Friday, September 30, 2011

Opera Memphis is offering a lot of free tickets.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Ned Canty
  • Ned Canty
What won't Opera Memphis's new executive director Ned Canty do to get people to the opera? Over the course of a recent conversation he asked if I knew a good place to go bungie jumping. You know, so he can strap a camera to his head and show people what the last few seconds of Tosca's life might look like. (I'm guessing like this but without the parachute). So it's really not surprising that a man willing to hurl himself off a tower to fill a few seats might also be willing to give away a lot of tickets. There's a catch, of course. But it's a fun one.

Opera Memphis is looking for 100 people who have never attended an opera before. Participants must be available for Tuesday night performances and agree to see all three shows of Opera Memphis's 2011-12 season. They must also agree to take some surveys and say a few words about their experience on camera both before and after the performance. Sounds a little bit like Survivor: Opera Island, doesn't it?

Anybody interested in this offer can contact Opera Memphis by sending an email here:

"[The] Assissi [Foundation] has made it possible for us to have access to a real statistician," says Canty, who describes himself as a "data geek."

"And if somebody went to the opera as part of a field trip when they were in school we're not going to hold that against them," he says. "It might be better to say we're looking for people who have never 'chosen' to go to the opera."

Couples and families with interested teenagers are encouraged to sign up together as long as everybody involved meets the criteria.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Still Miserable After All These Years (in a good way): Thoughts about a revamped Les Miserables at the Orpheum through Sept 18

Posted By on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 2:32 PM

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silentVictor Hugo

The man who wrote Les Miserables wasn't much of a musician himself and was thrilled when he finally learned to peck out a bit of Beethoven on the piano with one finger. But Victor Hugo's poems and novels have inspired more than 1000 musical compositions in addition to the longrunning—and recently re-tooled—musical that will be visiting the Orpheum through September 18. If he hadn't hidden his paintings, drawings and other artworks from the world for fear that they might distract from his work as an author it's distinctly possible that Hugo, whose gorgeous, heavily-inked pages are sometimes washed in coffee stains for dramatic effect, might have inspired thousands more. The great Romantic poet was only a competent draftsman but he had a knack for moody composition and the work he left behind (there's a LOT of it) is powerful, and predictive of later artistic movements like surrealism and abstract expressionism. Although only a few of Hugo's actual painting's have been lifted to provide backdrops for the redesigned, 25th-anniversary staging of Les Miserables, they serve as an inspiration throughout, creating a dangerously rhythmic environment befitting this grand story of social injustice. Fans of the show will probably miss the turntable stage and some of the original production's more sensational moments while detractors will still giggle when all the rote flag-waving starts but Matt Kinley's new design beautifully recasts everything to human scale, de-emphasizing the spectacle and placing the actors in a hotter, whiter spotlight. If anything, the work has become an even greater study in contrast, and more powerful as a result. Those who think they know the show well may be surprised by all the little discoveries that a redesign can bring about.

by Victor Hugo
  • by Victor Hugo

My chief complaints with the musical adaptation of Les Miserables all stem from one basic problem: there's too much story to tell effectively in a 3-hour musical. Rich characters are never allowed to develop and many plot elements are truncated to the point of confusion. It's a perfect example of something that is conversely too much and not enough. And I've always felt that the show's original creative team made up for any shortcomings with cheap, hyper-emotional images: Fighters hanging from the barricades, a brave and defiant child gunned down, etc. Now these seemingly iconic images have been eliminated. The upside: They no longer upstage the story. Better still, the emphasis on the singers' technical proficiency has also been shifted in favor of a more human, emotionally honest (And still quite strong vocally) approach to the material. It creates the illusion of subtlety in a show that doesn't have time for such luxuries.

Not all of the spectacle has been downsized. Javert's death scene is something to see as the bridge beneath him falls away along with all the other physical set elements and the unyielding police officer plunges backward into the swirling darkness of the water "below." The visual perfectly reflects the mind of a man who has made decisions he can only escape by making the one decision he can't escape. But as grand as the image may be it's not the technical wizardry the audience applauds at this moment, it's the vocal performance of Andrew Varelaan, an actor who has squeezed every drop of juice from this iconic if necessarily underdeveloped role.


