Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stage Review: TITAN Theatre Company & The Queens Theatre presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Kevin Loomis as Scrooge in TITAN Theatre Company/Queen's Theater's production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Photo Credit: 

Around this time last year, I had the pleasure of attending my first staged performance of Charles Dickens' seminal classic, A Christmas Carol, at the Theatre at St. Clement's (read my review here).  Over the decades since its publication in 1843, Carol has since seen various iterations onstage, onscreen and just about everywhere in between.

As a proud 90s kid, yours truly can recall more than a few versions which had particular influence (or, is in the case of the VHI TV film, simply pure entertainment) in the retelling of the timeless tale: an 26-minute animated short by Disney (Mickey's Christmas Carol), which featured Scrooge McDuck as the infamous main character; as well as another with the Muppets (The Muppet Christmas Carol), featuring Kermit in full-out Dickensian costume.  There was that totally campy, glittery and positively lol-worthy adaptation on VH1 (A Diva's Christmas Carol) starring Vanessa Williams as a Scrooge-like pop star (minus the top hat, spectacles and grey beard, of course), and let's not forget the fairly recent computer-animated version to which Jim Carey lent his vocal stylings.

These days, not much about the story -- or its young audience -- has changed.  The times, however, have -- and in this tech-obsessed world we're living in now, it is refreshing to see the next generation engage in something other than what is on a screen in front of them.  There is nothing like sitting in a theater filled with kids hanging onto the edge of their seats -- and onto every word being performed onstage.  The performance in question was not the latest pop star (sorry, Taylor Swift), but TITAN Theatre Company's production of A Christmas Carol at the Queens Theatre.
TITAN Company member Michael Selkirk as the Ghost of Christmas Present.

The story itself should be a familiar one by now: we are introduced -- and given expository background -- to Ebenezer Scrooge (Kevin Loomis) by various nameless characters, who describe the old man's descent into bitterness following the death of his business partner Jacob Marley (Andy Baldeschwiler) 7 years prior to the play's start.  We see evidence of Scrooge's cold heart through his mistreatment of those around him: namely, his nephew, Fred (Dylan Wittrock), who attempts to invite his uncle to partake in Christmas Eve festivities; as well as his office clerk, Bob Cratchit (John Taylor Phillips), to whom the old miser has refused an increase in what is already a meager salary.

Then, of course, as he makes his way home and into his bed, he is suddenly visited by an apparition of Marley's Ghost, who ominously announces that Scrooge shall be visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past (TITAN company member  Laura Frye), Present (fellow company member Michael Selkirk) and Future (also played by Baldeschwiler).  Over the course of the night, these three ghosts literally lead Scrooge on a journey backwards, forwards -- and even sideways -- in time, getting to the root of how the old miser became who he was.

In re-enacting these classic scenes to the next generation, TITAN's talented round of cast members surely do Dickens justice.  The return of company regulars Frye and Selkirk prove once again to be a winning combination, along with fellow standouts Wittrock and the production's own Scrooge, Loomis himself.  The inclusion of child actors also help in not only help fully round out the cast, but also provide the younger members of the audience with another element to the story with which to relate to.  As both Tiny Tim and the "present-day" grandson in the opening scene,  Moore Theobald gamely holds his own with his elder counterparts, as does his brother Quinn in the roles of Peter and a much younger Scrooge.

As you can see, Dickens' Carol has been a cultural mainstay, always seeming to find a way to remain relevant in our modern society.   From the beginning of TITAN's production, which opens with Loomis as a present-day grandfather reading it to his grandson, we are reminded once again of the timelessness of Dicken's tale.   While their interpretation of the material is less a "modernized" one, period clothing and language remaining largely intact, what seems to make this story modern is in the fact that its themes are still ones we grasp with today -- mainly, how greed can corrupt even the most purest of heart, and how ultimately, forgiveness can be the best gift of all.

