Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DVD Alert! 25th Anniversary LES MISERABLES Concert

Heads up folks!  On March 6th, PBS will air the 25th anniversary concert of LES MISERABLES.
This concert will feature Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Nick Jonas as Marius, Norm Lewis as Javert, Matt Lucas as Thénardier, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier, and Katie Hall as Cosette.
This concert will also be available on DVD today!

Happy viewing!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

MACBETH • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ooo… Shakespeare's MACBETH
Nothing like a play that opens with witches and prophecies!

MACBETH is such a highly revered play by such a highly revered playwright that as excited as I was to see it, I was a little intimidated at the thought of blogging about it.  But then, a really cool thing happened:  This production removed a lot of the "mystery" of Shakespeare for me.  Let's face it, as eloquent as he is, Shakespeare can be hard to understand.  (It's good to read a little synopsis first…)  There's all this decorative language that our ears aren't that used to hearing.  If you're not that familiar with his stuff, you kind of have to aggressively pay attention to what's being said.  But once you get used to it, you have the realization that his plays aren't all that mysterious.  They're plays that were written to entertain everyone from Kings to the common folks who just wanted to drink a ton of beer and see a show.  They deal with themes that are as old as time.  Shakespeare just uses iambic pentameter a lot…  This is one of the reasons I really loved this production -- it brought me that realization.

Shanara Gabrielle, Michael Keyloun
and David Graham Jones (Witches)
and Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth).
© Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Rep's production gives you an informative little introduction to the players at the start, and tells you a bit about what's going on.  Nice.  As we begin, Macbeth and Banquo have just come out on top in a battle, when they come face-to-face with these witches, the "three weird sisters".  They tell Macbeth that he is destined to become Thane of Cawdor, and after that, King of Scotland.  Shortly after, a messenger arrives with news that the current King Duncan has indeed bestowed Macbeth with the title, Thane of Cawdor.  Having the first part of the witches' prophecy fulfilled, Macbeth writes news of this to his wife, and she starts to imagine how cool it would be to be "First Lady".  They hatch a plan to murder the current King while he's staying at their castle. Their ambition for the throne propels them into a murderous spree that ends up haunting them both.  Macbeth starts seeing ghosts all over the place (a truly amazing scene), and Lady Macbeth spends her time trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands as she sleepwalks in the night.  But there are more prophecies to be told.  At one point the witches tell Macbeth, who now is seeking them out for advice on how to hang on to the throne, that he won't have to worry until the forest of Birnam Wood moves towards his castle.  Macbeth doesn't think this is possible, but this prophecy, like all of the others, comes to pass.  That's the short version, but it is truly a captivating tale of murder, sorcery, ambition, politics and madness.

Shanara Gabrielle, Michael Keyloun
and David Graham Jones (Witches).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey
Every element of this production worked flawlessly together.  I was impressed with most of the cast of around 26, but most impressed with Macbeth (Timothy D. Stickney), Lady Macbeth (Caris Vujcec), Banquo (Jason Cannon), and the witches (Shanara Gabrielle, David Graham Jones and Michael Keyloun).  Their lines were delivered in a way that made it pretty easy to understand exactly what they were saying and what was going on.  Kudos to and admiration for the direction of Paul Mason Barnes and what he was able to bring out from this great cast of actors.  The set by Michael Ganio was minimal but arresting -- the stage was surrounded by these tall wooden planks that continued on to the back of the set, and there were these two chairs hung on opposing sides of the stage.  To me they represented the two chairs of the throne -- a constant presence throughout the play.  The costumes (Dorothy Marshall Englis) were also wonderful, with many characters displaying hints of red here and there telling of the strife and bloodshed this country finds itself in -- Macbeth's handsome coat being the more magnificent example once he's bestowed the title, King of Scotland.  The lighting by Kenton Yeager was low and provocative and the sound design by Rusty Wandall was unobtrusive but unnerving, with a low creepy droning anytime the witches were present or any foul deeds were taking place.  

