Pretty much all you need to know in one video.
For ticket information, here's the link.
Earl's fresh out of jail, back in Pittsburgh's Hill District with his friends and former bandmates, and the record they cut together is climbing the charts. After much uncertainty there's an opportunity to return to Chicago to cut another single, if only Earl could get his guitar out of the pawn shop. And if the Jim Crow-era threat of a black man being arrested for "worthlessness" or for "having too much money" didn't make the proposition that much riskier.
Seven Guitars is one of August Wilson's most rambling and meandering plays. That's not necessarily a complaint, but it can be when the producing company isn't up to the challenges Wilson throws down. Thankfully, all of the performers in the Hattiloo's loose, but lucid show are able to wear their characters like a bespoken wardrobe, breathing real life into these living embodiments of the blues.
Dramatically speaking, Seven Guitars owes much to the concept Chekhovian stasis, even as it lays the foundations for some of the best contemporary African-American theater. Katori Hall's Hurt Village is the show that immediately comes to mind, in part because James Cook, who was so memorable in Hall's best play to date, turns in an equally strong performance as Earl's harp player. And he's not alone at the top. The title, Seven Guitars, is less a reverence to specific instruments than to show's seven primary characters. To every actor assembled on stage, all I can say is "Well played."
But I single out Cook— who is so very good in his role— for a reason. He's also the best example of the one thing that keeps this show off of my short list of the season's best. At one point the character pulls his harmonica out to play, and the actor just doesn't have the skills to pull it off. That's not his fault, necessarily, but it's still a problem because the only time this crew isn't jamming beautifully together, is during the jams.
That said, if you can only see one show this weekend, I'd seriously consider this one. When it cooks, it cooks and after Sunday, it's gone.
Don’t be put off by the “emo” in Alex Timbers’ and Michael Friedman’s “emo-rock musical” Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a look back at a time when US citizens had grown to distrust the government to such a degree they decided to put a famous maverick they could relate to in the White House. A maverick dudes wanted to be. A maverick ladies wanted to be with. A maverick who never met an opportunity to engage in a little death and dismemberment he didn’t like.
For an energetic reminder that some depressing things never change, this is a show worth checking out. It opens tonight at Rhodes under the direction of Jordan Nichols.
For a taste of what it’s like, here’s a clip from the NYC debut.
It's great to see an area college taking this on, but maybe one of these days a local playhouse will revive the show and ask Jackson descendent, dead ringer, and gifted rock-and-roller Mark Akin of the Subteens to play Old Hickory.
Although I was personally against the United States' military action in Iraq I disliked so much of the art that sprang up as a response. It was too shrill, redundant, and for the most part impotent if not outright counterproductive: Not so much preaching to the choir as angrily punching it in the face with platitudes. Not so with Goodtime Speech, which, by the show's end proved to be more heartbroken and lost than angry. It was emotionally direct, and disarmingly funny in its depiction of a topsy turvy world where up is down and patriotic songs fill the void created by death. It was easily the most powerful piece of anti-war theater I encountered during the Bush/Cheney presidency, and I attended some of the period's largest, and most creative demonstrations.
This was a clear-eyed vision. During a time of grief and conspiracy, this was a voice of sanity.
Randy Wayne Youngblood, who died in January at age 56 was diagnosed with Paranoid-Schizophrenia in 1984. Youngblood, a music enthusiast who once toured as a roadie for the band Yes, co-founded Memphis' Our Own Voice Theatre Company, and never let his obstacles prevent him from making amazing art. OOVC staged several plays written by Youngblood including The Wizard of Hope, Computrix's Landing Affair (For Everybody), and Radio Refinement. The company also collaborated with area musicians to stage Supergroups A+, a stunning rock opera that climaxed with girl group harmonies singing, "Don't ever put me in a box," desperate, and defiant words from a writer who knew what he was talking about.
A memorial gathering for Youngblood had will take place at TheatreWorks Sunday, February 16 at 2 p.m.
