Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Theatre Memphis Announces 2017-18 Season: From Shrek to Florence Foster Jenkins

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 5:25 PM

Children of the Moon, Theatre Memphis, 1932-33
  • Children of the Moon, Theatre Memphis, 1932-33
Theatre Memphis' 2017-18 season mixes crowd-pleasing faire like Disney's Shrek, The Drowsy Chaperone, and 42nd Street with edgier dramas like Tracy Letts' August: Osage County and classics like 12 Angry Jurors. It's a solid lineup, and more exciting than any season this stuffed with name brands, and revivals has a right to be.

Lohrey Stage

Shrek, the Musical
August 18 – September 10, 2017

The timely story of an ogre who gets peeved when scheming Lord Farquaad and a bunch of annoying fairytale characters immigrate to Shrek's swamp. You can tell this is a fantasy because the ogre listens to the donkey. All that and Fiona.


Stage Kiss
October 6 – 22, 2017

Consider the smooch. Now consider actors who've been lovers smooching in the revival of a 1930's melodrama. Now consider a giddy comedy where facts and fictions merge and play follows the characters home in ways only the magnificent Sarah Ruhl might imagine.

via GIPHY


A Christmas Carol
December 1 – 23, 2017
Theatre Memphis’ 40th Annual Production
Not part of the regular subscription season

Dickens beloved story about the true meaning of Christmas: Scaring the poop out of unpleasant misers.

via GIPHY


Fences
January 19 – February 4, 2018
In 1998, after 78-years in business, Theatre Memphis produced its first main stage to show showcase predominantly African Americans. It was August Wilson's Fences. A few years later TM staged Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, also by August Wilson. Now, 19-years later, in the wake of the Denzel Washington movie, Fences is coming back. I'm not going to complain about that — but yeah, I'm totally going to complain about that. The name on the marquee: Theatre MEMPHIS. And there's a big ol' community that's just not being served.
Theatre Memphis, 1998
  • Theatre Memphis, 1998

The Drowsy Chaperone
March 9 – 31, 2018

The Drowsy Chaperone — a surprise hit if there ever was one — begins in the dark with a cranky voice calling out into the void. "I hate theater," it says, and the disoriented audience laughs sympathetically. "Well, it's always so disappointing, isn't it?" the voice continues. This is "Man in Chair," and what proceeds to unfold from that point is both a mash note to Jazz Age musicals like No, No, Nanette and The Vagabond King and a giddy essay on what audiences really want from a night at the theater. An enormous musical spectacle that unfolds in one lonely little apartment. Silly. Magical.


August: Osage County
April 27 – May 13, 2018
August: Osage County has a bit of everything for everybody: marital infidelity, incest, child molestation, Eric Clapton records, fibs, lies, falsehoods, etc. But in spite of the unsavory ingredients, this dish comes together like apple pie — crusty, sweet at the center, and full of spice.

(Yeah, the movie wasn't very good. But the play's great)

42nd Street

June 8 – July 1, 2018
A musical about making theater set against the background of the great depression and featuring songs like, "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Lullaby of Broadway," and, "Shuffle Off to Buffalo." Last appearing onstage at Theatre Memphis in 2003


Next Stage

12 Angry Jurors
October 6
The ultimate courtroom drama based on a 1954 teleplay.

via GIPHY


Falsettos
November 3 - 18, 2017
The New York Times once described Falsettos as the "perfect musical about an imperfect family." I can't do much better than that.


Souvenir
February 9 - 25, 2018
One of the funniest nonfiction plays I've ever seen about my favorite terrible Opera singer. Probably getting a revival in the wake of Meryl Streep's Florence Foster Jenkins movie. So deserving. I wish it never went away.


An Act of God
April 6- 22, 2018
A comedy asking why God's such “a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist.” That about covers it.

via GIPHY

Summer Musical Showcase

Three “Memphis” Tenors … and a Baritone*
Conceived and musical direction by Jeff Brewer
Performed by Philip Himebook, Charles McGowan, Kevar Lane Maffitt and Charles “Chuck” Hodges
July 7 - 23, 2017 Not part of the regular subscription season.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hamilton in 2019! (Orpheum Also Announces its 2017-18 Season)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Where the magic happens.
  • Where the magic happens.
The good news: Hamilton's coming to the Orpheum.

The less good news: It won't be showing up until the 2018-19 Broadway season rolls around.

The early announcement's a smart move for the Orpheum though, as the early buzz is already louder than a plague of cicadas. It also helps to spruce up a Lawrence Welk season — packed with crowd pleasing hits, a little long in the tooth. (Not judging — I'm a Welkahoic). There's a lot of goodness coming to town, just not a lot we haven't seen before in some shape, form, or media. Still — subscribers get the first crack at Hamilton tickets. So whatcha gonna do?

Like I said: Smart.

The King and I: Rodgers & Hammerstein's colonial classic has always been a barefoot race between racism and sexism, and only the designers — able to work themselves into gilded orientalist frenzy — win. But let's not write it off just yet. The current tour originates from Lincoln Center, and is acutely aware of all the reasons why it's inadvisable to perform the show as it's been done in the past.  Sure, it was always successful, but even the less woke among us can understand why, everything else aside, consent issues, and colorful splashes of human trafficking might require reconsideration. This revival shifts the show's emphasis away from spectacle — with some fine cherry-picked indulgences. It's not a revision though. Respectful, but knowing treatment of the vintage material allows the more cringeworthy moments to function as critique. Darker threads are tugged, and woven into the romance.

If you don't think this problematic musical extravaganza from the 1950's can be salvaged (and I still harbor some doubts), this is the production to measure that opinion against.


