Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Opera Doesn't Suck": Opera Memphis' General Director Ned Canty

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 2:07 PM

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Would you rather sit through an opera or be beaten with bamboo rods? Just one of the questions Opera Memphis' G.D. Ned Canty asks in his Ted talk.  Also, "How is opera like a hamburger?" 


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dave Landis Talks About "King Charles III" at Playhouse on the Square

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Jim France as Charles III
  • Jim France as Charles III
Mike Bartlett's deliberately and delightfully Shakespearean King Charles III is a history play about things that haven't happened yet. It begins with a sad eventuality — the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II who's still very much alive, but 90-years-old. What follows is the story of a man — Prince Charles — who gets the thing he's been been preparing for his entire life, only to discover it's all happened too late. Written in verse, Charles is a show with everything — suspense, intrigue, the ghost of Princess Di, etc.

As evidenced by supermarket tabloids, Americans remain fascinated by Great Britain's royal family, even if New World audiences don't seem to care for Shakespeare's multi-volume game of thrones. Still, given the Parliamentary crisis at the heart of Bartlett's play, there was something I wanted to ask Dave Landis, who's directing the show for Playhouse on the Square:  Just how British is it?

Dave Landis: It obviously deals with the royals we know — Charles, William, Harry, Kate Middleton, Camilla. Even the next generation are mentioned in passing. There is some British politics involved but it's all pretty straight-forward. Parliament passes a bill into law and the King is supposed to sign it because that's tradition. But, out of the blue, the King decides 'I don't want to sign it.'  That's when all hell breaks loose. Beyond that as a basic catalyst, there's stuff about the role of the monarchy. It's purpose. Has it out-lived it's usefulness?

In a more personal way, it's about the family and their individual wants and desires and objectives and how they set about pursuing them.


An interview with King Charles III star Jim France.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Stones In His Pockets" Questions the Luck of the Irish

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 3:14 PM

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There's a great little show opening at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center this weekend featuring a pair of top notch actors — John Maness and Ryan Kathman.

My favorite line from Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets: "Just stand there and look dispossessed." Such are the instructions film extra Jake Quinn passes on to his mate Charlie Conlon. And as the movie cameras roll by, both men lean on imaginary sod-cutters, mouths agape, eyes hollow and hungry. The irony, of course, is that Jake and Charlie, like all the residents of Ireland's County Kerry, are already quite dispossessed. Poverty is the norm and hopeless depression has spread across the countryside like a thick Irish fog. Only whiskey, pints, drugs, and a wistful nostalgia for the good old days keep the general population from drowning itself in the river. These days, County Kerry's only useful as the backdrop for sprawling Hollywood dramas with fake happy endings. And since the glamorous cast and cocaine-sniffing crew of The Quiet Valley showed up with costumes, lights, and ready cash in tow, that's exactly what it has become.

There's a gimmick to this dark but giddy comedy: Two actors play all the residents of County Kerry. So it's a bit like Greater Tuna, but intelligent and set in Ireland.

Stones is only running for four performances, and I probably won't get to see this one. Would love to get some reader reviews in the comments though. 

Details here. 

Beauties, Beasts etc — Theatre Memphis Darkens a Disney Classic

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 11:32 AM

Barry Fuller and Ashley McCormack
  • Barry Fuller and Ashley McCormack
“Happily, there is some remnant of childhood in this jaded public. It is this childhood we must reach. It is the incredulous reserve of the adults that we must overcome.
Jean Cocteau on his film version of Beauty and the Beast.

There’s a difference between staging a classic fairytale and staging the Disney version of a classic fairytale. When one leaves the public domain to dance with branded content, there are certain obligations (not to mention expectations) to forego interpretation and adhere, as much as possible, to visual tropes and character traits established by Disney in a growing catalog of adapted animated features. In other words, you’re supposed to faithfully recreate beloved cartoons on stage. Large talent’s a must, obviously, and some ingenuity is always required. But as long as you can figure out a way to raise enough money to rent a Shrek head, or build a giant whale mouth, all the creative stuff’s been taken care of for you by Uncle Walt’s magnificent i-merch-a-neers. So it’s rare to see a company really stamp a Disney musical and make it their own. That’s what makes Theatre Memphis’ production of Beauty & the Beast a little extra special. It’s very Disney, with bits borrowed from both the animated feature, and the Broadway extravaganza. But director Amy Hanford has tweaked the tone ever so slightly in the direction of horror and hallucination and, in doing so, she’s gifted Memphis with a densely entertaining production that instantly calls to mind the source material, while glistening with its own dark appeal. Even if you’re not a fan of the show or musicals generally, it’s hard not to be seduced by such overwhelming spectacle, and a formidable cast whose abilities won’t be eclipsed by applause-inducing costumes or lush scenery.

Hanford has always displayed a comfortable familiarity with the mechanics of a blockbuster Broadway musical. She's also had trouble infusing her finely-imagined automatons with the spark of life. To that end, Disney’s beastly tale of surface to soul relationships, represents an enormous leap forward. It’s not just lively, it’s alive and full of weirdness and wonder.

Beauty & the Beast tells the story of… nah. We’ve been telling ourselves versions of this story since we started telling ourselves stories, and we’ve been telling this particular variation for at least 400-years. Let’s skip plot points and get on with the important stuff.

Whether she’s singing about books or taming the beast, Ashley McCormack owns the stage as Belle. And although he’s never as menacing as he could be, Charles K. Hodges’ big baritone is well-suited for the monster’s role. As Gaston, a self-aware critique on traditional Disney heroes, Philip Andrew Himebook is large in every sense of the word. His enormous voice being rivaled only by similarly enormous acting choices that make him the most animated thing on stage.

Hanford also gets fine performances from ensemble players, particularly the Beast’s servants who are all being steadily transformed into household objects — a candlestick, a teapot, a wardrobe, spoons, knives etc. “Be Our Guest,” the servants’ big number about generous hospitality, bubbles like fine French champagne overflowing its glass. If there’s one good reason to produce Beauty & the Beast live, it’s the challenge of staging, “Be Our Guest,” and from the cartwheeling rug, to glittering mylar confetti, and all the rest of Travis Bradley’s fine choreography, Theatre Memphis doesn’t disappoint.

As is often the case on Perkins Rd. Ext., the real stars of this show are the designers. Lights, sets, and costumes have all been crafted to overwhelm audiences while elevating the actors and never overshadowing them or a text/score combo that’s more popular than worthy of such fuss.
A metaphor for things that happen in our drawers?
  • A metaphor for things that happen in our drawers?
For better and for worse Theatre Memphis has been something of a one-size-fits-all shop lately, with a “more is better” ethos that’s smoothed defects in shows like Young Frankenstein and The Addams Family, making troubled brand cash-ins better than they deserve to be, while inflicting considerable damage on more intimate shows like Gin Game and Sondheim’s anti-blockbuster Into the Woods, which wants to be more cubist Modern than Disney-framed contemporary. In a diary he kept while filming his own iconic version of Beauty and the Beast, French filmmaker Jean Cocteau wrote of a constant regret he felt after cutting “bits of intense poetry” from the screenplay. But regret was tempered by his understanding that, “one mustn't, at any cost, be seduced by an attractive idea if it hasn't got its right place.” It’s good advice in any case, but especially good for an institution that, for all of its good intentions, can fall into the consumer’s trap of mistaking extravagance for excellence. But they’ve struck gold with Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. It’s an indulgent piece of candy to begin with, and Theatre Memphis stuffed its production with golden tickets, and wrapped it in sparkling layers of old fashioned razzle dazzle.

