Friday, October 30, 2009

Will Call: tips & tidbits for the theatrically inclined

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 3:08 PM

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Okay folks, it's Halloween weekend so go see something spooky. Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde may be a wee bit precious, but it's laden with suspense and solid acting. And but for a few odds & ends it looks fantastic.

If you prefer tales of the undead the New Moon Theatre Company opens Look Away: A Civil War Zombie Tragedy tonight. Or if you just want something creepy, kookie, and altogether ookie you might want to check out Gorey Stories, a somewhat troubled musical based on the stories and illustrations of Edward Gorey.

Theatergoers looking for something a bit more substantial may want to wander on down to the Hattiloo theater to take in a performance of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.

Colored Girls—a poem in 20 parts performed by seven nameless black women dressed in every color of the visible spectrum—is one of those plays I always expect to have aged badly. For having been created in 1975, at the apogee of women's liberation and “black is beautiful”— Ntozake Shange's stories of trial, triumph, and tribulation is always disconcertingly up to date.

Personally, I've always thought the characters' ultimate flight into religion was something a cop out for an author who needed to tidy up her more interesting ambiguities but on most occasions even that can't dull the edge of this groundbreaking piece of non-linear dramatic literature.

Also opening at Playhouse on the Square this Halloween weekend,: The Toymaker's Apprentice. Yes, a Christmas show. And that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

August's Aunt: Something cool for Wilson fans

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 11:17 PM

August Wilson
  • August Wilson
Most people probably equate the name Aunt Ester with the outspoken Sanford & Son character played by the late, great LaWanda Page, queen of the filthy party record. But the name means something else entirely to August Wilson fans. Although Aunt Ester only appears as a character in Gem of the Ocean, this "washer of souls" is the most frequently mentioned character in Wilson's century-spanning Pittsburgh cycle. Now August's storied aunt—a mostly invisible character— is being given her long overdue moment in the spotlight.

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture, which opened last month in Pittsburgh, has announced its first theatrical event in the newly completed center: The Aunt Ester Cycle. The show, which runs from November 10 - 22, 2009 "explores the dramatic impact of this legendary character" through productions of Gem of the Ocean, Two Trains Running, Radio Golf and The Women of the Hill, a new work by choreographer and performance artist Ping Chong.

Zombie Alert: No, seriously ZOMBIE ALERT!!!

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Angry Zombie
  • Angry Zombie
If you happen to see a bunch of Zombies protesting The New Moon Theatre Company's production of Look Away: A Civil War Zombie Tragedy don't worry. You haven't eaten too much candy, it's really happening. You see there have been some well publicized protests in New York because a hearing actor has been cast as a deaf character in Rebecca Gilman's stage adaptation of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. That has inspired and empowered local zombies who are furious at New Moon for casting un-undead actors in Look Away. Or maybe it's all just a big publicity stunt/excuse to dress up like a zombie and lumber around the town in search of brains.

Look Away, by
Memphis playwrights Zac Cunningham and Stephen Briner, was originally brought to life in 2007. Now — like all evil creatures of the night — it’s been resurrected, and, according to director Gene Elliott, it’s “more gritty and gruesome” than ever. But the play, about a family confronting unknown terrors at the end of the Civil War, is more than an homage to the classic zombie flicks of George Romero and Dario Argento.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two-Faced: "Jekyll & Hyde" is Really Good and Really Bad.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 9:30 AM

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While driving to Germantown Community Theatre to take in a rather unfortunate production of Gorey Stories my twin girls (who are seven-years-old and terribly excited about all things Halloweenish) started asking questions about Frankenstein. As my wife Charlotte and I tried to untangle their weird web of wonder and curiosity we quickly realized that we couldn't be sure if we were taking our answers from Mary Shelley's seminal book, which we've both read, or if we were drawing our conclusions from the countless plays, films, cartoons and comic books that followed. Unable to achieve any kind of narrative consistency we conceded our ignorance and just started making things up. I imagine that our pop culture dilemma isn't unique and I also imagine that many who attend Theatre Memphis' production of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde will find themselves adrift on a similar ice floe. As is the case with Shelley's un-dead abomination Robert Louis Stevenson's strange tale of a doctor who transforms himself into his own doppelganger— a creature of terrible fury and tremendous appetites— has been told and retold so many times it's difficult to keep all the versions straight. And maybe that's how it's supposed to be. Perhaps these stories never really belonged to their original authors, but to a collective consciousness that needs to play with its monsters and evolve them from time to time. That's where Theatre Memphis' production of Jekyll & Hyde, Jeffrey Hatcher's curious adaptation of Stevenson's classic tingler, comes in. Hatcher's bold abstraction of this oft told tale is suspenseful, shocking and true at least to the spirit of the original, even when it wanders off in new directions.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

NYT Reviews Former Memphian

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Dead RInger
  • Dead RInger
The New York Times may not have much love for Memphis the musical, but at least the Paper of Record had some nice things to say about U of M alum Natalie WIlder who is currently appearing in the New Jersey Rep's production of Gino DiIorio’s western noir Dead RInger.