Randy's family will be in attendance and anyone is invited to come and honor the life and creativity of this unique theatre artist. Members of Our Own Voice will be sharing stories and contributing performance pieces for this special day. These are the performances that have been confirmed so far. Bill Baker & Virginia Reed Murphy will be facilitating a section from Boxing Unformed, Zak Baker & Jake Fly will offer music from Broadminded Mental Brains, and Kimberly Baker & Alex Skitolsky are collaborating to bring a new work of Randy's to life called Attorney Joker Part Sign. We hope you will join us for this special day at the theatre where Randy made his home on the stage.
Truly, a life worth celebrating.
Howard McGillin, Broadway's longest running Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, will perform a Valentine's Day concert at GPAC, as a part of TSC's annual fundraising gala.
Here's some video of McGillin talking and singing and stuff.
Also, the best thing about performers of my generation is you can be reasonably certain that at some point in the 1980's they rocked a mullet, and better still, there's probably evidence on YouTube. Here McGillin also rocks some Sondheim.
For a more complete bio and details about the gala, CLICK.
The recipe for ODC is familiar enough. Start with a fractious family reunion (Christmas being the excuse this time), toss in some secrets, and one shocking revelation made in the play's last act that changes everything in time for a tidy epilogue ringing with forgiveness and understanding.
In a more complex work this revelation might begin a messy final chapter, or even start a fist fight, but instead resolution comes around easy.
ODC is set in the well appointed desert digs of an aging movie star who turned in his SAG card to follow Ronnie Reagan. Although we think of Hollywood as being liberal, it's had its share of New Deal-haters like Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and John Wayne. Lyman and Polly Wyeth, the one time Hollywood power couple at the head of this dysfunctional family are cut from the same cloth. These aren't Tea Partiers by any stretch, but a more enlightened set, and far more broadminded than the causes they wholeheartedly support. Lyman, strongly played by Jerry Chipman, was a mid-20th-Century leading man turned diplomat. His wife Polly, beautifully imagined by Irene Crist in the scenes where she comfortably knows her lines, was a successful screenwriter, and is now a Nancy Reagan clone.
This is a play where the Conservatives have their convictions (and a secret to support them), while the Liberals have substances, rehab, and an incomplete picture of what's really happening. The problems have less to do with any overt politics than the degree to which shallow characters fit stereotypes, and then live up to expectations.
Ann Marie Hall is effective comic relief as Silda Grauman, Polly's troubled free-spirit sister with an agenda of her own, and Christopher Joel Onken does solid character work as the more successful of Lyman and Polly's two living siblings.
The always reliable Kim Justis takes on Brooke, a one hit wonder author struggling to write about a family tragedy that she doesn't really know anything about. Her grief and struggles are the price paid to keep an inconvenient truth buried deep. Or not, as the case may be.
Other Desert Cities, nicely staged by Dave Landis, plays out like some half-baked answer to Arthur Miller's All My Sons only this time daddy was apparently a secret hero. I guess sometimes you have to rise above the law and destroy your daughter to save your son— and the family's good name. Or something.
I caught ODC early in the run, and assume that issues with lines have been cleared up in the time that's passed. There was a lot of potential on stage at circuit, but I was often more worried for the performers than the characters, and that's a problem. That said, it's almost worth dropping in on this show for Douglas Gilpin's pitch perfect scenic design. If you must live at the edge of nowhere, this would be the place to do it.
When it clicks Other Desert Cities is a lot of fun to watch. I'm just not sure it ever adds up to much.
Speaking of Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman closes this week at Theatre Memphis. I don't have a lot to say about this production other than to repeat initial misgivings that it wasn't a good idea for Theatre Memphis to stage Miller's best known tragedy with the memory of New Moon's standout production fresh in mind.
I have to admit to having a soft spot for TM's old-school unit set, even if the lighting never effectively isolates the figures in space as they move from location to location and in and out of reality.
Director Tony Isbell assembled a first rate cast including Janie Paris who reprises her role as the matriarch of the Loman family. I'll never be able to hear DOAS's closing scene without thinking of her voice, although it will be from the earlier production rather than this one.
James Dale Green is one of Memphis' finest, but he seemed to be struggling under the weighty demands of WIlly Loman. I caught the show's last preview, and always assume that performance become richer and deeper over time. But on opening night eve the audience never got to see the flashes of Willy the contender necessary to truly believe that "attention must be paid."
