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

1233145_orig.jpg
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:
screen_shot_2016-06-10_at_1.07.57_pm.png

• 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.


Voices of the South: Headed to New York, Presenting New Work

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 12:51 PM

Berry & Madden
  • Berry & Madden
Something Old, Something new...

Nobody's getting married to my knowledge, but there's still some cause to celebrate. Voices of the South is gearing up to take Mississippi Stories — some of Alice Berry and Jenny Madden's oldest adapted work — north for a short, Off-Broadway run. In the meantime, the little company that could is also preparing a festival of new, locally-developed work brought to life as the result of guided workshops. 

The Summoner's Ensemble Theatre, which produces A Christmas Carol at the Merchant’s House starring former Memphian Kevin Jones in all roles, is presenting Mississippi Stories, adapted by Berry and Madden from the works by Eudora Welty. The Gloria Baxter-directed production arrives at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row on July 28 and runs through August 7. 

Voices hosts its first Mid-South Writer's Lab Festival June 17-19. A group of local playwrights have spent the last year working together in a supportive environment to create five new plays. 

Friday, June 17 at 7:00 pm:
THE SECOND SAVIOR OF CAMBERT COUNTY
By Jeff Posson

Saturday, June 18 at 5:00 pm:
WILD
By Jason Gerhard
THE VEIL
By Terry Scott

Sunday, June 19 at 5:00 pm:
LETTER MAN
By Joy Tiffin-Sutherland
THE LEGEND OF T.C. DAWLEY
By Jonathan Lambert

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Defying Gravity: "Peter and the Starcatcher" Flies Without Strings

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 6:23 PM

The Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
  • The Cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
What makes Peter and the Starcatcher such a joy to watch? That’s a softball question. It’s a lovely, giddy, ominous, often ridiculous piece of performance candy doubling down on live theater’s three most important things — actors, actors, and actors.

Molly & the Boy
  • Molly & the Boy
Not shading on my designers; respect to all y’all. Only saying — after scenic visionary Adolphe Appia — when it comes to show, man really is the measure of all things. At its best — even in the astonishing technological now — the theater’s not a place for fixed diversions. It’s the last safe place to imagine dangerous things collectively. And, like its beloved source material, Peter and the Starcatcher is the kind of story that helps hardened adults relinquish self-control and enter a twilight place called Neverland, where pirates lurk, mermaids frolic, fairies twinkle, and little boys never grow up.

I’m not going to say too much about Rick Elice’s sprawling — sometimes too sprawling — Peter Pan origin story, because it’s a show where the journey really is the destination. I’ll merely note that it begins with two tall ships sailing in different directions to a common destination. One ship carries a mysterious trunk, some British seamen, and a bunch of pirates. The other carries young boys destined for slavery, the daughter of a British seaman, an identically mysterious trunk, and a passel of seagoing scoundrels. It ends at the beginning of a legend we already know, about the immortal Pan locked in his forever battle with a wicked, one-handed brigand. Between times there’s swashbuckling, glib banter, vaudeville routines, a song or two, and just enough gut-honest acting to keep things real.

The not-so-secret weapon in this latest production is musical theater powerhouse David Foster, who’s been sidelined for some time due to illness.

Well, he’s not sidelined anymore, and he’s making up for temps perdu.

Black Stache & the Boy
  • Black Stache & the Boy
Foster plays Black Stache, a dark hearted pirate who’ll cut you, boo, and not bat an eye if he do. Even in the context of a deliberate ensemble he’s a capital-S-T-A-R, and bigger than Norma Desmond.

Maggie Robinson is Molly the titular starcatcher. She's a precocious kid and tough little mother-figure to a trio of lost boys played to the grubby hilt by Dane Van Brocklin, Jason Gerhard, and Isaac Middleton. This team’s responsible for some of the show’s tenderest moments, but there’s not a slouch on director Bob Hetherington’s creative team. Bill Andrews, Michael Gravois, Nathan McHenry, Ryan Kathman, Stuart Heyman, Greg Szatkowski and Jared Graham round out an uncommonly well-rounded cast.

Hetherington gets good work from his designers too. Erik Diaz, Zo Haynes, and Caleb Blackwell have conspired to create a comfortably-scaled environment for actors to build worlds inside of worlds.

Am I gushing? I think I'm gushing. But I can say critical things too like how the script’s a little too loose and referential, and the stage sometimes erupts into an overly-frenetic jumble of confusing activity. But in a fun fast-moving play, those moments zip right on by.

Hang the moon from a string and you’ll wind up hanging the sun, and all the planets too. Imagine the moon and you can cram the universe into the modest auditorium at Circuit Playhouse. That’s exactly what Peter and the Starcatcher does, and with no small amount of panache. 

