Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ostranders 2018: Picks, Pans, and "Who Got ROBBED?!?!"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 11:35 AM

Maness 4-ways.
  • Maness 4-ways.
You know what? As long as John Maness wins something, I don’t care about anything else this year. If the Ostrander committee misses all the rest by miles and miles, I’ll be satisfied for the ounce of justice done. Because … holy crap! After this season, the O-committee should consider a “John Maness hardest-working-person in Memphis Theater” trophy. With a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic married to the soul of a magician and escape artist, he hammers out one unique character after another and vanishes inside them. I mean, who the hell does this guy think he is, Erin Shelton?

Nevertheless, the time has come, once again, for shade to be cast and predictions made in regard to this year’s crop of nominees and nominees that might have been if only the universe wasn’t so frequently unfair. It’s the season when the Intermission Impossible team wonders what it is our tireless, too human Ostrander judges might be smoking. When we ask the one question on every right-thinking thespian’s mind — “WHO GOT ROBBED?”

I want to see J. David Galloway take home the set design for New Moon’s lovely, immersive, and necessarily inventive design for Eurydice. I’ve been frustrated in the past by designers who quote or wink at surrealism when what’s needed is something approaching the real thing. Not every aspect of Galloway’s design was as dreamy as it might have been, but the microbudget masterpiece engaged imaginations, enabling the kind of stage magic money can’t buy.
That said, bigger, better-funded companies still have advantages in design categories and I suspect the judges may prefer Jack Yates’ outstanding work on The Drowsy Chaperone or the ordinary otherworldliness of Tim McMath’s design for Fun Home at Playhouse on the Square.

But what about the eye-candy that was An Act of God (also Yates)? What about 12 Angry Jurors, an environment so real yet another confounded patron tried to use the onstage bathroom (also Yates)? If it sounds like I’m arguing for more Jack Yates nominations, maybe I am. But I’m also making a case that there’s been some good design this season, and given a different set of sensibilities, this category might have swung another direction entirely. There might have been nods for the elegant emptiness of Bryce Cutler’s Once, at Playhouse on the Square, or the grubby, unfussy realism of Phillip Hughen’s design for The Flick at Circuit Playhouse. I look forward to seeing how this category evolves as New Moon continues to mature, and smaller Memphis’ companies leverage thoughtfulness against more tangible resources. 
Falsettos.
  • Falsettos.

It’s wrong that Mandy Heath wasn’t nominated for lighting Falsettos but I can live with the slight as long as she wins the prize for Eurydice. That’s really all I have to say about that.

Once is a stunt musical — and what a terrific stunt! It’s part concert, part narrative drama, with the actors doubling down as their own orchestra. The three-chord score’s not Sondheim but casting players who are also, well... players isn’t easy. And pulling off a piece musical theater where the songs feel more like barroom romps than show tunes, requires a different kind of sophistication. I suspect the thrice-nominated Nathan McHenry will take this prize. He should take it for Once.

Who got robbed? Maybe nobody this year.

For excellence in sound design there are a few nominees, but really only one choice. Joe Johnson’s dreamy original score for Eurydice didn’t enhance the designed environment. It completed it.

I was happy to see choreographers Ellen Inghram and Jared Johnson nominated for the wit and wisdom permeating their work on Falsettos. It would be nice to see them win over the flashier entries in this category. No robberies here.

When it comes to the non-musicals, best female lead and supporting roles are almost always the toughest category to call because year after year they are overstuffed with contenders. While Kim Sanders was her usual perfect self in both A Perfect Arrangement and Laughter on the 23rd Floor, the double nomination in the supporting category may not double her odds against commanding, emotionally wrenching turns by Jessica “Jai” Johnson in Ruined and Erin Shelton in All Saints in the Old Colony. Kell Christie was the best Emelia I’ve ever seen and a perfect match for John Maness’ woman-hating Iago in New Moon’s Othello. Any other year Christie would be my #1 pick. She’s a longshot compared to Shelton and Johnson and I’m hard pressed to say who’s more deserving of the honor.
Opera 901 Showcase
  • Opera 901 Showcase
Who got robbed? Although FEMMEemphis’ productions aren’t under consideration, basically the entire cast of Collective Rage. Quark’s similarly out of the running but in the young company’s very adult production of The Nether, young Molly McFarland stood shoulder to shoulder with grownup co-stars and delivered a brave, polished performance. As the youngest of the Weston daughters in Theatre Memphis’ tepid August: Osage County, Emily F. Chateau was damn near perfect — as fragile as Laura Wingfield’s glass unicorn and as likely to cut you if broken. ROBBED AS HELL!

Anne Marie Caskey does consistently professional work but she seemed miscast in Theatre Memphis’ not altogether successful production of August: Osage County. Ostrander loves Caskey (as do I) and her inclusion here might seem less bewildering if not for the absence of Michelle Miklosey’s pitch perfect Eurydice  Tracy Hansom's good old fashioned curtain chew in Stage Kiss. Were I one of these two ladies, I’d take The Oblivains strong advice and call the police. Because, ROBBED! OMG ROBBED!

Some of the best female leads this season did their thing just outside Ostrander’s natural reach. Jillian Baron and Julia Baltz were equally badass in FEMMEmphis’ Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. But let’s be real. All this talk of robbery is purely academic because each of these fantastic performances paled next to to Maya Geri Robinson’s larger-than-life depiction of a Congolese Mother Courage in Ruined at Hattiloo. And Robinson's performance may have only been the season’s second best. I can’t say with any confidence that I’ve ever seen an actor own a show like Morgan Watson owned Sunset Baby, also at Hattiloo.
Emily F. Chateau. The F stands for F-ing ROBBED!
  • Emily F. Chateau. The F stands for F-ing ROBBED!

The list for Best Supporting Actor is strong. It’s so strong I’m picking Bertram Williams for Ruined even though I started this column cheering for John Maness in anything. The list of nominees might also have included nods to Jeff Kirwan for his performances in New Moon’s Buried Child, Eurydice or both. It's worth noting (yet again) that every performance in All Saints in the Old Colony approached a personal best and Marques Brown was ROBBED!