The same can be said for J. Mark McVey, who plays the story's protagonist, Jean Valjean, a nominal thief (he stole bread to save a starving relative) who can never outrun his past. McVey is the rare actor who can Make the show's heart-crushing falsetto passages sound positively manly.

I've been known to complain about the modern mega-musical, and Les Miserables was certainly a major part of what, to my mind, became a self-destructive trend in commercial theater. But the show's text and score were always a cut above cloying contemporaries like Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, and Phantom of the Opera. If nothing else this streamlined revival highlights all of the reasons why the martial horn blasts of Les Miserables are likely to be heard for years to come.

For more details and ticket information click here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What's happening at GPAC?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Last week I guest hosted WKNO's Local Color and interviewed Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, Executive Director for the Germantown Performing Arts Centre. Here's the clip.

New Ballet Ensemble performs Ubuntu at the National Civil Rights Museum

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 1:03 PM

The dancers of New Ballet Ensemble braved the mid-day heat Monday (and a blazing hot dance surface) to perform Ubuntu in front of the National Civil Rights Museum. If you missed the details about this event here's what happened.

And this is what it looked like

And here's a bit of video

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Ballet Ensemble Streaming Live from the Lorraine Motel to New York and around the World

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 7:31 AM

Today (September 12) at 2:30 p.m. CST Memphis's New Ballet Ensemble will perform an original work about the concept of interdependence. "Ubuntu" will be live streamed to NYC and 3 Legged Dog Art and Technology Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. If you can't be there in person you can watch online here. The performance is part of a celebration of Interdependence Day, a global event connecting 16 venues from around the world for discussions, webcasts, and sharing artworks related to the basic idea of interdependence.

Here's what NBE Founding Director Katie Smythe had to say about her group's participation in the project.

NBE is included, basically, because out of thousands of invited Arts directors at APAP last January, I was one of thirty who didn't think Ben Barber was too subversive or scary to talk to.

Isn't it incredible that people are afraid to talk about a response to 9/11 that asks us to consider what on earth we'd do without one another?

A preview of NBE's Ubuntu

Anyway - I spoke up about the zero sum game mentality that threatens our arts groups with extinction and about people thinking that they have to learn about how to engage community, writing big grants for, say, 400k just to figure out "outreach" . . . instead of just going ahead and doing it and risking community. I thought that if we could get a bunch of Arts groups together for this we could prove that we COULD be interdependent. So I wrote a BRAVO grant and was turned down I ditched the idea and then brought it back to the dancers two weeks ago after visiting the offices of the think tank in NY where Ben Barber is involved. They talked me into it and we are doing it on a shoe string.

Our artists are from vastly different walks of life. We eat at the common table every day, sweating upon each other, laughing and crying, teaching, eating and dancing. We feel that we can cause a ripple effect of diversity in Memphis.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Free Theater in the Park: Thanks Hattiloo

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Here are the deets:
Noon - 3p
FRAYSER (Whitney @ Baskin)

See for free...
Written by Zora Neale Hurston
Adapted by George C. Wolfe
Directed by Patricia Smith

With opening performances from Watoto Memphis
and Lila's School of the Arts

Will Call: Tips and tidbits for the theatrically inclined

Posted By on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 2:33 PM

EGBDF, 2004
  • EGBDF, 2004
It sounds heavy, I know but Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, a short, quirky play about punitive psychology in the Soviet Union, goes down surprisingly easy with many cathartic laughs along the way. I caught the opening night performance of this fantastic collaboration between Playhouse on the Square and The Memphis Symphony Orchestra and can't recommend it enough.

