Thursday, April 19, 2012

Show reviews for the week of April 16, 2012

The Andrews Living Arts Studio presents AVENUE Q. Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx / Book by Jeff Whitty. Directed by Robert D. Nation and featuring: James Lott, Pamela S. Stigger, Donalada A. McCarthy, Nora Emmanuel, Peter Gorobetz, Todd Storey, Clayton Stults, and Christie Oliver

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage
Andrews’ Avenue Q Badly Flawed But Material Still Funny

Just how strong are the songs and jokes in the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q?  So sturdy that even with shaky voices, so-so acting and laugh-killing scenery changes, the enthusiastic and earnest cast at Andrews Living Arts Studio nearly pulled off the sassy satire of urban life. Nearly.

Some of the performers under the direction of Robert D. Nation, in fact, have a flair for making the large Muppet-like creatures come to life, especially Lott and Storey. Their faces often mirror their characters’ feelings, but their real skill is turning the slight tilt of a puppet’s head, an outstretched hand and other movements into a weird approximation of touching human body language.

Everyone here is trying hard and you have to honor the effort. But this is a sloppy, herky-jerky edition of a show so hilarious that it still manages to entertain on its own merits intermittently.

Rod Stafford Hagwood reviewed the show for the Sun-Sentinel

Size matters.

Take the production of "Avenue Q" currently at the cozy little Andrews Living Arts Studio in downtown
Fort Lauderdale. The musical comedy – with its Rated R riffs on"Sesame Street" puppets and parables about coming-of-age – seems a much better fit in a funky little F.A.T. Village space than it does on the outsize road tours pumped up to Broadway scale.

But this production is small enough to allow the sweetness to come through. Underneath the humor and raunch (yup, full-frontal-nude, puppet-on-puppet sex), this is a fairly acid lament on adulthood, and a satire about the cruel trap that is lying in wait for those people who grew up believing they were special.

The tricky thing about "Avenue Q" is its borrowing from that iconic children's TV program, particularly the mixing of live actors with puppets being controlled by other actors in full view of the audience. For the most part, this wildly uneven cast pulls it off, but only just.

Slow Burn Theatre Co. Presents Into The Woods.  Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim / Book by James Lapine.  Directed by Patrick Fitzwater and featuring: Conor Walton – Narrator/Mysterious Old Man, Anne Chamberlain, Rick Pena, Lindsey Forgey, Matthew Korinko, Lisa Kerstin Braun, Mary Gundlach, Lindsey Johr, Andy Fiacco, Noah Levine, Tina Lilly, Ann Marie Olson, Kristina Johnson, Jaimie Kautzmann, Alisha Todd, Justin Schneyer, and Sean Muldoon.
April 13 – April 22

Hap Erstein reviewed the show for the Palm Beach Arts Paper

Into the Woods shuffles several familiar tales -- Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk -- as well as a newly devised fable about a baker and his wife, cursed by a witch yet yearning to have a child. Each of the characters wants something badly and, after attaining it by the end of the first act, following intermission the show turns darker as they learn the consequences of “happily ever after.”

Heading the cast as the Baker, who must learn a few things about marital teamwork in his quest for four objects that will erase the curse of childlessness, is co-artistic director Matthew Korinko. A reliable utility player in the past, he steps into this pivotal leading role with assurance and an authoritative 11 o’clock number, No More. He is well paired with Lisa Kerstin Braun as his spunky wife, who becomes his equal partner and then soon strays into infidelity with a royal prince.

Other standouts in the cast include Slow Burn veterans Anne Chamberlain as a sweet-voiced Cinderella (who sings the show’s concluding message song, No One Is Alone, an anthem of community) and Lindsey Forgey as a no-nonsense -- yet drily comic -- Red Riding Hood, a match for any hungry wolf.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage
Rush Into The Woods To See Slow Burn Theatre Company

Once upon a time there was a scrappy little theater company that dreamed about mounting large scale musicals that other companies couldn’t or wouldn’t attempt. The Little Theater That Could didn’t have the money, it had no name recognition, it performed on the east edge of the Everglades and it always aimed higher than it had the resources to carry off. But our heroes were blessed with talent, imagination and a lot of elbow grease.

