Friday, June 29, 2018

A Short Chat With Dreamgirls' Breyannah Tillman

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 4:23 PM

Breyannah Tillman
  • Breyannah Tillman
This past week Memphis represented at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (AKA The Jimmys) when Riley Thad Young was named a finalist and scholarship winner. You can read all about that and catch his outstanding performance of "Memphis Lives in Me" right here. What my initial report failed to mention is the fact that this isn't the first time Memphis' next generation of performing artists has made a big splash at the Jimmys. Anybody interested in seeing a past finalist do what she does best, can check out Breyannah Tillman's performance as Effie in Playhouse on the Square's ongoing revival of Dreamgirls.


Tillman describes the HSMTA experience as being high pressure and way more cutthroat than the local version.

“I had just enough time to drop my bags and change into my workout clothes before I had to be in rehearsal,” she says recalling a process that only got more intense when she learned she’d finished third and would be performing a solo rendition of “Lot’s Wife/Salty Teardrops” from the musical drama Caroline or Change.

“The best part was I got to come up out of the floor,” Tillman says, describing her dramatic entrance on a lift. “And the Minskoff is full, and everybody bursts into applause.”

You can catch Tillman at Playhouse on the Square through July 15th.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Young a Finalist for National High School Musical Awards

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 2:33 PM

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Memphis lives on Broadway thanks to the National High School Music Awards (the Jimmy Awards) and recent Hernando High School grad Riley Thad Young.

Young made his Broadway debut this week at the Jimmys where he competed against students from around the country and performed a selection from Memphis the musical at New York City's Minskoff Theatre.

The soon-to-be college freshman was selected as outstanding lead performer at The Orpheum's 2018 High School Musical Theatre Awards. He was a $3,000-scholarship winner and one of eight finalists selected for a solo performance at this year's Jimmys.

Here's Young's interpretation of "Memphis Lives in Me."


If you'd like to learn more about the Jimmys, Playbill covered this year's awards. Also, if you want to know what the process is like, Young kept a journal for Broadway World

Friday, June 22, 2018

Neighborhood Threat! "Raisin" Is a Great Musical, and an Important Story

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 4:27 PM

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From a technical standpoint I could pick Hattiloo’s Raisin to pieces. The set doesn’t look down at heel, it looks slapped together. The presence of living actors insures that the show's minimal, thoughtful choreography, will sometimes be under-supported by otherwise well-made recordings of a horn-driven, 70’s-era soul-inspired score built to jump off the stage and get up in your life choices. Tracks get the job done though, and, as always, so much of any show’s success depends on material strength and a cast’s ability to leverage it. In this regard everything about Raisin delivers. Music and dancing never undermine the message in this faithfully adapted retelling of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. This story of the Younger family and their struggle to buy an affordable home and possibly start a family business is a subtle, almost generous look at how America and its wealth became segregated. It is a deeply felt family drama that ends with a devastating loss barely tempered with dignity and determination.

Raisin won the Tony Award for best new musical in 1973, and promptly fell off the face of the Earth. A best musical win doesn’t ensure immortality or heavy rotation, but ever since Kiss Me Kate picked up the first best musical trophy in 1949, a win has typically meant Broadway tours, lavish revivals, and some longevity on the regional circuit. Raisin, — a musical described by New York Times writer Clive Barnes as being, "perhaps even better than the [Tony nominated] play" —  just went away. Why?

To answer that question we probably have to go down to the crossroads of real estate and money. It surprises people when I suggest that, for all the edgy content that marches across our stages, our regional theaters are still relatively conservative spaces shaped more by donor/subscriber communities than the broader communities they inhabit.  There's only been so much room for black programming in these spaces and while a gut-wrencher like Raisin or Caroline or Change might get produced once in a while we're more likely to see upbeat revivals of pop-culture touchstones like The Color Purple or sparkly showbiz epics like Dreamgirls. If one must return to the musty old stories, Hansberry’s original drama is accepted canon, and always less expensive to produce than a musical on your second stage.

Thing is, there’s nothing musty about the original, if you pay attention to the whole text, not just the big "amen" lines about not capitulating to people who don’t think you’re fit to share the Earth.

