Friday, December 2, 2016

Naughty & Nice: What's on Stage this Christmas?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
  • Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
Thanksgiving's passed, and everywhere you look, Christmas ornaments are coming out. That means it's also time for area playhouses to revive their holiday classics. Here's a quick survey of all the naughty and nice things available to theatergoers through the new year.

Theatre South
Sister Myotis is back with another Karaoke Smackdown. The queen of evangelitainment will judge the singers and the wallflowers while keeping us all up to date on the War on Christmas, and other good Christian concerns. (Details at the above link).

Classic Myotis.

Theatre Memphis

Memphis actor/director Jason Spitzer's been helming A Christmas Carol since Theatre Memphis decided to reinvent its signature show in 2010. This year, he's not only directing the Victorian ghost story, he's stepping into the slippers of the show's iconic miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. It's not the first time the artist has directed himself. "I find I'm one of the only directors who'll cast me," Spitzer says.

A vintage vid from when Jason Spitzer and Christopher McCollum reinvented A Christmas Carol for Theatre Memphis.

Playhouse on the Square/Circuit Playhouse
Playhouse on the Square's going back to Neverland with Peter Pan, and Circuit's going back to first grade with Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells!. For older audiences, Circuit Playhouse is also reviving David Sedaris' popular Santaland Diaries with Jonathan Christian as Crumpet, Macy's crankiest elf.


Hattiloo
The Hattiloo Theatre's breaking with tradition, putting away its annual production of If Scrooge Was a Brother and moving its new holiday show to the Cannon Center. Take the Soul Train to Christmas is a musical revue compiled by Hattiloo founder Ekundayo Bandele and featuring actor/director Harry Lennix, best know for work in films like The Matrix Reloaded and on NBC's crime thriller, The Blacklist.

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Tennessee Shakespeare/Dixon Gallery
TSC's getting into the holiday spirit with a Yuletidy production of Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's timeless battle of the sexes.



The Orpheum
The New Deal may be dead but Franklin D. Roosevelt is visiting the Orpheum this Dec. with Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy. You know, "Tomorrow, tomorrow...". And all that.


TheatreWorks

If you'd still like to see A Christmas Carol through a different lens, Memphis' bilingual theater troupe Cazateatro's got you covered with Tio Pancho a Christmas Story at TheatreWorks.

Also on stage at TheatreWorks this month: ETC's Cabaret Noel 2: Wonderful Christmastime! Featured artists include Annie Freres, Carrie Broughton, Dani Douglass, Etc co-founder Hal Harmon, and many more.

Germantown Community Theatre
Meanwhile, out on Forest Hill-Irene, Germantown Community Theatre celebrates the holidays with Rope, a gruesome thriller based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case. Because they're rebels. Rope is at Germantown Community Theatre, December 2nd-18th.
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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Three Questions with "Santaland Diaries" Star Jonathan Christian

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 11:27 AM

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The Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris' bawdy and rebellious recollection of his days working as an elf in Macy's SantaLand, has become a Christmas season classic for people who are skeptical of Christmas season classics. This year Jonathan Christian, known for star turns in musicals like La Cage Aux Folles and Assassins, takes on the coveted role of Crumpet, Santa’s crankiest little helper.

For actors Crumpet is like a hilarious holiday Hamlet. It's a demanding soliloquy that can turn a little dark. Here's what Christian had to say about his trip to Santaland, flying solo, and his previous job robbing banks. Sort of.

Intermission Impossible: What’s it like flying solo? Without a net? Alone? All by yourself?

Jonathan Christian: Flying solo is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The thought of losing one’s place or forgetting a passage had me panicked. I had to let the stress and fear of that moment go. This is such an intimate show and I really focus on connecting and engaging with the audience. I know they will be on the ride with me and if something goes wrong, we will all laugh about it and keep it moving. This is supposed to be fun-we aren't solving the world’s problems here....or are we?

