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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2017

The Drowsy Chaperone

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

The Drowsy Chaperone
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Directed by Donald Rupe
Musical Direction by David Foust
Choreography by Erik Yow
Starring Blake Auburn, Joe Saunders, Dannielle Irigoyen, and Eric Yow
Central Florida Community Arts
Presented at Central Christian Church
Orlando, FL

If we can’t make fun of our ancestors, who do we have left? Politicians? In this extremely self-referential musical, authors Martin and McKellar deconstruct the classic 1920’s musical. These were uniformly fluff pieces with a cardboard cutout romance separating songs and dance numbers of various qualities. To this day I can’t watch a Fred Astaire movie without fast forwarding to the dance number, but this show makes that filler material fun. Meet “The Man in The Chair” (Auburn), a lost and sexually repressed guy with a love of old musicals. We drop in through the magic of modern stage craft, and he relives his favorite show for us aided by a live and vibrant cast.

Robert Martin (Saunders) and his money are marrying Janet Van der Graaf (Irigoyen); she’s a hot performer with a solid plan for retirement. Best Man George (Yow) handles the details, and Janet’s agent Feldzieg (Quentin Prior) is stuck without a star. To add a little peril, Feldzieg is chased by two of the least threating mobsters (Hector Sanchez, Jr. and Brandon Munoz-Dominguez) since “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” Then there’s the alcoholic Drowsy Chaperone (Sara Catherine Barnes), the Latin Lothario Aldolpho (David Lowe), a senile widow Mrs. Tottendale (Courtney Johnson) and her long-suffering butler Underling (Alex Roberts.) Everything is played for laughs as we start, we stop, we mistake identities, and sing songs about it. Frankly, this is much better than any material it might parody.

But that’s not to say its perfect. On the plus side, Robert and his Best Man George pull off one of the best tap numbers I’ve seen in years. Chaperone Barnes sings, dances and vamps rings around Adolpho who pushes his character a bit too far even for this farce. The comedy muggings of Sanchez and Munoz-Dominguez are never ominous, and Ms. Van der Graff doesn’t quite hit her marks in “Show Off.” Somewhere back stage is an excellent four-piece band, and they are never out of tune. While this is a community theater production, its quite good and could become excellent if it runs long enough. The script is robust, the music lovable, and as to the premise…it’s still just musical theater.

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

A Chorus Line

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

A Chorus Line
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed and Choreographed by Angela Cotto
Musical Direction by Angelyn Rhode
Breakthrough Theater, Winter Park FL

As we enter the theater, the cast is stretching on stage and you can tell who’s really studied ballet nd who hasn’t. Just like any open call, you get the good, the bad, and the “ain’t gonna make its.” But each of these bright young people has a story, and the conceit of this musical about a musical lean heavily on backstory and not so much on the front story.

Up in the booth we have Zack (Wade Hair) as the Voice of God. Unseen and unnaturally curious, he demands the life story of each of these people before he decides their near-term future. Bobby (Anthony Slivinski) has the weakest dance moves but might make a great monologist. Val (Sabrina Perez) is obsessed by tits, and Paul (David Garcia) offers up a tragic tale of growing up in 42nd street movie houses. Quiet Bebe (Tatum Ivy) and Diana (Gabby Hatch) dance well, but have little to say. The main plot point, besides the looming question of “Am I in or am I out?” is a past relation between Zack and Cassie (Melissia Peterson). Anything personal is dead, but does that mean he won’t hire her? We shall see.

While this show can look like the cattle call audition in “All That Jazz,” the overall effect is close to reality. Everyone is scared, everyone is broke, and everyone is realizing they are perhaps not the next Chita Rivera. But they are here, they are trying, and some even appear to have the skills to claw their way to the middle. And like all good Breakthrough musicals, the stage is packed but no one trips on anyone else’s shoelaces. They are all winners, in their own unique way.

