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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for April, 2014

Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits
By Gerard Alessandrini
Directed and Choreographed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

How does one detect pomposity? Hundred dollar tickets for a matinee is one marker. While Broadway may be the pinnacle of Western theatre, it’s about as full of itself as any plastic haired newsman. That’s what makes this show so much fun – you’ve sat through “Les Mis” and bought the tee shirt for “Cats” and acted like you didn’t think “Annie” was the whiniest little girl since…since…Abba?

Well, they’re all here, punctured and re-written and made in to humorous moments the original authors desperately tried to avoid. We open with some Bob Fosse, God of the Jazz Hands and then plunge into Stephen Sondheim complete with homework assignments for the audience. I’m old enough to have had sentence diagramming in High School but no one, not even Fosse could diagram a Sondheim lyric. There’s an ensemble cast, and they go through numbers so fast you’ll have to work with me: Heather Kopp breathed life into a zombie Carol Channing singing “Dolly is a Girl’s Best Friend”, Benjamin Ptashinski channeled Mandy Ptashinski for a re-write of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a tee shirt commercial for “Cats,” Ms. Kopp joined Allyssa Yost for a West Side story dance off in “Chita/Rita”, and David Almeida teamed up with Mr. Ptashinski to skewer “Rent.” “Rent” seems to be everywhere these days; it’s sort of like “Christmas Carol” for Gen X.

Other highlights include “The Song That Goes Like This” from “Spam-A-Lot”, it survived relatively intact; after all it’s a parody to begin with. Everyone teamed up for “Ambition” from “Fiddler on The Roof,” and it amped d up with “Rejection” and “Attention” and a few indefinite nouns. “Wicked” and “A Chorus Line” and “Phantom of the Opera” took hits, and nothing lasted for much longer than gag was worth. If you’ve seen all the shows you’ll get all the jokes, and if not, just laugh with everyone else. That’s what the guy in the back left corner of the audience did, he had more fun than anyone else. Are we going to let him get away with that?

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

Hairspray

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Hairspray
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas
Directed and choreographed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Hanna Berry Matthews, Matthew Arter, Daniel Longacre, and Leigh Green
The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL.

John Waters sure cleaned up his act, he started with sex and dog poop on film and wound up on stage with this high energy, high power feel good story about overcoming body issues AND racism. In 1962 Baltimore, the hair styles were huge and the black folks conveniently out of sight on local TV. Teens flocked to the Corny Collins Show, that’s where the cool kids danced and primped and exuded to sort of superiority that only live television or a real selective sorority can imbue. Tubby Tracy Turnblad (Matthews) wants to audition but her white trash mama Edna (Arter) forbids her; mom knows her place and it’s washing skid marks out of other people’s undies. When Tracy lands the gig mom shifts positions but when Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway offers to sponsor her, Mom jumps all in. Tracy meets Seaweed Stubbs (Victor Souffrant) and discovers soul music, she effuses “I wish every day could be Negro day!” but that’s a bit much and she ends up in jail. Heartthrob Link Larkin (Longacre) busts her out with a hairspray and a lighter; she wins the dance contest, gets the heart of Link and completely erases all racial discrimination and hatred in the city. OK, that last one is a stretch; they don’t still call it Harm City for nothing.

This is the sort of big, busty musical that makes the genera a perennial favorite. The sets are huge, the cast is huge, and skill on stage and off is even bigger. Tracy is loveable yet vulnerable; she lacks Annie’s Saccharine but remains just stubborn enough to be believable. While her mom isn’t exactly Devine, she carries herself with poise and humility until it’s time to bust out of her spray can and conquer the world. Opposite this pair we have Amber Von Tussle (Green) and her producer/agent stage mom Velma (Sara-lee Dobbs); they’re blond and privileged and have connections as well as better accents and more expensive hairdos. Supporting this team is the always smiling Mr. Collins (Billy Flannigan), the supple and slithery Seaweed Stubbs, and the upbeat funny man Wilber Turnblad (Keith Smith.) Mellissa Vasquez plays Motormouth Maybelle; she nearly brought down the house with the stunning gospel number “I Know Where I’ve Been.” Finallay there’s Tracy’s sidekick, the gawky Penny Pingleton (Taylor Anderson) she never fit in to society but always got her laughs.

