when, but it’s not so bad I got lost. The center of this story revolves around what it takes to leave what’s safe but unpromising, when you need to grasp for that fairy castle and when to cut your losses and retreat. Levine has pulled off a complex piece of writing and an ambitious stage production, and I hope to see more of her work. With her knack of characterization and skill at telling a humane story with unforced humor, she’s off to good start with her oddly spelled production company.

For more information please visit www.myspace.com/sweetevalina or www.brownpapertickets.com

Nuncrackers

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Nuncrackers
By Don Goggin
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Catholic school – you can’t ever make enough fun with it. Some people in this town make an entire careers beating on the topic, and tonight the Breakthrough Company takes its shot at the Virgin Mary with the third script in the “Nunsense” series. “Nuncrackers” puts us in a low budget studio for a grade school pageant on “Made-for-cable” TV in Hoboken, NJ. Personally, I find Passaic or even Weehawken funnier than Hoboken, but that’s just the writer in me leaking out. As we find our seat, the Mt. St. Helens School evangelism committee greets us, asking leading theological questions, offering homilies and hoping someone will volunteer for the building and grounds committee, or at least donate a new riding lawn mower.

Like any other group, this school is filled with people hoping to escape the ordinary – Sister Robert Anne (Keith Newhouse) wants to dance, Sister Amnesia (Marcie Schwalm) is haunted by the ghost of a rude puppet, and mother superior Sister Regina(Karen-Edwards-Hill) hopes to enforce God’s will against all the forces of human nature. A chorus of small children add an element of cuteness, and hovering overall we find genial father Virgil (Kent Walker). While there’s plenty of silly onstage, there’s an actual antagonist protagonist relation – Sister Robert Ana is dying to dance the Nutcracker, but must overcome a backstage injury and a general lack of dance skills. Her injury propels a rather convoluted story that plays out over some homey and occasionally funny jokes. While the technical level of this show is not up to Breakthrough’s typical standards, the second act makes up for most of the sins of act one. Sister Mary Hubert (Malcolm Pearson) belts a moving and soulful ballad, the Village People sing “In The Convent and Sister Robert Ana is miraculously cured, but no one seems to notice, including Robert Ann herself.

Yeah, there are some missed jokes and the plot seems about as neat as a gift wrapped by a four year old, but the cast seems to know and accept that. There’s a feeling of good will and “let’s put on a show” and the Nutcracker as finally danced is good, silly fun. It may not be the crispest show you’ll see this season, but they do have the air-conditioning set on Northern Wisconsin.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com

Celebrate Me Home

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Celebrate Me Home
Conceived by Roy Alan, Heather Alexander and Chris Leavy
Directed and choreographed by Roy Alan
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Winter Park Playhouse gets more mileage out of their living room set than anyone else in town. Exterior door is stage left, bedroom up a half-a-flight stage right, fireplace in the middle, Chris Leavy and Sam Forrest and their instruments get crammed over in the butler’s pantry. Its earth friendly green, and it gives a narrow passage backstage to more people around. I was a bit confused and showed up a day late for the show but they let me in any way for this fun and fancifully holiday musical program. The adult singing comes from The Heathers (Alexander and Charles) as well as Todd Alan Long and the always amazing Tim Evanicki. The show was broken up into a series of medleys with occasional spot light numbers including “Thank You Very Much.” That’s the one with the movable fruitcake, and while everyone picks on this bakery product rumored to be a remnant of Pliocene dinosaur effluvia, “it’s the thought that counts” and once you GET a fruit cake, you’re ready for next year when it’s your turn to GIVE a fruit cake. Don’t be a Scrooge, that’s my gig.

Songs? Well of course the standards were all there, and a few new additions like “The Chipmunk Song” by the children, hip-hopish “We are Santa’s Elves” and Heather A singing “My Grown Up Christmas List” – grown up NOT meaning anything beyond the PG standards of the house. The first act warped up with a complex and clever medley of every Bell Ringing song ever written, and while bell songs are pretty much all the same tempo, this one got everyone on stage and tossing lines back and forth like a heated improv number.

Along with the adults, there were four youngsters – Alexa Neilen and Jasmine Forsberg were the “real” kids singing the tyke music like “The Meaning of Christmas” and “Mr. Santa /Mr. Sandman” along with Heather A. The older kids Sage Starkey and Genna Paige Kango blended in better with the more seasoned singers, Genna did the token “Happy Hanukkah, My Friend” and Sage took on the faux Norsky “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas.” Give him a few more years, and he’ll be collection steam engines in Ripon. The only disappointment was an all too brief visit by Flo from the wildly popular “Flo and Ebb Plug the Cheeze-Logger” of past years. Rumor has it Ebb got a high paying job in another show, but Flo and her flammable green pants suit did the body scan thing and flew down from Wittman Regional up there in Oshkosh. Not only is the show as good as or better than last years, they are selling “real” eggnog in the lobby and if you pound down a few of those right after breakfast, the whole holiday season takes on the warm glow everyone keeps talking about on TV. Let’s have another round!