An American in Paris
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Ah, young love. Jerry Mulligan's an American GI with an artistic bent. Lise Dassin's a French ballerina with secrets. Set against the background of post WWII Paris, and showcasing some extraordinary dance numbers, and few of the Gershwin brothers' most loved songs, An American in Paris is built to please. It is, of course, inspired by Vincente Minnelli's 1951 film starring Gene Kelly.


The Phantom of the Opera
: More Paris shenanigans. "Music of the Night." Blah, blah, blah. Spoiler alert: The chandelier falls.

(Oops— Wrong video. My bad.) (Muahahahahahahahahahahaha).

Finding Neverland
: As a lifelong James M. Barrie fan who thinks Peter and the Starcatcher is one of the best things to come around in ages, I'm starting to think we've maybe hit peak Pan. Finding Neverland — a Peter Pan origin story — was both a play about death and a film about death before it became a spectacle-laden Broadway musical — also about death.


The Color Purple: Memphis can't seem to get enough Purple. This show— faithfully adapted from Alice Walker's novel —  has come to the Orpheum a few times. Playhouse on the Square staged a knockout production. Even Sister Myotis got into Miss Celie's pants (so to speak) at a particularly memorable installment of Ostrander Awards. Among the shows we've seen here more than once, this challenging musical is probably the most underrepresented.


Wicked
: Another return trip. This spectacle-laden alternative history of Oz plays out less like a faithful adaptation of Gregory Maguire's popular novel than as a prequel to MGM's iconic film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. It tells the story of green-skinned Elphaba, who, in spite of her good intentions and an obsessive need to tell the truth, came to be known as the Wicked Witch of the West.  Glinda, Oz's "good" witch, arrives on the scene in a bubble, and Elphaba soars 20-feet into the air while performing "Defying Gravity," the show's signature number. Somehow — perhaps by magic — none of the technological stunts overshadow Wicked's political satire or its heartfelt story of sisterhood tested and triumphant.


Something Rotten
: And now for something completely different. Something Rotten is a rare thing indeed — a Broadway musical that was never anything else before it was a Broadway musical. Sure, it rides Shakespeare's coat tails a bit, but not in the usual sense. Here The Bard of Avon is treated like a self-satisfied pop star who's so successful his would be competitors the Bottom Brothers (get it?) are forced to invent the musical just to stay in the running.


Then, after all that (clouds part, perfect rays of light shine through, Angels sing "We the People") —-Hamilton!


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Monday, February 20, 2017

Muslims, Jews, and Shakespeare: Rhodes Hosts a Timely Symposium

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 3:22 PM

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Can a symposium inspired by the works of William Shakespeare really be timely? Like the man says, "that is hot ice and wondrous strange snow." But the Pearce Shakespeare Symposium: Jews and Muslims in Shakespeare's World — an event three-years in the making — lands at Rhodes College in the midst of an attempted national travel ban targeting Muslims, and at a time when America's official policy regarding Israel seems all over the place, at least. It could, just as easily, have been planned last week.

But what can Shakespeare teach us about this stuff, really? As it turns out, maybe quite a lot. And so can visiting cultural historians Jerry Brotton and James Shapiro, who'll be in town for, "a far-ranging dialogue" about Judaism. Islam, comedies, tragedies, histories, and the story of nations.

In Shakespeare in America, Shapiro considers how the plays have been used by Americans to discuss things where there's no standard for national conversation.

"There are things that we, as Americans, tend not to talk about very comfortably," Shapiro says, in an email interview with Intermission Impossible. "One of them is immigration. In the past, one way that those against immigration have tried to express their views on this subject is through Shakespeare."
Shapiro's first example is Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, "who wrote about 'Shakespeare’s Americanisms' in 1895, in which he argued that 'the Eng­lish speech is too great an inheritance to be trifled with or wran­gled over. It is much better for all who speak it to give their best strength to defending it and keeping it pure and vigorous, so that it may go on spreading and conquering.' Shakespeare was at the heart of the purity of our language and race; to preserve one was to save the other. It was a view that dovetailed with his view of making America great again by keeping aliens out: 'the immigration of people who are not kindred either in race or language, and who represent the most ignorant people who are not kindred either in race or language, and who represent the most ignorant classes and the lowest labor of Europe, is increasing with frightful rapidity.'

His second example is drawn from the inaugural address of Joseph Quincy Adams at the founding of the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1932. The event was attended by numerous dignitaries including U.S. President Herbert Hoover, as well as ambassadors, cabinet members, justices, and congressmen. "Adams," Shapiro says, "was even more blunt about how Shakespeare stood as a bulwark or wall against a flood of immigrants who have 'swarmed into the land like the locust in Egypt.' He too believed that Shakespeare was invaluable for preserving in America a homogeneity of English culture."

"How ironic," Shapiro says. "Our current government, similarly fearful of immigration, is reportedly plannin
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g to end funding for the NEH and NEA—which are both so crucial to sustaining Shakespeare in America. Lodge and Adams are likely spinning in their graves."

In an interview with Chapter 16, Brotton, author of The Sultan and the Queen was asked what lessons contemporary leaders might draw from Elizabeth I's experiences negotiating with the Muslim wold during times of mounting tension.  Brotton's answer: "Don’t stop people of different faiths and beliefs from crossing your borders because it never works. The irony is that empires like the Ottomans prided themselves on their ability to absorb and assimilate multi-confessional, polyglot communities. To limit, isolate, and demonize particular religious or ethnic groups was seen as a sign of weakness, not power. Even when the Elizabethan state issued edicts trying to deport what they called “blackamoors” (mainly Muslims from North Africa), it never stuck because, guess what, everyone realized it just wasn’t workable!"
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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Blood & Ballet: Dance Two Ways

Posted By on Sun, Feb 19, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Uri Sands
  • Uri Sands

Ballet Memphis opens Places Beyond at Playhouse on the Square this weekend. The anthology of new work is being described as, "A journey from places of the heart to places far out of reach." Places showcases new work from award-winning choreographers Uri Sands, Mark Godden and Associate Artistic Director Steven McMahon.

