Archive for the 'On Stage' Category

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Crazy About Crazy For You

18-Aug-09 1:19 PM by
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I've previously written about the regularity of community theater performers and how entertaining it is to see familiar faces in new venues. It's far easier for me to recognize local actors than Broadway ones, despite the latter's fame; I don't know about you, but I have neither the time nor budget to patronize Broadway performers with any frequency. But there are professional theaters nationwide that offer quality productions and actors, and I've been glad to be able to partake of several shows starring one dynamic duo.

Colin Pritchard and Emily Thompson as Bobby Childs and Polly BakerCrazy For You is a 1992 update of the 1930 Gershwin musical Girl Crazy. In the desert town of Dead Rock, Polly Baker is the proprietor of a has-been theater that's about to be repossessed by the bank. Bobby Childs is the New York bank owner's henpecked son, sent to Dead Rock to close the deal. When Bobby's background comes between his and Polly's budding romance, can his devious plan win back both the theater and the girl?

It's a lighthearted and funny story that the Mac-Haydn Theatre of upstate New York has smartly headlined with Colin Pritchard and Emily Thompson as Bobby and Polly. These two alumni of the theater's 2007 season, where they played Singin' in the Rain's Cosmo Brown and Lina Lamont, have been reunited for this one show. Each brings a natural enthusiasm for the stage and each other. Mr. Pritchard is as ebullient as ever, sweating as he performs his usual madcap antics involving a variety of props, costumes, and spontaneous dances. Ms. Thompson has a magnificent voice that, after being submerged in her previous performance as Lina Lamont, is finally unleashed to marvelous effect. With each star complementing the other's strengths, they are so obviously happy together.

Ben Jacoby, Colin Pritchard, and Emily Thompson as Bela Zangler, Bobby Childs, and Polly BakerCrazy For You is clever enough to give the rest of the performers their moments in the spotlight, resulting in a well-rounded cast of characters. Joe Bettles' Lank Hawkins is an excellent foil for his more quick-witted company, resulting in some memorable one-liners. Ben Jacoby is the eccentric diva of a director who is humbled when he realizes his infatuation for Tess (Tara Tagliaferro) has become a potential love lost. And assistant director Karla Shook doubles as the irate Irene Roth, a shrew of a fiancee who is not so manipulative as to be unlikeable.

But the scenes that have the audience holding its breath are the ones that employ the entire company. When you first see the Mac-Haydn's performance space, you might think it a constraint for being so small — but director and choreographer Tralen Doler sees it as an opportunity. Every cowboy and showgirl that can squeeze into Dead Rock collaborates for show-stopping numbers, especially at the end of each act. Environmental props, from lassos to pickaxes, are expertly handled to maneuver the stage and the dancers into unique configurations and routines. All the numbers, be they group or solo, are sung with the right amount of joy, as in "I Got Rhythm" and "Slap That Bass", or longing, as in "Embraceable You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me".

Emily Thompson and Bobby Childs as Polly Baker and Bobby ChildsA note about the Mac-Haydn: the audience is seated around three-quarters of the round stage, and though the actors do their best to play to each audience member, the most consistent view is found in the seats along the aisle between sections 3 and 4.

The Mac-Haydn has never let me down, nor has the duo of Ms. Thompson and Mr. Pritchard; after seeing them be underutilized in the chorus of this spring's production of 42nd Street, it's a pleasure to have them back where they belong, center stage. As I had the opportunity to tell Mr. Pritchard after the show: "I can't see you two together and not give you a standing ovation." There are theatrical performances edgier or more daring than Crazy For You, but few will make you feel as happy on a Saturday night. Who could ask for anything more? If you can, catch this show in its remaining weekend, or its leading lady starring in her next show, opening in September. (Mr. Pritchard's next show is TBD)

[All images courtesy Mac-Haydn Theatre.]

