Monday, December 26, 2016

Best of Memphis Theater, 2016: A Highly Subjective List

Posted By on Mon, Dec 26, 2016 at 11:17 AM

The drama of another year is playing out its final scene. It would normally be time to look back and remember the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. But, if I'm reading the social media tea leaves correctly, 2016's been a bummer for everybody, so I'm going to do something completely out of character and only highlight the good stuff.

While I aim to see everything, and do see most of the shows produced in Memphis, I inevitably miss some things along the way. GCT's Ostrander-winning production of A Streetcar Named Desire, for example, might have made my year's end list if I'd seen it. Or maybe not, hard to say. This list isn't supposed to be definitive. It's a collection of things that spoke to me, surprised me, moved me, and made me laugh. Feel free to add, detract, or share your own lists in comments.

1. The Other Place: Great script, great cast, great show.
"It’s not an uplifting play, this story of Dr. Juliana Smithton, a biophysicist developing drugs to treat dementia, while losing her grip on reality. She has brain cancer. Or maybe she doesn’t. Her husband is screwing around and filing for divorce. Or maybe he's not. Her daughter’s dead in a ditch somewhere, or maybe she's at the bottom a the river sleeping with the fishes, or maybe — just maybe — she’s dropping by the family’s second home and bringing the twins to visit grandmother. "

2. The House That Will Not Stand: A fantastic script based on Lorca's House of Bernarda Alba. Betting this one picks up some Ostrander nominations next summer. And an award or two.
"Set in New Orleans in 1813, a short decade after the Louisiana Purchase, House is, in part, about the Americanization of French Louisiana where communities of free blacks flourished. Men and women, once able to walk the streets without papers, could be stopped by authorities and enslaved. With this change in dynamics — all tragic contemporary resonances considered — came other changes to culture and tradition. The House That Will Not Stand touches on many things, but is essentially a twisted, sometimes terrible Cinderella story built around an old, decaying practice of French colonials taking black common-law wives. There is a (possibly) wicked mother, who only wants to protect her three girls from the new system, keep them out of the old system, mind her interests, and serve the occasional slice of pumpkin pie."

3: Charles III: Missed opportunities in staging were more than balanced by solid performances and a clever, confident script that out Shakespeare's Shakespeare. Like The House That Will Not Stand, this one's got play prizes in its future.
"Mike Bartlett's deliberately (and delightfully) Shakespearean King Charles III is a history play about things that haven't happened yet. It's also one of the more interesting, and innovative scripts to make rounds in ages. It begins with somber candles, and a sad eventuality — the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II who, in real life, is still very much alive, but a relative short-timer at 90-years and ticking."

4. Peter and the Starcatcher: Theater should be theatrical — like Peter and the Starcatcher. Cheers for David Foster as Black Stache.

"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."

5.Byhalia, Mississipi: One of the best reviewed plays of 2016 has deep Memphis roots.
"Jim, [Evan] Linder's philandering male protagonist, is what passes for "post racial" in the American South. Evan McCarley plays him as a laid back good ol' boy who can't understand why Ole Miss abandoned Col. Reb, but "some of his best friends "... etc. The play trades old Jim Crow stereotypes for new Jim Crow stereotypes so Jim, an unemployed construction worker faced with the prospect of taking a job at Walmart, isn't frothing at the mouth because his wife slept with an African-American. Sure, he immediately assumes the worst of his best friend Karl, but, end of day, the baby's blackness is only an issue because it's an indelible mark of Laurel's infidelity. It makes her mistakes worse than his own because her mistakes can't be swept under the rug. Pop culture's usual cartoon rednecks who hate on women and do racist things because they're cartoon rednecks have been replaced here by something more banal. And more awful. Something that loves you like your mama. Something that hides behind heritage, embedding itself in values and institutions where nobody will look because looking is rude."
6: Beauty and the Beast: This wasn't a great year for musicals in Memphis. In some cases extravagant extravagance underscored flaws instead of hiding them. And God only knows what went wrong with The Wiz. Playhouse on the Square did good work with less than stellar material like Sister Act and Memphis' namesake musical. Only one song and dance show really delivered the goods start to finish.
"There’s a difference between staging a classic fairytale and staging the Disney version of a classic fairytale. When one leaves the public domain to dance with branded content, there are certain obligations (not to mention expectations) to forego interpretation and adhere, as much as possible, to visual tropes and character traits established by Disney in a growing catalog of adapted animated features. In other words, you’re supposed to faithfully recreate beloved cartoons on stage. Large talent’s a must, obviously, and some ingenuity is always required. But as long as you can figure out a way to raise enough money to rent a Shrek head, or build a giant whale mouth, all the creative stuff’s been taken care of for you by Uncle Walt’s magnificent i-merch-a-neers. So it’s rare to see a company really stamp a Disney musical and make it their own. That’s what makes Theatre Memphis’ production of Beauty & the Beast a little extra special."