I don’t know what the theater judges had against Buried Child but James Dale Green’s Dodge is a glaring best actor omission. So is Emmanuel McKinney, who gave a knockout performance as Muhammad Ali in the uneven Fetch Clay, Make Man. Both of these men should post on Nextdoor.com right away to let everybody know they were ROBBED! Once that’s been done, can we please all agree to give this year’s prize to John Maness? And can we go ahead make it for everything he touched this season? I say this with deep appreciation for and apologies to All Saints’ Greg Boller and Jitney’s Lawrence Blackwell who both delivered special, award-worthy performances in a season where the competition happened to be a little stiffer than usual.

I take it from the sheer number of nominations in the category of Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, the Ostrander judges liked Fun Home. Me too. But maybe not enough to give any category a near sweep. Especially when it might be appropriate to co-nominate Fun Home’s small and medium Alison in order to make room for Falsettos’ Jaclyn Suffel and/or Christina Hernandez who were both ROBBED!

A taste of Once's pre-show jam.
Like I said, Ostrander very clearly likes Fun Home this year with the odd exception of adult Alison, Joy Brooke-Fairfield. So, individual nominations aside, I’m predicting a joint win for the two Alisons. Of course Annie Freres was a force of nature as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone. All else being equal, she was probably the most outstanding nominee in a field of outstanding nominees.

Best Female Lead in a Musical is a heartbreaker category because everybody nominated is ridiculously talented. Nobody in town has pipes like DreamgirlsBreyannah Tillman, who’s also proving to be a formidable actor. But Emily F. Chateau also had an amazing year and may have been better in Falsettos than she was in August: Osage County. Gia Welch is a precocious powerhouse. She was great in Chaperone, but might also have been nominated for work on 42nd Street or Heathers. Meanwhile, Once’s Lizzy Hinton and Shrek’s Lynden Lewis occupy opposite corners of this playing field. The former helped build a complete world out of song and mirrors.The later was almost buried in spectacle but made heart and soul so much more important than green makeup and ogre costumes.

Let me let you in on a secret: Like Lena Younger’s striving son Walter, Patricia Smith was ROBBED! She should have gotten a nod for her work in the musical adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. I’m gonna talk about Raisin later on in this seemingly endless column, but frankly, that whole cast might want to call a personal injury attorney because they were dealt a disservice up front then ripped off by out appraisers!

Given all of Fun Home’s nominations in other categories, the omission of Joy Brooke-Fairfield feels oddly pointed. Fun Home’s a show that might challenge traditional gender divisions in these kinds of awards and when I didn’t see the older Alison included in this category, I so I double checked the whole list to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. But there was no Joy to be found anywhere, and that sentence is every bit as sad as it sounds. ROBBED!

I’d like to see Joshua Pierce win the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category for Theatre Memphis’ superlative take on Falsettos. But I missed First Date and Dreamgirls this season and, truth be told, I don’t understand Shrek’s appeal. Too disoriented by this category to make a fair call. That almost never happens. Y'all tell me.

Best Leading Actor in a Musical is yet another heartbreaker category. Shrek’s never going to be my thing, but it’s very clearly Justin Asher’s, and he was a mighty fine ogre,  loving every second of big green stage time. Stephen Huff was so at home in Fun Home it’s now almost impossible for me to imagine anybody else in his role. And I kinda feel the same about Jason Spitzer’s near definitive take on The Drowsy Chaperone’s Man in Chair. But I've gotta say, having been underwhelmed by his pitchy turn in Heathers, I was most impressed by Conor Finnerty-Esmonde's take on the hard-luck musician in Once. But when I filter out personal taste in music and storytelling and just let myself focus on the difficulty and potency of the performances represented here, one actor’s work really stands out. Villains are fun to play but nothing's harder than a complex character who's hard-to-like but can't be allowed to become a villain. Cary Vaughn, in his finest of many fine performances, plowed through Falsettos like a steamroller. Still standing. Still applauding this entire cast.
Eurydice — Awfully good looking.
  • Eurydice — Awfully good looking.
But what about Kortland Whalum? Where is his name? I’ll be the first to admit, Raisin was tragically underproduced. The scenic environment felt unfinished, and in an intimate space like Hattiloo, nothing sucks the soul from musical performances like warm bodies performing to cold tracks. But somehow, in spite of everything the actors had working against them, Raisin’s cast collectively overcame. I can’t blame the Ostrander for not rewarding the production, but when you factor in the odds against, no cast was more ROBBED than this one. I’ll brook zero argument: No actor deserves to this category half as much as Whalum. Folks are welcome to disagree on this point, but folks who do are flat wrong. ROBBED!

If Jamel “JS” Tate doesn’t win Best Featured Performer in a Drama for Jittny I’m personally calling in the FBI. Annie Freres is likely to win Best Featured in a musical for her flashy roll-on as the Dragon in Shrek. Or maybe it will go to Breyannah Tillman, who stuck the landing in her role as The Drowsy Chaperone’s show-stopping aviatrix. But James Dale Green stopped time with nothing but his weatherbeaten tenor, a strummed mandolin, and a compelling story to tell. That sounds like a winner to me. Who got Robbed? Once’s Chris Cotton, that’s who.

I’m totally happy if the Ensemble award goes to All Saints in the Old Colony, Falsettos, Fun Home, Jitney, or A Perfect Arrangement. All are deserving, though Jitney may be just a little bit more deserving than all the rest. But how in the blankety-blankblanblank did Once not make this list? The cast doesn’t just act together, they also make music together — acoustic music. Music largely unaided by electronics and amplification. Music so thoroughly human it connects past and future like a time machine made of skin, bone, wood and string. I’m happy if the award goes to any of the fantastic nominees, but no matter who wins the judges lose on this account. Once was the season’s ultimate ensemble show, and POTS’s ensemble crushed it. The pre-show hoedown was worth the price of admission. BOO!

