Posts Tagged ‘GailSez’

LIVE: “Urinetown” @ The Ghent Playhouse [GailSez]

Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon as Officer Lockstock and Eleah Jayne Peal as Little Sally in the Ghent Playhouse production of "Urinetown." (Photo: Daniel Region)

Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon as Officer Lockstock and Eleah Jayne Peal as Little Sally in the Ghent Playhouse production of "Urinetown." (Photo: Daniel Region)

What a great production of a truly great musical! The Ghent Playhouse stage is truly awash with talent as this energetic cast – which skillfully and seamlessly blends a bunch of eager and talented youngsters with the usual middle-aged crowd that keep the Playhouse going – under Sky Vogel’s expert direction prove what a genuine classic Urinetown has become in a mere ten years.

I first saw and reviewed the show at The Theater Barn in 2006. At that time it was clear to me that the show was all about oil and our unsustainable dependence on fossil fuel. This time I got a completely different message and the show seems even more timely and relevant than it had previously. The ability of material to stand the test of time and continue to speak to and move audiences is the hallmark of great theatre.

Actually, Urinetown was written at a fascinating juncture in American culture. First devised in 1999, it was all set to open on Broadway on September 13, 2001. Talk about BAD timing!! That the official opening night occurred only a week later with only one line of dialogue changed to suit the new American reality was astonishing. So it’s a pre-9/11 show that only entered the larger cultural consciousness post-9/11. (Urinetown did have a successful off-Broadway run pre-9/11, but a show is not considered “set” until its official Broadway opening, after which union rules actually prevent the creative team from making any changes.) The audience for whom it was written had ceased to exist by opening night and whatever messages Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (lyrics and book) had intended to convey were immediately morphed by the changing world into which the show was launched.

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LIVE: “A Wonderful Life” @ Cohoes Music Hall [GailSez]

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
George Bailey (Brad Heikes) surrounded by his adoring family (L to R) Tommy (Aidan Fecko), Zuzu (Belle Babcock), wife Mary (Caroline Galvez), and Beth (Chezmin Sheehan). (Photo: Theresa M. Thibodeau)

George Bailey (Brad Heikes) surrounded by his adoring family (L to R) Tommy (Aidan Fecko), Zuzu (Belle Babcock), wife Mary (Caroline Galvez), and Beth (Chezmin Sheehan). (Photo: Theresa M. Thibodeau)

I first saw this 1986 Sheldon Harnick/Joe Raposo musical adaptation of Frank Capra’s iconic 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life in 2006 at NYSTI, and I found it worrisome, as I prepared to see it again at Cohoes, that I had no musical memory of the show except for the lively Charleston number in the first act, which is completely peripheral to the plot.

In the intervening five years I have STILL not managed to watch the film all the way through, so I cannot tell you how this production stacks up to the original in terms of faithfully recreating the look of key scenes. The only one that I am really familiar with is Zuzu at the Christmas tree, and that didn’t look right at all from where I was sitting. But the audience went crazy for adorable Belle Babcock as she proclaimed “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” and cheered as Clarence (Kelly Briggs) proudly displayed his new pair of pinions.

Only trouble was it took two hours and twenty-five minutes to get to those warm and fuzzy moments – and all that while the story of the continually frustrated and embittered George Bailey was constantly interrupted, bogged down, and side-tracked by a bunch of boring music. There was no music in the film, so there are no familiar tunes that everyone is dying to hear, and sadly Raposo – who penned some of the most memorable music of the late 20th century – failed to come up with any winners here. How could the man who wrote the opening themes for Sesame Street and Three’s Company and such classics as Bein’ Green and C is for Cookie come up a cropper? Possibly because the oh-so-nice people of Bedford Falls, NY, are not nearly as interesting as the Muppets.

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LIVE: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” @ Castle Hill Theatre Company, PIttsfield [GailSez]

Monday, December 12th, 2011
Gladys Herdman, as the Angel of the Lord, (Grace Kelley) tells the shepherds "Unto you a Child is Born" in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at New Stage Performing Arts Center. (photo: Peggy Reeves)

Gladys Herdman, as the Angel of the Lord, (Grace Kelley) tells the shepherds "Unto you a Child is Born" in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at New Stage Performing Arts Center. (photo: Peggy Reeves)

In the final moment of this Castle Hill production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the New Stage Performing Arts Center Gladys Herdman (Grace Kelley) tears on to the stage in a raggedy angel costume – she is playing the Angel of the Lord who appears unto the shepherds – stares straight into the eyes of the audience, points dramatically, and shouts “Unto YOU a child is born!”