I've already spoken with director Robert Hetherington (here), and provided a little outside reading assignment (here). But it would be wrong not to say a word or two about the performance itself. Michael Gravois and Michael Detroit play two men named Ivanov who have been confined to a mental institution. Detroit's Ivanov is schizophrenic and believes he is a symphony conductor. Gravois' only symptom: He disagrees with the Soviet government. The cast is rounded out by Bennett Wood (the doctor), Irene Crist (a teacher), Bill Andrews (the Colonel... other doctor), Luca Conti (the sane Ivanov's son), Conductor Mei Ann Chen as herself, and most of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

Detroit's performance as the troubled Ivanov—a role he played once before in 2004— seems to have been enhanced by the presence of Chen, who is an incredibly expressive conductor. Consciously or un he's grokked her physical relationship with the music, and when the two conduct at the same time it's like watching an edgy, tragicomic bit of modern dance.

Gravois is intensity personified as a man who would rather starve himself to death than confirm the State's assertion that he has a disease. The rest of the cast navigates Stoppard's most skeletal script well enough but this show's real stars are the techies who get fantastic sound throughout, and who end the show with some sonic slight of hand.

The MSO gives Previn's witty, heavily percussive score with its flatulent horns and busy cellos, the workout it deserves. I can't stress this enough: This show—a truly paradoxical blend of modesty and ambition— is rarely performed. See it while you can.

September 8 - September 10, 2011
Playhouse on the Square


Excerpt from The Hartford Stage's production of The Bluest Eye.

If you liked the film Precious you may want to also check out The Bluest Eye at the Hattiloo Theatre. This adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel focuses on many of the same themes. Also on stage in the Hattiloo's black box space: a revival of Home by Samm-Art WIlliams. For details go here.

You may also want to check out...

Wild Legacy, Gloria Baxter's award-winning script about love, Alaska, and all things wild opens at Rhodes College's McCoy Theatre. FREE!


David and Amy Sedaris
  • David and Amy Sedaris

The Book of Liz: The Emerald Theatre Company presents a comedy by talented Siblings Liz and David Sedaris.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reading Assignment: Some prep work for Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 3:04 PM

My interview with EGBDF director Bob Hetherington was too brief and too chopped up but the points come across, I think. He said a lot when he encourages me (and everybody else) to Google "punitive psychology." Because, if you do that (and I did) you'll probably run across this story about Putin critic Larisa Arap. And it's a story that anybody interested in Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn's epic team up should know at least a little something about.

Larisa Arap
  • Larisa Arap"
Naked and with her hands and feet bound to the corners of a metal bed covered by a rubber incontinence sheet, Larisa Arap eyed with quiet defiance the doctors who wanted to declare her mad.

It was a futile gesture. The men in white coats standing over her were bitter adversaries.

Enraged by the allegations that she had levelled against them, they also knew that, as an open Kremlin critic, the state would do little to help her.
A needle sank into her arm. Over the coming weeks, as the treatment took its effect, Mrs Arap would become everything the doctors declared her to be: her head lolled to one side, her tongue hung out of her mouth and her face went slack.
"When she was brought out she was covered in bruises," said Taisia, her daughter. "She couldn't stand, could hardly speak and was drifting in and out of consciousness." READ THE REST HERE

And here's a teaser from Playhouse on the Square...

For ticket information go here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Talking about Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, The Music & Heritage Fest, and The Ostrander winners on WKNO's Local Color

Posted By on Fri, Sep 2, 2011 at 12:18 PM

I'm getting more comfortable with TV, but still have my moments. I completely blanked on the names of the Ostrander winners. And my open link to the list on my iPad read "This content not available." I did make it through discussions of the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival and the Playhouse on the Square/Memphis Symphony Orchestra collaboration Every Good Boy Deserves Favour without saying anything too embarrassing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Attention Karaoke Singers: You've been served... by Sister Myotis

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Yes, it's true...

This Friday and Saturday, Sister Myotis and Ima Lone will host The Sister Myotis Karaoke Smack Down, and they want YOU to come on out to TheatreWorks ready to SING! Wanna plan ahead? Click HERE HERE for the Song List and pick out a few of your favorites! There'll be plenty to eat (and to drink, but don't tell Sister)!


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