As long as I’m complaining about the judges, OMG! Why is Tony Isbell nominated for excellence in direction of a drama for Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf? Don’t misunderstand, I come to praise this year’s lifetime achievement honoree, not to dis him. Isbell absolutely should have been nominated in this category, but for his work on The Nether (not eligible). Or his work on Years to the Day (also not eligible). Or maybe even his work on Stage Kiss (eligible and solid but fuck-you ignored). I’d go so far as to say he got ROBBED! in spite of bing nominated. This insubstantial work is a jarring inclusion next to Dr. Shondrika Moss-Bouldin’s unflinching approach to Ruined and the inventiveness of Jamie Boller’s Eurydice. Not to mention the hyper-detailed character development, and ensemble work Jeff Posson oversaw for All Saints in the Old Colony and the flawless world-building of Steve Broadnax’s Jitney. I’m calling this one for Posson, but it could go in almost any direction.

Best production of a drama? I like Jitney, though I’ve not pegged it as a winner in many other categories. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s the case here, though the parts were also quite good. Should All Saints in the Old Colony win, it’s every bit as deserving and, being a new script and the underdog here, maybe even more deserving.

I’m betting the darkhorse for excellence in Direction of a Musical and calling this one for Jerry Chipman and Falsettos. Everything else was bigger or flashier or more current in some way or another, even the stripped down Once. But life’s about balance, and Chipman’s production had nary a hair out of place that wasn’t supposed to be out of place.


Looking at the nominee spread, my gut tells me Fun Home was the judges’ favorite musical this season, and why wouldn't it be? It was flawlessly cast, and beautifully performed. But this wasn't the best work I’ve seen from director Dave Landis. I saw the performance with two companions. One wept openly, responding to the story and the characters. The other complained all the way home about the musical’s almost complete lack of action and visual/physical dynamics. I became the most unpopular person in the car when I said I thought they were both 100-percent right to feel the way they felt. Up to this point I’ve been #TeamFalsettos but I’m calling this one for Once. The other shows were great, but they were shows. Once was an event.

“Theaters not actively engaged in creating new material are passively engaged in their own obsolescence.” — Me.

Yeah, I totally quoted myself, but there’s not much I believe more than that. It’s one of the reasons I think the Ostrander Awards for Best Original Script and Best Production of an Original Script, may be more important than nice. In the future, judges might even consider beating the bushes a little on this front, and looking beyond the usual qualifying companies. All Saints in the Old Colony is a fantastic new script. It will win these categories, and it will know productions and awards beyond Memphis. But now would be a good time for all the folks who contributed words and music to Opera Memphis’ all-original 901 Opera Festival to cancel their credit cards because they have been ROBBED! OM might not be under consideration, but if we’re looking for superlatives, I can’t recall a more impressive example of new musical theater in the 901. Not 
Tony Isbell in "Red"
  • Tony Isbell in "Red"
since OM’s 2014 production of Ghosts of Crosstown heralded the rebirth of a neighborhood.

That may not cover every category, but it’s all I’ve got for now. Who did I forget?

Also, stay tuned for a Q&A with lifetime achievement honoree Tony Isbell.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

In Praise of "Love and Murder" at Playhouse on the Square

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 11:22 AM

Michael Gravois, Kristen Doty
  • Michael Gravois, Kristen Doty
It’s pointless to refer to “the death scene” in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The musical farce at Playhouse on the Square has eight or maybe nine of them, and every one of the characters who goes in extremis is played by the exceptional Michael Gravois.

The stage veteran throws himself brilliantly into the silliness, playing members of the D’Ysquith family who stand in the way of a greedy outcast whose mother married for (shudder) love and was therefore kicked out of the clan’s good graces.

Nonetheless, if certain of Monty Navarro’s relatives should die (the quicker the better), then he’ll be a duke with a wife, a mistress, and most importantly, money. But we really love to watch as Gravois bursts on stage as one of the royal relatives, expires, and then reappears moments later inhabiting the character and costume of another doomed relation.


Holding forth as the initially guileless Monty who embarks on a comic Breaking Bad as the bodies accrue, is Ryne Nardecchia, who played the role in the national tour and is flawless. Adam Cates directs and choreographs, and he, too, worked on the Broadway version and the national tour as associate choreographer.

It’s a thoroughly delightful escape, smartly produced, and scads of fun. If the orchestra would ease up a wee bit from time to time to let the singers be heard, it would be even better.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ostranders to Honor Memphis Performers Who Died During 2017-18 Season

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 11:45 AM

cde9822964dc164b9438e3974e1ff5eb.jpg
The Ostranders are usually a place where Memphis actors go to laugh together and celebrate the passing of another season. And it will be that again this year, of course. But having lost so many key players and personalities in the past year, it may also be a place where this tempest-tossed community goes for revival — and a big public cry.

Brian Eno famously contemplated the meaning of success by speculating that each of the 30,000 people who purchased a Velvet Underground record went out and started a band. That's become a rock-and-roll cliche, but on a regional scale, similar math might be applied to George Touliatos’ relatively short-lived but enormously influential Front Street Theater. The professional venture, co-founded with actress Barbara Cason, has been described as “a merry go round in quicksand,” but it was also a launching pad for artists like Cason, Dixie Carter, George Hearn and, of course, Touliatos himself.

Beloved Memphis performers like Dorothy Blackwood, Barry Fuller and Bennett Wood also trace origin stories to Front Street. It inspired and informed the development of Playhouse on the Square. Touliaotos' theater may only have lasted a dozen years or so, but its influence touches every corner of the contemporary Memphis theater landscape.
David Muskin
  • David Muskin
Touliatos died in Washington and hasn’t been a consistent part of the Memphis Theater family for a long time,  but it’s impossible to imagine what that family might look today like without him.
Tony Anderson on the right.
  • Tony Anderson on the right.

Speaking of cliches, I’m pretty sure the expression “big things come in small packages,” was created to describe Anthony “Tony” Anderson who’s been one of my favorite actors for as long as I can remember. Anderson was a generous performer. He launched himself into parts with jarring force and seemed to have such a good time on stage it was impossible not to have a good time watching him, whether he was working out on a weighty classic like Master Harold… and the Boys or lending his talent to an unknown, unproven scripts written by local authors.

