The [title of show] cast—nominated for best musical— starts the evening off with a big bang, delivering this wonderfully charismatic performance in spite of a failing sound system.
You can check out all the rest below the fold...
Scenes from the 2011 Ossies will be available soon. They would be online already but I switched to DSL. Big, big mistake.
Performers sold the hell out of a song in spite of a bad sound system, Sam Weakly turned the tears loose in his heartfelt tribute to Ron Gephart, Mark Chambers had no less than three costume changes. The 2011 Ostranders are history, and the 2011-12 season is fully underway. I'll post more comments and video clips from the big night later in the week. Meanwhile, here's who won.
Mark Chambers lives in San Francisco these days but the Memphis force is strong with this one. He was still a young 'un when he made his stage debut at the Overton Park Shell as one of 50 flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. He graduated to more adult roles and his performances as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Richard O'Brian's Rocky Horror Show are the stuff of local legend. Mark's back in town this weekend to host The Ostrander Awards so I asked him three questions.
Intermission Impossible: You grew up on stage in Memphis. What are your three favorite memories of working in local shows with area actors?
Mark Chambers: One of the strongest emotional memories is of my debut at the Overton Park Shell in the Wizard of Oz. It changed my life. I froze that night and I managed to make it onstage with my glasses too. But it was a life-changing show for me. And Mrs. Ewing [of the Memphis Children's Theatre] and [her daughter] Cookie were so good to me. Also, sharing the stage with Dorothy Blackwood , Terry Scott and Bates Brooks in Torch Song Trilogy. Such an incredible production. And long, nearly 4 hours. I never really understood the power of politics and theatre when combined with human natue could be so rewarding. And the opening night of Rocky Horror was insane! Very few performers on any stage anywhere could rival the reception we all got. And I was so nervous in my thong!
Intermission Impossible: Here's my favorite memory: When you and Ann Marie Hall did Irma Vep there was at least one midnight show in each run where the two of you would actively try and break each other up on stage. Too funny, and you guys both kept it together pretty well. But it makes me wonder, have you ever had a complete Carol Burnett-can't-stop-laughing breakdown? What's the closest you've come?
Mark Chambers: That miss Hall! i still fondly call her Edgar [her character name from Irma Vep]. Yes, she is one of the few who could crack me up just lifting either one of those eyebrows and smirking. And she can independently raise both eyebrows. Love, love, loved every minute with her spot on creativity! Now one night, a thread on the hem of Enid's gown [my gown] got stuck on the side table. I stood up, and followed Ann and felt the tug. I walked the table around the stage to get back into place. we both had a good-har-dee-har over that. As did the audience, who thought it was rigged.
Intermission Impossible: About the Ostranders... I have to ask. Trousers or fishnets?
Mark Chambers: Well, I'm still packing my steamer trunk. But the cleaners lost the trousers to my tuxedo.
OMG, did you hear? Michael Gravois wasn't nominated for anything this year! This Ostrander game is rigged, man!
Okay, let's be honest. We may love sports, but hating the ref is really the national pastime, isn't it? Can
•A Midsummer Night's Dream: Let's start with the big one and get all the haters out to tell me why I'm wrong. Michael Ching's operatic adaptation of Shakespeare's fairy story was an ambitious, risky collaboration between Playhouse on the Square and Opera Memphis and it's all but MIA at the Ostranders. The music direction nod feels like a halfhearted gesture acknowledging that original opera isn't easy and an all vocal beatbox-driven go at a classic is just this side of vainglorious. Wigs and makeup? Give me a break. This show proved, if nothing else, that Memphis's theater artists are contenders, able to create original product on par with the imports and endless revivals that fill our seasons.
What it's got going against it:
1. It's an opera, duh. Oh, and it's a collaborative effort. (Mudbloodedness shouldn't be a reason but I've honestly heard that complaint.)
