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
imgres-1.jpg

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
2d9bd255b-00a9-c4e7-fabd1a7d12defde3.jpg

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.” 



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Munchkin Mayor Justin G. Nelson, Candidate for Most Adorable Duckmaster

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 5:03 PM

Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy. - DANIEL A. SWALEC
  • Daniel A. Swalec
  • Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy.
If you didn't get to see Memphis actor Justin G. Nelson's star turn as a Peabody Duckmaster, good news — there's video. Nelson played the mayor of Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz national tour that docked at the Orpheum earlier in June. 

The bad news: The show's picked up and moved on. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

What's on Stage in Memphis This Week?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 3:37 PM

Honey, I shrunk the Joads!
  • Honey, I shrunk the Joads!
The Promised Land isn't all milk and honey. That's one big takeaway from John Steinbeck's Great Depression-era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. GOW tells the hard luck story of the Joad family, who pack up and head for the West coast after losing their drought-stricken farm to the bank. This week Germantown Community Theater is opening a kids-only production of the American classic. That's right, kids-only.

Last year GCT responded to an apparent need. Between school productions, children's theater, regional theater extravaganzas like Theatre Memphis' Oliver, there are many opportunities for young people to perform in musicals. But how often do they get a chance to dig into something serious and meaty? 
Is Orpheus there? Can he come down?
  • Is Orpheus there? Can he come down?

The GCT All Children's Theatre launched last year with a production of the Scopes monkey trial drama Inherit the Wind. Grapes of Wrath is its second dramatic installment. 

And speaking of Grapes of Wrath, expat Memphis playwright Jerre Dye has been received outstanding notices for his performance in a Chicago production. Check it out. 

The new Cloud 9 theater company got off to a shaky start with its production of the a the forgettable play Marriage to an Older Woman. For its sophomore production the group has chosen to keep things relatively obscure, but with a much better script. The Outgoing Tide, by Bruce Graham tells the story of Gunner, a man who recognizes that he's slipping into dementia, but has a plan to insure his family's security. Gallows humor meets heady emotion in a show featuring the extraordinary talents of JoLynne Palmer, Jim Palmer, and Marques Brown.

ONGOING


The Wiz closes at Hattiloo this week, as does Orpheus Descending at Evergreen and Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse. 

Sister Act begins its second week at Playhouse on the Square and Theatre Memphis' critically acclaimed and popular production of Oliver! continues at Theatre Memphis through July 3. 
.
God is Love. Gruel is yucky.
  • God is Love. Gruel is yucky.
 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

New Editions: Pelican Shakespeare Gets a Facelift

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM

THE MIDSUMMER OF SHAKESPEARE
  • The Midsummer of Shakespeare
Looks like Arthur Miller isn't the only playwright getting some Penguin love this summer. The Pelican Shakespeare line's also getting a whole new look.
What You Will...
  • What You Will...


 I'm not going to pretend to know enough about previous editions to comment on what's changed other than the cover illustrations. The introductory essays are light reading and full of fun facts about everything from Elizabethan economics and theater's capitalist roots to the way performance changed as it moved indoors.
The best stuff addresses the silliness and snobbery that informs the most common authorship conspiracies. 
There's probably nothing new here for the Shakespearienced. But if you're looking for some new editions, here you go

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Orpheus Descending" is Ragged but Right

Posted By on Sun, Jun 19, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Lady & Val
  • Lady & Val



Within me there's a prison, surrounding me alone. Real as any dungeon with its walls of stone. I know running's not the answer, but running's in my nature, and the part of me that keeps me moving on. — "The Running Kind," Merle Haggard.





"We`re under a lifelong sentence of solitary confinement inside our own lonely skins. — Orpheus Descending (AKA The Fugitive Kind), Tennessee Williams.



I don't know why it gives me so much pleasure knowing that Merle Haggard's song "The Running Kind," is a melodic sketch of an underperformed Tennessee Williams play — Orpheus Descending. But it does. And it makes sense that Haggard, a hyperactive spirit who did his share of crime and time, would have been inspired by the tragedy's big screen adaptation The Fugitive Kind, staring Marlon Brando as a streetwise musician carrying the blues on his back in the form of an old guitar signed by Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and other players whose "names are written in the stars." Although the language can seem forced and artificial, there's something authentically American about Orpheus Descending that echoes Haggard's own hard luck storytelling at its very best. 



Williams once described his version of the Orpheus myth as the story of a, “wild-spirited boy,” named Val who wears a snakeskin jacket and makes his living with a guitar. Val wanders into, “a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop.” Underneath it all, according the the author, “it’s a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all."



