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18 posts from March 2009

March 13, 2009

Playing to the crowd

Most theater has a target audience, broad as that group may be.  Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables is doing its terrific current production of Les Misérables for folks who love Broadway megamusicals.  The Gables' intimate New Theatre is presenting an admirable revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie for fans of great American stage classics.  In April, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts plays host to Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning Broadway smash that's pretty much guaranteed to thrill two groups: fans of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and those who think jukebox musicals are way better than shows with songs you don't instantly recognize.

Love over pic 2 Sometimes, theater aims for a more specific target audience -- not in size, maybe, but in affinity.  The "urban theater" genre that helped make Tyler Perry famous works according to its own rules: cast stars with TV, music and movie experience; tell stories that deal with relationships, social problems and the power of religion; add music, some flashy production elements and sell lots of tickets.  It's not the kind of theater that wins Tony Awards or Pulitzer Prizes, but its audiences love it. 

Playwright-producer Je'caryous Johnson has made millions working the urban formula, and his 10th venture arrives Friday, March 20, at Miami's James L. Knight Center for a three-performance run.  Love Overboard, described as "The Love Boat" meets "Sex and the City,"boasts a ship full of names that its certain-to-be-huge audiences will recognize: Avant, Khalil Kain, Carl Payne, Karen Malina White, KeKe Wyatt and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. Johnson's ship sails at 8 p.m. March 20, 3 and 8 p.m. March 21 at the Knight Center, 400 SE Second Ave.  Tickets are $37.50-$45.50, available by calling 1-800-745-3000 or via the Ticketmaster web site.

42Show The Broward Stage Door Theatre at 8036 W. Sample Rd. in Coral Springs has a target audience of its own:  retired folks who prefer musicals and comedies.  The theater has just revealed its two-stage, nine-show season lineup for 2009-2010, and it's dominated by vintage titles aimed at pleasing a crowd looking to be entertained, not enlightened.

Theatre #1 features an all-musical lineup: No, No, Nanette (Aug. 21-Sept. 27), Bubbling Brown Sugar (Oct. 16-Nov. 22), 42nd Street (Dec. 11-Jan. 24), Singin' in the Rain (Feb. 12-March 28, 2010) and Suds (April 16-May 23), that last one described as a bubbly '60s musical about romance in a laundromat.  Plays fill Theatre #2, which begins on a classic note with Williams' The Glass Menagerie (Sept. 11-Nov. 1), followed by Ira Levin's spooky Cantorial (Nov. 20-Jan. 3), Neil Simon's first Broadway hit Come Blow Your Horn (Jan. 22-March 7) and the farce Love, Sex and the IRS (March 26-May 9, 2010).  Stage Door is selling subscriptions ranging from $112 for four shows to $252 for all nine.  If that sounds like your kind of season, call 954-344-7765 or visit the Stage Door web site.

March 12, 2009

Broward Center rolls out magic

The Broward Center is turning to circus theatrics and an illusionist couple to conjure up some diversion during these hard times.

Cirquebigwheels First up, at 8 p.m. March 20-21, is Cirque Mechanics' Birdhouse Factory.  Chris Lashua, who originated the German Wheel act in Cirque du Soleil's Quidam, devised and directs a piece inspired by Diego Rivera's industrial murals and Charlie Chaplin's movie Modern Times.  In the 90-minute show, the performer/athletes transform a gloomy factory into a place full of spirited fun.  Tickets to Birdhouse Factory are $25 to $65.  The show goes on in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.  For information, call 954-462-0222 or visit the center's web site

The following weekend, the center brings The Spencers: Theatre of Illusionto the Miramar Cultural Center, 2400 Civic Center Place in Miramar.  Husband and wife illusionists Kevin and Cindy Spencer turn to both theater and magic to apparently walk through walls, levitate, vanish and reappear.  Their show happens at 8 p.m. March 27, 1 p.m. March 28.  Tickets are $15.50-$35.50.  For information, phone the box office at 954-602-4500 or visit the cultural center's web site..

March 11, 2009

Bodies at play

Vanessa Garcia doesn't just put on plays.  Through her group The Krane, she dreams up events:  a play in a shoe store, for instance.  On Saturday, March 21, Garcia and New Light Foundation founder Wendy White are teaming up to present nine original monologues bound by a theme.  All have something to do with the body.

Tom Colucci - Actor 1 - Monologus LingusMonologus Lingus: A Night of Art, Literature & Theatre Dedicated to the Body turns its focus, piece by piece, on different parts or aspects of bodies.  White has written a piece called Hair; Garcia has created one titled Earache.  Daniela Diaz contributes Nose,Margaret Cardillo Eyelashes, Paula Kolek Husband's Monologue, Mia Leonin Monologodedo, Maureen Seaton Sex & Petroglyphs, Meredith Danton Bonnie & Clyde and Megan Roth Harry on the Line.