The set was simple yet effective, and the bright pure lighting tones recall the earliest days of color TV. Director Anderson did a stunning job of keeping all twenty people on stage doing something interesting without hurting themselves or the audience. The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” set the tone, it included a quick and quirky rat chorus line AND a flasher. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now,” “It Takes Two” and “Welcome to the 60’s” each got a tick mark in my program, but the music and production is so consistent that you never feel any song is a filler. Even a minor technical snag couldn’t slow this show down; it’s a steam roller of happy times, brilliant dance and songs to rekindle whatever youthful enthusiasm remains after your voyage through the cynical 90’s.

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

The Children’s Hour

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

The Children’s Hour
By Lillian Hellman
Directed by James Cougar Canfield
Starring Candy Heller, Carly DeCunha, Caralissa Stanley
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL.

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to bitch slap a character as much as little Mary Tilford (Stanley). She’s the manipulative prime mover in this girl’s school drama. While she doesn’t know what she wants she knows how to get it, cost be damned. The school is run by patient Karen Wright (Heller) and her tough sidekick Martha Dobie (DaCunha). Wright is the voice of reason, and while Dobie is strangely jealous she’s also the strong disciplinarian. The girls all seem pre-teen fluff, but they’ve got a copy of Annis Nin and Mary cleverly uses it’s imagery to destroy the lives of Wright and Dobie although it’s unclear what she wants beyond getting out of school and vengeance for perceived slights. She black mails schoolmate Rosily (Winona Wiley) over a possibly stolen bracelet and demands she “be her vassal and obey all her commands.” Then Mary shakes her down for her allowance and flees to her gullible grandmother Amelia (Sherry Dewitt). When Mary makes outrageous claims about Dobie and Wright Amelia blabs them to all her friends before doing anything to verify them claims beyond asking Mary “Are you sure? Are you telling the truth?” Well, if that’s not enough evidence to destroy people’s lives I’ve never watched the evening news. The one salvation open to Wright and Dobie is ex-elocution coach Lily Mortar (Karen Casteel). She has a few facts that could clear things up, but since she was fired and is now on a theatrical tour, she’s unmotivated to help to justice. There’s a theme here, and it unavailable justice if anything.

I’m not sure if every negative stereotype of women pops up in this show, but the only person close to rational is Ms. Wright and even she’s a weak vessel. Contrasting Stanley’s Machiavellian bile is Dewitt’s naïve innocence, she knows what’s been accused, but she seems the only person who doesn’t get Mary’s conniving ways and suspect the rapidly shifting story. I felt sorry for Heller’s dedicated educator, she had worked hard, done nothing wrong and was ultimately debased more than any Greek hubris would deserve. Even her boyfriend (Joseph Cardin) abandons her, and he’ medically qualified to decide that Mary did not, in fact have a heart attack, and she’s pretty good at fainting on command. There’s streak of jealousy in DaChunha’s role, while the accusations were fake, she might, just might have gone along with them.

How much truth is in a play like this? Children tend to be discounted as fabulists and unreliable narrators, and threats that adults would laugh at are very effective. That leaves them open to abuse, and that’s what Mary does to her school mates – she bullies and abuses and lacks any notion of where to stop. Ironically, she’s likely to go on to a promising career somewhere from business to law to entertainment to defrauding husbands. The strong get stronger, the weak discarded, and there’s no court in the land that can restore reputation.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook.

Why Do The Wrong People Travel?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Why Do The Wrong People Travel?
Spotlight Cabaret with Bert Rodriguez
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

Bert Rodriguez: a man with a plaid yoke shirt, a hipster hat, and tenor voice from heaven. His opening number sets the tone for the show, but after he sings “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?” he basically answers the question with “Maybe I’M the wrong guy to travel”. Rodriguez’s voice is great but his travel stories are even better, he’s not one to let a good tale sink in the ocean. There’s the time he was mistaken for a multiple felon with the same name as he tried to cross into Canada, getting thrown in a jail cell in New Orleans and bringing drunks to tears with gospel music, and a classic cruise from hell story. Musically, he scatted over “Lida Rose” and “Amazing Grace” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” He even arranged a chorus, that’s David Kotary, Ashley Arnold and Gina Varchetto. That’s a little over produced for a cabaret, but hey, this is Winter Park Playhouse, home of wobbly sets and soaring voices. Mr. Rodriguez has had a blessed career as a performer, he was hired at his very first audition and he’s done long term work on tours in parks and all the other entertainment dream jobs in this town. Mr. Rodriguez may not be the tallest man in the show, but he often has the biggest voice.