7: Henry V: Close to perfect.
"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...".

8: Compleat Wrks if Wllm Shkspr (Abridged): Comedy really is hard. You wouldn't know it though watching this seemingly effortless romp.
"Don’t go to Theatre Memphis’ production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) unless you like good acting, stupid gags, and Falstaff-sized belly laughs. It’s a perfectly entertaining night in the theater, and I’m more than a little surprised to find myself typing those words. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s signature piece with its abundant (sometimes dated) pop culture references, and glib approach to the material. But Theatre Memphis’ production is completely current, with enough heart to comfort like sunshine after rain."
9. (Tie) I Hate Hamlet and One Ham Manlet. Do we overproduce Shakespeare and Shakespeare by-products? Love it though I do, I sometimes think so. More accurately (and troublesomely), we cynically ignore big chunks of his oeuvre while wearing out a narrow spectrum of hits. 5 plays on this short list are Shakescentric  and three of them — including the Compleat Wrks — are mostly about Hamlet. Good news: It was all a joy to watch.

If you only see one one-man Hamlet this season, make it One Ham Manlet. It's a joy for Shakespeare lovers, but also a fantastic entry point for skeptics, who think they should know a little something about the celebrated tragedy, but can't bring themselves to commit to the full four-hour show. 
It seems silly to write it down, but tastes have changed quite a bit since John Barrymore's days on the Great White Way. There's not much room in the modern theater for the kind of disposable material I Hate Hamlet aspires to. Jokes fall flat. Characters annoy. But just when it feels like the play's about to devolve into a live action version Three's Company, Rudnick's comedy — aided by director John Maness and a terrific ensemble — taps into something genuinely Shakespearian.
10. Sister Act: One of the most appealing shows I've ever actively disliked. Proof that good theater is often greater than the sum of its parts. There's dialogue in Sister Act that makes me cringe, and I'll count myself lucky if I never have to sit through this musical again. It made my list because I believe in giving credit where it's due. Designers and performers understood that they had one job here — to entertain. Nailed it.

"Painterly lighting designs by John Horan splatter across Jimmy Humphries' fine, illustration-based scenery to make this Sister Act easy on the eyes. Rebecca Powell's costumes take cues from the script's John Travolta references and are built to highlight the dancers' most shakable parts. It's almost enough to send alert audience members straight to confession."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Man of Tomorrow: Q&A with Annie Lyricist Martin Charnin

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 2:12 PM

  • Joan Marcus
  • Annie
Martin Charnin's Broadway career got of to an auspicious start when he sang and danced his way through more than 1000 performances of West Side Story. And, even if you aren't a Broadway aficionado and don't  recognize the name, chances are you probably know some of the lyrics he wrote for Annie, a show he also directed on Broadway in 1977. Charnin additionally directed the Annie revival currently on stage at the Orpheum. Intermission Impossible talked to him about spending a life in the theater, and the last 40-years with America's favorite orphan.

Intermission Impossible: Annie's 40-years-old.

Martin Charnin: It will be, absolutely. 40 years.

II: And you've been with it from the beginning. How many productions have you directed?

MC: Aside from the original that I directed on Broadway, I did it three times in revivals on Broadway. And about sixteen other productions. Road companies, London, Amsterdam, Australia. And Regional theater things and tours.