This year the Memphis theater community also says goodbye to icons and stars like Ann Sharp, Charles Billings, David Foster, and Greg Krosnes. We've lost touchstone choreographer and lifetime achievement honoree Otis Smith, and character actor David Muskin, whose performance as Solly Two-Kings in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean was a masterclass in subtlety and understatement.


A tribute is being planned for the August 26th award ceremony. Bring your own tissue.

Ostrander tickets are available here.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

It's Time for Ostrander Nominees, 2018!

The Memphis Theater Awards are Aug. 26, at The Orpheum

Posted By on Tue, Aug 7, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Dreams, Saints, Fences
  • Dreams, Saints, Fences
Congratulations Memphis Theater people — especially this season's nominees! Ostrander season, 2018 has officially begun.

Tickets are available at this link. Additional details can be found here. Thanks as always to Memphis magazine and ArtsMemphis for making things happen. And your nominees are...

College Division

Set Design
The Wild Party - Brian Ruggaber, University of Memphis
The Secret in the Wings, University of Memphis - Andy Bleiler
Violet - Montana Pugh, McCoy Theatre, Rhodes in collaboration with the U of M

Costume Design
The Secret in the Wings - Becca Bailey
Nine - Jennifer Ammons, University of Memphis
The Servant of Two Masters - jennifer ammons

Lighting Design
The Secret in the Wings - Nicholas F. Jackson
Nine - Anthony Pellecchia
Violet - Emily Murphy

Music Direction
Nine - Jason Eschhofen
Violet - Tracy Thomas
The Wild Party - Jacob Allen

Choreography
The Wild Party - Jill Guyton Nee
Nine - Jill Guyton Nee

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress - Hiawartha Jackson, Southwest
The Servant of Two Masters - Jasmine Robertson
Cabs, Ogres, Fun
  • Cabs, Ogres, Fun
Leading Actress in a Drama
The Servant of Two Masters, Jordan Hartwell
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Jhona C. Gipson
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Rashidah Gardner

Supporting Actor in a Drama
The Servant of Two Masters - Toby Davis
The Servant of Two Masters - Tyler Vernon
The Secret in the Wings - Kyle Buchanan

Leading Actor in a Drama
Theophilus North - Ryan Gilliam, McCoy Theatre, Rhodes College
The Servant of Two Masters - Blake Currie

Supporting Actress in a Musical
Nine - Brittni Taylor Rhodes
Violet - Destiny Freeman
The Wild Party - Emily Collins

Leading Actress in a Musical
The Wild Party, Kennedy Staiger
Nine, Ellie Boisseau
Violet, Jenny Wilson

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Violet - Jason McCloud
Nine - Nathan Morton
The Wild Party - Christian Boyd

Leading Actor in a Musical
Violet - Deon'ta White
The Wild Party - Jacob Clanton
Nine - Tyler Vernon

Featured/Cameo Role
Violet - Jaylon Jazz McCraven
The Secret in the Wings - Blake Curry
The Secret in the Wings - Levarius Goods


Excellence in Direction of a Drama
The Servant of Two Masters - Danica Horton
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress - Thomas King

Excellence in Direction of a Musical
Nine - Stephen Hancock
Violet - Karissa Coady
The Wild Party - Mark Schnitzler

Best Production
Violet
Nine
The Servant of Two Masters

Community and Professional Division

Excellence in Set Design
Ekundayo Bandele, Jitney, Hattiloo
J. David Galloway, Eurydice, New Moon
Jack Yates, Drowsy Chaperone, Theatre Memphis
Jack Yates, Shrek, Theatre Memphis
Tim McMath, Fun Home, Playhouse on the Square
Dragons, Gods*, Modernity
  • Dragons, Gods*, Modernity
Excellence in Costume Design
Amie Eoff, Drowsy Chaperone
Amie Eoff, Shrek
Kathleen Kovarik, Dreamgirls, Playhouse on the Square
Lindsay Schmeling, Perfect Arrangement, Circuit Playhouse
Patricia Smith, Jitney

Excellence in Props Design
Aubanita Kirk, Perfect Arrangement
Betty Dilley, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Germantown Community Theatre
Jack Yates, August: Osage County, Theatre Memphis
Jack Yates, Shrek
Katharine Hughen, 9 to 5, Playhouse on the Square

Excellence in Hair/Wig/Makeup Design
April Rose Korpitz, Eurydice
Buddy Hart, Drowsy Chaperone
Buddy Hart and Rence Phillips, 42nd Street, Theatre Memphis
Buddy Hart, Rence Phillips, Charles McGowan, Shrek
Lindsay Schmeling, Perfect Arrangement

Excellence in Sound Design
Carter McHann, Crib, POTS@TheWorks
Carter McHann, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf, Circuit Playhouse
Eric Sefton, Shrek
Joe Johnson, Eurydice
Zachary Badreddine, Jitney

Excellence in Lighting Design
Jeremy Allen Fisher, Drowsy Chaperone
Jeremy Allen Fisher, Shrek
Mandy Kay Heath, Eurydice
Justin Gibson, Once
Zo Haynes, Fun Home

Excellence in Music Direction
Jeffrey Brewer, Drowsy Chaperone
Jeffrey Brewer, Shrek
Nathan McHenry, Dreamgirls
Nathan McHenry, Fun Home
Nathan McHenry, Once

Excellence in Choreography
Christi Hall, 42nd Street
Ellen Inghram & Jared Johnson, Falsettos, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
Kim Sanders, Fun Home
Travis Bradley & Jordan Nichols, Drowsy Chaperone
Travis Bradley & Jordan Nichols, Shrek

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
Erin Shelton, All Saints in the Old Colony POTS@TheWorks
Jessica “Jai” Johnson, Ruined, Hattiloo
Kell Christie, Othello, New Moon
Kim Sanders, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Circuit Playhouse
Kim Sanders, Perfect Arrangement