It’s probably fair to say that most folks, liberal and conservative alike, have bought, in some measure, the big lies about segregation and how it continues to exist because people self-select. It's always been malarkey. Contemporary segregation and urban slums were created by single family housing/industrial zoning, by the Federal government’s refusal to insure mortgages to African-Americans, and the inability of African-Americans to obtain credit via the usual channels. It was advanced by public housing back when public housing was nice and park-like and not for poor people, but for exclusively white workers priced out of areas close to job centers. It was further maintained by restrictive covenants insuring that certain properties could only be sold to white buyers. When courts turned on the covenants Neighborhood associations were created. To buy in you had to belong. To belong you had to be white.

As more and more Americans moved out of apartments and into single family homes, the limited amount of property made available to African Americans was typically far more expensive than property being offered to whites. Absent credit, it was sold via a contract system that eliminated equity. One missed payment could result in eviction, with nothing to show for your effort. Families with little discretionary income for upkeep, did sometimes crowd into substandard housing, but decay was always the result of a cruel, deliberately exploitive system backed by customary business practices and law. Though these circumstances are alluded to rather than expressly stated, this is the legal, social and economic environment in which Raisin unfolds, and to get the most out of the musical experience, it’s helpful to divorce ourselves from political myths, and open ourselves to a more complete history.
Raisin isn’t about integration or white flight from the urban core. It’s about a family's struggle to create legacy inside a system designed to prevent it. The family patriarch has died leaving $10,000 in life insurance. Lena, the surviving matriarch wants to sink most of the money into an affordable home in a white neighborhood, not because of the demographics, but because “It was the best [she] could do for the money.” Her son Walter Lee's a chauffeur who wants to invest the money in a family business — a liquor store. Her daughter, pressing against both race and gender norms, has exchanged faith for science and wants to go to medical school. Glimpsing a bigger world she may choose to get out entirely and move to Africa with her foreign-born boyfriend. In the absence of credit or anything more than sustenance income, all these dreams hinge on one pot of insurance money representing the sum total of one man's difficult life. Add to this dynamic a white representative of Clybourne Park’s progressive neighborhood association who’s arrived to negotiate a kinder, gentler way to keep blacks out, and you have all the ingredients necessary for an emotionally honest and devastating primer in how everything went wrong.

Raisin's story is famously inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes. More crucially it's informed by the Hansberry family's personal experience in court, fighting the restrictive legal covenants and members only neighborhood associations. Hers is a deeply sad but open-hearted critique of the American Dream, a Depression-era fiction embraced by President Herbert Hoover to sell the advantages of single family home zoning where ethnic groups were excluded, over crowded apartment-based urban living where anybody might move across the street.

Hattiloo has told this story before, and told it well. Stagecraft notwithstanding, the musical tops it, if only because it gives great source material a beat and sticks it to your brain like a bubblegum hit on the radio.

At the top of the show I plunged my face into my hands — I couldn’t look. Committed, vibrant performances were at odds with cool, canned music. It just looked silly and I was sure I was in for a night of deadly theater. But the commitment was real. It was relentless. It overcame and the result was so much more memorable than I ever could have ever imagined during those cringe-worthy opening moments.

Raisin’s Lena became an almost instantaneous theatrical archetype. George C. Wolfe brilliantly lampooned that archteype in The Colored Museum's  “Last Black Mama on the Couch” sketch. Hattiloo stalwart Patricia Smith never sits on a couch or plays to type. Her Lena shifts from thoughtful, nurturing and wise, to superstitious, impulsive and tyrannical. She struggles to create security for her family without realizing how restrictive security can be — or how tenuous. Smith exudes maternal virtue, but her’s is a nuanced, warts-and-all take on a part the veteran performer could have easily phoned in.

Director Mark Allan Davis gets top shelf performances from an ensemble cast that includes Rashideh Gardner, Samantha Lynn, Aaron Isaiah Walker, and Gordon Ginsberg. But Kortland Whalum’s leave it all on stage take on Walter Lee Younger is really something to see. Whalum feels nothing lightly and his words and songs land like punches — some weak, flailing and ineffectual, some like haymakers. It’s as rich a performance as I’ve seen in ages, just at the edge of too much but never tipping over.