To be or not to be... pirates?
  • To be or not to be... pirates?
Correction: This review erroneously listed Daniel Muller as scenic designer per POTS preview materials. It has been corrected to read Erik Diaz. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Memphis Theater Wins Big at Chicago's Jeff Awards

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 11:16 AM

Liz Sharpe at Memphis' Ostrander Awards
  • Liz Sharpe at Memphis' Ostrander Awards
Monday, June 6, 2016 was a big night for Memphis theater in Chicago. The cast of Byhalia Mississippi was honored with two non-equity Jeffs, including the prize for Best New Work awarded to playwright (and past Playhouse on the Square intern) Evan Linder.

"Holy Shit!" Those were the first heartfelt words of Cecelia WIngate's acceptance speech. 

Holy shit, indeed. Wingate's a terrific player but she’s better known locally for directing monster hits like The Producers, The Addams Family, [Title of Show], Young Frankenstein, and Altar Boyz. Her performance as a loving but irredeemably racist grandmother earned the Jeff for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Memphis expat Liz Sharpe was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading role, but lost to Amanda Drinkall for her performance in Last Train to Nibroc.  Theater fans my remember Sharpe as Jackie, the tough survivor in Lanford Wilson’s Hot L Baltimore, or as the Valium-addicted Harper in Angels in America at Playhouse on the Square.  She played Byhalia’s protagonist, Laurel, a young mother who doesn’t always make the best decisions.

The big winner, of course, is the play itself. Byhalia, Mississippi co-premiered in four cities: Memphis, Chicago, Toronto, and Charleston. It’s since been picked up by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre where it opens in July.

Linder's a co-founder of Chicago's New Colony theater collective. The Warriors, The New Colony's fantastic docudrama about survivors of a playground shooting in Jonesboro was recently adapted for audio-only by Memphis' Chatterbox Audio Theatre.

Give it a listen. 
Cecelia WIngate (center) picking up an Ostrander.
  • Cecelia WIngate (center) picking up an Ostrander.
CORRECTION: This post originally named Liz Sharpe as a winner. She was a nominee, but didn't win. But she shoulda, dammit. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

On Stage this Week: "The Wiz," "Peter and the Starcatcher," and "The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest."

Posted By on Sat, Jun 4, 2016 at 2:17 AM

If there's one show people associate with Playhouse on the Square it's Peter Pan. The boy who wouldn't grow up has made Christmastime appearances off and on for years. This season he's back on stage at Circuit Playhouse in a very different kind of show.

Peter & the Starcatcher is a dark-edged and self-aware origin story. It's all about how Peter Pan became Peter Pan and how a certain pirate lost his hand. It's a nifty take on the J.M. Barrie classic. 

In this rehearsal footage from the Circuit Playhouse production you'll note the presence of none other than musical theatre powerhouse David Foster who's been sidelined for most of this season due to medical issues.

It's good to have him back. 
What a piece of work is Hamlet. How evergreen. How ripe for appropriation and parody. Aye, there's the rub. Will Memphis theater audiences be over Shakespeare's original man in black when the curtain rises on New Moon Theatre's February production? That may not be the question, but given all the Hamlet-related shows we're seeing this season, it's one worth asking. Or will productions of shows like The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and One Ham Manlet whet appetites for the real, complete thing?

Paul Rudnick's light comedy I Hate Hamlet is Germantown Community Theatre's contribution to Hamletpalooza, and it sure is a mixed fardel. Rudnick's script is a bumpy muddle of real-estate gags, sitcom hijinks, and splendid set pieces about celebrity, passion, immortality, and tight pants. An uncommonly engaging cast pulls it all together and keeps spirits high, even when the writing threatens to let everybody down...
Long story short, it's a fine production of an uneven play with some great performances that make everything worthwhile. To read the rest of my review, click here

I Hate Hamlet closes at GCT this weekend. 
theater_gct_i_hate_hamlet_4-mag.jpg
Also opening this weekend The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest, a new play written and directed by Memphis theater artist Ruby O'Gray.

A synopsis: 
The play is a zany look at chefs from the most unlikely places, who compete in the small town for money and bragging rights for their culinary creations. Five finalists are chosen to prepare their creations for judges and TV land along with storylines that will tickle your funny bone.
The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest is at TheatreWorks through Sunday, June 5, with two shows on Saturday. 

Last but not least... The Wiz.

I'd say, "Get ready to ease on down the road" with this popular favorite. But if you haven't already purchased tickets, the road may be blocked. The Hattiloo Theatre sold this show out before opening night. That's good for them, but not so good for those among us who always wait till the last minute to reserve. 

Oh, there may some stray tickets available here and there, but good luck getting one. 
A shot from the Hattiloo''s first production of The Wiz.
  • A shot from the Hattiloo''s first production of The Wiz.

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