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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for December, 2014

Encore

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Encore
Jan 28, 2014
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

For a theater company about to get the boot, these guys are getting more and more prolific. Tonight’s fund raiser showcases a surprisingly large number of musicals that have graced this stage over the past twenty five years. A nearly full house and cast of dozens did a superb Greatest Hits show; John DiDonna reprised Dr. Frankfurter’s “Sweet Transvestite” from “The Rocky Horror Show.” When I first saw this performed I did not know Mr. DiDonna, but he introduced himself to me by sitting on my lap. My life has never been the same. Tonight that experience went to The Orlando Sentinel’s Matt Palm. Later a poignant Stephen Pugh performs the always touching “Mr. Cellophane” from the blockbuster “Chicago.” These shows gave us a clear lead in material; these are the productions people will see over and over. Adam McCabe’s “I’m Going Home” (also a RHPS fave) showed his more vulnerable side, and Desiree Perez reprised “Strange Fruit” from her recent “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” show. Natalie Doliner managed the fund raising part of the show; she sang about all the wonderful new features a dream Theatre Downtown might possess; the obligatory pokes at Florida Hospital and the City of Orlando brought a steady stream of small bills into the collection box. I could go on and for as long as the show did: material from “West Side Story” and “Altar Boyz” and “Avenue Q” and a pack of smaller titles filled the night, but at the end the same issue persists: a venerable institution falls before Central Florida’s version of progress.

Frank Hilgenberg unsuccessfully attempts to filibuster Florida Hospital.

For more information on Theatre Downtown’s search for a new home, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

Santaland Diaries

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Santaland Diaries
By David Sedaris
Adapted by Joe Mantello
Directed by and featuring Paxton McCaghren
Queen’s Head Theatre, Winter Park FL

One door closes and another one opens, and this elegant space in a distant strip center offers good seats, good sight lines and a challenge to locate for the dedicated theater goer. Queen’s Head is the most recent addition to the local theatre scene, and they begin their journey with a low keyed one man show. The story comes from humorist David Sedaris; he’s desperate for work and eventually lands in the holiday hell of Macy’s “Santaland.” The job sucks, but so does homelessness. There’s plenty of employee training horror stories, but soon Mr. Sedaris finds himself in a green thong, striped tights, and the stupidest hat in New York City. His story begins bitchy and desperate, then turn into a Stockholm Syndrome show of solidarity before reaching a truly touching climax. His journey is a sodden marshmallow in this mulled cider sea of seasonal cynicism.

Mr. McCaghren directed himself, and while this is always a risky proposition the result holds true to the spirt of the original story. He smokes and tokes and drinks through the first act, but hits his groove with well told and well-acted battle stories about the happiest time of the year. While the job is stressing and underpaid, he falls into the rhythm and becomes a cog in the well-oiled selling machine. Dealing with the public is the worst part of any job; tales of bad photo ops and children peeing in the fake snow will make you grimace, but at the end you might think: “there is hope after all…but it just isn’t in Macys …”

The sprawling stage is filled with back alley detritus of New York, and the theme is “You can make the world a better place if you remove on unpleasant thing every day.” Sedaris/ McCaghren accomplished that, and we feel better for his vision if not his implementation. The simple irony is we all have some sort of pleasant holiday memories, but the process of either recalling them or passing them along to the next generation is, in itself, one of the most miserable jobs you can ever imagine. The deep message here is: “Don’t sweat it dude, lay back and let whatever happens, happen.” And you don’t need to go to a mall or a black Friday sale to feel good about yourself. In fact, go so something weird – visit Gator Land and get Thai food after. It’s a better memory and easier on the credit card.

For more information on the Queen’s Head Theatre, please visit www.queensheadtheatre.com

Let It Snow

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Let It Snow
A Steve and Eydie Cabaret
Starring Natalie Cordone and Shawn Kilgore
With The Josh Glenn Wilson Trio
Featuring the Moon Sisters
December 7, 2014
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL
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Yes, it’s beginning in to look a lot like Christmas and it has for several months. But nothing brings back memories to us old analog television consumers like a star studded celebrity Christmas TV special. Both Shawn and Natalie are young enough to be mystified by non-ironic black and white video, but they’ve gone back and absorbed all the middle class appeal of a duo whose motto was “no punk, no funk, no rock, no schlock”. Even though only one percent of Steve and Eydie’s material was holiday oriented, there’s still plenty to fill an evening.

