Wednesday, April 27, 2011

High School Musical Award Nominations

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Who cares about the Drama League? Nominations are in for Memphis's high school musical awards!

From the Orpheum:

MEMPHIS, TENN — The Orpheum Theatre has announced the nominees for the 2011 High School Musical Theatre Awards. Now in its second year, this program recognizes achievement in all areas of high school musical theatre in the region. On May 26, 2011 at 7:00 p.m., students and supporters from all 28 participating schools will gather at The Orpheum for the final awards ceremony.
The nominees for the 2011 Orpheum High School Musical Theatre Awards are:

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Death Takes a Salesman: New Moon scores with an Arthur Miller classic

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Janie Paris and Ron Gephart
  • Janie Paris and Ron Gephart
Unadorned. That’s the best description I can muster for the New Moon theatre company’s Death of a Salesman which closes at TheaterWorks this weekend. That probably sounds like a mild complaint but I mean it as sincere praise. Because this Salesman is a fine example of how little you need to create an impact in the theater when you begin with strong material and artists who trust it.

Spoiler Alert: Willy Loman—Arthur Miller's titular salesman— dies. But you probably knew that already. The modern classic ends with his widow—played here by Janie Paris— kneeling beside a fresh grave, unable to cry. “I made the last payment on the house,” she tells her dead husband, the small, imperfect EveryAmerican-Capitalist who spent the last few days of his pavement-pounding life confused, jobless, worried that he wouldn’t have enough money to fix the refrigerator let alone keep his home. “We’re free,” Paris says. "We're free."

It’s hard to watch Paris speak these words from Salesman's closing scene and not believe that this 62-year old drama says more about America today than anything written in the last 10-years.

“They took out the biggest ad” Loman says earlier in the play, bragging on his excellent taste in refrigerators. One little line can say so much about a man.

Loman bets big on appearances, popularity, and the positive, big-dreaming language of self-actualization. Caveat Emptor? Those are just loser words in a dead language. There’s no way the Salesman could be sold a line of cheap goods. Who needs to be well informed when you're well liked and well laid? That's how the world works, right? When you’re a boy?

Ron Gephart is an unusually soft-spoken Willy Loman and he is uncommonly sympathetic as Miller’s little man who gets every bit as tired as a big man. He is the modern condition, distracted by regret, twitching with misplaced ambition and unfocused rage. Somebody lied to him. And he passed the lie along.

“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away,” Loman tells his boss, the young, image-conscious son of the Company’s founder. The boss, is coolly played by Wesley Barnes whose mere tolerance of Loman barely conceals a revulsion bordering on contempt. "A man is not a piece of fruit,” Gephart shouts, like he might be having a man to man disagreement. But Willy Loman isn't talking to a man he's talking to the invisible hand of the Market. He's summarily discarded. The play goes on but that’s the final curtain.

Brian Everson and Tripp Hurst are a rambunctious combo as Loman’s sons, Biff and Happy. Both are infected by their father’s misconceptions and puffed up with unearned pride.

Loman’s got a neighbor, Charlie. Charlie’s a nerd and so’s his kid. They are both very successful. And even though the old salesman borrows Charlie’s money knowing he’ll never be able to repay he makes fun of his neighbor. Because he's a nerd and that's what well liked men do, they make fun of nerds. Entertainment writer Jon Sparks makes Charlie a wise and even-tempered, but not above trying to take a little of his own money back from WIllie at the card table. For having not appeared on stage in 40 years, the unassuming Sparks doesn’t seem to have missed a beat.

Director Marler Stone assembled a top notch ensemble but Paris’s voice lingers after everything else fades away.

“We’re free,” she says linking the American dream of ownership with the language of slaves.

If you’ve got time for one show this Easter weekend, this would be my recommendation. It’s simple, old fashioned, and as fresh as it's ever been.

When: Through April 24
Price: $15 general admission/$12 seniors, students, and military

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Clybourne Park" Wins the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 11:36 AM

Clybourne Park
  • Clybourne Park
Bruce Norris's black comedy about race and real estate was described by the nominating committee as a "powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America's sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness."