Next week on Beale Street GC Dance Academy and G Nation presents Blood on the Dance Floor 5 at The Hard Rock Cafe.

Don't let the title of the event fool you. Although things can get pretty intense out on the floor sometimes, there's nothing more chill than an old school Memphis dance battle.

Memphis has its own brand of competitive urban dance, and there's not much better than watching the best of the best go toe to toe. 
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Talking Carole King with Beautiful Star Julia Knitel

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 12:22 PM

Julia/Carole
  • Julia/Carole
Sure, you probably know Carole King’s double-sided hit single, “It’s Too Late Baby,” backed with “I Feel the Earth Move.” Maybe you own a copy of Tapestry. Or maybe your parents or grandparents owned a copy, so you might also know she wrote/co-wrote lots of songs that were hits for other people. Songs like “Natural Woman,” a generation-defining cut from Aretha Franklin, and the James Taylor staple, “You’ve Got a Friend.” King’s girl group oeuvre alone ran the gamut from the Chiffon’s optimistic “One Fine Day,” to the Crystal’s terrifying, “He Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss.”

And that's just the tip.

As a songwriter King charted well over 100 hits between the 1950’s and the turn of the millennium, making her one of the most successful American songwriters of the 20th-Century. The jukebox musical Beautiful maps King’s early career in the recording industry, and her rocky, but productive creative partnership with husband Gerry Goffin.

Intermission Impossible recently spoke with Julia Knitel, who plays King in the Broadway tour of Beautiful— docking soon at The Orpheum. Here’s what she had to say about the music, the person, and audiences who can’t seem to get enough.

Intermission Impossible: Were you a Carole King fan before you were cast?

Julia Knitel: I was, I was. I grew up in a house that had great respect for great music. I was bread on the likes of Carole King and Joni Mitchell and was really lucky in that sense, because, when I stepped into this show I had a pretty good background.

What’s your favorite song?

I always likes “Natural Woman.” It’s such a special song. That the song was written by a husband and wife is pretty incredible. But then you hear their story, and it’s not peachy. It’s just a beautiful piece of music.

And beautiful really does hone in on the early career, when she and Goffin are writing together.

She ages from 16 to 28 in the show.

Tell me a little bit about, well, the tapestry. How are the songs and biography woven together?


What’s special about the show vs a traditional jukebox musical is, we don’t create a story to shove songs into. We have an incredible story about a husband and wife and their very dear friend and writing partner Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. How their lives were changing, and in turn changing the scope of American music. And it’s really cool because you see a scene where they’re talking about having written a song, and they know it’s never going to be a hit, and they’re self-conscious of all of its flaws, then it gets done, and it’s “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and the Righteous Brothers are singing it. It’s just really cool to see where these people were when they were writing songs into the American songbook.

Are there songs you didn’t know so well that have grown on you since you’ve been with the show?

I have a real soft spot for “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It didn’t dawn on me for a couple of months, but this song is about the morning after from a woman’s perspective of sex. And it was a first in popular American music.

Maybe not a first, but…

Even Joni Mitchell said it changed her life when she was growing up in Canada. Goffin is coming home late from work. Only later do we discover his wandering eye and tendency toward infidelity. It makes you question who that song is about. Of course Carole is naive — “of course it’s about me, and my husband, and our love life?” It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves who he was writing about.


People obviously connect her to her hits. But she wrote so much for other people.


You sit back and you say, “No way!” “The Loco-motion?” “Up on the Roof?”

"He Hit Me" ...

All these songs that became hits for other people, long before Tapestry.

How long have you been with the company?


Two years. I spent a year-and-a-half in the Broadway company. Now six months out here.

Still love it? Is it still fresh?

Absolutely. I love it more every day. Best job in the world.

Who is your audience?

It runs the gamut. Obviously the baby boomers love it because it’s music they grew up with. Their children love it because it’s the music they grew up with second hand. My generation has looked to the past to music for inspiration. And I think more people than expected are in love with Carol king. Fathers sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents and the like, and it’s such a wide audience.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Opera Memphis Stages a Pop Culture Classic

How many times has the "Modern Major General" song been sung on TV and the Silver Screen? A zillion?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 4:44 PM

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Opera Memphis’ general director/nerd-in-chief Ned Canty compares Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch. “It’s a direct descendent from the pirates," he says. "You take this very fearsome group of people and make them kind of ineffectual and cuddly. These pirates never attack anybody weaker than they are, and they never attack an orphan. So everybody says they’re an orphan and the pirates never make any money."

The Pythons aren't the only comics to crib from G&S. Is there any musical theater song more frequently referenced than Pirates' "Modern Major General?" I've linked to clips from a handful of times it's bubbled up in pop culture — this list can't even scratch the surface.

What notable versions of the Major General's song have been left out? Gotta be a lot.

• "You blew it my child": The great Gilda Radner gets comically tripped up on The Muppet Show. Also — a giant snooty carrot.


• "With the eggs on top": Poor Peter doesn't do much better on Family Guy.



• "Very unattractive flannel.": Pranks take an operatic turn on Home Improvement.


• Babylon 5. Wait for the credits.


•Things get dreamy in the "Peggy & the Pirates" episode of Married... with Children.


• Barney's diction gets better on The Simpsons. In space nobody can hear you burp.


• Searching for that last episode of The Simpsons made me aware of this rendition on Veggie Tales. So, that happened.


• And now for something not completely different, The Pirate Movie: "Not now darling, I'm on!"