Half 60’s pop revival, half-holiday pean, Cordone and Kilgore approach every number effortlessly and the program spans a very wide spectrum. They belt out show classical like “Cabaret” and “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely” as easily as they revive AM friendlies like “Hurt So Bad” and “Spinning Wheel,” but deep down they are just warming up for the holiday rush of “Little Drummer Boy/ Peace on Earth” and to “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting).” The jazzy Josh Glenn Wilson Trio backs them up; those boys even get a solo number as Natalie goes back stage of one of her frequent dress rotations. Mr. Kilgore sneaks offstage as well; I think he gets a quick nap because only his pocket square ever changes. The other talent on stage comes from the Moon Sisters; these three young women show some solid potential. Right now there are as cute as holiday bugs, but their burgeoning voices may well take them far. This holiday show is right up my alley: long on classic pop and well-loved Broadway standards and mercifully short on sugary, glurgey Santa and hot chocolate numbers. Mazel Tov and happy Kwanzaa, this is a holiday show that doesn’t leave you with a sugar rush hangover.

For more information and more show dates from Natalie and Shawn please visit www.cordoneandkilgore.com

For more information on Theatre Downtown and its journey to a new location, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

A Christmas Carol (TDT)

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

A Christmas Carol (TDT)
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Christopher Rohner
Directed by Frank Hilgenberg
Starring Tim DeBaun and Chris Pruitt and Erik Bendoyro
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL

<editorial>

Well, the Ghost of Christmas Future is almost here; this production is the swan song for this location of the venerable Theatre Downtown. They’ve been here for decades and outlived more than a few other equally qualified organizations. What does the future hold for this haunted and well-loved pile of stucco and ghosts? My guess is a parking lot, a tower full of adminidrones processing inscrutable paper work for sick people, or may be just another Mini Mart. Orlando needs more Mini Marts. As local growth has looked out farther and farther for the 25 years, this organization thrived, but now that growth turns inward as developers work to clog Orange Avenue and Mills. Theaters and oddment shops and dive bars must retreat from the onslaught of condos; the hipsters and yuppies need more high rises and high rent eateries. Someone once told me “Theatre lives on that border line between where people are willing to go and landlords are willing to rent,” and that ain’t Orange Avenue any more.

</editorial>

Oh, the story? Pretty much the same thing: Scrooge (DeBaun) makes money hand over fist without even the pretense of good will while spitting on the destitute and working poor like his clerk Bob Cratchit (Pruitt). But a crack team of ghosts (Aaron Babcock, Brenna Arden, and Jason Skinner) selects him for rehab, hand him Epiphany on a Platter and turn him into Harriett Lake. He even sends Cratchit a spare turkey. If Darth Vader can end up in heaven, so can unfettered capitalists. Perhaps there WILL be a Miracle on Orange Avenue…

DeBaun appears bipolar, sometimes a bundle of nasty energy, other times a floating waif aiming for sainthood, but always a bit bigger than life. Prueitt is the punching bag of the proletariat: obedient, submissive, and even unwilling to complain when his wife (Christina Thurmond) demands it. The ghosts were all in good spirits: Mr. Babcock as Spirit Present was jovial and sported a head and beard of brassy red. Spirit Past was the gracious and elegant Brenna Arden glowed like Cinderella ready for a royal ball. A solemn Spirit Future played by Jason Skinner (doubled as Marley) kept a respectful silence like a good funeral director in a Lutheran church. Tim Bass played a bubbling, fizzing Fezziwig and it’s never clear why Scrooge never emulated this boss he obviously respected and admired as an early career money lender. The set (by Aaron Babcock) was as familiar and friendly as grandmother’s kitchen, and they even fired up the Theatre Downtown Disco ball – and its motor work immediately, just like it’s supposed to.

I’ll miss this building; I’ve seen over 100 of their shows here and even had a few of my own shorts done on that stage. Listening to Frank rant over at the bar was an education: a request for “his cheapest rotgut” launched him into a 15 minute lecture on the Wine Spectator’s scores of his popularly priced merlot. Frank and Franny claim there’s a 2015 season in store, and I can’t wait to see it. Maybe I’ll offer the ghost a lift, I’m sure he won’t be welcome in the halls of corporate medicine.

For more information on Theatre Downtown and its search for a new home, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net

The Dead

Monday, December 8th, 2014

The Dead
By James Joyce
Book by Richard Nelson
Music by Shaun Davey
Lyrics by Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Starring Nicholas Wuehrmann, Meghan Moroney, and Patti McGuire
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Florida

This might be the least Christmassy Christmas story ever presented. True, it’s just before the holiday, the snow is flying in Dublin, and ham and goose are on the table, but the music and the story is pure Irish through and through. Rather than the issues of “Good will toward men” or “Away in a manger,” the question lurking is the value of Irish culture: is it useless shite, or a great ethnic tradition trodden down by British snobbery? This musical is derived from an episode in Joyce’s “Dubliners;” Joyce felt if he could understand his native town he could understand any place. Perhaps, but at least he hewed to the old writers dicta of “write what you know,” and Dublin is what he knew best of all.

