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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2014

Working: A Musical

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Working: A Musical
Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Based on a book by Studs Terkel
Directed by Dr. Jennifer Cavenaugh
Musical Direction by Jamey Ray
Choreography by Missy Barnes
Annie Russell Theatre, Winter Park FL

We live to work, we work to live and if you’re not working, you’re either very fortunate or very unfortunate. But for most of us there’s someone named “Boss” in your life, and you owe him your daily bread. Back in 1974 journalist Studs Terkel wrote the book this show is based on: interviews with working stiffs who collectively keep this world going. They wait tables, lift steel, babysit, trade stocks, clean floors, drive trucks, and they are all uniquely different and all exactly the same.

There’s Mike the iron worker (Nicholas d’Alessandro) who surprises college students by keeping a book in his pocket. Fireman Tom (Casey Castile) tells a horror story of almost shooting a man accidently when he was a cop and which made him change careers. High class sex worker Roberta (Lalitha Kasel) rents herself out for a few hundred an hour and Grace (Elodie Germaine) sweats making felt at minimum wage. A touching moment came from stone mason Anthony (Nicholas Petersen-Gyongyosi), he was the only worker who found a sense of destiny in his job: he knew he was building for the centuries, not for the rent. Petersen also played the sleazy hedge fund manager who complained about market regulations. He’s the only one on stage who made more money than Roberta. And the most touching story? Hands down that was Freddy (Bernard Farquharson) as the migrant farm worker mourning over the waste of a salad. Only he knew the sweat and misery needed to put lettuce on a table.

But this is a musical, and there are more than few great numbers here . “Brother Trucker” (music by James Taylor) took us into the world of white line fever where a man can’t even stop off at home when he was passing it 15 minutes away. There’s retired Joe (Richard Owens singing music by Craig Carnelia) looking for meaning in life when he no longer needed to labor. Then there’s almost a rip off of “Nine to Five” called “Cleanin’ Women” (music by Micki Gant). It’s the story of the family traditions of those who come in after hours to polish the glass and vacuum the carpets.

There’s a strong parallel to “Chorus Line” here; the entertainment is based on dozens of short mini-dramas without a real narrative through line. But it’s still moving and thought provoking, and at intermission I was comparing first jobs with a guy in the next seat. He had done the fast food thing; I began as a grocery inventory guy, counting the cheese and the frozen juice cans. Your life exists in this story somewhere, and it’s an excellent opening from a recently revamped Annie Russell team.

For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/annierussell/current_season/index.html

Sweeney Todd

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Sweeney Todd
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed and choreographed by Scott A Cook
Musical Direction by David Foust
Starring Nick Kroger and Candy Heller
The Garden Theater, Winter Garden, FL

Any more bodies on this stage and they’d have to sing in Italian and call it an opera. Sweeny Todd (Kroger) escaped from Australia and made his way back to London, seeking vengeance for his ambiguously deserved sentence. He was a barber but tonight he’s doing advanced studies in mass murder as he hacks his way through the hirsute London middle classes. His partner and landlady is Mrs. Lovett (Heller); her meat pies are as dodgy as her morals. But before long they achieve fame, fortune and a reputation for the smelliest smokestack in the East End. Supporting this deathly duo is a good hearted Anthony Hope (Robb Ross); he rescued Mr. Todd, feeds him clues and helps rescue Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jennica McCleary.) She’s forcibly engaged to her evil warder Judge Turpin (Alexander Mrazek); he’s the man who sentenced Todd to “transportation” as they so quaintly call it, and then stole his daughter and motivated the show.