“And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.”

- Edmund Sears, It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Or shout…

I was really surprised by the direct religious message in this play, which, although it has been around in one form or another for almost four decades, I have managed never to see or read before. And even more surprised to learn from Castle Hill Producer Nicki Wilson that it’s the most popular Christmas story among today’s teachers and students. Wow! I didn’t think that anything this overtly religious could be read or taught in American public schools. I am happy to learn that I’m wrong and I hope there are similar engaging tales to introduce kids to the world’s other major religions.

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LIVE: “The Santaland Diaries” @ Shakespeare & Company, Lenox [GailSez]

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
Winkles in full elf mode. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Winkles in full elf mode. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Oh, I’ve been waiting all my life to write this sentence: Winkles twinkles as Crumpet the Elf.

There was no doubt in my mind from the moment Shakespeare & Company announced that one of their top physical comedians, Ryan Winkles, would be starring in The Santaland Diaries that I would have a chance to pen that immortal sentiment. Winkles just is elfin – and funny! – and this is a play about a funny man who takes a job as an elf at Macy’s Santaland…and not just at any Macy’s, THE Macy’s…the one in Herald Square. As elf jobs go this is just a heartbeat away from the North Pole.

Since David Sedaris first read his essay recalling the year he worked as an elf in Macy’s Santaland on NPR in December of 1992, The Santaland Diaries has become the cynics choice for a holiday treat. In 1996 Joe Mantello’s one-man stage adaptation debuted, and the holiday sneer has continued to spread.

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LIVE: “Finding Fathers” @ Space 360, Hudson [GailSez]

Friday, December 2nd, 2011
Rob (Rob Leo Roy) and Eddie (Eddie Allen) contemplate the task of burying the Persian rug containing Eddie's mother with the colorful sand shovels they have brought along. (photo: Dan Region)

Rob (Rob Leo Roy) and Eddie (Eddie Allen) contemplate the task of burying the Persian rug containing Eddie's mother with the colorful sand shovels they have brought along. (photo: Dan Region)

Eddie Allen and Rob Leo Roy are actors and friends. Both are members of Walking the dog’s OFF LEASH! Improv Ensemble, and both lost their father’s when they were very young. Finding Fathers is their play about coming to terms with that loss and how it impacts their lives to this day, especially their experiences as fathers themselves.

In the play two men named Eddie (Eddie Allen) and Rob (Rob Leo Roy) have walked far into the woods with the body of Eddie’s mother wrapped in a Persian rug in order to bury her according to her wishes. Of course it is illegal to do that, two modern-day middle-aged men couldn’t carry a body wrapped in a rug that deep into the wilderness, nor would they really be so absent-minded as to bring sand shovels for the task and forget the flashlights. But this is a play set in the enchanted forest of memories and longings and dreams.

Space 360 is an 1870 brick building, I assume originally a private home, located at 360 Warren Street in Hudson, NY, which has been turned into a “state-of-the-art business, training, and party center.” It is an interesting concept and one that seems to be working for the creative and resourceful owners of the space. I can understand how the spaces work for classes, conferences, social gatherings, and even a little bed & breakfast for out-of-town clients, but I can’t imagine who thought the room on the top floor was a good place to stage a play. Intimate is the operative word – Walking the dog was able to squeeze in about 30 seats, a playing area and a tech table. I don’t like to sit too close to the stage but my choices were the first row or the second row, and neither got me far enough away that I felt like an observer.

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LIVE: The PantoLoons: “Menagerie à Trois” @ The Ghent Playhouse [GailSez]

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Mayoral candidate Oscar Weiner (Cathy Lee-Visscher) and his brother Wilbur (Sally McCarthy) are incensed when they see what Papa Bear has done to Oscar's hydrofracking equipment in "Menagerie à Trois." (photo: Dan Region, Blue Mesa)

Mayoral candidate Oscar Weiner (Cathy Lee-Visscher) and his brother Wilbur (Sally McCarthy) are incensed when they see what Papa Bear has done to Oscar's hydrofracking equipment in "Menagerie à Trois." (photo: Dan Region, Blue Mesa)

Pigs and wolves and bears, oh my! Must be Panto time!