Walter Lee gets swindled, of course. I don’t think that’s a spoiler given the shopworn material. He’s one more casualty of unstable alternative economies created when people are isolated and shut out of the regular economy. The Youngers may be moving into a Chicago neighborhood but in this moment Walter Lee becomes the embodiment of Hughes’ “Harlem,” and the “dream deferred.” Maybe this gifted, young, imperfect black man who’s trying to do all the things he’s supposed to do but still can’t get ahead, will finally dry up like a raisin in the sun. Maybe he’ll fester like a sore or stink like rotten meat or sag like a heavy load. Maybe he’ll explode. In a beautifully manicured interpretation, Whalum gives you the sense it’s all on the table all the time.

Short take: This Raisin has some real problems. Telling one helluva strong story isn’t one of them.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Memorial Service Has Been Scheduled for Beloved Actor, Singer Ann Sharp

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 10:24 AM

From The Apple Tree at Theatre Memphis. And looking a little fancy.
  • From The Apple Tree at Theatre Memphis. And looking a little fancy.
Theater artist Ann Sharp has died.

She ended her struggle with cancer Saturday, June 9th. Her presence was so keenly felt in Memphis. Her absence will be also.

I've admired Sharp longer than I've known most other actors in the tri-state area. Straightforward as it seems, I've also misspelled her name more often than anybody else's. Sometimes I've spelled it Anne Sharp. Or Ann Sharpe. Or even Anne Sharpe when I was feeling especially reckless. I never could adequately explain why I thought her name needed an extra set of silent letters. It was like the correct spelling alway seemed insufficient, somehow. But she was typically gracious.

To one red-faced apology Sharp answered, "You know Chris, I'm just not that fancy." And that was it exactly! I'd been sold on an illusion and like so many costumers before me I wanted to outfit Ann Sharp in sequins and drape her in gewgaws!  Or at least a few ornamental characters.

Technically speaking, Sharp qualified for the diva-club discount at area groceries. She earned the distinction on merit with bonus points for looking great in feathers and appearing in more versions of The Matchmaker/Hello Dolly than anybody this side of Carol Channing. But the d-word never really fit Sharp, who could flip from earthy to elegant at will and was as at home in flashy Broadway-style musicals as she was in edgy little comedies. She approached her work humbly, always laboring under the belief that it was an honor to stand on the stage, in the spotlight, speaking the great words and singing the great songs.

When Sharp took her final bow, Memphis didn't lose a great singer. It didn't lose a great actor. We lost a great person who happened to be all those other things also, and more.

Like Memphis Theatre patriarch Bennett Wood said in a speech, on the night of the 2012 Ostrander Awards, when Sharp and her frequent co-star and friend Jude Knight were co-awarded the Eugart Yerian Award for Lifetime Achievement in Memphis Theatre, "Any young actor working with [Ann] learns it takes more than talent. It takes humanity. It takes generosity of spirit. It takes soul to be a great performer."

As a young actor who shared stage time with Sharp in a 1987 production of Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle (yet another version of The Matchmaker ), I can personally attest to Wood's understatement here.
From The King and I at Theatre Memphis.
  • From The King and I at Theatre Memphis.
Sharp's half-century on area stages began when she relocated from Covington, La., to attend Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). Her lengthy and varied resume includes many great musical theatre roles: Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Anna in The King and I, Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, and— of course— Dolly Levi. Comedy, tragedy, absurdity: Sharp could do it all. Dramatic credits include star turns in shows like Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Edward Albee classic A Delicate Balance, and contemporary comedy Rapture Blister Burn.

I've checked and re-checked to make sure Sharp's name is spelled correctly throughout this post even though I know she wouldn't hold it against me if I added an extra "e" here or there. She really wasn't fancy. She really was fabulous.