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/

Memphis: The Musical

Friday, August 18th, 2017

Memphis: The Musical
Book and Lyric by David Bryan
Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Derek Critzer
Musical Direction by David Foust
Starring Dustin Fisher, LaDawn Taylor, and Terrence Jamison
The State Theater, Eustis FL

Of course, white kids loved black music in the 1950’s; they just didn’t know it. Color lines went deep, and among other effects this caused the roots of rock and roll to form largely apart from the white controlled record industry. But a few knew about the sound and worked to bring it forward like our hero Huey Calhoun (Fisher). He talks sideways and wears a spiffy little hat but has little else going on in life. Down in a basement club on Beale street he meets singer Felicia Farrell, a woman with a promising voice and a protective brother Delray (Jamison). Her brother Delray (Jamison) is skeptical and suspicious, and with good reason: No one cares when a black man gets a beating. Huey’s mom Gladys (Sara Jones) is equally suspicious; blacks and whites circle each other like over matched boxers. But Huey thinks Felica’s song can be a hit, and he weasels himself onto a radio station and starts tearing up the ratings. Soon he’s a hit, love and racism are in the air, and in another decade Felica is a big star.

It’s a complex and ambitious show with tons of great singing, dancing and canoodling. Fischer’s Huey is goofy-sweet; you want him to succeed but it’s never clear how he would pull that off. Taylor’s Felicia is the one to cheer for with her sweet voice and the tension between loving Huey and fearing for her life. Supporting them we find a panoply of characters from the confused Radio station owner Mr. Simmons (Shelly Whittle) to the semi-mute bartender Gator (Gregory Baker) to the amazing vocal of janitor Bobby (Ricky D. Melvern). It’s hard to pick a favorite song here, but I was humming “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll” on the way back to my car. Dance numbers flowed smoothly (Savannah Pederson did the choreography) and the set changes stayed fluid while never distracting from Huey and Felicia’s wobbly romance. It is a drive out to Eustis, but this show is worth it. There’s even a handful of interesting eateries in the same block as the theater, and its good to get out of town every now and again.

For more information on shows at The State Theater in Eustis, please visit https://www.baystreetplayers.org/

The Amish Project

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

The Amish Project
By Jessica Dickey
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Starring Trenell Mooring
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando FL

Who knew Lancaster County was that ethnic? In this charming land of buggies and apple butter tragedy struck, just as it can anywhere. In 2006 an man murdered 5 young Amish students and himself; his intention was to molest them first “but the police showed up sooner than I thought.” It’s a tawdry and heart-breaking story, here reduced to an impressive yet confusing one woman show. Mad Cow veteran Trennel Mooring is an interesting selection for this program, but she’s also the woman who can stand up to this script. Perhaps a half dozen characters appear from the little Amish girl who pleads “shoot me first!” to the clerk at the convenience store to the parents of the dead children. Told in the currently popular “Devised Theater” style, the story fractures into small scenes that reveal little by themselves, but in ensemble they provided a 360-degree coverage. The stage is shallow and full of ramps. Mooring’s physical location often aligns with the person she’s reporting. Behind her we see a wonderful wall of blue sky and puffy clouds; it’s a perfect countryside backdrop for a horrific tale of the brutality man has for his fellows. High in the light bars hangs a skeleton of a barn (or perhaps a school house with a large door). Dramatic lighting shifts the shadows back and forth, again indicating scene and character changes. Could I report the story in detail? No, people pass in and out too quickly for me to accurately track them. But the takeaway is blunt: sad things happen to good people, and few beyond the Amish would offer condolences to the killers of their precious offspring.

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

Joyce Jackson’s Guide to Dating

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Joyce Jackson’s Guide to Dating
Book and Lyrics by Scott Logsdon
Music by Steve Mazzullo
Directed by Kenny Howard
Starring Alexa Neilen and Bobby Hogan
Florida Theatrical Association
The Abbey, Orlando FL