Best Leading Actress in a Drama
Anne Marie Caskey, August: Osage County, Theatre Memphis
Jamie Boller, Shakespeare in Love, Playhouse on the Square
Jessica “Jai” Johnson, Fences, Theatre Memphis
Maya Geri Robinson, Ruined
Morgan Watson, Sunset Baby, Hattiloo

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
Bailey Dumlao, Lost in Yonkers Germantown Community Theatre
Benjamin Greene, Fences
Bertram Williams, Ruined
John Maness, All Saints in the Old Colony
Justin Raynard Hicks, Fences
Tommy “TC” Sharpe, Jitney

Best Leading Actor in a Drama
Greg Boller, All Saints in the Old Colony
John Maness, Othello
John Maness, The Flick, Circuit Playhouse
Lawrence Blackwell, Jitney
Marques Brown, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Annie Freres, Drowsy Chaperone
Brooke Papritz, Fun Home
Carla McDonald, Fun Home
Heather Zurowski, Fun Home
Sarah Johnson, Fun Home

Best Leading Actress in a Musical
Breyannah Tillman, Dreamgirls
Emily Chateau, Falsettos
Gia Welch, Drowsy Chaperone
Lizzie Hinton, Once
Lynden Lewis Jones, Shrek

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Cordell Turner, Dreamgirls
Jimmy Hoxie, First Date
Joshua Pearce, Falsettos
Kevar Maffitt, Shrek
Napoleon Douglas, Dreamgirls

Best Leading Actor in a Musical
Justin Asher, Shrek
Stephen Huff, Fun Home
Jason Spitzer, Drowsy Chaperone
Conor Finnerty-Esmonde, Once
Cary Vaughn, Falsettos

Best Featured Performer in a Drama
Ann Marie Hall, Shakespeare in Love
Greg Fletcher, August: Osage County
Jamel “JS” Tate, Jitney
Jason Spitzer, Shakespeare in Love
The Stones, Eurydice

Best Featured Performer in a Musical
Annie Freres, Shrek
Breyannah Tillman, Drowsy Chaperone
James Dale Green, Once
Jason Eschhofen, First Date, Germantown Community Theatre
Tamara Wright, 9 to 5

Ensemble
All Saints in the Old Colony
Falsettos
Fun Home
Jitney
Perfect Arrangement
Myths, Sports, Sunsets, Chaperones
  • Myths, Sports, Sunsets, Chaperones
Excellence in Direction of a Drama
Dr. Shondrika Moss-Bouldin, Ruined
Jamie Boller, Eurydice
Jeff Posson, All Saints in the Old Colony
Steve Broadnax, Jitney
Tony Isbell, Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf, Circuit Playhouse

Best Production of a Drama
All Saints in the Old Colony
Eurydice
Jitney
Perfect Arrangement
Ruined

Excellence in Direction of a Musical
Cecelia Wingate, Shrek
Dave Landis, Fun Home
Jerry Chipman, Falsettos
Jordan Nichols, Dreamgirls
Jordan Nichols, Once
Travis Bradley & Jordan Nichols, Drowsy Chaperone

Best Production of a Musical
Drowsy Chaperone
Falsettos
Fun Home
Once
Shrek
Dreamgirls

Best Original Script
Some Day for a Crown
All Saints in the Old Colony
Crib

Best Production of an Original Script
Some Day for a Crown
All Saints in the Old Colony
Crib

Once, Perfect, Flicks, and more Flicks
  • Once, Perfect, Flicks, and more Flicks
* Totally not nominated for anything. But look at that set! Check those lights! And remember, to check back with Intermission Impossible for Ostrander-related features including memorials, an interview with lifetime achievement honoree Tony Isbell, as well as picks, pans, and "Who got robbed?!?!

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

For Your Consideration: Tell the 2018 Ostrander Judges Who to Nominate

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 2:39 PM

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The Ostrander Awards are scheduled to go off Sunday, August 26th. The judges have not yet convened, and it's only a matter of days now before the haggling begins over who gets nominated for one of Memphis' coveted theater awards, and who goes home with the plaque. In other words, if there was ever a time to make your feelings known as to who you think they should choose, now would be the time to make some noise. I'm suggesting not that any of our upstanding judges could ever be swayed by outside influence. But it sure can't hurt and might even be fun to try.

What I'm proposing is that theater fans post their own "for your consideration" suggestions in comments here, or on the social media platform of your choosing. You can make it text only, or — if you're feeling creative — make Academy Awards-style "for your consideration" ads and share them around. My only request is, if you make ads, either email a copy to me or tag me when you post it. If we get enough I'll create a second post with the best homemade ads out there.

For my sample I picked John Maness because that guy could easily be nominated in a couple of categories, and absolutely deserves a play prize this year.

Have fun and stay tuned to Intermission Impossible for Ostrander updates including nominees, interviews with honorees, and this year's installment of WHO GOT ROBBED?!?!

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Tennessee Shakespeare Company Announces 11th Season — Brave New World

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 9:46 AM

TSC at the Dixon
  • TSC at the Dixon
Tennessee Shakespeare Company (TSC) has dubbed its new season, "Brave New World," and considering the moment, that sounds about right.

Memphis' only professional, classically bent troupe has spent the last decade wandering about East Memphis and Germantown as peripatetic tenants. The company is currently occupying a considerable property of its very own — the building left behind when Ballet Memphis moved to Overton Square.

According to TSC founder Dan McCleary the company is: "determined to create a classical playing space that is unique in Memphis, our state, and in the southeastern United States. It will be flexible, comfortable, reverberant with natural materials, and it will be able to open out through our facility’s walls in order to host our 400-seat gala as well as rent out to other parties through the year. We are creating a festive, classical, workhorse of a playspace that will educate our children, train tomorrow’s actors, and never have a line at the bathrooms!”

There's still a lot of renovation in the works, but little by little all the pieces are falling into place. The 11th season launches with Two Gentlemen of Verona, a comedy of love and friendship gone awry. That's followed by Macbeth, Shakespeare's macabre tale of greed and ghosts. Major productions end with a revival of As You Like It, the first play TSC ever produced. The season continues with the latest installment of the company's popular Southern Literary Salon, and its tenth Broadway gala, showcasing a yet-to-be-announced headliner.