The twin dynamos of Heller’s Lovett and Kroger’s Sweeney electrify this show. He features the haunted, hunted look you would use to detect any psychopathic murderer. Lovett’s grin is easily as large; while she razzes Todd about his single minded search for vengeance she dreams of a normal sea side honeymoon while chopping up the unsuspecting middle class. Mrazecks’s Turpin is a also bigger than life; he has a prodigious memory of those he’s sentenced. He’s just as evil as Todd and Lovett, but he takes his evil personally and is offended that anyone, no matter how desperate, would think lightly of the King’s Law. The touching heart of the show is Mr. Ross’s kindly Anthony Hope; not only is he essential to counter balance the evil of the Pie Shop, he’s a sailor on shore and subtly emotes “There is an escape, if only you would take it.” The staging of the show is dark and ominous, it echoes that lengthy French Revolution going on across town. Paris during the terror, London under Victoria, who’s to say which is more evil? And you know this is an Important Show because everyone takes it so seriously, even the funny bits.

I didn’t keep a close count on the deaths, but I’m sure a few minor characters felt Sweeny’s all-too-close shave more than once. There was humor in James F. Beck’s clever set and when dead bodies started popping out of the backdrop you knew the murders had passed from tragedy to comedy. A few holes lurk in the plot;, most of the victims seemed well to do and after the 14th or 15th gentleman went missing. You would think the Beadle (Nathan Jesse) would start to hear things. But this is musical comedy, and a black musical comedy at that. We all love this art form for its logic: If you can’t say it, sing it; if you can’t sing it, dance it; and if you can’t dance it, just slit someone’s throat and move the furniture around.

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

Baltimore Waltz

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Baltimore Waltz
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Julia Listengarten
Starring Shanel Sparr and Alex Blair
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL

Anna (Sparr) and her brother Carl (Blair) live in a mixed up universe. He’s dying of a mysterious disease, she fears foreign travel and foreign language. Carl has no such qualms, he speaks 6 languages and can likely fake a dozen more, but neither of them has been overseas. In fact the farthest they go is cross county to Baltimore, hoping the medicos at Johns Hopkins might offer a miracle cure. But there are no miracles in the real world or on this stage. The best they can do is offer Carl a Stage One Trial: that’s where they verify new drugs don’t kill you any faster than doing nothing. But in the mind of writer Vogel the roles reverse – Anna is the patient, and Alex pops for a leisurely trip through Europe ending in a search for a miracle cure for her in Vienna. Along the way Anna imagines herself worldly and sexy and while this posited ailment might kill her body, it leaves her libido alone. This is sexual surrealism, made modern.

While Ms. Sparr is flirty and bold, Mr. Blair is equally as interesting if not as interested in sex. She sleeps with bellhops as he checks out the museums. It’s implied she may have to consume her own bodily excretions to get a cure, but this is really a minor inconvenience and a long, healthy life is worth a swig of pee. The pair forms a strong dynamic bond and they do seem tied together by both genetics and years of shared holidays. Supporting their whirlwind tour is the versatile “3rd Man ” (Ryan Sutter.) He plays most of the other speaking parts ranging from the standoffish doctor in Baltimore to the creepy doctor in Vienna. Then there’s a crew of stage hands, they mostly dress in scrubs and push the stage around. All their action focuses on a wonderful round structure with a ramp and stairs and colorful lights that fills in as a train and an examining room and the top of a building shrouded in mystery. It’s a minimal set with maximum impact.

While the audience is never certain about the action on stage, it does bond with the confusion and loss that Anna feels. Sudden death shocks, and the long decline of an elder drags, but the knowledge of the pending and irreversible loss of a sibling tears one apart. How many ways can we analyze such a death? There’s the 5 (or 6) stages of Kübler-Ross, the secret hope it’s all a clerical error in some office, and the confusion of “why is this happening, and what did I do to deserve it?” None of these leads to an answer, but all must be considered prior to that last curtain call. This is an intriguing if surreal look at the endgame of life, and if you haven’t been there yet, you will be eventually.