Combined with an elegant production design, with sets by Jasmine Nicole and costumes by Becky Willet, TITAN proves once more that everything old can be new again.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stage Review: Kreiger and Russell's SIDE SHOW on Broadway (12.19.14)


One Final Act
A peek behind the Side Show
curtain, as it comes to a close

It seems as if for years, people have been fascinated by certain anomalies in society -- or, as Robert Ripley (yes, that Ripley) would have called them: "oddities."  This fascination would soon evolve from Mr. Ripley's eventual Believe It or Not! empire and travelling circuses to that most perverse of modern entertainments: reality television.  From Jon And Kate Plus 8 to Little People, Big World, to even the vast Duggar franchise (basically, any TLC reality show at this point), the public's obsession with anything even remotely different from what is perceived as "normal" still prevails today.  There are a couple of shows currently running on the Great White Way which would perfectly exemplify this display of curiosity, one of which being the revival of Henry Kreiger and Bill Russell's Side Show over at the St. James Theatre.  

(The other -- for those who are, well...curious, is the Bradley Cooper-led revival of Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man.)

For those unfamiliar with Side Show and its unique backstory, the musical chronicles  the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, the first conjoined twins in Britain known to survive past a few weeks.  Throughout their lives, the twins suffered many abuses: first, at the hand of their own mother, who sold the girls the first chance she could get; then later, by their over-controlling managers who, by that time, had become the girls' only family.  Still, despite the troubles they  would experience, the girls managed to make their way in the world.  From a young age, they were trained to sing, dance and play musical instruments and it was these talents which would lead them to the Sideshow and vaudeville circuits -- and eventually, Hollywood.  

The original 1997 run of Side Show lasted only 91 performances (122, counting previews) and despite  managing to garner not only critical acclaim but also 4 Tony nominations, the show closed just a few short months later.  This time around, history will repeat itself once more as the current revival will find itself closing on January 4, 2015.   This production is the product of nearly two years' worth of various reworkings made through out-of-town runs at both La Jolla Playhouse in 2013 and the Kennedy Center earlier this past summer (the show also ran as an "abridged" version at the Kennedy in October 2008, as part of their Broadway: Three Generations presentation).    

With this in mind, it is difficult to gauge these improvements made on the show, particularly because I had never seen the original, "un-tainted" version and had only come to be vaguely familiar with the musical after hearing its name bandied about in the theatrosphere as of late.  This, then, brings with it many concerns for a critic such as myself; therefore, I must give fair warning when I say that the following opinions are solely based on what I've seen from this particular production, and may or may not be subject to change should I eventually come across the original material.  (I'll be sure to let you know my opinions about it here, of course.)

That said, let me start off by saying that there are many things about this show that confused me.  Side Show seems to be a show utterly ripe to be a showstopper; what Bob Fosse would have called a "razzle dazzle" kind of show, one with a deep, dark undertone bubbling under all the glitter and glamor.  At the show's start, it seems to set up this idea, with the ensemble introduced to us with the number, "Come Look at the Freaks."  Perhaps a bit too obvious, yes, but as a lover of the darker side of old-timey circus acts  (A Human Pin Cushion?  A Fortune Teller, you say?  SO there!), I brushed aside any immediate judgments for the time being.

As the show goes on, the score never quite delves into the dark underbelly it so intriguingly set up in the aforementioned opener.  There are some attempts, such as "Cut Them Apart," sung by the girls' British physicians in an expanded backstory portion, but even so, they barely miss the mark.  In fact, most of the backstory portion displays the inclusion of moments in which Harry Houdini, of all people, gets his own song ("All in the Mind"); while this in itself is interesting -- and factually true -- it proved to be one of many head-scratch-inducing moments to come.