As Bif, the goodhearted bad boy, Memphis actor John Moore proves once again that hard work pays off. Moore has been an ambitious fixture on Memphis stages for some time but being dreamy and comfortable on stage was enough for a lot of directors and given up for eye candy, bad habits calcified.
My first memory of Moore on stage is an indie production of David Mamet's fantastic American Buffalo. The show was loose and everybody was too young and too indulgent. The same artists would collaborate on a respectable if never fully realized production of Mamet's Speed the Plow at Theatre Memphis— and to be honest, I can't remember which came first but I remember American Buffalo more because it was scrappy. First impressions linger and even though I didn't love those early performances much, I gave Moore extra points for difficulty and that's what's kept me interested even when he's been less interesting.
Now and again a show would come along like The Little Dog Laughed, and he'd nail it. By the time he returned to Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross, he was ready, and it's a shame that Ostrander judges failed to acknowledge his genuinely electrifying performance as a corrupt cop in A Steady Rain.
Moore's Biff is busted but bouncing back, trying very hard not to be the victim of the past and his own worst instincts. Scenes with Greg Earnest, who plays brother Happy were the show's most convincing on the night I sat in.
Salesman is Willy Loman's story but it revolves around Biff, and in this production, where Moore is especially compelling and others struggle, maybe a little too much.
Click HERE for the particulars.
Mary Poppins: Aug. 15-Sept. 7
The musical adaptation of Disney's film about a magical nanny, her youthful charges, and the relatively low cost of bird feed isn't practically perfect in every way. But when the chimney sweeps are dancing on the rooftops of London it gets close.
Scenes from Mary Poppins
One Man, Two Guvnors: Sept. 26-Oct. 12
You might know the often told, often adapted story Servant of Two Masters? This English adaptation finds a new Arlecchino confronting the same old hilarious problems.
The Seagull in repertory with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: March 12-29, 2015
A Chekhov classic shares time with Christopher Durang's modern Chekhovian farce.
Kiss Me, Kate: May 8-31, 2015
Expect "Brush Up on Your Shakespeare" headlines when this vintage musical arrives. It's Taming of the Shrew with show tunes.
American Idiot or The Gospel at Colonus pending availability: June 19-July 12, 2015
It's heard to not have mixed emotions about this one. We either get the refreshing Green Day musical or the gospel inspired version of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, a Pulitzer Prize finalist created by avant garde director/playwright Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines. Win or lose this is a win. I almost hope for Gospel at Colonus. The original cast The Blind Boys of Alabama in leading roles, and I'd love to see how Memphis' music community might be called into action.
The Best of Enemies: Aug. 22-Sept. 14
A Civil Rights activist and a Klansman become allies. A true story.
The Fantasticks: Oct. 3-26
The musical that keep on musicaling musicals on.
Sanders Family Christmas: Nov. 28-Dec. 28
Mountain gospel and banjo picking.
Bad Jews: Jan. 16-Feb. 8, 2015
A dark family comedy about a death, an heirloom, and who deserves to get it.
Assassins: Feb. 27-March 22, 2015
Now and then the country goes a little wrong. Or so the song goes. Everybody who ever tried to kill a President is assembled in Stephen Sondheim's edgiest musical.
Tribes: April 10-May 3, 2015
A play about hearing and how we hear. It doesn't sound very exciting when you put it that way, but Tribes has been exciting audiences and critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Seminar: May 29-June 21, 2015
A spotty comedy about serious, sometimes seriously pretentious readers and writers.
New works at Theatreworks
Playhouse on the Square is getting serious about developing new works. It's a good thing
We Live Here: Jan. 2-25, 2015
Mountain View: July 10-Aug. 2, 2015
Memphis' professional classical ensemble had momentum but the wind was hardly at their backs. The company had taken some real hits, and once the positive trend started, there wasn't much room for backsliding. Here are some numbers that tell a story.
Fiscal year 2008
Total revenue minus expenses : - $1,731,985
Net Assets: $2, 365, 243
Fiscal Year 2009
Total revenue minus expenses: - $388,515
Net Assets :$2,412,723 Net assets up
Fiscal Year 2010
Total revenue minus expenses: $111,961
Net assets: $2,541,365 Net assets up
Fiscal Year 2011
Total revenue minus expenses: -651,148
Net assets: $1,930541 Net assets down.
