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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for April, 2013

The All Night Strut!

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

The All Night Strut!
By Fran Charnas
Direction and choreography by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Everything sounds better in four part harmony, even if that not how it was originally written. Tonight’s review covers music from the ’30s and ’40s, and it keeps the cast (Heather Alexander, Shawn Kilgore, Todd Mummert and Kate Zaloumes) completely on stage the whole time. Dramatic black and white outfits were the costume of the night, a touch of red on everyone in the first act gave nod to the blood of WW2. It was brutal war, but a lot of good music came out of the conflict. The best sounding stuff covered the Andrews Sisters and the Gershwin boys, noteworthy numbers include Mr. Kilgore on “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” and the zippy and provocative “Beat Me Daddy Eight to The Bar.” I loved Sam Forrest’s drum solo in “Anent Misbehaving,” there are so few drum solos at Winter Park Playhouse. The jazz material was a bit more challenging, this was the whitest “Minnie the Moocher” I’ve ever heard. Still you could hear every lyric, and there were some later verses that have always been unclear in my mind. “Java Jive” and “GI Jive” were curiously slow, but there were good productions of “Rosie the Riveter” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” You hear these phrases all the time, but can you hum the tune? Thought not. The set was simple but effective; the back drop consisted on silver Mylar with dramatic lighting and art deco wall sconces made out of my favorite material, white plank foam with dramatic paint. No worrisome plot points, this is just a great concert full of stuff that sounds straight from a black and white movie.

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

The Wizard of Oz

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

The Wizard of Oz
By Frank L. Baum
Adapted by Frank Gabrielson
Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Directed by Robb Winn Anderson
Starring Chloe Robin, Erik Nelson, Daniel Longacre, and C. K. Anderson
The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL

I normally try to avoid kiddie matinees, but I broke that rule today and I’m glad I did. The Garden was packed and chaotic; it looks like every little snowflake in West Orange Country came out for this extravaganza. Surly you’ve heard of young Dorothy Gale (Robin) and her little dog Toto, they got blown all the way from dreary Kansas to Technicolor Oz. Off in this fantasy world Dorothy works out all her inner angst, she kills off nasty Miss Gulch (Beryl Rochatka), addresses her missing father issues thought the Great Oz (Terry Olson) and explores dating and dealing with love and sex via her friendship with Scarecrow (Nelson) Tin Man (Longacre) and Lion (Anderson). The little tykes loved it!

There’s a ton of powerfully good stuff going on on this stage. The dancing, especially Nelson, Longacre and Anderson was superb and moving. Robin’s voice was delicate, even when Toto upstaged her during “Rainbow” she kept us engaged and in love. Both the Wicked Witch of the West (Rochatka) and the Glinda the Good Witch (Meaghan Fenner) were over the top, but in this case their exuberance fit well into the tenor of the story. Backing everyone up were nost of the ballet studens in Winter garden, there might have been 50 people bouncing around on stage. The Twister was danced by a half dozen young women in green and black body suits, if you can’t call in a real windstorm, a modern dance is just as good and easier to clean up after. Finally, there were more sets and props and glitter covers stuff on stage than I’ve ever seen, the sheer amount of plywood was amazing. My favorite set piece was the Mighty Oz; it was a combination of an Aztec god and a mall clock, operated by Terry Olson and a reverb. Amazing.

Normally children get fussy after an hour of adult’s emoting, but this crowd stayed entranced. There was a hushed “OOOOH!” when the Oz set appeared, and the little girl next to me was dancing in her booster seat. Who knew they had booster seats at The Garden? During the intermission I got an impromptu ballet recital while waiting in the rest room line, this little 8 year old might be a bit rough but she has some promise. This is the sort of massive theatre that is so rarely done anymore, even Shakes hasn’t put this much stuff on stage in living memory. Even the script adaptation was outstanding, it never fell into the trap of slavishly cloning the original material but moved everything into stageable and riveting action. The show is HIGHLY recommended.

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

Frost / Nixon

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Frost / Nixon
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by John DiDonna, Kevin G. Becker, Seth Kubersky
Starring Stephan Jones and Time Williams
Empty Spaces Theatre Company
Presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre

David Frost – playboy, lightweight TV talk show host, mostly good with actresses. Richard Nixon – hardened trial lawyer, international diplomat, disgraced president. Who would you bet on to win a TV debate? After Nixon (Jones) resigns, he retreats to California to lick his wounds, write his memoirs, and figure out “What next?” Frost’s (Williams) ratings are slipping in Australia and he needs a career reviving score. His people did lunch with Nixon’s people and they both struck a deal with the devil: a 6 hour televised interview, hitting on all the hot buttons – Vietnam, International politics, and most critically – the Watergate Break-In. In Nixon’s camp is marine-tough Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (John Maugham) and Hollywood dealmaker Swift Lazar (Garry Norris). Across the moat we find rabid Nixon hater James Reston (John Bateman,) Washington insider Bob Zelnick (Kevin Sigman) and skeptical producer John Birt (Brett Carson). Nixon opens strong; he’s been down this path and turns Frost’s hard hitting questions in to opportunities to ramble on about mom and apple pie. In basketball, he’d be eating the clock. Finally the opposing team’s research pays off, and there’s a surprise ending to top all surprise endings.

Despite the overt politics of Frost / Nixon, the story isn’t about right vs. wrong but humanities intrinsic need to reshape the past for our own ends. Jones as Nixon more than believable, his shuffling delivery, problems with eye contact and perspiration make him look guilty of stuff he hadn’t even done. Williams bounces off the walls, he’s suave and bit vacuous but has the persistence and cheer to get through the dark moments without losing faith in himself. Mr. Bateman’s starts out as narration but then becomes the team’s bull dog, doing the grunt work we now assign to Google and hitting pay dirt at the most dramatic moment possible. Frost even has a love interest, she the historical Caroline Cushing (Chelsey Panisch). Her role seems primarily to show Frost’s womanizing, but she lives in Monaco prompting Nixon to advise: “You need to marry that woman. They don’t pay taxes in Monaco.”