In other words, it's a play about race, sexual oppression, and how civilized and not-so-civilized folk talk about things we’re not supposed to talk about. It's also a play from Williams' middle period where great characters and interesting stories are overburdened by symbolic imagery and verbally excessive monologues. Orpheus Descending is particularly plagued by too many characters cluttering the narrative, especially in the play's first act. But, given the right treatment, this particular obstacle evolves into the powerful evocation of a community defined by trivial pursuits, casual malice, and dirty little secrets.

Carol pays Uncle Pleasant to perform a native American chant.
  • Carol pays Uncle Pleasant to perform a native American chant.
The New Moon Theatre Company's take on Orpheus has some rough patches. The staging is pretty basic, and live musical elements are jarringly underdeveloped. Honest performances by a solid cast of local character actors keep things compelling, even when the edges begin to fray. 



Tracy Hansom is alternately powerful and painfully vulnerable as Lady, the daughter of an Italian immigrant, burned to death when his wine garden was torched by anonymous locals. Her accent wanders like a lost soul, but barely diminishes an otherwise strong showing. David Hammons is less convincing as the slew-footed Val, whose every unconscious move is interpreted as being sexually suggestive. But he's deeply committed to the role, and effective.



The cast is chock full of Memphis' finest. Top shelf actors including Ron Gephart, Tony Isbell, Delvyn Brown all appear in smaller roles, giving this production a lot of texture and depth. Michelle Miklosey is especially fine as Carol, the wild child from a good family, compelled to push the boundaries of taste and decency, at the expense of her own reputation.  



I've often described Orpheus Descending as an inspired failure — a mess with bits and pieces that far outshine the whole. I'm not alone in that sentiment, either. The most scathing review of both the film adaptation and the play comes by way of actress Talulah Bankhead, who laid her harsh words on the author directly. "Darling, they’ve absolutely ruined your perfectly dreadful play," Bankhead has been quoted as saying. I never thought it was as bad as all that, and over time my opinion has softened considerably. Warts and all, I tend to rank it among Williams' better efforts. It's certainly his strongest and most startling evocation of small town life in the deep South. 



Will New Moon's Orpheus turn your ticket? Maybe, maybe not. But it kept me engaged, and made me wonder why it's been 40-years since anybody in Memphis staged this difficult but deserving play. I mean, this is where the playwright first discovered Chekhov on the Rhodes college campus. It's where his first play was staged in the backyard of a Midtown home. And this is a play about music, the blues, and race and class struggles that include, but are not limited to the usual black and white. If ever there was a Tennessee Williams play that screams Memphis, this is it.



Catch it while you can. And do yourself a favor and listen to some Haggard before you go. And some Leadbelly too.   

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tennessee Shakespeare Company Scores with "Henry V"

Posted By on Thu, Jun 16, 2016 at 11:41 AM

slider-henry-v2.jpg
Red is passion. It's blood, lust, sin, embarrassment, anger, and revenge. It's also the color I left the theater seeing Saturday, and not for any of the usual reasons.

Red was burned into my retinas. Images of ragtag soldiers were burned into my brain. Lofty words echoed in my ears. And every little piece of it was bathed in red, red, red. 

To borrow a line from Shakespeare's titular boy king, "The fewer men, the greater share of honor." I suppose that means there's plenty of honor to go around for the 10 hard working actors taking on every role in Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Henry V, handsomely situated on stage at the University of Memphis through June 19. 

Tennessee Shakespeare's is the first revival of the Agincourt story since the River City Shakespeare Company (long defunct) crowned a female Prince Hal in the castle-like Tennessee Brewery in the early 1990s. To that end, it's overdue — off season, in a polarized nation that's gone through a shotgun blast of misguided ground wars while nationalism and nativism surged. Henry V's unique ability to function as a patriotic touchstone and fierce critique of war and its politics would have been especially resonant in the Bush era, while it lay regionally dormant. So, why now?

Because you can't keep a good, well-told story down, that's why. And Tennessee Shakespeare has delivered a spare, visually arresting epic that feels, genuinely, timeless. And so red. 

Much is made of Prince Hamlet's famous scene instructing actors. As much should be made of the Chorus' address to audiences in Henry V: "Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i' th' receiving earth, For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings."

Director Stephanie Shine puts a lot of faith in what happens when the power of Shakespeare's words are amplified by the imagination, and it pays off. 
There's one especially fine bit in an early scene where tennis balls — the offending gift to England from France — are bounced on stage to punctuate the action. It would have been nice to see this fantastically theatrical bit more fully developed and carried on throughout the show. But I'm not complaining. The effect is already powerfully echoed in the sounds of battle.

