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15 posts from July 2008

July 28, 2008

Digging "Mid Life!"

Midlife Talk about resonant.  Mid Life! The Crisis Musical, this year's summer musical gem at Actors' Playhouse, is proving so popular that the show's run has been extended by two weeks.

A stellar cast -- Margot Moreland, Wayne Steadman, Allan Baker, Maribeth Graham, Barry J. Tarallo and Lourelene Snedeker -- is captivating Boomers, their elders and their kids with songs about forgetfulness, aging parents, menopause, the woes of weekend warriors and other commonalities of life for folks from 40 to 60.

But like all good things, Mid Life! definitely will come to an end. So catch it while you can. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 24.  For info, call the theater at 305-444-9293 or visit the theater's website.

July 24, 2008

A great actor is gone

There aren't many song-and-dance men anymore. Certainly not ones who can act pretty much anything, dance like a dream, make you laugh, and sing in a way that will move you to cheers or tears.  Not to mention earning two Tony Award nominations.

There aren't many like that, but Bruce Adler was.  Yesterday, word got out that Adler was in hospice care, coping with the final stages of cancer he had fought for a couple of years.  Sadly, he passed away Friday morning around 8:15.

Mollyme_4 Adler, the son of Yiddish theater greats Henrietta Jacobson and Julius Adler, joined the family business as a kid. Here he is (dancing in the photo at right) with Molly Picon in The Kosher Widow at New York's Phyliss Andersen Fummyworld Theater in 1959.  In this group photo, he is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah -- between the matinee and evening performances of It's a Funny World at New York's National Theater in 1957, no less -- with his proud parents (at right in the photo) looking on .  You can see a wonderful array of photos from his long, varied career on his website.

The first time I saw Adler perform was in the 1992 Broadway production of Crazy for You.  He played Follies impresario Bela Zangler, earning his second Tony nomination. I thought he was great then, and I never changed my mind whenever I was lucky enough to see him since.

Brucebaby Adler's personal life took an unexpected turn when he reconnected with South Florida-based director Amy London, whom he had known for years since both were active in Actors' Equity in New York.  The two married in December 2003, and Adler became stepdad to London's kids with actor Barry J. Tarallo, a supportive friend to both Adler and his ex.  Then, on Valentine's Day 2007, came the most unexpected turn of all: the birth of Jacob Hayden Adler, the baby who made Adler a first-time dad at 62.

A tribute/benefit featuring many of the stars who have worked with Adler is in the works, though details are still being worked out; a private funeral service for family and friends will take place Monday afternoon. In the meantime, send good thoughts to Amy and the kids, and remember a great entertainer and devoted family man in your prayers.

July 23, 2008

This play provokes, no doubt

Though touring Broadway shows seem to return like the buzzards to Miami's courthouse roof (even Wicked can get old the fourth time around), it's rare for a regional theater to bring back a hit -- even more rare, with the same cast.

Pnesbitthardcastlepbowiedoubtsig Happily for fans of serious theater who feel they can't possibly stand one more musical revue this summer, Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company is doing that rare thing.  To open the company's $10 million Count de Hoernle Theatre last December, artistic director Michael Hall assembled a first-rate production of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, a play that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Featuring (as shown in photo, left to right) Pat Nesbit as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, Terry Hardcastle as Father Brendan Flynn, Pat Bowie as Mrs. Muller and (not shown) Amy Montminy as Sister James, the drama pits the suspicious older nun against the charismatic younger priest in a cliff-hanger with no real answers.

The play -- well worth seeing if you missed it the first time around, or if you were so intrigued you'd like to try solving its puzzle one more time -- will be at the Caldwell, 7901 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton, Aug. 1-17.  Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $34 and $38 ($10 for students a half-hour before curtain).  Call 1-877-245-7432 or visit the website.

July 22, 2008

How can I resist ya? Easily.

Not to rain on the ABBA lovefest that helped Mamma Mia! earn $27.6 million -- a record for a movie musical in its opening weekend -- but let me just say: I still loathe this musical.

Mammamia Yes, I realize that the stage version of Mamma Mia! is the 17th longest-running show in Broadway history. That the musical has grossed more than $2 billion (yes, billion) worldwide since its premiere in London nine years ago.  That the Broadway production raked in more than $1 million last week.  People love this show.  But not everyone.  Not me.

The ABBA hits? That's different. The songs do everything that vintage pop tunes should do.  They make you happy/wistful/nostalgic.  They excite your inner Dancing Queen, so that on the way out of the theater, you'll doubtless join the throng in dancing/singing your way to the exits.

Mamma Mia! is what's known as a jukebox musical, a show with a plot stuffed around pre-existing songs.  There have been some admirable-to-great examples of the genre -- think Jersey Boys (the story and music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) or Movin' Out (songs by Billy Joel) -- but Mamma Mia! weds its terrific music to a plot that plays like a bad romance novel crafted by someone who can't write.

