Friday, July 20, 2012

Musical reviews for the week of July 16, 2012

The Arts Garage in Delray Beach presents Cabaret Verboten, Written and Directed by Jeremy Lawrence.  Starring:  Pierre Tannous, Wayne LeGette, Lourelene Snedeker, and Alexa Green.  Design Team: Lighting and Set Design – Stephen Placido ;  Musical Direction – Michael Yannette ; Costume Design – Erin Stearns Amico.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theatre On Stage.

Freely adapting English translations of satirical cabaret turns of the period, playwright Jeremy Lawrence also has directed four skilled performers in an evocation of a soulless society dancing on a precipice as a bulldozer inexorably approaches to shovel them over the edge. The air is putrid with the sulphurous smell of rotten eggs.

This sardonic and carnal recreation of a Weimar cabaret isn’t the light musical fare Floridians are accustomed to seeing in the summer. Many intelligent discerning theatergoers will flat out hate this show. But an equal number will be intrigued and fascinated if not enraptured by the abyss-dark humor and timely political comment. For them, this is courageous gutsy programming.

If you’re not alienated at some point, odds are you’re not paying attention. But the point is to upset, to unnerve. It achieves that goal so well that many times the audience musters only a smattering of applause – partly because the songs don’t have a button just a last verse, but mostly because people can’t allow themselves to applaud a love song to Attila the Hun cloaking a character’s reverence for Adolph Hitler.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:
‘Cabaret Verboten’ retains its Weimar-era sting

Cabaret Verboten, directed, revised and slightly updated with contemporary references by its creator, should be a perfect fit with its four-person cast and three musicians. After all, where better to present an in-your-face revue than in a place where the performers can stroll among the tables, sometimes getting unsettlingly up close and personal? But Cabaret Verboten, 2012 edition, proves a hit-and-miss affair.

The show’s songs and sketches are largely translations of material written between 1920 and 1935 by lyricists and composers including Mischa Spoliansky, Marcellus Schiffer, Friedrich Hollaender, Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht. And some of the pieces – particularly The Stock Exchange Song (1921), Stampsong (1929), There’s a Draft (1932), The Lavender Song (1920), The Ballad of Paragraph 218 (1931) and The Jews Are All to Blame (1931) – are still disturbing and thought-provoking. Their topics — greedy bankers, jobless citizens, clashing politics, same-sex relationships, abortion, anti-Semitism —have contemporary resonance, retaining a bite that stings.

Lawrence’s minimal updates, however, stick out like a sore thumb. Or maybe a bad bratwurst. A sketch titled Lost: One Small Dachshund works in a reference to strapping a dog to the roof of a car (hello, Mitt Romney) and has cast member Alexa Green donning glasses and speaking with a Sarah Palin accent, don’t ya know. That material sounds like a reject from a show by the Capitol Steps, the company that specializes in of-the-moment political satire.

Except for Pierre Tannous, a fairly recent college grad making his professional debut, the cast is made up of experienced pros who know how to sell the material.

Michelle F. Solomon reviewed the show for the Miami ArtZine:

This is also a show where the actors must understand the material, otherwise they can leave an audience dumbfounded. Thumbs up to this ensemble as this is a difficult show to perform for sure.

Wayne LeGette, who has won two Carbonell Awards and has a host of nominations for his outstanding performances in South Florida, plays the smarmy emcee. He also doubles as different characters throughout the show and in many sketches. However, his emcee dripped with such one-note sarcasm throughout, the portrayal rendered the character unlikeable. LeGette fared much better in the ensemble parts. His duet with Pierre Tannous in The Snag was a wonderful display, bringing to mind the famous (and difficult) “Who’s On First” routine from Abbott and Costello.

Tannous, a recent graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, kept up with the more experienced cast. He has one of the most challenging sketches early on, the hard sell Take It Off Petronella, a cross-dressers strip tease, but he performed it with panache.

Equally fearless is Alexa Green who has to sashay her way around the Cabaret “hall” for a provocative number that requires her to act as temptress to the men in the audience. (Some liked it hot, some didn’t.)