Intermission Impossible: At some point most actors have had a job like Crumpet the Elf at Macy’s. Maybe you get hired to dress up like the Statue of Liberty or a taco to advertise for a business, or do singing telegrams. Have you ever had one of those jobs, and if so, did it yield any Sedaris-esque stories?

Jonathan Christian: Sort of. It didn't involve a costume...unless you count walking into a bank dressed as a bank robber. Several years ago, my best friend was the trainer for a bank. She was tasked with training all employees on new procedures surrounding robberies. She hired me to dress as a bank robber and had me burst into the classroom during the middle of each training session. I had to immediately scream for everyone to put their head down and then take fake cash from her at the front of the room. The idea was for her to ask questions after I left. Could they describe me? Every time I did it, I was a shaking, nervous mess. The moment to burst in was up to me so I would literally pace outside the training door with legs shaking, putting it off as long as possible. There was just something about making that explosive entrance to a quiet training class that terrified me. It was like pulling your own teeth or giving yourself an IV. How do you choose the moment? After a few times, I really got into it...maybe a little too into it. Everyone usually complied but I remember one woman who didn't. She kept her head up and had a smirk on her face. I literally got nose to nose with her and screamed "I said, put your head down...NOW!" She complied.

Intermission Impossible: Do you have a favorite part in Santaland? Some bit you really like performing?

Jonathan Christian: My favorite part is near the end. Don't get me wrong, it's super fun to spend an hour lampooning various characters and the craziness of the holiday , but the end is the true message. You really witness a change in Crumpet, a realization of what it's all about. It's a special moment that still gives me a lump in my throat every time I do it.

The Santaland Diaries are performed in Circuit Playhouse's cabaret space, so seating is limited.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reduced Shakespeare: "One Ham Manlet" is Serious Fun

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 3:53 PM

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If you only see one one-man Hamlet this season, make it One Ham Manlet. It's a joy for Shakespeare lovers, but also a fantastic entry point for skeptics, who think they should know a little something about the celebrated tragedy, but can't bring themselves to commit to the full four-hour show.

At 90-minutes Ryan Kathman's Manlet isn't an enormous time investment, and will leave many theater lovers wanting more. That's pretty much the definition of success.

Kathman, who developed, and stars in this solo tour de force had me from the show's opening when he... Dammit!

To say what he did would give it away and spoil the fun. This makes it difficult to talk about without letting a lot of cats out of their respective bags. So instead of getting too deep into it, I'm going to link back to this preview. It tells you just about everything you need to know about a funny, thoughtful, loving and somewhat irreverent take on the original man in black.

Good theatre of any kind results from good problem solving. Few things present more problems than doing Hamlet on a relative shoestring with a cast of one. One Ham Manlet's a solid primer in how to make theater theatrical, and take advantage of commercial theater's most underrated tools — audience imagination.

I'd see this one again, if I could.

Under Construction: An Early Peek at Ballet Memphis' Midtown Dance Palace

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 12:06 PM

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Ballet Memphis' enormous new Midtown home is all about nurturing and transparency — from its egg-shaped cafe to it's courtyards, and glass walls. Almost none of that's apparent yet, but the building's bones are firmly in place, and construction is moving fast.

Architect Todd Walker took media on a tour of the 38,000 square foot, $21-million project, which will soon house five studios, including a large glass-walled studio with limited, retractible seating, and a similarly transparent costume shop, visible from the street.

Here's a peek at what's there.

Lil Buck Comes Home to Dance in New Ballet Ensemble's Nut ReMix

Posted By on Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 11:48 AM

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The holidays are coming up fast and that means local institutions are breaking out the classics. For New Ballet Ensemble, that means something a little different. The Nut ReMix, which I've written about pretty extensively over the years, is a decidedly Memphis take on The Nutcracker, with a blend of musical styles, and a hearty mix of ballet and urban dance.

Global Jookin phenomenon Lil Buck — who broke into classical dance with NBE is coming home to show off his moves. He's joined by fellow NBEer Maxx Reed, who's spent more than a little time dancing on Broadway in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.