Friday, February 10, 2017

Rock of Ages, Haint, Blueprints to Freedom Close, Sense and Sensibility Opens.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 1:46 PM

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John Rone's a first rate director with some experience bringing Jane Austen's classics (as adapted by Jon Jory) to wordy life. Productions of Pride & Prejudice in 2008, and Emma in 2011 were long, literate affairs, lovely to look at and listen to.  Like I wrote following the original P&P, "If devoting the best eighth of your day to a barrage of class- and gender-conscious barbs traded with restraint in a variety of picturesque settings sounds at all like a little slice of heaven, then the play will probably be a delightful experience. If it sounds like a hellish torture ingeniously conceived by your worst enemies, it's probably that too."

That's no knock at the material or the work, which was very good.  
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But, in my experience there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who live for 19th-Century authors, with a special affinity for Austen, and those who'd rather bathe in leaches. A say this as someone who trusts this creative team, and tends to be the former, with a slight preference for George Elliot's more startling imagery. If it sounds like you, order tickets now (opening night has already sold out). If it doesn't...


Maybe you'll want to check out Rock of Ages, which, in spite of being a difficult, class-conscious romance, is about as far as you can get from Jane Austen. The story goes something like this: The economy is wrecked, city cores are crumbling, but it's morning in America so foreign investors are snapping up property and transforming local flavor into upscale homogeneity. Into the scene walks Sherrie, a young girl from the heartland, in painted-on, cut-off jeans, dreaming of work on the silver screen, even while she works the pole in a gentleman's club. A five-minute stand with a burnout rockstar in the men's room of the Bourbon Room (a stand-in for the Whiskey a Go Go) has wrecked her chances for real love and brought her to a place she never thought she'd be. Now she's holding out for a hero. It's fun, vibrant work expertly executed by a great band, and a top-notch cast. Looks like they're having the time of their lives.
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If you're in the mood for something a little more serious, Blueprints to Freedom is a timely ode to civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin. Michael Benjamin Washington's ambitious portrait of Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, zeroes in on a singular moment in history. But what went down in the hot summer of 1963 didn't stay in 1963. The historic march for jobs on Washington D.C. was attended by 250,000 people, creating magnificent ripples that still rock us today. The play is celebratory. But it's also cool, conflict-ridden and circumspect. It shows Rustin, King's mentor in the ways of nonviolent protest, in exile, but still the intellectual center of a coalitional movement grasping for unity. In the era of Black Lives Matter, Washington's soul-searching history, also forces us to consider whether or not the "protest or politics" choice Rustin and union leader A. Philip Randolph present is a false dichotomy. As the late Judge D'Army Bailey often suggested, as an early advocate for the creation of a National Civil Rights museum, maybe activism is always in season.
To read more about Blueprints, here you go.


For something just as timely, but far more irreverent, Hand to God delivers. The time: Now, more or less. The place: A Sunday school room somewhere in suburban Texas. The plot: Margery is working through grief and an evidently difficult past by teaching teens how to reject Satan with puppets. She's a horny new widow doggedly pursued by a horny minister, engaged in a dangerous liaison with one of her horny young puppeteers, and emotionally ill-equipped to cope with her own horny, hurt, badly repressed, and clearly demon possessed teenager. Though sometimes compared to Avenue Q, because both shows contain foulmouthed puppets doing shocking things, Hand to God is more like a mashup of The Exorcist and King of the Hill, all under the influence of Meet the Feebles, Good stuff, dark as hell.
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Looking for something a little more local? Justin Asher's a Memphis playwright to watch and Haint's an entertaining example of what he does. Inspired by rural legends about a woman who wanders the roadsides looking for her lost son, Haint tells the story of Mercy Seer, a caustic medicine woman who whips up weed-and-seed home remedies, hangs jars full of memories on trees, and occasionally pretends to talk to spirits for the townsfolk in order to pick up a few extra bucks. She lives in a ramshackle old house on the edge of town with her son Charley, who dies midway through the show, but never goes away. Worth checking out.

Also on stage this week: Hamlet.

I haven't seen the New Moon Theatre Company's take on Shakespeare's masterpiece, but I've seen the director play every single character in the show and trust it to be in very good hands. The cast is solid, and it looks fantastic.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Haint Ain't Bad. GCT Builds a Better Ghost Story

Posted By on Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 5:01 PM

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It’s easy to make fun of Scooby Doo, but that spooky Saturday morning cartoon show had one helluva message that it hammered home in episode after predictable episode: If you want to catch the real monsters, always follow the money. (And maybe the trail of empty bottles is a clue!) Justin Asher’s Haint is a Southern Gothic noir about life, death, and ghostly resurrection in the rural South, where gossip is corrosive politics, and church is a gated community separating “us” from “them.” But once you get past its hoodoo and hard boiled exterior, Haint’s got a heart that’s pure Scooby Doo. The bad guys would totally get away with it too if not for for a pair of meddling friends, who didn’t know they needed each other till they absolutely did.

Inspired by rural legends about a woman who wanders the roadsides looking for her lost son, Haint tells the story of Mercy Seer, a caustic medicine woman who whips up weed-and-seed home remedies, hangs jars full of memories on trees, and occasionally pretends to talk to spirits for the townsfolk in order to pick up a few extra bucks. She lives in a ramshackle old house on the edge of town with her son Charley, who dies midway through the show, but never goes away.

After being too long absent from the stage, Michele Somers makes an impressive return as Mercy. Her performance as the root-working conjurer, washerwoman, and mom is grounded, completely real, and a joy to watch. The former Playhouse on the Square company member swears this is her one last gig.  Let's hope that's not the case.


Somers leads an able cast that includes the reliable Marques Brown as an abusive sheriff, Amy Neighbors as his frustrated wife Evangeline, and Stuart Turner as poor, doomed Charley.

JoLynn Palmer is in top form as a small town gadfly with an agenda.

Justin Asher's set is fussy, but effective and Christopher Cotten’s sound design is about one snuck-in Robert Johnson song away from being perfect.

