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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for January, 2011

A Midsummer’s Night Dream

Monday, January 31st, 2011

A Midsummer’s Night Dream
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lee
Staring Wynn Harmon, Avery Clark, Walter Kmiec, Michele Vazquez, Claro Austria
Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando FL

While these mortals may well be fools, they are exceptionally funny fools. You may have seen this melodrama before – Theseus (Harmon) and Hippolyta (Sarah Ireland) lounge as elegantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald protagonist as they wait for their wedding day. Egeus (Darryl Pickett) begs for some back up in his fatherly prerogative – his daughter Hermia (Vasquez) despises her betrothed Demetrius (Kmiec) but has the hots for scruffy Lysander (Clark). And we all know that in Athens you marry who daddy tells you or its time for a Styx concert. Helena (Courtney Moore) would just as soon wed Demetrius and they all run off to the magic forest to escape authority and social concerns. It’s the right choice, fairy King Oberon (Harmon) scores some Lotus courtesy of his connection Puck (Austria). Oberon’s queen Titania (Ireland) annoyed him, and with his magic powers, magic flowers and magic smoke machine he confuses everyone to the point of straightening out their sex lives just as they should be. He even leaves the local community theatre lead by Patty Quince (Anne Hering) with more pleasant pipe dreams than amateur actors ever get in real life.

So what went right tonight? Let’s start with the set – Bob Phillips combination of smoke, cold lighting and minimalist trees presents just enough obstacles for the actors exploit, but not so much as to destroy the charm of smoke filled bubbles falling from the rafters. Chittery fairies attack the lovers like a mutant Voci performance, and the orthogonal black and white Pink Floyd opening number head fakes the audience, adding wonder to the misty colors of ancient Athens. While Oberon and Puck hold the reigns of action, patching plot holes as the quadrangle of lovers provides the comedy – misaimed lust enflames pillow fights, protestations of eternal love fall before the mantra of “wait, I saw someone shiny…” and smoke and sprites that rise from the floor mingle with desultory falling leaves. Grounding the story are the mechanicals rehearsing their earnest amateur theatric which ties us all together – in love as in theatre, showing up on time is 80% of success and as long as the laughs flow, continuity be damned.

Michael Daly was brilliant as Bottom the Weaver. Anne Hering was brilliant as Quince the producer. Matt Wenge was brilliant as Snug The Joiner playing the cowardly lion. Christopher Kiley as Francis Flute fielded balloon titties like a trouper. Even poor Egeus, the McGuffin of the show, came across as the psychotic in-law you should never marry into. The set was…the light were… David Lee was…you get my drift. “Midsummer” might be the one Shakespeare comedy that can work in the modern world without fart jokes, and this is the production that proves it. I just wanted more smoky bubbles.

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

Aida

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Aida
By Elton John and Tim Rice
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Starring Desiree Perez, Adam McCabe, and Krystal Gillette
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre at the Orlando Shakespeare Center

It’s an opera – it’s a pop concert – its two shows in one! On a busy day in the Egyptian wing, sparkly green lights transport the visitors to anachronistic Egypt in the Umpteenth Dynasty. Radames (McCabe) just returned from scouting Nubia where he captured a chorus of hot slave girls including royal Aida (Perez). They sing nicely and sending them to the copper mines seems a waste, so Radames offers Aida to his clothes horse fiancee Amnersis (Gillette.) She’s Pharaoh’s (Richard Betts) daughter and Radames’ dad Zoser (Ian Clark) uses the marriage to eliminate the old guy and rule the world all the way to Sudan. But when McCabe falls for Perez, plans changes and the lovers must die while breathing glorious arias on their death beds. The good news – the songs are full of 1970’s pop sensibility, they’re sung in English, and no one has to fall on their sword to hit a high ‘C”.

It’s an ambitions show with an extravagant costumes and surprisingly long scene changes for the minimal set. Perez’s voice steals the show, with strong solos (Easy as Life,) solid duets with McCabe (Elaborate lives) and the lively the ensemble gospel number “The Gods Love Nubia.” McCabe keeps up with her, but I think Perez holds back out of professional courtesy. Other highlights come from street smart Mereb (Lloyd Taylor II) singing “How I Know You” and Amneris’ “I Know The Truth.” I found Zoser too strident for a conspirator, and in “Like Father, Like Son” I voted with McCabe’s role.