Samuel L. Jackson to star in Broadway Debut of Memphis Playwright Katori Hall

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 9:27 AM

Katori Hall
  • Katori Hall
It's official, as I hinted
Samuel L. Jackson
  • I have a m#@%&#f&#$ing dream
  • Samuel L. Jackson
last June, Samuel L. Jackson will star as Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis playwright Katori Hall's Olivier-winning play The Mountaintop.

This isn't the first time that Jackson, a Chattanooga native, has taken on material by a Memphis writer. He co-starred with Christina Ricci in Craig Brewer's Black Snack Moan.

"The Mountaintop" begins preview performances on September 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and is scheduled to open on October 13. Tickets are not yet available.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Orpheum CEO Pat Halloran receives Governor's Award

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Pat Halloran and his Tony Awards
  • Pat Halloran and his Tony Awards
From the Orpheum:

On Tuesday evening, April 12th 2011, Pat Halloran, Orpheum President & CEO, was presented with the Governor’s Arts Award for Arts Leadership. The award was presented to Halloran by Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam during a ceremony produced by the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Halloran was selected in the category of Arts Leadership. Recipients in this category may come from arts organizations, business, educators, patrons, arts administrators, corporations, or volunteers who have demonstrated significant support or participation in activities which foster excellence in, appreciation of, or access to the arts throughout the state... Halloran played a key role in the preservation of The Orpheum Theatre. His leadership positioned The Theatre as a vibrant cultural treasure and as an economic development partner with downtown Memphis. Once in a state of disrepair, The Orpheum Theatre now thrives as a world-class performing arts facility and makes a significant economic impact on downtown Memphis and surrounding areas.

The Orpheum CEO, has also received two special Tony awards for his behind the scenes work as a producer for Thoroughly Modern Millie, and more recently, Memphis,

Shave and a Haircut: Barber of Seville opens at the Cannon Center

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 9:17 AM


Figaro, a barber helps Count Almaviva to woo the beautiful Rosina, who is also being pursued by Dr. Bartolo, a man with less honorable intentions. Hilarity ensues in one of the most entertaining operas ever devised.

Featuring Audrey Luna stright from her Metropolitan Opera debut. Grammy nominees Jordan Shanahan and David Adams are hilarious as Figaro and Count Almaviva!

The Barber of Seville is a collaboration withMississippi Opera
Cannon Center for the Performing Arts
255 North Main, Memphis
April 16 @ 7:30p
April 17 @ 3:00p

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Germantown Community Theatre makes the best of hard times

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Paul Hoover in The Fantastiks
  • Paul Hoover in The Fantastiks
"I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't have somebody come in and burn some sage to lift the curse," joked Brent Davis, a few days back. Davis, GCT's executive producer has been guiding the tiny playhouse through some turbulence, of late. Dixie Swim Club's opening was postponed when the theater was forced to shut down temporarily to make necessary repairs. Then Jo Lynne Palmer, one of Memphis's favorite character actresses, suffered a small stroke and had to be replaced after only one performance of The Fantasticks. Now Kent Fleshman, El Gallo in the ongoing production of The Fantasticks, has been sidelined due to illness.

"I'm starting to call this 'The Little Show that Could," Davis said. When we spoke on the phone this afternoon Fantasticks director Andy Saunders was working with Paul Hoover, a senior at Germantown High, who recently played El Gallo at Poplar Pike Playhouse. "Paul is already off book. Were so lucky that he was close by, and willing to do this," Davis added.

As of our most recent conversation there was still some possibility that Thursday's show would be cancelled, but Davis seemed confident that it would not. Still, if you have reservations, it might be best to check your messages before you head to the theater tonight.

They say "The show must go on," but it's not always true. Last week Circuit Playhouse had to cancel two performances of Grey Gardens when Carla McDonald became ill.

UPDATE: Thursday's show has been cancelled.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Re-Reading Richard III: A slight correction

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Two weeks, two corrections. I'm on a roll.

In this week's issue I describe Richard III as being chopped and reassembled like a puzzle. That's an overstatement I'd like to correct. The text has been chopped, but mostly appears in its correct order.

Last week I re-read Richard on my iPhone. I love the tech. I even walked into Theatre Memphis skimming through it. And I walked out with the distinct impression that, in addition to being cut, it had been shuffled. My mistake, although I'm claiming some assistance.