When I first reviewed Haint in 2014 I described it is being “a good play” — something the theater needs a lot more of. It’s an even better, tighter play now, with director Cecelia Wingate's fingerprints all over it. That's true, even if the outcomes are still a little woo - Scooby Doo. Though set in the early 1950’s, threads of otherism, sexism, slut-shaming, xenophobia, and good old fashioned Christian hypocrisy resonate.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Flick, Fun Home: Playhouse on the Square Announces 2017-18 Season

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 6:09 PM

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via GIPHYThree is a magic number. Playhouse on the Square begins and ends its 2017-18 season with musicals about female trios, doing things their way, and taking care of business. Circuit — housed in the old Memphian Theater — goes cinematic with The Flick, and Heathers the Musical then does a trip through theater history with Stupid Fucking Bird and Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf.

Combined, It's a season of solids, sleepers, and certifiable groundbreakers.
Playhouse on the Square
 

via GIPHY

9 to 5
Not to be all Danny Downer, but pretty much everything you know about women's awesome progress across the 20th-Century is bunk. Yeah, good stuff happened, but every time a glass ceiling shattered, an iron window shade slammed shut.  Or something like that. The 1980 comedy 9 to 5 was full of silly laughs, but it's a straight up expression of ERA-era rage. — a screwball revenge fantasy about three working gals bucking the male dominated pet-along-to-get-along office politics. You knew there had to be a musical lurking in there somewhere, right?

via GIPHY


Shakespeare in Love

You know that movie with the Gwyneth, right? Where she needs poetry in her life? That, basically.


Peter Pan

The story of the little boy who won't grow up and who also, apparently, won't go away.


Once

You know what would be awesome? One surprise performance of this show in a little joint like Murphy's. Just screw all theatrical convention and let this music-forward story of an Irish Street musician and the woman who gives his songs meaning happen however it happens with pint-wielding patrons all around, and in the way. Yeah. That'll never happen, but on stage will be nice too.


Laughter on the 23rd Floor

I could go the rest of this life, and most of the afterlife without any more Neil Simon. But for this one, a fictionalized account of his time in the writers room on Your Show of Shows, I'll make an exception. It's no My Favorite Year, but it'll do.


Fun Home

Comic books come to the stage. But no superheroes here. Based on the best-selling graphic novel of the same name, Fun Home is a story about modern life modern love, sexual orientation, family, and the place you live. The author takes you on a tour of her life, and it's a sweet, sweet ride.

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Dreamgirls
And I am telling you...  I'm pretty sure y'all know where this is going.

The Circuit Playhouse Season

via GIPHY

The Flick
Employees at a run down movie theater argue about cinema is a terrible synopsis This form-pushing Pulitzer winner deserves better.

via GIPHY

Heathers
Does your teen angst have a body count? Do you love your dead gay son? Do you think Stranger Things has coat tails?
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Junie B. Jones: The Musical
Everybody's favorite first grader, and stuff.
 

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The Santaland Diaries
Sedaris' sassy Elf discovers the true meaning of ruining Christmas.

via GIPHY

Perfect Arrangement
An Atomic age comedy inspired by true and horrible stories of the Red Scare, this is the story top US spooks employed to root out sexual deviance. Top covertly gay spooks, that is. Tales from the American closet.

via GIPHY

James & the Giant Peach
If you don't know what this is I feel sorry for you.

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Stupid Fucking Bird
The fucking Seagull. It's just the fucking Seagull. Only they went and fucked it up. Not in a bad way.

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Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf: A Parody
If Stupid Fucking Bird wasn't meta enough for you, this silliness from Second City is a mashup of Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Our Town, etc. I can already predict that the word "romp" will appear in most reviews.

A Peek at "Hamlet" from the Wings

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 12:26 PM

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Okay, okay, so the sound's not very good, the view is compromised, and, of course, it's a rehearsal, but I found this vid out there on the internets, and wanted to share it here anyway, because, this wonky little bit drives us right to the crossroads of thoughtfulness and simplicity where the best New Moon productions reside.


I may miss opening weekend, unfortunately. Would love to get some reader comments about the show.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Voice of Satan: Hand to God's a Wicked Piece of Puppet Theater

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2017 at 5:18 PM

Aside: I told Hand to God director Irene Crist I'd let everybody know I attended a preview performance of the show. You know, the performance before the opening night performance, once called a "critic's preview," but now called "friends and family night." I promised I'd put the information front and center too, so here it is. The paint was literally, and figuratively still wet, but so what? I grew up on the other side of the footlights, and I always liked that smell. It smelled like the details coming together.

Promise fulfilled. Now, the review...
  
handtogodweb.jpg
Hand to God. Holy shit. Maybe you should just clear your mind and let me give this to you like an elevator pitch. The time: Now, more or less. The place: A Sunday school room somewhere in suburban Texas. The plot: Margery is working through grief and an evidently difficult past by teaching teens how to reject Satan with puppets. She's a horny new widow doggedly pursued by a horny minister, engaged in a dangerous liaison with one of her horny young puppeteers, and emotionally ill-equipped to cope with her own horny, hurt, badly repressed, and clearly demon possessed teenager. Though sometimes compared to Avenue Q, because both shows contain  foulmouthed puppets doing shocking things, Hand to God is more like a mashup of The Exorcist and King of the Hill, all under the influence of Meet the Feebles,

There's something not quite right about the Circuit Playhouse's production, admirably directed by Irene Crist, with showy performances by Jordan Nichols and L.B. Wingfield, and a strong cast all around. It's a tonal problem. Something I like to call "outside the trailer park looking in" syndrome, with actors commenting on characters they need to inhabit. But it's not quite wrong either — except in the ways it's supposed to be.
Hand to God works like The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt. It's a living comic book journey into mystery, complete with an ominous narrator. In this case, a gospel-preaching sock puppet named Tyrone. It's a trip to the House of Secrets in a Black Mirror universe much like our own, where humor and heartbreak spring from some really dark, sometimes genuinely upsetting places. Crist's take is a little more icky sit-com with lots of canned contemporary kiddie music. It should  appeal to the more mature end of the Stranger Things demo, but could stand a bolder, more cringe-inducing treatment.