Want to know more about these guys and this nifty, MAF thing that's probably way too family-friendly to use "MAF" even though it's totally MAF? Here's a fantastic interview I did with Lil Buck in 2014. There's a shorter version of that interview here, where you can also scroll down to read about Reed.

If that's still not enough to whet your whistle, here's a rehearsal video I shot from a previous ReMix.  Lil Buck's in white, Reed's in red.

Check this good stuff out!


Friday, November 4, 2016

"One Ham Manlet" — Ryan Kathman Talks Shakespeare, and How to Reduce Him

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 2:23 PM

Kathman vs Kathman
  • Kathman vs Kathman
Ryan Kathman's speaking my language.

Kathman teaches at St. Benedict's. He's also an actor, and the creator of One Ham Manlet, a comedy forward solo take on Hamlet opening at Theatre Memphis. The words are Shakespeare's, but reduced from it's nearly 4-hour original length,  to a hearty, 90-minute Shakespeare sauce.  "The thing theater has over film, and it’s not embraced enough, is the audience’s imaginations," he says, describing his approach to the source material. "We want them to fill in the gaps."

Kathman teaches his students that actors sometimes need to make their own opportunities. He originally performed One Ham Manlet for them. The solo solo show is, in some measure, the teacher taking his own advice. He knew he wasn't getting younger and wondered if anybody else might give him a chance to play Hamlet. Or Ophelia, for that matter. Polonius? Horatio? The famous skull?
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"I'm one of those people who sometimes thinks its unfortunate that we categorize Shakespeare's plays into comedies and tragedies," Kathman says. One of his goals from the beginning was to highlight just how funny tragedy can be. "The best productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen have embraced a blend," he says, hoping that playing many characters with many voices affords comic opportunities while playing into one of the play's big questions — is Hamlet mad?

One Ham Manlet isn't just 90-Minutes of Kathman talking to himself. He also fights himself too. And puts on puppet shows. And... whatever it takes.

"What makes what I'm doing unique is is how I can wink at the conventions of a one-man show, and find theatrical solutions to problems like, how do you have a sword fight with yourself? How do you have a play within the play? How do you have the appearance of a ghost?"

How do you have a sword fight with yourself?

"I attached a piece of metal bracket to my belt," Kathman says. "I made it a rapier dagger fight so whenever I make a play with the rapier I can hit the metal with my dagger. You get this foley effect of blades sounding like they’re hitting one another."

This weekend's Fri. & Saturday only. 8:30 start time, not matter what you may see elsewhere. After this week everything returns to normal. (seriously)


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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Memphis Actor/Director/Diva Cecelia Wingate But Were Afraid to Ask

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2016 at 1:00 PM

Legend.
  • Legend.

My cover story about sitting on award-winning superstar Cecelia Wingate's porch is now online at Memphismagazine.com.

Teaser:
"Every time I see Margo Martindale I just want to throw up,” Wingate drawls; kidding/not kidding? “Bitch stole my career,” she adds with a raspy chuckle. If you don’t catch the reference right away, it’s not surprising. Martindale (August: Osage County, Million Dollar Baby) is an earthy, Emmy-winning character actress who makes jokes about how people love her work; they just don’t love it enough to learn her name.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The House That Will Not Stand: Great Writing on Display at the Hattiloo

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 2:17 PM

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Wow.
Wow.
Wow.

I could say it again, but I won't. The Hattiloo Theatre's production of The House That Will Not Stand isn't perfect, but it's good, sometimes very good, and occasionally better than that. But Marcus Gardley's script — inspired by the Federico Garcia Lorca classic House of Bernarda Alba — is extraordinary. It's a fitting tribute to the original, never standing in its shadow. The uncommonly strong writing carries the Hattiloo's production through  rougher patches. When things click, it soars.