Aunt Julia (McGuire) and Aunt Kate (Karel Wright) are putting up their annual musical Christmas party along with the maiden niece Mary Jane (Amanda Leakey). Various friends arrive: Gabriel Conroy (Wuehrmann) and his wife Greta (Moroney) are central; he plans to go bicycling in Belgium and France while she proposes a trip to the Aran Islands, the last remaining stronghold of Gaelic. It seems a small difference of plans, but there are implications: Gretta once knew a boy from that district and never told Gabriel about him. The revelation is shattering, even at this late date. But personal agony is subsidiary to the main event here: the singing of Irish tunes by a cast whose voices range from great to superb. Many of the best arrangements are ensemble pieces: “Kate Kearney” and “Parnell’s Plight” are traditional sounding sentimental tunes rarely heard over here. But the individual numbers like “The Three Jolly Pigeons” led by Freddy (Cole Nesmith) are more interesting and challenge the propriety of the party. “Naughty Girls” (led by Julie, Kate and Mary Jane) was very risqué, and Freddy returns with the nearly punk “Raise the Dead” which caused their landlord to pound on the floor. Ah, but this is Ireland, and you wouldn’t shush the singer, would you? But the most potent song is “D’Arcy’s Aria”, a beautiful operatic number presented by John Murray as Mr. D’Arcy; it’s given to Aunt Kate when she is in extremis and it’s the highlight of the evening.

I can’t say I know anything new about 1904 Ireland, but all my stereotypes are reinforced: there are the poor, there are the middle class, and there are the wealthy, and each stands in awe and fear of the others. Ireland may be beautiful and maudlin, but the Irish can take just about any passing piece of daily life and breathe life and misery and hope into it. That’s what makes tonight shine: we aren’t holly jolly or looking for a lost season. Rather we are just getting together in the best of times and worst of times, and making do with what we have – each other. Join us in that toast.

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

A Christmas Carol (OST)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Jim Helsinger
Directed by Michael Carleton
Musical Direction by Steven MacKinnon
Starring Steven Paterson, Paul Bernardo, Anne Hering and Steven Lane
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL

It’s a popular tale, and after a hundred plus years it’s been recast in as many ways as there are story telling forms: musical, cartoon, sock puppets, free verse, even ice capades. So how to add a fresh angle to this old chestnut? Adapter Helsinger chose to go full metal theater; he hangs the story on every trap door and fog machine and puppet that you’ve ever seen in the Margeson. The only thing missing is an aerial act. You may know the story but you will be impressed by this over the top presentation.

Ultra capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge (Patterson) is an old bully in love with money and skeptical of the new societal interest in the Christmas holiday. This formerly minor church holiday became a popular excuse to party and exchange gifts as England became an urban industrial power. Nephew Fred (Chris Crawford) drops by the counting house to invite Scrooge over for dinner, not so much because Scrooge will accept, but more to poke a stick in his greedy eye. Scrooge then grudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Lane) a day off, with pay. Why? Perhaps a whiff of the future since it’s a bit out of his present character. Cratchit has a lovely day with his wife and 5 children; Fred does the same in nicer surroundings, and Scrooge gets to view the whole thing supernaturally. And like so many hard boiled sinners, when he converts, he goes all out.

The strength of tonight’s performance lies with the theatricality of the show. There’s easy stuff like snowflakes falling and dry ice fog swirling, then more exciting scenes with trap doors and moving stages, and real “wow” factor with giant puppets reminiscent of recent Halloween shows down the hall. But it’s the small stuff you’ll fall in love with: human door knockers, fake food and human furniture give this show heart. Mr. Lane is sweet as the dedicated and loving father; he’s put upon yet cheerful about it and if anyone deserves a raise, it’s him. Anne Hering positively glows as Mrs. Cratchit; she presents a pillow on a platter as the Christmas goose and bowler hat as the famous pudding and we all want a slice. Paul Bernardo appears as an ominous Marley; he struggles with amplified horror as stage hands pull his chains to drag him in to the bowels of the Shake’s basement. Marley had me convinced to do better, and it took that level of convincing to make Patterson’s particularity brutal Scrooge reform. But once he saw the light of human kindness, he came across as a bit silly.

The weakness of the story lies in adherence to the text, there’s a good bit of “tell, don’t show” as the cast in chorus explains long stretches of people’s inner mind set. We don’t mind reading about the weather and the motives and the agony in print, but on stage we need to see it. But what we do see is impressive and overwhelming and at its heart the message is the same: You have it pretty good, and many so not. Think of them as you cruise for 80 inch televisions this season. There are poor people out there, starving and forced to watch the Kardashians on a 28 incher. Reflect on them this Christmas season.

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