For $12, you can see nine world premiere monologues, drink wine at the post-show reception and bid on art at an auction to benefit the two arts groups.  It all takes place at 8 p.m. at the New Light Studio/Gallery, 226 Basin Dr., Lauderdale by the Sea.

For info, call Garcia at 305-450-9931, White at 954-829-0638 or visit the Krane and New Light web sites.

March 10, 2009

Theater leaders brainstorm, and a musical needs a composer

As part of its 2009 Festival of the Arts running through March 21, the North Campus of Miami Dade College is hosting an event called the South Florida Theater Summit at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, March 12.  The discussion is a highlight of the festival, which focuses on student performances, a new music competition and the visual arts.

Octavio Roca, interim chair of the college's Arts and Philosophy Department, will preside over the summit, which features Joseph Adler, producing artistic director of GableStage;  Ricky J. Martinez, the New Theatre artistic director; and Scott Shiller, vice-president of Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  One topic sure to come up:  how theaters are coping with the withering economy.

The free session is in the college's Lehman Theater at the Pawley Arts Center, Bldg. 5, 11380 NW 27th Ave.  For information, call 305-237-1450 or visit the MDC North festival web site..


Two theater professors at Florida International University are putting out a call for a composer who thinks he or she could write the score to a new musical based on Charles Dickens' Hard Times.

MERCADO23_idol_MHD_MCBPhillip Church, who is working on the project with fellow prof Marilyn Skow, observes: "It is ironic...that the world today is experiencing a major technological 'revolution' while poverty and homelessness continue to rise exponentially as unemployment figures skyrocket..."  Church says that Hard Times is close in nature to Les Miserables but that he envisions the new musical being done with a spare instrumentation reflective of the "impoverishment of society itself."

Church says the role of Sissy Jupe is being written with Syesha Mercado in mind.  Mercado, last season's third place finisher on American Idol, is an FIU theater grad. 

Interested composers can phone Church at 305-348-3358 or email him at churchp@fiu.edu.

March 09, 2009

McKeever's play about a diverse Miami returns

Davie playwright Michael McKeever, whose world premiere of Dangerous is keeping the box office hopping at Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre company, is about to experience two different versions of his award-winning 2007 play Melt.

MELT_photo_AOn Sunday, March 15, at 3:30 p.m., the original cast of the New Theatre world premiere (plus one) will reunite on the far larger stage of Miami's Gusman Center for the Performing Arts for a special one-time performance of Melt, the play that won McKeever the 2008 Carbonell Award for best new work.  Javier Siut, Tara Vodihn, Marta Velasco, John Felix and Sheaun McKinney reprise their roles as diverse Miamians whose lives intersect.  Stuart Meltzer (at right in the photo) is staging the show, so Nick Richberg will play the part of a gay high school teacher who is eager to adopt.

Fourge Ahead Productions and Leadership Miami are presenting the play and passing out 1,500 tickets to groups serving young people, in hopes that those who come will appreciate both theater and the messages of McKeever's play -- its lessons about acceptance, interconnectedness, how personal history links to a city's evolution.

Two weeks after the Miami event, the script will get a staged reading at Manhattan's Primary Stages, though under the title The Miamians.  Meltzer will again direct.  The free New York reading takes place at 5 p.m. March 30.  For info, visit the Primary Stages web site.

March 06, 2009

Actors' Playhouse plans another megamusical

Les Miserables Even as they're putting the final touches on tonight's gala opening of Les Misérables, Actors' Playhouse execs Barbara Stein and David Arisco have found time to turn their attention to next season.  The headline:  They'll follow up their ambitious regional production of the Claude-Michel Schonberg/Alain Boublil musical with the team's other major hit, Miss Saigon.

"We think the 2009-2010 season has something for everyone, with new work direct from New York, a world premiere play by a local playwright, to new and refreshing musicals, and one internationally acclaimed Broadway musical," says Arisco, the theater's artistic director.

Roger Bean's The Marvelous Wonderettes, an Off-Broadway musical about a fictional girl group of the 1950s and '60s, opens the season in the fall.  Another Night Before Christmasby Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto, the creators of this summer's still-to-come Married ALIVE!, brings the story of a lonely social worker and a homeless man (who claims to be Santa) to the theater in December.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical, a comic soap opera of a show set in a Florida "mobile home community," plays Actors' in January-February.  Miss Saigon, a retelling of Madama Butterflyset during the tumultuous waning days of the Vietnam War, follows in March-April 2010.  And Davie playwright Michael McKeever, whose play Dangerous is now having its world premiere at Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company (and who has a second world premiere work, Lewd and Lascivious, set to premiere at GableStage Aug. 15-Sept. 13), will see the premiere of  his play Unreasonable Doubt, an intense script about vengeance, at Actors' in May-June 2010. 