The PantoLoons 12th annual British American Panto, Menagerie à Trois, is a melange of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, with a soupçon of Romeo and Juliet and its 20th century clone, West Side Story, thrown in. Its an all-new cross-species love story by Judy Staber and the Loons, with Mother Nature (musical director Paul Leyden) presiding at the piano, and its FABULOUS!

Of course, I never met a Panto I didn’t like, but this year’s edition is the best yet musically. Most of the cast can really sing, and they have selected songs to spoof which fit their vocal ranges and personalities. The lyrics are very clever, and it is nice to see that long-time Loon Ron Harrington, sadly missing from the stage this year, has had a hand in creating them.

Joanne Maurer has also outdone herself in the costume department, with the bears and pigs decked out to ursine and porcine perfection. Maurer herself plays Fryer Duck (you can’t have a Romeo and Juliet spoof without a kindly man of the cloth to mix up the lovers’ messages, you know), with a splendid waddle on webbed feet and tail-feathers protruding from the rear of her monk’s robe. Walter Bauer as Wolf Bilkser aka The Big Bad Wolf is nattily turned out in dove-gray top hat and tails – that would be three tails, two on the suit coat and one on his butt. Believe it or not Goldilocks (Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon), the lone human character in the show, is positively restrained in her attire, sporting a simple frock in buttercup yellow and a demure pair of black mary-janes.

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LIVE: Dionysia @ EMPAC, Troy [GailSez]

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

NOTE: Dionysia is a performance piece based on fragments of ancient Greek text and pottery. Therefore, my review is based on fragments of information about the Poor Dog Group and their “premiere” performance at The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on 11/11/11.

GailSez: I freely confess that I found this performance so atrocious that I left at intermission – before they got to the part where one brother fed another a stew made with the flesh of his children. I have seen and reviewed close to 100 shows a year for the past 15 years and I cannot recall the last time I walked out of a show at intermission.

“Over the past three years, Poor Dog Group has been working towards a stronger understanding of our past with our sights firmly set on the future of contemporary theater..” – Director’s Note

“[The Poor Dog Group is] ’an amoebic collective’…founded in 2007 by a group of people who all graduated from Cal Arts http://calarts.edu/ at the same time…the collective’s works tend to be topical, multi-media performance pieces — ‘They’re not plays,’ said [PDG Artistic Director Jesse] Bonnell” – The Troy Record

Bonnell is right, Dionysia is not a play. Neither is it the “future of contemporary theater.” I know this because, while I may only have inklings of what that will be, I know for certain what it will NOT be.

The Future of Contemporary Theater Will Not Be…Boring
…Confusing
…Embarrassing
….Film

Theater cannot be any of those things and continue to exist. Dionysia is all of those things.

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LIVE: The Sorcerer @ Valley Light Opera, Amherst [GailSez]

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Heather Davies as JANE Wellington Wells in Valley Light Opera's gender-bending production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorcerer."  (photo: Rick Roy)

Heather Davies as JANE Wellington Wells in Valley Light Opera's gender-bending production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorcerer." (photo: Rick Roy)

Forgive me, gentle readers, for it is impossible for me to be objective about the work of William S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1844-1900). I try to see the Savoy operas through the eyes of a virgin, to pretend I do not know every note and every lyric, but it is no use. I am way to close to this particular forest to see the trees. And that’s why I just love the Valley Light Opera and drive all the way over from Williamstown to Amherst (inevitably right after daylight savings time has ended) to see their productions. They have presented all fourteen Gilbert & Sullivan operettas – including the one that has no score. Now that’s MY kind of people!

This year’s offering is The Sorcerer, the duo’s problematic third collaboration. Like all the other wildly successful and oft-produced operettas that came after it, The Sorcerer is tuneful and funny, but the humor is solidly British and Victorian, so it is almost inscrutable to a modern American audience. If a director approaches it as a purist, s/he is doomed flame out and perish like the title character in the final scene.

Now there is no such thing as a bad production of The Sorcerer simply because it is done so seldom that any glimpse is a welcome treat for true Savoyards – I haven’t encountered it since I directed it myself in 1984 – but if I were going to quibble with Chris Rohmann’s fine production I would fault it for being a little too by the book, but then I am NOT a purist. Purists – and there are those who consider any deviation from Gilbert’s original promptbooks to be sacrilege – should be warned that Rohmann has cast a woman, the charming and talented Heather Davies, in the title role, who is now Jane (rather than John) Wellington Wells. (Quick! Get the smelling salts!)

Click to read the rest of this story at GailSez.

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