Monday, April 29, 2013

High School Musical Award Nominees Announced for 2013

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 3:48 PM

Everything you need to know about the HSMAs in one convenient video.

Sabaa & Sam
  • Sabaa & Sam
Winners will be announced Thursday, May 23rd at 7:00 p.m. More than 200 students will perform on stage and the winners in the Lead Actor and Actress categories will travel to New York City in June to compete nationally in the Jimmy Awards held at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.

Last year's big winners Sam Shankman and Sabba Sharma— who I interviewed here— were featured in the PBS miniseries Broadway or Bust.

Watch Broadway or Bust: Boot Camp - Preview on PBS. See more from Broadway or Bust.

Tickets are $15-$35 and go on sale to the public May 6.
People's Choice Award voting begins on May 10, 2013.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Club Orpheum: A new social organization for young (theater) lovers

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 3:29 PM

The Orpheum Theatre is launching a new social club. Tuesday, April 23 from 5:00-7:00 PM in the Pat Halloran Broadway Club, the theater will announce, and launch a membership drive for The Orpheum Crew. The club is aimed at Theatergoers between the ages of 25 and 40.

The Orpheum Crew was created to cultivate the next generation of Broadway Theatergoers.

The April 23rd launch pcoincides with the Opening Night of MEMPHIS THE MUSICAL. To RSVP or request aditional information, digits: 901-529-4287 or

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Shaggy Dog: "Sylvia" is a funny play. Sometimes.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 9:12 AM

Bonnie, Tony, Sylvia
  • Theatre Memphis
  • Bonnie, Tony, Sylvia

As Greg, a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis, Randy Hartzog took the less-is-more approach and came out on top. Greg's a man who loves his dog (and what’s wrong with that?). And he's confused by an increasingly hermetic world that has disease-a-fied even the mildest imitation of passion.

Okay, that was a false start. But that's what I wrote, more or less, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and-mumblemumblmumble, when I reviewed the second (I think) of director Ann Marie Hall's three productions of Sylvia. Flash forward (mumblemumble) years and Hartzog, who knows the piece intimately, is in the director's chair at Theatre Memphis, staging one of the shaggy dog story's best productions yet. The set: perfect. The cast: perfect. Lighting, costumes, sound design: Perfect, perfect, perfect.

So why did dead-half of a show I thought I (mostly) liked leave me colder than a polar bear's dirty martini? I've been asking myself, and friends, the same question.

Sylvia is still the story of two New York empty-nesters and (of course) Sylvia, the stray dog that comes between them. It’s yet another A.R. Gurney sitcom, featuring a variety of WASPy dilemmas served on a bed of WASPy relationships, dusted with WASPy wit, and smothered in sentimentality. Scary? Very. Awful? By no means. It's a real Scooby snack: a sweet that would rot your teeth in no time given a steady diet of the stuff. Delicious? Yes. Nutritious? Probably not, but it tastes so good, who cares?

That last paragraph, is also from a past review, mostly.

Aliza Moran's performance as the home-wrecking mutt might provide a bit of insight for theologians wrestling with the concept of a being both fully human, and fully divine. She's one hundred percent human and completely canine. If all performances had this degree of specificity and commitment there would be no need for critics — it would all be good.

As Greg, a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis, Tony Isbell takes the less-is-more approach and comes out on top. He is a man who loves his dog (and what’s wrong with that?) and... wait, isn't this where we came in?

Sylvia has moments of inspired, if lowbrow comedy. When a dog calls a cat a cocksucker, that's just funny. But the show hasn't aged especially well. The problem is Kate, Greg's wife, a teacher re-entering the workforce after the last kid has gone off to college. She's got a WASPY savior complex, and is driven to bring Shakespeare to inner city kids with their raps and rhymes. She is, at once, the only responsible adult in the show, and the villain of the piece. Most of the piece anyway.

When Greg brings a dog home Kate—strongly portrayed by Bonnie Daws Kourvelas— puts her foot down. Because dogs require a lot of work and something about her career and teaching Shakespeare to inner city kids. Her position never fluctuates. Until the play absolutely positively has to end.