The third character is Mary (Natalie Wilder), Ty’s sister, and it’s a great role for an actress who doesn’t want to bother with hair and makeup. That’s because Mary is barely seen, although she’s onstage from the first scene through the last.

Ty has locked poor Mary in the root cellar, permanently...

Mary is the center of the story, and she’s no shrinking violet. Ms. Wilder makes her a likable smart-aleck, and just as vibrant a character as the two men. Like her brother, she’s enthusiastically foulmouthed, so her best lines can’t be repeated here.

Wilder, a highly regarded local actor, performed on nearly every stage in Memphis before packing her bags and heading out of town. But, monster of vanity that I am, I'd like to believe that the most challenging role she's ever undertaken was playing me—that's right, your pesky critic—in an autobiographical one act play titled Over and Under that City. Sure, the part was originally intended for a teenage male but when Wilder expressed some interest in teaming up with my little theater company I re-wrote the part for her. And, as usual, she was fantastic.

Also, her best lines most certainly CAN be repeated here. So maybe I can convince Ms. W. to play a little game of three questions. Stay tuned.

Munchkin Auditions... Oh My.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 10:41 AM

The Great and Powerful Oz
  • The Great and Powerful Oz
According to a rather emphatic press release, "THE NATIONAL TOUR OF THE WIZARD OF OZ ANNOUNCES LOCAL MUNCHKIN AUDITIONS FOR ITS ORPHEUM ENGAGEMENT."

The National Tour of THE WIZARD OF OZ , which opens at the Orpheum on Dec. 15 is looking for 12 local children to perform the roles of “munchkins.” The auditions are scheduled to take place at the Courtyard Marriott in Collierville, TN. Check-in will be at 9:30 am and auditions will begin at 10:00 am.

BUT WAIT STAGE MOMS!!! The Great and Powerful Oz doesn't want to see your gifted little Pookie. He wants 12 singers and dancers who are currently "engaged in an ongoing study of acting, music and/or dance" to perform "timeless classics such as “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” The children "will be from an existing group." According to the release no individual kids will be allowed to audition. The selected dancers and singers "MUST" be available for all eight shows between Dec. 15-20.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Wall Street Journal hates "Memphis"

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 7:22 PM

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Man, Memphis the musical isn't getting a whole lot of love. First NYT critic Charles Isherwood compared it to Michael Bolton (unfavorably, Bolton fans. Sorry). Now The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout makes all that seem like high praise indeed.

I've seen dumber musicals than "Memphis," but not many and not by much. This noisy piece of claptrap, which has been rattling around the regional circuit for the past six years, turns the real-life story of Dewey Phillips, a Memphis disc jockey who fell in love with rhythm and blues in the '50s, into a ludicrous fantasy about a white DJ named Huey (Chad Kimball) who puts a black singer named Felicia (Montego Glover) on the radio, thereby driving the local racists crazy. Big surprise: All the black characters are noble hipsters and all the white characters (except for Huey) are redneck squares. What makes the cartoonish premise of "Memphis" sillier still is that the songs, by Joe DiPietro ("All Shook Up") and Bon Jovi's David Bryan, are slicked-up, blue-eyed pseudosoul knick-knacks that have nothing in common with the down-and-dirty 45s that Phillips spun on WHBQ's "Red, Hot and Blue" a half-century ago. Amazingly enough—or maybe not—this howlingly funny irony seems not to have occurred to anyone connected with "Memphis."

Dang. That. Is. Harsh. Oh well, at least everybody seems to like the cast.

It's always helpful to remember that as hard as we may try to be fair we critics develop rarefied tastes and tend to hate claptrap. But there's a reason it's called that. That said, even Broadway claptrap like Movin' Out the Billy Joel Musical and Abba's Mama Mia got gentler treatment.

Memphis' pre-Broadway reviews were mixed leaning favorable. And having heard the showstoppers sung live at an investor's preview at the Orpheum (click for video of the preview) I'm going to guess that Memphis has a decent run in spite of its cool critical reception. Besides, the definitive review won't be in until Wednesday when frequent Memphis Flyer contributor Bo List tells it like it is.

Will Call: tips & tidbits for the theatrically inclined

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 3:21 PM

Wizard of Oz at POTS
  • Wizard of Oz at POTS
Before we look at this week's shows I've got an important question to ask...

So who doesn't have a Halloween costume yet? On Saturday, October 23 from 9-6 Playhouse on the Square will be hosting its annual costume rental at Circuit Playhouse on Poplar Ave. in Midtown. Prices start at $20 and "large portions" of the Playhouse on the Square Costume stock is available for rental. The Costume Shop at Circuit will be open from 9am-6pm on Saturday, October 24. Now, on with the shows...