For more information on Theatre UCF visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu

I’ll Be Back Before Midnight

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

I’ll Be Back Before Midnight
By Peter Colley
Directed by Tabitha Rox
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

With a Chekhovian gun, a Chekhovian axe, and a Chekhovian trebuchet, there’s plenty of mayhem hanging on this wall. Greg (John Reid Adams) rented a creepy farm house for his wife Jan (Lyn Adams) to recover in. She’s been in a mental hospital, and isn’t thrilled about the isolation: she feels a need to be around people. But thoughtful Greg thought of that, he’s invited his even creepier sister Laura (Candace Doerner Hicks) to hang out with them and flash her cleavage in a short-short leopard skin robe. Jan is not amused. She’s little better with the landlord; the uber-creepy George (Mark Davids) lives across the road and checks in on their whiskey supply twice a day. Jan hears voices, Greg runs and falls down a lot, Laura has a tattoo somewhere saying “Incest is Best” and George, well, George likes to dress up a bit. But only on weekends.

This being a mystery, I’ll leave it at that and just mention there’s a gut wrenching double reverse uppercut fake out or two in this show, so stick with the slow first act and the abrupt light changes, the payoff is worth it. Mr. Sanderson’s boyish charm covers a dark streak, and when he and his sister are debating the past and the future, its one of the creepiest moments of the show. Jan is sympathetic, she knows she needs help and loves her hubby although he doesn’t seem to be a positive influence. Mr. David plays for laughs, his “ha ha” moment s are stronger than his “oh no” moments, but he’s not without scareative powers. This is the opening volley of this year’s Halloween scare season, and not a bad beginning.

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

Let Me Be Frank

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Let Me Be Frank
Starring Frank Siano
Spotlight Cabaret
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

You have to love Frank Siano – character player, leading man, amazing vocalist, and probably the best cookie duster moustache in town. Mr. Siano’s been on nearly every stage in Central Florida, but tonight is his chance to be himself – funny, gregarious and a pat hand at singing those old Italian songs you remember from growing up in Hoboken. Siano’s as much a story teller as a singer, he made money in his youth singing in illegal gambling dens (aka “Italian American Clubs”.) People would throw money at him and his brother would collect it. They survived raids and he went on to make a living performing endless “Fiddlers on the Roof” and swarms of “Guys and Dolls” and an army of “Man of La Mancha.” His was a lifetime of practice for tonight: he regales us with “(Oldest Established) Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York” and “I Really Like Him” and he even makes Sondheim’s “Company” sound better than I’ve ever heard it. Like all Spot Light Cabarets, this one was over too soon and had too short a run. Maybe if we throw money at him, he’ll come back.

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

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
By Lanie Robertson
Directed by Paul Castaneda
Musical direction and accompaniment by Stephen A. Merritt
Starring Desiree Perez
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

It’s always painful to watch the mighty fall, and when they push themselves off their pedestal its doubly painful. Billy (Eleanora Fagan) Holiday was one of those singers who made a name but not a fortune for herself, and was successfully exploited by nearly everyone who touched her life. Born in 1915 in Philadelphia, her childhood was one of abandonment and abuse. But she could sing and was around when Jazz was the hot, hot sound, and her mother got her a job in a brothel as a cleaning lady and part time call girl. She couldn’t dance but could sing, and soon was drawing crowds at the swinging clubs in prohibition era Harlem. Like many other great musicians she had poor taste in men and came out of WW2 with a crummy boyfriend and a worse habit. That led her to some time in a West Virginia prison during the height of Jim Crow. As she points out: “getting arrested is long time Negro tradition.” But despite these burdens she went on to sell millions of records with the profits flowing to everyone but her.

Ms. Perez does more than channel Holiday’s voice and style, she comes on stage obviously drunk and becomes drunker as the night progresses, and that’s one of the hardest things to do successfully when fully sober. Her voice may not be exactly that of Ms. Holiday but there are no complaints as to her soul and authenticity. Her stories are humiliating and touching, injustice was her daily bread and only the brave (I’m talking Artie Shaw here) showed her any real trust or respect. Behind her we have the shadowy Voice of Reason (Stephen Merritt) as her friend, manger and piano player. There are 14 songs here, not all technically complete, but all emotionally resonant. Her biggest hit “God Bless the Child” stakes the center of the show, and the brutal “Strange Fruit” pounds that stake home. Other remarkable numbers include “Hush Now” and the Bessie Smith / Louie Armstrong drinking song “Pigs Foot.” Ms. Perez is a powerful talent on her own, but with Ms. Holiday’s words behind her she’s unstoppable.