The show's powerfully staged opening scene is, in fact, culled from the previous history 3Henry VI. That's not an unprecedented thing to do but when strongest scene in your show isn't from your show, you're in trouble. And completely skipping the peaceful lull between war and intrigue—the "weak piping time of peace"— I lost the thread. In this Goth world, Richard seemed no more deformed than anybody else. What on Earth was his problem?

This morning, while waiting to shoot Local Color at WKNO I bumped into one of the cast members. It prompted me to pull up the Richard III text again. Flipping through I realized that, while certain liberties had been taken with the text, they were perhaps not as extreme as they seemed when Greg Boller—who should have been a very good Richard—was forced to act some of his more intimate scenes while functioning as a follow spot operator.

I've admired director Bo List's work for years because he's an artist who swings for the fence every time he comes up to bat. The occasional spectacular trike out is to be expected. In this case, it wasn't quite as bad as described, although it's still pretty spectacular.

Friday, April 8, 2011

John Holmes's PICNIC?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 10:28 AM


Really? That's the poster for WIlliam Inge's Picnic? Sure, I guess actor John Moore is showing a little less skin than William Holden is here. Maybe.


But there's something in that post-pulp pose and in that Blue Velvet background that makes me wonder if Ron Jeremy will show up in the crowd scenes.

More about the Emergency Needs for the Theater Artists Community FUND

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM

Debbie Litch in Curtains
  • Debbie Litch in "Curtains"
I received this email from Randall Hartzog P.R. Director for Theatre Memphis. It's got a lot more information about the medical relief program I mentioned yesterday.

Theatre Memphis has set up a community fund to aid and assist volunteers and staff of the Memphis theater community who are in medical or specific social financial distress or need. The account is called the Emergency Needs for the Theater Artists Community FUND. The process to receive funds will be monitored and applied by a committee appointed by Theatre Memphis and will be open to the entire Memphis theater community as defined by the committee. Each award of cash will be reviewed on an individual basis with the priority going to medical needs and assistance.

“This is a need that presented itself when one of the community’s cherished and beloved actors, Jo Lynne Palmer, suffered a stroke and has absolutely no insurance, at no fault of her own,” says Debbie Litch, Executive Producer of Theatre Memphis. “To create an entity that can support our community that gives so much to us with their time and talents is just another small way we can show our appreciation.”
The account is set up to receive specific donations to specific calls for need and will be used as a general fund only when the donations over exceed the immediate medical or social need that has been requested. All payments will be made towards invoices or bills submitted by the recipient and approved by the Theatre Memphis committee. Litch adds, “Though this may not cover all the bills that may come in for an individual in need, it can certainly help and be a concerted way to gather these funds quickly by having a fund already in place.” Brent Davis, Executive Producer at Germantown Community Theatre, was involved in the creation of the idea to create this fund when an actor’s illness directly affected a stage production at Germantown Community Theatre. “It was one day after opening night of our production of the Fantasticks and Jo Lynne (a cast member) suffered a stroke. The production went on with a stand-in, but what really mattered was that we care for her. When we learned that she was uninsured, I reached out to other Memphis theaters for help. This incident was a real wake up call for me and really pointed to a gap in our community that no one had filled … so many artists give of their time and talents in the theater community and we recognize that we need to pull together when actors and other volunteers can’t help themselves.”

Davis called Litch to discuss the matter and found that she had already started the wheels turning on a similar idea. Since Theatre Memphis already had certain systems in place, it made sense for Theatre Memphis to handle and funnel the funds. Palmer has been a long time volunteer actor at Theatre Memphis, her most recent role as Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy in 2010. “Of course these funds

Jo Lynne Palmer as Miss Daisy
  • Jo Lynne Palmer as Miss Daisy
will be made available for primarily medical emergencies based on need and will be funded by the public after a call for help is sent out,” Litch continues. “It truly is going to be a vehicle to be able to organize an effort like that quickly and be easy to apply the help for an immediate need.”
To donate to the fund, cash, checks or credit cards are accepted to Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Ext, Memphis, TN, 38117, with a designation for the Palmer Account. To contribute, call 901.682.8601 or look for a link at to pay through Paypal. There will also be links on other theatres websites that will direct you to the Paypal screen for payment.