It’s all too sweet for my buds, but will almost certainly keep box office phones ringing. So if any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I’d reserve tickets now. I suspect word of mouth will soon make them a scarce commodity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Want to Think Like Shakespeare?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 10:33 AM

Shakespeare and Newstok
  • Shakespeare and Newstok
Rhodes College English Professor Scott Newstok has presented his first lesson to the incoming class of 2020, and is a Deusey: "How to think like Shakespeare." It's a witty critique of modern education practices that begins with a rather incendiary notion stated in clear, unmistakable terms.

But to me, the most momentous event in your intellectual formation was the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which ushered in our disastrous fixation on testing. Your generation is the first to have gone through primary and secondary school knowing no alternative to a national regimen of assessment. And your professors are only now beginning to realize how this unrelenting assessment has stunted your imaginations....You’ve been cheated of your birthright: a complete education. 

In his address Newstok takes on several misconceptions about education, brushing away the waxy film of political ideology to reveal truths about the relationship between traditional models and meaningful progress. He does so using Shakespeare — the only named author in contemporary "common core" curriculum — and the kind of educational models he'd have encountered as a student.

Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. Could there be a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education?

Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these "4Cs," I would add "curiosity.") Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.

I've only quoted the set up. The good stuff's all in the body of the address, which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and which I heartily encourage you to read.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Small and Essential," New Quark Theatre Company Offers Alternatives

Posted By on Thu, Aug 25, 2016 at 1:17 PM

Isbell, Koeppel, Remsen
  • Isbell, Koeppel, Remsen
Did you miss Krapp's Last Tape at Theatre South last season? If the answer is yes — and given trends and logistics it probably is — then you missed a genuine event. All the right pieces were in play: Veteran actor Tony Isbell starring in a dream role; Beckett's bleak bite-sized memory play; A production focusing on bare essentials, not because anybody had to (even if they did), but because that was a priority. For true blue fans of great scripts and masterful acting this was a "Get it while it's hot moment," because, even  in a city with a growing, thriving theater scene, this collision of actor and ethos was as rare as the production was fine and fuss-free. 

Turns out there's more where that came from. Isbell and his partner in Krapp Adam Remsen, and Remsen's partner in life Louisa Koeppel have partnered to create Quark Theatre, named for the elementary building block of matter. Nerdy. Cool. 

It makes for a nice logo too. Also essential. Build that brand, kids! (Also on Facebook, of course, friend them).
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Quark was inspired by Krapp's modest success, and aims to produce similarly modest work with a focus on performance and quality material that hasn't, and might not otherwise be produced in Memphis.

Season One launches in Spring 2017 with a production of David Harrower's acclaimed Blackbird, a British drama about a young woman meeting the middle aged man who sexually abused her when she was 12.  It's an Olivier winner, with two notable New York runs. 

Blackbird is followed by Alan Barton's Years to the Day in September, and Jennifer Haley's The Nether in March 2018. The former chronicles a coffee house meeting between two old friends where savage nostalgia ensues meriting comparisons to David Mamet and Brett Easton Ellis. The latter's virtual future noir of shifting avatars and changeable realities.

That sounds like a tight schedule; ambitious but manageably so for a company stressing essentials.

Memphis loves big musicals, and big musicals love Memphis. Nothing wrong with that. Even so, and accounting for existing indies, we remain underserved on other fronts. Every jot helps. 

Welcome, Quark. 


 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Disgraced Sets A Course for Conflict

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 5:16 PM

To be, or not to be... framed?
  • To be, or not to be... framed?
So a muslim, a white liberal, a black, and a jew walk into a theater... And no, that's not the beginning of a joke that got someone shamed off Twitter. There's no regrettable punchline here unless, of course, you mean the punch in the gut delivered by Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize winning one-act play Disgraced, which is available for local consumption at Circuit Playhouse through September4.

And who doesn't love a good punch in the gut now and then?

Disgraced is a play you need to see if you're a fan of fine acting and/or argumentative, politically-charged drama.  Irene Crist, who directed Circuit's vividly-realized production, has done her part to give the acclaimed show the life and wit it deserves. Still, I've got mixed feelings, no matter how much tough truth it spills in 90 overly-familiar, coincidence-packed minutes.

The show is often described as being about cross-cultural identity and the obstacles facing Muslim-Americans post 9-11. But since the proscenium's frame turns the mundane into myth, so it also functions — less fortunately — as a domesticated metaphor for globalism, radicalization, and terrorism, with the latter part expressed as a shocking moment of rage-fueled violence. 

The story: Amir (Gregory Szatkkowski), is a hotshot Pakistani-American lawyer with a shot at becoming a partner at the prestigious Jewish law firm where he works harder than anybody. He's derailed when his artist wife Emily (Natalie Jones) talks him into helping an Imam who's been accused of raising money for extremists. It's not paranoia when people really are conspiring against you and after his name's associated with a suspected Islamic radical, the knives come out for Amir. He becomes increasingly (and understandably) agitated by snubs, and other signs that he's falling from favor professionally.

Emily's an artist gunning for a show at the Whitney. She's also -in an unguarded moment- bedded Isaac, the Jewish man (Gabe Buetel-Gunn) who can make that show happen and who just happens to be married to the African American attorney (Jessica "Jai" Johnson) who, unbeknownst to Amir, has been given the partnership he was expecting. The hard-drinking dinner party that brings all these characters together to nibble on fennel and anchovy salad, plays out like a deconstruction of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as imagined by God of Carnage playwright Yasmina Reza using snippets of a real life newspaper comment section argument for dialogue. Noteworthy too, in a trivia-conscious play about American identities, everybody eats pork.

There are things you can be sure of. Like when somebody produces a gun on stage you can bet it will fire  before the show's over. While there are no firearms in this play, there are linguistic equivalents, and they strongly telegraph certain outcomes. Similarly, it's common enough for certain kinds of plays to climax with seemingly openminded characters revealing their prejudices by shouting racially-charged epithets in a moment of rage. Those familiar with the trope may find themselves anticipating this ugly inevitability. Akhtar might be appropriating these things ironically and aiming for ritual, but the effect is a little closer to deja vous.

Amir describes himself as an apostate and the Quran as hate mail to humanity stating, "There’s a result to believing that a book written about life in a specific society fifteen hundred years ago is the word of God: You start wanting to recreate that society... That’s why you have people like the Taliban. They’re trying to re-create the world in the image of the one that’s in the Quran." Events that follow result in a similar simulacrum, and Amir gives in to his scriptural destiny.

There's a frustrating air of fatalism to Disgraced, as atavistic pride bends toward violent predisposition.  But never mind the complaints. Terrific casting and scenic design evocative of Manhattan privilege help make up for predictability, and naked provocation. 

