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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for March, 2016

Heathers: The Musical

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Heathers: The Musical
By Laurence O’Keeffe and Kevin Murphy
Direction and choreography by Angela Cotto
Music Direction by Angelyn Rhode
Starring Elliana Rogers and Hector Sanchez
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park FL

Ostensibly a black comedy, this high energy tour through high school hell scoots close to the uncomfortable edge of school shootings and terrorist bombings. In good old Westerburg high, the roost is ruled by some cool kids known as “The Heathers.” Bitchy and beautiful, their watch word is law and they wield it like third world dictators. The football team enforces their rules, and the teachers are ineffective or absent. Pretty Veronica (Rogers) wants into the perfect hair club and her forgery skills is her ticket to coolness. Veronica trades her soul for a place at their lunch table, and as an initiation she must forge a note that will break her best friend Martha’s (Kendall Leamey) heart. When Veronica tries to pull her punch the Heathers enforce discipline and a choice must be made. About this time 7-11 connoisseur and explosives expert JD (Sanchez) appears; he helps Veronica put uber bitch Heather C (Leigh Ann) six feet under. Next it’s a double header when the football team loses its quarterback and his buddy (Erick Antonio and Zachary Smith) and Veronica askes “Where does this all stop”? How about a big bang ending from her serial killer boyfriend?

It’s a big show on a bare stage but Director Cotto fills it with a big cast. Footballers Antonio and Smith are particularity mean; this makes their double murder and disgraceful death most satisfying. Roger and Sanchez have a well built arc; she is first impressed with his ability to defend himself but when he moves on to vengeance she thinks: “will I ever escape this high school hell?” There are always two choices: drop out or wait it out in a mental bunker. Ms. Lemay has the sad air that the unloved exude, and it’s a close race between Ms. Ann and Savana Cassidy as Heather D for title of biggest bitch on the boards. There’s plenty of great, high energy songs (“Beautiful”, “Big Fun”, “My Dead Gay Son”) and even local comic Larry Stallings stretches out of his comfort zone. I’m not sure how close Westerbrook high is to Edgewater, but you’ll either see yourself on this stage somewhere, or blissfully just blank the teenage years out of your memory banks and replace it with this whizz bang comedy.

For more information, please visit or look them up on Facebook at

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Long Day’s Journey Into Night
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Staring Peg O’Keefe and Kristen Truelsen
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL

In Eugene O’Neill’s world, anything worth saying is worth saying eight or nine times. We spend a rather longish day with the Tyrone Family, a group of maudlin Irish if ever there was one. Patriarch James (Truselen) was a successful actor but traded his rising star for a cash cow script and faded away to a life of cheap hotel rooms and failed real estate speculation. His wife Mary (O’Keefe) was raised in a convent but traded the nunnery for the theater life, but was never really a part of it. They did have three boys: consumptive Edmund (Adam Reilly), lothario James, Jr. (Gregg Weiner) and the missing son who died from poor medical care at birth. Along with a knack for bemoaning at length the injustices of the world, they’re all addicts to either booze or opiates. And if you’ve never been around drunks and addicts you don’t know how they can drain your soul, your energy and your pocket book.

With a four hour run time (long enough for a direct flight to LAX) the topics at hand are explored to nearly the audiences’ breaking point. O’Keeffe gives a masterful portrait of an unloved woman racked with the pain of arthritis and the deeper pain of Morphine. Her second act performance must be one of the greatest slides into despair ever staged. James Sr. is somehow the cause of all woe; he grew up poor and starving and lucked out in the theater, now he’s saving every penny against the day he might need it. Emphasize HIM; Edmund needs some good long term care. Edmund is stoic about it, James Sr. hopes for a fine funeral, and only Mom and James Jr are pitching doing the Good Deed. This despite James Jr’s tough guy façade; drink is his first love but he’s taken to supporting fat prostitutes; this is the only the only sympathy to be found here tonight.

Everything in the Tyrone house revolves around money; it’s the one thing they actually have but cannot utilize. What they lack is a path to kill their pain without killing themselves. A steady solid buzz doesn’t have any effect anymore and all they can do is remember why they are drunk, but never enjoy it. This is an extremely difficult play; while the production and acting is the best we have to offer in this town, the material is a long lesson in how to be miserable while making all those around you even more miserable.