This is a fantastic idea, and long overdue. Playhouse on the Square has a history of making affordable insurance—something of an oxymoron some might say—available to its professional company members and interns. The Tennessee Shakespeare Company employs unionized actors. But the overwhelming majority of Memphis's community players are volunteers and freelancers who give a lot of their time and talent for little, and in most cases, no money. Standing O to all involved.

To donate visit

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An open rehearsal for Ballet Memphis's "Romeo & Juliet"

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Ballet Memphis opens Romeo & Juliet at Playhouse on the Square this weekend. Here's a little peek behind the scenes.

A Message from Jo Lynne Palmer: Remember me in Light

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Jo Lynne Palmer
  • Jo Lynne Palmer
I received a sweet note from Jo Lynne Palmer yesterday letting me know that she was at home and on the road to recovery. For those who may not know, Palmer opened The Fantasticks on Friday night at Germantown Community Theatre in the role of Henry "the old actor," a part she's wanted to play for 30 years. On Saturday morning she suffered a mild stroke.

"I did get to do opening night though," says Palmer who continues to suffer numbness and paralysis on her left side. "As old actor says 'remember me in light.'"

Hopefully, we'll all have more opportunities to see Jo Lynne in light before we have to start remembering

Jo Lynne Palmer and a giant talking lizard in Edward Albees Seascape
  • Jo Lynne Palmer and a giant talking lizard in Edward Albee's Seascape
her there, but in any case, it's no difficult request. The formidable actor first caught my eye playing various characters in Rhodes' landmark 1985 production of Nicholas Nickelby. I quickly came to appreciate her straightforward style, and her bawdy sense of humor over beers at the P&H Cafe. Her husband Jim's no slouch on stage either, and his hand-drawn Christmas cards featuring "Little E," a tiny Elvis-inspired character adrift in a Walt Kelly world, are an eagerly-awaited holiday treat at the Davis house.

I count myself fortunate to have worked with Jo Lynne on classics like Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, and modern masterpieces like Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind. But the greatest pleasure has been watching from the audience as this painfully honest actor transforms herself from show to show. Her work in Beauty Queen of Leenane stands out as a favorite leading role but Jo Lynne is the kind of performer who can be cast in a small character part and turn a not very good play into a must-see. What she did with an urn full of human remains and a bowl of gazpacho in the otherwise mediocre Humble Boy won't soon be forgotten.

Here's hoping for a speedy recovery, and many more memories.

UPDATE: I just received this note from GCT's Brent Davis about the creation of a relief fund for members of the Memphis theater community, with Jo Lynne being its first beneficiary. Here's what it said:

The Memphis Theater Community is uniting in the creation of a special fund for theatre volunteers in similar situations to Jo Lynne Palmer. Debbie Litch and Theatre Memphis have set up a community fund to aid and assist volunteers and staff of the Memphis theater community who are in medical or specific social financial distress or need. The account is called the Emergency Needs for the Theater Artists Community FUND. The process to receive funds will be monitored and applied by a committee appointed by Theatre Memphis and will be open to the entire Memphis theater community as defined by the committee. Each award of cash will be reviewed on an individual basis with the priority going to medical needs and assistance. To donate to the fund, cash, checks or credit cards are accepted to Theatre Memphis, 630 Perkins Ext, Memphis, TN, 38117, with a designation for the "Palmer Account." To contribute, call 901.682.8601 or look for a link at to pay through Paypal.

To visit

Even Steven: A correction and some thoughts about Twelfth Night

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 9:12 AM

Jade Hobbs and Steven Brown in Pride & Prejudice at Theatre Memphis
  • Jade Hobbs and Steven Brown in "Pride & Prejudice" at Theatre Memphis
In this week's issue of the Flyer I briefly mention Memphis actor Stephen Garrett's good work in Twelfth Night at Rhodes. I am sorry to report that this was incorrect. Although I've enjoyed Mr. Garrett's work on many occasions, and was quite taken with his turn in the regional premiere of [Title of Show], I didn't enjoy him a bit in Twelfth Night at Rhodes College. He wasn't good at all in the role of Malvolio, a vain and prudish servant to the lady Olivia because he did not play Malvolio, which was, in fact, undertaken by the equally gifted Steven Brown, whose work I have also enjoyed on numerous occasions. I regret the error— some temporary case of homophonic first name confusion— more than most because I wanted to single out Brown's performance as something of a milestone.