A memorial will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 7th at Seabrook Hall, Christ United Methodist Church, 4488 Poplar Avenue, Memphis.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Follies: Let 42nd Street Entertain You

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 1:22 PM

When spare is also full.
  • When spare is also full.
The stakes are lower than they might be, and character work could be more thorough. But Theatre Memphis' production of  42nd Street — the vintage story of a (not that) shy young gal from Allentown, PA, who dances her way from the chorus to the center spotlight — is as refined as it is restrained, and effervescent as a New Year's toast.

Shortly after New York' Chrysler building opened in the spring of 1930 (becoming the textbook example of American Art Deco architecture), critic Kenneth Murchison described the skyscraper's visionary architect William Van Alen as "the Ziegfeld of his profession." This was a reference to theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld whose fancy Follies had only just moved from the New Amsterdam Theatre, an Art Nouveau gem less than a mile's stroll down 42nd Street from the shiny east Midtown tower.

Murchison's comment may not have been an insult exactly, but the suggestion was certainly one of style over substance, and of the flashy and new vs. the tried and the true. This familiar cultural crossroads is the exact spot on our conceptual subway map where director Ann Marie Hall has set her production of 42nd Street, which is a cinema-inspired jukebox musical using songs popularized in the 1930s. Scenic environments, courtesy of designer Dave Nofsinger, are minimal — a series of curtains, frames, and backdrops with deco and nouveau flourishes that frame Amie Eoff's swell costumes and the skilled hoofers who fill them. The production's appropriate use of the unadorned theater space echoes Theatre Memphis' recent production of Stage Kiss in a number of ways that should be fun for season ticket holders. They're both the kind of meta, performer-forward production that leaves you thinking style and substance might be the same thing sometimes if there's enough skill to back it up. Refreshing!
Lighting that shows us what to look at. Thanks lighting designer Jeremy Allen Fisher.
  • Lighting that shows us what to look at. Thanks lighting designer Jeremy Allen Fisher.

Omega level stage threat Gia Welch is typically splendid as Peggy, a pitch-in girl from Allentown, PA who steps into a diva's dancing shoes to save the big show. That's the kind of by the numbers 1930s-era plot this musical is built around. 1. Big-time producer Julian Marsh casts a big-time show. 2. Big-time producer Julian Marsh casts a big-time diva in the big-time show. 3. The big-time diva can't dance and does diva stuff. 4. Small-town chorus girl steps up and saves the day while romance blossoms all around. 5. Tap, tap, tap.

There's nothing to it, right? Well, you may very well think that till Welch demonstrates her hilarious speed tapping skills. That's when the show's reasons for being become self evident.

Carolyn Simpson's Dorothy is never quite as spoiled or arch as the star attraction who can't dance might be, but she's committed and sets up a classic rivalry well enough. There are other fine supporting performances by stalwarts like Lindsay Roberts, John Hemphill, and Mary Buchignani. But this show celebrates the chorus and group effort, and that's where Theatre Memphis' production shimmies and shimmers.
Graceful ages.
  • Graceful ages.
The period songs are a joy. The dancing is top notch. This should be a perfectly delightful fantasy to escape into to dodge bad news and get out from under the summer's oppressive heat. But I've got to confess, I was miserable. It wasn't because someone's phone went off or because someone else was texting or loudly unwrapping candy, or taking photos or doing anything on that annoying litany of annoying things we're cautioned against during a standard pre-show speech. It's because someone seated nearby had evidently baptized themselves in cologne before coming to the theater and it assaulted my eyes and sinus cavities like a fighting cock. Mercifully, this once-frequent offense is less common than it once was — almost endangered, praise be. So I'm not bringing this up to reflect negatively on Theatre Memphis or 42nd Street in any way. It's an earnest plea from a regular audience member to the rest of the theatergoing community: Friends, don't let friends overcologne.