Elton John’s pop sensibility waft through this story along with corny anachronisms and a good dose of late 20th century Political Correctness. Amnersis is fascinated by Radames’ life in the field, but when Zoser explains the conquest of Nubia to her, she gets all blood diamond concerned about her bangles. On the other hand, the love triangle is solid and convincing and the costumes (by Josette Gillette) are stunning. If you’re not up for three hours of Italian screeching, this gentle retelling of Aida will give you enough background to fake it through your next black tie fundraiser.

For more information on Greater Orlando Actor’s Theatre, please visit http://http://www.goatgroup.com/

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by J. Barry Lewis
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

Trapped in small town academia and deprived of any chance of escape or growth, George (Stephan Jones) and Martha (Peg O’Keefe) battle away in a private fantasy land illuminated by the flame of grain alcohol. Less a marriage than a civil war in a Central African quagmire, they achieved detente years ago but tonight is special – fresh meat arrives via the new biology professor Nick (Timothy Williams) and his slim hipped wife Honey (Heather Leonardi.) He’s young and ambitious, she’s drunk and infertile, and they are the next generation of embittered educators hoping for tenure or at least leather elbow patches on their tweed coats. In act one, we laugh bitterly with their antics, in act two we plumb the depths of their desperation, and in act three we find out the bitter dirty truth – this is all any of them can ever hope for.

As blood spurts on the musty, frumpy living room (courtesy of Tom Mangieri and Sam Hazell) the audience cowers behind their programs and tiny plastic cups of wine. Only the expert stage fighting skills of Mr. Jones protects us, although some verbal splinters are still struck in my eyes. Jones and O’Keefe could be Ozzie and Harriet from Hell, and smug Tim Williams glories in his past conquests as boxer and football star while seriously considering boffing his hostess on the kitchen table. He and mousey Leonardi seem disgusted and embarrassed by their elders fighting skills, but if you peer behind their façade you see they are a young George and Martha in training. Bitter as the evening is, Nick knows he’s in a new arena, and by close observation of George’s maneuvering, he’s learning valuable life skills that will serve him and Honey in their bedroom before long. It’s like being mentored by Herman Goering while his wife learns to sauté fly agaric for dinner. This is a play for adults, preferably those hardened on the bitter dust bunnies of failed marriage. As Sartre posited, there’s No Exit.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com

Best of Broadway 1995 – 1999

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Best of Broadway 1995 – 1999
Directed by Wade Hair
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL
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It’s hard to feel lonely at a Breakthrough show. Tonight impresario Wade Hair put 16 of his closest friends on stage and ran us through some of the top hits of Broadway from the early 90s. It’s a bit like those Billboard Magazine CD’s with all the top hits of 1972 – they capture a slice of time rather than a slice of style, and it gives the folks who trot out to announce the song something topical to talk about. In this semi-decade, America was still feeling Reagan good, nobody had made a dime on the internet and the Great White Way hosted more than a few classic shows and faded film stars.

Revivals keeps the cash flow alive for older shows, and the “Annie Get Your Gun” chestnut “No Business Like Show Business” was the obvious opener by the ensemble, followed by Mr. Hair and Sara Sohn singing “Anything You Can Do” in a pleasant duo. Jason Crase felt weak on “Mama Look Sharp” from “1776” but grew into the second act with “Endless Night” from “The Lion King.” The show “Charlie Brown” offered the very cute “My New Philosophy” and “Cabaret” had the world weary Vicky Burns give us both “Don’t tell Mama” and “Maybe This Time.” Leading up to intermission we hear the ensemble led by Justin Scarlett as Billy Flynn in Chicago’s “We Both Reached For The Gun.” While Scarlett has yet to grow into the charming scoundrel in the movie, he looks like a high profile criminal promoter. Sorry, Defense Lawyer.