Nichols uses young Jason/Tyrone's split personality to really show off his acting chops and it's impressive stuff.  The infernally-charged monster on the end of his arm has its own independent life — One that, unlikely as it seems, becomes even more unique and vibrant in the scenes Nichols plays with himself. The play's best moment happens when Jason and Jessica (L.B. Wingfield, wonderfully) have the show's first real breakthrough conversation. It's a feat they accomplish while their puppets are having nasty sex and too distracted to interrupt.

Tracie Hansom's about the bravest actor in town. She's always good and often great, though she didn't seem completely comfortable as Margery. The same goes for Sam Weekley as a minister with roaming hands and entitled fingers. He settles in when the good Reverend slips out of good ol' boy mode and into something a little more authoritarian.  As Timmy, the Sunday School bully, Jacob Wingfield takes care of business like the bad motherfucker in a John Hughes film.

I got the sense Hand to God was coming together late. On the night before opening actors were still too busy wrestling with their parts to be part of an ensemble. But they were getting there.

Freaky stuff, and recommended. But not for the faint of heart.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Rules for Radicals: "Blueprints to Freedom" is Right on Time

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 11:52 AM

Courtney Williams Robertson as Bayard Rustin in the Hattiloo Theatre's production of Blueprints to Freedom. - HATTILOO THEATRE
  • Hattiloo Theatre
  • Courtney Williams Robertson as Bayard Rustin in the Hattiloo Theatre's production of Blueprints to Freedom.
Blueprints to Freedom has its share of resonant moments. But, in this peculiar place we occupy in spacetime, nothing rang out in the theater like this four word question — "Why do we march?"

Michael Benjamin Washington's ambitious portrait of  Civil Rights organizer Bayard Rustin, zeroes in on a singular moment in history. But what went down in the hot summer of 1963 didn't stay in 1963. The historic march for jobs on Washington D.C. was attended by 250,000 people, creating magnificent ripples that still rock us today. The play is celebratory. But it's also cool, conflict-ridden and circumspect.  It shows Rustin, King's mentor in the ways of nonviolent protest, in exile, but still  the intellectual center of a coalitional movement grasping for unity. In the era of Black Lives Matter, Washington's soul-searching history, also forces us to consider whether or not the "protest or politics" choice Rustin and union leader A. Philip Randolph present is a false dichotomy. As the late Judge D'Army Bailey often suggested, as an early advocate for the creation of a National Civil Rights museum, maybe activism is always in season.
Davis, Randolph, and Rustin - HATTILOO THEATRE
  • Hattiloo Theatre
  • Davis, Randolph, and Rustin
American politics have always failed to account for class issues at the intersection of race and gender. Blueprints to Freedom is especially good at showing intersectional tensions inside the movement, with special attention paid to the predicament of being a minority inside a minority: Women, atheists, gays, etc. The communist-affiliated Rustin had been to jail for draft dodging, and for being homosexual, which made for easy propaganda, and an uneasy relationship with Martin Luther King and other movement leaders. All anybody had to do to spread discredit was go on the radio, name names, read charges, and infer, infer, infer.

American propaganda used against Americans isn't the latest fashion, it's retro chic.

Washington's play is also very good at showing Rustin's complicated relationship with physical sex, and how he found discipline, and motivation in faith, even when he was deeply skeptical, and unable to find the light or hear the still, small voice. It's especially satisfying watching Bayard — a Quaker whose faith walks hand in hand with a widening skepticism — sparring with MLK over which Biblical character they're most like, and how that rhetorical bedrock defines their tricky relationship.

The Hattiloo gets things done, but the production feels like an unfinished sketch — Roughed in and a little bit stilted. Even a beautifully executed piece of multimedia that takes the audience on a documentary tour of the '63 march stops the show in its tracks. Ultimately strong characters, strong writing, committed actors, and one hell of a timely story about complicated alliances, secrets, sacrifices, and hard choices wins the day.
Also starring a piano, never played. - HATTILOO THEATRE
  • Hattiloo Theatre
  • Also starring a piano, never played.
Courtney Williams Robertson struggles to find his center as Rustin, but grows into the role as the narrative unfolds. It's an unassured performance that still strikes many of the right chords. He is especially good in scenes where Rustin explores faith, not as a matter of passive certainty, but active process.

Tim Flowers and Charlton Johnson are effective as Randolph, and King. Like Robertson, it takes Johnson a little time to warm up to his role. But he's also a real life minister, and when he works up a good head of steam, there's a mix of vulnerability and authenticity to his cadences that transcends simple imitation. Strong stuff in fits and starts.

Hattiloo regular Bart Mallard is typically capable, if maybe a little too predatory-seeming, as Davis Platt, Rustin's white lover, who can't square any struggle for freedom that means he has to keep hiding and pretending. Mallard is a confident performer, and a grounding presence on stage. When he's in the game things move. Stakes become evident, and choices get made. The same is true of Maya Robinson, who never fails to find the humor or the humanity in her characters. She's a perfect fit for Miriam Caldwell, Rustin's atheist, feminist, single mom intern.

The Hattiloo has been on a roll with strong shows like Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting, and The House That Will Not Stand — easily the most fulfilling thing the company's produced since Hurt Village rocked its old, shop-front space to the foundation. To that end, Blueprints to Freedom, which could be fluid and majestic, is stiff, with visible seams and a projection screen that ripples like a sail in a gale. The one constant element — and probably the most important — is top notch content programming.  As was the case with The House That Will Not Stand, Blueprints is a show with a lot of life still ahead of it. We haven't heard the last of it.

