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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for January, 2016

Best of Broadway 2011-2016

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Best of Broadway 2011-2016
Directed by Wade Hair
Musical Direction by Angelyn Rhode
Choreography by Angela Cotto
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

If Mr. Hair put any more people on this stage, he may create a gravitation singularity that could wipe out most of Winter Park. But on the positive side, a show with this many people and a large a percentage of the cast under age, it means no one has to learn too many songs all by themselves. Tonight’s McGuffin is the last five years of Broadway hits; that means many of these shows are still running and are still off limits to the Community Theater tribes. While plenty of kids are working here, the best numbers still come from the adults; and with over 30 tunes it’s hard to pick a favorite. But can assure you this: its value for your ticket price.

Tonight opens with “Hello” from “Book of Mormon”; it’s a complicated modern style number with complicated choreography (thanks to Angela Cotto) and best summed up by Elder Cunningham: “Would you like to change religions?! I have a free book written by Jesus!” Amen, brother. “Hello” is big and in your face; a smaller but equally pretty tune comes with “Fly Away” from “Catch Me If You Can” sung by the beautiful Naisha Aviles. It’s a solo, and an amazing one. A few weaker numbers snuck in, and one came from “Newsies.” Alec Lacher just couldn’t pump much energy into “Santa Fe”.

There were plenty of kid’s songs and kid roles in this collection as well; Jason Zavitz was cute and energetic singing “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” from “Christmas Story”; it brings back those old days when kids had guns and they only used them against tin cans and squirrels. Two more big assembly numbers wrapped up Act One; there was an adult cast-wide Motown medley and then the kids closed out the first act with “Revolting Children” From Matilda. I liked it; I know a few outside of theatre.

Act Two sparkled with Hugo Gonzales “Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin and a soulful “Stormy Weather” sung by YaDonna Russel. Andrew Emery led an energetic “God, I Hate Shakespeare” from “Something Rotten” and while this is sacrilege on a stage, I have to agree. The Bard wrote a LOT of fart jokes, and not many of them still work. Lastly I’ll mention an odd number from “Fun Home;” the number “Come To The Fun Home” is one of the few up-beat productions I recall about a funeral home. Overall this was a great evening, even if the lobby can barely hold the cast for post-show handshakes. On nice evenings, perhaps they could extend the reception line down Fairbanks Avenue a bit.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Breakthrough-Theatre-of-Winter-Park/

Art

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Art
By Yasmina Reza
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

Apophina is a harsh mistress. She has latched onto art connoisseur and successfully divorced dermatologist Serge (Thom Mesrobian). Practically that means he shelled out 200,000 French franc’s for a pure white painting by a famous guy none of us have ever heard of. Never mind what 200,000 FF is in Euros or Zlotys, it’s chunk of change and his buddy Marc the Engineer (Jay T. Becker) is not impressed. Rather than just rag him for being a fool, he deconstructs Serge’s love of deconstruction and jumps their mutual friend Yvan (Tommy Keesling), forcing him to take a side. Yvan has his own problems as he desperately tries to marry the worst woman in the world. She may be a Gorgon but its better than dying alone. But Yves loves Serge’s investment, or says he does, and you wouldn’t tell a mother to her face she has an ugly baby, would you? Marc would. While everyone ends the evening on speaking terms, something has shifted in their friendship.

Long ago we decide art is whatever you are willing to pay for, and now technical skill is subservient to marketing. And while these guys argue about things most guys could care less about, we do explore what roughage cleanses the bonds of friendship. Keesling has the best scene; late in the show he has a wonderful break down. Serge maintains his inner definition of taste as he slow burns though his friends skeptics; Becker’s aerospace engineer seems capable of being stylish, technically correct, and Parisian arrogant simultaneously.

The set is minimal with a giant custom carpet filling the stage, clever mechanism make props move magically, and the customs in muted yet primary colors underscore the unity and divides of this friendship. Other productions of this show I’ve crossed seem to focus on the “Meaning of Art”; here that seems assumed and we focus instead on the testing of male relations, as imagined by an outsider. And yes, there are such things hanging in major museums; I’ve even see one myself in the wild. And yes, it was in Paris. So there.