Before getting to the good stuff — and there's so much good stuff to talk about — I want to make a worried  confession. This title gave me pause. It reminded me of something a friend in a band called The Lights once said about his group's name. "I can see the headline if critics hate it," he said — "Turn Off the Lights." I've frequently complained that the Hattiloo undervalues technical theater, treating it as an afterthought. But since moving into the new space, it's struggled with other aspects too. Quality's swung pole to pole, show to show, from perfectly professional, to events that wouldn't pass muster at area high schools. And, just as I've wondered about stagnation and the absence of creative strategies in our older institutions, I've similarly wondered how any new playhouse can sprout so fast, in so many directions, with so much programming, divided attention, and stretched resources, and not crack down the center. To that end, some titles are just scarier than others.

Sometimes, like Lorca, I like to go dark for contrast. Because this is a fairytale review, and the ending is happy. Yes, consistency remains a problem, but in spite of that, here I am, the constant skeptic, with nothing but a basket full of "Wows." Sure, some of the casting in the The House That Will Not Stand seemed off, but some was spot on, and the production, which could have stood another run or six before opening night, was beautiful to look at, and —especially for fans of virtuoso writing — a joy top to bottom. While I still worry about the things I've mentioned previously, I also have to stand back and marvel. Before Hattiloo, it's not impossible to imagine shows like Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting, or The House That Will Not Stand making the cut at Circuit Playhouse, or maybe Theatre Memphis' NextStage. More likely we'd see them at the University of Memphis, if at all. But there's no way both would ever appear in the same theater in a single season. And we'd never see these two thoughtfully, and thoroughly rendered productions back to back. The former became a sell out show for Hattiloo, and rightly so. And The House That Will Not Stand is extra special. It's something every theater lover in Memphis should make a point of checking out while it's here. Writing of this potency is rare anywhere, and this still relatively new work has plenty of life ahead of it, with a New York production, and a film in the works. See it now, before everybody else is talking about it.

Set in New Orleans in 1813, a short decade after the Louisiana Purchase, House is, in part, about the Americanization of French Louisiana where communities of free blacks flourished. Men and women, once able to walk the streets without papers, could be stopped by authorities and enslaved. With this change in dynamics — all tragic contemporary resonances considered — came other changes to culture and tradition. The House That Will Not Stand touches on many things, but is essentially a twisted, sometimes terrible Cinderella story built around an old, decaying practice of French colonials taking black common-law wives. There is a (possibly) wicked mother, who only wants to protect her three girls from the new system, keep them out of the old system, mind her interests, and serve the occasional slice of pumpkin pie.

Beartrice (Jacki Muskin) is the Mother in question. Her white lover and keeper is dead when the play starts — choked on a chicken bone. Maybe. This means the nice house she lives in could be inherited by the man's wife. Or it might go on the market and be purchased by an old rival (Patricia Smith). This potential murder mystery and a sub-thread about about the curse of being born darker than a paper bag drive the plot along, but the beating heart of this dark, delirious dramedy belongs to the slave Makeda, practicing to carry herself like the free woman she knows she's going to be.

Makeda absorbs a number of classic African/African-American myths. She's the cunning trickster, separating fools from their gold. She's also the wise conjure woman, and magical in ways that might seem exploitive if the character was created to redeem a white master. She's also a perfect Lorcan clown, responsible for heavy doses of truth and laughter. Maya Geri Robinson seems young in the role, but inhabits this character completely. I predict an Ostrander nomination, and have a hard time imaging who might even rise up to challenge this winning performance.

At first glance, Jimmy Humphries set design's not nearly as gothic as it might be. That's what makes it worth a second and third look. The gently raked and sparsely furnished stage gives this House a versatile, modern edge. With nothing but light the whole space shape shifts to be whatever it needs to be — drawing room or discotheque. (Oh, yeah).

Opening night had some shaky moments. Actors were reaching for the odd line or landing just outside their light. That's the sort of stuff that fixes itself. Director Tony Horne has built his House like a master craftsman. All actors are aimed in the right direction, and this already fine show promises to grow into something fantastic.

