Holidays on Stage
Images from (almost) every Christmas show in Memphis. Plus previews of Opera Memphis' January production of The Mikado.
Due to inclement weather, the gala honoring Barry Fuller as Scrooge has been rescheduled for December 19 at Theatre Memphis.
Still, if you're in the mood to celebrate Memphis' favorite miser you can check out this comprehensive feature I put together when Fuller returned to the role a few years back.
Or you can check out a very Barry slideshow.
Barry Fuller: A Scrooge for All Seasons
This is what we talk about when we talk about the "end of an era." Eighty-five-year-old character actor Barry Fuller was the first person to play the part of Ebenezer Scrooge when Theatre Memphis (TM) staged its first production of A Christmas Carol 36 years ago. He has returned to TM to play the old skinflint a dozen times and is doing so once again for the 13th and final time this year. The news isn't all bad. Fuller, who most recently appeared as a medical specimen in the Halloween hit Young Frankenstein, isn't retiring from the stage altogether, but as far as Dickens' famous miser goes, he thinks it's time to pass the baton.Born in Australia, the actor's earliest theatrical memories are of playing "the old prophets" in church productions, wearing a fake beard with a piece of rope tied around his head. In 1997, Fuller, who is also a gifted director, an irresistible song-and-dance man, and a veteran of Memphis' Front Street Theatre (where he acted alongside future Broadway staples like George Hearn, Dixie Carter, and Polly Holliday), was honored with the Eugart Yerian Award for lifetime achievement in Memphis theater.To honor a journey that began in 1952, when Fuller boarded a boat bound for high adventure in exotic ports of call, then on to America to study drama, Theatre Memphis is hosting a gala party in Fuller's honor Thursday, Dec. 19.A Christmas Carol is at Theatre Memphis, December 6th-23rd. The benefit gala honoring Barry Fuller is December 6th at 6 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person and include cocktail buffet, performance, dessert bar, and silent auction. Call 682-8323 for details.
So it's hard to know whether or not Shakespeare would approve of the Threepenny Theatre Company's "Shakesbeer" fundraiser. Personally, I'd like to believe that the writer had just never tasted a good beer, and see this fundraiser as an opportunity to insure others don't suffer that same terrible fate.
Threepenny Theatre (3PT) will host a "Shakesbeer”- themed beer-tasting Saturday, December 14 at Crosstown Arts from 7pm - 10pm. Attendees can sample a variety of local craft beers while taking in selections from Macbeth.
Donations of $10 can be paid at the door or at Kickstarter.com
“We’re taking a risk, and we need the community’s help to make this innovative funding model work,” Shaleen Cholera, 3PT’s Executive Director wrote in a press release. “We recognize that the cost of admission can be a tremendous barrier to many people experiencing theatre. We want to do something different and be something different in this city. We’re throwing a party so we can ask our friends and everyone who supports great theatre in our community for a few dollars. That will help us us to generate the funds we need to produce a season of great shows that everybody can enjoy.”
WHAT: SHAKESBEER: A BENEFIT FOR THREEPENNY THEATRE
WHEN: SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14, 7:00 P.M. - 10:00 P.M.
WHERE: CROSSTOWN ARTS, 430 NORTH CLEVELAND AVE
COST: $10 MINIMUM DONATION REQUESTED
"Langston Hughes' Black Nativity gets turned into a concert," Bandele says of the play. "I really wanted to tell the story of what happens at the Nativity. And to tell it like I've never seen it done, in a way that I think would be interesting for me to watch."
Bandele's Nativity is contemporary, but he digs into the source material to tell the story of a poor carpenter, a pregnant virgin, the people who love them, the people who wonder at them, and a big bright light in the sky.
"It's suspenseful," Bandele says of a show that, for the most part, takes place in the 24 hours leading up to Christ's birth.
"It's much more about Mary and Joseph and their relationship than it is about Christ," Bandele says.