Side Show's tunes perhaps shine most brightly when sung by the two lead actresses playing the Hiltons; from the girls' introduction song "Like Everyone Else" (which is a great example of a musical theatre song, and a charming one at that), to their song-and-dance number ("Typical Girls Next Door"), to the signature ballad, "I Will Never Leave You."  It is clear that the show's creatives are just as interested as the viewing public in exploring the girl's unique situation -- perhaps more so than what really lies beneath the surface.

Still, there are many great things about the 2014 revival, not the least of which is the talented cast.  Led, of course, by Erin Davies and Emily Padgett (who play Daisy and Violet, respectively), and joined by Ryan Silverman, Matthew Hydzik and David St. Louis (as the girls' bodyguard Jake).  As the Hilton sisters, Davies and Padgett exude charm, wit and vulnerability, both vocally and in their characterization of each girl.  Working -- quite literally -- in tandem (feel free to cue the sad trombones), the two are perfectly in sync with one another, producing beautiful harmonies.  

As for the aforementioned supporting cast, they each hold their own.  As the scheming press agent Terry Connor, Silverman looks the part of a dashing Cary Grant type looking to sweep the girls (in particular, Daisy) off their feet, and has the singing chops to go with his indelible charms.  Meanwhile, Hydzik, in the role of Terry's romantically-confused sidekick Buddy Foster, is the perfect bumbling fool to Silverman's debonair devil.  However, it is perhaps St. Louis who steals the show (which is hard to do when among the likes of an array of talents such as this), reminiscent of Joshua Henry's performance in Broadway's Violet earlier this year --  his booming voice seems to reverberate and bounce off the walls of the St. James, during numbers such as "Devil You've Got to Hide" and "You Should Be Loved."

Rounded out with brilliant scenic design by David Rockwell (even now, I still marvel at changing sets whenever I see productions on a scale such as this) and beautiful quick-changing costumes by Paul Tazewell, which could rival the likes of William Ivey Long's in Broadway's Cinderella (and to be on par with Ivey Long is a compliment, indeed!), Side Show made for a captivating feast for the eyes.  Unfortunately, with a score and book lacking in focus and drive, the show fell short of the possibilities to truly entertain.


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Side Show is running until this Sunday, January 4, 2015
at the St. James Theatre.
For tickets and other info, click here.
_____

Readers of The Resident Artist are eligible for a special 2-for-1 offer! 
Just click here and redeem using the code: 
"SS241RSH"



Monday, December 22, 2014

Stage Review: The Theatre at St. Clement's presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL (November 29, 2013)


 And to All a Good Night
The Theatre at St. Clement's puts their own spin 
on an enduring holiday classic

Around this time last year, my family and I went to see a staging of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Theatre at St. Clement's (located at St. Clement's Episcopal Church) on the outskirts of the theatre district.  It was, admittedly, my first viewing of Dicken's story onstage and as this past weekend would attest, it certainly would not be my last.  Afterward, I wrote the following review, but for one reason or another, was never able to post it.  As Christmas once again draws ever closer and this critic hones her review of TITAN Theatre Company/The Queens Theatre's own rendition of the tale, I thought I would revisit this previously viewed production here on the blog.  Enjoy.   -J
  
If you grew up anywhere within the English-speaking world, chances are you were familiar with Charles Dickens' seminal tale, A Christmas Carol.  The original British novel (which has never been out of print since its publication in 1843) tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man who hates all things Christmas yet changes his ways over the course of an evening.  Over on West 46th Street at the Theatre at St. Clements, Patrick Barlow has put his own spin on the classic Dickensian tale in a re-imagined stage adaptation.

In this adaptation by Patrick Barlow, the story is told through four actors, all of whom narrate Scrooge’s journey through song, each one playing an instrument.  Just as the “carol” motif is reflected in the novel through each chapter (which Dickens called “staves,” or song verses), so it is reflected here through the narration.  The four actors, who also happen to portray all the supporting roles in the play, act as quasi-minstrels and help to move the story along.  Aside from songs which tell the story, the actors also break into renditions of traditional Christmas songs, such as “Deck the Halls,” which they sing at both the show’s opening and closing.  It is this device which perfectly suits the Victorian-era tale, bring the world of Dickensian London to life and immediately immersing us in it.