From TSC's season announcement:

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Free Shakespeare Shout-Out Series

by William Shakespeare

directed by Stephanie Shine+

September 8-29

sponsored by Evans/Petree, P.C.

75-minute running time

It’s free, fun, fast, and for everyone! Last season’s inaugural Shout-Out Series returns by popular demand with 11 performances at 10 outdoor/indoor locations throughout Shelby County. Ideal for families and picnics, this quick-fire version of Two Gents provides a rare opportunity to laugh at Shakespeare’s first comedy – and perhaps even his very first play.

He takes a well-known comedy of a love triangle and re-shapes it into a love rectangle, introduces strong female characters (one of whom takes on Shakespeare’s first “pants role” before the more famous Viola and Rosalind do), creates wise-cracking servants Speed and Launce, and even adds bandits to the mix. But for all that, the play remains famous for one particular role: Crab the dog. Even as the story ranges from the shocking to the hilarious, Crab sits non-plussed.

No tickets or reservations needed. Patrons are encouraged to come early for available seating.

September 8 at 2:00 pm
Stax Amphitheatre
(Open Rehearsal)

September 8 at 6:00 pm
Orange Mound Community Center
(Open Rehearsal)

September 14 at 6:00 pm
Collierville Town Square

September 15 at 2:00 pm
Germantown Library

September 15 at 6:00 pm
Loflin Yard

September 21 at 6:00 pm
Beale Street Landing

September 22 at 2:00 pm
Wiseacre Brewery

September 22 at 6:00 pm
Overton Square at the Chimes Square Amphitheatre

September 28 at 6:00 pm
International Harvester Managerial Park

September 29 at 2:00 pm
Benjamin Hooks Public Library

September 29 at 6:00 pm
Overton Square at the Chimes Square Amphitheatre

Macbeth

by William Shakespeare

directed by Dan McCleary

October 18 – November 4

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) production

sponsored by C. Cato Ealy

The Owen and Margaret Wellford Tabor Stage at TSC

In his horrific, poetic tragedy, Shakespeare begins with a man “too full of the milk of human kindness” and concludes with “the grace of grace.” In between, with alarming speed and majestic verse, he reveals an evil not in our stars nor gods, but from the most frightening source: our own humanity. A play famous for its witches and blood is never more rousing than when it prompts Macbeth’s conscience to speak and act.

A leader lusting for power believes he is above the law of humans, morality, and God. His atrocities will be pardoned, he believes. For his own prosperity, he claims all people and the world will give way, that he may lie, that he may kill, that he is impenetrable. But Shakespeare revels in pitting the man persistently against his own better angels.

Veterans Paul Kiernan* and Caley Milliken* return to TSC to play the Macbeths, with Dave Demke*, Gabriel Vaughan*, Michael Khanlarian, Claire Hayner, Nic Picou, and Blake Currie. The full cast will be announced at a later date.

Tickets are $39. The October 18 Preview performance is $19. October 25 and November 1 are Free Will Kids’ Nights: children 17 years and younger are admitted free when accompanied by a paying/attending guardian (call the Box Office to secure Free Will tickets). Seniors (62+): $34. Students (18+): $19. October 19 is Opening Night, which welcomes patrons to a post-show reception with the actors. Thursday-Saturday performances are at 7:00 pm; Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm.

General Admission/Free Parking. All performances take place at TSC’s new home, located at 7950 Trinity Road, Memphis 38018-6297. Tickets are on sale now at www.tnshakespeare.org and (901) 759-0604.


As You Like It

by William Shakespeare

Elizabeth Mainstage Rep

directed by Dave Demke

dance choreography by Caley Milliken

November 29 – December 16

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA*) production

Sponsored by Pat and Ernest G. Kelly, Jr.

in The Owen and Margaret Wellford Tabor Stage at TSC

In his comedic masterwork, Shakespeare boldly reinvents his secret personal loves for the stage. There is his Dark Lady, his handsome Rival Poet, and his mother Mary Arden. In exile in the Forest of Arden are the singular creations of Rosalind, Touchstone, and Jaques (“All the world’s a stage…”). The result of the city-dwellers mixing with those of the country might otherwise have proved a gender-bending, female-driven, frothy scandal on the Elizabethan stage were it not for the revelations of heart and humanity in the woods – a scandal-plagued world righted.

In nature, Shakespeare’s characters discover little use for the restrictive laws of the court and societal forms. The wild wood reminds us it is un-natural not to evolve, that clinging to the status quo imperils us. Shakespeare’s reward for the courage of his new characters is a surprise visit of spirituality in Arden where opposite worlds are united.

The cast includes Caley Milliken*, Paul Kiernan*, Gabriel Vaughan*, Michael Khanlarian, Merit Koch, Nic Picou, Kilby Elisabeth Yarbrough, Claire Hayner, Shaleen Cholera, Carmen-maria Mandley, Marlon Finnie, Stuart Heyman, and Zach Williams. The full cast will be announced at a later date.

Tickets are $39. The November 29 Preview performance is $19. December 6 and 13 are Free Will Kids’ Nights: children 17 years and younger are admitted free when accompanied by a paying/attending guardian (call the Box Office to secure Free Will tickets). Seniors (62+): $34. Students (18+): $19. November 30 is Opening Night, which welcomes patrons to a post-show reception with the actors. Thursday-Saturday performances are at 7:00 pm; Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm.

General Admission/Free Parking. All performances take place at TSC’s new home, located at 7950 Trinity Road, Memphis 38018-6297. Tickets are on sale now at www.tnshakespeare.org and (901) 759-0604.

Southern Literary Salon and Brunch

Boats Against the Current: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

curated and directed by Stephanie Shine+

Sunday, January 27 at Noon

at The Memphis Hunt and Polo Club

Sponsored by Anne O. Keeney in memory of Mr. Joseph Orgill, III

Join us for jazz, brunch, and the writings of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald acted out in the beautiful ballroom of the Polo Club. When the “golden girl” of Montgomery, Alabama, met St. Paul’s party-penning author, a romance as complex and unpredictable as the new jazz age would light America on fire. F. Scott and Zelda would create self-reflective literary works so clear of form and period as to place them in the vanguard of what we now call the Jazz Age and of the Lost Generation: The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Last Tycoon, and Save Me the Waltz.