I want to leave everybody with this image. Marcus Gardley was in the house for opening night, and before the show he had some things to say about his visit to Memphis, a city that sometime has trouble seeing itself — especially the best of itself. The playwright was overwhelmed by the Hattiloo, and the potential it represents. He didn't completely assuage my worries, but confirmed all convictions when he described the theater — one of a very small handful of African-American playhouses — as one of most important in the world.

There's still a long way to go, but finding and staging gems like The House That Will Not Stand — and doing them rightwill certainly help it get there.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Where Do All The Frankie Vallis Come From? Frankie Camp, That's Where.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 12:13 PM

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Jersey Boys isn't just one of the most successful jukebox musicals of all time, it's one of the most successful musicals period. But, because all the actors are required to play their own instruments and the lead character —Frankie Valli — sings 30-numbers in an impossibly high falsetto, keeping numerous resident and touring companies fully staffed requires a casting strategy as unique as the show. Richard Hester, the show's original stage manager talked to Intermission Impossible about where all the Frankies come from — a little place called Frankie Camp. 

Intermission Impossible:
I've heard of all kinds of dance camps, and vocal camps that get actors up to speed to join big tours. Frankie Camp sounds completely different. 

Richard Hester: How it all came about— I was the original stage manager of the show at La Jolla in 2005. Almost immediately thereafter I became the supervisor of the companies because we started opening so many of them all over the world. One of the things I’m responsible for is all the preliminary casting along with our casting associate, Merri Sugarman. Merri and I are responsible for all companies — at one point 11 worldwide, staffed and cast. Each company requires four guys who can play Frankie Valli, because the role is so demanding.

I know big shows like Jersey Boys spin off all kinds of almost cottage industry. You have to have fabric for the costumes, matching or similar props, etc. This is maybe the human resources version of that?

The problem we found, having to find four guys for every company, is that the pool of guys who can actually do this is limited. Anybody who plays Frankie has to be 5’9” or shorter. They have to be vaguely Mediterranean looking. We can help that in some regards. We’ve had a Lebanese Frankie and a Native American Frankie you could sort of buy as Italian. They have to be able to sing up in that falsetto. Frankie sings 30 songs in falsetto. They have to be able to dance well. And act, aging from 14 to 70. Without makeup.
So how does it work?

We do open auditions several times a year. Will also do specific trips to places like Los Angeles or Boston or Orlando — places that have a music community. Where we can find people who wouldn’t necessarily come to a call in New York. So, over time, we gather these guys. When we get 100-120 of them we’ll have a couple of days in New York where we bring them all in, listen to them sing and compare them to each other. Out of that group we’ll pick a maximum of 10-people — to either fill a Frankie, Joe Pesci or swing slot. And we put those 10 people through a rigorous week’s worth of work. They each get a day with our choreographer. Our vocal coach, who’s worked with people like Jon Bon Jovi, works with every Frankie. If you go to a normal music theater vocal coach, you can’t sing rock-and-roll properly. You know, if Jon Bon Jovi gets sick and cancels an arena show, that’s a loss of several million dollars. His voice has to be strong enough to get through these concerts.

How many guys make it?

120 guys over the course of several months boiling down to Frankie camp — if we’re lucky we yield 2 or 3 guys who can really do the role.

I'm sure the theater guys are looking for different things than Frankie, and Bob Gaudio. Does that ever create conflict. 

Bob and Frankie to their credit are pretty hands off. They trust us and know we’re looking ut for them. And nobody ever copies a role. When somebody comes in we want them to find their own way through it— to bring their personality to the role.

How to put this. I love the Four Seasons. But listening to all those guys singing falsetto — Ouch. Do you have to go home and listen to guided meditation tapes? Waves crashing? Wind blowing? 

I’ve worked on a lot of other musicals. I always get bored with the music in a year or two, and I’ve never done a show longer than two years or so. I’ve been working on this one for twelve, and I’m still not bored with the music. But I’ll tell you this, a day of listening to 120 guys singing “Walk Like a Man,” is enough to make your fillings come out sometimes. When you hear somebody who can really do it, and has the control, that’s exciting. The problem is all the guys who don’t have that control and you start getting pitchy versions. Hits you right in the fillings.