"The North Star: An Urban Nativity" at the Hattiloo Theatre, December 5th-22nd. $18-$25. hattiloo.org
MOM:TM plays out like an improv comedy game. Four core characters— the boy, the girl, a wise older woman, and a greedy landlord— tell one simple story five different ways in the style of composers Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb. The plot distilled: “I can’t pay the rent”/”But you must pay the rent.” (Rent, get it?) And that’s just about all there is to that.
Daniel Kopera’s all purpose pink and purple set telegraphs instantly that the audience is in for a bare bones theatrical drenched in cheap sparkly stuff. The strong ensemble cast, dressed all in black with sequins and rhinestones, fulfill every garish promise.
Musical of Musicals is a perfect showcase for Jude Knight, a veteran of the musical stage who has appeared in many of the show’s she’s spoofing. She brings fun understatement to an over-the-top ensemble. Amy (Polumbo) Nabors gives a standout performance as the all purpose blonde, matching fantastic singing with hilarious character development. Multiple threat performer Brennan Villines is always a pleasure in song and dance roles, but nothing beats the joy of watching Kent Fleshman try his hand at spoofing the Emcee from Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. This isn’t the sort of role a beefy baritone like Fleshmen would ever have the chance to play otherwise and he just goes for it.
The real star of this ensemble show show is just off stage: musical director/accompanist Gary Beard who has been given all the show’s secret laugh lines, and who nails every single one.
Over the years director Bennett Wood has staged many a classy musical revue and there are moments when one gets the sense that he’s spoofing himself as much as anybody else.
I don't want to encourage bad habits, but a few cocktails before showtime isn't a bad idea. This is a lounge act disguised as theater. Or maybe it's the other way around.
Musical of Musicals: The Musical is at Theatre Memphis through November 23
"This year, I wanted to do something a little different," says Courtney Oliver, Playhouse's multiple-threat performer and resident party planner. Oliver, who directed last season's production of Debbie Does Dallas and most recently appeared onstage as Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables, thought a Carnival Noir might shake things up a bit.
"I had just read Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus, and the mystery of a black-and-white circus arriving in town unannounced at midnight really awoke the romantic in me."
Oliver set out to create an environment similar to "Sleep No More," an audience-immersive, site-specific retelling of Macbeth set on five floors of an art-directed New York warehouse space.
"People who support Playhouse on the Square enjoy the theatrics we provide, obviously," Oliver says. "I thought, Why not throw some theatrics back into ours?"
Oliver describes a scene with wandering magicians and carnival treats. Renee Kemper's bluegrass band Nay-Nay and the Do-Right Boys play in the cafe with Ghost River beer and sliders from Wade and Company Catering. The theatrical band Black Max plays the basement trap room. There will be poker games, penny pitching, and speakeasy-style drinks. Then you can get a henna tattoo, with no regrets. Alexis Grace is playing a set, then the Memphis Knights, an 18-piece big band, will close the show with music from the 1930s.
Black-and-white outfits are encouraged.
"Curtain Up: Carnival Noir" at Playhouse on the Square, Friday, November 8th, 7-11 p.m. playhouseonthesquare.org
Jay and the Americans were a vocal group from Long Island. In 1960 Leiber and Stoller— the songwriting duo behind some of Elvis Presley's biggest hits— signed the group for United Artists and gave them "Tonight," from West Side Story, which had just been released as a motion picture. Talk about a perfect match.
20-years after Jay and the Americans recorded "Tonight" it was covered (and pretty fantastically) by British punk/pop band The Look. The best part is a too brief keyboard solo that calls to mind "Telstar."
This noisy and frenetic version of "Officer Krupke" is from the album Punk Side Story by a band called Schlong. Yep, that's their name.
The Muppets version of "America" celebrates the beauty and the chaos of life in the melting pot.
Selena's take on "A Boy Like That," seriously threatens to give club covers a good name.
"Somewhere" is easily West Side Story's most covered song. It has been sent up by DEVO...
It has been tinkered with by Dave Brubeck...
And it has been achingly covered by Tom Waits on his great 1978 album Blue Valentine.