Doctor Atomic's Explosive Opera

11-Mar-09 2:37 PM by
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The 20th century witnessed some horrific acts, the consequences of which are felt to this day. Perhaps the most significant was the Manhattan Project, which, under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer, developed the atomic bomb that was later used against Japan, bringing an end to World War II. Whether science was used that day for good or evil, to preserve life or end it, is something to be considered by all humanity — but perhaps no more concretely than by the scientists responsible for creating the bomb.

Scientific American's Science Talk podcast recently attended a presentation by five surviving scientists who were assigned to Los Alamos. Their musings are more anecdotal than introspective, which disappointed me, as I would've preferred the historical gathering be used to preserve insights of greater import. But not being a history buff, I may've overlooked earlier opportunities these figures had to expound on such matters.

A less direct but more dramatic interpretation of their works has recently been performed as the opera Doctor Atomic. Not a lighthearted musical, this production is a serious and fully sung artistic rendition of the month leading up to July 15th, 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was detonated in what was known as the Trinity test. The full three-and-a-half-hour performance has concluded its run at the New York Metropolitan Opera and is currently playing at the London Coliseum through March 20th. A filmed recording of the live production aired on PBS in December and will likely be available on home video before too long. Here's a trailer:

Taken as a dramatic narrative, I'm surprised by how good a fit this story is to this medium. As the Scientific American host put it, "… this moment in history is really so suitable for an opera because it's almost… Wagnerian in this intent… These people are trying to work together to create this doomsday weapon. It's almost like a fictional story." I hope the opera does these men justice, and I look forward to seeing and judging it for myself. In the meantime, the only related DVD release thus far is Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic. Check it out, as well as the aforementioned podcast, which also interviews Patricia Steiner, a mezzo-soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus who performed in the domestic production.

Davis Advertising and YOU!

18-Dec-08 3:46 PM by
Filed under Films, On Stage, Potpourri; 5 comments.

I can't help but admire movie actors who are able to convey so much emotion and passion, because I know that the filmmaking process induces almost exactly the opposite. Big-budget films require inconvenient locations, long hours, and scenes shot seconds at a time, making it difficult to maintain energy from cut to cut.

I experience few of those challenges in my own avocation as a stage actor. Most of my work is in musicals like Brigadoon, or comedies such as Run For Your Wife!. But a good actor is a diverse one, and I try to reflect that in a portfolio that includes other media as well. I've worked on the silver screen before, but only as an extra, a role that's easy to miss. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to star in a commercial.

Davis Advertising of Worcester, Mass., recently wanted to create a short video for digital distribution in online and media press kits. They sent out some emails, which eventually circulated to a friend with whom I'd been in the chorus of the musical Camelot five years ago. When he saw that they were looking for a "clean-cut, Richie Cunningham type", he immediately thought of me — proving it's not who you know, but who knows you. A few emails with the advertising company and an agreement to shave my beard later, and I had the part.

Working with just two men behind the camera and only one in front of it proved a much more enjoyable experience than being a film extra. We were able to shoot multiple takes, change angles, and improve and improvise rapidly. I've been told that I am a good physical actor (think Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain), and the format of this commercial suited that strength; I had all my lines down in no time flat! An hour of shooting and we were done — and a month later, the following commercial was unveiled:

(For those curious, the stock footage comes from the PSA "Are You Ready for Marriage?". Hat tip to Kahm!)

Thanks again to Jeff at Davis Advertising and Clyde from Sterling Community Theater for this, my first-ever commercial. It was a great experience and a new one to put on my theatrical résumé. I look forward to doing more such work!

The Stage Is Alive

24-Nov-07 12:20 PM by
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Welcome to the holiday season! I hope everyone survived American Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I'm taking the holidays off from performing so that I can instead be in the audience of the many wonderful shows that open this time of year. Already I've seen My Fair Lady, The Importance of Being Earnest, Murder in the Wings, Reefer Madness, The Full Monty, and Seussical.

