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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2011

Spring Awakening

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Spring Awakening
Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Adapted from a play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Musical Direction by Michael Horn
Choreography by Jessica Mariko
Starring Anthony Pyatt Jr., Melina Countryman, Adam McCabe
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre
Orlando, FL

The battle of competing and overlapping Orlando productions continues – this round takes us back to Imperial Germany and the battle to keep children ignorant of sex until they die for it. It’s 1890 something and the French have been beaten, the German economy is booming, and no one acknowledges a single flaw in their perfectly bourgeoisie lives. Trapped between a brutal educational system and a more brutal family model children follow orders and are still beaten regularly, just so They Know You Love Them. Melchior (Pyatt) looks forward to the bohemian days of “Cabaret” while his buddy Moritz (McCabe) trembles before life and lust and can’t even keep his hair under control, much less his penis. The discuss philosophy and Virgil and Melchior casually outlines the details of human reproduction, not realizing this is a state secret on the par with anything at the Krupp Works up in Essen. Over in the girl’s dorm, little Wendla (Countryman) asks her mother (Marion March Skinner) about sex and receives a bigger fairly tale than the stork. Ok, mom, whatever you say.

Skinner nails this role; she reminds me of all my aunts and other ancestors who would die of embarrassment if they explained anything “delicate” to a child. Countryman’s Wendla seems genuinely innocent and when we see her partially disrobed it’s more embarrassing than erotic. As the tragic heroine the writer deprive her of a tragic death on stage and that is the one thing she deserves more than anything. Pyatt’s Melchior is suave and debonair; his oily understanding of the ways of the word would have served him well in the Third Reich. Opposite him is a flustered and out of sorts McCabe. Earnest and beset by electrostatic hair he is obviously not a scholar but could become an excellent lab assistant or Sergeant Schultz had not the system driven him to self immolation. Heck, he was offered a Bohemian orgy of art and poetry and absinthe by Isla (Sarah Villages,) but that was too much for his tortured and gilt-edged soul. Hovering over this cesspit of repressed sex and fawning capitalism is John Edward Palmer. He plays every single male authority figure, and while I like him personally, I wouldn’t want him auditing my time card. Ever.

G.O.A.T.’s staging sticks as close as possible to the Broadway version – we have young men in knee britches (on sale this week at Target’s Back to School Event) and young women in frowsy aniline dyed prints. The parents firmly believe in sparing the rod will spoil the country but ignore that spark of innovation that pulled Germany from The Student Prince into the 20th century. While I question the act of head banging to Duncan Sheik music, his soundtrack provides solid musical with a pair of songs that ought to make it into the Musical Theatre Greatest Hits portfolio: Wendla’s “Mother Who Bore Me” and Melchior’s “Totally Fucked.” I relish the idea of people dressing up to see these performed by a symphony orchestra in 2111.

Overall, this is a technically excellent presentation of a difficult show. The original is rather painful; Sheik and Sater trimmed it down, spruced it up and gave it a great sound track. But the first act belabors issues that the second flies through and nowhere do we see a solution or a promise of hope. True, Germany was on the precipice of disaster, but “Spring Awakening” pushes us to the Great War without the temper of compassion and I left thinking “Sex education could have spared 35 million deaths.” See the show, and tell you kids about condoms when they ask. You love them, don’t you?

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

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!
Music by Eric Rockwell
Lyrics by Joanne Bogart
Book by Eric Rockwell & Joanne Bogart
Directed by Michael Edwards
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

I think this show is getting funnier – or at least I’ve seen it so often I’m getting off book. This brilliant parody takes a simple plot line (I can’t pay the rent – you must pay the rent – someone has sex) and interprets it in the style of five different giants of musical theatre. While there are plenty of laughs in the show for the neophyte, it helps if you majored in musical theater like those random people who laughed all by themselves. Maybe it’s the change of directors; Michael Edwards is all about Broadway, while Jay Hopkins (who directed the two previous versions) leans more toward the frenetic improv style.