And if you'd like a sample of what the current touring company has to offer, there's also this...
If you have a favorite cover from WSS that I've left out share it with us in comments.
The second installment of the company's ongoing "River Project" begins with an inspirational number, then moves into a more mystical landscape, and closes with a soulful history lesson. The tone is light throughout, and the trio of original danceworks emphasizes the company's physical strength and classical training.
"The Hurdle Runner," choreographed by Petr Zahradnicek, begins with the northern migration of African Americans. It spotlights George Coleman Poage who, like Mark Twain, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, but who moved with his parents to La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1904, Poage became the first African American to win an Olympic medal. His event, the 200-meter hurdles, makes an easy and appropriate metaphor.
Employing huge umbrellas, inventive lighting, and a stage littered with flower petals, choreographer Julia Adam celebrates the mushrooms growing along the Mississippi. "The Devil's Fruit," doesn't conjure up images from Alice in Wonderland and nobody will be subjected to the music of Jefferson Airplane; nevertheless, it is a sweet and relentlessly sincere walk on the psychedelic side. It is also a blithe display of raw strength and easy elegance.
"River Project 2" closes with Corps de Fortitude, inspired by the sights and sounds of St. Louis. It's a joyful piece, but when Lee Taylor takes the stage to sing a soulful rendition of that city's namesake blues, the dancers nearly disappear. And taking not a thing away from Taylor's performance or that of the dancers, that may still be an actual complaint.
"River Project 2" is at Playhouse on the Square through October 27th. Balletmemphis.org
What makes Reefer Madness (the musical, not the movie) such a nice fit for the Halloween slot at Circuit Playhouse? It’s full of terrifying zombies —- Dope zombies! In fact, the musical itself is a kind of zombie, that might be easily and accurately described as the reanimated corpse of a forgotten feature, laid to rest generations ago, but brought back to life by an activist drug fiend, and kept alive by his savage, pot-addled minions.
Reefer Madness, dead since the 1930’s, was resurrected in the 1970’s by a mad hippie seeking secret knowledge and money. While browsing through the Library of Congress film archives Keith Stroup, of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, stumbled across a forgotten church-financed exploitation film from the 1930's. The ridiculous propaganda film had been developed as a cautionary tale about the perils of smoking the demon weed, but it had been purchased and re-edited by an exploitation filmmaker and occasional sideshow huckster named Dwain Esper. Looking to make a buck Esper re-edited the film, gave it a sexier name and transformed into a timeless masterpiece of accidental comedy.
I have a confession to make. I’m overdosing on zombies. Over the years I’ve loved our undead brothers and sisters as much as the next George Romero cultist. But enough is enough. Nevertheless, director Dave Landis doesn’t wear out the gangrenous convention and this giddy, sometimes ghoulish tumble through America’s twisted Puritan psyche is good fun and full of fantastic performances.
As campy musicals go Reefer Madness is probably an act too long and most of the music is unmemorable. But it has its moments, and some of them are pretty spectacular. Fans of mid-century stereo exotica, the broadly-defined musical genre exemplified by artists like Martin Denny and Les Baxter, will get a kick out of “Jimmy Takes a Hit,” a trippy production number with appropriately over-the-top choreography courtesy of Courtney Oliver and Standrew Parker.
Landis has stylized everything and gets wonderfully precise and delightfully off kilter performances from all of his actors. It is especially fun to watch Corbin Williams’ Jimmy evolve from the perfect picture of promise and youthful exuberance into a sweaty, sex-crazed doob junkie with glazed over eyes, who’ll do anything for his next fix.
Williams is in good company. With her often affectless affect Morgan Howard conjures images of Vampira as Mae, a reluctant druggie hooked on, “The Stuff.” Kent Reynolds is an inspired choice for the brain-scrambled Ralph, Caroline Simpson disappears into Sally, a sex addict and strong candidate for world’s worst mom, and Richie MacLeod slathers pusher-man Jack Stone with gallons of vintage slime.