Veteran actress Lourelene Snedeker is the stand out of the cast. She’s absolutely frantic and fun as a woman addicted to shopping in The Kleptomaniac, and commands the stage in her solo, sprawled out on a settee as she sings about her vices in Shag Tobacco.

The Actors’ Playhouse in Miami presents Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets, by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria.  Directed by David Arisco and features:  Stephen G. Anthony, Paul Louis, and Nick Santa Maria.  Design Team:  Props – Jodi Dellaventura ;  Musical Direction - Manny Schvartzman;  Costume Design – Ellis Tillman;  Puppet Design - Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria.

Howard Cohen wrote about the show for the The Miami Herald:
‘Real Men Sing Show Tunes’ and make theater safe for men in hilarious Coral Gables musical premiere
Think of the sketch-driven Real Men Sing Show Tunes as an episode of Saturday Night Live in which practically all the sketches work. If that sounds impossible — there’s such a thing as an SNL in which all the sketches work? — then you will begin to realize how sharp the writing is and how important the deft and daft stage work of director David Arisco is in making this production work as well as it does with its ingenious use of puppets, props and lighting.

The musical is basically a madcap romp through the stages of manhood: what it takes to be a man and how to juggle all the balls modern men must contend with such as fatherhood, dating, marriage, sexuality and the lack of it, and pending senior moments.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theatre On Stage.

The writers have violated the double secret probation pledge that we men take in puberty never to reveal the deepest, darkest secrets of our sex, namely life-long confusion, anxiety and fear. They’re the same kind of secrets we know you women all pledge not to reveal, like the one that you really can read our minds.

The skits, often the weakest parts of any revue, are pretty sturdy. One of the funniest features Anthony trying to hold forth with some guys in a bar about manly subjects he knows nothing about such as the baseball season, new car models and appliance repair. We’ve all been there.

Arisco and company have a wonderful quirky visual sense. Prop mistress Jodi Dellaventura provides a hilarious procession of items for Santa Maria to find in the old toy box of an adult son who has moved away in “That’s My Boy.”

And then there’s the puppets. Louis and Santa Maria have been involved for years in puppetry through professional children’s theater. As a result, the show is graced with a score of creatures ranging from a tiny finger figure to a 10-foot tall Grim Reaper. As with Avenue Q, the Sesame Street-like puppets designed by Louis and built by Louis and costume designer Ellis Tillman are often both furry and filthy such as three buxom Hooters waitresses.

A tip of the hat is due musical director, arranger and pianist Manny Schvartzman, who has helmed several shows recently for Slow Burn Theatre Company in Boca Raton. Also due credit (and barely mentioned in the program) is the busy backstage crew and assistant puppeteers Gaby Macias, Kris Cardenas and Andrew Arisco.

The Palm Beach Dramaworks presents The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt.  Directed by J. Berry Lewis and starring: Jim Ballard, Jennifer Molly Bell, Cliff Burgess, Tangi Colombel, Dennis Creaghan, Cliff Goulet, Jacob Heimer, and Barry Tarallo.  Design Team: Lighting Design – John Hall;  Musical Direction – Craig D. Ames;  Costume Design – Brian O'Keefe.

John Thomason reviewed the show for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times :

Until this past weekend, I had never seen a production of The Fantasticks — a startling omission from any theater critic's résumé. The Fantasticks, after all, is billed as "the world's longest-running musical," having played for 42 straight years and more than 17,000 performances in its first off-Broadway run. It has been adapted for film and television, has been produced in 67 countries, and is a high-school theater and summer-stock staple.

The show's egalitarian success is owed to the seemingly simple choreography and minimalist set design and musical score, which can be reproduced by just about any community theater without breaking the bank. For Palm Beach Dramaworks, which is known for its lavish scenic designs and exceptional rendering of difficult classics, to produce a show like this is akin to
Martin Scorsese directing an episode of Two and Half Men. Weird, but it would probably be the best Two and Half Men episode you've ever seen.