For more information on Mad Cow, please visit

Showtune: Celebrating the Words & Music of Jerry Herman

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Showtune: Celebrating the Words & Music of Jerry Herman
Concept by Paul Gilger
Arrangements by James Followell
Directed by Michael Edwards
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park, FL

COlavolpe. ColAVOLpe. ColavolPE. Get it RIGHT, dammit! Ok, as for the show:

Winter Park Playhouse has been on a run with Composer Specific shows lately, and this one is pretty good. Jerry Herman is one of those big name composers from the golden age of musicals; he’s most associated with “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly”, and the more recent “La Cage Aux Folles” “Mack And Mabel” is another title drawn upon extensively tonight; it’s a more obscure 1974 show with good music and poor notices. There are notional scenes here, but no costume changes and a rotating carousel of singers and possible relations. No wrenching story line here, rather a random seeming sequence of tunes.

But that’s not to say there’s anything wrong; the music is grand and there are plenty of the little plus signs in my notes for the really good numbers. Michael Colavolpe is “Man One” who shines with Woman 1 (Pricilla Bagley) in Mack and Mabel’s “I Won’t Send Roses”. That show reappears in the second act where Man 3 (Josue Kolb) is Nelson Eddy to Woman 3’s (Kayla Kelsay – Morales) Jeanette MacDonald and with Colavolpe as legendary director Mack Sennet. Nelson was full of himself then and still is, long after his death in 1967. Kolb reappears later with Ms. Kelsay-Moraleas for the one tap number of the evening (“Tap Your Troubles Away”), which was well executed and way too short. The company came together for La Cage’s “I Am What I Am” with Woman 2 (Kelly Morris Rowan) in the lead; this should have stopped the show but it did get vigorous applause. And then there was the charming Man 2 (Benjamin Ptashinsky) who joined with pianist Chris “Man 4” Leavy for Mame’s “Man in the Moon.” Not every song here was famous, but all played together well, and there was even an impressive staircase on stage even if it only led to a rope ladder behind the curtain. No confusing plot here; just ringing songs delivered with skill and pizzaz.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, visit

Muppet Mania – A Salute to Jim Henson

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Muppet Mania – A Salute to Jim Henson
Conceived by Angelyn Rhode
Music for Melons
Presented at Breakthrough Theatre
Winter Park, FL

If you take “Avenue Q” and invert it, this is what you get: instead of funny puppets singing naughty songs, you get naughty humans singing funny puppet songs, and all in the name of raising money for breast cancer research. Like all Breakthrough cabarets, there’s a cast of dozens on the stage as we review decades of Muppets material. We open with “The Muppet Show Theme”; this gets everyone jumping and warmed up. Then it’s time for “Moving Right Along” featuring Jamaal Solomon and Chad Cartledge. Naturally we hear “Bein’ Green” and “The Sesame Street Theme”, but the doo-wop inspired “I’m Gonna Always Love You” and “A Professional Pirate” were much higher in entertainment value. Mr. Solomon was an excellent Cookie Monster (“C Is For Cookie”) and the normally heavy metal Rob Delmedico tossed off an energetic “Rubber Duckie.” The leader of this breast cancer awareness pack is the effervescent Angelyn Rhode who brought her dad on stage for the old favorite “Does Your Bubblegum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” (Mine does.) Then we were just about done; the closer was the hopeful “Rainbow Connection” sung by the whole cast. Money was raised, laughs were laughed, and hopefully some breasts were saved.

For more information, please visit or look them up on Facebook at

The Whale

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

The Whale
By Samual D. Hunter
Directed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Micheal Wanzie
Beth Marshall Presents @ The Garden Theatre
Winter Garden, FL

Size does matter, and in the case of Charlie (Wanzie) his size threatens to end his life, maybe before the curtain. Barely able to move, he spends his day helping English as A First Language students craft coherent essays. It’s all by inert and he never shows his face or frame; that’s part embarrassment and part fear of scaring his marginally literate audience away. His back story is complex: he married Mary (Beth Marshal) and they popped out a daughter Ellie (Rachel Comeau) and then two years later he met a guy and said bye-bye heterosexual happiness. The fight was as bitter as you might expect, and the real loser was his Ellie. She has refined bitterness, cruelty and rage to a fine art; she’s on the par with any third world dictator but without the spiffy uniform. When not so innocent Mormon missionary Elder Thomas (Anthony Pyatt Jr.) knocks on the door he’s sucked into the maelstrom of Charlie’s life. Elder Thomas wants to plug eternal salvation and perhaps help someone; Charlie just wants to know a critical piece of local church gossip. Charlie’s only other friend is Nurse Liz (Jamie Middleton); somehow she keeps him fed and alive and larger than life. Since Charlie can’t get out the door, it’s Liz who sets his diet and is somehow complicit in his condition. The term “Fag Hag” arises, but no one claims it.