David Foster, who plays the story’s hip to be square narrator and steps into a number of smaller character parts, has long been one of my favorite local actors, and his performance in Reefer Madness exemplifies why. Foster allows every gag the all the time it needs to develop, and in this homage to terrible cinema his deliberately awkward, out of time timing couldn’t be more perfect.
There’s not much nutritional value in Reefer Madness but it’s a good time and loaded down with only the cheapest of theatrics. If it sounds like something you might like, you probably will. Besides, everybody’s doing it. And it won’t hurt you none.
Memphis Theatergoers may experience some deja vous at The Buddy Holly Story. In addition to playing in a Buddy Holly tribute band The Rave-Ons, Todd Meredith, the actor and musician currently playing Buddy at the Orpheum has played the seminal Texas rocker in 14 different productions. If you saw Playhouse on the Square’s solid 2008 production, you’ve already seen Todd do that thing he does so well.
Intermission Impossible: Tell me a little bit about how you get in touch with Buddy.
Todd Meredith: He was real person, you know, so there are certain challenges. I do a lot of research to really try get his speech patterns down, to get how he moved down. Because people have expectations it really keeps you from phoning it in. Because you have to live up to being this great rock-and- roll star.
Having done the role so often, do you continue to discover new things about the character, or have you pretty much got it down.
When I go into each production I get a little more perspective on things. It happens in different ways. It keeps things fresh for you and it keeps things fresh for the audience as well. I'm not the type of actor who goes out there and says the same line the same way every time.
What’s your favorite Buddy Holly song right now?
My band just started playing this one song called on "Lonesome Tears" that I hadn't even heard until fairly recently and is now quickly becoming one of my favorites.
We all know Buddy Holly the rock star. Who was Buddy Holly the guy?
He was a polite boy from Texas very polite and all the interviews he comes off as a very well spoken intelligent guy. The musical also shows that he was very tenacious. He knew exactly what he wanted at all times and was always able to express what he wanted. And when he didn't get what he wanted to get he actually become a bit ornery.
Buddy or Elvis?
Elvis was around longer and he kind of had that whole Las Vegas thing. I think that's sort of hurt some people's perspective of him. Buddy died in his prime. We weren't able to find out what he could've done. I'd like to think that he could have done great things. The directions he was taking with his music were really innovative. It’s like he knew he didn’t have much time. Buddy asked his wife to marry him the day they met. He knew he needed to get things accomplished really fast so he wasn't the type of guy to sit around and wait for things to happen. I think that really draws me to the character I wish I could be more like Buddy in that respect.
For ticket information here's your click.
While browsing through the Library of Congress film archives Keith Stroup, of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, stumbled across a forgotten church-financed exploitation film from the 1930's called Reefer Madness. The ridiculous propaganda film had been developed as a cautionary tale about the perils of dope smoking, but it was purchased and re-edited by exploitation film producer and occasional sideshow huckster Dwain Esper, and transformed into a masterpiece of accidental comedy.
Stroup, seeing an opportunity to to raise money for NORML, acquired a print of the public domain film. In 1972 he booked it on a fundraising tour of college campuses and a cult classic was born.
Reefer Madness — also released under the titles Tell Your Children, Doped Youth, and (my favorite) The Burning Question — became a stage musical in 2005, and opens at the Circuit Playhouse tonight. (Friday, Oct. 11). Deets.
If nothing else, the show has already inspired some fantastic promotional t-shirts for Playhouse on the Square. On sale now!
Mel Brooks' musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein-- originally a film about film— loses something vital in its translation to the stage. But it gains a little something too: Freedom.
Theatre fans who've seen director Cecilia Wingate's previous work on shows like Little Shop of Horrors know that she knows her scary movies, and she knows how to turn the thrills and chills into comedy gold.
Tickets information here.
To make an appointment with Truvy, follow the link.
On Friday, October 11, Rhodes College is hosting a public symposium on the latest developments in book history that dovetails with innovative digital interpretations of Shakespeare.