Disgraced picked up its Pulitzer in 2012 — a presidential election year, but not like this one. The newly-minted Tea Party, emboldened by it's reactionary, anti-Obama midterm success, was just starting to stir a white nationalistic pot of extreme conservatism that bubbled over into Donald J. Trump's 2016 campaign for the White House. Today Disgraced's cast of characters represent a microcosm of that candidate's clearly defined enemies. There are brown people, black people, immigrants, "East Coast Intellectuals," and liberals "with blood coming out of their whatever," all gathered together in one place to rehearse — as it is written — their parts for the end of the world. And so a play that aims for hard questions and complexity begins to feel a bit like propaganda. Nevertheless, its clearer and cloudier moments will both leave audiences with questions of their own, and that may very well be the point. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Details: The Devil's Music is an intimate night with the ghost of Bessie Smith

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 1:06 PM

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The Devil's Music is a simple pleasure. It's not one of the Hattiloo's most ambitious shows, but it's certainly one of the company's most cohesive. Audiences enter the playing space through a comfortable parlor lounge that's one part black box theater and two parts high-end bordello. It's a sweet, time-warping transition that makes entering the theater more like walking into a comfortable sitting room, where everything's soft and inviting — The perfect place to sit down and have a little talk with Blues Empress Bessie Smith. 

At this point it's time to do some disclaiming. Walking in on that set was little like walking into my own house, and maybe there's a reason for that. You see, I share a modern-decorated, 19th-Century cottage with the designer, and the red velvet curtains she's used here look awfully familiar. The wallpaper's right out of my TV room too. My wife, Charlotte Davis, has been a theater professional and project manager since before I started slinging words at the Flyer. Miraculously, our professional paths never conflicted until she joined the Hattiloo as production manager earlier this summer. What you need to know about our relationship is this: I won't have opinions about Hattiloo shows anymore. I'll know for certain everything that's wrong with any given set, because she's a bigger critic than me, and throughout production week I'll drift off to sleep at night hearing her furiously scratching items off her to-do list, and asking aloud, "Why isn't there a spittoon in this Memphis buffet flat?"  "Wouldn't a plant take up some of that empty wall space?" "Why aren't there more rugs?" "Couldn't everything be even softer, more nest like?" 

Like our cozy, brothel-esque house, maybe? Sure, The Devil's Music could be all that - and probably should be. I get it. But the magic happens in the transition. It just feels good hanging out in this space, and it feels even better when the spirit of Bessie Smith drops in for a visit. I'm not just saying that because, at some point, I have to close my eyes and sleep, but because it's true. Long story short, I doubt that this change in circumstances will compromise my reviewing, and if I ever begin to suspect that's happening, I'll recuse myself tout suite. 

The Devil's Music is part house concert, and part memory play, as Smith's piano payer Pickles summons up fond (and not so fond) recollections from the night his Empress died. It's not a solo show, though it mostly is. Pickles is there, obviously. And a sax player. And the audience is very much a character in this immersive show. But Bessie, as played by, Samantha Miller, doesn't share the stage with anybody. She's a force, and expects to be recognized.  

Director Leslie "Sticky" Reddick and Miller had their work cut out for them. The biographical monologue (with and without music) (See Lady Day at Emerson's...) has been done to death, and these kinds of shows can be hard to freshen up. This creative team has hit a mini-jackpot by keeping things simple and just letting Bessie be Bessie. This show succeeds because it puts the singer under a microscope and, in spite of the extreme close up, Miller never lets herself get caught acting. Bessie's just right there with you in the room, chatting it up, fussing, cussing, getting raw, working the house, losing her shit, going somewhere far, far away, and crashing back to earth with a shot of store bought gin. She's savory, like all those Columbia sides she recorded, but up close and so, so real.


Smith got her start singing in the Chattanooga streets. When food was scarce, she'd dance and sing at the corner of 13th and Elm Street in front of Chattanooga's White Elephant Saloon, with her older brother Andrew playing guitar. Better times were on the way, though. And worse.

At the height of her recording career the Empress was America's highest-earning black artist, headlining her own revue and touring the country in style in a customized boxcar. But she liked her liquor, her boys, her girls, and between a tumultuous marriage and an over the moon career, she manufactured enough drama to supply dozens of plays. This one's loaded with the stuff and packed full of devilish songs. Miller sings the hell out of them. 

 With numbers like, "Give Me a Pig Foot (And a Bottle of Beer)," "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do," and "Sugar in My Bowl," Smith's catalog is the perfect  soundtrack for sensualists, which brings me back to where we came in — literally, the parlor between the lobby and the show, where my conflict of interest resides. 

The Hattiloo's transformation from scrappy little storefront sensation to Midtown institution happened at light speed. Growing pains remain evident, exacerbated by the fact that a transformation of this significance also transforms requirements, modus operandi, and expectations. Consistency, as one might expect from a seat-of-the-pants startup, has always been an issue, and it's been an even bigger issue since the move. So it's good to see The Devil's Music — a show that might have been a hacked off revue — turned into a special little event. 

All I can do at this point is encourage you to take advantage of this brief, bluesy confection while it's available on the buffet. It goes down fast and easy. Then come back and tell me if you think I'm being fair.

Because, I'm not unbiased, and won't ever insult readers by pretending to be. 

Quick word about the music. It's not the most musically sophisticated combo I've ever heard, and a bass would really be appreciated here. But the not-too-adorned approach also adds to the intimacy and the sense that we're just hanging out with Bessie. There's nothing harder than being on stage with nothing to say or do and, in that regard, Bessie's backup is there for her whether she's singing or not. They are present — watching, listening, and responding. It's the mirror that sells the illusion we're all in this thing together. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Ostrander Winners, 2016

Posted By on Sun, Aug 21, 2016 at 10:26 PM

David Foster and Ashley Bugg Brown
  • David Foster and Ashley Bugg Brown
Please join me in an ovation for this season's winners. Or don't it's entirely up to you. 

COLLEGE & UNIVERSITY DIVISION

Set Design
Kathy Haaga – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Lighting
Kristen Reding – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Costumes
Ashley Rogers – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Music Direction
Jacob Allen – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis

MORE VIDEOS TO COME

Sound Design

Eric Sefton – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Choreography
Jill Guyton Nee – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Brianna Roche – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actor in a Drama
Jake Bell – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Leading Actress in a Drama
Amelia Sutherland – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Leading Actor in a Drama
Caleb Leach – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actress in a Musical
Allison Huber – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actor in a Musical
David Couter – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Leading Actress in a Musical
Amelia Sutherland – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis


Leading Actor in a Musical
Ryan Gilliam – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College


Small Ensemble
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Large Ensemble
A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis


Featured Cameo

Jon Castro – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Direction of a Drama
Meredith Melville – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Direction of a Musical
Cecelia Wingate – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Best Dramatic Production
A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Best Musical Production
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

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COMMUNITY & PROFESSIONAL DIVISION


Set Design
Jack Yates - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Props
Kellie Bowles – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse


Lighting
Jeremy Allen Fisher – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis


Costumes
Amie Eoff - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Hair/Wig/Make-Up
Buddy Hart & Erin Quick- Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis


Music Direction
Jeffrey B. Brewer - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Sound Design
Zach Badreddine – Carrie the Musical, The Circuit Playhouse

Choreography
Patdro Harris – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Michelle Miklosey – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre

Supporting Actor in a Drama
David Foster – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse

Leading Actress in a Drama
Natalie Jones – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre

Leading Actor in a Drama
Jordan Nichols – Buyer & Cellar, The Circuit Playhouse

Supporting Actress in a Musical 
Kim Sanders – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Justin Asher - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Leading Actress in a Musical
Claire D. Kolheim – Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square

Leading Actor in a Musical
Nathan McHenry - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square

Small Ensemble
The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis

Large Ensemble
Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse

Featured Role/Cameo
L. Simeon Johnson – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre

Best Original Script
Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks

Best Production of an Original Script
Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks

Direction of a Drama
Justin Asher – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre

Direction of a Musical
Cecelia Wingate - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Best Production of a Drama
A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre

Best Musical Production
The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Special Award

Dawn Bennett – Specialty Pieces Design and Fabrication – The Producers, Theatre Memphis

The Gypsy Award
Kenesha Reed

The Behind the Scenes Award
Bea Miller

The Larry Riley Rising Star Award
Gabe Beutel-Gunn

The Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award
Jim and Jo Lynne Palmer


Friday, August 19, 2016

Jim & Jo Lynne Palmer Honored for Lifetime Achievement in Memphis Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Jim, Jo Lynne: The Gin Game
  • Jim, Jo Lynne: The Gin Game
I can’t remember when I’ve received a press release that made me happy like this year’s Ostrander nominations. There it was in black and white beside the words “Lifetime Achievement Award: "Jim and Jo Lynne Palmer." This acting couple is the very heart and soul of Memphis theater, and so very deserving.

I became aware of Jo Lynne Palmer’s brilliance in the fall of 1985 during the run of Nicholas Nickelby at Rhodes College, where I was a freshman poli-sci major taking voice and diction lessons because that kind of training would certainly come in handy in my future career as an attorney. (Ahem). I was working backstage at the McCoy Theatre one day and overheard the sweetest, liltingest, most angelic sou
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thern voice you’ve ever heard asking questions that made me blush, a little. It was Mrs. Palmer, a community actor I recognized from the show, and, with great earnestness, she was asking two of the student performers why they were backstage being all studious instead of doing all the delicious things people do when they’re young and beautiful. I hope it’s not embarrassing to Jo Lynne — one of the humblest, and most gracious and giving people I’ve ever known— to note that her advice was, perhaps, a bit more direct than I’ve reported here. Because that’s when I fell in love with backstage life, and went head over heels for this free spirited, incalculably talented creature of earth, fire, air, and water. We’d work together later in shows like She Stoops to Conquer and A Lie of the Mind, but one of the great privileges of being a theater writer in Memphis, has been watching this extraordinary artist deliver one convincing performance after another in shows like Beauty Queen of Leenanne and, more recently, Distance, a play Memphis/Chicago playwright Jerre Dye wrote with her perfect voice in mind.

I’m not sure when I first met Jo Lynne’s husband Jim, but I tumbled for him, and his unfussy approach to acting, nearly as fast. I’m fairly sure I saw Jim’s cartoons in early issues of the Memphis Flyer before I ever saw him perform though. He’s done so much fine work over the years, it’s hard to call favorites, but his turns in the complicated skins of poet Ezra Pound, and the suicidal Weston patriarch from August Osage Co., are especially dear to me.

Last season Jim and Jo Lynn were cast opposite one another in The Gin Game, a remarkable production cut short because Jim, who performed the role in a wheelchair, had broken his hip and was in too much pain to continue. That Jim tried to make things work in the first place is testament to the kind of love of craft and commitment these two actors have shown through thick and thin for decades. Here’s what they had to say in advance of Sunday’s Ostrander Awards.

Intermission Impossible: What’s the origin story of the two Palmers?

Jim Palmer: We met in 1968 when I came to Memphis to work for Front Street Theatre. It was still called Front Street Theatre but they had lost their location and were housed at the Memphis State in Big Red. I did several shows there. We met during the very first show I did there which was Showboat. Keith Kennedy directed, and he’d been my teacher in Texas for a couple of years before coming on to Memphis. He and I reconnected after I got out of the Army in ‘68.

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Jo Lynne: I was going to Memphis State in the theater department and the Showboat cast had lost a singer/dancer/actor so everybody had to move up a notch. Well, Keith got in touch with me and said, we may have lost a great singer/dancer/actor but we got a great little actress instead. I didn’t even know who Jimmy was, the cast was like 30 or 35 people. I remember Ken Zimmerman was in it. I was living in the dorm at the time and back in the old days girls had to be back in the dorm by 11. So I had to be back after rehearsal every night. Well, Jimmy was always looking for a girl to go out and have a beer with him. Well, I was leaving the theater by that side exit near the law building, and Jimmy was way down the hall. And he said, “Hey do you want to go have a beer?” And I said I was sorry, but I had to go back to the dorm. And then when I turned around the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life with that man.” That’s come out true.

Where did you two go for that first beer?

Jim: The beer Joint was called Berretta’s, at the corner of Park & Highland but we didn’t get to go.

Jo Lynne: Not the first time.

Jim: We got married in 1970. In mid ‘71 we took off for New York. Well, we did six months on the barn dinner theater circuit, connected with some people from Memphis, and then moved on to New York and tried to break into the theater, like you do. We were there almost five years to the day. Then we returned to Memphis and started doing community theater because we didn’t think we were getting anywhere in New York. I don’t think we had a clear picture of just how long it takes. We were doing shows in toilets hoping to get an agent to come see us. But no agent would dare go into that part of town. Not at the time, anyway. Thought we’d go back to Memphis because, compared to where we were working, the theaters were much nicer. Although, I should say this: When Front Street closed there was the Memphis Little Theatre, which became Theatre Memphis, and there was Memphis State and there was Children’s Theatre, which was seasonal. And that’s all there was. Circuit had started up, though it didn’t really have a permanent space when Front Street closed.

Jo Lynne: Like Jimmy said we did a lot of off, off, off, off, off Broadway. And we did some extra work on [the soap opera] Love of Life. When we came back Jackie had started Playhouse on the Square. We started doing shows there and Theatre Memphis. Jim’s been drawing cartoons trying to make it as a cartoonist, and we’ve been doing that since.

What are some of your favorite shows you’ve done together?

Jo Lynne: Trip to Bountiful

Jim: That one started out as an independent production. In 1991 our friend Sam Weakley said, “I’ve got a play for you Jo Lynne.”We rented the NextStage at Theatre Memphis and put it on for two weekends. First weekend we didn’t draw too many people. Then the next weekend we had to have people stand if they wanted to see the show. One of the nicest things I’ve ever seen Jo Lynne do. Then they asked us to repeat it again at Germantown Community Theatre on their regular season with the cast in tact. One of several things I’d put in a time capsule.
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How many shows have you done together?

Jim: I tried to count it up. I think it came out to be maybe 14.

Do you enjoy working together?

Jim: Jo Lynne probably will not deny this. We love it when we have worked together. Working together not so much. Trying to nail down lines, bouncing each other all the time in shows like Gin Game can be difficult.

Are you able to leave the characters in the theater, or do they ever follow you home?

Jo Lynne: We leave them there.

Jim: We try to leave them there.

But you do help each other prepare?

Jo Lynne: Oh shit yeah, all the time. When we’re in a play together. When one’s in one and one’s in the other, we help each other.