She's a straw wife, existing only to serve a few functional purposes. Our modern woman provides the show a modicum of conflict and social context but in the end she'll compromise her dreams to allow for her husband's mid-life indulgences. And they live happily ever after, more or less.

Sylva's obviously not just a dog. She's a stand in for many possibilities: A sports car, some extreme hobby, or a common affair. The dog is literally another woman, and jokes about her cute little ass are an end run around straight objectification.

But it's funny, right?

When it's funny, it's very funny. Moran, a strong, physically changeable performer with a real knack for comedy gives as virtuoso a performance as you're likely to see this season. Spencer Miller is superb as both a dog loving bro and a profoundly white woman.

But I don't think I like this play very much. And when this Sylvia finally runs off, I hope she stays gone.

And she's gone after this weekend.

Ticket information here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"As You Like It" is a likable diversion at Rhodes.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 9:33 AM

The only known photograph of William Shakespeare
  • The only known photograph of William Shakespeare
So, how do you like it? Out of town? On the ground? Near a boat? With a goat? William Shakespeare wants to know. And, he wants to accommodate.

Guest Director Nick Hutchison has staged a beautiful production of Shakespeare's somewhat naughty As You Like It at Rhodes College. But I have to admit, the Wednesday night preview occasionally left me scratching my head and thinking decidedly un-Shakesperean thoughts. "WTF," for example.

Hutchison's previous production of Twelfth Night at Rhodes was top notch, and, as I have already reported, I had an absolute blast sitting in on a team-taught Hamlet class that the RSC-bred actor/director helped to lead. So, I was more than a little surprised to find myself occasionally struggling to stay engaged with the first of Shakespeare's comedies that (thanks to a no-holds- barred 80's- era production by a young Nashville Shakespeare Festival) I ever truly fell in love with. This production, like Hutchison's Twelfth Night, delights in the meaning of the words, rather than the words themselves, but unlike the earlier effort, there are some odd character choices, and the words and actions aren't always fairly matched.

If you need a synopsis, that's what the internet's for. Intermission Impossible attracts a fairly literate crew and I expect most readers know the story of Orlando, Rosalind, an exiled Duke, and a variety of clowns that journey from the city to the country and discover love in its infinite variety.

Many of Hutchison's more theatrical choices— the sort of non-literal choices I usually revel in— seemed like the stubs of interesting ideas, barely realized. I was especially confounded by the stylized finish to the wrestling match. Did young Orlando win his match or did Charles the wrestler have an aneurysm? Also, confetti boxes exploding as if at Orlando's command, had no precedent, or ensuing rhyme. So they stood out as an odd gimmick. Although, for those willing to stoop at intermission, it was nice to see the name "Rosalind" — Orlando's love — written on the tiny slivers of paper.

In many ways Hutchison's As You Like It resembles his Twelfth Night. There are scenic resonances, and cast members returning in similar roles. Steven Brown, whose Malvolio, is among the best I've seen, has returned, and is a convincing Jaques, if not as colorful as the grumbly former libertine might be. Likewise, Donald Jellerson, a brilliant Feste in Twelfth Night, showed real promise, but often seemed unsure of himself as Touchstone, the syllogism-spouting clown, who's in love with a shepherdess, but not the idea of settling down.

The student work was uniformly solid, though some character choices were questionable. I'm never comfortable laughing at a character someone has randomly designated as a fop, merely for the sake of the comic potential found in broad stereotypes. That happened. And there was a strong sense — at least on the night I attended — that everyone needed more run-throughs. Obviously, time has passed since the night I dropped by, and I would be very interested to see how the show has grown in a week.

It's probably easy to read this as a review filled with complaints. And I suppose that's what it is. But it's really more of a review full of questions in the form of statements and disagreements that are more quibble than qualm. Others may be un-bothered by the inconsistencies, and happy to play along. For me, what's proving to be special about a Nick Hutchison production, is the rare, and wonderful opportunity to see actors— especially young actors— playing Shakespeare's characters, not acting Shakespeare. It's a quality that smooths over imperfections, and difficult to quantify. It's also why you might want to see this show whether my review makes it sound appealing or not.