2. It was the suckiest thing that ever sucked. This wasn't my experience, but I believe people when they say they saw a horrible show. In my early reviews I described the event as having a kind of NASCAR appeal: The inevitability of a crash makes each lap around the track that much more dangerous and thrilling. But I can only imagine that there were some horrible bloody pileups along the way. Even the best shows have bad days and this Midsummer's biggest weakness is that it's unforgiving. If the bad thing happened often enough, maybe this should-be landmark got exactly what it deserved.
3. Bald prejudice. Did I mention it's an opera? And that it was created inside the 240-loop? Like, in the last decade? That means a lot of hardcore opera fans who like to see elephants on stage and hate anything that's not old and in another language aren't going to give it a chance. And a lot of hardcore opera haters who do like a good musical aren't going to like Playhouse's arthouse turn. That's a lot of people who are only going to hear painful caterwauling even on the good nights.
How was it robbed: How about I start with an award it doesn't deserve: Best musical. Not gonna argue that with anybody. It was was clearly an inconsistent show and the rude mechanicals, arguably the shows true heart, weren't handled all that well. So let's rule the biggie out. But it what about Laura Stracko's fierce little Hermia? Kyle Huey's puckish Robin Goodfellow? What about some acknowledgement of Paul Koziel's epic beatboxing? What about John Horan's delicious candy-colored lighting, in terms of sheer beauty, some of the best I've seen locally.
• Aliza Moran: Theatre Memphis's Amadeus was good, not great, but Moran gave one of the finest performances of the season as Mozart's wife. In the early acts she floats, then gravity takes its toll as she tumbles into desperate, bitter, crippling poverty.
How she was robbed: So, is Constanze the leading female role or the supporting female role? Yeah, I don't know the answer to that either. For my money she would be a contender in either category.
•The cast and crew of Death of a Salesman: I can only guess that New Moon Theatre Company's show was never up for consideration? It was easily among the year's top five plays and it's got nothing to show for it.
How it was robbed: Janie Paris's graveside performance as the widow Loman was spectacular, acted with the kind of honesty that's almost embarrassing to watch. Ron Gephart, this year's Eugart Yerian honoree, was also at his best as Arthur Miller's titular salesman. Entertainment writer Jon Sparks' came off the bench strong. His go at Loman's neighbor Charlie and Wesley Barns's strong take on Loman's young boss were both worthy of a "featured" nomination, at least. But above all else, this was a fantastic ensemble doing great work with limited resources.
• Romeo & Juliet: My three favorite show's of the season in descending order are...
1. (A tie) August: Osage County (Playhouse on the Square), and
Stuff Happens (U of M)
3: Romeo & Juliet (Tennessee Shakespeare Company).
Of course TSC is still new and not eligible.
How they were robbed: "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action": That's Shakespeare speaking through Hamlet to every player on every stage from now until the end of time. Whether you like high concept Bard or straight up traditional, it's best when it's simple: Clutter kills. TSC's R&J was a lighthearted romp through a teenage nightmare in full Elizabethan drag; the sort of show that slaps you in the face, pokes you in the eyes, says, "nyuk, nyuk, nyuk," then tears your heart out and reminds you why we're supposed to care about this Shakespeare stuff. And the players did all that with good words, lots of love, more sweat, and nature's infinite beauty. This was the season's best, tightest ensemble, and a real contender for best in show.
• Cabaret: This show was awful, sure, but the set, all black and blood red, was excellent and the expressionist lighting set the perfect tone. And what about Barry Fuller and Jeanna Juleson? Amid the rubble they found something worthwhile.
Why it was robbed: When a show gets shut out like Cabaret was shut out there's only one explanation: Cooties.
• Cassie Thompson: Little Shop's Audrey is the Stanley Kowalski of musical theater. A weird paring, I know but both roles were so perfectly stamped by their creators that every actor following ultimately has to wrestle with the ghosts of Marlon Brando and Ellen Green, who isn't even dead. Thompson's achingly sweet, hurt-your-heart funny run through "Somewhere That's Green" acknowledged her bubbleheaded antecedent, but every masochistic moment was her own.