All events are free and take place in Blount Auditorium (Buckman Hall), 9am—noon
9:00 am: Lukas Erne will discuss "Disseminating Printed Shakespeare in Early Modern England.” Dr. Erne is Professor of English at the University of Geneva. He is author of "Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist" (2003); "Shakespeare and the Book Trade" (2013); "Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators" (2008); and "Beyond ‘The Spanish Tragedy’: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd" (2001). He has won the Hoffman Prize, the Roma Gill Award, and the Robert Harvey Prize.
10:00 am: Michael Witmore will address "Writing Literary and Cultural History at the Level of the Sentence.” Dr. Witmore became the Folger Shakespeare Library′s seventh director on July 1, 2011. He is the author of "Landscapes of the Passing Strange" (2010); "Shakespearean Metaphysics" (2008); "Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance" (2007); and "Culture of Accidents: Unexpected Knowledges in Early Modern England" (2001). He is co-winner of the Perkins Prize.
11:00 am: Robert Darnton will respond to these presentations, and engage in a roundtable discussion with Erne and Witmore. Dr. Darnton is University Professor and Director of the Harvard Library. Among his honors are a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Humanities Medal. He has written and edited many books, including "The Great Cat Massacre" (1984, translated into 18 languages) and "The Case for Books" (2009).
Dr. Darnton will also lecture at the University of Memphis on Thursday, October 10 (6:00pm, UC-Theatre): "Digitize and Democratize: Libraries, Books, and the Digital Future".
I take some comfort in a crudely drawn political cartoon from 1798 that depicts American congressmen fighting with fists, feet, clubs, and fireplace tongs. It reminds me that incivility isn't some new creation midwifed by Jerry Springer, refined by talk news, and perfected by the modern House of Representatives. Ignorance, bigotry, and bad behavior have always been with us, although digital and broadcast media have certainly turned up the volume in recent decades.
Just look at all those guys going at it. If they weren’t all white it might be a scene from Clybourne Park. I say that because the Pulitzer Prize winning drama, which is currently available for consumption at Playhouse on the Square, is a loud and noisy play. Voices compete with radios, phones and other voices as characters talk to, at, and over one another like impasse and misunderstanding was the most desirable outcome. And there are moments in Bruce Norris' fiercely funny play about race, real estate, and the evolving urban environment, when that absolutely seems to be the case. It sometimes becomes so busy, frustrating and noisy it might as well be Congress.
Clybourne Park's well known central conceit is that it functions as a sequel to Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. The first act occurs simultaneously with the actions of Raisin, but in the tragedy-haunted home Hansberry's Younger family will eventually buy. The white middle class sellers are packing up for the suburbs and as they prepare, physically and emotionally, to move away from the place where their son took his own life, they are visited by a neighbor, Karl Linder, the only character to appear in both Raisin and Clybourne Park. He's come with his deaf wife in tow, to announce that the family that has bought the house—a house already devalued by suicide—is black. He explains, with increasing frustration and anger, all the reasons why this new development will have a devastating effect on the neighborhood and the value of his property.
Flash forward 50 years. For being so wrong Karl was correct in his predictions. As foretold, white families moved away from Chicago's once desirable Clybourne Park. Well, at least the people who were capable of moving. Over time it became a black, down-at-heel neighborhood that has since stabilized and is now on the cusp of gentrification.
The graffiti-covered Younger house is now empty and a young white family is hoping to tear it down and erect a new home that's 15-feet taller than anything in the neighborhood. They are being opposed by a neighborhood group, and Norris's depiction of the negotiations over demolition may be the most eviscerating depiction of privilege and modern tribalism to appear on this, or any stage. Everybody, justified or not, has their own persecution complex, and offense is the default response to nearly every circumstance.
Norris's sharp writing doesn't just expose overt prejudice on all sides, it also digs into the white liberal value system to expose more subtle and insidious strains of racism that can't be easily recognized or understood without an unusual degree of self reflection. We've all seen it. It's the kind of racism that invariably leads a person to remind other people that some of his/her best friends aren't white. Norris addresses all of this so honestly and with such biting humor that even thinner-skinned audience members who might be caught up in their own privilege and inclined toward easy offense, will be too busy laughing to get mad.
