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by Carl F Gauze

Archive for the 'theater' Category

Annie

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Annie
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Steve MacKinnon
Starring Lyla Tsiokos, Cami Miller, Schon McCloud
Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL

The only real difference between this production and one in New York is these tickets cost less, and there’s plenty of free parking. You’ve read the comic strip, you’ve seen the movie, and you may well have seen this script before. (This is number three for me.) Annie (Tsiokos) lives in an orphanage slant sweatshop run by evil Miss Hannigan (Miller). It’s a typical slave labor job: the heat is off, the hours long and the chances of escape slim. But luck smiles and Annie is selected to spend the holidays with Oliver Warbucks (McCloud) who owns more property than God and the US Government combined. The depression rages but the Warbucks team lives in a luxury Annie comes to appreciate. Money can’t bring her long-lost parents back, but it does draw the scam artists. Oliver hires the FBI but then makes an ill-advised plea for Annie’s folks to come collect her and a $50k check on the radio. This draws Hannigan’s sleazy brother Rooster (Blake Aburn) and his floozie girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Grace Flaherty), and their greed gleefully brings down Ms. Hannigan.

So how good was this production? Stunning. Tsiokos played Annie, a tough kid who knew how to work the jailhouse system, Ms. Miller’s evil was superb; and she punctuated it with a ref whistle that made Sandy hide back stage. The energy between the two women felt like a real hatred, and that fired up the rest of the cast. Mr. Warbucks showed the tension between getting work done and attending to small children, and Aburn’s Rooster switched easily between swaggering schemer and pathetic con man. On the supporting list we have the gorgeous and efficient hyper-secretary Grace Farrell (Trisha Jane Wiles), the rotund FDR (Bob Brandenburg), and my favorite head butler Drake played by A. J. Garcia. All this fit onto a cleverly lit stage that shifted quickly and seamlessly as every object was on wheels ready to dance on and off. And as to Sandy, I was looking for more of a fox terrier, but this Sandy was a blissed out Golden retriever that never wandered off or chewed on anything. Yeah, this is a feel-good chestnut, but the acting and production values are as good as anything you’ll see on the Broadway tour. Season’s greetings to Mr. McKinnon and his choreographer Spenser Morrow for nailing this project!

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

Born Yesterday

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Born Yesterday
By Garson Kanin
Directed by Tony Simotes
Starring Jamie-Lyn Markos, Duncan Bahr, and Mark “Gary” Miller
Mad Cow Theatre
Orlando, FL

In politics nothing ever really changes except the names and the hair styles. Tonight, we find ourselves in post war Washington D.C. There’s big money in cleaning up the scrap metal left over from the European wars, but those silly anti-trust laws keep poor yet rotund Harry Brock (Miller) from getting an iron grip on the used iron trade. He runs some scrap yards here and there; he’s a lowbrow mogul with a business plan based on bribery and deceit. He and his air headed girlfriend Billie (Markos) move down to D.C. to bribe a few Senators, change a few laws and make some real money. There he meets investigative journalist Paul Verral (Bahr) who reports on this sort of shenanigans. Paul agrees to make Billie more socially adept, and they naturally fall in love. He also fills her head with big words like “dictionary” and “constitution,” and while she’s no genius, it’s clear even to her that Brock is up to something fishy. Brock put all his businesses in her name to protect himself, but when she stops signing papers and starts reading them, his gig is up. Ans his drunken lawyer Ed Devery (Holland Hayes) points out “It’s the big targets they shoot at” and Brick is both physically and vocally enormous.

There’s nothing new under the sun, or so I’ve heard, and this story is not only a fast-paced screwball comedy, it’s a totally in sync commentary on the current political scene. Miller is constantly loud and ready to beat up anyone who stands in his way; the fine points of pollical discourse lie far afield form his world. Grease Senator Noval Hedges (Jim McClellan) looks like he’s straight off a campaign brochure, and Bahr remains unfailing polite as he dances circles around the lost in the weeds Harry Brock. But tonight’s clear winner by a landslide is the platinum blonde Ms. Markos. She nails the air headed moll character, complete with the street wise New York tough gal accent. Great supporting action on this gorgeous art deco set came from the too-rarely seen bellhop (Damany Riley) and drink fetching Eddie Brock in his dead-end kids hat. Its easy to laugh at these stereotypes, but only until you realize they are not one bit more over the top than real “leaders.” Vote for this party by buying a ticket; sometimes all we can do about disaster is laugh at it.