So, back to the original question: "Why do we march?" There are a lot of answers, I guess. The first may be to find out who we are. The second is to show everybody else — or remind them — whether they like it or not. The rest is politics. 
Looking for the light. - HATTILOO THEATRE
  • Hattiloo Theatre
  • Looking for the light.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Take The 39 Steps, Please: Theatre Memphis Roasts Hitchcock

Posted By on Sat, Jan 28, 2017 at 5:21 PM

(l to r) Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Lena Wallace Black, Kinon Kiplinger and Chase Ring perform in the comedic adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The 39 Steps at Theatre Memphis, January 20 - February 5
  • (l to r) Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Lena Wallace Black, Kinon Kiplinger and Chase Ring perform in the comedic adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The 39 Steps at Theatre Memphis, January 20 - February 5
Style only goes so far. But sometimes "so far" is a long, long way. Theatre Memphis' take on The 39 Steps, an homage to cinematic suspense, murders any opportunity for tension or coherent storytelling, but the wounds bleed laughter. Style and some very good acting carry the day even when it's impossible to follow the plot. At every surprising twist and unforeseeable turn it looks great doing whatever it is it does.

The 39-Steps is a tough proposition. It's a balancing act between Hitchcocky storytelling and self-aware gags in the vein of a Seth Macfarlane cartoon. Only, instead of Family Guy's celebrity drop-ins, be on the lookout for allusions to other films, particularly those by the old master himself. Add to all that an impressive stunt factor:  Four actors  play somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 characters, revisiting events from movies that should be impossible to recreate onstage. Airplane chases, anybody? (Airplane chases anybody?)

Director Tony Isbell has built a chaotic clown show, chock full of cheap theatrics and owing as much to the Marx Brothers as it does to Hitchcock. Of course his cast of clowns are deadly serious, especially when they're being absolutely ridiculous. The show's train-top chase is a purely theatrical joy, as is the climactic moment when the villain is flung from the balcony. And if you think that's a spoiler, you may not fully grasp the fact that the plot just does not matter here at all. Besides, while unessential, it's more fun if you've seen the film already. If, by some chance, I've now spoiled the film for you, it's like 80-years-old, you had your chance.


The 39 Steps  tells the story of an ordinary, if almost impossibly handsome Londoner, who, while going about the everydays, stumbles bum-behind-teakettle into rollocking spy-infested misadventure. This go-round said Londoner is played by Kinon Keplinger, and it's a perfect fit. Keplinger's a versatile character actor trapped in the person of a lost-in-time leading man. He's a solid anchor — the one actor not jumping from role to role, holding all the play's threads together , even when things threaten to become unmoored.

Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Lena Wallace Black, and Chase Ring play everybody else with an eye toward the original film, and heel toward the banana peel. But not really. I'd never spoil a good banana peel gag.

I don't know how well the 39-Steps works in Theatre Memphis' big space. It's a big little show. It wants to be big, and it looks great on the stage. But it's also a show that benefits from intimacy. It wants to include the house, and Isbell's hyper-aware production ups the ante on all that. The deep, narrow space with its gulf between upper and lower seating doesn't prevent this sort of thing, but it's not ideal either.

The 39-Steps is one of those shows where pieces outshine the whole, and the gags are the best thing going. To that end it's a little like vaudeville. And, as the setting should make perfectly clear, it knows it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wild, Wild, Wild: Rock of Ages Revisits the Reagan Era

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 1:38 PM

Just a small town girl... - MCDONALD/SIMMERS
  • McDonald/Simmers
  • Just a small town girl...
It’s confession time. I haven’t been a fan of 80’s top-40 music since way back in the 80’s when my high school class wanted to make the sappy Phil Collins hit “Against All Odds,” the song we marched into at graduation. Unironically. So, it should come as no surprise, of all the jukebox musicals out there — good, bad, and terrible — I’ve always had the hardest time giving Rock of Ages a fair shake. It’s like somebody went out of their way to pick all the music I rebelled against and force-fit it into a thinly plotted romantic comedy set in the sleazy, testosterone-flooded hair metal scene of LA’s Sunset Strip. The first viewing I endured like torture, and swore it would be the last. The show’s campy edge couldn’t shake off the slime, and the few songs I do legitimately enjoy (Motering...) couldn’t escape the horrible gravity of Starship’s “We Built This City,” which, I think we can all agree, is at least a least a semi-finalist in the worst song in history contest. So imagine my surprise when I found myself (mostly) enjoying Playhouse on the Square’s energetic homage to the Reagan era, when everything was awful.

The story goes something like this: The economy is wrecked, city cores are crumbling, but it’s morning in America so foreign investors are snapping up property and transforming local flavor into upscale homogeneity. Into the scene walks Sherrie, a young girl from the heartland, in painted on cut-off 
Born, raised in S. Detroit. - MCDONALD/SIMMERS
  • McDonald/Simmers
  • Born, raised in S. Detroit.
jeans, dreaming of work on the silver screen, even while she works the pole in a gentleman’s club. A 5-minute stand with a burnout rockstar in the men’s room of the Bourbon Room (a stand-in for the Whiskey-a-Go-Go) has wrecked her chances for real love, and brought her to a place she never thought she’d be. Now she’s holding out for a hero.

In this case, the real bad guy isn’t the asshole rock star — a cross between David Lee Roth of Van Halen and Axl Rose. We recognize him from first meeting, as someone spiraling toward oblivion and probably a toilet filled with his own vomit. The villain is a German real estate speculator with no compunctions about bulldozing rock clubs and putting up a retail shopping destination. The hero is busboy and would-be metal god, Drew Boley, who only wants to rock. And maybe sip some wine coolers with a nice girl now and then.