Act Two brings us the newer shows, led by the jukebox musical “Smokey Joes Café.” Burns set fire to “Kansas City,” and the rest of the cast fanned the flames with air guitars in “Baby That’s Rock And Roll.” Jamaal Solomon took the lead on “Into the Fire” from Scarlet Pimpernel, the least well know source of this evening. “Sunset Boulevard” offered “As If We Never Said Goodbye” with a slow build by Mia Reeves, and we had a pair of ensemble medleys from “Sweeney Todd” and the de rigueur “Rent” to close the evening. Overall, the show was quite entertaining; with the best music coming from the more mature artists. If nothing else, this is a brush up for those of you who love the American Musical but don’t get to Manhattan on a regular basis.

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

Five Course Love

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Five Course Love
By Gregg Coffin
Directed by Michael Edwards
Musical Directing by Chris Leavy
Choreography by Roy Alan
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park Fl.

Sometimes love is cute, sometimes it’s funny and tonight it’s both. On a cloudy night in an unnamed city, a statically significant selection of ethnic types meets up at restaurants to resolve their innermost hormonal conflicts. Nerdish Matt (Christopher Alan Norton) mistakenly meets shit kicker Barbie (Michelle Knight). I thought they had promise but she didn’t and maître de Dean (Mark Baratelli) is philosophical, but leaves to deal with “problems in the kitchen.” So what to do? Sing a few songs, backed by the duo of Chris “Keys” Leavy and Sam “Chimes” Forrest. The songs are cute and as Country Western authentic as this group of Broadway refugees can make it – Baratelli looks like he’s never seen Gunsmoke, Barbie barely keeps on her pink hat with the faux rattlesnake band, and Norton seems the very model of a modern middle manager.

The trio returns again and again, next as an episode of the Sopranos, then an ambiguous Cabaret-style Schuplattlerfest, a swashbuckling date with Zorro and finally the fabled Lost Act of Grease, with a happy ending for one and all. The music is crisp, the songs funny and hummable and the performance as good as any we’ve seen. My favorite segment came in the Schaufinkle Klub, with Baratelli in lederhosen and Knight with her crop and bustier singing the Der Bumsen-Kratzentanz. It was the spitze der Abend, but don’t type it into Google translate. Other great songs like “The Blue Flame,” “I Loved You When I Though You We’re Named Ken,” and “True Love At The Star-Lite Tonight” kept the joy flowing and the crowd ate it up. This is another rockem’, sockem’ comedy that has just enough sex to keep you interested but not enough to make your wife slap you for looking. This show is selling out, don’t wait to sign up.

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

Chicago

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Chicago
Book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb
Music by John Kander
Lyric by Fred Ebb
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Choreography by Denise Ahlert
Starring Danielle Lang, Michelle Elise, Priscilla Bagley, and Joel Warren
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

Wow.

THIS is why I show up at the theatre every weekend. Steve MacKinnon and his stellar cast put all their energy, timing and skill on stage and pull of a show that would make Mr. Fosse proud. From the opening rag to the final jazz hands, this trip to the wild Midwest never relents – the songs resound, the dancers hit their marks and the sin never stops.

Halfway thought the Jazz Age bimbo Roxy Hart (Elise) shoots her lover Fred Caseley (Steven Pugh.) Hubby Amos (Eddy Coppens) might take the fall, but Caseley sold them their furniture and that sort of makes a difference to a simple guy like him. In jail, Roxy meets her press idol Velma Kelly (Lang) and her manager Mamma Morton (Bagley). While hanging is an option, so is the Orpheum circuit if Roxy and Amos can raise $5k to hire Billy Flynn (Warren). Flynn has a perfect record, none of his female clients have swung, and many have gone on to play in Peoria. Five grand is a few years’ wages for a guy like Amos, but he pulls part of it together and the real fun begins when Flynn manipulates the press and Sister Mary Sunshine (Joshua Eads-Brown) into painting gold digging Roxy as a misunderstood Mother Theresa. Yes, it like Fox News, but with much better choreography.