Memphis is a place where there are some professional opportunities, but most folks who do theater do it for the love. Can you talk to me about being a part of this community?

Jim: It’s a terrific feeling. Jo Lynne never cared what role she was playing as long as she was in a show. I wanted to pick things that were really good. Or something I thought I could do well.

Jo Lynne: We just love doing it whether we get paid for it or not. You do it because you need to do it. Because it’s the only thing you feel like you’re halfway good at. And the only thing you really feel good doing when you do it. That’s why you do it. 
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Knowing You: Mamma Mia Does What it's Supposed to Do

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:24 PM

Three amigos. - POTS
  • POTS
  • Three amigos.
Guess I'm the kinda guy who only sees the litter and nobody will miss me when I'm gone. But, (Mamma mia!) Mamma Mia's not my cup of glitter. Those K-Tel hits are fine but they don't turn me on. 

Abba's jukebox musical is just one of those shows. Most likely you're either a fanatical devotee or you just don't get It. While I've always been solidly in the second group, I've got to admit that the trio of regional divas anchoring Playhouse on the Square's fun, faintly kitschy production give this sugary money-printing machine real local appeal. How hard could it be to sell tickets to see Kim Sanders, Claire Kohlheim, and Annie Freres do karaoke, and really, with a storyline so barely there it makes porno look way sophisticated, that's pretty much what Mama Mia is.  

More to the point, Mamma Mia is a cloying situation comedy set on a Greek island where Sophie, the daughter of an unmarried American ex-pat, has planned a big, messy surprise for her wedding party.

Sophie was born in the swinging, free-loving 1970’s, and her mother Donna, a rock-and-roller turned put-upon tavern-owner, has never been sure who the father was. After reading her mom’s diary, however, the determined young woman hones in on the three most likely candidates: a nerdy architect, an adventurous writer, and a gay banker who used to play in a punk band. Sophie's goal is to solve the mystery quickly and have her real dad give away the bride. So she does what any of us would do. She forges letters from her mother, inviting the three old friends on a holiday they won't soon forget.
Director Jordan Nichols and co-choreographer Travis Bradley have given their show a more vibrant movement profile than I remember from the stale Broadway tours, but Mamma Mia is all about those songs fans know so well, and, like previous productions, this regional premiere has a real "stand and deliver" quality. That's not a knock, because the goods are there and abundant.  

Sanders and Kohlheim sparkle as Donna’s oldest (sparkliest) friends and former bandmates —Tania the jet-setting serial bride and Rosie, an earthy cookbook author. Similarly, Greg Krosnes, Jonathan Christian, and Greg Earnest give plenty of support as Sophie's three (potential) dads. But this show belongs to Freres who plays Donna with the quippy sass of a latter day Hepburn and whose full, melted butter voice goes from gutsy to angelic in the span of a keyboard fill. She's a musical theater vet who's done some bar band singing too, and it shows. 

I like Abba as much as the next nostalgic Gen X-er. Mamma Mia, not so much. But if it's your confectionary cup of commercial swill (and I'm not judging, really), you will not be disappointed. 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Who Got Robbed? Ostrander Awards Picks & Pans, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 10:22 AM

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Dearest Intermission Impossible readers, Yes, I’ve heard your questions about the Ostrander Awards, and I do hope to answer some of them. Although, regretfully for most of you, there’s no ready way to ascertain exactly what it was the judges were smoking when decisions were made, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to recommend a not-too-shady dealer. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to pick some winners, shade some losers, and let you know in very clear terms who the hell got robbed.

Set Design
For a Streetcar Named Desire Justin Asher & Andy Saunders turned Germantown Community Theatre into a revoltingly stained ruin of an an apartment. Good job. At Playhouse on the Square Bryce Cutler placed Memphis: The Musical inside an enormous corrugated aluminum shed. Not so good. Jack Yates’ designs for Into the Woods were so sumptuously sumptuous they out-sumptuoused the rest of the show. In the Heights was probably the best thing that happened at the Hattiloo Theatre last season but, as deftly rendered as Melanie Mul’s New York street scene may have been, it’s hard to imagine anything topping Jack Yates work on The Producers at Theatre Memphis. As I wrote at the time, “The Producers is a designer's show, with hundreds of costume changes and a unique set of technical challenges. Theatre Memphis' creative team has risen to the occasion and deserves top bows. From its illuminated swastikas to its spinning illuminated swastikas, The Producers' "Springtime for Hitler" sequence is an all-you-can-eat Bavarian buffet of bold choices and bad taste.” Yeah, it really was all that.

Who got robbed? Jack Yates is already double represented, but he may have done better, subtler work on The Lion in Winter, and his all-door set for Doubt looked great. Few things were more clever and functional that the tarted up Elizabethan stage built for The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), and I sure loved the menace Daniel Kopera infused in his set for Wait Until Dark. But to be honest, the best design of the year was executed by a company that doesn’t participate in the Ostranders. The Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s Henry V made me see red. In the best way.
Wait Until Dark
  • Wait Until Dark

Lighting
I’m going with nobody got robbed and Jeremy Allen Fisher should win for Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis because the lighting was possibly the most beautiful thing in a production that suffered, like your pesky theater critic, from an abundance of physical beauty.


Costumes
I don’t know why anybody would want to rob Andre Bruce Ward, but he wasn’t even nominated for Theatre Memphis’ not very good, but quite good looking Lion in Winter. So this entire category is invalid.
Lion in Winter
  • Lion in Winter
Music Direction
This one is a tough call for me because I missed Billy Elliot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and both are nominated. I think this is probably the year of The Producers so I’m picking Jeffrey Brewer to click.

I’m not going to accuse the Ostrander Judges of mugging the musical team behind Playhouse on the Square’s American Idiot because that poor show was a crime scene before it ever opened. Idiot had a helluva good band and they played that shit tight. But director/cold blooded rock-and-roll thief Gary John La Rosa told them to turn the volume down so people could hear Green Day’s words better. [Insert Joker laugh here]
American Idiot
  • American Idiot
Choreography
Again with the Billy Elliot and the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels throwing me off my game. Patdro Harris’ choreography for In the Heights, gets points for subtlety, and Jared Thomas Johnson & Christi Hall pulled out all the ridiculous stops for The Producers. I was a bit underwhelmed by a creative partnership comprised of artists that usually knock me out, but I’m calling this one for the home team anyway: Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley for Memphis, at Playhouse on the Square. They crushed it, but they've crushed it harder. 

Choreography is usually one of Memphis’ strongest hands, but nothing really knocked me out this year. Everything nominated here was top notch but compared to the hoofing on display in years past, Memphis audiences took the ganking. 

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Jessica “Jai” Johnson was simultaneously out of control and in charge as the wronged wife in POTS@TheWorks’ Byhalia, MS, POTS and...

Hang on, brief aside: So I took a couple of short sabbaticals from my regular theater viewing to work on other projects this year. Like, I saw a whole lot of Memphis comedy, and sincerely wish there was some way for the Ostranders to at least acknowledge alternative performance-based entertainments. That aside, as you’ve probably already noticed, I missed some things. Of course, I always miss SOME things but this year the judges really seemed to like the things I missed. So, writing this column, I feel like I’m the lead character in some actor’s nightmare production of Wait Until Dark (A decent, not great show that nevertheless got robbed in at least two categories). Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled griping.