The Biggest Changes
Investment income seems to fluctuate the most. In 2008 the MSO lost $309,862. In 2009 they lost $111,700. In 2010 the number moves into the positive column to the tune of $405, 058. It stays positive in 2011, but drops significantly to $1,383.
Gifts and grants fluctuate between a low of $2,076,245 in 2008 to a high of 3,029,031 in 2010. The trend is upward by roughly a half-million per year 2008-10. In 2011 the number drops by a little less than $25,000 to $2,782,654.
Total expenses range from a low of $3,854.274 in 2009 to high of $4,765,387 in 2011. Total expenses for 2008 were also comparatively high: $$4,747,915.
Salaries and Compensation numbers were highest in 2008: $3,411,098. That figure drops to $2,763,116 in 2009 and then creeps back up to $3,367,917.
A recent gift of $100,000 will prop up the MSO in the short term but the 2013-14 shortfall is closer to $400,000, and barring a much larger cash infusion hard decisions will have to be made sooner rather that later. While not desirable obviously, worst case outcomes can't be completely dismissed. This shouldn't be surprising news given the challenges orchestras playing all the hits of the 18th and 19th-Centuries face in 21st-Century America, but it's especially disconcerting given the MSO's high level of artistic achievement, innovation and audience engagement.
The local news has broken on the heels of a critical dustup and Internet skirmish between Slate's Mark Vanhoenacker who recently wrote that things were looking bad for classical music and the New Yorker's William Robin who passionately disputed Vanhoenacker's muddled but still compelling math.
Both of the above-mentioned accounts are a little obnoxious. One uses truly ugly numbers that never quite add up to its hackneyed conclusions about fat ladies and song. The other, leaning too much on this grumpy blog post for support, is nothing more than extremely serious cheerleading. Taken together, however, these pieces do point us in the direction of a dialogue we need to have, employing more civil and less sensational terms.
What's especially disquieting is that in Memphis classical music has been winning. Although the "Memphis model" has been widely misunderstood, the MSO has been having this conversation with itself for a long time. Right here in River City the MSO's artistic and administrative leadership joined forces in unprecedented ways, with the full understanding that the fate of modern orchestras has less to do with the quality or importance of classical music, than the bond of reciprocity created between the orchestra and the community it serves.
By building unique community partnerships the MSO attracted unlikely donors and unusual grants. With some new cash streams, innovative community engagement projects like Leading from Every Chair, and Opus One it looked like Memphis was well on its way to finding a sustainable way forward.
"The Memphis Symphony has not yet achieved long-term financial stability," Ryan Fleur, the former MSO CEO said in a Feburary, 2011 interview with polyphonic.org, an online forum for orchestra musicians.
"By doing all these things we’re still in business and we have a path to success," Fleur added. "We’ve captured the imagination and attention of a much wider circle of Memphians who will ultimately help us change our own business model. Now we’re in lag time — in the business world it takes 5 years before you find the full revenue return on an investment."
Although the country was mired in economic crisis and the MSO had been forced to slash its budget the ink was black and there were reasons for Fleur to be optimistic. For the fiscal year starting July 1, 2010 and ending June 30, 2011 the orchestra took in $4,722,614 with expenses reported at $4,610,653.
Three years after Fleur made the case for his five-year plan much has changed, at least on the surface. He's an Executive Vice President with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Former COO Lisa Dixon is Executive director of the Portland Symphony, innovative concert master Susannah Perry Gilmore has joined the Omaha Symphony, and Memphis is in crisis.
In an admittedly dated promotional video MSO board member Dan Poag broke down some numbers that are worth chewing on still, especially in light of the stats collected in the much- vilified Slate article . The average ticket price, he explained, covered only 30% of what it actually costs to produce MSO concerts. The other 70% — a subsidy for MSO ticket holders — comes in the form of sponsorships, gifts, and grants.
Inside the MSO
Roland Valliere, the new no-nonsense CEO of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra has a reputation for salvaging seemingly doomed orchestras. With austerity measures and outsourcing he was able to prop up the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. The message he is currently sending Memphians is clear: When this season ends, things are changing.