How she was robbed: She was also in Cabaret and Cabaret has cooties.
• Barclay Roberts and Ann Sharp Great featured work in A Delicate Balance. Either performer could have been picked in the supporting or featured categories.
How they were robbed: Weird, difficult parts like this are always wallflowers at the prom.
• Tartuffe: Hattiloo's smartly adapted take on Moliere was made with Memphis in mind. It felt less like a 17th-century French farce than a lost Douglas Turner Ward comedy. It was a ragged but right on production that made an effective ensemble from a mixed bag of talent. Goose egg at the Ossies.
How it was robbed: Jonathan Underwood took Tartuffe in unexpected directions and brought down the house. He, at least, should have made the short list.
• Comedy of Errors: The chemistry was all wrong but the character work in Stephen Hancock's sincerely self-aware COE brought Shakespeare in line with Preston Sturges.
How it was robbed: Rhodes' take on Twelfth Night was tighter and leaner making the competition look like an opulent mess by way of comparison. But in an offbeat show the two Dromios had perfect timing. Jonathan Castro (Dromio of Syracuse) and William Henry (Dromio of Ephesus): Robbed!
* Brief autobiographical pause explaining why there are so many community actors nominated in the college division :
It has been noticed. There are A LOT more community actors nominated in the college and university division this season than usual. I am one of them. It's really not that weird.
Rhodes College celebrated the McCoy Theatre's 30th Anniversary this year and the 25th anniversary of Nicholas Nickelby, a landmark production that truly blurred the lines between college and community theater. I'm an alum, class of 1989 and my band played the huge reunion party on the opening night of The Robber Bridegroom, a show the McCoy originally produced in the fall of '88. I was also in that original cast, and thought it would be fun to team up with other Memphis-based alumni, current students, and a handful of community actors for the revival. If community recognition seems out-of-control in the college Ostranders this season, it's not indicative of a trend to shut out students. It's because Rhodes' celebratory season was built around reunions, guest artists, and community involvement. Rhodes' closing show, Twelfth Night, was more heavily populated by students, but the anniversary was ongoing, so faculty and community actors took on some key roles there too. Now, back to Who Got Robbed...
•Chase Ring and the other students in the chorus of The Robber Bridegroom: Chase, dude, you were great in all those small totally unmemorable parts you played last fall. If I hadn't been there hogging up the same part community actor Billy Pullen played way back in 1988 you would have been an awesome singing severed head.
How they were Robbed: Celebrations are what they are but—play prizes aside— many students were deprived of choice acting opportunities by a bunch of graduated glory hogs. Hopefully the returning alum and community pros were at least able to share something useful along the way. Flip or not, I've got to confess: When I saw all the nominations for Michael Towle, Jen Henry, Mary Buchignani, Nicole Hale, Scott Ferguson and other fantastic grownups and talented townies it really did feel like cheating.
• Michael Gravois: He was showy in the showy 39-Steps (total shut out) and he was frumpy in the showy The Drowsy Chaperone (Playhouse on the Square version). And yet, in spite of these showy-frumpy achievements his name is not among the chosen. Today, we are all Gravois. Today, we cry on the inside, letting our hand speak silently to the babbling face of human ignorance.
Getting in front of TV cameras before the second cup of coffee... so not a good idea.
While looking for information about Kemmons Wilson's Holiday Inn record label—an odd little footnote in pop history spiced up by the fact that Sam Phillips ran it for a while— I stumbled across a digitized copy of Billboard magazine dated October 7, 1967.
An article on page 6 titled "Holiday Inn Sets Table for First Cut" announced that the new label, an extension of Wilson's successful hotel chain, was open for business and seeking new talent. The piece ended with a bit of information about another of Holiday Inn's excursions into the entertainment industry: Dinner theater.