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

Daddy Long Legs

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Daddy Long Legs
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Book by John Caird
Based on a novel by Jean Webster
Directed by Roy Alan
Musical Direction by Chris Leavy
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

This is NOT the Fred Astaire Musical from 1955, nor any of the other six similar sounding listings in IMDB. But it IS based on the 1912 Jean Webster novel most of those projects draw upon. Meet Jervis Pendleton (Larry Alexander); he has a kind heart but little close family. As compensation, he selects deserving orphans and sends them to college, all expenses paid. His choice this season is Jerusha “Judy” Abbott (Hannah Laird), the oldest orphan at the John Grier Home. I checked out Mr. Greir; he was a sharp shooter in the 1924 Olympics. Thus, he’s merely a literary device as this story begins in 1908. Pendleton pays full tuition, room and board and $30 a month for incidentals, a real fortune back then. The only catch? The recipient must write him a letter once a month, and never know his identity. But writing into the empty ozone is tough, so she chooses to call him “Daddy Long Legs.” Ooooookay…creepy…

But not creepy here, despite the odd premise this is a sweet love story with a happy ending. Jervis follows the letters, gradually grows to love Judy as he courts her through the odd method of never speaking to her. Judy grows up in college; new topics like Latin and romantic poems fill her mind. By her sophomore year she lords over the freshies, and she meets people with real money and fake personality. Eventually, Jervis approaches her under an assumed name, and this being Winter Park Playhouse, love is soon in the air.

There’s more plot here than a typical WPPH Main Stage show, and the house band is supplanted by a cellist. Tonight, songs like “The Color of Your Eyes” and “The Man I’ll Never Be” guide us along as we examine the social dynamics of the ultra-wealthy as they intersect with the nouveau semi-riche. The settings described are truly idyllic: a college program focused on the classics with no student debt looming, farms full of frolicking animals, and trips to Paris and Manhattan. Garnishing the entrée, we hear some radical commentary on how orphanages ought to be run. The romance is no easy path; Pendleton’s duplicitous actions are highlighted when Judy complains about Jervis’s actions to her supposed benefactor and pointing up his evil guyness. But love heals all, and even a jaded critic can shed a tear for this couple.

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

Sense and Sensibility

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Sense and Sensibility
By Kate Hamill
Based on a novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Marianne DiQuattro
Starring Anneliese Moon and Allison Furlong
Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

The pre-women lib world was so quaint. You either “Had” income or you starved, no woman dare not talk to man without an extensive escort, and a failed engagement often as not leads to poverty just as often a successful marriage leads to a life of abuse. Austen’s 1811 novel remains endlessly popular, and this is the second adaptation I’ve run across. This one is set on a fluid stage with every prop set on wheels or dropping from the fly loft. A cluster of Gossips watch every scene as overdressed voyeurs. Gossip was the coin of the financially endowed and the broke, but it really made a difference to the poor.

The Dashwood women are in a precarious position since daddy died leaving them in debt and on a slippery slope of social standing. His lands went to his first son John (Malakai Green) by marriage. John’s wife Fanny (Parker King) bitchily forbids him to help the other branch of the family leaving them only the option of selling themselves in marriage. The eldest daughters still have that bloom of youth with Marianne (Furlong) the more aggressive, more attractive girl. His sister Elinor (Moon) stays prim and proper, and everyone speaks in long, perfectly inflected sentences that are one step short of Shakespearian. Mother (Brianna Salvatori) makes endless pots of tea and the youngest Margaret (Robyn Perry) looks on longingly, hoping she, too can join in the desperate search for a suitable mate. The men are a motley lot as well. Edward Ferris (Josh Scott) only gets an inheritance if mom dies and he marries “suitably.” Colonel Brandon (Jonathan Garcia) is pleasant but old, and John Willoughby steals Marianne’s heart, but like all good Victorian leading men he’s sexy, broke and unstable.

The social details are more complicated than my last differential equations class, but there IS a happy ending to this relentless gossip fest. Scenic designer Molly J Finnegan-Pepe, (a truly wonderful name) keeps the endless scene changes flowing, and the supporting cast keeps them interesting. One character signs her roll; I like the idea, but it seems that would not really help the deaf follow this novel. Another issue is the lack of microphones; the lines were hard to hear in mid-audience, and there was often more ambient noise than necessary. But it’s a classic pre-Victorian novel and well-presented if you just let the hook-ups flow. The Gossips provide a clever commentary on the action: one indiscretion, one impolitic remark, and your social life may end. And this is 200 years before the internet; Facebook would have made their heads explode.