I saw two of the Brother/Sister plays at Hattiloo, but missed In the Red and Brown Water and A Streetcar Named Desire, at Germantown Community Theatre but by all accounts Morgan Watson was quite good, and Michelle Miklosey’s Stella was something to shout about. Get it? Shout? Stella? STELLLLAAAAaaa…
Nevermind.

Maggie Robinson was enchanted and enchanting in Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse but I’ve only got eyes for one supporting player on this list. Kim Sanders took me to The Other Place. She played a woman with a whole mess of problems who comes home to drown her sorrows in wine and smother them in Chinese takeout. Instead of forgetfulness she finds a funny-talking stranger in the kitchen who wants to hug it out. Sanders and Kim Justis made real magic in this scene; the kind you don’t get to see all that often. I don’t know if she’ll win, but I’m rooting for her. In related news, I’m sad to report that Meghan Lisi, who was funny as hell in Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) was compleatly RBBD!
SHKSPR
  • SHKSPR
Supporting Actor in a Drama
Delvyn Brown’s about my favorite actor ever, but I’ve got no idea how anybody could have been nominated from the lumbering pageant called All The Way — worst political play since the removal of South Vietnamese strongman Ngo Ding Diem created a disastrous power vacuum that… that’s a whole other quagmire.

Marc Gill is reliably better than just about everybody else all the time, and for the most part that maxim held true in Byhalia, MS. I just don’t know how anybody hopes to compete with David Foster’s ridiculously sinister Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher though. If anybody can it’s Shadeed A. Salim from the Hattiloo’s solid, not super production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf at Hattiloo. Thing is, all of these actors are eating the dust kicked up by unnominated performers like Kevar Maffit who ate all the scenery in Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), and Willie Derrick who nailed his role as the sympathetic con artist in Wait Until Dark. Those guys are wearing barrels held up by suspenders they’re so robbed.
SHKSPR
  • SHKSPR
Leading Actress in a Drama
Sarah Brown made me laugh in Lettuce & Lovage. Jillian Barron made me laugh and cry in Byhalia. Karen Mason Riss made me deeply uncomfortable for an extended period in Mothers & Sons, a not very good play she was brilliant in. Natalie Jones in A Streetcar Named Desire — no idea. But The Other Place was a special thing, and Kim Justis was the most special thing about it. If she doesn’t win, to borrow a line from America’s presidential campaigns, the system’s rigged!

Having said all that, Tracy Hansom’s take on Lady in New Moon’s Orpheus Descending was flawed at the edges but true at the core, and, if you take The Other Place out of the picture, her performance was as compelling as anything I’ve seen all season.

Leading Actor in a Drama
George Dudley is another one of my favorite actors, and his onstage appearances are made sweeter by their rarity. He was a good LBJ in All The Way, but sometimes good isn’t good enough. I’m happy to see Bertram Williams listed here for his finely restrained work in the Hattiloo’s Free Man of Color. Williams is an interesting actor whose work is often a little too cinematic to read from the back row of a theater. This time he was broadcasting it for everybody to see without sacrificing a bit of his trademark subtlety.

You can never underestimate Gregory Szatkowski, but I’ll admit to being a little surprised when I heard he was playing Stanley in Streetcar. For some reason I just couldn’t imagine him as Tennessee Williams’ smouldering sex brute. Then again, I couldn’t remember a role where he didn’t rise to the occasion and surprise.

John Moore was perfectly cast as the great Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet, at Germantown Community Theatre, and I’d really like to see the perennial underdog win for this one. Heck, as unendurable as All the Way was, I wouldn’t mind seeing Moore win a best supporting nod for his refined character work in that either, because, in an ocean of mediocrity, it stood out. But I don’t think any of that’s happening.

If the season had a sleeper hit it was the one man show Buyer & Seller starring Jordan Nichols as both Barbara Streisand and the guy who takes care of Bab’s personal underground mall. He also played some vending machines — beautifully, I might add. Relaxed and understated, Nichols gave the comic performance of his career and, if I was the guy handing out the prizes, after much debate, and sincere apologies to John Moore, I’d probably wind up giving this one to him.

But what about poor Tony Isbell? Yeah, it was an indie show, and not eligible. But Isbell’s run of Krapp’s Last Tape was the best thing that happened in Memphis this past season. That pretty much means he was the best leading actor. No competition. 100% ROBBED!
Krapp
  • Krapp
Supporting Actress in a Musical
I can certainly see Montanez Shepheard picking up an Ossie for In the Heights, and if you liked Memphis, Lorraine Cotton probably had a lot to do with it. But I’m just seeing one name in this category. Carla McDonald killed it as the religious zealot mom in Carrie the Musical. That character’s the only reason to do Carrie, and it’s hard to even imagine a better performance by anybody not named Cecelia Wingate, who was busy doing other stuff.

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Justin Asher gets a nod for The Producers but nothing for I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change? Shaking my damn head. Now I’ll admit, ILYYPNC hasn’t aged very well, but Asher was just terrific. I suppose Curtis C. Jackson was also terrific in Memphis, so the category’s not completely invalid, but it mostly is. Either way, I’m betting on Asher to perform the rare stunt of winning this category while also being totally ROBBED!
Into the Woods
  • Into the Woods
Leading Actress in a Musical
Let me let everybody in on a little secret. Sister Act isn’t a very good musical, but it was so much fun at Playhouse on the Square, most people probably don’t know that. Its star, Claire Kolheim, is a treasure, and a miracle worker, and that’s really all I think I need to write in this category.
But wait a minute now. (Cue Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is Will Understand.” Go on. Wait for the Geico ad and stuff. Okay? Go.)


Let me say a couple of words about Renee Davis Brame. Because, damn. Did the judges see her in Into the Woods? I know I didn’t exactly rave about that show, but I can’t say a bad thing about this tremendous performer's wicked fine turn as Sondheim’s Witch. That character's a bad mother... but she's working on it. 

All I can say now is, “Mrs. Brame, you’ve been robbed.”


Leading Actor in a Musical
It’s hard to imagine Lee Hudson Gilliland winning for The Producers unless Philip Andrew Himebook also wins for The Producers.  Bialystok & Bloom is that kind of dynamic duo, and there’s lots of precedent for splitting the prize. Blind spots notwithstanding, my guess is they’ll share. Unless they’re beaten out by Nathan McHenry who I didn’t much enjoy in Memphis but mostly because, no matter how hard I try, I don’t enjoy much about Memphis. Folks sure do love that song about dropping a dime in a blind man’s jar though, so who knows?

Who got robbed? It’s possible that exposure to the Memphis score lowers the IQ. That is all I’m gonna say about that.

Best Original Script
Byhalia, MS (Evan Linder), and Voices of the South’s
Short/Stories (Jerre Dye) were both strong entries in a year that saw a fair amount of original work by local and regional writers. Byhalia felt like an instant addition to the Southern drama shelf. Short/Stories was like watching an early stage in Jerre Dye’s process. Byhalia is the clear winner here, but somebody got robbed for real. Bill Baker’s An Actor in Purgatory was a lively biographical sketch of Peter Lorre. If there was an Ostrander category for keeping Memphis Theater cool there wouldn’t be any contest.


Best Production of an Original Script
See the above category.