That makes you the foremost authority on all things Daddy Warbucks.

MC: At this time probably yes.

II: I'm always interested in how shows travel through time. And in this case we're talking about a character that precedes the show by another 40-years at least. So Little Orphan Annie is created during the Great Depression. Annie opens on Broadway in 1977 when America's struggling with recession, an energy crisis, no jobs, inflation. Now your revival's coming to the Orpheum at a moment of extreme political and economic uncertainty. Tell me about the life of this billionaire able to access the power of the US government in ways no ordinary citizen might, and the orphan who always seems to show up when things are dark and gloomy/

MC: The concept of this show is universal. One of the things we discovered, particularly in this production, is that it is extremely relevant. And that relevance surfaces in different dosages every time it’s done depending on where the country’s psyche happens to be. We haven’t changed anything. I’m often asked, “When did you rewrite the show to make it appropriate and fitting for the time.” And the answer I always give is, ‘We have not changed anything.’ From a physical standpoint we have. Every time you cast it you change it because different actors will have different attitudes. But the text and musical content hasn’t changed since 1977. We wrote it with an eye for what we were all really feeling, and conflicted about, and angry about, and disappointed about in the 70’s. That cycle comes around and for whatever reason we always need that moment of reassurance — that tap on the shoulder that says, no matter how awful everything is right now it’s going to get better. That’s one of the underlying messages of the play that’s resonated certainly for the last 40-years and my instinct is it will resonate for the next 40 as well.

II: Unfortunately—  or maybe fortunately — I think you're right.

MC: But one of the things that make it fun and interesting is how audiences respond to it, and that thrills me and keeps it exciting for me. An audience makes a very important contribution to a show. They’re the final part of the puzzle. When that response is good, and in some cases overpowering, it’s a wonderful thing to feel and see.

II: Let's talk about you for a minute.

MC: Okay.

You really get your start working on Broadway in the original production of West Side Story.

MC: I was a performer at the very beginning of my theatrical career.

II: For someone who wasn't going to be content just being an actor, this was an opportunity to work with one of the most extraordinary creative teams ever assembled.

MC: I was very fortunate to be attached to that quartet of individuals. Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerry Robbins, especially. It was like boot camp. And the only time those four ever collaborated. They never did anything together again. And I paid a lot of attention to the things each one of them were doing. It was quite exciting to watch Jerry Robbins at the top of his form putting the detail work of West Side together. That has resonated with me all my life.

II: That was the first thing that occurred to me when I was prepping for this interview. How could that not set the bar very high?

MC: Also a really interesting time as far as theater was concerned. It was going through profound changes. West Side happened, point of fact it was miles ahead of its time. To the point that it really makes good sense, but wen it opened it was kind of an anomaly. They’d taken major steps with Rodgers and Hammerstein in the 40’s, when they created Oklahoma and started bringing in that kind of writing. But there were still a lot of song and dance shows on Broadway where the book kind of mattered. My Fair Lady happened the year before. Music Man won 95-percent of the Tony Awards given in the year West Side Story opened.

II: It produces so many songs that have become standards. Which brings us back to Annie. Because you have a few of those too. "Tomorrow" is inescapable — so many people have performed it. Jay Z borrowed "Hard Knock Life." Is there one version out there you have a special affinity for?

MC: I love them all, but the fun of listening to "Tomorrow" is how many different ways it’s constantly reinterpreted. It has a life of its own and has become one of the great iconic musical theater moments. I didn’t set out to make that happen, but it did. And we were all really pleased when, last year, it was named one of the 100 most sung songs of the last hundred years. It also turns up in interesting ways in some very odd locations. And that’s the fun of it. And why its life is so expansive. It’s done in commercials. But it’s in and of itself what Annie’s all about. It’s her attitude toward life.

II: Has it ever surprised you? You agree to let it be used, then you hear it and find it really effective. Or not.