Caris Vujcec (Lady Macbeth).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey
Here's a little fun fact that many may have heard of:  There's a well known superstition among the theatre community that this play is cursed.  Supposedly, saying the name "Macbeth" inside a theater will bring bad luck to the play and anyone performing in it.  There are a few reasons for this.  Some believe that the spells cast in the play are real spells.  According to the legend, Shakespeare got some of the witches' incantations from some for real witches and that when they saw the play, they were offended and cursed it.  Some believe that Shakespeare himself cursed the play so he would be the only one able to direct it.  One of the many remedies to reverse the curse involves the person who uttered the word having to exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, say a profanity, and then ask for permission to return inside.  Other remedies involve saying certain lines from one of Shakespeare's other plays.  Kinda sounds like fun to me, but most theatre folks take this quite seriously, which is why it's often referred to as, "the Scottish Play".

Please just go see it.  If Shakespeare scares you, man up, read a synopsis, and treat yourself to a night out.  You won't be sorry.

Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth)
and Jason Cannon (Banquo).
© Photo by Eric Woolsey


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 6 | tickets: $15 - $70
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Kyle Acheson (Fleance), Nancy Bell (Lady Macduff/Angus), Chris Bolan (Lennox), Hillary Brainerd (Ensemble), Jason Cannon (Banquo/Caithness), Mike Curtin (young Siward/Soldier), Alexander M. Donovan (Macduff child), Greg Fink (Donalbain), Shanara Gabrielle (Witch/Murderer/Servant/Gentlewoman), Jake Golliher (Ensemble), Christopher Hickey (Ross), David Graham Jones (Witch/Poter/Seyton), Scott Joy (Ensemble), Michael Keyloun (Witch/Murderer/Servant/Doctor), Maria Knasel (Macduff child), Scears Lee IV (Ensemble), McKenna Liesman (Ensemble), Nathaniel McIntyre (Captain/Siward/Earl of Northumberland), Ben Nordstrom (Malcolm), Colton Pometta (Ensemble), Drew Redington (Macduff child), Michael James Reed (Macduff), Julia Schweizer (Macduff child), Timothy D. Stickney (Macbeth), Elizabeth Teeter (Macduff child), Jerry Vogel (Duncan, King of Scotland/Menteith) and Caris Vujcec (Lady Macbeth).

Set design by Michael Ganio; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Kenton Yeager; sound design by Rusty Wandall; fight directors, Brian Peters and Shaun Sheley; stage manager, Glenn Dunn; Shannon B. Sturgis, assistant stage manager.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

9 TO 5: The Musical • The Fox

In case you didn't know, this 1980's movie was adapted for the stage a couple of years ago, and now this girl-powered "little guy gets the better of the boss" musical has punched in at the Fox.

The show follows the movie pretty closely with only a couple of exceptions (Violet gets a love interest and you know... people sing and dance) and is drenched in a 1980's vibe.  Even the show curtain displays all sorts of images from around that time -- Jimmy Carter, the Muppets, Rubik's Cubes, Charlie's Angels...  I would have taken a picture of it, but I didn't because well… that would be illegal.

For those who've never seen or heard of the movie (both of you…) the show centers around Violet Newstead (Dee Hoty) -- the competent, qualified, but disregarded office manager, Doralee Rhodes (Diana DeGarmo) -- the busty secretary who's assumed to be the office floozie, the newly divorced and trying to make it on her own Judy Bernly (Mamie Parris), and their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Joseph Mahowald).

Many of the iconic scenes and lines from the movie are included in this production.  Everything from the girls getting stoned at Violet's place, that wacky hospital scene, Hart's… "confinement", the girls' fantasy scenes of how they would "off the boss" and of course the office lush Margaret (Jane Blass) who gets a lot a laughs.  "Atta Girl!".

Dee Hoty as Violet Newstead
in 9 to 5: The Musical.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Some notable additions to the show since its run in New York was a thankfully scaled down set (the Broadway LCD screens were a bit much).  You'd never know anything was scaled down, though.  There are these stalls on wheels type things with different images on them that represent everything from file cabinets and Violet's garage to Hart's office library and a parking garage. The ensemble work their butts off not only singing and dancing, but moving these things around at an almost frenetic pace.  There are also pre-recorded cameo appearances by the woman herself, Dolly Parton, serving as a narrator of sorts.

