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17 posts from June 2008

June 30, 2008

So bad it's good

If you're looking for something to do after the fireworks go "pop" this weekend, how about a show built around a soprano who couldn't sing?

Duoangel300 Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) was born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family and from childhood had but one dream: a career in music.  Her parents, and later her husband, discouraged the singing career she so fervently desired. Once they were out of the picture and Jenkins had begun to give recitals, the reason for the familial reluctance became clear.  The "coloratura soprano" had no sense of rhythm or pitch, and listening to her was (depending on your tolerance for off-key singing) either hilarious or painful.

Stephen Temperley wrote Souvenir, a play about Jenkins, which debuted on Broadway with the glorious Judy Kaye as the delusional diva in 2005.  Palm Beach Dramaworks opens its own production, starring Carbonell Award winner Elizabeth Dimon as Jenkins and Tom Kenaston as her long-suffering pianist Cosme McMoon, at 8 p.m. Saturday (there are previews Wednesday and Thursday, but no show on the Fourth of July).  Like Kaye, Dimon has a terrific voice, so just know that all the off-key squawking you're likely to hear is the result of really good acting.

Tickets are $42 evenings (Wednesday-Saturday), $40 for 2 p.m. matinees (Saturday-Sunday).  The theater is at 322 Banyan Blvd., West Palm Beach.  Call 561-514-4042 or visit the website for info.

June 27, 2008

A fast festival gets bigger

Naked18_plays_mds_mcb_2 Last November, the little Naked Stage had a big idea:  Why not bring the 24-hour theater concept, a quick creative process that has worked well in so many cities, to South Florida? Founders Antonio Amadeo, Katherine Amadeo and John Manzelli did just that, presenting the results of a crazy marathon of creativity at GableStage.  It was a smash, a collaborative triumph and a statement about the growth of the region's talent pool.

So it comes as terrific news that Naked Stage is getting ready to do it again, on an even bigger scale.  The Naked Stage's 24-Hour Theatre Project 2008 will happen Aug. 24-25 in the Balcony Theatre at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables.  This time, the project will generate eight plays (vs. six last year), involving eight directors and 32 actors.  The artists will meet at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at Actors', where the playwrights will draw titles (created by Antonio Amadeo), followed by the names of directors and actors, out of a hat.  Each group will meet briefly, then the playwrights will spend the night doing their thing at the Miracle Theatre.  Rehearsals begin at 7 a.m. Aug. 25.  And at 8 p.m., the results play out on the Balcony stage.

One of the plays from the first 24-Hour project -- most likely Marco Ramirez's Twenty-Six, according to Amadeo -- will be done again as a creative link to the last year's festival.  Amadeo is jazzed. And anyone who experienced the crazy energy and excitement of the first fest should be too.  For info, call The Naked Stage at 954-261-1785 or visit the company's website, where information will be posted soon. 

June 26, 2008

The videoed invalid

Vertical_pete_n_keely_reduced_3Heads up, Actors Equity. You know this already, but in addition to crinkling candy wrappers, ringing cell phones and audience members who chatter away as though they were in their living rooms instead of a theater, there's another 21st century menace lurking in a sea of otherwise rapt faces:  phones that shoot video.

Last night I went to the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton to see Pete 'n' Keely, a musical about a '60s Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme kind of couple reuniting for a television special.  Not long after stars Connie SaLoutos and Alberto Stevans had begun singing, the young lady in front of me aimed her phone at the stage, captured several minutes of video, then sent it to her friend.  She then spent the rest of the first act trading text messages before departing at intermission. Whew.

I decided to move back in the theater, because a couple of kids seated beside me had been chattering through much of the first act (though the family members with them did nothing to shush them).  Then I noticed two people capturing video -- both with the chatty kids' group. An usher stopped a teenaged boy, who cooled it until the guy walked out, then resumed shooting.  The other man looked to be old enough to be the kid's grandfather.

Is this selfishness? An ignorance of Actors Equity rules against taking photographs and video? A lack of experience with theater etiquette?  Probably all of those things.

I would never argue that Pete 'n' Keely, despite the best efforts of the Caldwell crew and an especially fine performance by SaLoutos, demands the same kind of reverential attention we bring with us into a church or synagogue.  But the show represents the work of dedicated professionals who are trying to entertain the several hundred people who paid for the experience.  A video souvenir doesn't come with the ticket price.