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

I Am My Own Cast Party

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

I Am My Own Cast Party
Lucas Brooks
Footlight Theatre, Orlando FL

First of all, I’d like to thanks the P-House staff for cleaning the Disco Ball. It’s now MUCH more fabulous, as it should be. Mr. Brooks was reasonably fabulous as well; you may have caught some of his Orlando Fringe material over the past years (“Cootie Catcher” and “VGL 5’4″ Top” come to mind.) While he’s a good looking man he does feature a diminished stature, yet he can’t get cast as Puck in “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” He’s avoided the Broadway stage, not that he hasn’t been trying. Tonight we hear his life’s tale from theater school to coming out to the Audition Hell every actor goes through. He moves elegantly about the stage; it might be that “motion memory” thing I’ve heard about but either way he’s fun to watch. There were tech problems with misbehaving lights and oscillating amplifiers, but he soldiered on. Highlights include his “Eight Bit Audition” and a fake German accented version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” He’s also a “boylesque” artist on the side, we see a bit of his “Lucky Charming “routine although nothing particularly naughty appears. With only a single weekend run, I suspect he may bring this show back for the next Fringe Festival; it’s just the sort of performance we all look for in that wild time.

For more information on shows at the Footlights Theater, please visit http://www.parliamenthouse.com/footlight-theatre/

I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett
Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
With Bert Rodriguez, Victor Souffrant and Deejay Young
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

Here’s a quick Pro Tip: If it’s a “salute,” you’re alive. If it’s a “tribute,” you’re dead. I thought you might need to know this. Tony Bennet is still alive as I write this (he’s 89) and he’s had a pretty amazing career. His music offers a wide appeal based on his clear vocals and midcentury jazz footing. He avoided the potential torture of covering Janis Joplin’s material at a career nadir; I like Joplin as well, but you wouldn’t put chocolate sauce on your sushi, would you? Sorry I asked. There’ no story line here, just three really great singers , three dozen really great songs and the occasional anecdotes like the time Bob Hope gave the young Anthony Dominick “Tony” Benedetto his stage name.

With Bennet’s extensive song book (70 albums, 18 Grammies) this show only has to sort thought a pile of gold to assemble an evening’s program. Favorites here include Berlin’s “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance;” Leigh and Coleman’s “The Best Is Yet To Come;” Bill Evans’ “A Child Is Born” and of course, the signature closer ” I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Cross and Cory. Songs flow effortlessly between the trio; it’s sometimes hard to identify when one track slides into another, but I did note Mr. Rodriguez hitting high notes on “I Got Rhythm” while Mr. Souffrant snapped his fingers for “That Old Black Magic” while Mr. Young crooned though “Night and Day.” The house band is front and center in this show; the normally reticent Sam Forrest is completely visible and not eager to make eye contact with the crowd, yet he provided a rhythmic authority to the show. Meanwhile multi-instrumentalist Ned Wilkinson played trumpet and keys simultaneously and very discretely. If I hadn’t been prepped to look for this by house manager and chief patron-hugger Heather Alexander I might have missed this stunt. It’s all elegant and tres Winter Park, but they’ll let most anyone in for the party, and its well worth an evening of your life.

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

The Crucible

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

The Crucible
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Donald Rupe
Starring David Lowe, Tim Bass and Frank Casado
Central Florida Community Arts
Presented at First Christian Church, Orlando, FL

Written in response to the Joe McCarthy Witch hunts, “The Crucible” remains a difficult and troubling look at the mass hysteria that erupts in all society from time to time. Underlying the hysteria are economic and personal problems; here Reverend Perris (David Lowe) is underpaid and over worked by the litigious people of 1674 Salem Mass. Local landowner Thomas Putnam (Quentin Prior) looks to expand his land holding on the cheap, and a neighbor convicted for witch craft will lose their life and property, with the land auctioned to the highest bidder. Any descendants are left bankrupt. Some local girls have an adventure in the woods, and their play is interpreted as a witch’s dance in a time when the devil worship was serious business. An accusation is impossible to defend against: confession meant death, and denial meant torture until confession. John Proctor (Casado) is an easy mark; he lives five miles out of town, doesn’t get along with Rev. Parris, and gasp(!) only walks to church once a month. Clearly a sinner beyond redemption. He also had a fling with a serving girl Abigail, but while that’s over he lives in a brittle peace with his wife Elizabeth (Kayle Kelsay Morales). One thing leads to another and soon half the town is in jail on charges of witchcraft. Overbearing Deputy Governor Danforth (Bass) arrives to browbeat confessions out of them all; he must have a quota to fill. But the accusation and counter accusation are based on constantly shifting testimony; he’d be glad to condemn the lot to hang, but then he’d have to string up the last one himself.