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

I Have Dreamed: The Songs of Richard Rodgers

Friday, December 1st, 2017

I Have Dreamed: The Songs of Richard Rodgers
Featuring Larry Alexander
Musical Direction by Christopher Leavy
Additional Accompaniment by Ned Wilkinson
Spotlight Cabaret Series
November 29, 2017
Winter Park Playhouse
Winter Park, FL

I don’t think everything we heard tonight was the original lyric. But it still sounded great as we looked back to the blessed songwriting of Rogers and Hart and then Rogers and Hammerstein. These two composers set the standard for early and midcentury American standards, the songs they wrote when our grandparents dated still resonate today. We open with the old standard “Johnny One Note,” and I’m pretty sure both Mr. Alexander and pianist Chris (Never Hits a Bad Note) Leavy play way more than just that one note. There was a plug for another show buried in there; Mr. A is so slick you hardly even noticed it, and the subliminal message made me get a ticket for the other show he’s leading in the main stage production.

What really makes this cabaret stand out is the depth of background information. While we all remember Rodger’s great hits, his path to those hits is often rocky and circuitous. His duet with Hugger in Chief Heather Alexander takes us through the rocky development of hits like “Blue Moon”. And while most cabaret shows emphasize “Don’t sing along, just because you paid a sawbuck to see this show doesn’t mean you can sing” is transformed into a contrapuntal version of “Do-Re-Mi.” Always innovative, Mr. Alexander wrapped up by singing the encore before he left the stage; this saved us about 5 minutes in fiddle around time. This guy isn’t a regular here yet, but I think he’s got potential.

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

An Octaroon

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

An Octaroon
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Based on a play by Dion Boucicault
Directed by David Reed
Starring Arius West, Andrew Coleburn, and Mandi Lee
UCF Conservatory Theater
Orlando, FL

Back in the old days, if you needed a black actor you put a white guy on stage in blackface. Today, if you can’t get enough white actors for your slave days production, you put black actors up in white face. And if you need a Native American, red face will do just fine for tonight. This “An Octaroon” derives from a very popular 1859-piece decrying slavery: it adds a bracketing device, special effects, lighting that won’t set the building aflame and it camps up the racism till it’s laughable. It also depends on a quick-change cast and a few modern stage tricks. It’s all very Brechtian, even if you must cheat and look it up.

After a rather surreal costuming rant, we travel to Terrebonne (Good Earth) plantation. Like all literary plantations of the antebellum its deep in debt, run by a nearly dead and unseen aunt, and populated with happy slaves doing their level best for their overseers. The stage is full of stereotypes played for yucks: dreamy photographer George (West) flirts with Dora (Stephanie Cabrera), proposes to Octaroon Zoe (Lee) and takes an incriminating picture that convicts his alter ego M’Closky for murdering a child and stealing the US mail. Along the way Terrence Lee waves ocean waves of blue tulle, tings bells to indicate evil, and receives abuse for being third billed. The female black trio and Greek chorus of Minnie, Dido and Grace (Reva Stover, Waneka Leary, and Bria Holloway) talk sassy and bring in the cotton. This should be offensive, but the script is so self-knowing you can’t help but laugh.

What should we take away from this “Follies” of race? There are multiple options: everything comes around, and what was once OK is now offensive, but what was once offensive can be OK if you own it properly. The slave based south was a nasty and brutish place, but there was a sense of belonging, even if that belonging consisted of your name on a bill of sale. And lastly, add enough camp and even a Nazi POW camp can be a hit sitcom. As I rode the cart back to UCF’s byzantine parking lots, a young (white) man behind me rejoiced he was born in the 1990’s and far away from this sort of misery. I pointed out I was old, and he was young, and now it was his job to make things even better. I like to think he’ll make a better world someday, but I never get my hopes too high. Tonight’s show was a notable example that a lesson taught with comedy lasts longer than ones taught with a lecture.


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

The House of Bernarda Alba

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

The House of Bernarda Alba
By Federico García Lorca
A New Version by Emily Mann
Directed by Nadia Garzón
Starring Ibis Enid Rodriguez, Leonor Velosa, and Lisa Morales
Seminole State College
Lake Mary, FL

Fortune is fleeting, and in this tense and claustrophobic tale its already two miles down the road. Senior Bernardo Alba is dead, and his stiff wife Bernarda (Rodriguez) declares eight years of mourning for him. The Victorians could wrap up mourning in 12 months or so, and Bernarda’s rule makes life tough for her five virginal daughters. They range in age from 20 to 39 and you can do the math. Bernardo left all his money to the eldest Angustias (Morales). She’s the ugly one and needs the most help and at 39 the toughest to sell in a society obsessed with descendants keeping the family lineage alive. Men abound, but working class is too déclassé. Laboring blood would aid the gene pool, but it removes any chance of moving back to Madrid. Advice and commentary come from housekeeper La Poncia (Velosa), but to no avail. By law, tradition and control of the food sources Mom rules and she ain’t taking any back talk, no siree. The hottest point of rebellion lies in young Adela (Francesca Toledo). She wears a sexy green dress, ignores mom, and has an affair with Angustias’ s unseen paramour Pepe. It’s a bit of a soap opera, and there’s a good operatic ending.