Turning history into effective gripping drama is rare; often facts get in the way of relations and a pedantic lecture. “Frost / Nixon” avoids that trap, all of these folks are cut from real cloth, make real mistakes and add real humor to an unfunny situation. If you go in dreading a lecture, you’re safe; this is sprightly reenactment of history complete with a dream sequence with Nixon explaining himself to Frost over drinks. Most importantly, this is no hatchet job, while Nixon was reviled his crimes were less than those before and after him, and he’s given a fair chance to argue his case without the hectoring interruptions todays TV relies on. This history will NOT put you to sleep.

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Tom Larkin
Starring Tim DeBaun and Dean Walkuski
Theatre Downtown, Orlando Fla

Sherlock Holmes (DeBaun) is getting a bit long in the tooth, practically and metaphorically. In this first new adventure in a few decades, Holmes is feeling his age and put forth he’s losing his mental edge. Maybe it’s time to short circuit fate taking that big jump into the unknown. Is it really terminal depression, or just research for a case? He won’t tell Watson (Walkuski) and I certainly won’t tell you much beyond the Suicides Club’s odd rules: Billiard balls are drawn, first to decide who gets it, and then who gives it. Amazingly Mr. Williams (Russell R. Trahan) has failed to pull the fatal ball in odds defying 12 pulls out of a set of 5 balls; statistically this is about as likely as you winning the Power Ball jack pot, and its Holmes’ angle into the case. The story is full of the sorts of twists and turns that make implausible mystery’s the most enjoyable, and the cast is populated with the sort of colorful characters we expect to find at the Theatre Downtown lobby bar drinking cheap red wine.

Foremost is Walkuski’s bumbling Watson, he’s a bit over the top and always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he does well once he arrives. DeBaun’s Watson feels a bit tentative, either he’s acting Holmes loss of mental time and space, or he’s still getting his lines down. Trahan’s Mr. Williams has a sugar habit, and seems like one of those permanently drunk guys you see in old black and white movies while David Strauss plays the Russian Count “Mr. Charles”. His suicide might not resolve his life’s problem, but if not he’s destined to return to Mother Russia and Sister Firing Squad. His lover is Christine de LaBegassier (Amy Strickhouser); she’s a tad wooden but evokes the mystery a woman of uncertain intent ought to radiate. The other club members put up a good front as well; Mr. Henry (John Palmer) seems the least threatening; in his wheel chair he’s going to have to a hard time getting up and down all those London steps. There’s a bit of stage magic as well, but most if it involves Club Sectary (Monica Titus) flourishing billiard balls and an un-scary “Knife through the neck” routine.

While the plot is suitably involved, it proceeds rather slowly even if some of the stage tricks are nicely innovative: watch for the “Murder Scrim.” The story has its issues, but the cast jumps in a gives us a good Victorian drama – there’s not that much depth, but there plenty of broad humor in this production.


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

Enchanted April

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Enchanted April
By Matthew Barber
Adapted from a novel by Elizabeth von Armin
Directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Starring Melanie Whipple and Elizabeth Dean
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

This might be the dimmest lit play I’ve ever seen, and the resulting reconstruction of a gray British February was amazing. In this dank and depressing clime, ditzy Lotty Wilton (Whipple) chances upon a magical advert: “Castle for Rent – complete with wisteria and sunshine.” Sounds good, as does Italy and a chance to escape form a stifling marriage. Lotty picks up Rose Arnott (Dean); they vaguely know each other from church and after a decent sales job they make the deposit for a month in heaven. Splitting the cost is flapper Caroline Bramble (Piper Patterson) and imposing matron Mrs. Graves (Karel Wright). Lottie’s the Pollyanna; everything is wonderful from the wisteria to the iffy plumbing to the bickering between her room mates. The “no men for a month rules” quickly falls, Lotty sends for her husband Mellersh (Steven Lima) and Roses’ writer hubby Frederick (Tommy Keesling) drops in unexpectedly. Unexpectedly by Rose and by Ms. Bramble, he’s been romancing her under his pen name and the reunion is a bit awkward. But all resolves quickly and painlessly, there’s an unattached landlord Antony (Andrew Stark) in need of a girl and we discover that not only does travel broaden you; it can wipe off some of those crotchety edges as well.

True, this is a bit fluffy but I’ve seen two hangings this week and the light heart is well appreciated. The name Mellersh fascinated me; I’ve never heard it before and for while I struggled to understand what Lotty was calling this man. The women all made fine archetypes, the ditz, the conservative ‘fraidy cat, the sexy flapper the domineering matron and the put upon servant all rang true. Karel Wright was truly scary in the first act, I would have fled in fear rather than lock myself away with her snippy and demanding persona. Whipple and Dean felt like sisters, one afraid and the other on a permanent adventure and getting away from a domineering hubby like Mellersh took gumption. I though Mr. Arnott and Ms. Bramble made an interesting if unstable couple, he the philandering older man and she the young thing in a permanent pair of silk pajamas, but it was landlord who seemed to be the real catch. Gossip, gossip, gossip, that’s what you want on vacation, and there’s lots in the air.

Despite the dark first act the set (by Doug Huston) was magical, turn a few brick walls around and you’re not just in Italy, but in a magnificent Klimt-like world of flowers and sunshine. Living in the dark and cloudy north can make you barn-sour and some sunshine in winter is always good for the soul. That’s what this show is – sunshine for the soul.

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