Let’s expand on the plot. Natalie Cordone plays the IngĂ©nue June-Junita-Juny. Short of cash, she must trade her virginity for bad financial planning. Opposite her we find evil landlord Jitter (Kevin Kelly) with his leases, ominous musical numbers and knives. He’s the nasty golem lurking inside all Norwegian bachelor farmers, and his depravity is so complete he’ll never get the girl, even if reads the instruction manual they all come with. Advising June is Earth Mother Goddess Abbey (Kate O’Neil). Whether she’s shelling peas or swilling raw gin, she’s the closest thing to good advice on stage. Lastly we get the scattery Todd Allan Long as Big Willy and all his permutations. He’s the good side of males, and always has a God in his Machine to save Natalie in the final scene, just before the big blow out number.

I can’t begin to list the puns, but hers a rundown of the show – The first riff is a redo of Oklahoma (Rogers and Hammerstein) with its dream sequences, corn fed wholesomeness, and Daylight Savings Time driven plot twist. It’s the longest of the acts and since the audience is fresh and doesn’t know where we are going all the tropes from elaborate dance numbers to unexplained romantic shifts to a song about clam dip get a thorough exploration. Next we delve deeply into the mind of Stephen Sondheim. I agree with Long when he exhorts: “You need to see this 4 times to see the light.” Here’s where the most obscure jokes lurk: Sondheim’s output is huge and not all of it gets performed very often, so “Company” and “Merrily We Roll Along” jokes get off the leash here and run free, sniffing the audiences’ crotch and peeing on the piano. Jerry Herman’s Mame/Dolly complex brings us up to intermission – there’s not much plot here but the costumes are fabulous. No, like this: FaAaAaB-you-LUST! Try again, but gayer. Work on it.

By now we know the drill and the show picks up pace after another round of drinks. Andrew Lloyd Webber writes the best songs in the “Phantom of the Pampas” mash up. While he never drops a chandelier on Jesus Christ or takes the masks off the alley cats, he does get to use the rarely seen upper balcony of WPPH. We wrap with “Speakeasy” by Kander and Ebb. Here women wear fishnets, the MC always speaks in three languages, the bootleg gin tastes like peppermint and the sex…well, the sex… You had to be there to really appreciate the sex. But its all-in good taste, and an exhausted Chris Leavy keeps up to speed and calls out random stage direction. It’s an education, but the final takes place in a bar. Belly up!

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

7th Annual Red Chair Affair

Monday, August 29th, 2011

7th Annual Red Chair Affair
Arts & Cultural Alliance of Central Florida
Directed by John DiDonna
August 27, 2011
Bob Carr Performing Art Center
Orlando, Fl

It’s nice to see we can still pack 2000 arts aficionados into the Bob Carr for an old fashion variety show full of tap and aerial acts and pie-in-the-face comedy. The Arts & Cultural Alliance of Central Florida (which desperately needs an acronym – ACACF? AC2F? ) is the current incarnation of the old Theater Alliance and acts a marketing body for anything in Central Florida that feels arty. The Red Chair Project is its annual season kick off and fundraiser for the Art Season, but what constitutes a “season” is a bit open. I’m busy year round.

The parking lot is filling up early, and looming over us is the soon to be demolished, not yet paid for Amway Arena. Sold as a boon to revitalize down town, it was never much more than a monolith in the center of a backing parking lot, packed for sporting events, desolate the rest of the week. At least the Carr is paid for but it may face the same fate soon, but tonight its charmingly bad acoustics and mile long rows of seats is just the spot for this dance heavy evening. I park, I walk, I hand a ticket to the attendant, and after grabbing a heart stoppingly expensive drink, I find a seat on the end behind the Orlando Fringe Festival director. It’s amazing how many people I can identify in silhouette just from their hairstyle.

Autumn Ames runs the ACACF, and comes on stage in the mandatory red dress to gives us a short pep talk. The program begins, but there is no Master of Ceremonies; each segment was introduced by unctuous short film telling us a bit about the producing companies. The only one I enjoyed was from Sak Comedy Lab, they admit they don’t have anything prepared because improv artists aren’t SUPPOSED to prepare.