This may well be Wanzie’s most touching role; his rasping breath and near death experiences bring you the edge of your seat. He’s in an amazingly realistic fat suit, and you can feel his joints about to burst when he struggles to rise to his feet and shuffle off to the bathroom. Mrs. Comeau provides a deadly vicious stage presence. It’s hard to imagine anyone with as much bitterness as she shows and only Charlie can find a ray of promise in her unhappy life. Ms. Marshall is only on stage for part of the last act; she, too, spews anger and resentment and the sort of twisted love only a broken household can spawn. Elder Thomas may not be the sort of missionary that the LDS’s wish to have wandering around but he does make a difference, and just like Jesus he descends from his sterile Holy of Holy’s mission to mix with the sinners and downtrodden who actually need help. Lastly we have Ms. Middleton who has somehow become Charlie’s only companion; she has most of the truly touching moments: “Wanna watch a bit of Maury Povich?” may have been the softest line in this story.

While this playis set in the remote pointy part of northern Idaho; there’s a notion of the sea surrounding the story. Director Anderson has set the stage up on risers with occasional mystical blue lighting underneath; it imples Charlie is adrift even as he’s locked down to a small skanky room. In all things, his loyalty is to his disloyal daughter; some how Charlie is better than all of us who can get up and pee without having to file a flight plan. Drama – THIS is how its done.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit

She Loves Me

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

She Loves Me
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Earl Weaver
Starring Sunny Gay and Terry Farley
UCF Theatre, Orlando FL

The course of love rarely runs smoothly, and in a good romantic comedy its five miles of bad road. Tonight we visit 1938 Budapest and times are tight but somehow Maarczek’s perfumery hangs on. Mr. Maraczek (Jarrette Poore) is officious and bossy; he demands total compliance to his will or else you’re out on the street. Pushy yet desperate Amalia (Gay) barges into a job with an excellent impromptu bit of salesmanship, but she’s immediately at logger heads with senior sales man Georg (Farley.) They fight like cats in a bag so you know there will be a happily ever after; at least until the Soviet tanks arrive. Supporting the romance are some wonderful character actors. There’s Sipos (Joe D’ Ambrosi), the guy with no hair and weirdly pale complexion who gets to belt “Perspective.” Then we have darling and eager Arpad (Evan Jones) who sees opportunity everywhere and even gets promoted to a real last name in Act 2. Finally there’s conniving Kodaly (Julian Kazenas); who sleeps around yet seems ready to lead a troop of Hitler Youth once the next war starts up. That will begin in, oh, a month or two.

Our lead romancers each have some very positive points. Ms. Gay is thin and acerbic, she offers the wise cracking Brooklyn girl feel you see in so many war time Hollywood movies. She can sing plaintive (“I Don’t Even Know His Name”) or silly (“Vanilla Ice Cream”) and remains vulnerable in either mode. Georg is more officious; he’s a Maraczek in training and does a fine job on the title song of sexual triumph in act two (“She Loves Me”). The B couple relation in this is story isn’t a stable one; Ilona (Allyson Rosenblum) is tall and dark and dumped. She’s dating Kodaly but breaks up when he breaks off a date to see another woman. The high point of the show is a scene in a gypsy restaurant that caters to illicit dates; the Head Waiter (Trevor Starr) and his clumsy Bus Boy (Chris Armellino) have some fine physical moments and his tango dancers (Carlos Ashby and Meredith Pughe) are pretty decent. He, too, gets a solo: the very funny “A Romantic Atmosphere.”

Here’s everything a romantic musical comedy should be: a complex and uncertain path to love; a fine set of loveable songs where everybody gets at least one decent solo, and a magical rotating stage done up in a simplified Art Nouveau style that allows actions to flow effortlessly. Highly recommended, and worth seeing with someone you have an eye on.

