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Archikulture Digest

by Carl F Gauze

Archive for September, 2017

The Cradle Will Rock (The Musical)

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

The Cradle Will Rock (The Musical)
By Marc Blitzstein
Directed by Tony Simotes
Music Direction by Jason M. Bailey
Choreography by Robin Gerchman
Starring Nicholas D’Alessandro, Carlos Ramirez Pereyo
Annie Russell Theatre, Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

Back in 1937, this show caused riots. Today, its equally as important, yet its story of labor fighting management is not nearly as inflammatory. Why? Because labor has largely lost its battle. On a spare stage, a large realistic mural shows the inside of a steel mill. Shirtless workers stir vats of molten steel, faceless and wraith like. In front of the musical is an unprepared stage with racks of clothing and a ghost light. The cast of Cradle was booted from their original space for political reasons, and the show is going to improv its way through tonight’s performance.

We begin with a young Moll (Margot Cramer) looking for money from a man looking for love; she wants a dollar, he offers 30 cents. The cops bust up the deal, but have bigger fish to fry. There’s a labor rally, and their boss Mr. Mister (D’Alessandro) has ordered heads busted. The “Liberty Committee,” is hauled into court as well, and we hear all their stories: artists who beg to flatter patrons for lunch, Preachers are paid to preach war, and the one man with some spine, Foreman (Pereyo), nearly gets bought off with cash. But he holds the line, and while this match is a draw, the battle lines are clear: it’s cheaper to bribe a few community leaders than it is to pay the rest a decent wage. Where have we heard this story again?

The show is purposely over the top; it’s a morality tale that never aims for subtlety. The characters are stock, and the lessons we learn show how easily anyone can be bought off, and not always for cash. D’Alessandro alternates between suave and outraged; I liked outrage better. Chase Walker is alcoholic druggist Harry; he lost a shop he didn’t even own when an assassination wipes out jovial and harmless but framed Gus Polock (Jordan Barnett). That’s capitalism; it makes few if any moral distinctions here. It’s a great morality tale, and the mural (Zephyr Lenninger and her crew) reminds me of the heroic murals in odd places like the Allen Bradly cafeteria back in Milwaukee. This show is about as political as you can get on the legitimate stage, and the stories it tells are still as relevant as when they tried to shut down the original production. Someone once said something about breaking eggs, but he was on the other side of the of the last big war, so that doesn’t count. Or does it?

For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/annierussell/current_season/index.html

Class of ’59: 10 Year Reunion

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Class of ’59: 10 Year Reunion
Written and Directed by Wade Hair
Breakthrough Theater
Winter Park, FL

Having struggled to stay conscious during a Greek adaptation, I am happy to report “Class of ’59” contains absolutely no complex metaphors, no deconstructionist symbolism, and no endless monologs about the uselessness of living. Instead, it’s looking back and we are suddenly in 1969 celebrating the transition from high school greases and do wop hits to mid- life middle class jobs and your music becoming “Oldies”. The reunion is led by principal Stevenson (Wade Hair) and his secret crush Mary Lou (Kelly Elisabeth Fagin). He’s acquired a head of industrial carpeting and she’s still shy, but there’s hope for a happy ending tonight. As they flirt and avoid the question, the class sings songs, dances up a a storm, and burnishes the patina of nostalgia some people have for high school. We get a few of Breakthrough’s signature high density dance numbers (“Rock Around the Clock,” “At the Hop”) some medleys that flowed nicely by both the guys (The King Pins) and the gals (The Poodle-ettes). Everybody got a solo number including the stunning “Unchained Melody” sung by Gonzolo Mendez and “These Boots Were Made for Walking” by Iris M Johnson. If my high school had been this skilled, I might have enjoyed it. It’s a fun show, and doesn’t even have that spilled milk smell real high schools still feature.

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/

The Vagrant

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

The Vagrant
Written by Brett Hursey
Directed by Winnie Wenglewick and John McDonald
Starring Sean Delaney, David Martin, and Michelle Papaycik
Dangerous Theater
Sanford, FL

This commentary was prepared from a technical rehersal.

How the mighty have fallen! Lenny (Martin) may live on a steam grate and beg hot dogs from long suffering hot dog man Rodney (John Sullivan), but he used to be a fully certified Master of the Universe. He overhears Wall Street trainees John (Delaney) and Rachel (Papaycik) looking for an angle to get noticed on the trading floor. So he gives them a few tips, and soon they are showing decent profits and a promising future. That’s not the case with Lenny’s best friend Maggy (Wenglewick); she’s not only on the street, but abandoned by her otherwise successful Shriner son. The mystery of the stock tips soon unravels, and there’s a dang good reason Lenny’s living on a steam grate and not trading volatility swaps. This puts both John and Rachel in potential trouble themselves. One stays on the elevator to ulcers and riches, the other retires to a florist shop in upstate Somewhere Flat.