MC: Occasionally it turns up where you least expected it. A bank using it — “You’ll be able to get your loan. Tomorrow.” Things like that. I rarely let that happen because I want to protect the integrity of the song. Right now it’s being used for a heart medication that’s apparently revolutionized one aspect of how heart medications are used.

II: I've seen and written about the show several times. And I'm always struck by one change in Annie's translation to the stage. FDR's such a pivotal and heroic character. But Annie's creator, Harold Gray, hated FDR. I think he even killed off the strip for a while to protest Roosevelt's reelection.

He was a staunch conservative and had a big problem with FDR. But in order for us to make the points we wanted to make, we tempered that attitude he had. We reconciled the two of them for the two hours the play goes on.

II: Was it difficult to make that change?

MC: It wasn’t a struggle once we decided to do it. The reconciliation part is extremely important in the world. You have to make compromises. Particularly in politics in order to get anything done.

II: You've got several projects brewing, can we talk about some of that?

MC: Two things going right now that are kind of fun. In 1992 we did a sequel to Annie which didn’t work at first called Annie 2. But we revised it, called it Annie Warbucks, and did it again Off-Broadway. Because of a snowstorm that blanketed New York we had to close after 8-months. All of a sudden it’s become inspirational and we’re moving toward the possibility of making that happen on Broadway. I’m also involved in a stirring and interesting musical with two young writers, about Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who went to Nazi Germany in the 40’s and was responsible for saving the lives of 100,000 Jews as the. I rather am attracted to subject matter that is relatively important and not frivolous. And Wallenberg is certainly not frivolous.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

He Said/She Said: Talking to the Stars of Tennessee Shakespeare’s “Much Ado”

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 9:45 AM

Beatrice and Benedick are one of Shakespeare's greatest couples and the Tennessee Shakespeare Company reunites them when Much Ado About Nothing opens this weekend in Dixon Gallery & Gardens’ Winegardner Auditorium.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, director Dan McCleary has given his production an especially festive air. For a taste of what's in store I talked briefly with Much Ado's stars Tony Molina, Jr. (Benedick) and Carey Urban (Beatrice).

Tony Molina, Jr. - TN SHAKESPEARE
  • TN Shakespeare
  • Tony Molina, Jr.
Intermission Impossible: There are a handful of really great couples in Shakespeare and Beatrice and Benedick have to be close to the top.

Tony Molina, Jr: Benedick is certainly one of the wisest characters I’ve ever played. And one of the funniest. They have this fiery and passionate relationship that kind of reminds me of my grandparents. They were married for 50 years, and it was easy sometimes to wonder why. Because they knew how to get under each other’s skin. And they knew each other so well they knew exactly what to say. And it was funny because they’d argue for hours sometimes. And then, at the end of the night, granny would still sit on grandpa’s lap, and kiss him, and they’d hug each other. I wish I’d had one relationship like that in my life. And hopefully, I will have, someday.

It can be such a fun show.

And it’s a lot of fun working with Carey too.

She was easily the best Juliet I’ve ever seen, and at this point I’ve lost count.

She’s so passionate and fiery. Skilled, funny— a great acting partner.

I think when people think of Benedick they think of his wit before his wisdom. But you brought up his wisdom, tell me about that.

The wisdom— He puts things into perspective, simply. The way people deal with things. He talks about being a confirmed bachelor who’ll never marry. At the same time he’s in love with Beatrice. That’s what people do. They hide their feelings by creating this mask. And Benedick, very wisely, describes that mask. And when he comes to be in love, the way he expresses it, is from the heart, and the words are really eloquent.

I understand this show has a festive atmosphere — appropriate for the holidays. Can you tell me a little bit about the production?

The whole thing is set at a party. The audience members are guests. They get to hear all the conversations and all the relationships, and all the things that are happening at the party. There are tuxedos and masks. And music. I won’t say it’s holiday music, but it’s music of celebration. It’s a state of mind for us, and we try to include the audience.

  • TN Shakespeare
  • Carey Urban
Intermission Impossible: So, Carey, this isn’t your first Much Ado, is it?

Carey Urban: I did another production in New York 10-years ago and played three characters, none of which are the characters I play in this one.