For more information on Theatre UCF visit

Cabaret Sunday: The Songs of Billy Joel

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Cabaret Sunday: The Songs of Billy Joel
Musical Direction by Angelyn Rhode
March 13, 2016
Breakthrough Theatre
Winter Park, FL

“Singer-songwriter” sounds SO 1970, but that’s only because that was the great decade of those special artists who could pen gripping pop tunes and belt them as well. This month’s Sunday Cabaret explores the world of Billy Joel. He’s penned dozens of top hits, earned a half dozen Grammies and represents the best of what pop music offered in the downside of the 20th century. The Breakthrough cast has gone off and each picked a favorite tune. They open with a rap-lie ensemble version of “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” It was clearly sung and raised the question: Just what are “Pink SideWinder?” The question remained open as Wade Hair launched into a blasting version of “New York State of Mind.” Music came from karaoke track, and the cast had mostly memorized the lyrics. Grace Trotta followed with a rather wispy “She’s Always a Woman”, it was hard to hear even in the front row. A semireligious note crept in when Candace Doener opened “Only The Good Die Young” with its brutal look at mortality The most impressive solo came from relative newcomer Andrew Emory; he sold “Big Shot” better than any other performer tonight although Angela Cotto’s “Lullaby” almost brought tears. With a song book of Joel’s size we missed a few favorites; I was hoping for “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and my date wanted the fishing song “The Down-Easter Alexa,” but instead we were happy with the closing ensemble number “Piano Man.” And just like that Sidewinder question, no one seems to know what a “Real Estate Novelist” does. Fun and intimate, this is a monthly tradition at Breakthrough. They’ve quite a few singer song writers to cycle through before they return to Mr. Joel.

For more information, please visit or look them up on Facebook at

I’m Feeling Good

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

I’m Feeling Good
Starring Marie Olivia Bryant
Musical Direction by Jeanine Nesbit
Spotlight Cabaret Series
March 16, 2016
Winter Park Playhouse, Winter Park FL

The spotlight cabaret series here at Winter Park Playhouse has been a raging success for a number of years; musically it’s hewed to a “Show tunes and Pop standards” line that took few risks but sold many tickets. Tonight there’s a new tack and the music squarely lands in Jazzland. Nina Simone and Etta James inspired the set list and her tunes arrive in a scat style that impresses but doesn’t allow for much humming along. Singer Bryant is a Rollins alum and she’s traveled far. Here version or vision of Jazz gets its influence from the post war era; and she opens with “I Loves You Porgy” from Gershwin’s famous opera. The song is sad and touching and delivered with a style that leaves a tear in your eye. From here Bryant heads down a modern pop route with numbers from “The Bodyguard,” Amy Winehouse and even CeeLo Green. Backing her is “Lady J” (Nesbit) and her Jazz piano styling pairs perfectly with Bryant’s voice. It’s also kind of odd-feeling, I honestly can’t remember the last show I saw here that wasn’t ivoried by the absent Mr. Leavy. I thought he homesteaded the place.

As we draw to the midpoint Bryant introduces the concept of a “Shero Song”; this neologism or portmanteau is here terms for powerful female “I Am” songs. The specific example tonight is Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” re-arranged for Bryant’s skills and style. As the evening wraps up; it’s soon encore time and we finally hear the titular song originally performed by Nina Simone. It also audience sing along time and that’s (never one of my favorite activities; no one would pay to hear me sing, least of all me. The lyric we were assigned was simple but rather repetitive, but there you have it: This show offered Scat and Jazz and a unique experience on Orange Avenue.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse, please visit

My Dear Watson: A Sherlock Holmes Musical

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

My Dear Watson: A Sherlock Holmes Musical
By Jami-Leigh Bartschi
Directed by John DiDonna and Chris Prueitt
Starring John DiDonna, Kyle Stone, and Kevin Sigman
TheEmpty Spaces Theatre Company and DiDonna Productions
Presented at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center
Orlando FL

Holmes is the go-to fictional character for so many aspiring writers: He’s mostly in the public domain, you can toss any sort of murder mystery at him and make it work, his back story is preloaded into all English speaker’s back brain, and he offers a safe yet ambiguous male buddy relationship that could tilt in any direction. You can even fit him into a musical, and plenty have done just that. That’s what we have here, a new adaptation by local author Jami-Leigh Bartschi.

Dr. Watson (Stone) is on the edge of homelessness when he’s discovered by his old buddy Officer Lestrade (Justin Mousseau). Lestrade reluctantly suggests Watson meet Holmes (DiDonna), but the pair hit it off like a Victorian “Odd Couple.” Holmes does have one distressing habit: he randomly shoots off a gun in his apartment to the distress of landlady, door opener, cook, and charwoman Mrs. Hudson (Liz Murray Curtis). In Act One Holmes applies his Consulting Detective skills to solving a case of a dead body in the conservatory; Mr. Douglas (Kyle Wait) appears dead and his wife (Chelsea Panisch) is strolling with family friend Cecil Barker (Chris Markcity). Things are not as they appear; it’s an excellent study of how to create a murder mystery. Start off a reasonable yet slightly non-standard story, then remove facts Jenga-like until there only a tottering skeleton of information , then let Holmes beat the audience to the now obvious conclusions.