With that off my chest, I really can't push much further in the review because so much of my experience was colored by circumstance. I do remember peering through raw-rubbed eyes at a group of dancers in coral-pink dresses and becoming acutely aware of how nicely the fabric draped — how perfectly its movement complemented the movers. It's not that these details aren't present in busier shows. They just get lost in the business, and it's so nice when they're found again. Even nicer when it's  all wrapped up in an illuminated deco frame. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

'Snot Bad: “A Play About a Handkerchief” doesn’t blow at Theatre South

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 6:50 PM

Comedy & Tragedy
  • Comedy & Tragedy
I’ve often thought that Iago’s wife Emilia might be the most modern and relatable character in the wonderful world of Shakespeare. To my mind (and for reasons that won't pass academic muster), her speeches are the only things approaching real proof that any words credited to our Elizabethan master might have been penned by another.

“It is their husbands' faults if wives do fall,” Emilia says at the top of a gorgeous rant — one that couldn’t have been popular with menfolk in Shakespeare's audiences. She goes on to describe a toxic environment where male promiscuity is followed by peevish jealousies and abuse. “Let husbands know their wives have sense like them," she continues, asserting basic humanness and frailty. "They see, and smell, and have their palates both for sweet and sour, as husbands have… Else let them know, the ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”

I mean, I suppose a dude might have written that in 1603 and placed it so thoughtfully in the duty-bound mouth of a smart, smart woman whose ability to thoroughly describe this dynamic runs parallel to personal submissiveness and approval seeking. I'm not one of those classist conspiracy theorists who can't fathom genius inhabiting a craftsman from the sticks, so I suppose the dude did write it. But it's an especially knowing passage in a trove of special, knowing passages. It's also the text playwright Paula Vogel seems to use as the point of departure for her melancholic farce Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief.

Vogel's play is inside out Shakespeare in the spirit of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but less reverent and less in love with its own cleverness. The comedy’s a slower, less frantic burn listing heavily to the dark side. Its premise is built around a broad question: What the heck are all of Othello’s pivotal female characters doing during the long stretches of time when they’re off stage right?

There’s another, more disruptive aim here too. Vogel pops the bubble of romantic game logic holding Othello's plot together, replacing it with something closer to literal truth. She does this by letting the characters ask a question audiences can only address at the risk of disbelief: Why’s Othello trippin’ so hard over a nose blower?

Vogel introduces an earthy, candid Desdemona who openly admits to having had sex with every one of Othello’s officers except for Michael Cassio, of whom she stands accused. She's become something of a sex tourist in the town brothels — a hipster of coitus, a little mean and keen to learn the latest street lingo. It’s a lifestyle the lower class Emilia may understand, but cannot approve of, bound as she is to custom, and religious superstition, and motivated by the notion that a misbehaving woman's just asking to be murdered by her beau. Emilia is similarly horrified by Desdemona's cozying up to Casio’s actual paramour Bianca, a prostitute.

Specific goal and class conscious staging by director Aliza Moran shows off mad skills in a tight ensemble cast: Jillian Barron (Desdemona), Julia Baltz (Emilia) , and Layne Crutsinger (Bianca).

Clocking in at only 90-minutes this dirty Desdemona’s come and gone before the running gags run out of steam. Making no attempt to account for every plot point in the source it may appeal even to audiences who have only a passing familiarity with Othello but the more familiar you are with the tragedy of the Moor of Venice, the more of a treasure box the comedy becomes. It’s another exciting entry by the Femmephis Collective, a young company with a minimalist aesthetic and a maximalist vision.
Burn the witches! Wait, that's another play. But what else could three women be doing on stage together other than witchery? It's a mystery.
  • Burn the witches! Wait, that's another play. But what else could three women be doing on stage together other than witchery? It's a mystery.

To really understand what Vogel’s accomplished with her script it may be helpful to look back at the discourse we were having in the 1990's. Consider Variety's review of the original 1993 production where, in a mixed assessment  of the work, critic Jeremy Gerard wrote, “Imagining Desdemona as a foul-mouthed, post-adolescent princess disappointed in marriage and bored by her prospects doesn’t go a long way toward arousing sympathy for someone about to be murdered by a jealous husband.” Seriously, what's one to do with modern criticism holding Desdemona's potty mouth as a check on sympathy in relation to any kind of murder, let alone an end so personally and intimately violent?