Diana DeGarmo as Doralee Rhodes
and Joseph Mahowald as Franklin
Hart, Jr. in 9 to 5: The Musical.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Dee Hoty (thrice Tony nominated) was a wonderful Violet, and her "One of the Boys" number was a highlight for me.  Diana DeGarmo, runner-up in the third season of "American Idol", was delightful as Doralee, southern drawl and all -- once you settle into it.  I swear it seems like more and more of these "American Idol" people are workin' it on the theatre stage nowadays.  Her "this is who I am" number, "Backwoods Barbie" was very Dolly Parton.  Reminded me of  Dolly's "Coat of Many Colors".  And she gets to deliver that famous line from the movie, "…I'll change you from a rooster to a hen in one shot!".  Mamie Parris as Judy gets the big eleven o'clock number with "Get Out and Stay Out".  Such a great voice.  Seriously.  Along with Jane Blass as Margaret, Kristine Zbnorik also gets plenty of laughs as Roz, who is hopelessly in love with the boss.  One thing that struck me watching this show was that all of these characters have almost ridiculously clear-cut numbers that tell you who they are and what they want, and that goes a long way in helping you become invested in them and how everything turns out.  Now, I would assume that 99.9% of musicals in general have the same devices, but I don't know…  The ones in this show are just so… clear cut.  (Can you tell I've been reading me some theatre books?)

Cast of the National Touring Production
of 9 to 5: The Musical.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Anyhoo, I had a great time when I saw this in New York, and because the show seems to be a little tighter now with the tour, I enjoyed it even more here.  It'll be on the clock until February 20th at the Fox.

Joy to the Girls!

9 TO 5

Book by Patricia Resnick
Music/lyrics by Dolly Parton
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through February 20 | tickets: $24 - $66
Performances Tuesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2 & 8pm, Sunday 2pm, Sunday February 13 at 7:30pm, Thursday February 17 at 1pm

Dee Hoty (Violet Newstead), Diana DeGarmo (Doralee Rhodes), Mamie Parris (Judy Bernly), Joseph Mahowald (Franklin Hart, Jr.) and Kristine Zbnorik (Roz).

Choreography by Jeff Calhoun; scenic design by Kenneth Foy; costume design by William Ivey Long; lighting design by Ken Billington; sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy; projection design by Benjamin Pearcy; music director, additional orchestrations, vocal and incidental music arrangements by Stephen Oremus; hair and wig design by Paul Huntley & Edward J. Wilson; aerial effects design by Paul Rubin; stage manager, E. Cameron Holsinger.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TRUE WEST • HotCity Theatre

Why is it that so much interesting stuff always seems to happen in the kitchen?  This is where the sibling rivalry of HotCity's first offering of their 2011 season, Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST, takes place.

There are these 2 brothers -- Austin (Scott McMaster), is a screenwriting family man who's watching his mom's house while she's on vacation in Alaska.  Then we've got Lee (Kevin Crowley), Austin's older brother, a wandering burglar who has dropped in to… "check out the neighborhood".  Austin is trying to put the finishing touches on a screenplay that he's scheduled to present to Saul (Alan Knoll), a fancy Hollywood producer, and Lee's visit is unexpected, and he's a bit in the way.  As Lee alternates between Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jim Beam, he antagonizes his little brother and his "white picket fence" life, while Austin is just trying to pacify the more intimidating Lee, while at the same time, trying not to piss him off.

Each brother represents a different kind of station in life, and during the course of the play, we get to discover how they see each other, and how Lee secretly covets the "quiet suburban silence", and how Austin longs to be unfettered out in the open Mojave Desert.  Lee just happens to drop in on Austin and Saul during their meeting -- stolen t.v. under his arm -- just as they've come to an agreement on the screenplay Austin has written, and ends up taking over the conversation.  He convinces Saul to play a few holes of golf with him the next morning -- much to the embarrassment of his kid brother.  When Saul decides to drop Austin's love story in favor of a goofy "real life western" that Lee pitches to him on the golf course, there's a role reversal that takes place as each brother takes a walk in the other's shoes.  This transition is really cool -- Austin develops a wild look in his eye as Lee becomes focused pecking away behind the typewriter.