This is a minimal yet intense show, and most of the actors operate at eleven on this mostly bare set. Smoke billows out from under the stage; if you’re seated on the south wall front row expect a small brush fires worth of inhalation. No one is played for depth: Casado’s’ John Proctor is moody and intense; Morales’ Elizabeth is forgiving yet condescending. As a minister, Lowe snivels with great enthusiasm, and while Bass works to harangue the Salemites into salvation, when he fails he writes it off to God’s mysterious plans. Death comes to those unlucky enough to be standing in the wrong place, and this was certainly the wrong time. Rationality is in short supply; exceptions include the hapless Tituba (Shanteria Strowbridge), the Barbadian slave and the amateur lawyer Giles Corey (Allan Whitehead). Occasional Bible verses flash up in the end wall in small print; despite this, salvation and forgiveness were not in evidence tonight; this church is ruled by that cranky pants God the early Old Testament.

For other Central Florida Community Arts events, please visit cfcarts.com

Spunk and the Harlem Literati

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Spunk and the Harlem Literati
Based on a play by Zora Neale Hurston
Adapted and Directed by Be Boyd
Starring Brianna Joseph, Maurice Mallard II, and Amanda Tavarez
UCF Conservatory Theatre, Orlando, FL

In the Harlem Heydays of the late 1920’s a debate raged: should black writers write the “black” stories of their experience, or attempt to mimic what “nice” people described in white literature? It’s an odd question in today’s society, but critical back in the day. Tonight we open with that debate at a party hosted by Zora Neale Hurston (Joseph). Luminaries in attendance include Langston Hughes (Joshua Goodrich), Wallace Thurman (Raleigh Mosely II), and Helene Johnson (Reva Stover), and their arguments tend to fall into what writers sometimes call “by the way, Jim…” That is, they take great pains to explain who they are and what they do so the audience can follow the action, but which all should be obvious to close friends. But it’s healthy and educational dialog, but ultimately not much more. The joy of this show revolves around an enhanced re-enactment of Hurston’s short play “Spunk.” Set in what we presume is Eatonville, FL in the 1920’s, we meet work gangs and church ladies and men interested in gambling and liquor. Spunk (Mallard) drifts into town looking for work; he’s directed to a job operating a saw mill, as the supporting cast helpfully points out “its dangerous job, everybody who’s done it has ended up dead.” But Spunk is up to it and he soon becomes essential to the town economy. At a church picnic he meets attractive Evelina (Tavarez) and begins a flirtation which upsets her husband Jim (Mosely). Jim resorts to mojo man Bishop (Dwayne Allen) whose skill with roots gets Jim killed and Spunk and Evelina happily married despite Bishop’s totally bizarre “Cat Dance” near the end. Maybe it’s all a lie; cats AREN’T supernatural creatures that can do their master’s bidding.

Spunk is an interesting guy; he charms the women but you suspect while his charms are temporary his impregnations last much longer. Allen’s Bishop has less stage time but is a worthy opponent; his charms and spell are most effective when applied to a gullible audience but if you keep score he’s as much bluster as the great Oz. Mrs. Joseph’s well-dressed narrator appears periodically to push the story along but you really want to spend more time at the church dance and its “Toe Party” or off with the boys telling tales and shooting dice. Nice people are nice, but naughty people are interesting. The set is magical (thanks to Morgan Burhoe, Brett Scott and Vandy Wood); rear projections extend shadow from the streets of Harlem to the peaks of Manhattan; then vines and tropical leaves appear from the arras and we fly to the relentless Central Florida heat. Occasional musical numbers flit along, but we never resolve the fundamental question of “How Should Black Authors Write?” I guess they should write however they want, and let the readers decide for themselves.