Not so very long ago the MSO seemed to have momentum. It was trying new things, reaching new audiences by way of Opus One, and cultivating a reputation for dynamic live performances under Mei Ann Chen's baton. Although the path forward was always uncertain, the organization was clearly energized, engaged, and positioned to develop new revenue streams while attracting new donors. So what happened to all of that potential? Or what didn't happen?
Among other near-term changes an Opus One concert scheduled for March has been cancelled. The concert would have paired the MSO with the best of Memphis' singer-songwriters. I bring this up because it's sad, obviously, but also because there's one more question worth asking, and nobody has ever asked it better than Memphis rapper Al Kapone, on the electric night when he shared the stage with Opus One: "What about the music?"
Well, what about it?
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
The best thing about the musical Spamalot is that it's short. That is, it's not especially long, or lengthy but rather concise and, being the jot of a thing it is, a minimus of sorts, this refreshingly brief musical, which is based on Monty Python's The Holy Grail, a much loved movie (also of a reasonable length) moves along at a pace most audiences should find acceptable, while still delivering near lethal doses of enjoyment. To be absolutely precise Spamalot, the Pythons' widely known, and highly praised live action romp through Arthurian legend and their own back catalog, is the un-stretched antithesis of things both long and overlong.
I'm not goofing. Not much. Musical adaptations of films tend to be bloated affairs like poor Young Frankenstein, which is twice as long as the source material, with only half as many laughs— if you're lucky. Spamalot, on the other hand, starts off at a steady cantor, then gallops for a while, then cantors some more and before you know it people are cheering and applauding and talking in high funny voices, and slapping one another with herring and the like. And I, having endured many musicals that were once shorter, better movies, appreciate that more than I can express with words, or even a reach-around.
There's not much point in a Spamalot synopsis. Everybody grew up knowing somebody who couldn't stop quoting Monty Python. The material is familiar to the point of being overfamiliar and, for all of its good parts, the musical really does seem to thrive less on its ability to summon new laughter—which it does — than its ability to stir memories of the original. Yes, you will see rude Frenchmen, heroes who soil their armor, a kneecap biting black night, coconut horses, and the Knights who say "Ni!" It's a show with everything including deadly bunnies, ladies in lakes, and, "What, the curtains?" And no Holy Grail redux would be complete without a poor old man who's not yet dead.
On the bright side— and what a bright side it is— the creators of Spamalot, including original Python Eric Idle , and composer John Du Prez, with an assist from Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, did a tremendous job of taking high points from the film and transforming them into a musical burlesque, which is both in the spirit of the original and something completely different. "Song that Goes like This," the musical theater's answer to Innes & the Bonzos "The Intro and the Outro," is a very meta admission that the creators know they're making formulaic tripe, and loving every second of it.
Director Scott Ferguson is a broad comedy specialist. In addition to staging Pippin, the first show performed in Playhouse on the Square's new facility, Ferguson has mounted memorable productions of The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Richard O'Brian's Rocky Horror Show. With it's floorshows and its funny walks and accents Spamalot, which is on stage at Playhouse through February 16, has a little bit in common with both.
Carla McDonald and Bill Andrews sing an inspirational ballad.
It's difficult to imagine a better cast than the one Ferguson has assembled to sit around the round table. At the top of the bill we have Bill Andrews and Carla McDonald who have some history being over-the-top together having appeared side by side as Max and Norma Desmond in last season's cinematic conversion, Sunset Boulevard. They are much funnier as King Arthur and and some watery tart who threw a sword at him.
Cary Vaughn, who popped up in the porn movie musical Debbie Does Dallas returns as Sir Lancelot and a spooky necromancer. Jonathan Christian, who nailed Zaza in Theatre Memphis' La Cage aux Folle reminds us just how versatile and funny he can be as Sir Robin, the Knight who runs away and Playhouse heavy-lifters David Foster and Jordan Nichols are perfectly Pythonian in a variety of roles.
This show feels like a sellout to me. If it sounds like something you'd like to see, I wouldn't wait around too long before ordering tickets. And that's all I have to say about that.
Here's your link for details.