All these shows were produced by local community theaters, which offered stunning quality for a vastly more affordable price than Broadway charges. And with Broadway stagehands currently on strike, leaving Broadway dark, community theater is the only alternative for many of us who would otherwise be making an expensive holiday trek to the big city. Fortunately, it is an abundant and enjoyable alternative, with a full dissertation of the reasons why after the jump.

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THAT'S the Broadway Melody!

13-Aug-07 2:53 PM by
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As an actor myself, I often view theater productions from a thespian's perspective. But this weekend, I was in the audience of a production of Singin' in the Rain that was so bedazzling, so creative, and just so fun that I was left with nothing to do but unabashedly enjoy myself.

The Mac-Haydn Theatre of Chatham, NY, performs summer stock shows in theater-in-the-round format. The stage is octagonal, with the north side featuring stairs ascending to backstage, and aisles for audience and cast use to the east, west, and south. I was seated in the front row in a seat along the south aisle, giving me a direct view of this classic story of lucky star-crossed lovers at a studio about to break into talkies.

Singin' in the Rain castThough I had a perfect sightline, I can't imagine there were any bad seats of a stage so effectively used. Theater-in-the-round is often considered a challenging (and limiting) atmosphere, but the cast took full advantage of the opportunity to play to all sides. Rather than parade across a standard stage like a boring stock ticker, the performers moved laterally and vertically, working with sets that played off these possibilities, and circling each other in impressive dance numbers.

Andrew Chartier as Don LockwoodThe most astounding interplay of dance and stage was the first act closing with the iconic dance in the rain, which I cannot imagine having been possible in any other theater configuration. In the scene's preceding blackout, the stage's perimeter opened to reveal gutters, and an ominous peal of thunder cued the front row theatergoers to don their supplied raincoats. Before we knew it, a full-fledged rain storm was in effect, with the gutters doubling as puddles for Lockwood to gleefully splash through. He sang, danced, hopped, and swung from the lamppost which to see live was more memorable than anything Gene Kelly had ever impressed upon me.

Colin Pritchard as Cosmo BrownThough Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden were the stars, Cosmo Brown and Lina Lamont were their equals in enthusiastic performances. Colin Pritchard played Cosmo with a certain manic quality necessary to tolerate the studio shenanigans his character must endure. In most any scene between him and Andrew Chartier as Lockwood, Cosmo came across as the driving force, providing a crazed energy that unfortunately did not match the choreography in his big scene, "Make 'Em Laugh". Though Donald O'Connor's aerobics would not lend themselves to the live stage, the substitutes Pritchard was given fell flat, such as a nose-biting rubber chicken, a valkyrie's helmet and wig, and other props. But he played these scenes with the same athleticism he lent more satisfying tap numbers, such as the comical "Moses", making for an overall excellent performance.

Emily Thompson as Lina LamontEmily Thompson as Lina Lamont portrayed the dim-witted shrew with gusto and glee. Her shrill voice, flat attempts at sophistication, and utter unawareness made for a completely unsympathetic yet entirely enjoyable villainess. My only lament for Lamont, played by a former Ado Annie, is that she went through this fantastic production in its only non-singing role. But she used her several scenes to play off others, deliver victim-mentality soliloquies, and take a great big custard pie in the face — in Cosmo's own words, a formula for success.

Thompson, Kelly Shook as Kathy Selden, and the rest of the female cast showcased stunning costumes that did not steal the scenes but instead accentuated the performers, whether they were delicious candy cuties or elaborate Elizabethan ladies. The men complemented their counterparts with smart sweater vests and trim tuxedos.

Most of the film's classic tunes were present, from the Romeo-and-Juliet setting of "You Were Meant For Me" to the red-eyed "Good Morning". "All I Do Is Dream Of You" appeared to have been replaced with "You Stepped Out of a Dream". In all, the soloists were smooth and the ensemble blended well.