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

Lend Me A Tenor

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Lend Me A Tenor
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Trevin Cooper
Starring Colton Butcher, Shanel Sparr, and Russel Trahan
Athens Theatre, Deland, FL

Here’s a show where you keep waiting to hear someone shout “Third Base!” It’s a door slamming farce with sex and fame and opera, all driven by a seasoned crew of comic actors whose timing makes this show fly. It’s 1934 in Cleveland (and when isn’t it?) and famous Italian Tenor Tito Merelli (Thomas Muniz) appears for his North American debut. Take THAT, Metropolitan Opera! But he’s late and Opera manager Saunders (Trahan) freaks out. His kicking boy Max (Butcher) does what he can, but the facts are the facts: Merelli is missing in Cleveland and rehearsal started already. When he does show up with his equally dramatic wife Maria (Monica Titus) in tow he’s feeling poorly and as for rehearsal – he’s sung this show 50 times so what’s to rehearse? Being famous, all the women fall for him from Saunders’s daughter Maggie (Sparr) to the leading lady Diana (Bernadette Siudock) to the opera’s patroness Julia (Pat Justin) who is cleverly disguised as Margret Dumont. It’s all sex, drug and slamming doors as Merelli gets misplaced a second time, the women stake out closets and bathrooms, and Max makes his stage and casting couch debut. He may not be famous yet, but boy he will be once this story gets out.

The doors are all sturdily built and vaguely Art Deco, and the timing couldn’t be tighter. Trahan’s Saunders went well beyond a slow burn; he’s more like a Santa Anna fire storm as he bounces off Max’s well timed gags. Sparr’s Maggie is kooky yet flexible; she excels at falling out of couches and into beds and always flashes her undies at the crowd. Muniz’s Merelli is funny enough with his Chico Marx accent and excellent physical presences while Justin’s Julia is the cougar you always hope to meet. Poor Ms. Titus spends most of her time off stage; her job title is “Looming Presence” and while she may not keep Merelli pure she does keep him guilty. Is this show over acted? Damn square, it is NOT subtle and when I’ve seen casts aim there, it was no fun for anyone. We are off to a good year of comedy and this “Tenor” is worth the drive to Deland, a town full of funky little restaurants and a theater full of good sight lines. Unlike Cleveland.

For more information on Athens Theatre events please visit www.athensdeland.com/

Why Not?

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Why Not?
Starring Todd Allen Long
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
January 14, 2016
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

If a ghost ever haunts this building, it will be Todd Allen Long. He sings, sweeps, tends bar, sells tickets, paints sets and for all I know pays the rent at this popular Winter Park performance lounge. But singing is his strong point and you wouldn’t pay to see him sweep; yet this little cabaret takes a sweeping view of the American musical scene from “Call the Wind Mariah” to “Sway with Me” to “Maybe This Time.” He’s a powerful voice and while a microphone is always appreciated I don’t think he needed one, to those of us sitting off in the new WPPH lobby annex. The big crowd favorite included a soaring “Man of La Mancha,” palntive “Luck be a Lady” and the rousing parody “Corn!” From “Musical of Musicals: The Musical!” We all had to get our own drinks but there was a big blow out closer when Heather Alexander joined him for the encore number “Adolph” from “The Drowsey Chaperone.” Yes indeed, he can sing it very fast, and he can sing it very slow. But of course, if he sang it very slow we’d be there for hours.