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Chaps! A Jingle Jangle Christmas

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Chaps! A Jingle Jangle Christmas
By James Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner
Vocal Arrangements by Malcolm Hillgartner and Chip Duford
Directed by Patrick Flick
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

I don’t know how stiff a Brit’s upper lip really is, but it makes a great motivation for this odd and entertaining holiday show that avoids the tropes of ghosts, holiday thievery and unfulfilled commercial purchasing fetishes. In 1944 the Allies had the Germans on the run, but the war still might go either way. In BBC House Miles (Mark Whitten) prepares for a highly publicized broadcast of American cowboy singer Tex Riley. His career rides on the show, and staff announcer Leslie Briggs-Stratton (Phillip Nolan) starts drinking early as sound effect wizard Stan (Brandon Roberts) warms up his coconut shells. Miles begins puking when Tex gets lost minutes before show time but his stage manager Mabel (Melissa Mason) and the crew decide they can do the show without Tex. After all, what self-respecting subject of the King can’t fake an American accent? Archie Leach (Michael Gill) plays guitar well enough and sings about tumbling tumbleweeds with a Kentish accent, so all they need is a solid blue grass band. Oh, look, here comes one, straight from the Silver Spurs Rodeo!

Alright, the premise has more holes in it than the State Department’s recycle bin, but that’s not important. The show mixes straight and parody country songs with a set of mixed accents that wander from Midland Texas to Manchester England. That is, we have American actors using their best coached accents trying to sound like Englishmen trying to sound like Americans. Often as not they give up and just sing in their regular voices, but everyone does have the pale complexion like they haven’t seen the sun in months and are subsisting on mashed peas and bangers stuffed with sawdust.

Mr. Gill can pick the Sears Masonite guitar as well as anyone, and when you put a dress on Phillip Nolan you get a very lumpy man in a dress and a mustache. A nascent romance smolders between Mabel and Archie but it never takes over the show, there’s no time considering the stage panic and buzz bomb attack. One of those nasty Jerry missiles even lands in the parking lot, so I recommend the valet parking. Brandon Robert wields a mean coconut horse hoof as Michael Edwards stuffs Clive Cooper’s shirt as the pompous, windy guy who feels awkward in chaps and jeans. Off on the side we hear a truly versatile blue grass band. They left these guys off the program, but that could play session anywhere up to and including the Grand Ole Opery.

While there’s holiday songs and holiday themes, “Chaps” never invokes that spilt eggnog feeling that permeates the season. It helps to like cowboy songs and have British sense of humor, but there’s heart here. You truly feel these folks really are singing for the troops in frozen foxholes with bullets flying overhead, and if they is they sing loud enough, the boys will come home. We always have boys we need to bring back home; we just keep moving them around out there.

For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit
http://www.orlandoshakes.org

A Christmas Carol

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Michael Wilson
Directed by John DiDonna
Starring Dennis Neal
“Beth Marshall Presents” at The Garden Theater, Winter Garden FL

If you’re going to the theater just once this year, it might as well be that chestnut roasting in everyone’s fire, “A Christmas Carol.” While the drive out to Winter Garden requires a few tolls and navigating the ever shifting 408-426 -Turnpike spaghetti junction, but it’s no worse than the fate the Joseph Marley (Joe Swanberg) faces as he wanders the afterlife. Plus, the City of Winter Garden actually decorated for the holiday, unlike that other municipality that blew its allowance on a stadium.

So it’s Christmas Eve, and cranky old Scrooge (Neal) is up to his old evil boss tricks – unhealthy working conditions, constant threats and harassment against his worker, no benefits, an OSHA-violating workplace with open flames for minimal heat, and the sort of bad attitude that percolates down to the customer service level. Yeah, it’s just like working for your dad. We find out more about Marley in this play than most – for example he instituted the loathsome practice of giving junior clerks Christmas Day off WITH pay. It sound gruesome to today’s ear, but when this story was penned Christmas was a minor church holiday, less renowned than St. Stephens’s Day or Epiphany.

As the work day ends, Cratchit descends the endless stair case and Scrooge retires to his dramatically raked bed. He’s a mean one, but he did treat himself to a solid 3/4 inch plywood mattress. It’s great for his back pain. As he drifts into sleep, the smoldering and mouldering Marley arises in a mighty wind of green light and fog effects, and his voice is stuck on an afterworld super reverb. He warns Scrooge to mend his miserly ways, but it takes the GoCP (Samantha O’Hare) to start him on an actual emotional journey. He recalls abandonment issues in his childhood, the death of his older sister, the rejection of his money grubbing father, and more rejection from his girlfriend Belle (Felichia Chivaughn) who didn’t see the benefits of climbing out of Victorian poverty. He may be a cheap conniving screw, but at least his motivation is clear. By the time GoCF materializes (no actor, just a sort of growling special effect), he’s ready to shape up, and by sunrise he’s a new man. He does scare the pants of his house maid (Jamie Middleton) when she brings him his morning gruel; I think she may have a harassment case at this point. Scrooge then get in one of his most famous lines “I’m as light as a feather!” and his most inexplicable one about the poultry shop “in the next block over, but one.” Doesn’t that mean THIS block?