“It’s momentarily funny to contemplate the fact that she’s a slut who’s had everyone but Cassio, the lieutenant whom Othello suspects of having cuckolded him,” Gerard continued. “But the moment passes quickly.”

Ha. Ha ha. Hahahaha—- Whaaaaa?

Can the moment for that kind of thinking pass quickly enough? And isn't that Vogel’s point entirely? This cast seems to make it repeatedly with silliness and subtlety in fair measure.

If a smart little play with sharp, distinct edges sounds appealing, get thee to Theatre South this weekend.

For a different mood, try the late show.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Too Cute: Death of a Streetcar winks at greatness

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 6:52 PM

Jonathan Christian
  • Jonathan Christian
Theater folks talk a lot about text, subtext, meta-text. Blah, blah, blah. But there's another, special kind of language that arises during rehearsals when actors are getting to know their characters and castmates. It doesn't have a name (that I know of) so I'm going to call it the gag-text, with all implications potentially operative.

No matter how serious the actor, or how intense the scene, chances are jokes will be discovered in rehearsal. Often, inappropriate ones. And if the cast is especially clever (and even sometimes when it's not), at some point during the run somebody inevitably suggests, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could do one show where we did our hilarious and vulgar version of The Sound of Music instead of the same old Do Re Mi?" Thankfully, nobody ever really thinks this is a good idea because, while some gags might transcend and tickle the audience, this stuff's mostly inside baseball and what's fun for performers can leave an audience befuddled. Enter Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf, a sketchy scripted comedy developed by Second City, a company famous for improv. It's an intermittently funny and occasionally flailing parody that takes aim at some unassailable classics of the (mostly) American stage. Full of ham-fisted allusion, pop-culture reference, and winking insider-humor, it's kind of like watching a bunch of actors performing their personal gag-text. Or maybe an episode of Family Guy built exclusively for theater nerds.

Tony Isbell's a sure-handed director and he's brought together an able cast that was only just beginning to gel at Thursday night's preview before Friday's opening. But it's difficult to imagine this extended sketch about Streetcar's Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois meeting up with George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman, ever obtaining the essential quality all these shows obtain when banging away on all cylinders — Life. 

Spoof is easy but not very interesting and parody's always a dicy bargain. It's even harder when you're setting your sights on masterworks like Our Town and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Not because these 20th-Century giants don't have it coming, but because we've had more than a half-century to parody the youngest of them, and the best gags are already musty classics in their own right. When Death/Woolf's Stanley yells, "shut up!" and launches a running gag, it's impossible to determine if it's skewering Streetcar directly or retooling a better bit from Sid Caesar's 1952 send-up on Your Show of Shows.


Playwrights ranging from David Mamet to Samuel Beckett are referenced (with assorted other old (mostly) dead white dudes folded into the mix), while condensed versions of the title tragedies (and Our Town for good measure) are reenacted. Though it's never overtly referenced (that I caught), the overall effect,  is something akin to Agatha Christie's easily spoiled whodunnit The Mousetrap. But without the tension. And be forewarned, a working knowledge of all these shows (and more) is absolutely required for maximal enjoyment. Folks with little or no exposure to the plays or their film versions, or some background in theater, may find themselves completely bewildered.

The 70-minute script is uneven and its identity as a work of suspense never really emerges, but some of the characterizations are so perfect it almost doesn't matter. Jonathan Christian's a solid narrator and Mark Pergolizi cuts a fine, sad-sack profile as Arthur Miller's tragic, prostitute-loving salesman. Not just anybody can pull off a convincingly pathetic slouch while dropping dialogue like "Pardon my distinct odor of failure.' (Or words to that effect). Dave Landis, who's actually played the hard-drinking George, pours himself into the role like a martini (as does his Martha, Tracie Hansom).
Dave Landis, Mark Pergolizi
  • Dave Landis, Mark Pergolizi
Kim Sanders probably deserves an actual shot at Blanche, some day (and so does Hansom for that matter), and Michael Kinslow is convincing as the sweaty, angry, and shockingly well-read Stanley. But like another Tennessee Williams character, Brick Pollitt (briefly referenced in the show as merely "a homosexual"), this material's always waiting for a click that never arrives. Not because the show was unready, but because it is thinly written.