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

Rollercoaster: A Cabaret Scream Fest

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Rollercoaster: A Cabaret Scream Fest
Starring Michelle Knight
January 16, 2016
Footlights Theatre, Orlando FL

If Disney tried to sound like a Vegas Show Room this might be the result. From the never-once-dusted disco ball to the ten piece orchestra to the kick-ass drinks at the bar this little show packed a ton of heart and emotion and tears and cheers into one short hour. And when it was over, it kicked us all out on the street to fit it the 10 p.m. drag show. Michelle Knight has sung around town and around the world; her biggest triumph was starring in the recently successful Off Broadway “Disenchanted” written by Orlando’s own “Oops Guys. “Tonight Ms. Knight found herself up on stage, scared but in control. She told stories of preventive mastectomies, cheating lovers, and surgeries that would make a Jewish Mother kvetch, but directed most of her talent into a jazzy big band sounds and a chance to feel like we, too just lost the price of a vacation home at the craps table. She’s joined by her longtime friends Jackie Pressman and Stephanie Christopher; the tunes tend toward Broadway and off Broadway standards. Sideshow’s “I Will Never Leave You” was in there, Songs For a New World offered up “One Small Step” and “Burn” blistered us from the current hot show “Hamilton.” Tales of medical woes and off Broadway near-triumph filled the interstitials; and if you have to lose out to a bigger show, at least it’s a megahit hit and not some lame revival. Big bonus: Ms. Knight baked us all cookies, and they were filled with delicious chocolate and topped with artisanal dried sea salt. All this was good for the ear, the eyes, and the taste buds. And we can all dream that one day, just maybe, someone will hit that Footlights Theatre disco balls with some Windex.

For more information on shows at the Footlights Theater, please visit http://www.parliamenthouse.com/footlight-theatre/

The Library

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

The Library
By Scott Z. Burns
Directed by Bridget Lindsey Morris
Starring Allie Novell and Peri Dunefsky
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

If it wasn’t for random mass murders, the cable networks would be broke and gone in this current wave of cord-cutters and Netflix bingers. Case in point: this semi-fictitious drama explores the aftermath of a school shooting, and the fall out lands nowhere near the guilty. Caitlin (Novel) is one of the few survivors of a disillusioned orgy of death and desolation. All her friends are dead and someone, maybe her, gave away their safe house address. It’s common to have memory lapses after trauma and everyone one but her believes she told the killer “they are all hiding in the AV closet.” Well, the other survivors are equally suspect at this point, but the networks latch on to it, and along with the shot gun pellets in her bowels the world hates her mere existence. Thanks, Wolf Blitzer! While CNN is off to the next shooting (they have 3 booked today alone) the local cop (Jordan Sanders) takes his time, analyzing evidence and interviewing other survivors. Meanwhile competing Mother Dawn Sheridan (Dunefsky) is hot on the exploitation trail; her daughter may be dead but she’s the sort of religious poster child that sells books and movies and tee shirts. By Jesus’ beard Dawn ies over the grief in an hour and hot on the grieving mother lecture circuit. As the story unfolds, the other Jesus freak Ryan (Bee Jay Aubertin Clinton) has second thoughts and discovers all his good works are just filthy rags: Caitlin was right, but the damage is done and the deals are signed. And as to the other misfortunate victims? Well, we are all dead in the long run.

Surprisingly fresh and still poignant, this is director Morris’ first outing and she does an excellent job with the cramped space and her cast of a dozen. Novell seems unbalanced and almost as suicidal as the killer; that’s a violent and scary Alex Bridgeman who uses books as bullet in the killer opening scene. While Dunefsky adds more fuel to the evil Christian fire Caitlan’s parents (Tara Rewis and Antony Marando) are a convincing and dissolute couple with a failing marriage that feels all too reale. Clinton seems genuinely hurt by the end, and the most evil person here is Dawn’s Publisher (Molly Wuerz); she has no qualms about pushing a best seller written on the backs of 20 dead bodies. Lastly I’ll mention the Greek chorus of Todd Latoski and Tatiana Mendez; they are the medicos who repeatedly enter Caitlin’s bowels and try to make her whole, all while bantering about the ins and outs of of her innards spilling out.

I rolled into this show expecting “Bowling for Columbine” but what I found was an excellent character study of dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy. No lives were mended, no tears dried: this was all about doing paper work, making money, and treading on over the dead bodies of those shot before us. This is a fresh and innovative work, a great directorial debut, and another example of how great theater can be made on a shoe string in a shoe box.

For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com or look them up on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Breakthrough-Theatre-of-Winter-Park/