Do you like returning to a show?

It’s wonderful getting to play Beatrice. When Dan announced the season I wrote him and said, “Beatrice is on my bucket list. When I did Much Ado 10-years ago I didn’t even dream of being considered for Beatrice. But I knew I wanted to play the role some day.

Beatrice is one of the great roles. That’s not intimidating. What does it even mean, “the great roles.”

I wanted to play Juliet since I was a little girl.

You were my favorite Juliet ever. And I’ve seen that show more times than I can count.

When I was little I didn’t even know that much about the role. I just knew the legend. Then you get older and learn more about the canon. And things you want to do get added because something grabs you emotionally. Maybe you’ve seen somebody else play a part and it really spoke to you. Or like Juliet, there’s a legend or a mystique to it. One of the great rewards is how they challenge you, and you grow as an actor. They’re usually very demanding.

Audiences love all the banter between Beatrice and Benedick..

Something— obviously a lot of humor in the dialogue. But people recognize aspects of themselves or people they’ve known in these characters.

Right. Is it the humor that attracted you, or something else?

That aspect isn’t what most drew me to the role. What made me hungry to play her was she’s really very modern in her worldview. Even for today. There’s a really important scene where she says something about gender inequality that really hit home for me. This woman has some things to say that I want the opportunity to say.

I understand the show is something of a holiday party. Can you tell me a little about the production?

It has a very celebratory air, in keeping with the play as written. It’s mainly about love and all the crazy, brave, and potentially even insane and cruel things that love inspires or compels us to do. It begins with men coming home from a battle in which they’ve been victorious, and that sets off a season of parties, and masked balls, and courting.

Much Ado About Nothing
is at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens through December 18

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Unamerican Psycho: Germantown Community Theatre Does Something Crazy

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 10:23 AM

First, I’d like to do something I almost never do and start this review with a standing ovation. Hooray for Germantown Community Theatre. Hooray for being brave and doing things differently during the holidays when nobody ever does anything especially brave or very different. While other playhouses pull out beloved Christmas classics and reel in customers who attend theatrical performances somewhere between once a year and once a lifetime, it makes good sense for a clever company to cash in on regulars looking to escape all the Bah Humbugs and God bless us every ones.

There’s a problem though, and it may have been reflected in Sunday afternoon’s uncomfortably small matinee audience. From its violent beginning through a long, somber curtain call (set to the loping tune of Alfred Hitchcock’s TV theme), Germantown’s Rope never feels like a gift of any kind.

A question Rope's characters are asking themselves: "How does it feel...

’s a funny fish to begin with. Modern audiences may be familiar with the show by way of Hitchcock’s 1948 film starring Jimmy Stewart as a morally ambiguous college professor coming to terms with a pair of decadent students who’ve misunderstood Nietzsche and done something awful. It’s based on Patrick Hamilton’s chatty, 1929 play, which tells the same basic story, but with a few substantial differences bringing it even more in line with the grossly indecent works of Oscar Wilde. Set in the period of original production, and loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, Rope was Hamilton’s portrait of a dangerous and narcissistic class, happy to make games out of sex and murder. It also functions an overdetermined object lesson — a kind of dialogue between Wilde and Nietzsche built to address common misunderstandings about nihilism. Think of it as a gay-ish American Psycho set in post WWI Britain with an au current ideology standing in for watermarked business cards. It's also, fundamentally, a ham-handed exercise in suspense. Still, there’s real potential for a bold company of artists ready to wallow in Rope’s sick banalities (“Rather!”) and indecent desublimations (“Rather!”).

In a nutshell, Chase Ring’s production for GCT is short on color and long on the literal. Ring’s an inventive actor with a large personality, but neither quality seems to have followed him into the director’s chair.

When you do daring (like serve up gruesome for Christmas?) it’s an opportunity to create audience sampling. Just like the bigger playhouses leveraging their technological advantages, it’s a real chance to make lasting memories. In this case it might have been fun to swing for the design fences and create a dynamic space that frames the production instead of entombing it in a dollhouse. Something touched by elements of futurism, surrealism or dada —  period-appropriate European art movements fancied by brats of all kinds. Something to elevate the middling material and leave a mark. But what stands out most in this production (costumes excepted), is a pronounced absence of style.