Subscriptions to the new season, which will also include a summer production, range from $174 for preview performances to $432 for opening nights, which include gala parties.  Students pay $102 for a subscription purchased along with an adult subscription. For information, call 305-444-9293 or visit the theater's web site

March 05, 2009

A grand playwright travels on

Obit_Foote_NYET930Horton Foote died in Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday, the week before he would have celebrated his 93rd birthday.  The snowy-haired, charming former Texan was in New England working with Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson on plans for the theater's fall presentation of Foote's Orphan's Home Cycle, a group of nine plays by a prolific man who wrote more than 50 in his long career.  Even sooner, in late May, Hartford Stagewill present Foote's most recent Broadway play, Dividing the Estate. That production will feature his actress-daughter Hallie, a frequent, artful interpreter of her father's work.

Born in 1916 in the little Texas town of Wharton, Foote tried to break into theater as an actor but began writing in 1940 at the suggestion of choreographer Agnes de Mille, who thought one of his acting improvisations might make a good play.  Writing for theater, television and the movies, He earned two Oscars (for his To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies screenplays) and, at the tender age of 79, the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man from Atlanta.

Foote, whose writing was likened to Anton Chekhov's by some of the artists who worked with him, wrote about spirited, ordinary men and women who persevered through life's difficulties.  About the man whose work he often directed, Wilson said to the Associated Press:  "He created so many unforgettable characters in so many indelible stories...that lifted our hearts and souls and gave such vivid expression as to what it means to be human."

I had the pleasure of lunching with Foote once nearly 10 years ago, when he was in town for the Miami Book Fair International.  We dined with Stephanie Norman and Susi Westfall of City Theatre, which was presenting Foote's lecture, but there wasn't any story to be written that day.  Just the joy of listening to a captivating, observant writer talk about theater and life, both of which he had so gracefully mastered.

That Foote will write no more is something to be mourned.  But his distinctive voice lives on in the sizable, celebrated body of work that is his legacy. 

March 03, 2009

Michael Hall to exit the Caldwell

MichaelHall CliveCholerton GroundbreakingCeleb5-23-06 SigvisionIt's the end of an era for Boca Raton's Caldwell Theatre Company.  Oh, the shows will go on in the 333-seat, $10 million Count de Hoernle Theatre, the theater's fourth home since its founding in 1975.  But they'll do so without co-founder Michael Hall's artistic leadership.  On Tuesday, Hall announced that he'll retire on May 31.

Hall, who will celebrate his 69th birthday May 16, says he plans to "write a book, travel the world and become a better photographer." (He is, in fact, quite a good one.)  He'll also direct now and then.

Hall's successor has already been named:  The theater's board chairman for the past four years, Clive Cholerton, takes over the artistic director job June 1.  Cholerton, a 43-year-old director and actor, staged the theater's current world premiere production of Michael McKeever's Dangerous, a sexy set-in-1930-Berlin riff on Les Liaisons Dangereuses.  He is married to actress Margery Lowe, and the two have a young son.

Hall's comment on Cholerton:  "It is an artistic transition made in heaven.  As a director, Cholerton shares the theater's mission that variety in play selection is essential, and that ensemble work is the major goal of productions.  As someone to run the theater, he's been completely involved in fundraising, negotiating with builders and contractors for the Caldwell's new Count de Hoernle Theatre, and running the theater's Play Reading Series."

Hall, the longest-serving artistic director in South Florida theater, co-founded the Caldwell with Frank Bennett, the theater's longtime set designer, who died in 1997.  During Hall's long tenure, the Caldwell collected 73 regional Carbonell Awards (and counting) for excellence.  Artistically, Hall was drawn to often lavishly designed productions of new plays, period pieces and classics.  Among his many highs: productions of Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. The director's lowest moment came in 1999, when he and the theater reached an out-of-court settlement with Tony Award-winning director Joe Mantello, who charged Hall had virtually replicated his original direction of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!.  Mantello donated the approximately $7.000 he was paid to his union, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

As he took the Caldwell from its first home at the College of Boca Raton (where the theater opened with a production of Neil Simon's The Star-Spangled Girl)  to two subsequent spaces in strip malls to its current free-standing theater on Federal Highway, Hall did work that entertained and moved hundreds of thousands of South Floridians.  He also made the Caldwell a first-rate place to work for such fine actors as Pat Nesbit, Terry Hardcastle, Peter Haig, Marc Kudisch (the Broadway musical star earned his Equity card at the Caldwell), Len Cariou, Barbara Bradshaw, John Felix and many more.

So the Caldwell will continue, doubtless evolving according Cholerton's vision.  But there probably won't be many dry eyes in the house when Hall mingles with the crowd at the April 17 opening of the musical Something's Afoot, the next -- and last -- show of an artistic director's very long run.

(Sigvision photo of Michael Hall, left, and Clive Cholerton)