Last weekend, hoping for a miracle courtesy of Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and company, I hit my neighborhood theater to catch Mamma Mia! the movie.  Critics who weren't enamored of the film have already mentioned that the movie marks stage director Phyllida Lloyd's cinematic debut and looks like it.  Despite the sparkling blue beauty of the story's Greek island setting, you may find yourself growing dizzy from the movie's chaotic editing.  Or howling at its from-the-stage-show dance sequences.  Or wondering why the Oscar-winning Streep is hopping around all the time, behaving like a 12-year-old. Groovy, Meryl. 

For sure, I know I'm in a small minority when it comes to people who see Mamma Mia! on purpose. I cringed my way through too much of it, only to be slightly amazed when moviegoers applauded at the end. Sigh.  Here's the trailer, to give you a taste.

July 17, 2008

Women undercover

Most theater companies save their world premieres for "the season," roughly October through May when both year-round residents and snowbirds make for a deeper ticket-buying pool.  But Fort Lauderdale's Women's Theatre Project is taking a different approach, aiming to cure the summertime arts blues with a brand-new work about the girls in blue.

Angie_radosh Playwright-actress-director Marjorie O'Neill-Butler has written True Blue, a play about a group of female undercover cops. The story involves a group of five policewomen, including a pair of sisters, who meet regularly to drink and chill.  An accident threatens the sisters' relationship and their careers, so their friends respond to the crisis.

The production features a stellar cast: Angie Radosh (pictured here), Laura Turnbull, Patti Gardner, Pamela Roza and Jacqueline Laggy.  The play previews Aug. 7, opens Aug. 8 and runs through Aug. 31 at Sixth Star Studios, 505 NW First Ave.  Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundnay (additional matinee on Saturday Aug. 30).  Tickets are $25 ($10 for students).  For information, call 1-866-811-4111 or visit the theater's web site.

July 16, 2008

Exiting too soon

If you've been following the state of the newspaper business over the past few years, you realize that (as with the economy) the picture isn't a rosy one.  From the country's largest dailies to its smallest ones, newsroom staffs are being slashed, with news of buyouts and layoffs surfacing with chilling regularity.  It's no surprise that theater critics have been among the journalists affected by this cost-cutting wave.  But unfortunately for the theaters in sprawling South Florida, for different reasons, two of the three critics for the largest dailies won't be in their jobs when the 2008-2009 season begins.

Hapsoldier_2 Hap Erstein, who isn't nearly as ferocious as he looks in the photo posted here (honest!), joined the Palm Beach Post as its theater critic in 1994, coming south from his hometown of Washington D.C.  Juggling both theater and film criticism with aplomb in recent years, Hap has brought style, humor and a keen intelligence to his craft.  Sure, he lost when he appeared on Jeopardy and The Weakest Link, but at least he made it onto those shows.

Contrary to a rumor floating around, Hap isn't being forced out of his job at the Post. He applied for a buyout and just found out that he'll get one.  He intends, he says, to work for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.  Though he plans to stay in South Florida, he doesn't know whether he'll be doing freelance theater reviews for his former employer.  He does think he's made the right decision, though it brings him no joy.

"This is a great job, the sort you hang onto for life," he says.  "But it didn't work out."

Jack_zink_sunsentinel_photo_2Already gone from his longtime post as the Sun-Sentinel's theater critic (as well as its classical music critic and cultural affairs writer) is Jack Zink. His departure isn't due to the latest buyout/layoff cycle at his paper, something that is happening this week and next.  Jack has been undergoing treatment for cancer since last fall, though he has continued to cover all three of his beats, launch a blog and work on the region's Carbonell Awards, one of his passions since he helped start the awards program in 1976.  He has decided to take a disability leave, in order to focus on his treatment.

Jack has been witness to and the chronicler of the evolution of entertainment -- and theater, of course -- in South Florida ever since he joined the Herald's Broward staff fresh out of Ohio State University in 1969.  He has worked for the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and Variety.  He and I both became South Florida theater critics in 1979 (and I also went to Ohio State, oddly enough).  He is a fierce competitor, a thoughtful critic and a terrific reporter.

Hap, Jack and I have had, as Hap noted when we spoke, a very collegial relationship.  In some areas, the critics competing on a beat dislike or ignore each other.  Not here.  We have dined together, dished together, disagreed, squabbled, made each other laugh.  But seeing Hap and Jack in their seats has always been part of what makes opening nights, from Florida Stage to GableStage, so special.

Both the Sun-Sentinel and the Post will continue to cover theater, most likely with freelance critics.  South Florida's evolving theater community and the newspapers' readers deserve the coverage, but it won't be the same as having two staff critics with the perspective, talent and depth of experience Jack and Hap have brought to their jobs.  I will miss them. And I'm certain that South Florida's theater community will too.

July 15, 2008

Monday night live

Most theaters are dark on Monday evening, but on July 21, drama fans have not one but two choices of provocative entertainment.

Williaminge_2 Kevin Johnson's Conundrum Stages, a company dedicated to doing readings of classic plays, is offering a free reading of William Inge's Summer Brave, a rewritten version of his 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic.  In the cast are Ambar Aranaga, Steven Chambers, Carole Cortland, Troy Davidson, Jason DeWitt, Barbara Lowery, Daniel Lugo, Jackie Morgan, Dorothy Morrison, Kim Ostrenko, Stephen Perrot, Michelle Steele and Vanessa Thompson. The reading happens at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Arts at St. John's, 4760 Pine Tree Dr. on Miami Beach.  Call 786-201-7727 for more information.