The one and only time I saw the movie Singin' in the Rain a decade ago prompted me to buy the soundtrack CD, but the story itself left me wondering how the film had garnered such accolades. Perhaps I needed the past ten years to expand my musical vocabulary and create a context for these experiences, as the performance Mac-Haydn gave me this weekend was phenomenal.

[All images courtesy Mac-Haydn Theatre.]

It's Better in the Original Klingon

06-Jun-07 12:06 PM by
Filed under Films, On Stage; 1 comment.

Courtesy TrekToday.com comes the news that Patrick Stewart will star in a modern-day filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Captain Picard in Las Vegas reciting William Shakespeare?… Well, two out of three ain't bad.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Bard — he almost kept me from graduating from high school — but I find his works more palatable when correlated with my preferred media of musical and film. Engaging in five community theater productions a year, I enjoyed my most recent experience participating in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate — a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. (But I've not seen the more modern, less musical adaptation of his classic tale, that being Ten Things I Hate About You.)

I extended this penchant for connections and adaptations a few years ago, when I took a remedial college course on Shakespeare and his work. The professor offered us a number of topics on which to write our term paper, but none of them were about Hamlet. Having learned the prince's famous monologue from watching Johnny Carson, I noticed three movies take their titles from the soliloquy: To Be or Not to Be; What Dreams May Come; and The Undiscovered Country (Star Trek VI). I focused on one and produced a paper comparing Hamlet to Jack Benny's role in his 1942 comedy (not Mel Brooks' 1983 remake). The paper, entitled "Your Country or Your Life", was fun to write and even more fun to present — with selected clips from the film — at a regional Shakespeare conference.

So I guess my qualm isn't with the material, but with the presentation. Put it in a more popular, easily consumable format, and I'll happily bear witness to the staying power of the Bard. But as originally written? Give me The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) anyday.

Another Op'nin', Another Show

24-Mar-07 3:40 PM by
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My first musical performance was in Cole Porter's Anything Goes. It wasn't for another 13 years — Kiss Me, Kate, opening tonight at the country's second oldest community theater company — that I again performed the works of this prolific composer. So today seemed timely for me to finally watch Kevin Kline portray Porter's life in the 2005 film De-Lovely.

The film is creatively framed as a dying Cole Porter viewing his life as a musical, thus explaining his company's proclivity for breaking into song and dance. Though these numbers are subdued — despite Porter's work is laced throughout the film, I would not call it a musical — they are certainly fiction. What of the story is fact, I am unsure. Surely the highlights of the story are true: his time in Europe writing musicals, his success in Hollywood, his painful, later years. The movie, like my theatrical career thus far, begins with Anything Goes and ends with Kiss Me, Kate.

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Move Like a Butterfly

04-Feb-07 10:12 PM by
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It's generally agreed, even within the annals of this blog, that a story's source material — be it book, play, or film — will almost always prove superior to any new medium to which it is adapted.

I witnessed that gulf this weekend, when I saw a live theater version of the 1973 film The Sting. Having recently seen and enjoyed this classic film starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman as con artists, I was looking forward to seeing a fresh performance.

There were a few variations on the original script that I didn't expect. Some added to the experience, such as the story being framed as the flashback of an older woman. Others detracted, such as the two handkerchiefs Johnny Hooker switched in the opening con being different colors… talk about insulting the audience!

Such changes were minor compared to two shadows cast by the film, though. The play's impact and tension were diminished by my recent memories of the movie; what had originally surprised me was, of course, predictable the second time around. But most noticeable was the absence of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. In that respect, I cannot fault the actors who adopted those icons' roles for a weekend performance. I instead fault whoever conceived the notion that The Sting's script could stand apart from the actors who made it famous. I perhaps also fault myself for being unable to separate the two; surely I do community actors a disservice for holding them up to the standards of Hollywood, and myself the disservice of being unable to appreciate what those actors are offering.

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