June 25, 2008

A young playwright soars

Marco08_shorts_trop_epf Since he was a student at Coral Reef High School, Marco Ramirez has been a talent worth watching.  He was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2001; by the following year, he had a play produced in City Theatre's Summer Shorts Festival (Singing Stan), followed by Pipo and Fufo: 1969 in the 2003 festival, I Am Not Batman in 2007, and The Big Brain on Bobby Martin and Becky Meets Mordecai Baxter in this summer's Shorts 4 Kids! festival.

He is a two-time winner of the Latino Playwriting Award at the Kennedy Center's American College Theater Festival for work he did while a student at New York University. And in 2007, he won the prestigious Heideman Award for short plays for I Am Not Batman, which was presented as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Now, more good news:  Ramirez learned today that he has been accepted into the play-writing program at Juilliard in Manhattan, a program so competitive that it admits just a few students each year.  One of his teachers will be Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman (she won for 'night, Mother, after beginning her career at Actors Theatre).  But the two will also have a professional connection during the upcoming theater season:  Both will see premieres of their commissioned works during the Kennedy Center's Performances for Young Audiences Season.

After submitting a competitive proposal and being selected for the commission, Ramirez has written a collection of short plays titled Mermaids, Monsters and the World Painted Purple, which the center's press office describes as "imaginative stories that capture the spirit and heart of Latino culture."  His plays debut Oct. 11-26.   Norman has collaborated on a new musical, The Trumpet of the Swan (based on the E.B. White book), with another Tony Award-winner, composer Jason Robert Brown.  Their show runs Dec. 4-6.

Ramirez says he's going to keep his ties with City Theatre, where he's literary manager, and with Miami's Mad Cat Theatre, which premiered his play The Beast.  But it is clear that, for a talented young writer, this is just the beginning.

June 24, 2008

Child's play(s)

Becky_2 City Theatre's Summer Shorts Festival has pulled up stakes and headed north, landing this week at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.  For any stir-crazy parents looking for something fun to occupy the kids during these long summer days, consider Shorts 4 Kids!, a separate (and excellent) festival of five plays aimed at young audiences in the Amaturo Theater.

The plays -- by Lloyd Suh, Julie Jensen, Michael McKeever and Marco Ramirez (he wrote two; that's his Becky Meets Mordecai Baxter at left) -- will appeal most to kids 10 and up.  But smart younger ones and adults will enjoy the terrific writing and wonderful acting from Ceci Fernandez, David Hemphill, Sally Bondi, Andy Quiroga, Erin Joy Schmidt and Kevin Reilley.

The run is short: this Thursday and Friday at 10 and 11:30 a.m., and Saturday at 11 a.m. Tickets are a recession-friendly $10 and $12.50.  Call the Broward Center box office at 954-462-0222 or visit the web site.

MuddahMore kid-and-parent theater is available via the New Vista Theatre Company's production of Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!. Built around the song parodies of the late Alan Sherman, the show tells the story of hapless Barry Bockman, his beloved Sarah Jackman and their misadventures at Camp Granada.  Samara Dunn, Wayne LeGette, Avi Hoffman (all shown at right), Stacy Schwartz and Oscar Cheda warble Sherman's tunes.

The show is having a regular run through July 6 at the West Boca Performing Arts Center, 12811 Glades Rd., Boca Raton.  But the company is offering special family performances at 1 p.m. July 2-3, with students getting in for $10 with each adult who pays $20. Call 1-888-284-4633 or visit New Vista's website.

June 20, 2008

Tears for the Tony-less

The fallout from last Sunday's Tony Awards is beginning, as struggling shows that voters shunned are starting to announce closing dates.

Snyder00_james_wknd_jm Shed a tear for Cry-Baby, the John Waters movie-turned-musical that hoped to follow Hairspray to Broadway triumph.  Some critics liked it; more didn't. For the week that ended with the Tony Awards, the show sold only $276,245 worth of tickets at the huge Marquis Theatre.  Not not nearly good enough, considering that the scathingly reviewed The Little Mermaid is selling more than $1 million worth of tickets each week.  Kid power.

So Cry-Baby will say see-ya as of Sunday, after 48 previews and 68 regular performances.  But that may not be all for the show that counts ex-South Floridian Adam Epstein among its lead producers.  A national tour is expected to begin in the fall of 2009.  That news may not quicken the hearts of subscribers around the country, but it should soothe its creators' bruised egos a little.

Also playing its last Broadway performances is the smaller-scale A Catered Affair.  The Harvey Fierstein-John Bucchino musical will close July 27, after 27 previews and 116 performances.  But here's betting it will wind up in South Florida, whether on tour or as a local production.