In 1950, teenagers officially discovered hormones. Sure, hormones have been around since Adam and Eve, but 1950 teens had fast cars and high school letters and good rock and roll. And there’s always a pecking order; That’s a law or something. Here at good old Helen Keller High (Motto: “Where the future looks great!”) Mix Lawrence (Hogan) majors in spoonerisms with a minor in football. His notional girlfriend, the chaste yet bitchy Joyce (Neilen) won’t put out, and plans to tell her fellow students about the joy of abstinence. Dating is hard for both parties, and Joyce decided to obsessively write a book to help her less able co-students. She drafts the rest of the girls into editing and typesetting, but fails to conceal real names. Musical theater ensues, and then the most horrible tragedies befall Joyce: she blows a date and Mix dances with Louise. Horror compounds on horror, now uncool Louise is Queen of the prom, and worst of all, Joyce discovers she’s no longer the coolest of the cool. I think she’s a strong candidate for high office later in life….

The show flies along fast and sweet. The songs are a bit flat but ” R-E-S-T-R-A-I-N-T!” and “Just a Guy” did stand out. Neilen was in charge, bossy and on a mission; its exactly where she needed to be to make her fall effective. Hogan’s football star was sweet and inoffensive; he gets just enough mispronunciations to give him a character without pushing him over the top. His wingman Ricky (Ted Cook) was the most likeable actor up there; with his earnest and un-calculated approach, he got farther than Mix ever did by going for the low hanging fruit. In the case of the wannabe queen bees, all the girls were likeable with earthy Louise making the best sense of all this lot of muddled priories and incorrect assumptions. Nancy (Eva Gluck), the geekiest of girls, comes across happiest, better adjusted than frenchified Frieda (Amelia Bryant). Frieda doesn’t fit into the cliques either, but I suspect she’ll go the farthest – all the way to Paris.

All this floats across a busy but well-conceived set by Bonnie Sprung. There’s a cool car on stage, and clever lighting makes the backdrop a color wheel of tones. Tons of furniture gets moved but in never slows thing down, and while this might be a little racy for actual high school students, anyone who’s ever worried about who might be prom queen will find their Happy Days in this zippy production.

For other events at The Abbey, visit http://abbeyorlando.com

Waving Through a Window

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Waving Through a Window
Featuring Deejay Young
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Spotlight Cabaret Series
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

A fresh crowd of fresh faces appeared at this month’s cabaret; the featured artist brings his amazing posse of family and friends and coworkers to what is now a Winter Park institution: the monthly spotlight cabarets. Mr. Young claims to be a tenor but he hits high notes that no tenor would look at, and his combination of smooth Disney vocals and classical scat singing brings a fresh breeze to the evening performance. Acolytes were straggling in until a quarter to eight, but a wired sense of energy filled the room, and the bartender struggled to keep up. Table service is a nice touch, but the hard-core stand-in-line drunks are your bread and butter.

While the style is particularly specific, the source material came from across the spectrum: Disney classics, show tunes, spirituals, and original compositions all flew across the stage. A guest or two filled in for some tracks, giving house pianist a rare break. Mr. Young recently released an EP that is flying up the charts (or whatever we have today…can you still get “Billboard”?) and we heard a few tracks from that source. Even with a late start this went quickly, and had I not lost my scribbled notes I’d give titles. But you don’t need titles, you needed to be there, singing at a high top or ordering a glass of cheap red wine.

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

Good Kids

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Good Kids
By Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Wade Hair
Starring Will Hornbeck, Catherine Murphy, and Olivia Roman
Breakthrough Theater
Winter Park FL

What a pile of 1999 names! We’ve got a Skyler and a Madison and a Brianna and a Connor. It looks like Ashely and Dylan couldn’t make it, but the rest of the gang showed up. They all live in Smallville, USA; it’s a tract town where there’s little to do except cheer for high school football and drink until you puke. The HS Queen Bee Amber (Casey Litzenberger) puts on a party, and no “randoms” are allowed. Well, drunk Chloe (Murphy) showed up with her boyfriend David (Gabe Figueroa) but not too many clothes. She’s already got a few sheets blowing, and both her and David are made unwelcome. They get split up and the football team takes Chloe home for some Passed Out Woman fun and games. As one linebacker comments, “It’s not rape if she’s passed out.” Indeed, but you would think at this point in history everyone knows tweeting crimes is a bad idea. Wheelchair bound Deirdre (Olivia Roman) archives the whole event; she was disabled in a similar incident a while back and provides the voice of the profit screaming against the storm. There’s little to no adult influence amount these kids, and only the unloved outcast Skyler (Alexia Correa) offers any voice of reason to this gang.