Every character in Rope has some mental picture of his/herself as an iconoclast, living bigly and in ways the typical Alf, Bert, or Bill couldn't understand. They're the butt of The Aristocrats joke, and the intellectual elite we’ve all been warned about — SCARY! But also a hoot! One's just a little more alive than all the rest right now. Another’s deader.

For his cast, Ring has brought together an able mix of seasoned veterans and fresh faces. There are a lot of good actors on stage, they’re just never lit very well, or given much to do besides talk, and talk, and talk (and talk, and talk). The lust for a life less ordinary that drives this chiller, is largely desexualzed, and reduced to something considerably less magnetic than it might be.

James Dale Green holds his own as Rupert Cadell, an irascible, hard drinking poet shaped by the original war to end all wars. But for a man full of drinks and dangerous ideas, he’s never allowed to be more than a scamp. Nor is anybody else, regardless of who they may not have killed, or why.

Joe Prestigiacomo, Ryan Spearman, Kristen Vandervorst, Whitney Bogus, Ty Hoskins, Louise Levin, and Beverly Morlang round out an ensemble more talented than tight.

Ironically Patrick Hamilton, named the condition GCT’s Rope suffers most — “Unchange.” Although Hamilton, achieved fame and fortune writing popular thrillers, it was never enough for the well-heeled Marxist. He longed to be taken seriously, by which I mean he wanted to create meaningful work for which there was no apparent market. So, in the late 1930’s, as fascism spread, war loomed, and global economies faltered, he penned a satirical, surrealist novel about the British caste system. The badly reviewed work of dystopian fiction was called Impromptu in Moribundia and told the story of a perfect world populated by perfect stereotypes, where perfect order is kept by “Little Men” of business who wear bowlers and become suspicious of the novel’s foreign narrator when he doesn’t take his hat off during the national anthem. Moribundia is a place where transition is possible only in the absence of change — “Unchange.” Absent a lively concept, or opportunity to experience finely focused performances, there’s just no compelling reason to revive an artifact like Rope or believe an ordinary season offering can compete with something as big as Christmas.

Rope’s not bad but, as Hitchcock once noted, the best films are made from mediocre source material. I love the idea. And believe there’s a market for something different this time of year, as long as that thing's also special in some way. In a giving season lackluster material and an all around lack of inspiration seems downright miserly. 

Manhattan skyline, hair, suits, moistened lips... style.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Naughty & Nice: What's on Stage this Christmas?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 11:17 AM

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
  • Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
Thanksgiving's passed, and everywhere you look, Christmas ornaments are coming out. That means it's also time for area playhouses to revive their holiday classics. Here's a quick survey of all the naughty and nice things available to theatergoers through the new year.

Theatre South
Sister Myotis is back with another Karaoke Smackdown. The queen of evangelitainment will judge the singers and the wallflowers while keeping us all up to date on the War on Christmas, and other good Christian concerns. (Details at the above link).

Classic Myotis.

Theatre Memphis

Memphis actor/director Jason Spitzer's been helming A Christmas Carol since Theatre Memphis decided to reinvent its signature show in 2010. This year, he's not only directing the Victorian ghost story, he's stepping into the slippers of the show's iconic miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. It's not the first time the artist has directed himself. "I find I'm one of the only directors who'll cast me," Spitzer says.

A vintage vid from when Jason Spitzer and Christopher McCollum reinvented A Christmas Carol for Theatre Memphis.

Playhouse on the Square/Circuit Playhouse
Playhouse on the Square's going back to Neverland with Peter Pan, and Circuit's going back to first grade with Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells!. For older audiences, Circuit Playhouse is also reviving David Sedaris' popular Santaland Diaries with Jonathan Christian as Crumpet, Macy's crankiest elf.