Not blowing smoke. I see so many tours that just look tired. These people have been doing the same parts over and over for a long time, and have lost steam. Not Jersey Boys. Every time I see it it's as good as the last time. Sometimes better.

We check in on the companies as often as we can and make sure they are running the way they should. There’s something about the way Jersey Boys is constructed with music and underscoring that moves like a freight train. Also, for whatever reason, we always seem to have happy companies. They always seem to enjoy what they’re doing. Really, what person hasn’t dreamed of being paid to be a rock star. Audiences treat these guys like rock stars, and they thoroughly enjoy it. It’s also a satisfying script to act.

Very solid storytelling.

You could almost take the music away and have an interesting night of theater.

You could. But why would you...


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Hunger Game: "Cuddles" Isn't Your Typical Vampire Story

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 10:25 AM

Tracie Hansom and Hayley Hellums
  • Tracie Hansom and Hayley Hellums
I no longer possess a copy of The Amityville Horror, so don’t expect me to quote it directly. But I devoured the paperback when it was new, and I was too young to get into an R-rated picture. The line that scared me most explained the mundane triggers for demonic haunting. Supernatural horror, it said, might appear and disappear suddenly. It might be caused by something as simple and ordinary as “rearranging the furniture.” For some reason that line stuck with me, and it pops into my head whenever good plays with strong directors and gifted casts don’t seem to work. I wonder how many haints and horrors might be driven away by better design — Or at least by a simple shuffling of the chairs.

Cuddles is a different kind of vampire mystery. It unravels slowly, strangely, evoking a grinding sense of dread that grows minute to minute. At core, it’s a modern fairy tale with gothic elements ripped from 19th-Century novels where everybody seems to have a mad or embarrassing relative locked in the attic. It’s the story of Tabby, a well off, not very nice woman, and Eve the bloodsucking little sister she cares for. There are men in this story too, and although we never see them, they often feel like the play’s realest characters. Their influence erodes a system of rules and rituals the sisters created to protect each other from “the hunger.”
Cuddles is clever, but New Moon’s cast is struggling. Conversations (one-sided, per the script) turn into droning monologues. But when Tracie Hansom and Hayley Hellums connect it's horrible, hard to watch, impossible not to watch, and everything you want from a revisionist nightmare. They’re good together, but disadvantaged.

Most of the action is pushed as far upstage as possible and confined to a smallish platform floating in the comparatively immense darkness. The effect isn’t one of claustrophobia — which would be appropriate — but distance. The play’s less active moments happen in this big dark gulf between the audience, and a perfectly revolting little attic set. 

Maybe the audience could have been drawn in closer, and assembled on three sides. Maybe the attic set could have been brought to center stage. Distinctions might even blur and the attic and outside word could bleed together — literally and figuratively. Point being, there's a lot to like about this spook story. But somebody needs to rearrange the furniture.




Monday, October 24, 2016

Is "The City of Conversation" Provocative or American Myth-making as Usual?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 5:54 PM

She said/She said
  • She said/She said
The City of Conversation  is a sharply-written slice of political drama nested in a family crisis. It’s essentially the story of liberalism at the end of the 20th-Century as Reaganite barbarians stormed the New Deal’s crumbling gates. The tale — told from the perspective of a politically split Georgetown family — wants to map polarization, and the end of civility in American discourse. Set apart from issues, or the social conditions that caused so much fissuring in traditional party lines, it becomes an exercise in scapegoating, and misplaced congratulations. There are plenty of fresh ingredients assembled here, but the spice blend is flat wrong.
 