The elegant brunch buffet and cash bar opens at Noon with seating through 1:30 pm. TSC actors will read and act the Fitzgeralds’ works from 1:30-2:30 pm. Tickets are $55 and include all but the cash bar. Attire: cocktail/business casual. Limited seating. Host members: Margaret and Owen Tabor.

Tenth Annual Broadway Gala Benefitting TSC’s Education Program

Join us in the spacious ballroom and lobby of the Memphis Hilton on Saturday, March 30, 2019, at 6:00 pm for an Elizabethan boardwalk, fun festivities, auctions, dinner, open bars, and a brilliant Broadway headliner to be announced shortly.

Ten-seat tables are now available. Single tickets are on sale now through February 21 for $100. Single tickets purchased after February are $125. Attire is semi-formal and cocktail.

Special Student Morning Matinees (flexible start times) of Macbeth and As You Like It are offered to school classes at just $10 per student. Macbeth matinees are October 23, 24, 30, and 31. As You Like It matinees are December 4, 5, 11, and 12. These matinees are made possible by the Barbara B. Apperson Angel Fund.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Summer Stock: Revues, Debuts in this Week's Weekend Theatre Roundup

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 3:57 PM

Emily Chateau sings. Gary Beard plays.
  • Emily Chateau sings. Gary Beard plays.
Playhouse on the Square's New Works @The Works playwriting competition has resulted in some impressive debuts. The latest to see production is Crib, a 2016 winner opening at TheatreWork this weekend. Crib tells the story of Tracy, an African-American professor fighting for tenure, Rajon, a star athlete accused of plagiarism and threatened with expulsion, and of Coach Pari who reminds everybody that athletic money means more than academic honor.
crib_poster.jpeg

Crib sounds like a timely pick and is directed by Jaclyn Suffel, who helmed a previous winner, Victory Blues.


Does that sound a little heavy? Theatre Memphis goes light in the summer with musical revues and cabarets. This year's event, Ladies & Legends brings together Annie Freres, Lynden Lewis Jones, Emily Chateau, and Jacqueline Skoog. That's a lot of vocal dynamite. They'll perform pop hits, Broadway favorites, and movie classics. 
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Friday, July 6, 2018

Memphis Actor/Educator Greg Krosnes Dies

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 10:34 AM

Greg, in his element. - MCCOY THEATRE, RHODES COLLEGE
  • McCoy Theatre, Rhodes College
  • Greg, in his element.
Fuck.

Is it okay to say that? Can I start a tribute that way? Because the f-bomb has been exploding in my mouth since Wednesday, when I received an early a.m. text message alerting me to the untimely, and unimaginable, death of Memphis actor and educator Greg Krosnes. Angry fucks, disbelieving fucks, resigned fucks — all kinds of fucks sputter out of my mouth, reminding me of when Greg and I were freshmen together at Rhodes College where our acting teacher Cookie Ewing made all of her beginning acting students say fuck on the first day of class. It was a profane, profoundly funny icebreaker with an underlying message: We’d be called on to say much harder things than that on stage someday — in life too. What I need to say right now is so much harder. Memphis has lost an amazing talent. I have lost a friend.

Nobody loved harder, hugged tighter, laughed deeper, or brought more life to his work than Greg Krosnes, who died in his sleep this week. He was 50.

We’ve never been besties, as they say, but Greg and I were brothers, onstage and off. We made our post-high school debut together in a Betty Ruffin-directed production of The Rivals at Rhodes College. But we weren't rivals, we were instant partners and collaborators who would eventually co-develop a senior project. Greg was always the handsome leading man to my brooding villain. He dug Abba and was the first person to volunteer in fight choreography workshops. I was the guy who’s a little too into the Dead Kennedys and way too eager to volunteer thoughts on Patrice Pavis’ Languages of the Stage.
When you're not an Addams. - THEATRE MEMPHIS
  • Theatre Memphis
  • When you're not an Addams.
I worshiped silent film comic Buster Keaton. Greg — one of the greatest physical actors and comedians I've ever known — could actually do the death defying stunts. He was famous for hanging lights without the aid of a ladder, swinging across the grid like a furless monkey, high above the floor of the McCoy Theatre’s black box. He’d effortlessly glide from bar to bar singing, or cracking jokes, or reciting lines from his favorite films, especially The Princess Bride. Golden-haired, with a mischievous,  nearly maniacal grin, it wasn’t difficult to look up and imagine the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, swashbuckling his way through the rafters in search of his Buttercup.

Greg wasn’t playing at being the good guy, he was the good guy, and he was good at it, too. He was good at everything — acting, singing, dancing. He could fight, direct, design, light— you name it. If it happened in a theater, he could do it and better than most. Greg had special affinities for physical comedy and musical theater, and Memphis audiences may remember him best as Tom Sawyer in the regional premiere of Big River or Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors. He was one of Mamma Mia’s three potential dads, and the “normal” dad from the “normal” family in Theatre Memphis’ anything-but-normal production of The Addams Family. I’ll always remember him best as the disillusioned protagonist of Arthur Miller’s post WWII drama All My Sons, because I can never forget what it felt like playing George to his Chris and looking into his eyes as the character began to crack — to lock onto those aching blue peepers as they filled up with uncertainty and anger and so many unspoken fucks, and to know what it meant to feel safe and supported. To feel it down deep in my shoes.
All My Sons
  • All My Sons
All My Sons
  • All My Sons
Greg’s greatest role was the one he played offstage. As an educator he infected the students he encountered with his love for stagecraft in all of its many manifestations. After earning a master’s degree from the University of California at Irvine, he returned to Memphis to teach — first at Rhodes, later at Arlington High School.