This is a bitter, bitter cast. Amber’s enforcer Madison (Bianka Kureti) defines herself as a “Queen Bitch” and I can’t argue. The nastiest footballer Ty (Christian Andrew Santiago) feels tense and about to explode while QB Connor (Hornbeck) looks like he feels more guilt than anyone else, but his teammate Landon (Conner Vidman) takes positive delight in the assault of Chloe. That leaves wussed out Tanner (Michael Durand) as the other almost sympathetic sportsman; he drove Chloe home and looks like he’s about to be sick over what happened. But the number one idea in the air is this: “How to get over this and not end up in jail?” These kids could soon be your elected representatives.

It’s a spare set but nothing more is really needed. It took effort to get names tied to players; apparently this generation assumes you know everyone from Facebook. It’s also a good look at how the always connected generation views what might be charitably called “Hijinks:” everything is fair game and consequences be damned. If this level of callousness offends, just remember what they said about our generation way back when. The anger and spite on stage maybe exaggerated but we’ve all seen this interaction in real life. The team guys keep saying “it wasn’t like that…” but never offer a non-criminal version of the digital evidence. Deirdre is angry and grinds her axe, but she’s left undeveloped as are all the other crimes involved here: serving alcohol to a minor, drunk driving, and kidnapping. This is a dark and bitter world many of us have passed through; the only difference today’s kids face involves the detailed permanent record they create for themselves.

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/

Fences

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Fences
By August Wilson
Directed by Tony Simotes
Starring Johnny Lee Davenport, Sheryl Carbonell, and Stelson Telfort
Mad Cow Theater
Orlando, FL

Troy Maxon (Davenport) coulda been a contender. He hit in the 400’s in the Negro League, but the color barrier and a jail term killed any chance of sports stardom. Today he loads trash for a living, and just became the first black trash driver in Pittsburg. It’s steady work and the pay is livable, but he’s not going far anymore. His wife Rose (Carbonell) admires him even as she scolds; he does about as much drinking and messing around as anyone in an August Wilson play and deserves worse. Now his son, Cory (Telfort), just might make the NFL if Troy will just sign the recruiting papers; but there’s no chance due to Troy’s experience with sports and white folks. Meanwhile Troy builds a fence both real and metaphorical around the house. Its notional purpose keeps out the grim reaper, but on a different plane it recalls swinging for the fence while striking out. He may be a man of the neighborhood, but his recent sins nearly destroy his marriage and his son’s life.

There are a lot of words in this play, and most of them seem to come from Davenport. He’s in every scene but one, and in all of them he has long, eloquent monologs and diatribes. I was impressed. Supporting him are some of the best actors in town; Ms. Carbonell played the tough yet loving woman who clung to her man through all offenses, defended her children, and brokered the compromises. She complains about the loose moral structure of their community in a darkly humorous monolog: “Everybody’s a half this and a half that and its always YOUR mama or MY daddy.” Next witness the footloose Lyons (Damany Riley), Troy’s son from a previous marriage. He’s the cool jazzbo character, always broke but always having fun. Telfort’s Cory is angry, strong, and disciplined. While the NFL is not in his future, his discipline gets him a decent career in the Marines. Toughness is what this is all about, even in the case of half crazed Gabriel (Jim Braswell). He’s loud and in your face and lovable; he lost part of his head in the war and terrorizes the neighborhood with his loud religious fantasies.

While grounded in the 1950’s, there’s a timeless element to this story; one of getting by when rebuffed by civilized society. Everybody here is a survivor; they take the bean balls and bad calls then pick up the pieces and keep running. Our hold on everything is precarious, and these folks can’t afford a Plan B. There’s the joy of Wilson’s work: people soldier on with only minimal complaining and maximum heart.