Featured Role/Cameo
Don’t care. John Hemphill wasn’t nominated for being the funniest (and most authentic) thing in Memphis? There’s no justice. That poor boy’s been left out in the rain with nothing but polka dot undies and sock garters. R.O.B. B. E. D.

Direction of a Drama
Stephen Hancock’s an inventive director but I’m not sure if All The Way’s the best example of his work. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain how this stale biscuit’s even in the running alongside crisply conceived and executed shows like Robert Hetherington’s Peter and the Starcatcher and Jeffrey W. Posson’s The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).

Doubt left me doubting the play’s merits, so I can’t say Tony Isbell was robbed. But his show was a tightly crafted object, certainly more focused and finely tuned than All The Way. So, in light of the unconscionable 2015 snub of Isbell’s first rate Rapture, Blister, Burn, I’m flagging this one for suspicious activity, at least.

Nah, fuck it. Guy was swindled knock-kneed.

Direction of a Musical

There are some contenders in this category. But I’m not here to talk about them. Oh no, No, no, no, no, no ladies and gentlemen. I want to tell all y’all a little something about Jeff Award-winning actress Cecelia Wingate. About the one I know. (Cue Bettye Swan’s, “Today I Started Loving You Again.” There you go.)

You see, Ms. Thing’s not just a first rate performer who makes all the critics swoon, she’s a crackerjack director who knows how to stuff big fluff. Now that’s not the same as being a fluffer, exactly, but let’s just say her production of The Producers, had a similar effect on audiences and, judging by nominations, on theater judges alike. Wingate hit number one with Young Frankenstein, she hit number one with The Addams Family, and I think there’s a strong chance she’s going to hit number one one more time.

Best Production of a Drama
All The Way — is on the list. Somehow. But so is A Streetcar Named Desire,
Buyer & Cellar, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The Other Place, so the news isn’t all weird. Byhalia, MS belongs here, I think. And, in a world unhampered by guidelines, Henry V would be here too, and Krapp’s Last Tape. And Krapp’s Last Tape would win. It was the season’s humblest offering, and completely satisfying. If you missed either one of these off menu morsels, I’m sorry to say, but you got robbed. Otherwise, I’m in the tank for The Other Place. More shows like that one, please.

Best Musical Production

The nominees are Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I know nothing about;
In the Heights, which was good but would have benefited from live integrated music; Memphis, which is exactly what you’d expect from a show about Memphis from a couple of Jersey Boys, The Producers which will probably win, and Sister Act, the dumbest show I’ve ever enjoyed. I’m going against my gut though and calling this one for Memphis, because, for all my complaints, the show’s been good for the city. Yeah, in that same irksome way Marc Cohn’s been good for the city. If it’s appreciated, I guess I’m okay with that.

So there you go. One more year, one more Who Got Robbed in the can. Good luck to the nominees, you’re all winners already. Except for the losers, of course.

Losers. 

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ostrander Nominees, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 7:49 AM

Jim and JoLynne Palmer in The Gin Game
  • Jim and JoLynne Palmer in The Gin Game
The 33rd Annual Ostrander Awards honoring excellence in Memphis Theatre will take place at the Orpheum Theatre Sunday, August 21. Cocktails start at 6 p.m. The awards, hosted by Sister Myotis, begin promptly at 7. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.

The Ostranders are produced in partnership with Memphis Magazine and the Memphis Arts Council. This season's show sponsors are Dorothy O. Kirsch and Dr. Thomas Ratliff.

Community and Professional Division

Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Honorees:
Jim and JoLynne Palmer

Set Design
Justin Asher & Andy Saunders – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Bryce Cutler – Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Melanie Mul – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Jack Yates – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis
Jack Yates - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Props
Kellie Bowles – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
Betty Dilley – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Betty Dilley – Orpheus Descending, New Moon Theatre Company
Jack Yates – The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis
Jack Yates – The Producers, Theatre Memphis
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Lighting
Jeremy Allen Fisher – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis
Jeremy Allen Fisher – The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Zo Haynes – Peter and the Starcatcher – The Circuit Playhouse
John Horan – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
John Horan - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square

Costumes
Austin Conlee – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Amie Eoff - The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Rebecca Y. Powell - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Rebecca Y. Powell – Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square
Rebecca Y. Powell – The Matchmaker, Playhouse on the Square

Hair/Wig/Make-Up
Buddy Hart & Erin Quick- Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis
Buddy Hart – Oliver!, Theatre Memphis
Kaite Coffey & Rebecca Y. Powell – All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
Kaite Coffey & Rebecca Y. Powell – The Matchmaker, Playhouse on the Square
Barbara Sanders & Jaclyn Suffel - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Music Direction
Gary Beard – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis
Thomas Bergstig – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Thomas Bergstig – Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Jeffery B. Brewer - The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Jason Eschhofen - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre

Sound Design
Zach Badreddine – Carrie the Musical, The Circuit Playhouse
Matt Cantelon – All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
Jason Eschhofen – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Jeremy Allen Fisher – Wait Until Dark, Theatre Memphis
David Newsome & Amanda Davis – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis

Choreography
Geoffrey Goldberg – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Patdro Harris – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Ellen Ingrahm – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Jared Thomas Johnson & Christi Hall – The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Bertram Williams – Free Man of Color
  • Bertram Williams – Free Man of Color
Supporting Actress in a Drama
Jessica “Jai” Johnson – Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Michelle Miklosey – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Maggie Robinson – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
Kim Sanders - The Other Place, The Circuit Playhouse
Morgan Watson – In the Red and Brown Water, Hattiloo Theatre

Supporting Actor in a Drama
Delvyn Brown - All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
David Foster – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
Marc Gill – Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Shadeed A. Salim – Radio Golf, Hattiloo Theatre
Christopher Tracy – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre

Leading Actress in a Drama
Jillian Barron – Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Sarah Brown – Lettice & Lovage, New Moon Theatre Company
Natalie Jones – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Kim Justis – The Other Place, The Circuit Playhouse
Karen Mason Riss – Mothers & Sons, The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis

Leading Actor in a Drama
George Dudley – All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
John Moore – I Hate Hamlet, Germantown Community Theatre
Jordan Nichols – Buyer & Cellar, The Circuit Playhouse
Gregory Szatkowski – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Bertram Williams – Free Man of Color, Hattiloo Theatre

Supporting Actress in a Musical - SIX NOMINEES
Lorraine Cotten – Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Jeanna Juleson – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Carla McDonald – Carrie the Musical, The Circuit Playhouse
Kim Sanders – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Montanez Shepheard – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Gia Welch – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Justin Asher - The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Jarrad Baker – Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Curtis C. Jackson - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Seth Judice – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Clark Richard Reeves – The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Leading Actress in a Musical
Susannah Corrington – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Meredith Koch – Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Germantown Community Theatre
Claire D. Kolheim – Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square
Maggie Robinson – Carrie the Musical, The Circuit Playhouse
Nikisha Williams - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
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Leading Actor in a Musical

Lee Hudson Gilliland - The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Jared Graham – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Philip Andrew Himebook - The Producers, Theatre Memphis
Nathan McHenry - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
CJ Sagadia – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre

Small Ensemble
Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Mothers & Sons, The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, Germantown Community Theatre
The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis
The Other Place, The Circuit Playhouse