Director Stephen Hancock has assembled a top drawer cast of character actors for Clybourne Park’s regional premiere. John Maness is superb as Karl, the kinder gentler 50's-era racist. He’s even better as Steve, a successful progressive who has suppressed his “white man’s burden” as long as he can, and isn’t going to take it anymore.
Maness’ telling of an off color joke is a brilliant exercise in uncomfortable anti-humor. And it frees up other players in this too familiar drama to share their own culturally-charged jokes.
How is a white woman like a tampon? I’m not saying, but there it is.
Recent Ostrander winner Claire Kolheim proves once again that she is one of Memphis’ finest, playing a soft-spoken maid and an outspoken attorney. The always excellent Michael Gravois is convincing as a 50’s era businessman devastated by the loss of his son and also as a talkative laborer who finds a chest buried in the back yard. Meredith Julian gives a fearless performance as the potentially offensive hearing-impaired racist’s wife then turns the tables as an easily offended yuppie who isn’t deaf but still seems to have a hearing problem.
Clybourne Park is, in every way, an ensemble show but somehow, and in spite of her not being especially tall, Mary Buchignani Hemphill stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. In act one she is the stereotypical mid-century housewife, happy to not have a mind cluttered with all the pesky information that trouble the menfolk. If knowledge is power she’d rather be powerless. Hemphill disappears into the character.
In act two Hemphill plays the middlebrow daughter of Karl Linder, who is now a real estate agent. And she does so with such confidence and comfort it’s easy to forget she was also the crumbling hysteric from act one.
We're only two months into the 2013-14 theater schedule and already Memphis theatergoers have had an opportunity to see some extraordinary dramatic productions. Red at Circuit Playhouse, Proof, at Theatre Memphis, and The Whipping Boy at Hattiloo were all shows that could be a highlight of any season. Of them all, Clybourne Park is the most provocative and the most entertaining. It's exploration of tribal codes and loaded language might even lead one to suspect that all the fighting happening in the U.S. Congress right now isn’t really about the budget, or the deficit. It could be about a certain piece D.C. of real estate— a white house, if you will— and who is and isn’t allowed to occupy.
For details click here.
There was a time when POTS regularly produced at least one original script every year or two but, if memory serves, the practice ended sometime in the 1990's.
Submissions began in January of this year and public readings of the finalists begin this weekend.
From the press release:
A total of six finalists were selected by a panel of local directors, actors, and designers. Each play will receive a staged reading and audience feedback will help to determine which two plays will be fully produced as part of Playhouse on the Square's 2014 - 15 Season.
For a list of all finalists and more information about the competition, click here.
Memory Grove by Dean Farell Bruggeman
Saturday, October 5, 1pm at Playhouse on the Square
Four married couples face destructive, life-altering obstacles. Is love fatally misplaced? "Til death do us part" is more an omen than a vow.
CAST: Lorraine Cotten, Michael Detroit, Renée Kemper, Lisa Lynch, John Moore, Joshua Quinn, Kevin Stark, and Jacob Wingfield
Directed by Jordan Nichols
In Her Awkward Fist by Wayne Paul Mattingly
Sunday, October 6, 7pm at Playhouse on the Square
On the day of her father's burial, 14-year-old Brigette meets Marvin, a middle-aged man. Friendship quickly evolves into intimacy. Is it love or lust?
CAST: Stephen Booth, Ann Marie Hall, Carly Crawford, Erin Shelton, and Cary Vaughn
Directed by Matt Crewse
This weekend's readings:
Memory Grove by Dean Farell Bruggeman, Saturday, October 5.
In Her Awkward Fist by Wayne Paul Mattingly, Sunday, October 6th
Tickets for all readings are $10. Call 901-726-4656 or purchase ONLINE.