Dance dominated the evening. Fully half the acts were dance groups, and half the remaining acts presented choreography heavy shows. There was modern dance (Yow, Voci, and Orlando Ballet if you stretch definitions), ethnic dance (Orlando School of Cultural Dance), tap (Winter Park Playhouse), Flamenco (Flamenco del Sol) and you could argue Orlando Aerial Arts was doing some sort of vertical dance. Aerial Arts was clearly the most impressive show on stage, three women rolled and climbed up and down sheer cloth streamers up the fly loft 30 feet over the stage. With no visible safety equipment, this was scary and impressive, and while the intro film claimed anyone could do this, my thought is “yeah, right…”

On the theater side, Winter Park Playhouse tapped its heart out with excerpts from the upcoming “Anything Cole” show, and Florida Opera Theatre presented “The Completer History of Opera (Abridged).” Narrated by Eric Pinder, we learn all about opera in five minutes; all the way from a caveman’s “Ugh” to “La Traviata.” Speed opera – its here now.

The opening number from “Little Shop of Horrors” highlighted the Garden Theater’s season, and the Orlando Repertory Theater put up two numbers from “Power Chords.” One feature of Red Chair is the American Sign Language interpreters Eli Sierra and Debby Drobney. All evening long they appeared as needed and took turns translating, but on the Power Chords closer “Proud Mary” they translated in harmony, which was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in weeks.

As to pure music, the Orlando Philharmonic did a nice number on three marimbas called “Woodworks.” It’s rare to see three of these instruments, and I’m hoping one is lead, one is bass, and one is rhythm. Later, part of the Orlando Gay chorus did few numbers from “Rent,” and tonight’s comedy came from Sak. They may not have prepared anything, but when they made fun of Roy Alan’s dancing by chewing on pocket change, it nearly brought down the house.

All of this added up to a high quality sampler of the area’s performing groups. Just remember – not everyone in town dances. But the groups that do, well, they do it very, very well.

Find more information on all of central Florida’s art groups as well as discounted admission at www.redchairproject.com/

Bouncers

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Bouncers
By John Godber
Directed by Simon Needham
I.D. 10-T Productions at Art Sake Studio’s
Winter Park, FL

Damn, this is authentic. Bouncers in black tee shirts, LED flashlights, ID checks, club bands, and a rabbit hole entrance to what looks like a body shop in Winter Park’s seedy industrial district. Outside it’s chain link fences and dumpsters, inside it’s Club Zero. You’re back in clubland again – chubby women in just-a-touch-too-short skirts, suspect boob jobs, and oily men with genuine 8 carat gold chains cluster around the bar. A wide selection of NASCAR beer and Costco wine beckons as the thump thump thump of a dance floor filters thought the curtain. Inside the lights are dim, some metal chairs invite fighting more than sitting, and faux finish wall sports some damage from last nights soiree. Welcome to “Bouncers” a four man show that captures all the drama, infighting and the sexual frustration of any dance hall from Wall Street Plaza to MacDougal Street, but without the hangover or awkward YouTube videos.

The jokes fly, the characters shift like mercury, and in this sort of rapid fire ensemble piece the show stands or falls by everyone equally. Tonight it’s a hit, if a joke didn’t; work I never noticed. The bouncers and their alter egos are all tightly drawn from A Ali Flores’ slutty Spanish chica Selenea to Rowan Bousaid’s Small Man Syndrome infected Judd. Luis Poggi is the tall one with a missing wife and chip on his shoulder and Robert Walker-Branchaud uses his razor trimmed beard to effectively intimidate patrons and fellow bouncers alike. When the jokes get too intense, each bouncer offers a monolog about love, life or sexual assault, but we always end with a laugh. My favorite gag line: “spent condoms lie in the alley like dead Smurfs.” Wickedly funny, razor sharp in social observation, and timed like Bridezilla’s wedding, this is the sort of comedy that makes parking next to the toxic waste dumpsters worth the risk.