The actors make their way to the stage and begin regaling us with the tale of old Scrooge, played by Peter Bradbury.  One by one, they each take their turn playing a character interacting with the old miser, as the others provide a musical underscore and look on at the scene unfolding.  Here, we get a glimpse of what has long been the classic image of Scrooge: a man who turns away those most in need, including various townspeople seeking loans; a pair of nuns asking for donations; and his own office clerk, Bob Cratchit, who hesitantly ventures a request for a raise in his already meager salary.  Scrooge even rejects an invitation by his nephew to join in the Christmas Eve festivities later that evening, with a swift and resound: Bah, humbug!

Without any remorse in his decisions to remain stingy and aloof, Scrooge retires to his bedchamber at home, only to be visited by the spirit of his former business partner Jacob Marley, who had died that very night seven years prior.  The spooky apparition of Marley’s ghost announces the imminent arrival of the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come.  The ever-proud Scrooge still remains disbelieving, until each ghost arrives and makes their case.  As he journeys through space in time, Scrooge begins to realize that in pushing away the traumas he associates with Christmas, he has also pushed away love from his life – literally and metaphorically.  In a whirl, cleverly provided by the revolving stage, each of the four actors play key characters from Scrooge's life, even playing young versions of the man himself.  We witness as his overbearingly rigid father chastises a very young Scrooge for his love of literature, namely children's stories such as Ali Baba; later, we see Scrooge as a young man coming into his own and falling in love; later, as he finds success in his work, the love in his life soon fades, thus resulting in the man we see today.

The production made very innovative choices which breathed new life to what is certainly one of the most well-known stories in literature.  Devices such as the minimal casting for a multitude of characters brought a well-paced rhythm to the show, which made for entertaining performances by actors Mark Light-Orr, Mark Price, Franca Vercelloni and Jessie Shelton.  While the use of the revolving stage also served as an interesting alternative to scene changes, it also became quite tiring after a while.  Another lamentable choice was the use of puppets and masks, where they could have cast a child (as in the cases of Tiny Tim and Young Ebenezer).  In keeping with the play's storybook feel (and perhaps due to its very young audience), the production utilized shadow imagery for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which felt out of place after seeing the previous ghosts portrayed by actors and would have worked better in the instance of Jacob Marley's apparition.  Despite these drawbacks, this Christmas Carol still manages to pluck some heartstrings and remains a constant reminder of the power and spirit of love during the holidays.


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 A Christmas Carol ran from November 25-January 4, 2013 at The Theatre at St. Clement's.  For more info on this production and its venue, go here

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Look to the North

Happy Thanksgiving, theatre people!

Every year, on this day of days, we often reflect on the past year -- this year is no different when it comes to gratitude: I'm thankful, of course, for my friends and family for their continual patience, trust, and guidance.  I'm not at the exact place I want to be yet, but I know in my heart of hearts I'm heading in the right direction.  I helped out with a friend's play called North recently, the workshop of which was presented just this past Monday night.  It's something I know I could put under my belt, and also gave me a sense of purpose these past couple of months.  I enjoyed it, and because of it, I feel a year closer to realizing my own dreams.

Things are looking up, and can only go up from here.  This coming 2015, hopefully I will continue to grow in confidence and foster more connections and work on fulfilling projects.


What are your Turkey Days looking like? Mine will be filled with not one, but TWO gatherings to attend! In the immortal words of Luna Lovegood, all I can say is: "I hope there's pudding" -- 'cause I'm hungry! 

Gobble, gobble.  


Jess


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DIXON PLACE presents: NORTH



We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you a very important message!

On Nov. 24th, Dixon Place will present the workshop production and World Premiere of the play North by artist/playwright/co-director Ran Xia, inspired by the life and journeys of Lord Byron and Chris McCandless.