CORRECTION: The POTS/Circuit Playhouse Costume rental is actually taking place in THE NEW COSTUME SHOP on Union Avenue behind the new Playhouse on the Square building, which is still under construction. The new costume shop is on the third floor. My bad... There's a whole lotta new at Playhouse and old, old habits are awfully hard to break.

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Telling Tales: Voices of the South stage new works

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Voices Ugly Duckling
  • Voices' "Ugly Duckling"
As I've pointed out on this blog several times in the recent past, Voices of the South—which opens a new original work this weekend— has got it going on. They've got a brand new theater space, one of their original creations will open Off Broadway next summer, their signature children's show The Ugly Duckling just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and now the company's Artistic Director Jerry Dye has been nominated for a Southern Writer's Federation award for Cicada, a years-in-the-making performance that sold out much of its summer run at TheatreWorks.

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Three questions with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Director Dan McCleary

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Dan McCleary
  • Dan McCleary
Good news for the Tennessee Shakespeare Company. According to the troupe's founding director Dan McCleary, the last week of A Midsummer Night's Dream, is nearly sold out. Two-for-one specials are still available though, he says as long as one of the patrons is younger than 22, and somebody knows the password, which is (whispering) "Mustardseed." Pass it on.

Here are a few comments McCleary made regarding Shakespeare, music, and bringing it all back home.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Bad Scene: "Gorey Stories" hurts

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 3:39 PM

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Opening night didn't go very well for Germantown Community Theatre's production of Gorey Stories, a musical play based on the infernal scribblings of author/illustrator Edward Gorey. Many members of the audience left during intermission, which is too bad since the second act is both shorter and much, much better. But it's also difficult to blame those who left since watching the first half is about as pleasant as being conked on the head by an urn.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Glenn Beck: Crazy for "Memphis"

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 9:04 AM

Glenn Beck, Theater Critic
  • Glenn Beck, Theater Critic
I know everybody has been chomping at the bit, waiting for FOX news commentator Glenn Beck to weigh in on Memphis the musical, which opened on Broadway this week. Well wait no longer:

I went to a Broadway play this weekend with my wife: "Memphis" — it was fantastic. Except for the two songs in it about "Hope and Change." Are Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod calling up Broadway producers now, asking them to help out with the agenda, the way Yosi Sargent did at the direction of Valerie Jarrett and Buffy Wicks?

It sure wouldn't be unprecedented. Look at what the White House has accomplished with "Service Week," all this week on TV as Michelle Obama announced. Sixty programs are incorporating some kind of service or volunteer theme into their shows.

Memphis is about an interracial romance at the dawn of the rock-and-roll/Civil Rights era. The characters "hope" to end racism and "change" bigotry into tolerance. But seriously, who doesn't hate a bunch of service-oriented volunteers?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Memphis = Michael Bolton

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 4:03 PM

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Talk about the unkindest cut. New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood just compared Memphis—the Broadway musical Memphis, that is—to Michael Bolton, the man who embodies soulless soulfulness. Ouch.

Sex and race and rock ’n’ roll made for a potent, at times inflammatory, combination in the 1950s, when the new musical “Memphis” is set. But there’s no need to fear that a conflagration will soon consume the Shubert Theater, where the show opened on Monday night. This slick but formulaic entertainment, written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, barely generates enough heat to warp a vinyl record, despite the vigorous efforts of a talented, hard-charging cast. While the all-important music, by Mr. Bryan of Bon Jovi, competently simulates a wide range of period rock, gospel and rhythm and blues, the crucial ingredient — authentic soul — is missing in action. Dare I suggest that “Memphis” is the Michael Bolton of Broadway musicals? I do.

Oh well, at least he didn't compare it to Kenny G.

Entrances & Exits at Theatre Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 1:58 PM

Marques Brown
  • Marques Brown
Award-winning actor and educational theater specialist Marques Brown has stepped down from his position as Director of Education & Outreach at Theatre Memphis to teach theater at Cordova High School. Brown, who has been part of TM's ShoWagon troupe for eight years, describes the transition as "bittersweet."

Brown walks out the door just as two new employees join TM's design staff. Guy Lee Bailey steps into

Diane Kinkennon
  • Diane Kinkennon
the
Guy Lee Bailey
  • Guy Lee Bailey
newly-created position of Costume Shop Manager/Assistant Designer and Diane Kinkennon has accepted a position as the theater's new Lighting Designer.

Bailey, who comes to TM from the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia and has also worked at Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach, Florida. Kinkennon, a U of M alum, has an extensive resume and has designed lights for various local productions including Circuit Playhouse's celebrated production of The Laramie Project.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Will Call: tips & tidbits for the theatrically inclined

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 4:24 PM

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Ask any actor what his favorite holiday is and nine out of ten times you'll get the same answer: Halloween. Maybe that's why fright night shows are so much fun. And I've got to admit, I'm kind of excited about the shows I'm going to see this weekend. And bargain hunters should also be really happy about the opportunity to see an interesting new company's extravagant second production for half price. Yep, half price. Well, if you can get a date, that is.

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