Holiday Inn veep Hugh Jones said the company was launching what would become the largest chain of dinner theaters in the world, and wouldn't rule out the possibility of featuring talent from the new Holiday Inn label. Jones also said that the hotel theaters would initially concentrate on plays under the direction of Eugart Yerian, namesake for the annual award for lifetime achievement in Memphis theater.
I've never known very much about Yerian, aside from his reputation as an actor/director/producer and motorless flight enthusiast. I knew of his involvement with Theatre Memphis but the Holiday Inn dinner theatre project is all new to me so I asked the great Vance Lauderdale if he could fill in the blanks. Here's what he shared.
The main dinner theater in town was The Olde West Dinner Theater, opened in 1967 on Brooks Road. It was such an immediate success that Holiday Inn decided to open their own, tucked behind their world headquarters on Lamar. It wasn’t long, though, before both companies realized Memphis couldn’t support two similar attractions, so they merged into something called United Productions, and even though they kept their separate theatres, they shared actors, props, marketing, etc.
The Old West was located on Brooks at the intersection with Elvis Presley Blvd.
It changed its name to the Candlelight Dinner Theater, and then the Gaslight Dinner Theater, before closing in 1988.
I arrived in Memphis in 1985 and remember the Gaslight Dinner Theater well enough. The rest, however, is uncharted territory and I'd love it if readers could share some memories of Yerian and these establishments. Who's got the scoop?
This post is not about wrongdoing. It isn't intended to disparage the judges; to hurt or embarrass anyone ; or to question the worthiness of our working artists who are all underthanked and deserving of a play prize. But, cutting to the chase: Mistakes have been made.
The Choreography for Crazy for You at Theatre Memphis was created by Susan Stroman for the show's original Broadway run. Theatre Memphis licensed it. Kathy Caradine, who has been nominated for an Ostrander for choreography, taught Stroman's steps to the CFY cast—no easy task— adapting what couldn't be copied and bringing some original work to the table along the way. Caradine's creativity and commitment have never been in question. She's just not the sole or original author, and considering that other choreographers in this category began from scratch, it's probably time for the theater judges to revise their guidelines to include category definitions. For example, jukebox musicals aren't elegible for Tony awards in certain categories because the pop songs—often heavily rearranged for the stage—aren't original to the show. That's why the Addams Family was nominated for best score in 2010 and Million Dollar Quartet, a best musical nominee, wasn't, even if the songs in MDQ are better.
My assumption: Even if there's not a good universal notation system for choreography, dance is still a text, like a script or a musical score. The work can be copyrighted and licensed, after all. The subsequent question: If a theater buys the rights to use original Broadway choreography should the person who interprets and adapts it be listed as "choreographer?" Should they be eligible for an Ostrander in the choreography category? And in the case of licensed work and co-authorship could the judges ever actually understand enough about the specific process to know where the original dance score ends and the new work begins?
It's tempting to cut the judges some slack here. After all, Theatre Memphis' program for Crazy For You didn't note that the choreography was licensed and Stroman wasn't acknowledged anywhere. Email exchanges with Theatre Memphis's executive producer Debbie Litch suggest that this wasn't an oversight. According to Litch TM's contract allowed that the purchaser might not use all of the choreography and sources close to the show confirm that some of the work was heavily altered. But, as the Commercial Appeal's theater critic Christopher Blank pointed out in a feature titled "Choreography Key to Crazy For You," the routines followed Stroman's blueprint.
From the story:
When the Theatre Memphis' play selection committee chose "Crazy for You" as this season's closer (running through June 26), [Caradine] the native Memphian had to dust off her dancing shoes months ago. Tap dancing rehearsals began back in January. She is trying to remain faithful to Stroman's choreography.
"A lot of the tapping is of the Fred Astaire variety," she said. "It's highly syncopated. Five people in the cast have been driving up from Hernando to be in this show."
Director Robert Hetherington said that two strong local performers were cast in the leading roles: Jordan Nichols, who has worked in New York, and Emily Petit, a vocalist who has starred in several Theatre Memphis musicals.