Act Two quickly abandons the Douglas’s; he’s lost at sea and she’s off in South Africa and Holmes is on to chasing Dr. Moriarty (Sigman) to their ultimate yet ambiguous demise. Why the pair are sworn enemies isn’t very clear, and soon Holmes is freaked out by a letter; he and Watson flee to the Swiss Alps for a back projected fight to the finish on a waterfall. While the staging is clever and effective, the story is weak on motivations and the songs are generally forgettable. The only exceptions might be “Extraordinary Man” and “It was Worth the Wound”, but when the show wrapped up I asked someone to hum a song from the show. No luck.

Without microphones it was often hard to hear the dialog, and when the three piece band plays, they tend to drown out the singers. The two level set was effective; a trademark of the directors’ staging are continuously morphing projections and the back wall. For some reason there was a map of Norway; nothing important happened there but it did set the atmosphere nicely. The story still needs work; the acts don’t connect with each other very tightly. Holms pegs between smug confidence and total fear: the smugness reduces his likability and the fear his believability. Another odd plot point is Mr. Sigman appearing briefly as a gardener in Act One. Was he Moriarty gathering information or simply a double casting of a minor character with no lines? The first could be interesting if we knew what Moriarty learned and how he used it, the second case implies “Write him out.” Does the world need another Holmes play or another Holmes musical? Nothing I saw tonight made me scream “yes.”

For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit

Jake’s Women

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Jake’s Women
By Neil Simon
Directed by BeeJay Aubertin-Clinton
Starring Craig Raymo and Tracey Jane Smith
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park, FL

Whenever I’ve had trouble with women, it’s been face to face or over the phone. Jake (Raymo) lacks this luxury; he has to hallucinate his friends and lovers for nearly the entire show. It begins simply enough; he imagines conversations with his deceased first wife Julie (Molly Wuerz) and his distant daughter Molly (Casey Litzenberger). His current wife Maggie (Smith) drops by in person often enough to be confusing, but everything comes down to this: He wants Julie back, and the stress is killing what he has with Maggie. Both Jake and Maggie have had affairs, now here they separate and a rather bloodless divorce looms. This being a Neil Simon piece Psychoanalysis is still a thing; here it comes from the funny and sardonic Edith (Sharon Barbour Tedder). He can only imaging her conversations when she’s not with another patient; it’s an odd professional courtesy but she complains “I don’t even get paid for this time.” Just to prove to us these women are figments of Jakes fetid brain, the girls pause to primp and pick their nails while he goes off to the bathroom. Only his imagination can torture him like this.

Despite the goofy premise, this is one of Simon’s most interesting plays, and one of Breakthrough’s best performances. Mr. Raymo is not only likable, he sells his low grade crazy with charm and a smile and a sense if he believes, so should you. He would be a great boon to the Sasquatch Believers Club; I can assure you of that. Smith’s Maggie is an elegant yet tortured wife who feels no man would work better for her than Jake, but she IS willing to shop. Daughter Molly is played by two actors: Litzenberger as the contemporary runway model style of daughter, and Kelsey Kline gives us the 12 year old and hopeful version. I’m happy to see they both get along. There’s plenty of snappy dialog; Tender’s analyst has the right mix of Jewish sarcasm and feminine forbearance. And Julie does seem like the sweet girl next door; willing to give all to her man. Later models seem more reserved on that front.

This show is packed with snappy dialog and a feeling that it derives from a James Thurber TV series (yes, such a thing exists: “My World and Welcome to It” on NBC in 1967.) Jake routinely addresses he audience directly; director Clinton handles this sometimes difficult trope with grace. The set is simple and requires no rhythm breaking furniture moving; thus the show flies along. Maggie has a wonderful monolog when it’s clear they will part; she bemoans dramatically “Somebody else’s soap will be in my soap dish” then almost immediately points out how trite that line is. I sort of like it, and like all Neil Simon shows the author is the main character. It’s a great show but I’d hold off until date #3 or #4 before going with someone you have hopes for.

For more information, please visit or look them up on Facebook at