Greg was a longtime judge for Memphis’ Ostrander Awards and we would meet occasionally and sit together on the back row of some local theater or other. This was usually a random occurrence, almost never planned but always welcome. Because it was like school had never ended, and we’d never been apart. A conversation that started in Tuthill Hall in the fall of 1985 always picked up right where it had left off. A good conversation, spirited and full of learning and laughter. A conversation that ended sweetly, but never concluded.

The last time Greg and I spoke I reminded him of the time he and Ann Sharp saved my skin on stage when I understudied Herr Zangler in On the Razzle and wound up going on after only one rehearsal. Things were going brilliantly till, in one scene, I completely lost my way. Panic took over as I repeated the last line I could remember like a broken record. Greg and Ann took charge and walked me through all the rest without missing a beat or a laugh. But the man who could recite the lines to every movie he’d ever seen front to back swore he couldn’t remember any time I’d been anything shy of perfect — and of course he couldn’t remember the bad times. Greg was loved so much because he loved so much.
Fables for Friends
  • Fables for Friends
I know I’ve spilled a bunch of words here, but only the first one came easy. If it offended anybody, I’m sorry, but it’s all I had for the longest time. It may be all I have left when I'm finally done here. It's not like we ever met up for beers anymore. Or margaritas. Or coffee, even. But I haven't fully come to grips with the idea that I'll never see him sitting on the back row of TheatreWorks underneath the lighting booth. I won't be able to rib him about stealing "my seat." There will be no more manly hugs that go on and on without ever wearing out their welcome. We'll never do that "one last show" we so often talked about. 

It's a cliche and as a critic I shouldn't indulge or encourage. But never hesitate to tell friends you love them. Even if you've just said it, go on ahead and say it again. It beats the fuck out of the alternative. 
Fam.
  • Fam.
Greg's family will receive friends on Sunday, July 8th from 2-4 p.m. with the Memorial Service to follow immediately at 4 p.m.

All services will be held at Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery, 5668 Poplar Ave.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Memphis Auditions Scheduled for STARZ TV Strip Club Drama

Memphis writer Katori Hall wants P***y Valley to have authentic Southern Flavor

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2018 at 12:27 PM

Katori Hall
  • Katori Hall
Want to be in a TV series created by Katori Hall, the award-winning Memphis playwright and author of The Mountaintop, Hurt Village, Hoodoo Love, and Tina!?

Auditions for Hall's STARZ TV drama Pussy Valley are by appointment only, but if this sounds interesting, here's everything you need to know about the roles available and how to schedule a meeting.

MERCEDES: Mid-20s, African American, “The OG.” Fierce, ambitious, a true boss. After a long reign as the queen of the Pink Pony, this enterprising hustler is ready to hang up her lucites and start anew. Determined to parlay her side hustle as a youth dance team coach into a viable career, she wrestles daily with the respectability politics that demand she feel ashamed of her floss-filled past. As quick with an insult as she is with a prayer, this emotional gangster is fueled by the gift of intuition and a child-like optimism despite seeing the worst of the world. When unforeseen obstacles threaten to derail her retirement, she’s forced to reckon with her own deep-seated fear of failure, a manipulative mother and a new competitor for her Pink Pony throne. Actors must be comfortable with: comedic and dramatic elements, nudity, sexual situations, pole dancing/stunts/athletics
AUTUMN NIGHT: Early-mid 20s, African American. “The Chameleon” A perfectly polished beauty with a dark secret tucked deep in her Louis Vuitton bag. Under murky circumstances, this bad and bougie femme fatale washes up on the shores of the Pink Pony— down-and-out and totally out of her element, or so it seems. A mysterious shape-shifter blessed with the privilege society bestows up on ‘light-skinned-ed’ girls, she’ll seduce anyone who could be an ally and ruthlessly take out any possible threats. Cautious and crafty, cool and cultured, her manufactured facade disguises the fact that she is a walking wound in desperate need of connection and care. But ain’t nobody got time to depend on the kindness of strangers —she’s depending on her damn self as she races against the clock before her past catches up with her. Actors must be comfortable with: comedic and dramatic elements, nudity, sexual situations, pole dancing/ stunts/athletics
MISS MISSISSIPPI: 18-20, African American, “The Masterpiece.” An idealist caught in a bad romance, this young mother is a Chocolate Venus dropped down in the Delta. Fresh from maternity leave, she’s back at the Pink Pony to rake it up and provide for her growing family. Impressionable and naive enough to dream the impossible, she’s determined to become Insta- famous like Cardi B and Black Chyna before her. Goofy with the gift of gab, she’s a natural riot. Her well-staged and popular Instagram selfies show us she could have all that heaven allows; however, she is often brought down to earth by an abusive boo who threatens her bright future and promising life. Actors must be comfortable with: comedic and dramatic elements, nudity, sexual situations, pole dancing/stunts/athletics
GIDGET Early 20s, Caucasian, “The White Girl.” Quirky, earnest, a navel gazing, trailer-park philosopher. As a second generation pole dancer, she views stripping as an Olympic worthy sport —high-art even. She’s the ultimate ride-or-die best friend (go best friend! that’s my best friend!), sticking by her girls through thick and thin. However, the habit of putting the needs of others first might prevent this driven athlete from taking her rightful place amongst the stars. A fear of flying could very well stop her from competing in the annual US Pole Dancing Championship in NYC. But by facing the music, she learns to shed her inhibitions as this little Mississippi girl prepares to come for her crown. Actors must be comfortable with: comedic and dramatic elements, nudity, sexual situations, pole dancing/stunts/athletics
REQUIREMENTS: You must be over the age of 18 NO exceptions!! FILMING DATES: Slated to shoot in September 2018 AUDITION LOCATION: TBD in MEMPHIS, TN AUDITION DATE Friday and Saturday, July 6th and 7th @ 10:00am-6:00 PM CST (Appointment only) HOW TO SUBMIT: Please email us your headshot, resume (if you have one) and the role you would like to read for to wsa.pilotcasting@gmail.com

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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

jimmys_awards_nominees_2018._h.mcgee_photo_preview.jpg
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

werecbox_unnamed-12.jpg
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.

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