Large Ensemble

All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square

Featured Role/Cameo
Jillian Barron – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Evie Bennett & Anna Lunati – Into the Woods, Theatre Memphis
Travis Bradley – Billy Elliot, Playhouse on the Square
Jaukeem Balcom, Daniel Gonzalez and Ryan Patrick Jones – Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square
L. Simeon Johnson – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre

Best Original Script
Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Short/Stories, Voices of the South

Best Production of an Original Script
Byhalia, MS, POTS@TheWorks
Short/Stories, Voices of the South

Direction of a Drama
Justin Asher – A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Stephen Hancock – All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
Robert Hetherington – Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
Jeffrey W. Posson – The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The Next Stage at Theatre Memphis
Anne Dauber Scarbrough – Buyer & Cellar, The Circuit Playhouse

Direction of a Musical
Lorraine Cotten – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
Patdro Harris – In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Dave Landis – Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square
Jordan Nichols - Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Cecelia Wingate - The Producers, Theatre Memphis

Best Production of a Drama
All The Way, Playhouse on the Square
A Streetcar Named Desire, Germantown Community Theatre
Buyer & Cellar, The Circuit Playhouse
Peter and the Starcatcher, The Circuit Playhouse
The Other Place, The Circuit Playhouse

Best Musical Production
Michael Detroit and George Dudley in All the Way.
  • Michael Detroit and George Dudley in All the Way.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Germantown Community Theatre
In the Heights, Hattiloo Theatre
Memphis, Playhouse on the Square
Sister Act, Playhouse on the Square
The Producers, Theatre Memphis

COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY DIVISION 
Set Design
Kathy Haaga – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Brian Ruggaber – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Jesse White – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Lighting
Laura Canon - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Anthony Pellecchia – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Kristen Reding – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Costumes
Ashley Rogers – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis
Ashley Rogers – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Anne Thompson – For Our Freedom, And Yours, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Music Direction
Jacob Allen – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Jacob Allen – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Sound Design
Anthony Pellecchia – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Anthony Pellecchia – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Eric Sefton – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis
  • Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis
Choreography
Jill Guyton Nee – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Jared Johnson & Cecelia Wingate – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Anita Jo Lenhart – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Andrea Pajarillo – Admissions, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Brianna Roche – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis
Sister Act at Playhouse on the Square
  • Sister Act at Playhouse on the Square
Supporting Actor in a Drama
Jake Bell – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis
Matthew Nelson – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis
Hunter Reid – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis

Leading Actress in a Drama
Andrea Pajarillo – Good Boys and True, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
LaToya A+ Slater – The Woman in Me, Southwest Tennessee Community College
Amelia Sutherland – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Leading Actor in a Drama
Delvyn Brown – For Our Freedom, And Yours, Southwest Tennessee Community College
Jon Castro – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Caleb Leach – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actress in a Musical
Isabel Celata – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Olivia Gacka – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Allison Huber – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Supporting Actor in a Musical
David Couter – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Ian Goodwin – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Jared Johnson – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Hunter Reid – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Leading Actress in a Musical
Erica Peninger – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Amelia Sutherland – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Jenny Wilson – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Leading Actor in a Musical
Justin Braun – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Ryan Gilliam – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Tyler Vernon – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis

Small Ensemble
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College
Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
The Woman in Me, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Large Ensemble

A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis
Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis

Featured Cameo
Jon Castro – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Robert King – My Christmas Caryl, Southwest Tennessee Community College
Landon Meldrum – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Direction of a Drama
Stephen Hancock – The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
Evelyn Hall Little – For Our Freedom, And Yours, Southwest Tennessee Community College
memphsiweb-835x1024.jpg

Meredith Melville – A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis

Direction of a Musical
Jacob Allen – Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
Swaine Kaui – Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Cecelia Wingate – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Best Dramatic Production
A Flea in Her Ear, The University of Memphis The School for Scandal, The University of Memphis
The Woman in Me, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Best Musical Production
Next to Normal, The University of Memphis
Oklahoma!, The University of Memphis
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Moon Vine" is a Funny, Southern Gothic Tragedy

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 2:19 PM

I'd like to start this post with an apology. I'm practically running out the door to cover the RNC in Cleveland and the DNC in Philly. In the rush to prepare, I've not been able to give Moon Vine, a winner of POTS NewWorks@TheWorks playwriting competition, the treatment it deserves. Nevertheless, I'd like drop a few more pixels on it, in addition to my recent conversation with director Ken Zimmerman. 

This is Teri K. Feigelson's second win. NewWorks mounted her promising lyrical drama Mountain View at TheatreWorks last year, and the script picked up an Ostrander Award for best new play to boot.  The good news is, for all it's tragic underpinnings, Moon Vine is funny, and its narrative structure is stronger than its predecessors As explained in the above link, it's the story of a brother and sister who have secrets, and their struggle to save or sell a family farm.

Bekka Koch is sympathetic and inviting as a pair of fuzzy house slippers as sister Sele. She's an earthy herbalist, constant gardener, and accidental spiritualist who talks to her dead father via short wave radio. Dane Van Brocklin is similarly strong as musician/brother Huck. Supporting stock characters are given dimension thanks to Zimmerman's top-notch cast. The show's most interesting c
13501722_10153760588252643_4468681267979452172_n.jpg
haracter is also its most abstract— the lurking offstage menace of unchecked Capitalism in Avatars of predatory Agribusiness and Walmart. 

Also can somebody give Karin Barile, appearing here as a wacky neighbor, another lifetime achievement award?

Feigelson's got a voice, but it's not very distinctive at present, careening recklessly between Beth Henley and Tennessee Williams with a welcome jolt of Rod Serling near the end.  An apparent compulsion to write poetic "Suthun," dialogue gets in the way of writing characters. Too many lines ring false and forced. Cliches like, "Blues ain't nothing but the truth," will resonate with some, and clunk for others. But there is a simpleness and integrity to this slow burning ghost story that balances out lyrical pretension, even when it flirts with incredible camp.

I've often made a strange-sounding case for more "good plays." Which is to say I think Memphis has been a conservative market mostly interested in proven, name brand shows where all the kinks were worked out somewhere else. Moon Vine needs editing. It's got trouble spots, but it's still good — an easy-breezy way to spend an evening in the theater.

Audiences who've enjoyed local work like Jerre Dye's Cicada and Justin Asher's Haint will certainly want to give this one a spin. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty Elected to OPERA America Board of Directors

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 10:04 AM

Ned Canty
  • Ned Canty
Opera Memphis General Director Ned Canty has been elected to the Board of Directors for OPERA America, a service organization promoting Opera in the Unites States with affiliated international companies like Opera Australia and the Canadian Opera Company. 

Memphis' tireless opera director has previously been a featured speaker at Opera America meetings where he's discussed local innovations for making opera more accessible to everybody, like 30-Days of Opera and the Midtown Opera Festival.'

Canty, from the announcement:
“My election to this board position is more than a testament to my time at Opera Memphis; it’s also a reflection of the incredible staff that works tirelessly to continue Opera Memphis commitment to innovation and to the unparalleled support we receive from the Memphis community. I’m looking forward to bringing some Memphis grit-and-grind to the Opera America board and to having a front-row seat to what’s next in American Opera.” 



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