Michelle F. Solomon reviewed the show for the Miami ArtZine:
A Delightful Journey At Palm Beach DramaWorks

Then there is the play itself, which overtly gives nods to classic theater: the Greeks, Shakespeare and Commedia dell’Arte. The musical is based on Edmond Rostand’s 1864 French play, Les Romanesques, which also borrowed many conventions from a variety of periods in theatrical history. Theater buffs will find these references clever, while those with less knowledge will simply delight in the play's construction.

There are so many perfections in the Palm Beach Dramaworks' production, but perhaps where it shines the most is under the direction of J. Barry Lewis and the musical direction of Craig D. Ames. The pair shows mastery here of what resounds as a complete understanding of the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical. There are so many beautiful nuances that are crafted into this play and those that mount productions (you can imagine that there have been many, from community to high school theater productions, over the years) without taking these into consideration end up with something far less satisfying.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theatre On Stage.
For the 34 people who have never seen the show, The Fantasticks is a two-act confection about innocence and experience. It became the world’s longest running musical with a meld of simplicity and sophistication, charm and chastening, sentiment and clear-eyed criticism. Jones and Schmidt, lovers of commedia delle’arte, ritual and stylized theatricality, wrote a universalized fable of young callow lovers whose idealized adoration is tested by harsh realities, yet emerges from the crucible with a mature abiding love that, indeed, triumphs over all.

Jones’ unabashedly poetical words are as lyrical as Schmidt’s unique music. Both simultaneously celebrate and tease the foibles of fallible human beings. They can be as witty as the fathers bemoaning their children’s willfulness compared to a garden’s reliability in “Plant a Radish,” ranging to the bittersweet rue of the standard “Try to Remember.”

With unflagging energy, the entire cast throws itself fearlessly and without a shred of self-consciousness into a tale of sentiment that would curdle at the hint of a wink. When the girl enthuses aloud, “I hug myself ‘til my arms turn blue,” it takes a committed actress to deliver such lines unblinkingly. Most (but not all) of the actors were in sync with Schmidt’s musical rhythms, but the exceptions will likely find the groove within a day or two. Thanks to Lewis, they never lose focus and remain honest in every moment.

Jan Sjostrom reviewed the show for the Palm Beach Daily News:

Dramaworks’ craftmanship exalts ‘The Fantasticks,’ world’s longest-running musical

The production is anchored by the magnificent Jim Ballard, playing El Gallo, the story’s mysterious master of ceremonies and villain. He’s a commanding presence, and his rich baritone voice invigorates all his tunes, but especially the old chestnut Try to Remember.

Jennifer Molly Bell unites Luisa’s breathless romanticism with a keen sense of the ridiculous and a clarion soprano. Jacob Heimer brings a soon-to-be dashed assurance and a clear tenor to Matt.

Among the production’s chief delights are the comic characters. Cliff Burgess as The Mute manages the minimalist props with grace and humor. Cliff Goulet as Matt’s father Hucklebee and Barry Tarallo as Luisa’s father Bellomy play the buffoons with panache, and display considerable song and dance skills in Never Say No and Plant a Radish. They set the story in motion by pretending to feud to induce their rebellious children to fall in love and then hiring El Gallo as an accomplice to their scheme.

The comic pairing of Dennis Creaghan as Henry, an over-the-hill actor El Gallo employs, and Tangi Colombel as Henry’s sidekick, Mortimer, is perfection. They’re the ones who emerge from and return to a trunk, by the way.

Hap Erstein reviewed the show for the Palm Beach Post:

Try to remember … a musical as enchanting and enduring as this

As with the more complex Into the Woods, the first act ends happily, only to be followed by a darker, more cynical second half. Matt goes off to experience the cruel world while Luisa stays home and falls into El Gallo’s clutches.

Lewis does not skimp on the show’s dark tones, but he also embraces its abundant comic relief. Barry Tarallo and Cliff Goulet all but steal the show as the two sage, but clownish fathers, capably handling the evening’s two vaudeville song-and-dance turns, Never Say No and Plant a Radish.

Despite his frequent scowl and the show’s cynical edge, Dramaworks’ take on The Fantasticks still manages to disarm us. Maybe that is the magic trick, the creation of enchantment without seeming to chase after it.



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