As usual Jack Yates’ sets dazzle and Amie Eoff’s period costumes pop under the lights. There’s at least one extraordinary performance to crow about too,  and a few good ones worth bragging on. But the cast is unbalanced in terms of ability, and when the play staggers, author bias becomes evident. So does an unmistakable streak of weird woman-blaming.
The unwritten “Georgetown rule,” once held that, no matter how bitterly Beltway rivals fought at work, evenings were for collegiality, cigars, and dick jokes told over highballs at boozy, loose-talking soirees like the ones hosted by Hester Ferris — crisply played at Theatre Memphis by Karen Mason Riss. Hester's the tireless influencer we meet at the top of the play, working on Teddy Kennedy’s disastrous primary run against sitting president Jimmy Carter— a bitter affair opening doors for Reagan & Co. Her plans are upended when son Colin arrives home a day early from college, with Anna, the ambitious conservative he plans to marry.

Playwright Anthony Giardina romanticizes Georgetown as a kind political Eden, turning Anna — beautifully and savagely imagined by Shannon Walton — into an Eve-like temptress offering the apple of Reaganism to any powerful man who’ll sits still long enough. Eventually — and inevitably — she squares off against Hester, tearing the family apart. That’s where The City of Conversation’s metaphors break down. Because women didn't queer the fraternity. And whether the script is blown up to mythic scale, or boiled down to microcosm, turning a contrived standoff between two stubborn, differently corrosive women into a model for polarization is, quite possibly, the biggest dick joke that ever was.

From casting to set details, this City has director Jerry Chipman's fingerprints all over it. That's normally not a bad thing, but in this case it means seeing familiar faces working well inside their comfort zones. That yields some positive results — It's great to see Michael Walker back on stage, fully inhabiting the skin of a changeable Kentucky Senator. But as Hester, Riss — a JC regular — speaks well, but seems adrift. Granted, she's better adrift than a lot of actors are fully focused. But here, in a play where victories don't necessarily produce winners, and true heroes are hard to come by,  her frank, no-bullshit style falls a little flat.

Given 30-years worth of Presidential comment to choose from City's sound design makes American politics seem boring, if not exactly uneventful. So much potential, little of it realized.

But damn, it's so good looking.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Broadway Actor Charles Holt Brings Memphis Upstanders to Life

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 4:35 PM

Charles Holt
  • Charles Holt
Charles Holt hears voices. He collects voices. Studies voices. The Broadway actor also possesses quite a voice of his own — one that’s rung out from the ensemble of Disney’s The Lion King. He performed in Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and in Europe he toured as the first African-American Rocky in a professional company of The Rocky Horror Show. He left a lot of that behind, to find his true voice — and to follow voices calling out to him. Holt’s in Memphis, Monday Oct. 24 speaking at a benefit dinner for Facing History and Ourselves. Maybe "speaking" is the wrong verb. He'll perform his solo show about 14 people who changed Memphis:The Upstanders. It’s a project Holt’s developed with Facing History. It’s a good example of how he answered a call he heard while he was working in New York.

“I was in the Lion King for almost 5-years,” Holt says. “And the time came when I just thought I should be doing something else.” A mentors advised him not to just walk away from a successful show, and he listened. But Holt also started to figure out ways to find a life in performance outside the Broadway houses he usually played.

“I felt like Lion King was limiting me,” he says.

Holt grew up in Lake Providence, a small, Nashville-area community founded in 1868. He was often amused and inspired by the town elders — the way they moved and spoke. And as a younger artist, he was prone to satirizing their mannerisms. “I would get in trouble,” he says, remembering the family’s response to his antics. But in those moments of acting up Holt discovered his love for creating characters, and when he needed to grow creatively, that’s exactly what he started doing. Then he created an avenue for sharing those characters.


“I started calling colleges and universities, creating my own tour,” he says. Monday nights are dark on Broadway, so he’d fly out Sunday nights, do his own thing on Monday, them be back on Broadway Tuesday night.

After he left Lion King Holt realized his character-creating wasn’t just a passing fancy. “It became my job,” he says.

Holt’s been working with Facing History and Ourselves for two years, developing some Memphis characters. His show introduces audiences to folks like Dr. Sheldon Korones who worked to create a neonatal center in the urban core; Lucy Tibbs who testified before Congress about massacres of African-Americans and riots; Civil Rights leaders like Rev. Billy Kyles, and Maxine and Vasco Smith.