The Hattiloo Theatre's breaking with tradition, putting away its annual production of If Scrooge Was a Brother and moving its new holiday show to the Cannon Center. Take the Soul Train to Christmas is a musical revue compiled by Hattiloo founder Ekundayo Bandele and featuring actor/director Harry Lennix, best know for work in films like The Matrix Reloaded and on NBC's crime thriller, The Blacklist.

Tennessee Shakespeare/Dixon Gallery
TSC's getting into the holiday spirit with a Yuletidy production of Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's timeless battle of the sexes.

The Orpheum
The New Deal may be dead but Franklin D. Roosevelt is visiting the Orpheum this Dec. with Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy. You know, "Tomorrow, tomorrow...". And all that.


If you'd still like to see A Christmas Carol through a different lens, Memphis' bilingual theater troupe Cazateatro's got you covered with Tio Pancho a Christmas Story at TheatreWorks.

Also on stage at TheatreWorks this month: ETC's Cabaret Noel 2: Wonderful Christmastime! Featured artists include Annie Freres, Carrie Broughton, Dani Douglass, Etc co-founder Hal Harmon, and many more.

Germantown Community Theatre
Meanwhile, out on Forest Hill-Irene, Germantown Community Theatre celebrates the holidays with Rope, a gruesome thriller based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case. Because they're rebels. Rope is at Germantown Community Theatre, December 2nd-18th.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Three Questions with "Santaland Diaries" Star Jonathan Christian

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 11:27 AM

The Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris' bawdy and rebellious recollection of his days working as an elf in Macy's SantaLand, has become a Christmas season classic for people who are skeptical of Christmas season classics. This year Jonathan Christian, known for star turns in musicals like La Cage Aux Folles and Assassins, takes on the coveted role of Crumpet, Santa’s crankiest little helper.

For actors Crumpet is like a hilarious holiday Hamlet. It's a demanding soliloquy that can turn a little dark. Here's what Christian had to say about his trip to Santaland, flying solo, and his previous job robbing banks. Sort of.

Intermission Impossible: What’s it like flying solo? Without a net? Alone? All by yourself?

Jonathan Christian: Flying solo is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The thought of losing one’s place or forgetting a passage had me panicked. I had to let the stress and fear of that moment go. This is such an intimate show and I really focus on connecting and engaging with the audience. I know they will be on the ride with me and if something goes wrong, we will all laugh about it and keep it moving. This is supposed to be fun-we aren't solving the world’s problems here....or are we?

Intermission Impossible: At some point most actors have had a job like Crumpet the Elf at Macy’s. Maybe you get hired to dress up like the Statue of Liberty or a taco to advertise for a business, or do singing telegrams. Have you ever had one of those jobs, and if so, did it yield any Sedaris-esque stories?

Jonathan Christian: Sort of. It didn't involve a costume...unless you count walking into a bank dressed as a bank robber. Several years ago, my best friend was the trainer for a bank. She was tasked with training all employees on new procedures surrounding robberies. She hired me to dress as a bank robber and had me burst into the classroom during the middle of each training session. I had to immediately scream for everyone to put their head down and then take fake cash from her at the front of the room. The idea was for her to ask questions after I left. Could they describe me? Every time I did it, I was a shaking, nervous mess. The moment to burst in was up to me so I would literally pace outside the training door with legs shaking, putting it off as long as possible. There was just something about making that explosive entrance to a quiet training class that terrified me. It was like pulling your own teeth or giving yourself an IV. How do you choose the moment? After a few times, I really got into it...maybe a little too into it. Everyone usually complied but I remember one woman who didn't. She kept her head up and had a smirk on her face. I literally got nose to nose with her and screamed "I said, put your head down...NOW!" She complied.

Intermission Impossible: Do you have a favorite part in Santaland? Some bit you really like performing?

Jonathan Christian: My favorite part is near the end. Don't get me wrong, it's super fun to spend an hour lampooning various characters and the craziness of the holiday , but the end is the true message. You really witness a change in Crumpet, a realization of what it's all about. It's a special moment that still gives me a lump in my throat every time I do it.

The Santaland Diaries are performed in Circuit Playhouse's cabaret space, so seating is limited.

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