For more information on Art’s Sake Studios, check www.art-sake.com/

For more information on I.D.10-T productions visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/ID-10-t-Productions

Concert Version of “Ragtime”

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Concert Version of “Ragtime”
Book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Don Hopkinson, Jr.
August 13, 2011
Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, Sanford Fla.

Don Hopkinson possesses some sort of super power: he pulled 87 people together on stage plus countless stage mangers, follow spot operators, lackeys, minions, myrmidons and other hangers on to give us the sprawling “Ragtime”. This Altman-esque story of 1906 America focuses on three groups: a well to do WASP industrialist’s family, at Latvian Jewish immigrant and his daughter, and a black musician and his girl friend. The WASP’s doubt the very existence of blacks and immigrants, the Latvian believe America will make him rich, and Mr. Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Chevalier Lovett) believes that he can find justice in America.

Father (Jason Bailey) runs off to help Admiral Peary discover the North Pole and gets as far as Baffin Bay. Mother (Pricilla Bagley) digs up a buried-alive black child in the garden and befriends its mother (Shonda Thurman) while her older son (Gabriel Quijano) discovers his social conscience and his Younger Brother (Jason Carl Crase) learns to swear. Coalhouse has a run in with the yobo firemen Wilily Conklin (Brendon Rogers) and swears murderous vengeance until JP Morgan (Clay Mozart) and Father convince him to die in the arms of the American legal system instead of in a fire ball that would destroy Morgan’s original Shakespeare folio. There’s more plot, sub plot and counter plot here than anyone should be required to track, but fortunately a narrator (Kent Walker) gives us exposition dumps periodically. The first act runs as long a regular full length play, and by intermission I have no earthly idea who to follow or why. The second act perks up; here we find a sympathetic narrative line in Coalhouse and his abuse at the hands of power. In the first act we hear position statements, in the second we see people make decisions.

While the music is superb and the singing solid, there were microphone and level problems with the spoken audio. I missed any number of lines and a radio station even snuck in once or twice. Even though these technical problems I heard no bad performances, and many stellar ones. I’ll mention Larry Stallings as the crusty Grandfather, Mr. Rogers as the evil Irishman, and Jonathan Rebar as Tatah, the immigrant artist turned film maker blow hard. I don’t have a song list, but Ms Bagley and Mr. Lovett both had some stunning numbers, and Jason Bailey was tonight’s trouper – he never flinches as a wayward elbow clipped the back of his head at curtain call.

I enjoyed this monster project for its music, acting, and over the top mass of talent. All this work should have run more than two shows; it’s a heaping helping of entertainment. But the play itself is in need of editing, and for the first hour the music and rather pompous pronouncements made me feel like I was there for and Evening Of Important Theater. Father ran off to explore, Mother did the moral right / social wrong of being nice to blacks, children overcame their parent’s prejudices, and Coalhouse visualized the Civil Rights movement. It took Mr. Walker’s very specific abuse to engage me, and old saw of “Show, don’t tell” pulled “Ragtime” from a three credit lecture on undergrad American History to a full up standing ovation. Thank you Mr. Coalhouse and thank you Mr. Hopkinson.

For more information on events at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center visit www.helenstairstheatre.com or www.waynedenschperformingartscenter.com/

Spotlight Cabaret – Heather Alexander and Laura Hodos

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Spotlight Cabaret – Heather Alexander and Laura Hodos
Musical direction by Chris Leavy
August 10, 2011
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

These lobby sized cabarets keep selling out, and if you don’t get there early they make you stand back by the bar and drink throughout the entire show. Tonight’s event sold especially briskly, the bald community got word Heather Alexander was singing and she love to sit in old guys laps and straighten that single hair they still have. Laura Hodos joined her and the theme for tonight’s sing was “Bestest Friends Forever.” Opening with “Together”, this pair is actually on good terms and it shows though the songs and banter and their semi-matching dresses. They sang some nice obscurities like “Joshua Ryan Kissed Me Today” while “In Love With The Man Of My Dreams” led into the emotional “I’ll Give You The Stars And The Moon” which prompted Ms. Alexander to retell the story of her freezing up while performing publicly. It’s like we’re all her closest friends.