Lorca draws some sharp contrasts about his pre-war Spanish society: the obsession with status and mating correctly clearly limits everyone’s choice, and in a small town with poor transportation options for marriage are limited to start with. Next there’s the elaborate rituals, first introduced to set the king and nobles apart from the prols. If you didn’t know the formalities, you were obviously working class and should go empty the chamber pots. Finally, there’s the obsession with sex and how not to have any unless a tall order of rules gets checked off in the right sequence. Like many conservatives, Bernarda believes the old ways are much better, and any sexual innovation limits the possible. Then there are the wonderful lines that survived translation: Adela admits “Sometimes I love under clothing” and a man is identified as “A lizard between her breasts.” With wonderful words and brutal analysis of his homeland Lorca traps all these concepts in one place, and fillets them for our consideration.

As to the production, Rodriguez certainly delivers the stern, no nonsense head mistress role out on stage. Your sympathy goes to Velosa’s long suffering housekeeper and her assistant Criada (Angel Cotto) who can never clean to her standards of the house. The daughters mostly form a giggly swirl of girlishness waiting to escape while Ms. Toledo alternates between a young girl and a possibly mad one. All float across a simple set of columns and pillars: the story is classily confined to a single space, just as these women are confined by Bernarda’s impossible standards. Their life only offers rough entertainment and sweaty, working class heroes and that looks like a better life than all the formality and lace. Yes, these are the tribulations of rich and semi-famous. And while not as sympathetic as the trials of the working class, they are real nonetheless.

For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/theatre/boxoffice.htm

Orphans

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Orphans
By Lyle Kessler
Directed by Marco DiGeorge
Theater on the Edge
Edgewater, FL

If there’s one thing this place needs, it’s a light up sign you can see from the street. What it’s good at is stage intensity, and the ability to get wallpaper to look like cockroaches put it up in 1978. Meet gentle Phillip (Adam Minossora) who misses his dead mom and lives under the thumb of his violent brother Treat (Zack Roundy). Treat won’t teach him to read or let him out of the house; Treat is the worst kind of control freak. Treat does support him with picking pockets and other minor crimes but one night he brings home drunk-as-a-skunk Harold (Allan Whitehead). Notionally, he’s a “Businessman”, but that business seems to be securities theft. (Back in the old days, stocks and bonds were all physical and if you stole the certificate, it was hard to trace. Now everything is electronic). Treat threatens to kill Harold, but Harold hires him as a bodyguard, and puts some sense into Phillip. But Treat has anger issues as well as a cheap streak. Instead of taking a cab like Harold said, he takes a bus and nearly gets into a shootout with a rude bus rider. Things are grim in the house, and when Harold takes Phillip for a walk his past catches up to him. Treat may be a lost cause, but Phillip might finish all the great American novels someday.

There’s a theme here; every TotE show has focused on intense male relations and desperate people pushed to that selfsame edge. Mr. Roundy can scare the pants of you, and sitting in the back row is scant safety in this tight space. Mr. Minossora remains gentle and eager to please; he’s a classic hostage with no way to send a message to the neighbors and ask for help even though he’s in a cramped row house with walls made of spiderwebs. But the real scare Machine is Mr. Whitehead. He may be jovial and generous, but those with access to the securities market are the ones who can do the real damage, and they don’t even have to get close to you.

As always, there’s an amazing degree of verisimilitude here. The set is reportedly built to the actual 1949 building code, there’s a real radiator, and at the very beginning as Phillip kneels before the television it reminded me of a 1980’s video. It’s an intense evening, and one you’ll remember.