Scott Ferguson is a favorite among directors. I like how he stuffs scenes to their bursting point with life, color, and texture, although sometimes storylines get swallowed up in all the fun. This go-round, he keeps the action up front, and the conflicts clear while working with choreographer Travis Bradley to build body shots, stage dives, and lots of windblown hair into the production numbers.  Even the muddled second act races along like a crazy train, always threatening to slip off the rails.

There’s always been a little teeny-tiny hint of Threepenny Opera in Rock of Ages, and Ferguson, and a rock solid ensemble, find grace and meaning in LA’s slimy underbelly. Maybe even a hard life lesson or two.

Kathryn Kilger is a fine fit for Sherrie, the good girl in a bad situation, and Chris Steinmetz is appropriately cringe-inducing as Stacee Jaxx, a pretty, petty boozed up sack of garbage in too-tight pants. Isaac Middleton sometimes struggles with the range and brute force the songs require, but he overcomes all obstacles including the character’s own piggish instincts. He makes you love him, and makes the music work.

The glue holding everything together, however, is Stephen Garrett, who’s back on stage in Memphis after a brief hiatus. It is a welcome and auspicious return. Garrett specializes in emotionally detached smart guys, smartasses, and smarmsters with hearts of gold. This go-round he’s Lonny, a rock-and-roll lifer, living for the city and the scene: A little bit middle aged Jim Morrison, a little bit roadie for Spinal Tap. But the way he leads both the audience, and his fellow characters through the show is more like stoner Bugs Bunny leading Elmer Fudd on a wild rabbit chase. You just know somebody’s gonna get a big ol’ kiss. It may be my favorite musical performance by Garrett since he Christian rocked the house in the band satire Alter Boyz.

If there's anything I dislike more than Hair Metal it's Huey Lewis & the New's Sports LP. But if there is a Heart of Rock & Roll it's Jarrad Baker as the Bourbon's true believing owner, trying to hold on to that feeling and everything else that matters, even if he can't hold on to his club. Jonathan Christian turns in a strong supporting performance as Hertz, the teutonic moneyman, as does dancing machine Daniel Stuart Nelson who channels the spirit of Klaus Nomi as Hertz’s son Franz. Brooke Papritz mugs a little too much in her role as a cartoon activist, but also displays comic instincts reminiscent of Laugh In-era Ruth Buzzi.

Annie Freres has a voice that can’t be ignored, and her too-brief moments on stage are worth the ticket price. "Shadows of the Night," could have gone on much, much longer.

I’m never going to be a Journey fan. Or a Bon Jovi fan. Or all that into Quiet Riot. But if every production of Rock of Ages was as full and fun as this one, I could warm up to it pretty quickly — Against all Odds.
Anywhere
  • Anywhere
Apologies: Brooke Papritz was originally misidentified because somebody clearly can't read a program. (Me)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hitchcock, Cock Rock, and Bayard Rustin Live on Stage

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 1:23 PM

Rock of Ages
I'm sure the Germans must have a word for it. (What does "Gunter gleiben glauchen globen" mean, anyway?) But, far as I know, there's no good English word or phrase to describe the sensation, unique to critics, of being entertained by a show you dislike in every way a thing can be disliked. "Guilty pleasure" doesn't quite get there, because there's nothing inauthentic about having one's biases dismantled by the right cast, or some clever staging.

The 80's-era jukebox show Rock of Ages collects all of my least favorite songs from high school (snatches of Benatar and actual guilty pleasure "Sister Christian" excepted) and plops them down in a thin romantic comedy set on the Sunset Strip in a fictionalized Whiskey-a-Go-Go during the sleazy heyday of hair metal. It's a fine locale for exotic bird-watching, and almost relevant as America lists in a gaudier, greedier direction.  Director Scott Ferguson keeps things light and moving, and the cast sells it even when some of them can't quite sing it. Either way, I could recommend this entirely were it not for some excessive mugging, and "We Built This City,"  an automatic deal breaker.

Still, if you need some 80's-era escapism, Playhouse on the Square's got a great big jellybean jar full of the stuff. Full review to come.

Screwball Suspense
(l to r) Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Lena Wallace Black, Kinon Kiplinger and Chase Ring perform in the comedic adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The 39 Steps at Theatre Memphis, January 20 - February 5
  • (l to r) Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Lena Wallace Black, Kinon Kiplinger and Chase Ring perform in the comedic adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The 39 Steps at Theatre Memphis, January 20 - February 5

The 39 Steps (opening at Theatre Memphis) is a fine example of what's possible when performers throw out all the old rules about "suspending disbelief" and simply ask audiences to engage their imagination and play along. Suddenly, anything's possible.

This giddy homage to Alfred Hitchcock is built on one primary conceit: A small company of actors play 150-plus characters, recreating events from various Hitchcock films that are impossible to recreate onstage — being chased by airplanes for example. When it works it's what fun theater is all about.

Blueprints to Freedom
hattiloo_blueprintstofreedom-email-600x675.jpg

Man, Bayard Rustin is a complicated individual. He was an architect of the Civil Rights movement but  isolated within the movement, not because of his prison time, but because he went to jail for things like standing up against the draft and being gay. He was as a nonbeliever among ministers — a Communist who eventually became a neoconservative. As a labor organizer his common sense mantra "from protest to politics," shifted responsibilities from individuals to intermediaries at the moment when corporations became people, money became speech, and the movement became unraveled.

Blueprints to Freedom, a new play opening this week at the Hattiloo Theatre drops in on Rustin in the tense Summer of 1963. It depicts a man of conviction and contradiction confronting an enormous, assignment — to organize an unprecedented march on Washington D.C. When it comes to subject matter, you simply couldn't ask for better.


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