Let’s start with the dancing – there’s quite crowd on stage, and beyond not tripping over each other Denise Ahlert gave us the tightest lines I’ve seen on stage – NO one was off beat. Bits of Busby Berkley appear, and master of Ceremonies Santio Cupon could well have been animated by Tex Avery. Behind the arras Don Hopkinson made a last minute substitution for the piano player, and gave us a soundtrack quality musical experience. The follow spot spends most of its time on lead Danielle Lang; she seemed world wearily but not ready to give up her dancing shoes – you need good footwear to steal a show this big. We found her moral opposite in Eddy Coppens as Amos Hart – he was the only principle to not have his own exit music, but broke your heart with “Mr. Cellophane.” Pick names at random, everyone had a starring moment: Joel Warren with Flynn’s “Razzle Dazzle,” Roxie and her opener “And All That Jazz,” Mama Morton’s smoky “When You’re Good to Mama.” You know the hits here – pick your poison.

OK, there’s sex, jazz, miscarriage of justice, and hot-cha dancers. For all I know, Sloth is lurking as well but I’m just as happy if they replace it with a few of the other six. Time here is well spent – every song might chart, every dance inflames, and the tale of Roxy selling out that last bit of soul that was caught in her molars is the sort of morality play that’s aims to entertain, not reform. Roll down your socks and rouge your knees – it’s Friday night, and I know a place with a hot piano.

For more information on Theatre Downtown, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

Glory Days

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Glory Days
By Nick Blaemire and James Gardner
Directed by Ryan Roberge
Musical Direction by John R. Mason III
Airhead Productions
Studio Theatre, Orlando FL

Not many shows set their emotional bar as low as “Glory Days.” Will (James Channing) reunites his other nerdy buddies a year after high school graduation. None of them made the cool football team, and he’s out for vengeance: he’s going to turn on the sprinklers during the “Senior – Alumni” foot ball game. Supporting him is frat boy Andy (Kyle Stone), the logical Skip (Ross Alagna) and ambiguous Jack (Sean Flynn). It’s good to hook up again, but no one shows much enthusiasm for the sprinkler prank and it fades when the keys don’t work, Will’s possibly imagined girlfriend “Horse face” Henrietta doesn’t have the real ones, and Skip brings beer. Eventually someone comes out of the closet, and we wonder if any other secrets lurk in this well adjusted group of ordinary guys. There aren’t.

The singing doesn’t always project to the back of the room, but theater are some nice songs – “We’ve Got Girls (by The Balls)” and “Open Road” have some legs, “The Thing About Andy” offers a smidgen of surprise, and “My Next Story” shows Will is over his plan to sprinkle a game that is often as not played on muddy fields. In the world of vengeance, Will needs to aim much higher, and while his other friends seem to have their lives in order, he feels at loose ends. Perhaps tonight’s failed prank will set him straight.

While the cast seemed nice enough, there was little audience involvement beyond the director. The story and people in it are flat and thinly drawn, and what conflict arises never seems important on stage. Some background checking shows this Broadway one night stand had a solid four week run in the DC area, and then a short preview run followed by a cancellation. It’s not a bad show; it’s just not an interesting one.

Suspiciously Statuesque

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Suspiciously Statuesque
Starring DiDi Panache
Written by Douglas McGeoch
Directed by Dewey Chaffee
Beth Marshall Presents
At the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL

In the beginning we had Lynnwood Sassy. He got his butt kicked on some obscure copyright charge and became Wayburn Sassy, assisted by the taller than average DiDi Panache. Panache strikes out solo tonight, fronting one of the bitterest cabaret shows I’ve seen. Her mentor and sugar daddy Wayburn molders in an Orlando international Airport Holding cell but offers advice as best he can as she sings anti-love songs like “Don Juan Your Money is Gone”, “Old Devil Moon”, and “There’s More to Me.” Panache schmooze’s an audience largely composed of her regular fans and builds a story about her wobbly relation with Sassy (Chaffee). I have to say that Chafee only phones in his performance, but at least his voice is clear as he berates her choice of dress, timing and music. The humor sounds rough but underneath there’s love and Panache belts with the best, even if she spends most of her time as a tenor. Tonight was a fund raiser; Panache and her companion are heading out on an ambitious tour of festivals across North America and Western Europe. An hour flies by quickly, Wayburn is still safely locked away, and she wraps up with “Anything Can Happen” and comes back to thunderous applause for “I Am What I Am.” That, she is.

More information on Beth Marshall Presents may be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/BETH-MARSHALL-PRESENTS/67831046101?v=info