North juxtaposes the life stories of Lord Byron and Chris McCandless, a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp. The play follows the journey of the romantic and sometimes scandalous poet as he traversed Europe and wrote his famous Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as well as the tramp’s hitchhiking trip to Alaska, in order to examine the similarities and differences between those two characters. Lord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace and writer of Into the Wild, journalist Jon Krakauer converse across time and space as narrators of the stories of their unapparent heroes, and contemplate on the timeless nature of those tales of young people’s endeavour to discover themselves. The play aims to serve as an objective examination of the two characters and offer the audience a platform for discussion on the nature of individuality and its relationship with the society they live in. 

North features Adam Fontana (Civil War, Off Broadway) as Chris McCandless / Alexander Supertramp and Jake Lasser (Olé, Theater in Asylum) as Lord Byron. The versatile cast also include: Amy Handra, Eric Hedlund, Erika Vetter, Jack Utrata, Katie Willmorth, Lizi Myers, Matthew Acevedo, Robin Johnson and William Gywn.

The workshop production of North co-directed by Paul H. Bedard (Theater in Asylum) and Ran Xia will be its world premiere on stage.



 So come follow Lord Byron and Alex Supertramp on a poetic adventure!

Tickets for the show will be available here. The prices are: $12 in advance, $15 at the door and $10 for students/seniors. The show is most appropriate for people with an interest in poetry, history, the nature as well as liberalism.  You can also follow the play and its creative team on their official Facebook page here.



Dixon Place is located on 161A Chrystie Street. A non-for-profit organization, since its establishment, Dixon Place has presented various artists from a wide range of backgrounds. The production team and Dixon Place cordially invite audience members to come early as well as stay after the show and join cast members and the creators at the Dixon Place Lounge. All proceeds directly support Dixon Place’s artists and mission.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Musicals, Four-Way Make-Outs, Ben Cumberbatch (Weirdly) Walking His Way Down the Aisle, and Other Thingy-Thangs



Hey, readers.  It's been a while.

Seems like I start out every post like this these days.  Anyway, been way too busy being awesome working like a hustla on da mean streetz being lazy to post anymore.  Sorry about that, folks.

But this can be a good thing too!  This means I haz more goodies to share with you when I do take the time to write to you good people.  Like, for instance, the video above (er, see video above.) -- my soon-to-be-cousin-in-law (man, that's one big hyphenate, eh?) recently tagged me on good ol' FB (yes, I have Facebook; no, you cannot have it.  Except this one. Yay.) to this clip of the 25th Anniversary finale of Miss Saigon!  The pomp!  The ceremony!  The My-Jonathan-Pryce-Isn't-Aging-Very-Well-Is-He of it all!  It's everything a musical theatre lover could ever want and more, really -- especially if, like me, you grew up hearing the musical's entire score mainly because of the fact that Lea Salonga was in it and broke down that damn Tonys door for aspiring Asian-American performers everywhere (Mabuhay Pilipinas!).  And speaking of Queen Lea herself, how's about that weird four-way makeout between the new and old Kims and Chrises (Chris'? Christs?  I dunno.)?  That was weirdly amusing and yes I'll admit I would see the show if that was a thing that actually happened.  Wait, what...no?  Just me?  Ok.

Aaaaanyway.  If you've been not living under a rock following things carefully, you may remember mention by show creatives Cameron Macintosh, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil that if the Les Mis film fared well back in 2012 -- which it did -- that a Miss Saigon film wouldn't be out of the question.  In fact, not too long ago, I believe they were already doing open calls for the potential film.  So, it's all a matter a time before we may see more weird makeout seshes another epic movie-musical comes out!