A vibrator joke, a Siamese twins number, and soon we slide into the food stories. Apparently Ms. Alexander consists solely on Wheat Thins and Moonbeams, while Ms. Hodos once split with a boyfriend for only losing 38 pounds. Ms. Alexander’s trademark slutty number was the innuendo laden “Growing Boy” while Ms. Hodos took the sappy bullet with “Me and My Friend.” As the evening wound down “Give Me a Chance to Sing A Melody” lead into Ms. Hodos’ blow out closer from Drowsy Chaperone “As we Stumble Along”. An encore, another drink for the road, and soon the happy guys in the front row can go home with fond memories.

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

The Understudy

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

The Understudy
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Tim Williams
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Three hours of Kafka, with modern dance and no intermission? That’s the sort of theater that draws 12 paying customers and there had better be an open bar for the press. But someone cast Hollywood fire power, and while Kafka’s undiscovered script might best have remained undiscovered, there’s funding and that’s all that matters. Rehearsals are underway, and Harry (Josh Geohagan) understudies for medium time movie star Jake (Brian Brightman). Jake and the unseen “Bruce” are the stars that draw in busloads of blue hairs from Jersey, and under no circumstances will Harry get on stage. But he will get paid. And Jake might leverage his recent film success into a starring role in a better film, and frazzled stage manger Roxanne (Michele Feren) might get over Harry dumping her without even a Dear John letter. Yes, we are all very, very bitter. Professionally bitter. And what’s more bitter than a professionally bitter actor? Jake and Harry start out on a bad foot when Harry makes comments about Jake’s movie that are broadcast thought out the theatre – this stage has excellent sound transmission. Eventually the boys unite and attack Roxanne, and then we are deluged with everyone’s worst fears – missed casting, few employment prospects, and a lousy love life.

Bitter people can be quite entertaining, especially if you don’t know them well. Goehogan’s Harry seems impressed by everything about Broadway from props to costumes; you get the feeling he’s been the “third man” or “guest” in more than a few community productions. Feren’s Roxanne nailed the stereotype Nazi stage manger trope, she snaps and blusters and always has a flashlight and a band aid and does a reasonable job of herding her charges through their cues. Brightman’s Jake mixes arrogance and fear, and points out that there is little difference between saying “Get in the truck!” and reading Kafka’s obtuse prose. It’s just that more people will see the “truck” line, and it pays better. Painful to the artiste, but true.

Like all good backstage comedies, it helps if you’ve been back stage. The audience roared in all the right places, and no one laughed out of turn. This is dark comedy, borne of other people’s pains and shortcomings, and while you laugh, there’s a subtle calculus going on – will I still have a job next week, or will I be auditioning for a new role as barista, accountant, or middle manager? This show is brutal, and brutally funny.

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

Prelude To A Kiss

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Prelude To A Kiss
By Craig Lucas
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring John Reid Adam and Sarah Lockard
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

When love stories go too smoothly, be suspicious. Peter (Adams) hooks up with the girl of his dreams Rita (Lockard) at a coworker Taylor’s (David Hiller) party. She drinks Dewar’s, he’s a Molson fan, she used to belong to the Socialist Party, he has a grind tech job and a desire for children. These are all small points as the sex is great, her daddy’s rich, and Peter’s parents no longer have much to say. A hall is booked, ugly bridesmaid dresses ordered, and it’s off to a fabulous two week honeymoon in Jamaica. Except there was that one weird moment at the reception where this weird old guy (Bill Horine) showed up, kissed the bride, and activated some sort of laser smoke machine weird sound effect thingy that let us all know the weirdness has begun.