Rhodes' McCoy Theatre has brought in some great guest directors to help celebrate its 30th season. Chicago stalwart Scott Ferguson, a frequent visitor to Playhouse on the Square turned The Robber Bridegroom into a living quilt to start the season. Nick Hutchison a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company closes the festivities with a lean, straightforward approach to Twelfth Night, paying special attention to consistency of character and Clarity of language. What I've seen of Hutchison's take isn't as funny as it might be. But it's honest, and deceptively satisfying, with especially fine performances by a refined Kilby Hodges, as the Lady Olivia, and a scrappy, trouser-wearing Lee Bryant as Viola. Both are artists to watch. But—no matter what name I call him by— my favorite thing about this production is Steven Brown's Malvolio. Here's why.

My take on Brown's regional career in a nutshell: Tall, handsome, sincere, somewhat stiff actor is repeatedly cast as the tall, handsome, sincere somewhat stiff leading man, with predictable results. That's, of course, a cartoon version of reality, and Brown has always done solid character work. But it's not that far off the mark, either. With Malvolio however, a gifted performer with an affinity for the classics, has found a signature part. Brown's go at Shakespeare's puffed up authoritarian shows just how much he's matured as an actor since he made audiences swoon as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice in 2008. I want to see him do it again and again. Very fine and very funny.

Twelfth Night skips a weekend—unusual, I know, but that's how the LynxCats roll—but returns April 14-17. I'm heading back for the last Sunday matinee.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A preview of "Bat Boy" at the U of M

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Bat Boy
  • Bat Boy
Here's a nice early look at the U of M's Bat Boy from The Daily Helmsman

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Three Questions with Jerry Torre of Grey Gardens (and three more with Carla McDonald)

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 12:03 PM

Jerry Torre
  • Jerry Torre
Jerry Torre was 16 in the Summer of 1974, when he ran away from home and found employment as a gardner on oil billionaire J. Paul Getty's East Hampton estate. That same year the young man Little Edie Beale called "The Marble Faun," stumbled across Grey Gardens, and into pop culture history when his visits to the decaying mansion were captured by the Maysles Brothers in their famous 1975 documentary. Drew Hampton is currently playing Torre in the musical version of Grey Gardens, which is on stage at Circuit Playhouse through April 17, but here's what the original "Marble Faun" had to say about life at Grey Gardens, and its various translations to the stage and screen. And if this interview isn't enough Bouvier/Beale to quench your thirst for staunch characters, there's a second interview with Grey Gardens star Carla McDonald below the fold.

Intermission Impossible: Your proximity to the Beales makes you a fair judge: of all the versions of Grey Gardens we've seen in recent years, which one is most accurate in getting who the Beales were and what life was like in their peculiar corner of the universe?

Jerry Torre: The First film Grey Gardens [the documentary] is my choice with the two films. The conditions of the mansion were actually improved upon before this. Yet it does take the viewer into a brief understanding of the personalities, living conditions, and complexities of the women.

Intermission Impossible: What's it like to see your love of corn immortalized in song?

Jerry Torre: When I did hear the song "Jerry likes my corn" I was in awe of the interpretation's gravity into our relationship through a song. It captured what I had known about our relationship: a moment in our life at Grey Gardens. One of concern. I'm honored with [the] tender interpretation of our relationship. There was a young boy who shared the simplistic joys of caring about one's dear friend. Mrs.Beale was a mother to me. Only a few days into our relationship and I knew that I was home.

Intermission Impossible: Does the world's seemingly unending fascination with the Beales surprise you? What do you think it is that keeps people coming back for more?

Jerry Torre: Once I shared my thoughts on [the documentary] Mrs.Beale looked at me [and said], "Years into your life people will find our relationship to be one of interest." It has been 35-years since. It is one very fascinating event. One that begins with a grand old mansion on the East end of Long Island where estates have great history. When I walked into the mansion my very first day I felt the history of a family. Of a place where time had stopped. There were no people quite like Mrs.Beale and Edie. Their appeal lives on. One of individual expression in ones own choice of lifestyles. The appeal is one of individuals who seek to live.

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