Marley made the strongest impression, he had a total kick butt entry, and at the end he’s released from his chains to go to heaven, or at least an afterlife with a Barcalounger so he can take a load off. Neal’s Scrooge nicely transitions from creepy evil to creepy good natured. Normally when someone makes this strong a personality switch there a bit of cerebellum that got loose and needs to be tacked back down, but not Neil – He’s seen the darkness. Both manifested ghosts (O’Hare and Alexander Mrazek) were very other worldly: clearly they were some sort of supernatural social workers and Scrooge was just another case in their busy schedule. On a negative note, the waifish children seemed well fed, but then this is the well to do sprawl side of Orlando’s ever creeping growth plan.

All of this holiday reform took place on a stunning set by Tommy Mangieri. Above the slanted bed and labyrinth stairs loomed a huge clock – Scrooge’s hours are limited if he doesn’t clean up. The numerals were mysterious, not quite Roman or Arabic, they’re non-figurative, non-representational shapes put us into the transcendent world where anything can happen. The good can become evil, the evil good, and the wealthy might toss a bone to the hungry, so along as it doesn’t dent the shopping trip to Neiman Marcus or Harrods. Be nice, at least for the next few weeks. There’s plenty of time for ghosts when you do your taxes.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

Young Frankenstein

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Young Frankenstein
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman
Starring Christopher Ryan, Cory English, Janine DaVita, Synthia Link
Broadway Across America at the Bob Carr Auditorium, Orlando, FL

Today’s Broadway is more conservative than Hollywood: without the Netflix distribution model live shows tour to recoup their investment. Thus, the safest shows derive from successful presold films set to music, and after New Yorkers stop showing up, they hit the road and tour the sticks like Orlando. This time a clever Mel Brooks comedy added a big budget and high hopes and created a short running critically “meh” Broadway experience. It’s not a bad musical, but it’s not great but an excellent case study of why film and stage differ, and how hard it is to do comedy in a big space.

For a Tuesday night the Carr was comfortably full, and now that the old basketball palace is abandoned parking was a breeze. A local news anchor opened the show in his shiny suit and TV hair and asked us to silence our phones and please, please, watch the evening news. Modern Broadcast News is so sad but out in Transylvania, things are looking up – Old Doctor Frankenstein kicked off, and the town’s people are looking forward to some monster-free summers now Gothic health care is off their backs. But wait – his grandson Frederick (Ryan) teaches brain stuff in NYC, and still poses a risk. He heads over to Eastern Romania to clear up the estate and soon rejoins the family tradition at the behest of his grandpa’s ghost. His new assistants, hunch back Igor (English) and nubile Inga (Link) show promise, Frau Blucher (Joanna Glushak) gives him the resurrection operating manual and pretty soon its monster mash time. While The Monster (Preston Truman Boyd) has a serious hair lip, he gets better laughs than Frederick, and while the running jokes about Frau Blucher draw laughs, it takes two guys in a horse’s heads to really sell them. The word play and small glances between Igor, Frederick and Inga are lost, and it occasionally hurts to hear laugh-out-loud-jokes from the movie get swallowed up in the vast space of the Carr. You just can’t replace a quick cut close up with a spotlight to stage left.

Still, the production number and dancing were worth the price, and the payoff for sitting through the first act was a blow out “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” While director Stroman has trouble getting her cast to time jokes, she can pull off a dance number. Besides putting every tuxedo in Orlando on stage, she used the blinding lightening-effect strobes to burn suspended dancers into our retinas. Where this show worked best was when it abandoned the orginal story thread and went off on its own – “Join the Family Business” looked great and had a surprising and impressive 20 foot high puppet, Inga’s “Listen To Your Heart” was nearly touching, and the Hermit (David Benoit) gave us a heartfelt “Please Send Me Someone.” On the other hand Brooks kept most of the film’s incidental humor but lost the timing – you’ll recall most of the jokes, and ask yourself “Why aren’t I laughing?” Plus, the sexual tension that drove the story gets lost in the wings, replaced by larger and cruder jokes. What Brooks did with a wink and a cut just can’t be conveyed on this scale, and it can’t be replaced by an off color joke. The enjoyment to disappointment ratio is pretty balanced, and chortles outweigh guffaws, but the dancing is to die for.

For more information please visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/