Kevin Crowley (Lee) and Scott McMaster (Austin).
 Photo credit:  John Lamb
The night I went, there was a small crowd -- Superbowl weekend and all.  I would imagine that it would be a challenge for a cast to put it all out there for such a small audience, but boy did they deliver!  Kevin Crowley and Scott McMaster as the brothers were very engaging and convincing in their roles and their "transitions".  Really good those two.  Alan Knoll as the Hollywood producer and Nancy Lewis as Mom made the most of their smaller roles, and the comfortable homey set and precise lighting by Jim Burwinkel, along with the sound design of Joe Pini nicely keep you in the mood of the play.  Scott Breihan's costumes were simple, but that's all they needed to be, and they clearly distinguished the characters.  I don't know a lot about Sam Shepard's plays, but under Doug Finlayson's consummate direction, this play serves up a really interesting look at more than just sibling rivalry, but a kind of representation of two halves -- with one half wanting what the other has, and the pros and cons of both.  You know... duality.  Check it out!  It'll be at the Kranzberg until the 19th.

Where do the toasters come in?  Well, you'll just have to go see it now, won't you...


Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through February 19 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sunday at 7pm

Kevin Crowley* (Lee), Scott McMaster (Austin),  Alan Knoll* (Saul) and Nancy Lewis (Mom).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic/lighting design by Jim Burwinkel; costume design by Scott Breihan; sound design by Joseph T. Pini.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Yes, this is a Rambling on Contrapuntal Goodness • CURTAINS

Okay, so here's a bona fide rambling -- but I can't help it.  It's about counterpoint!  You guys know I love this stuff.

Contrapuntal moments are something I get chills over.  There's a beauty in a show called CURTAINS that I've been listening to lately.  

I saw this show in April of 2007.  Just a word of advice to anyone seeing a show in the Big Apple -- after checking out the theatre discount websites (my favorite -- broadwaybox.com), also try to check out the box office in person.  I went by the box office for CURTAINS and the first words out of my mouth were, "what discounted seats do you have?".  I ended up with a seat in the first row, just left of center for 57 bucks.  The seat was discounted because it was considered "partial view" -- a couple of times during the show, the conductor was elevated on a little platform to have a little dialogue with the actors onstage.  I swear I could have reached over and tapped him on the shoulder -- it was great!  The stage was a little high though…

Anyway, this Kander and Ebb musical centers around, among other things, a show within the show (Robbin' Hood of the Old West).  A NYC company is having out-of-town previews in Boston when the headlining actress -- short on stage chops but big on star quality -- passes out dead at the curtain call after the first preview.  A police detective (David Hyde Pierce) is called in for a murder investigation, and all sorts of backstage drama and hilarity ensue.  There's a synopsis of the show here.

CURTAINS stars Karen Ziemba, center left,
and Debra Monk, center right.

One of the songs of the show within the show is called, "In the Same Boat".  We're given bits and pieces of this "tune in progress" all during the performance, but it hasn't been able to click until near the end.  The detective gets an idea to combine all of the snippets together and before you know it, it's happened --  a lovely contrapuntal moment (there are a few of these in this puppy).  Kander and Ebb are kinda old school (think CABARET and CHICAGO) and this song reflects that, but it's got a juicy orchestra, tympani, and a banjo.  Yay!!  I'm telling you, seeing it live, by the time the riverboat comes in at the end, my mouth was hangin' open.  I might have been drooling a little bit too...  You have to understand, there was like the whole ensemble onstage.  I couldn't help it...

Each of the individual pieces of the song are introduced, and then they're all put together, with of course, the mandatory key change or two.  It's a basic, and in my opinion, catchy example of counterpoint, and I love it.  WHAT?!?!
The introductions start around 42 seconds in, and it comes together at around 2min. 37sec. in.



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