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

They’re Playing Our Song

Monday, September 15th, 2014

They’re Playing Our Song
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager
Directed by Michael Edwards
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Starring Roy Alan And Heather Alexander
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

There a self-reflexive class of Broadway shows that focuses on the process of writing a Broadway show. The whole business of creating interwoven story, music, and character looks so effortless on the outside and is so painful on the inside that it’s a natural for an actual musical. Here we probe deep inside the dynamic of writing hit songs; Vernon (Alan) is a gifted composer with Oscars and Emmys and Gold records, Sonia (Alexander) is a neurotic and conflicted lyricist with one minor hit to her name. Their relation begins rocky: she’s late and she can’t write until she “really knows” him, and best of all she has a hanging on boyfriend Leon who is No Damn Good And We Know It. As Vernon pries her away from Leon, he becomes infatuated with her just as you’d hope and the result is musical magic. As his frustration turns to lust there’s a Greek Chorus of boys (Kevin Kelly, Joshua S. Roth and Brian Wettstein) and girls (Gabi Guinta, Kayla Kelsay- Morales and Jill Vanderoef) They provide backup sound, sly commentary and matching outfits to choreograph this standard yet charming love story. It’s always easier to fall in love in a musical, you know no matter what befalls you, you can always sing and dance your way out of any problem.

I’m not sure how long Mr. Alan and Ms. Alexander have been married, but that doesn’t stand in the way of them making romantic chemistry on stage. Ms. Alexander has a scary wig and clothes that look more Ren Faire than 5th Avenue, and Mr. Alan is very convincing as the fussy writer with a pencil behinds his ear and a beige sweater. But the music soars and showcases Mr. Hamlisch’s sense of the modern American pop tune: while this is set in the days of Punk and Studio 54 dance marathons, there’s an almost suburban feel to the sound and the sense that Hamlisch doesn’t have to aim for a hit, hits will track him down and jump him from behind a light pole. By far the highlight of this show is Ms. Alexander’s pensive “I Still Believe In Love.” I forget what motivates this song, but it starts out as a typical late century pop tune, but then achieves one of those moments that are so rare and so vital to the theatrical experience – she makes time freeze for a second and an eternity. Magic can still come from the mundane, and when it does, well, it’s worth the wait.

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

Betty’s Summer Vacation

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Betty’s Summer Vacation
By Christophe Durang
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Lori Babson Jessup, Traci McGough, and Bridgette Lindsey Morris
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Director Wade Hair breaks out of his comfort zone and smashes up the third wall, the fourth wall and the ceiling and the floor with this fireball of a farce. Betty (Jessup) rents a beach cottage with some friends and strangers: Trudy (Morris) is young and abused and on a permanent talking jag, creepy Keith (BeeJay Aubertin Clinton) curates heads in hat boxes, and Buck (Thomas Rivera) has a permanent hard-on and wants the world to know about it. Their landlady is sleazy Mrs. Siezmagraff (McGough), her husband died and she needs a place to crash. Although recently widowed, she invites the enthusiastic flasher Mr. Vanislaw over for an evening of sex, booze, and beheadings. And it’s a nice cottage: big deck, small ocean view, and voices in the ceiling. They drive the story, commenting and demanding and generally getting their way, and pretty soon its sex, sex , sex and more blood. The vacation is funny, brutal, and packed with PG rated sex and Sunday School unfriendly language everywhere.

The story itself is a little hard to summarize, but it’s a tabloid brought to life and plastered across checkout stands and afternoon TV shows of America. Ms. Jessup is long suffering and somewhat sane and one of the best scream queens I’ve meet. Mrs. Morris is cute, put upon, and not ready to have consensual sex as the other kind has worn her down. Ms. McGough was careless yet kind; she’s the archetypical rationalizer that purposefully ignores the bad things around her in exchange for peace and quiet. And Mr. Rivera is everything Mr. Aubertin Clintons isn’t – out going, blunt and ready to get laid by anything that can’t out run him. Finally there’s Mr. Brandenburg and his flashers rain coat. He enjoyed his role WAY too much.