Debsherman_3 Also Monday, Davie's The Promethean Theatre is offering a one-time-only benefit performance of Juan C. Sanchez's play Red Tide.  The drama about two brothers and the woman who comes between them (she's played by Promethean's artistic director, Deborah L. Sherman) won New Times' award as last season's best new play, and the company is taking it to the Minnesota Fringe Festival July 31-Aug. 10, but that artistic road trip is costly.

The benefit is at 8:30 p.m. Monday in the Black Box Theatre, at the University Center Performing and Visual Arts Wing at Nova Southeastern University, 3301 College Ave., Davie.  Admission of $40 gets you preshow drinks from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., the performance and a post-show dessert reception (plus more drinks).

For information, call 786-317-7580 or visit Promethean's web site.

July 14, 2008

The lucky and not-so-lucky

Carl00_hiaasen_liv_tmc Prolific novelist and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen has seen two of his books, Strip Tease and Hoot, turned into movies.  Soon, theater audiences at the Edinburgh Festival, a regional theater in Oxford and (its producers hope) in London's West End will get the chance to experience Hiaasen's darkly comic view of life in his home state.

Lucky You, published by Knopf in 1997, spins the tale of dueling lottery winners in a Central Florida town famous for its dubious "miracles." It has been transformed into a play-with-music by director Matthew Francis and University of South Florida theater prof Denis Calandra.  Loundon Wainwright III has written the songs, including one titled Florida.  But the inspired-by-reality weirdness is, of course, the product of Hiaasen's prodigious imagination.

Lucky You runs July 31-Aug. 25 at Scotland's Edinburgh Festival, then moves to Oxford Sept. 1-6.  For information, check out the production's web site.


Langella_2 On the less lucky but undeniably dramatic front, several years after Richard "I Am Not a Crook" Nixon fled the White House in the wake of the Watergate scandal, the former president sat down with British television host David Frost for a series of no-holds-barred, revealing interviews.

Those 1977 conversations are at the heart of Frost/Nixon, a Tony Award-winning play by Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplays for The Queen and The Last King of Scotland.  Frank Langella also won a Tony when he starred as Nixon in the 2007 Broadway production, and now the Caldwell Theatre Company has snagged the rights to present it during the 2008-2009 season, the company's 34th.

Frost/Nixon will run Jan. 4-Feb. 8 at the Boca Raton theater.  The play is part of a season that will include the musical She Loves Me (Nov. 9-14), the world premiere of Dangerous by Davie playwright Michael McKeever (Feb. 22-March 29) and the musical Something's Afoot (April 12-May 17).  Visit the web site or call 1-877-245-7432 for information.

July 11, 2008

A Mamet is coming back, sans Madonna

David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, in which the men behaving badly happen to be Hollywood types, is headed back to Broadway in October.


When the play was done on the Great White Way a decade ago, all the buzz was about the woman playing the relatively minor yet influential role of a producer's secretary:  Madonna, who was making her Broadway debut.  Always, there were crowds outside the stage door, Material Girl fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the slender star as she dashed from her car into the theater.  Joe Mantegna and Ron Silver were in the play too, but Madonna's was the name selling tickets.

Piven That part in the upcoming revival hasn't been cast yet, but the other two roles have.  Miami's own Raul Esparza (above, with Eve Best in "The Homecoming" on Broadway) will play Charlie Fox, a guy pitching a blockbuster movie (Esparza is also back working on TV's Pushing Daisies and next year will be seen in the Wes Craven movie 25/8).  Jeremy Piven (left), one of the stars of HBO's Entourage, will be Bobby Gould, the producer unduly influenced by his sexy secretary.

And though Madonna is 10 years older now, she seems to like being around younger guys.  And like being in New York.  So...you never know.

July 10, 2008

Lorca's lament opens a festival

Heads up if you happen to be a fan of Hispanic theater, flamenco, Federico Garcia Lorca, attractive performers or all of the aforementioned.

Twist00_elllanto_mdsI caught El llanto, the opening production of the XXIII International Hispanic Theatre Festival, last night.  And though slightly hampered by my less-than-bilingual understanding of Spanish, I thought it was a terrific, even stunning production.  (Here's my Miami Herald review.)

Octubre Teatral, a company from Barcelona, has created a piece inspired by Lorca's 1935 poem Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, a lament for a bullfighter killed in the ring. Singer Juana Garcia, pianist Rafael Plana, and dancers Frederic Gomez (that's him in the photo, pretending to be a bull) and Nacho Blanco use the sounds and rhythms of flamenco to tell a striking story.  And it doesn't hurt that the dancing men are (how to put this delicately?) quite hot as well as talented.

The show goes on two more times, Thursday and Friday at 8:30 p.m. in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  For tickets, call the Arsht at 305-949-6722 or visit the festival's web site.