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by Carl F Gauze

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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

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/