The Greek chorus mirrors the demanding Modern American Public; they are insatiable when it comes to sleaze and smarm and schmaltz. While we publicly dismiss stories like Lorain Bobbitt and John Wayne Gay as trash, they sell endless magazines and ad minutes, and they are the shameful undercurrent of our culture. Durang simply takes this reality, adds better pacing and more laughs, and flashes it back into our eyes like our own headlights as we tail gate a monster truck. This is a risky, edgy, profane and wonderful piece of theater, and it’s too short run will keep its audiences down to four or five full houses. Write your congressman and get him to extend this run. Heck, he might as well star in it. You know he’s got the back story.

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

Les Misérables

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Les Misérables
Book by Alain Boublil
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer
Adapted from a novel by Victor Hugo
Directed and Choreographed by D. J. Salisbury
Musical direction by Ken Clifton
Starring Michael Hunsaker and Davis Gaines
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL

Orlando Shakes opens another season with an extensive evening of poverty and anthems and a high tech revolving stage. I’ve heard “Les Mis” referred to as a Man’s Musical, there’s more marching and anthem singing than romance or kissing. Jean Valjean (Hunsaker) steals a loaf of bread and does 19 years hard labor in return, and the obsessive Javert (Gaines) spends the rest of his career harassing Valjean for “breaking parole”. In return Valjean is constantly offering to turn himself in but never does. Still, if all criminals rehabbed as well as Valjean the world would be a better place. Valjean borrows some silver plate from a priest, opens a button factory and employs poor but catty women to make something profitable. When the single mom Fantine is chased out she sells her hair and her honor to save her daughter who she farmed out to the comic relief of the show, Madam and Messrs. Thénardier. When a bunch of dissatisfied Parisian youth raise a revolution that no one joins, Valjean is sucked up into it, captures Javert but lets him go and escapes into a sewer with Cosette’s fiancé Maurice. There’s more, of course, but you get the idea: there’s plenty of plot on this stage, and plenty of rousing music.

With a large cast of new comers, it’s hard to pick a favorite actor in this mega production. Gaines is a local boy who’s done well in another large and famous show, here he’s obsessive and legalistic to a fault as he belts out some great solos numbers, “Stars” and “Soliloquy” are both outstanding. Hunsaker’s Valjean is likeable if good to fault, his powerful voice can more than fill the Margeson rafters. Fantine (Lianne Marie Dobbs) dies way too soon, her “I Dreamed a Dream” is the best “I Want” song of the show. Her daughter Cosette (Heather Botts) is a near double, we speculated that it might be a doubled role until they both appeared in the closing number. The Thénardier’s (Anne Herring and James Beaman) drove most of the show’s humor, they were more than just conniving and self-serving, they formed the strongest paring of the show and lead us all in the joyous “Master of the House.” Lastly I’ll point out young Marius (Tim Quartier), he sang well, fought well, and showed the sort of youthful idealism that screams out “I need a cause to die for!”

This is a major production, the revolving stage from last season’s Nicholas Nickleby re-appeared and kept the action flowing as it gave the marching scenes a more dynamic feel. The first act flew along quickly and even if “Red and Black” seemed to signal the end of the act there was more to see. The sound was well balanced and had no dead zones or distortion, all the singer’s voices come across bright and crisp. As a story goes, Javert seems overly concerned about tracking the harmless and repentant Valjean while the likes of the Thénardiers fleece the general populace with no threat of reprisal. The conditions shown here might not quite as brutal as those of Dickens or Chekov, but the motivation is the same – a pastoral system collapses and a nation becomes industrial, creating pockets of extreme wealth and oceans of dire poverty and setting a stage for rebellion and warfare. But we know this from hanging out around musical theatre: misery can make for plenty of dramatic and soul stirring music. And that’s what “Les Mis” provides – music that brings tears to your eyes and stays with you as you return to your mundane world of office battles and overbearing credit cards.

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