So there can be life after Broadway -- and after Tony snubs.

June 17, 2008

The sound of music(als)

So the 2008 Tony Awards are history, and soon the big-budget shows that didn't collect any medallions probably will be too.  But if you caught Sunday's Tony telecast -- Broadway's three-hour commercial love letter to itself -- you realize that some wonderful musicals are running in New York right now.

Heights Though nothing beats seeing a new Tony-winning show on Broadway, there is an alternative to spending loads of dough for a Big Apple theater experience:  the cast CD.  Two terrific ones -- In the Heights and the South Pacific revival -- are available now.  And on July 15, you can get the CD of another show that didn't get nearly enough Tony love, Passing Strange.

In the Heights, the show that won the best musical Tony, has put out a two-CD set that features the musical's vibrant mix of hip-hop, salsa, Reggaeton, merengue and more.  You get a clear sense of the show's story as you listen, and you'll feel the energy and joy that creator Lin-Manuel Miranda the cast so clearly displayed on the Tony telecast.  The Ghostlight CD sells for $21.98, but Amazon has it for $14.99.

SouthpacificOn the Tony show, best actor Paulo Szot and his leading lady, Kelli O'Hara, offered a great sample of just how gorgeous the Lincoln Center Theater's revival of South Pacific sounds.  Szot, an opera star who grew up in Brazil, is not just (arguably) the best looking guy to play Emile; his voice, particularly on Some Enchanted Evening, is simply thrilling.  O'Hara is superb too, and if not for Patti LuPone's stunning Mama Rose in Gypsy, would have won a Tony too.  The lush original orchestrations make this Sony Classics CD a must-have.  It sells for $18.98, but Amazon has it for $9.99.

Passingstrange Ghostlight will issue the Passing Strange cast CD on July 15, but I've listened to an advance copy, and it's superb.  Dynamic, smart and engaging just like its creator Stew, the show traces a young black man's search for self, a trip that takes him from from middle-class comfort in Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin, with some sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll along the way.  Not your average Broadway show nor your average Broadway CD -- my husband, listening in the car, said, "Wow -- that's on Broadway? I want to go." The Passing Strange will sell for $18.97 ($12.99 on Amazon).

June 13, 2008

Classic musicals

Three strong revivals (and one not-so-hot one -- guess which) are up for the Tony Award as best musical revival.  My predictions for the winners of this and every other category will be in the Miami Herald's print and online editions on Tony Sunday, June 15. Meanwhile -- which musical revival do you think will take home the Tony?

June 12, 2008

A creative stretch

Long_hair_headshot Charlie Sutton grew up in Pinecrest, where his mom Deborah Rodriguez indulged her inner showgirl by dancing in charity shows with the Gold-Diggers at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.  Sutton became an actor-dancer, too, getting his training at Miami's New World School of the Arts high school, graduating in 2002, then heading north to New York for college.

A Broadway career -- happily -- got in the way. He danced in Wicked and La Cage aux Folles, toured in Wicked and Aida, hoofed in the movie version of The Producers.  Now Sutton, 24, is one of the dazzling dancers doing Rob Ashford's Tony Award-nominated choreography in Cry-Baby, one of the shows nominated for this year's best musical Tony.  One of its lead producers is Adam Epstein, another former South Floridian.

Charlie_sutton_2 Sutton and his fellow cast members will be performing during the Tony ceremony at New York's Radio City Music Hall this Sunday.  Whether or not Cry-Baby takes home any Tonys, Sutton's dance partner Mayumi Miguel will have reason to celebrate: when not onstage, she'll be wearing a Charlie Sutton original (shown in Sutton's sketch at left).

Interested in fashion, Sutton began by making hand-sewn pillows. Miguel asked him to design her dress for the Cry-Baby opening in April, then asked again for the Tonys.  The dancer and neophyte designer, thinking about life beyond Broadway, said yes.

For info on the show that is Sutton's day job -- well, night job -- check out the Cry-Baby website.

June 11, 2008

It's Tony time

The 62nd annual Tony awards are this Sunday.  From 8 to 11 p.m. at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall, Broadway's highest (and most career-boosting) honor will be bestowed upon the lucky winners in 26 categories.  Then the winners will celebrate and losers drown their sorrows at the post-Tony bash.

But first things first: What do you think about the likely winners?  (No bias against Passing Strange -- I'm waiting for a photo!)

Here's the first in a short series of polls.  Feel free to explain or lobby for your choices in the comments section.