While this story takes a while to get up on its feet, it’s a compelling study of honesty and morality played out against the backdrop of people who have fallen off the economic and sanity ladder. Lenny’s teeth are convincing, and Ms. Wenglewick’s excels at the tragicomic insane street people role. The John / Rachel pairing works as well, you are never clear if they’re a couple or just a couple of interns trying to figure out the system. He’s the nice one, but I see her as forcing orphanages into bankruptcy just for the commission. The Dangerous space is shaping up as well. The light plot is better, the chairs nicer, and the sound bleed seems under control. This is a story with heart and laughs, and while Lenny certainly looks street, he smells like he has a regular apartment somewhere. He also gets the best line tonight: “I just can’t say “no” to lunchmeat!” Brave words, indeed.

For more information on Dangerous Theatre, please visit DangerousTheatre.com/. Please note Dangerous Theatre operates in both Sanford, FL and Denver CO.

Iphigenia and Other Daughters

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Iphigenia and Other Daughters
Adapted by Ellen McLaughlin
From a play by Euripides
Directed by Elizabeth Horn
Starring Eranthis Rose Quigley
Theatre UCF
Orlando, FL

In Greek mythology, King Agamemnon sacrificed his innocent daughter Iphigeneia (Quigley) in exchange for fair winds allowing him to sail against Troy. In the twisted logic of the ancient Greeks, this was a good deal. But in the eyes of Iphigenia, not so good. We begin the evening after her death, somewhere in the afterlife. Wrecked towers frame the upper stage. A sandpit lies below. Lights are dim and dramatic, the set highlighted with blood red lights as a sound rushes through the space; it reminded me of the unstoppable buzzing of a Sudafed overdose. Clytemnestra (Paige Dawkins) appears with a tea cup, stately and serene. She birthed Iphigenia, and pontificates slowly and elegantly. Chrysanthemums (Elisabeth Christie) is a sister, spared but despairing. The last sister, Electra (Amanda Dayton) crawls out of a sewer grating and chains herself in the sand, working it with her hands to reproduce…nothing. A oddly attractive chorus of platinum blonde women emote. Later, the brother Orestes (Shannon Burke) arrives with sad news, sad to the point of no clear path forward or backward. The spirit Iphigenia becomes a statue, the lights go up, the door opens, and the confused audience is thrust out into the 21st century daylight and that long drive home discussing the question: “WTF, over?”

I’ve seen my share of Beckett, Jarry, Ionesco, and Pinter. Yet this play left me more confused and disillusioned than any of those writers. I strove to define a conflict, struggled to decode speeches, Googled the play and Wikied the playwright. I even discussed it with the ushers. Still at a loss I praised the set, reported the soundscape, marveled at the staging, appreciated the lighting. I even celebrated the veracity of the silicon dioxide that cast must wash out of their costumes every performance. But I cannot, with any sense of fairness to my readers or my co-viewers, say what happened or what message I or anyone can carry to the masses. This production left me flabbergasted and flat on my back. I’m pretty sure everyone did an excellent job, but to what end I cannot say. Labeled a “Feminist Play,” but even this normally easy handle gives no succor as I never saw men denigrated or a woman applauded. After two days of non-continuous contemplation, I can say only this: “Wow. Just…Wow.”

Please, God, send me an easy musical comedy next weekend…

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

Grindr – The Opera

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Grindr – The Opera
Book, Music and Lyrics by Erik Ransom
Directed by Tim Evanicki
Footlights Theater
Orlando, FL

Tonight, Grinder is no mere app, but instead an elegant drag queen (Alexi Barrios) with shoulder length red satin gloves covered in genuine 14 carat rhinestones. We meet four men who will fall under her digital spell: Don (Chris Eastwood) has money and faith but cruises on business trips. His Grindr connection tonight is Jack (Eric Fagan), a young man eager to have sex and open to anything, or so he thinks. Dr. Devon (Tim Garnham) hasn’t dated in ages, and he connects with Tom (Wes Miles) who swings long term and short. There’s plenty of conflict here as Jack learns he really does have limits (strangulation is NOT a turn on). Tom and Devon test the limits of fidelity, and suffer through the same problems straight couples often experience. This sung through musical flies along with a strong book and even stronger songwriting. The ensemble opens with the loveable “Manhunt” but Jack soon follows with the un-stoppable hit of the evening. I’d rather not print the title here, but I’ll point out it is song #6 in your program. Nod, nod, wink, wink. Say no more. Some music is new, some riffs off classics like “YMCA” and any number of disco hits from dance floors around the world. It’s a shame this show has such a short run due to weather, so try and catch it this weekend before its gone for good. I won’t say its good CLEAN fun, but it it’s always good off-color fun.