The rest of the plot is straightforward if unclear at first and all I can offer is the ending is satisfying. Along the way, this frothy comedy offers some fun acting and a good bit of exposition. Adams Peter is smug but likeable, Lockard sexy and charming, and Horine sympathetic even if you find his back story creepy in a last-episode-of-Star-Trek-way. Other noteworthy performers were Cira Larkin and Harold Longway as Rita’s parents and Jackie Bell as the substitute waitress. It’s a minimal set, rehearsal cubes and projections set the space, the ying/yang floor is pretty cool, and most of the budget went on costumes. And while the 20 year old A/C units struggled to keep us cool, no one fainted in the audience.

There’s not a huge message here – maybe “true love will out” or “don’t judge an attractive woman by her bikini” could apply, and the supernatural aspects feel more like a Shakespearean plot complication than a natural flow from the opening act. That’s all OK, the worlds a mess, and we could use the sort of miracle these lovers experience. Falling in love is always in fashion, and I hope these kids make a go of it. They really seem as if they are made for each other, and they ought to spend some time with Weird Old Guy, now that he’s become such a big part of their lives

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

Legacy of Light

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Legacy of Light
By Karen Zacarias
Directed by Denise Gillman
Starring Heather Charles, Steven Lane, and Becky Eck
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Here’s a show that opens with a bang and end with a baby’s whimper. Voltaire (Lane) guides his mistress Emilie du Chatelet (Charles) as she unravels the fundamentals of optics by day while her other lover Saint Lambert (Garrett Jurss) fills her evenings with hot sex. M. du Chatelet (Steven Lima) is off fighting a war or invading a Rheinish state and he finds calculus a big turn off, so he’s not terribly bothered by the arrangement. Voltaire and St. Lambert wave swords at each other, nearly spearing an older woman in the first row save for Stephen Jones great stage fight choreography. Meanwhile back in the present day hot shot astrophysicist Olivia (Eck) discovers a proto-planet, fights off ovarian cancer and decided she want s a baby. Her hubby Peter (Lima) is doubtful about this, but they hire a surrogate mother Mille (Lexi Langs) and lay out a schedule to deliver a tot in nine months for $28,000. That’s about $20 an hour, if you ignore all that unpaid OT. Soon both Millie and Emile are pregnant, and we come to the heart of the problem: Olivia has doubts, realizing that the idea of a child is nicer than the reality, and Emilie realizes her days are numbered, and she pushes hard to finish the work she began. So what more important – incrementing the population counter, or giving that population a better life? Maybe you can do both, but it’s not easy.

It seems the author is aiming for a new “Arcadia”, but “Legacy of Light” succeeds best when it shows how male / female relations have shifted in two centuries and fails when exploring how science has changed in that same era. Lane and Charles are the perfect soul mates as they attempt to lasso an understanding of the universe, and Lima and Eck are the perfect yuppie couple who struggle with child rearing as a social statement. Both present believable couples in awkward relations – Voltaire is almost ready to accept the implications of free love, and Lima is equally perturbed by the agreed upon pseudo-infidelity of surrogate motherhood. Where we stumble is in the home work department: Voltaire refers to units not yet invented, Eck’s lecture on astrophysics neglects a basic Wiki read though and Zacharias reduces Olivia to Star Trek techno babble when she announces frustration that “the exponential numbers aren’t working out.” Good thing her turboencabulator is still gronkulating.

Ok, so I’m nit picking. The relations between Peter, Olivia and Millie are touching while Voltaire and St. Lambert and Emilie are equally challenging. Everything is ducky until lighting strikes Peter and he has to explain to Emile how to give him CPR so he can go back and wrap up some unimportant plot points. Are we staging hard rationalism and a Laplacian clockwork universe, or some Fringe Fest theology? Either way, the show seems complete when Peter dies, but Zacarias isn’t quite ready for us to go home. Stick around and enjoy the entertainment, even if the remaining scenes are unnecessary they go by quickly, I recommend “Legacy of Light” for Heather Charles’ smile, Steven Lane’s tolerant sexuality, Becky Eck’s earnestness, Lima’s supportive husbandry, Jones’ fight choreography and everyone’s completely hokey French accents. Just don’t place any bar bets on the history of dark matter.

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