"This show lives and dies on the strength of its choreography," Hetherington said. "There's just an enormous number of set changes."
Litch responds: "Theatre Memphis has nothing to regret by paying for the privilege to have the opportunity to use the choreography guide for CRAZY FOR YOU. Let’s concentrate on celebrating great theatre in our Memphis community and ensuring that we can all have the opportunity to produce the best theatre for our community. We were very open and happy that we could pay a royalty fee for the choreography guide by Susan Stroman. I only wish there were more choreographers like Susan Stroman and Jerome Robbins who care so much about their shows they will take the time to catalog it."
If you were looking for an "Oopsie" in there somewhere and didn't find one don't worry. There wasn't one although Litch promises that Stroman's contributions to Crazy for You will be acknowledged in the programs for TM's season opener Bye Bye Birdie, which takes its first bows this weekend.
And obviously, there's no reason to "regret" the licensing of work or recognizing the hard work of the artists who bring that work to life. But all of them need to be recognized, and accurately. And that's where the problem lies. The Ostrander judges weren't mistaken. They either knew in advance or were made aware of the fact that the choreography had been licensed, and closely followed.
Here are some comments from a judge who has asked to remain anonymous:
"The fact that the choreography was purchased was discussed at the table in whether [Crazy for You was] deserving of a nom. If I remember correctly we had received some more info from Theatre Memphis regarding additional choreo work that was done. I believe that was why it was included in the noms. Now, from a legal perspective should we list the original choreographer? Probably. Don't remember a dual listing being discussed."
From a legal perspective? Maybe, maybe not. A representative from Tams-Whitmark, the company that licenses the book, score, and choreography for Crazy for You said acknowledgement was expected but stopped just short of saying it was required. Litch says she reviewed all correspondance and couldn't find anything obligating the theater to credit Stroman.
"Kathy Caradine had to work for 10 weeks to interpret, adapt and add her own choreography to fit the skills and talents of the cast," Litch says. "Thanks to the hard work, vision and artistic expertise of Director Bob Hetherington plus Kathy’s hard work, expertise and creativity with the choreography as well as so many other outstanding designers and production team, CFY was an artistic and financial success with sold-out audiences for every show."
Sure. Hetherington's good. His production of Stuff Happenes at the U of M is one of the two best productions of this past theater season. And that show—a non-musical—made such creative use of rolling office chairs it probably deserves some nod for choreography too. But Hetherington's artistic contributions and how well the show sold are really beside the point. Music directors also work hard to interpret scores, rearranging and transposing when necessary, but nobody ever mistakes them for the composer, do they? It's probably worth noting that there is an award category for music direction and that the Ostrander judges are empowered to create special categories when they see fit.
The last and probably the most important question: What's the big damn deal? It's just a silly award, why should I or anybody else give a rat's hindquarters? Well, I can think of several reasons, but this is what it all boils down to: In the right or in the wrong legally it's annoying that Theatre Memphis would license and teach someone else's steps without acknowledging their contributions. Except for the fact that TM paid for the privilege to use or not use the choreography this whole circumstance reminds me of the great Chicago Uninetown kerfuffle of 2006, which you can read about here (and which cost a choreographer his Jeff Award and caused a lot of people a lot of headaches). In this case, the Ostrander judges' attempt to reward Caradine's good work—an urge I believe to be sincere and by all accounts deserved— extends the original oversight and may even encourage a practice that's, at the very least, less than desirable.
"If Kathy should be chosen among so many outstanding nominees, I would endorse any wording the committee would deem appropriate," Litch says. "Our goal is to produce the best production possible, one show at a time."
It's probably too late in the game to make any significant changes to the Ostrander program. If Caradine wins critics of the decision should applaud and understand that, all quibbles about authorship terminology aside, it's a sincere acknowledgement of what has been universally acknowledged as an extraordinary achievement. If she doesn't win she should probably be consoled for doing great work, and being shoehorned into the wrong category.
