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by Carl F Gauze

Archive for August, 2017

Florida Festival of New Musicals (Act Three)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Florida Festival of New Musicals (Act Three)
Age of Innocence and Giglio
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

We wrap up this weekend’s festivities with a monster adaptation followed by a show tailor made for Winter Park Playhouse Age of Innocence Music by Ted Kociolek and
Book & Lyrics by Walter Holland & Ted Kociolek
brings Edith Wharton’s popular book (and recent hit movie) on to the musical stage. The cast is enormous, I counted fifteen readers but you could easily add more. The story takes place in Gilded Age New York where you had money or you didn’t exist. The matronly women ruled the city, financed by their robber baron husband’s forays into coal and oil and automobiles. They obsess of what addresses are “fashionable” and how best to display wealth “tastefully.” They also worry a great deal about controlling sexual relations, especially for their children. Young Newland Archer is at a delicate age; he’s in love with May Welland, but intrigued by Countess Ellen, Mary’s sister. He senses the danger he’s in, but immediate marriage implies a bun in the oven and “decent” people wait a few years before any serious canoodling. Who will he choose? There’s plenty of room for fancy costumes and elaborate sets and while I’d love to see this fully up and on its feet, not many producers around here have the resources. There’s plenty of solid music here but the song that sticks with me comes from Todd Allen Long banging out “The Banjo Song,” a supposed mistral tune that drips far more sexual innuendo than I thought he could project. Later, he passes through the set once more playing just the chords, and gets a house-rattling laugh.

I closed out my tour of duty in Musical Theater Land with Gigolo – A Cole Porter Review</b Concept by Paul Gilger. Gilger is a multiple threat, he builds buildings on the side, big ones. Ones you see in the paper. Ones that belong to rich people. But here he built a cleverly conceived show based on Cole Porter’s songs and the life of Porfirio “Rubi” Rubirosa (Google him with caution.) Tall and rather innocent looking Zack Nadolski plays Rubirosa, although that name is never mentioned on stage. He passes out roses to the women in his life (Melissa Minyard, Kelly Morris Rowan, Natalie Cordone, and Kayla Fischl). They represent various classes of women he’s been with: countesses, movie stars, wives (he had five, just not all at once) and countless wives of friends. Being a Song Cycle, there is no dialog, just Porter’s lyrics from well-known tunes (Let’s Do It, You’re the Top, and Night and Day) to more obscure works (Die A Little, Laziest Gal in Town.) There’s no moral judgment here, and he gets ALL the girls, but it’s a good excuse to sing our way thought the Porter song book and feel good about the journey.

Overall, this was an excellent festival with solid houses. Perhaps a copy of the scripts left about in the lobby would help us understand and appreciate the missing second acts, or perhaps spending more time on each story so it could get a full reading would reduce the disappointment I heard from some audience members asking, “What do you mean, we don’t get to see the ending?” That’s the reading process: sometimes you only get though the first act.

For more information on Winter Park Playhouse and the Florida Festival of New Musicals, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Florida Festival of New Musicals (Act Two)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Florida Festival of New Musicals (Act Two)
Propaganda! and Section 60
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

On to “Propaganda! The Musical” Book, Music & Lyrics by Taylor Ferrera & Matt Webster. This is tonight’s current events piece. A secret government agency works to distracting the American people from presidential gaffes with celebrity gossip and feel good pictures of kittens saved from rain storms. It’s a busy, busy place. For many years “Grandfather” leads this group with the aid of Agent X but now he has replaced himself with his grandson “Rookie.” This raises the hackles of conniving Agent X and she sets off on a campaign of intrigue and espionage. This sounds like it could be “West Wing” but really reads more like “Men in Black.” We hear some crazy songs including “The Artistic Vison of this Bureau” and Agent X’s “Evil.” There’s promise in these pages and while the script relies on current events, but the events depicted here aren’t all that different in this administration than in any previous one. And here again we must settle for a quick outline of the second act leaving us to wonder: “Who will end up in charge?”

Now we come to the darkest, most difficult experiment in this laboratory: “Section 60: The New Ghosts of Arlington.” Music and lyrics by Waldo John Wittenmye, Lyrics and Book by Todd Olson The war drags on, and everyday fresh corpses are taken to Arlington Cemetery for internment. They all carry ghosts, ghosts of their trauma and ghosts of their past home life and ghosts of the horror of being newly dead. Private L. E. Nott arrives and goes through the three-part post-life grieving process: First your body dies, then you are hopefully interred, and at some point, no one speaks your name any more. Nott is through the first two, but the last may take…well, a long time. There’s some bold political stuff here along with language we are not used to in this Temple of Winter Park rectitude: Shawn Kilgore belts “F*ck the President!” to no small applause. Later we hear a calmer “My Quiet War” as well as the stories of so many vets: children and spouses and loving parents left behind, all for that vague and difficult to define quality of “Patriotism.” There’s some real heart in this story, and since we haven’t NOT been at war for decades, it seems to promise a long shelf life once its complete.

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For more information on Winter Park Playhouse and the Florida Festival of New Musicals, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

Florida Festival of New Musicals (Act One)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Florida Festival of New Musicals
The Impossible Club and Love On Ice
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

Every time I turn around, there’s a new theater company or event or marker on my calendar (I only turn around every few daty. Keeps my tan consistent…) “FFNM” is an award logo, but it pushes WPPH into the already active Central Florida new works development cycle already running at both Orlando Shakes and Playwrights’ Round Table and anyone reading in a living room or a coffee house. There are 6 performances, each run three times, and they neatly stacked up so you can catch everything in two evenings if you desire. The bar is open, and there are many quick dining options in the area.

I began with Ned Wilkinson’s “The Impossible Club” (Book, Music and Lyrics by Ned Wilkinson). This was the only complete piece presented, and it’s a clever anti-bullying story aimed at middle school children. Rhine (Shaquille Marcano) is the jock who steals milk money from wussy intellectual Birch (Dab Becker). Birch joins up with hippy jewelry maker Trillium (Devin Tupler) and Rhine merges with Cherry (Rachel Lord) who leads the gymnastics team and is clearly the cool kids in charge. Accusations fly, handmade jewelry is dissed, and its starting to look like the 115th Congress. But spacy Trillium suggests a compromise, and with surprisingly little effort gets the opposing parties on the same page. We discover Rhine is embarrassed because he’s not smart, Cherry hides behind low self-esteem, and we don’t have to be ruled by our hormones, a tough concept to sell at that age. This presentation generated the strongest talk back; multiple teachers in the room wanted a premier in their classroom. This show looks just about ready to roll, but if you’re not in primary education you may miss it if you don’t see it here.

Next up we have a weird sci-fi piece Love On Ice – A Cryogenic Love Story (Book by Bill Nabel & William Squier – Music by Jeffrey Lodin – Lyrics by William Squier & Bill Nabel). December meets May as Charlie Martin marries a much younger Marie. There’s lust in that old heart and cash in the bank and Charles proposes Marie cryogenically freeze him when he dies. She’s reluctant, and when we get to intermission it looks like their roles may be reversed as some words from the author indicate there’s screwball comedy heaven in the second act. But we only get one act, and its not clear we will ever see act two. That’s perhaps the biggest sticking point in this festival: We are all left hanging, and so often a seemingly weak Act One can set up a brilliant Act Two. But this script carries promise; it has the absolute best line in a musical ever as Charles belts: “My colon is as clean as a whistle…” That line alone made the entire festival worthwhile.

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For more information on Winter Park Playhouse and the Florida Festival of New Musicals, please visit http://www.winterparkplayhouse.org

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/