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

Daddy Issues

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Daddy Issues
By David Goldyn
Directed by David Goldyn
Starring Wes Miles, and Ryhse Silvestro
Footlights Theater
Orlando FL

There’s always time for a well-built farce in my life. Donald (Miles) aspires to act and is up for a cat food commercial. Start small, he reasons, and better things will come along. He’s had his flings and is now settled into a happily single gay life, disappointing his fabulously Jewish parents. They really don’t care about the boy toys, but if only a grandchild could appear vast tracts of Grandma’s (Jac LeDoux) money would flow to him. The heat is on and his homies Henrietta (Darby Ballard) and drag goddess Levi Strauss (Tim Garnam) come up with a brilliant idea: hire a child actor (Rhyse Silvestro), tell a story about an early fling, and get the folks off his back. Now, in our world this gimmick would last about 15 seconds, but on stage they nurse it for an hour of rolicking laughter and silly situations. Exceptionally tall Sid (Joe Zimmer) and his kvelling wife Marion (Wendy Stark) are suspicious but happy, and when the real subject of Donald’s brief hetro career appears, all is resolved. None of this make sense, but if you laugh hard enough who cares?

Kudos go to Mr. Garnham for his excellent and highly camped out drag queen as well as the skeptical but persistent Ms. Ballard. Miles’ Donald was always smiling and upbeat; he never counted on the money and just wanted the hetero heat lowered so he could have an acting career. The drunken mom Mary Ellen (Melanie Leon) took the goofy route as the drunk and nearsighted single mother, and Ms. LeDoux looks liked she’s lived thought this sort of crisis in here real life. This is one of the funniest, best structured shows to cross the Footlight’s stage in many a moon, and the bar pours stiff drinks. Just thought you would want to know.

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

Saint Joan

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Saint Joan
George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Jeremy Seghers
Starring Theresa Hanson
Fred Stone Theater
Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

You win a war for someone, and this is the thanks you get. The Hundred Year War doesn’t get much popular attention, and it was a low point in European history. England and France were slogging it out about the usual things: who owns what, who gets to be king, and can we starve a few more million people for believing incorrectly. The Catholic church didn’t help, Protestantism nipped at the Pope’s heels and secular leaders were getting the idea they were more important than the priestly class. Out of this morass occasional flashes of brilliance appear; Joan D’arc (Hanson) was a country girl we would diagnose with schizophrenia. She heard voices, and on that advice talked her way into leading a military campaign that was surprisingly effective. Was she executing heavenly orders, or did her bold approach jumpstart the stalemated battle? Her success was unexpected and frankly unwanted, and defending against a charge of heresy took men and horses.

Director Seghers pulled a ton of energy out of this huge script, and even though I didn’t get out till 11:30 pm on a Sunday, this was a gripping and expressive production, especially in the first two acts. Bits of anachronism flashed across the stage; tobacco and polyester suits came after the discovery of the Americas but there’s no need to slavishly go for a period look in every historical play. Newly added sound dampening in the venerable Fred Stone made the listening experience much better than it was in the past. With no program and a cast playing dozens, I’ll guess at a few noteworthy performances. Ms. Hansen glowed with an air of excitement and marginal sanity and even I would consider riding a horse to follow her into battle. Opposite her was the slacker King Charlie (Colton Butcher) who was one step shy of wearing footy PJ’s on his throne. Scott Smith played the clerical power roles and looked like a man who would burn you at the stake for a parking ticket. Lastly, Jim Cundiff wore some nice clown makeup and spit venom as a courier who had some actual sense. If there’s a flaw here it’s the last act: after Joan is put to flame by the caring executioner John Moughan, we get a good twenty minutes of post-game analysis. If you’re a bad king or an unfaithful vassal, you don’t need to mea culpa us after the deed is done. But that’s Shaw, a man of many words writing for an audience that didn’t have Facebook yet.

For tickets and show times, please visit www.eventbrite.com/e/saint-joan-by-bernard-shaw-tickets-35475677707

For other shows at the Fred Stone, visit http://www.rollins.edu/annie-russell-theatre/fred-stone-theatre/index.html