Feel-good conclusions aside, the whole circumstance is messy and all good intentions aside it looks like bad faith all around. I'm not saying or even suggesting that that's the case. But those are the optics. And, to borrow a line from Death of a Salesman, one of a few extraordinary achievements Ostrander isn't recognizing this season, "Attention must be paid."
Additional: Fight Choreographer Pam Hurley has also been nominated for Crazy for You. Hurley is an exceptionally well rounded theater artist and does great work. But isn't this also a separate category? I don't know the answer, and am curious as to what others think.
Here's everything you need to know about how you can be a part of the 2010-11 Ostrander Awards:
Time and location information is all here.
Nominees will be on the guest list. Otherwise tickets are $10 each and can be purchased by clicking on this button and following directions.
UPDATE 8/28/11 12:00pm: Advance sales are now closed, but tickets will be available at the door for $10 each.
Tickets will be available at the door but seating is limited and this show packs the house. No tickets will be shipped, all will be made available at will call. And remember, when you miss the Ossies you miss out on quality entertainment like this...
How easy is that? My picks can be found below the fold.
I'm at an extra disadvantage this year. I always miss something if I do a show or take a vacation and this year I did both. In a couple of categories your guess will be as good as mine.
Bernard has been routinely engaged to sing the role of Giulietta in the new production of [Offenbach's] the Hoffmann’s Tales at the Leipzig Opera Theater in Leipzig, Germany and at La Fenice in Venice, Italy. She sang Métella in La Vie Parisienne by Offenbach at the Opéra Comique in Paris in more than 270 performances, and she sang the lead role in La Périchole by Offenbach at the Opéra Comique in Paris in more than 80 performances.
“Opera Memphis is pleased to present the local debut of an artist with such a breadth and depth in her operatic roles.” Canty said. "We are fortunate to claim her as a Memphis resident.”
Video of the Downtown Diva below the fold.
From the MSO's announcement
MSO President/CEO Ryan Fleur called her a leader and a "driving force" in the organization, exemplified by two popular MSO programs designed by musicians - Opus One and Leading From Every Chair. Gilmore helped plan both programs from inception. Her enthusiasm and ideas were instrumental in making Opus One a success among critics and audiences.
Fleur said the Omaha orchestra quickly recognized a star in the violinist when she performed as a guest. "She has superb technique and will be a great orchestral leader," he said, adding, "Susanna's talents as a teacher and community leader will be put to good use there."
This year Ostrander judges for the college and university division seemed to like several U of M productions including Stuff Happened, a docudrama about events leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq (hence the Rumsfeld quote), Tennessee Williams's classic A Streetcar Named Desire, and Bat Boy, a musical ripped from the pages of the Weekly World News. They also liked Rhodes College's perverse musical adaptation of Eudora Welty's The Robber Bridegroom and their straightforward take on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
In the community division we have a pair of Chaperones (POTS and Harrell) battling it out to see who's the drowsiest. They're competing for play prizes against Crazy For You (Theatre Memphis), [Title of Show] (Next Stage), Grey Gardens (Circuit), The Wiz at Hattiloo, and Playhouse on the Square's epic remount of Ragtime. .
Footloose (POTS) and Shakespeare's Richard III (NextStage) both make surprisingly strong showings. Other popular plays include August: Osage County, (POTS) Black Pearl Sings (Circuit), From Up Here (Circuit), and Amadeus (TM) with some notible shout outs to Picnic (TM), Dividing the Estate (Circuit) Dixie Swim Club (GCT) and a Delicate Balance (TM).
Check out the complete list of nominations below the fold then let me how you think the judges did. Who should win and who got robbed. And stay tuned to Intermission Impossible for gossip, interviews, inside dope, picks pans and all manner of Ostrander season coverage.
Larry Clark is a clown, magician, human curiosity, native Memphian, and a veteran of both Ringling Brothers and the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. He's also performing at Theatre Memphis August 4th and 5th. I shot this video interview with Larry in February. It's not for the faint of heart.