Set and costume design are striking, and to the point. Music composed by none other than King Henry V himself, wraps the show in uncommon authenticity. Colton Swibold — the only performer taking on a single role — is most effective as the silver-tongued king, and figurative leader of a tic-tight ensemble. It's a fine effort top to bottom but, in case I haven't made it completely clear yet, the star of this show is the color red. 


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Film" and "NotFilm": Buster Keaton & Samuel Beckett visit Brooks Museum

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 1:38 PM

Buster
  • Buster
It should have worked. It should have been amazing. 

What could be better than a team up between absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, and cinema's great clown Buster Keaton? Add to that, a story that's nothing more than a chase scene boiled down to essence? What could have possibly gone wrong?

The rather preciously named Film— screening at the Brooks Museum this week — should have been a spectacular cinematic event, not some footnote and fascinating curiosity. But Beckett had no idea how to make a movie. His friend and longtime collaborator Alan Schneider didn't either. Worser
Sam
  • Sam
  still, neither of these grand men of the theater knew how to talk to the poker-faced (and minded) Keaton, a certifiable master of the form.

Beckett and Keaton couldn't have been more different. The former was a heady, experimental philosopher, the latter more interested in technical details and visceral pleasures. Keaton had previously turned down the role of Lucky in the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, because, like so many American theatergoers, he just didn't get it.

Ironically, Beckett described Keaton as impenetrable. 

Keaton didn't understand Film either, and said so publicly. He took the gig because he needed the work. 

Visual essayist Ross Lipman tells the story of Beckett’s struggle to understand the language of film and of his difficult relationship with collaborators like Keaton and award winning cinematographer Boris Kaufman in the documentary Notfilm, also screening at the Brooks this week. Lipman's digital feature (not film) is narration-heavy, and contemplates itself into some un-cinematic corners. It also contains fantastic interview footage with actress Billie Whitelaw, who's widely regarded as the definitive interpreter of Beckett's work.

As a teenager, Leonard Maltin visited the movie set hoping to meet Keaton, whom he idolized. With starry-eyed fanboy zeal the popular film critic recounts his story of an uneventful meeting that, nevertheless, made a lasting impression. He knows Beckett was probably on location too, but Malton only had eyes for Keaton.
 

Beckett regarded Film as a qualified failure, and strong evidence that his peculiar brand of performance didn’t translate well to the big screen. Still, the curious artifact functions as a kind of movie trailer, teasing images and themes the playwright explores more thoroughly in plays like Endgame and Rockabye. It does so with lots of stark visual appeal thanks to Kaufman's cinematography.

NotFilm, by contrast, is a qualified success that could take a lesson from Beckett's show-don't-tell ethos. 

On a side note, Kaufman was the younger sibling of Russian film pioneers Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman. He worked as cinematographer and director of photography on a number of Hollywood features including Tennessee Williams' gorgeously-shot The Fugitive Kind. That was the story's third title. It had originally been staged as Battle of Angels, then rewritten and staged as Orpheus Descending

New Moon Theatre Company's solid production of Orpheus Descending is currently on stage at Midtown's Evergreen Theatre. 

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Will Call: What's on Stage in Memphis this Week?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 1:19 PM

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You know the Buckaroo Banzai catchphrase, “No Matter where you go, there you are?” There’s a lot of the sentiment in Tennessee Williams’s drama Orpheus Descending. The original film adaptation was called The Fugitive Kind, and its spirit is beautifully captured in Merle Haggard classics like "The Running Kind" and "Lonesome Fugitive." But Williams’ musically-inspired drama name-checks blues icons like Leadbelly, and and bumps and grinds to older, slinkier rhythms.


Williams once described his version of the Orpheus myth as the story of a, “wild-spirited boy,” named Val who wears a snakeskin jacket and makes his living with a guitar. Val wanders into, “a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop.” Underneath it all, according the the author, “it’s a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all."

In other words, it's a play about race, sexual oppression, and how civilized and not-so-civilized folk talk about things we’re not supposed to talk about.

To whet your whistle for the New Moon Theatre Company’s opening weekend of Orpheus Descending, here’s a clip of Marlon Brando talking about his guitar.


Also opening this week:

“Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
Crouch for employment.”
• Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Shakespeare’s Henry V is a multifaceted epic about politics, patriotism, friendship, loyalty, war, and it’s spoils. This production comes to us courtesy of Tennessee Shakespeare Company and the University of Memphis.


Den Nicholas Smith directs Together Alone for the Emerald Theatre Company. Together Alone’s about Bryan and Bill — if those are their real names — who hook up and talk about life and sex and death and things.