"Gag text" is a bonding thing, I think. Musicians I've known do similar things with song lyrics to keep from taking things too seriously. It's an expression of how clever we can all be when we're clever together, and an exercise in what we can get away with — Kinda like improv, a thing Second City is really good at and which Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf most definitely is not.

Death/Woolf is way too cute for my taste but if you love seeing old plays mildly tweaked with winking jokes that make you feel like an insider, make your reservations today.

Halloran Centre Announces Supremely Cool 2018-19 On Stage Series

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 12:37 PM

Kisses from Bettye LaVette
  • Kisses from Bettye LaVette

The Halloran Centre's diverse 2018-19 On Stage series includes the award-winning Fats Waller musical Ain't Misbehaving, a visit from classic soul artist Betty LaVette, a monthly jazz series curated by Kirk Whalum, Arthur Miller's evergreen drama, The Crucible, and those are just a few of the headliners.


In a field that runs the gamut from Great Balls of Fire curiosities like Dennis Quaid and the Sharks to soul royalty like original Supreme Mary Wilson, and chestnuts like an evening of Gilbert & Sullivan favorites, I'm probably most excited about LaVette, who starred in the Broadway hit Bubblin' Brown Sugar and whose early recordings showcase the talents of a group of Memphis artists that came to be known as The Dixie Flyers.

LaVette started recording in Detroit, 1962. She charted R&B hits with  "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man", "He Made a Woman Out of Me," and one of my favorite singles, "Let Me Down Easy." (Though, this studio performance is also fantastic).


"I'm not searching for anything," LaVette told The Flyer. In a 2011 interview, she described her long and winding career as a satisfying one. As soon as "My Man" hit she rolled out of Motor City on tour with headliner Ben E. King and an up-and-comer named Otis Redding. The Scene of the Crime, her collaboration with the Drive-By Truckers, had earned a Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues performance and introduced the veteran performer to a whole new generation of audiophiles.

"Old movies are my thing," LaVette said, beginning her life story with  "One scene that used to make [her] cry every time.

"You know the scene where somebody's flying somewhere and you see the plane in the sky and the names of the cities flash up on the screen? New York, Paris, and London. That's the scene that always made me cry, because my friends had been to all those places and I hadn't." That's all past tense now.

"So many people have asked me, 'What was it like to cut a record when you were only 16?' And I tell them that in 1962 in Detroit, that's just what you did. Everybody had a record or was cutting a record," LaVette said.

Fans were loyal, but fame was elusive. LaVette's thankful. "I met a better class of people," she says. "People who didn't want something from me."

Love her.

And now, here's the rest of the season...

ON STAGE AT THE HALLORAN CENTRE, 2018-2019

MUSIC

Saturday, August 18 Rodney Crowell

Friday, September 7 Rhonda Vincent and the Rage

Saturday, September 29 Dennis Quaid and the Sharks

Friday, October 12 Dougie MacLean

Saturday, October 20 Matt Stansberry & The Romance

Saturday, November 3 Bettye LaVette

Friday, November 30 Music of the Knights

2019

Saturday, January 26 Mary Wilson

Saturday, February 2 Jim Brickman, “Share the Love” Tour

Saturday, March 2 Dustbowl Revival

Saturday, March 16 Benise FUEGO! Spirit of Spain (two performances)

Saturday, April 13 Carlene Carter

Saturday, April 27 The Orbert Davis Jazz Ensemble



THEATRE SERIES

Saturday, November 17, 2018               
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (two performances)

Saturday, February 16, 2019                   
National Players in The Crucible (two performances)

Saturday, March 30, 2019                       
New York City Gilbert & Sullivan Players in the Wand’ring Minstrels, Pirates of Penzance, and an Evening of Gilbert & Sullivan Favorites



KAFÉ KIRK

Sunday, October 7, 2018 with Lindsey Webster
Sunday, December 2, 2018 with Jonathan Butler
Sunday, February 3, 2019 TBA
Sunday April 7, 2019 TBA



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