For deets, here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Actor stops show, tells patron to turn her cell phone off

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 2:36 PM


I have mixed feelings about how actors and audiences should handle ringing cell phones. Part of me thinks all action should stop and everybody should stare daggers at the offending party. Another part thinks "the show must go on," and anything else is an even greater interruption. Anyway, what follows is a slightly edited version of a rant by Memphis theater stalwart Tony Isbell, who is currently starring in Sylvia at Theatre Memphis alongside Aliza Moran and Bonnie Daws Kourvelas. This is his description of an event that occured during a Sunday matinee, and I'd love to collect readers' thoughts on the matter.

I did something on stage today that I have never done before. I stopped the performance because of a ringing cell phone in the audience. Allow me to elaborate...

Bonnie [Daws Kourvelas] and I have a short scene [near the end of the play]. In the [audience], a phone starts ringing and it was loud. The lady had one of those rings that literally sounds like the bell on an old rotary phone. Two ladies were sitting on the front row in the Next Stage, which means they were sitting on the stage floor itself. The phone was obviously in the purse on the floor between them. Ultimately the phone rang between 12 and 15 times.

Here is the sequence:
1: The phone starts ringing. Bonnie and I tried to continue.
2. The phone rings about three times. I turn and stare at the woman giving her a nasty look. I can see one woman turn to the other. I can read her body language. She indicates "Should we get the phone." The other woman indicates, It'll stop. This makes me very angry.
3. Bonnie and I try to continue the scene. The phone keeps ringing. I turn to the woman and say, "Would you please turn that phone off?" Both women sit stone-faced and do not move. Bonnie, bless her heart, tries to keep the scene going for another line or so. The phone is still ringing, now up to 8 or 10 very loud rings.
5. I turned to the audience. I say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for this, but seriously, turn that phone off. The lady still isn't moving.
6. Finally, as I stare, one woman starts to reach for her purse. Then, after all that, the phone stops ringing.

I have been tempted to stop performances before but I never have. But I've got to tell you, this is kind of like losing your virginity. The next time will be a lot easier.

So, did the actor overreact or do the right thing? This sort of response has become increasingly common, it seems. But cell phones aren't going away, and accidents do happen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dance Fever: New Ballet Ensemble is back with another edition of SpringLoaded

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 2:46 PM


If it's Springtime it's New Ballet Ensemble time. And if there has ever been a time for New Ballet Ensemble, it is now. This has been the blow up season of Memphis Jookin, especially as the street-born style has impacted classical culture, and gone global. NBE is the nexus where these two worlds first collided and this progressive dance school continues to experiment with classical, modern, and folk forms from Memphis and around the world.

New Ballet Ensemble Presents "Springloaded" from New Ballet Ensemble on Vimeo.

This year's SpringLoaded concert showcases new work from Alan Obuzor, inspired by his Nigerian heritage and also a new fusion of flamenco and Jookin developed by Noelia Garcia Carmona with dancer Shamar Rooks and multi instrumentalist Roy Brewer.

‘Springloaded’ by New Ballet Ensemble. Playhouse on the Square. 7 p.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20; $10 students.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Express & Admirable: Springtime's for Shakespeare in Memphis

Spring is for Shakespeare in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 5:05 PM

I'm so in the mood for the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, which opens Friday at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. It's partly because this has been such a cold and foggy Spring, I suspect. And partly because, as I was so recently reminded while sitting in on a completely unrelated class, it’s a fun show when action is suited to the word.


I’ve often wondered if Hamlet knows he and Ophelia are being watched by Polonius in the "get thee to a nunnery" scene. But I’ve never heard a more compelling case for this idea than one made by actor/director Nick Hutchison in a class he’s been team-leading with Dean Michael Leslie of Rhodes College.

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