“People who have gone beyond the call of duty to speak their truth on things they felt so connected with,” Holt says.

The characters speak to Holt. “Like Lucy Tibbs,” he says. “There was a time when she felt like cowering down, because she knew her life was at stake. But something in her rose up. I hear it all, and I all these people when I’m reading the manuscripts.”

Those elders he grew up with, and imitated are the examples he draws from. “They were upstanders too,” he says.

Form more details on the dinner, click here. 

Looking for a Halloween Costume? Theatre Memphis is Having a Yard Sale.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 10:22 AM

Christmas ghosts are still ghosts.
  • Christmas ghosts are still ghosts.
Sure, you could probably go buy a mass-produced sexy pirate costume made from the world's worst fabrics. Or you could make something at home — a paper bag mask, perhaps. Or you could take advantage of Theatre Memphis' storage limitations and pick up pieces built or selected by professional costumers. Cheap. Or, at least, relatively so. 

Theatre Memphis Is bringing back its annual Halloween season overstock yard sale. According to press materials, items up for grabs will primarily be, "clothing including vintage costumes, shoes, hats, and other unique specialty children’s items."

Just in time for all those fancy dress parties you're attending, right?

Saturday's sale happens rain or shine in the Theatre Memphis lobby.  Doors open at 8am with large kitchen trash bags  available from Noon – 1pm. $5 for all you can stuff into your treat bag. No tricks. 

Who knows, maybe you can find something swell that looks good on you all year long. 

Don't be a mass-produced sexy pirate. Be awesome. 

Oh, almost forgot: Early Birds get in at 7 a.m. for a $5 early bird fee. Just saying. 

All goes down at Theatre Memphis this Saturday. Perkins at Southern. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Cuddles" Won't Comfort: New Moon Tells A Better Vampire Story

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 5:31 PM

Huggy?
  • Huggy?
Cuddles is a different kind of vampire story. And it can be hard to talk about without giving away the things that set it apart in a genre done to (un)death. Even director Tony Isbell keeps a pretty tight lip,  referencing a quote by the original British producer. He says it's "Part horror film, part domestic tragedy, part romantic comedy. And it's very disturbing."

Given the play's reputation that description sounds both accurate and understated. Cuddles is an exercise in creeping dread. It tells the story of two sisters — one human, one vampire. They have a strict system of rules created to keep both of them alive and together — tenuously in every sense. 

New Moon Theatre has made a couple of promotional videos that don't give too much away, but seem to capture the unholy spirit of the piece. If you like spooky stuff, be sure to check them out. I've been wanting to see this one since I read an early review in The Guardian a few years back, and can't wait till opening night. Only a week away. 

Cuddles Preview from New Moon Theatre on Vimeo.

Cuddles Preview Two from New Moon Theatre on Vimeo.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Circuit Playhouse Pays Tribute to the Andrews Sisters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 4:39 PM

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Forget Lee Greenwood. Hell, forget Kate Smith. The most patriotic music ever performed may have referenced old glory and American soldiers, but it didn't slob all over them. Back when bands hammered it out 8-to-the-bar and Uncle Sam was recruiting young men to defeat the Axis powers nobody did it better than USO darlings Patty, Laverne, and Maxine — The Andrews Sisters. Although they performed for decades  — even got themselves into a harmony sing - off with Diana Ross and the Supremes — it's difficult to think of them out of their spiffy military duds. Even Over Here, the popular 1974 musical written for the sisters' return to Broadway was a farce calling to mind the trio's WWII-era movies and shows. 


If any songs remains familiar to younger audiences it's probably "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which is still a banging little ditty for being 75-years old. But for sweet Americana, nothing holds up like "Apple Blossom Time."


In case you haven notices it's election season, and Circuit Playhouse is providing Memphians an opportunity to get their red white and blue on and return to the days when propaganda was fun. Sisters of Swing — an Andrews Sisters tribute — opens at Circuit Playhouse this weekend. Here's a sneak peek. 


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