'Til then, we've got the highly-anticipated Into the Woods to, well, anticipate -- helmed by none other than Rob "Chicago" Marshall.  The film is slated for a Christmas Day release, perhaps in the hopes for eligibility come awards season.  If you're like me and just simply cannot wait, you'll at least hopefully have had these pretty covers Entertainment Weekly released a few weeks ago to tide you over 'til then.

 But the movie I'm anticipating most of all?  The Last Five Years!  So far, it seems no trailer has been released -- only this clip.  Still, the idea of Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick singing "The Next Ten Minutes" together has me hoping for very good things to come, indeed...

In other news...blip-blip-blip! You've probably heard all over the annoyingly informative interwebs that a certain Benedict Cumberbatch recently proposed to girlfriend Sophie Hunter, a fellow actress/theatre director, announcing their engagement in quite possibly the most annoyingly classy way possible.  Damn you, Cucumber Man, why ya gotta be so perfect like that?  The only thing that would make this whole thing even more perfect is if he walked down the aisle like this, Beyonce-style.

He did, after all, "put a ring on it."  (Sorry, I HAD to.) *insert a million winking emojis*
 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In Memoriam: Geoffrey Holder & Marian Seldes.

Photo Credits: left, Kenn Duncan Photo Archive; right, Follies of God.)

In Memoriam

Geoffrey Holder
(1930 - 2014)

Marian Seldes
(1928 - 2014)


It truly has been a sad week for the theater community, as we've lost two truly remarkable legends: Geoffrey Holder and Marian Seldes.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Holder passed two days ago, at the age of 84 due to complications of pneumonia.  A true renaissance man in every sense of the word, Holder -- whose roots hail from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago -- was a dancer, actor, director, costume designer, director and has even published a cookbook.  Holder grew up under the tutelage of his older brother Arthur (affectionately known as Boscoe), who taught him painting and dancing, encouraging him to join Boscoe's local folk dance troupe, Holder Dancing Company at the tender age of 7.

This nudge from his sibling proved to be a smart move, as Holder went on to take the helm of the company, eventually bringing it over to New York City at the invitation of choreography Agnes de Mille.  From there, he went on to teach classes at the Katherine Dunham school, became a principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and made his Broadway debut in "House of Flowers" as a featured dancer.  He reprised his voodoo villain character Samedi in the James Bond film, Live and Let Die and also appeared in 1967's Doctor Doolittle and the 1972 Woody Allen romp, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.  In 1975, he won Tony Awards for his efforts in costume design and direction for "The Wiz."

However, most 80s and 90s kids will most likely remember Mr. Holder in his roles as Punjab in 1982 movie musical Annie, as well as a spokesman in the "Un-cola" TV spots for 7Up.

Ms. Seldes died the next day at the age of 86 "after an extended illness," Al Jazeera America reports.  A strikingly regal figure in theatre, Seldes was known for her acting work in numerous Edward Albee productions, and according to Peter Marks, is "one of the only actors to have performed multiple roles in the Albee canon."

Seldes once proclaimed, "Theater is my utopia," and it sure has been.  Not only has she whizzed her way through Albee's works, Seldes also made a Tony-nominated star turn in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap," which won her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for never missing any one of her scheduled 1,793 performances.

Just as Geoffrey Holder did, Marian Seldes got her start in dance, studying at the prestigious School of American Ballet before going on to study under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.  She made her stage debut as a serving girl in "Medea" in 1947, co-starred alongside Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in 1954's "Ondine," and appeared in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" in 1964.  Since then, she has amassed a slew of theatre credits, which more recently included "Three Tall Women," "The Play About the Baby," and "Counting the Ways" -- Albee works all, of course.

Of Ms. Seldes, Tennessee Williams once said:

"Fabulous Marian. True Marian worship--what the Catholics reserve for the Blessed Virgin-- can and should be applied to her. Take this Rosary and this prayer to her, and let her know that she has been--more often than I'm sure she cares to realize--the light on the shore that got me back home, safe and sound."
 
On that note, let's take some time to remember the light both of these performers brought to the stage.