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

Big River

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Big River
Music and lyrics by Roger Miller
Book by William Hauptman
Adapted from a novel by Mark Twain
Directed by Mark Edward Smith
Musical Direction by Timothy Turner
Starring Jeffery Todd Parrott and Clinton Harris
Mad Cow Theatre
Orlando, FL

This commentary was prepared from a preview performance.

“Big River” tells a big story, employs a big cast and lets them belt some big numbers. Huck Finn (Parrott) lives on the Mississippi River frontier and is torn between book learning and being a good old boy. In those days, it was a close choice; education wasn’t all that important when it comes to hunting wild pigs and managing slaves. His friend Tom Sawyer (Liam O’Connor) thinks in a more genteel manner, but he seeks adventure and it needs to use all of the day’s high tech: sleeping draughts, complicated lock picking, and unnecessary injury. Huck stumbles upon a runaway slave Jim (Harris), discovers he’s about to be captured, and the pair heads off on a raft hoping to get to Cairo, Illinois in the free territories. They miss that safe harbor but hook up with a pair of con men (Mickey Layman and Alex Mansoor). Jim is captured, Tom and Huck free him, and adventure piles on adventure. Looks like Huck lived in interesting times.

This show shines when it shows the complex relation between Jim and Huck. Emotionally Huck knows slavery is wrong, but still believes in good old American property rights. Vocally, he’s got a nice sound but doesn’t project the volume this large show needs. Fortunately, he tends to sing right on the stage lip, so you can hear him well enough. Harris is large yet vulnerable, not only do you want him to get away and recover his family, but you just want to hug him when times are bad. Supporting actor Bobby Bell stole the show with his over the top Tea Party Republican rant about “Guv’ment.” Another superior performance came from Alex Mansoori as the tarred and feathered con man who paid for the overreach of his oily compatriot Mr. Layman. The best ensemble number here are the gospel tunes “Do You Want to Get to Heaven” and “How Blest We Are.” On the slow side “Muddy River” and “River in the Rain” are the most impressive ballads. All these songs draw from our collective unconscious of that Big River; this show looks back to the blues and gospel music that lays the foundation of the American musical cannon.

“Broad River” also looks the racism square in the eye. As Huck’s morality struggle unfolds, the “N-word” and other slurs pop up unapologetically. I applaud that; even in a musical of this size it’s best we not forget where we come from. Jim is truly a tragic figure; even in his final triumph he still has a herculean task ahead to get his wife and children out of bondage. There’s a good dose of bitter medicine here, but it’s sugar coated with some great music and some great theatrical performances.

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

Jesus Christ Superstar

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Jesus Christ Superstar
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Rob Winn Anderson
Starring Benjamin van Diepen and Shea Rafferty
Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL

I think they almost nailed this one. “Superstar” is one of the more difficult musicals to get right. While the songs are solid and the music not particularly difficult, giving the cast useful on-stage tasks can be surprisingly tough. You know the bones of the story: Jesus of Nazareth (van Diepen) arrives in Jerusalem for the last time. He’s made a name for himself preaching, healing and raising from the dead, all standard stuff for middle eastern deities of the day. His best friend and closest associate Judas Iscariot (Rafferty) warns him to tone it down lest he get the Romans on his tail but what sort of story would that be? There’s always been controversy about the text of this show and today was no different. Preshow a group of older church women sat behind me and fretted over just how “Biblical” this show was, and would it damage their faith? I have sad news for them: this is Musical Theater, and not really a place to seek religious certainty.

What you will find here is musical certainty. While a rough edge or two popped up, this production looked and sounded great. Rafferty does most of the musical heavy lifting but Diepen needs to supply all the high notes. He hits them and holds them well but it was scary to watch. Rafferty leads or solos most of the good songs (Superstar, Damned for All Time) leaving Mary Magdelene (Natalie McKnight Palmer) with her outstanding “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Other notables include Mark Wright-Ahearn as Caiaphas leading “This Jesus Must Die” and Bret McMahon with Pontius Pilate’s “Trial by Pilate”. Caiaphas and Annas (Josh Kimbal) were suitably slimy, and director Anderson introduces a new character named “The Guitarist” (Greg Pakstis). He appears three times, each when Judas must make a decision, and plays a few rocking bars of 1970’s hard rock to help clear his mind. My best guess is he’s representing either Jehovah or some inner demon of Judas’s. Only one weak spot here: King Herod (Kit Cleo) couldn’t sell “King Herod’s Song”. That number just felt weak.