Fortunately for South Florida audiences, the fairy tale has a happy ending. Slow Burn Theatre Company’s current production of Into The Woods is a solidly delightful and enthralling evening that should not be missed by lovers of musical theater in the region – and that includes people in Miami-Dade loathe to travel to the wilds of western Boca Raton.

The creative team under Fitzwater has outdone itself. While they still could use a few more lights illuminating the front of the stage, the lighting design by Lance Blank nimbly creates multiple locations and moods accented with frequent grace notes. For instance, when Jack sings of giants living in the clouds, the song ends on a big note and Blank sends the beams of moving light instruments up from the stage floor rising up to the rafters.

Ian T. Almedia once again has created what must be a score of set pieces including the essential frightening tangle of trees and branches that echo the psychological, emotional and moral snarls facing our heroes and heroines.

Believe this: Slow Burn’s productions are not Carbonell eligible only because co-founders Fitzwater and Korinko are prudently not ready to add the expense of the third weekend required by the Carbonell rules. The rest of the musical houses in the region should be grateful. These folks would give them one hell of a run for their money.

First Step Productions and Empire Stage presents the World Premiere of Last Call by Terri Girvin.  Directed by Michael Leeds and featuring: Terri Girvin.  Sound Design by Phil Pallazzolo and David Hart.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage

The world premiere of Terri Girvin’s funny and even touching tour through the interior life of someone people take for granted is a modest gem worthy of dropping in at faux tavern inside the tiny Empire Stage.

Last Call instantly grabs the audience as Girvin enters the bar to set up for the night. Girvin, a diminutive woman with a faint blue collar air, wins us over with a self-deprecating, world-weary wit, a sharp eye for human foibles and a willingness to expose the secrets of a good bartender such as placing the napkins on the bar in a way that cuts down the number of steps she’ll take on the 11 miles she’ll walk tonight.

But even more telling is when she reveals she’s really thinking. She always answers perfunctory inquiries of “How ya’ doin’?” with a slightly sardonic “Livin’ the dream.” In fact, the dream has some nightmarish facets such as her needy mother’s pleas to save her life.

The transplanted New Yorker has been developing the piece for quite some time with local director Michael Leeds and sound designers Phil Palazzolo and David Hart. The end result is an amazingly smooth and fluid piece of theater. 

The long gestation has enabled Girvin and company to evolve an breathtakingly intricate interplay of monologue, action and sound bites so that we hear her conversing with a large cast of characters, hear her slicing invisible limes, hear her slamming the cash register drawer closed, watch her stride up, around and even atop the bar, all adding up to an intricate physical and aural dance as carefully choreographed as a ballet and more fraught with the potential for fatal gaffes than a circus aerialist act.

But what gives the 80-minute show dramatic heft is the running battle over the phone with her out-of-control mother who is inherently funny (she was a party clown for years) but also an alcoholic and a black hole for affection. The anguish she causes Girvin will strike a chord with any adult wrestling with the looming responsibility of being a parent to their parent.

The Mosaic Theatre presents A Measure of Cruelty by Joe Calarco.  Directed by Richard Jay Simon and featuring: Dennis Creaghan, Todd Allen Durkin, and Andrew Wind.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage

To clarify misconceptions, the drama formerly entitled The Michael Brewer Project did not end up being specifically about Michael Brewer.

A Measure of Cruelty, having its world premiering at Mosaic Theatre on Thursday, only uses the burning of the Deerfield Beach teenager in 2009 as the inciting incident, said playwright Joe Calarco and director Richard Jay Simon.

The play focusing on a father, his grown son and a young stranger in a Florida bar is a much broader investigation of universal social issues encompassing bullying, parenting, the roots of violence, even international relations.

The play occurs about three days after the attack in a bar where the bar owner (Dennis Creaghan) has been collecting money for the victim and his family. Also in the bar are his grown son, a war veteran (Todd Allen Durkin), and eventually a young man with a direct connection to the attack (Andrew Wind).

As the day wears on, we learn that all three characters, harboring likable and unlikable facets, have committed heinous acts in their lifetime. The audience is challenged to discover if they can find compassion or understanding for any of them.


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