For more information on Theatre on the Edge, please visit http://theaterontheedge.org/ or http://facebook.com/TheaterOnEdge

Double Jeopardy

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Double Jeopardy
The Trial of B. B. Wolf
Music by Curtis Tucker
Word by Nelson Sheeley
and Trial By Jury
By Gilbert and Sullivan
Directed by Dee Axel
Musical Direction by Nishaa Carson
Central Florida Vocal Arts
Presented at CFVA Black Box Theater
250 SW Ivanhoe Blvd
Orlando, FL

Courtroom procedurals can drag, but if you can sing them in opera, well, the entire legal system becomes entertaining. Tonight, there are two cases on the docket: a costume heavy children’s piece, and a more adult case from the masters of operetta Gilbert and Sullivan. In “The Trial of B. B. Wolf,” Mr. Swine (Christina Rivera) sues B. B. Wolf (Bryan Hayes) for destroying his house. The tall, bewigged Hans Christian Anderson (Andrew LeJune) defends, and Little Red Riding Hood (Katrina Stenzel) offers additional testimony. Mr. Wolf looks a bit like John Candy in “Spaceballs;” his defense is pointed and controversial and the case is postponed until a later date. Defending a fairy tale case can get expensive.

Post intermission we discover a jilted bride and the man she sues for lost affection. This was a real legal thing 150 years ago, and the innovative Gilbert and Sullivan employ the scuffle to comment on the hypocritical mores of their day. Mr. Hayes returns as Edwin T. Defendant; he’s in the dock for dumping Angelina T. Plaintiff (Rivera). We begin with the usher (LeJeune) instructing the jury to ignore the defendant but abide by everything the Plaintiff says. The judge appears (the same John Segers who judged Act 1). He admits marrying ugly for money, then ditching his bride. These guys could run for office today and get all the conservative votes. But when the Bride appears, the judge decides to marry her himself, letting Edwin off the hook. Justice in not only blind, it makes no sense whatsoever. But if we sing it, no audience in the world will convict for lack of entertainment.

As with all CFVA shows the singing outshines the plot, and the set is minimal. Mr. Segers and Mr. LeJune were my favorite male voices while Mrs. Rivera won my female vocalist votes. Mr. Hayes did most of the acting; he kept both the destructive wolf and the philandering defendant physical and almost always in motion, or at least reacting. There’s just a piano pounding out the notes, allowing the voices to shine as they should, and the church hall acoustics are much better than most stages in the area. While not exactly a kids show, there’s nothing her to offend, and happy endings are the main goal of both segments. In a weekend full of dark performances, this one keeps a happy face and never disappoints.

For more information on Central Florida Vocal Arts please visit www.centralfloridavocalarts.com/
Facebook.com/CFLVocalArts

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical
Book by Susan L. Schwartz
Music by Andrew Sherman
Additional Music and Lyrics by Tom Kitt and Jonathan Callicutt
Directed by Adam McCabe
Choreographed by Michelle Alagna
Starring Takara Anderson
Footlights Theater, Orlando FL

The Footlights Theater continues to up its game; tonight we have both a proper overture to this musical and a good tap sequence in the middle. Based on a porn film so notorious it has its own Wiki article, DDD is now a rather risqué musical with dance numbers substituting for the explicit sex. It’s also one of the most heteronormative shows ever produced at the Footlights. There’s plenty of hetro sex, and only a smidgen of the lavender loves we’ve come to expect. Is there a plot? Why yes! That’s why the original movie was so good: they have stage worthy motivation. Debby leads the cheerleading squad at Anonymous High, and she been accepted into the Texas Cowgirls. She just needs to raise some money for bus fair, and her cheerleading team pitches in. Minimum wage jobs aren’t getting the lawnmowed, but the team has extra special charms men are willing to pay for. Tidying up gets replaced with going down, and soon there’s enough money for everyone to go to Dallas. Is there a moral? Yes: selling your body can bring in big bucks, and having a soul is overrated.

Despite limited backstage and not much wing space, this little show pulls off numerous set changes, some decent singing, and sticks close to the original story line. Ms. Anderson’s Debby faces a difficult moral choice, seeks out an exploitive career, and is generally completely sympathetic. The guys all take on multiple roles: Kyle Stone focuses on the creepy middle-aged guy willing to pay for his thrills, Johnathan Spiegel aces the dumb jock roll, and Tripp Karrh works best with a fright wig and a sleazy backstory. On the female supporting side Katie Ford remains sort of virginal as she seeks out higher political office while Sarah Orbrock acts all clean-cut while acting all nasty in secret. Ale Martinez lost her voice tonight, so the sound guy read her lines, and that substitution was hysterical. There were some good songs here, and closer “It Only Cost Me My Soul” almost brought a tear to my eye. The P-House bar scene might be fading, but the shows in the intimate little space keep getting better. And parking is easy as well. No reason for you not to go visit this out of the way show room.

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