A brick wall and a movable scrim box made a flexible and mobile set for the cast to work on. A mix of modern and period looks made the time period ambiguous, and there was a surreal moment when the action freezes and a WW2 air raid siren froze the action. No idea why. I admit I have very high standards for this show; I’ve heard the original album and seem the movie a dozen times, and seen at least five other productions. This is arguably the best: the music works, the overall cast is strong, and the production always finds something interesting happening on stage. I recommend it, but don’t expect a bible study. This is a hard rock musical, and one of the best.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

Life Could Be A Dream

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Life Could Be A Dream
By Roger Bean
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

Doo-wop was pretty much done with when I became old enough to understand, but it still has this “thing” that fills it with a pleasant sense of nostalgia. Tonight, we are in the basement and two buddies want to win a recording contract from the local AM station. Denny (Bert Rodriguez) is the confident one, so he wins the argument about the band’s name. Eugene (Michael Scott Ross) can hit the high falsettos and make them stick; he stands in the back and prays he doesn’t get called on in class. Up above we have Eugene’s mother who only speaks though an intercom (how cool was THAT in 1953?) and reminds the boys to keep it down, do your homework, and come up for sandwiches. Things improve when Wally (Zack Nadolski) drops in. Not only is he tall, but he has church choir experience although “Abide by Me” isn’t going to win a Grammy. It’s not until biker Skip (Andrew JeJeune) shows up that the group really gels. He can sing lead, has a day job, and if they don’t all split up over a girl (Tay Anderson as Lois) they might have a shot at that abusive recording contract.

There’s not a song here you can’t sing along with, although that WILL draw the wrath of Heather and you don’t want her to cut you off at the bar. I’ll pick a few of my favorites here: Denny’s “Mama Don’t Allow it” The Ensemble’s “Fools Fall in Love” and Skip’s lead on “Duke of Earl” all got check marks in my program. The voices are hard to rank as well. LeJeune appears in more light opera material than the others, but the other guys all have extensive musical theater experience. Ms. Anderson is new to the playhouse but I suspect we’ll see much more of her until she moves to New York. And they even added a new musician to the band, Josh Ceballos.

Is this the best WPPH show ever? We’ll pretty much every show is a best; this is only the most recent and most memorable in my short-term circuits. There were a few empty seats due to the storm, but if your power is still out, they have air-conditioning, lights and ice at the bar.

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

Man of La Mancha

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Man of La Mancha
Book by Dale Wasserman
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Directed by Nick DeGruccio
Musical Direction by Michael Raabe
Choreography by Kim Ball
Starring Davis Gaines, Laura Hodos, and Matt Zambrano
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando, FL

Staring into the face of a monster storm, Orlando Shakes shakes its powerless baby fist at Irma and shouts “No! This show WILL go on!” That’s the power of a good and true knight like Don Quixote (Gaines). Bracketing this tale of valor and idealism is a dark jail house, smoky and looking more like a Piranesi print than anything I’ve ever seen here before. While awaiting trial for unspecified crimes against the Catholic Church (the real Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, doesn’t seem to have been a troublemaker) his fellow criminals demand he defend himself to them. He defends successfully through the magic of Musical Theater and the fellow prisoners are surprisingly off book. Gaines is at his best with his pointed beard and powdered hair; he’s a bold man with a dream, crazy as it seems to his family. We should all end up embarrassing them this way.

While Gaines was elegant and mannerly as a good knight errant should be, it was Laura Hodos that stole the show. Mostly dressed as a street urchin, she was the hard worker who had to deal with the uncouth muleskinners and found Quixote’s obsession mystifying. But she buys in briefly, fights the muleskinners even though they were undoubtedly some of the inn’s best customers. In a moment of kindness, she is pulled into a brutally symbolic rape beneath the stage. As musical theater drama goes, it’s the best there is. Other excellent performances come from Victor Souffrant as the priest and the very funny and always on-spot Matt Zambrano as faithful Sancho Panza.

This is a show that puts all the Margeson Theater’s tricks into play. There’s a rotating stage, a center stage hydraulic riser, weird sound effects, and a moody set that looks like it was lifted from Piranesi’s “Prison” etchings. The crowd was light due to an impending storm, but the show was executed with panache and energy. Even though this is one of the chestnuts of the modern musical theater, it’s well worth seeing this production for its tight interplay of theatrical elements.

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