Everybody’s second-favorite orphan is back for more.

“More?”

Yes, that’s right, dammit, I said, “more.” Oliver’s not quite Annie I suppose, even though he has a more compelling story, full of hardship, thievery, and gruel. This latest revival— a first-time production for Theatre Memphis, surprisingly — is directed by A Christmas Carol regular, Jason Spitzer, who, at this point, should know a thing about grubby industrial London.

Ongoing:
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• Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse: This deeply silly Peter Pan origin story is too glib by half and one of the most magical things you’re likely to see on stage anytime soon. It’s reviewed here.

The Starcatcher and Peter
  • The Starcatcher and Peter

 • The Wiz: There sure is a lot of homage and redux on this week’s list. This funk and soul-infused Wizard of Oz sold out before it opened, so tickets are scarce. But it you didn’t get tickets, don’t worry. This isn’t the Hattiloo’s best effort, and Season 11 is just around the corner. 
Off to see the Wizard.
  • Off to see the Wizard.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"The Wiz" is a Hit... Because, Because, Because, Because

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 6:01 PM

Cast of the Wiz
  • Cast of the Wiz

The bad news for slowpokes: Hattlioo's production of The Wiz sold out most of its shows before opening night, and tickets are hard to come by.

The good news for slowpokes: Don't sweat it, you're not missing much. And if you really need a fix, the good parts are all on YouTube anyway. 

Also, thank goodness for advance sales, right? Because I really don't think this was the flashy season finale Hattiloo had in mind, and it's doubtful a flat, sung-to-tracks iteration of the Oz story would capture as many imaginations on the merits. There's too much talent on stage to dismiss this Wiz outright, but there's no compelling vision either. Design is uninspired at the edge of being downright counterproductive, and the whole thing smacks of something one might observe in a small town middle school cafetorium.

Even Emma Crystal's typically inspired choreography is only intermittently inspiring. 

The Wiz follows the original Wizard's blueprint pretty faithfully. There are Munchkins, and witches, flying monkeys, weird men behind curtains and, "I'm melting, I'm melting," and like that. With its gritty vintage tone and broad emotional spectrum, it can be a moving musical event, and funky good fun for all the senses. But the Hattiloo's music is all canned and thin-sounding, especially when contrasted with live human voices, and good ones at that. It's got no bottom to speak of, and instead of feeling the music in your body as one might in a club — or a good night at the theater — the experience is more like watching karaoke on cable access.

And let's be honest, nobody goes to see The Wiz because they just love the underdeveloped book. Music is the #1 priority, and here it feels like an afterthought. 


The visual experience isn't much better. The Hattiloo's versatile space — probably the most customizable in town — seems like it was laid out to host capacity crowds, not to stage a kick-ass musical. The oppressively gray and beige set establishes a playing space that's shallow and broad, so the action's all stretched out and mostly front-facing. Audiences seated on the sides get excluded. Like, a lot.

Pro tip: Sight lines are especially bad for those unfortunate enough to be seated all the way up right and left. Arrive early, sit anywhere else.

I've seen great proscenium-style theater in black box theaters, but that's never the most interesting or effective way to use this kind of space. That said, the creative team could stand to take a cue from the folks doing Peter & the Starcatcher on the proscenium stage next door at Circuit Playhouse and learn how less can be so much more. Actors and storytellers are more important than representational scenery. But I think I miss dynamics most of all, Scarecrow.

This show could have been so much better in the round with a smaller cast, a hot little combo, and a whole lot of creative problem solving. 

While the general tone may be flatter than Kansas, there are some real bright spots in the cast. Kortland Whalum has so much presence as the Tin Man it starts feeling like his show every time he sings. Charlton L. Johnson throws himself into the part of the cowardly lion with reckless and refreshing abandon. Mary Pruitt's similarly satisfying as the Lord High Underling, and there are others.

India Ratliff is fine as Dorothy, but for someone in almost every scene, she's never given very much to do. Which is really what's wrong with the whole production. The actors walk around, say their lines and dance with a modicum of conviction. But what should be high adventure through the urban funhouse lookinglass just kind of eases on through the most basic motions.

There've been times when I could easily describe The Hattiloo as being one of Memphis' most consistently creative and resourceful theaters. Fingers crossed the unevenness of recent productions can be chalked up to growing pains. Only a year into the new building, and already this ambitious company is physically expanding to accommodate rehearsals, programs, and events. In the meantime, artistry suffers consistently and considerably.

Nowhere is that more evident than in The Wiz.


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