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

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Julia Allardice Gagne
Additional direction by Kevin G. Becker and Seth Kubersky
DiDonna Productions/The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration)
Starring Marty Stonerock, John DiDonna, Stephen Lima and Steven Fox
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Well. THAT was the most awkward round of applause I’ve ever participated in. Out in the lobby, I chatted with an older couple, he was a medical man who stated with confidence “Syphilis was indigenous to the New World and lived in the guts of the lama, and that’s how the conquistadores brought it to Europe.” What this had to do with this dark and awkward play I can’t say, but it wasn’t like I had anything better to offer. Martin (DiDonna) and Stevie (Stonerock) have 20 years under their belt, he’s a big time architect and she’s s dedicated home maker. When Martin’s old buddy Ross (Lima) drops by to film an interview, Martin is oddly distracted and he eventually confesses to an indiscretion. Had is tryst involved his own species or even his own gender, society would have disapproved but he would have moved on. But Martin’s sin is special, and in some our less (or more) forward thinking states he might assigned a condo on death row. Yes Virginia, that’s not one wisp of double entendre in this title.

With DiDonna and Lima on the program, you know this won’t be any upbeat feel good project. Martin’s wife is as shocked as we all are; after all she thought Martin was exclusive to her all these years. They even have a son Billy, (Steven Fox) he’s gay but that’s just a blip on the radar screen in this crisis. While Martin confessed to Ross it was only under duress – he knew that his actions were despicable to society and his high class life style. Ross then outs him, its one of those letters to Stevie that says “for your own good” but is really a knife in the back of everyone involved. And it’s not like Sylvia would run to the tabloids. Martin’s explanation as to what took him down this rabbit hole is weak – something about Sylvia’s eyes, a friendly nuzzle, a willing compliance. Well, we’ve all been nuzzled by puppies, but that never goes any further than some house breaking and long walks with a plastic bag in hand.

This production wasn’t just powerful, it was stunning. Crockery flies along with vitriol and we question what love means in both a physical and emotion al context. Curiously, the charters spend much of their time correcting each other’s grammar, unmixing their metaphors, and congratulation themselves for outstanding bon mots. Bu on the next level down this story raises the question of just what are proper vs. improper relation. Is serial monogamy less distasteful than adultery? Is sex with plushies less distasteful than bestiality? Homosexuality used to be a hanging crime, now it’s just another trip to the bridal registry. Why not approve of bestiality? And what, exactly is the definition of adultery? Are its boundaries fixed under all circumstance, or should they shift with time and situation? There’s plenty here to chat about post show, but mostly we sat around, stunned. That’s the best word I can muster: stunning.

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

The Performers

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The Performers
By David West Read
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Chaz Krivan, BeeJay Clinton and Marisa Quijano
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Porn can be quite boring, but porn names are always fun. Tonight we meet “Mandrew” (Krivan); he’s a scrawny Alley Oop type with a schlong that gets better mileage than a Prius. His old Buddy Lee (Clinton) dropped by for an interview; he’s more straight arrow and happily engaged to peppy and curvy Sara (Quijano). Mandrew is also “engaged”, his main squeeze is Peeps (aka Pussy Boots) whose specializes in “Barley Legal” porn. She debates implants, but realizes it’s a critical decision as she’s not quite ready to join the Granny porn circuit. There’s plenty of euphemisms and air quotes in this show, it’s bitterly funny as it takes us through the tortuous logic of marriage and fidelity in a business where three ways and gang bangs are billable hours and not just the fetid yearnings of a frustrated fantasy life.

While the lines a raunchy the acting is excellent, the comedy is far funnier than you would expect in “Planet of the Tits” or “Hanna Does Her Three Sisters.” Krivan is likeable if over the top, he knows his career is limited as are his job skills, and it’s not like there’s a retirement home dedicated to his trade. Peeps is equally funny, she’s gangly and sexy in her tall boots and streetwise attitude. Mandrew’s nemesis is Chuck Rawood (Bob Brandenburg), he’s the elder statesman of the porn industry and while he’s full of himself he’s also philosophical and ready with advice to all the youngsters in the business. He’s also the classic old guy, bragging about how things were better when he was their age. You have to forgive him, his junk worked better before he burned out his clutch. Tonight’s tension comes from the Sara and Lee relation; they were headed for a Barry Manilow concert until Lee is persuaded to stick with Mandrew as his career implodes. Sara is suitable annoyed, and she falls back to a classic female defensive position: I’ll engage your fantasy, and make sure you are so miserable that you’ll never ask again. I’ll just say this to the ladies: It works. Perfectly.

Appearing on stage is the large red Jell-O appliance that has yet to get a proper credit or billing in the program. The director told me after the show it was picking up hairs and smelled funny, but it’s still the best sight gag in town. I vote it get its own Facebook page.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook.