Theater

Livin’ Fat (review)

Livin’ Fat (review)

To read this review visit Richmond Magazine’s website.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

To read this review visit Richmond Magazine’s website.

Songs from Bedlam (review)

Songs from Bedlam (review)

THE PLAY: Although the title refers to London’s famed hospital for the mentally ill, this is a collection of extended monologues from a disparate group of troubled people.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This play (not a musical, although there are a few ditties) gives the cast a chance to play subdued, slightly off-kilter characters…not stereotypical “loonies” (although they could have used a bit more intensity to be convincingly neurotic). I’m not sure if this is the fault of director Todd LaBelle, Jr. (who might have pushed them further) or local playwright Douglas Jones (whose script maintains a largely subdued approach to the characters’ issues). Either way, the play moves at a laconic pace that challenges patience. The actors are all competent, although the women seemed to standout more (again, not sure if it’s the writing or the actors). The sign language segment became frustrating, as it goes on too long without interpretation. Chris Raintree has created a minimal black wall that uses slide-out panels for visual interest. Andrew Bonniwell’s color-saturated lights bring a much-appreciated addition of texture and drama. Ryan Dygert’s sound design is often barely perceptible, which makes it that much more compelling. Running time: 1:10

 

THE POINT: The technical aspects are more interesting than the performances, rendering the production challenging to absorb and emotionally unaffecting.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

At Firehouse Theatre thru 11/4

 

Axle Burtness (Photos by Tom Topinka)

Lizzie The Musical (review)

Lizzie The Musical (review)

THE PLAY: The story of Lizzie Borden, who “whacked” her father and stepmother, is put to a rock score (with a sprinkling of dialogue).

 

THE PRODUCTION: This quartet of women goes all out with their over-the-top intensity and scream singing. (There are also 2 women who are more stage hands than backup singers.) If this wasn’t already a legend, the plot would be lost in the first act. Act Two seems tighter and more focused. Still, the whole thing is loud and surly with songs that are generic punk. Director Keith Fitzgerald has encouraged the cast’s intense smoldering angst, but it feels ragged (and not in a good way). There’s no logic behind the hand-held mics, since the actors are already wired (guess it’s an attempt to be rock n roll). Fortunately, the kick-ass band (under the direction of Starlet Knight) provides strong musical support. Vinnie Gonzalez usually comes up with artistic approaches, but this set is a messy assemblage of platforms and equipment cases with drips of blood. On the other hand, Alex Valentin’s color-coded, punked-up period frocks are the best aspect of the show. Erin Barclay’s lights work hard and Joey Luck’s sound design is largely audible. Running time: 1:40

 

THE POINT: There’s lots of racket and rage, but the music isn’t memorable, the script is weak and s-punky production lacks impact.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

A 5th Wall production at TheatreLab thru 11/3

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Up front: Michaela Nicole, Rachael Marrs, Rachel Rose Gilmour, Anne Michelle Forbes (Phtos by Tom Topinka)

Between Riverside and Crazy (review)

Between Riverside and Crazy (review)

THE PLAY: A retired black police officer lives in his Riverside apartment with his son and 2 others, but the shadows from an event 8 years earlier still linger.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This play starts out feeling like a cruder version of a ’70s sitcom with a feisty father and his cheeky house mates. It develops into a more compelling drama about familial relationships with a sprinkling of racial stress. As the show’s fulcrum, David Emerson Toney lands a powerhouse performance as the outspoken, but emotionally-guarded Pops. The rest of the excellent cast create convincing characters with distinctive personalities and spot-on accents. Director Tawnya Pettiford-Wates has allowed the actors to shine, while keeping the interactions lively. It never gets emotionally profound, but the characters manage to stay compelling. The set features another of Rich Mason’s fine living rooms with a bonus balcony. Running time: 2:05

 

THE POINT: Grounded by David Emerson Toney’s authoritative performance, this ensemble creates an involving group of interesting individuals.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

Co-produced by Virginia Rep and Cadence Theatre at the Theatre Gym thru 11/4

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Jerold E. Solomon, Juliana Caycedo, Bianca Bryan, David Emerson Toney. (Photos Jason Collins Photography)

Gutenberg! The Musical! (review)

Gutenberg! The Musical! (review)

THE PLAY: Two eager writers act out their new musical about the inventor of the printing press for an audience of potential backers.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This play walks the line between intentionally-bad theatrical tropes and genuinely funny spoof. The attempts at humor often feel like a desperate skit on SNL, although the opening nite audience seemed to enjoy it more than I did. While the actors (Chris Hester & Paul S. Major) never let the energy lag, neither possess the comic skills that could have elevated this into something genuinely hilarious. When not playing the writers, the duo dons caps with the names of the characters. As the writers, they’re acting the roles. The characters are all broad takes on trite stereotypes. The songs are unmemorable, but do feature some clever lyrics (Major’s voice wasn’t up to the vocals). Leilani Fenick capably accompanies them on the keyboard. Director Jan Guarino milks every bit of funny business out of the proceedings, especially working the “cap” business to maximum effect. The tech elements are intentionally scrappy. Running time: 1:30

 

THE POINT: There’s a fine distinction between playing “intentionally bad” and skillfully making it funny. While lightly amusing, this eager farce is more unpolished than crisply comic.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

A Quill Theatre production at the Gottwald Playhouse, Dominion Energy Center thru 11/3.

 

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey (review)

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey (review)

THE PLAY: This one-man show revolves around the disappearance of a daringly-expressive gay teen.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Jeffrey Cole is a talented actor who gets an opportunity to shine playing a variety of roles. There are some nuanced moments and clear differences among the characters, which provide entertaining creations and some humor (the teenage girl is the most well realized). Unfortunately, this more theatrical and less genuine work doesn’t provide the depth or insight of Lamarie Project. As a result, Cole never creates any real depth of emotion. Melissa Rayford’s direction is subtle. A stronger hand might have helped generate more empathy. The courtroom speech is especially lacking in emotion or power. The set is a stripped down version of its sister show, while Michael Jarett’s lights create spaces. Lucien Restivo’s sound helped set the environments. Running time: 1:20 (no intermission)

 

THE POINT: Jeffrey Cole does a commendable job at creating a variety of characters, but the ultimate impact of this tragic story is slight.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Running in tandem with The Laramie Project at Richmond Triangle Players thru 10/15

Artsies 2018 recap (5 videos)

Artsies 2018 recap (5 videos)

The Richmond Theatre Critics Circle presented the Artsies on 10/7 at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre (click here for a list of the awards). The theme was “Location, Location, Location” exploring the resourcefulness of our theaters in creating art and magic in mostly non-traditional locations (links to videos below).

 

Jessi Johnson & Alexander Sapp were the singing/dancing hosts, while Michael Hawke and Thomas Nowlin provided sideline wise cracks (and a musical number). One of the most moving speeches of the evening was delivered by Debra Wagner. She recalled her injury from last year and how our community supported her and so many others.

 

The celebration after-party held featured the just-opened Broad Street restaurant BAR SOLITA.

 

Here’s my recap video:

 

Four videos were shown during the event (all produced by TVJerry). Click on the + to enjoy them without the noisy audience.

 

Location, Location, Location (Part 1)

Watch Video

 

Location, Location, Location (Part 2)

Watch Video

 

Richmond Theatre LEGACY Awards

Watch Video

 

In Memoriam

Watch Video

 

Artsies Announced!

Artsies Announced!

Here are the recipients IN BOLD of the 11th Annual Richmond Theatre Critcs Circle Award (the nominees are also listed). Check back Monday afternoon for my video recap.

 

Best Musical: West Side Story – Virginia Rep

Alice, A New Musical – Firehouse/TheatreLAB

Fun Home – Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Rep

The Last Five Years – TheatreLAB/Yes, And! Entertainment

Preludes – Firehouse

 

Best Direction (Musical): Billy Christopher Maupin, Preludes

Adam Ferguson, Alice

Chase Kniffen, Fun Home

Nathaniel Shaw, West Side Story

Kerrigan Sullivan, Wings, Firehouse

 

Best Actor (Musical): PJ Freebourn, Preludes

Duke Lafoon, Fun Home

Justin Luciano, West Side Story

Dale Sampson, The View Upstairs, Richmond Triangle Players

Alexander Sapp, The Last Five Years

 

Best Actress (Musical): Bianca Bryan, Wings

Alexa Cepeda, A Chorus Line, Richmond Triangle Players

Christie Jackson, The Last Five Years

Brittany Santos, West Side Story

Debra Wagoner, Tomfoolery, Swift Creek Mill

 

Best Supporting Actor (Musical): Levi Meerovich, Preludes

Steven Rada, A Chorus Line

Morgan Reynolds, Mary Poppins, Virginia Rep

Alexander Sapp, A Chorus Line

Travis West, Preludes

 

Best Supporting Actress (Musical): Elizabeth Wyld, Fun Home

Maggie Bavolack, Alice

Daria DeGaetano, A Chorus Line

Maria Cristina Slye, West Side Story

Debra Wagoner, Mary Poppins

 

Best Musical Direction: Susan Randolph Braden, Preludes

Paul Deiss, Tomfoolery

Leilani Fenick/Michael Knowles, To Damascus, Firehouse

Kim Fox, Wings

Anthony Smith, West Side Story

 

Best Choreography: Lisa Rumbauskas, Mary Poppins

Kikau Alvaro, Fun Home

Justin Amellio, A Chorus Line

Emily Dandridge, Preludes

Alissa Pagnotti, Dames at Sea

 

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design (Musical): Sarah Grady, West Side Story

Leslie Cook-Day, Preludes

Sue Griffin and Jeanne Nugent, Mary Poppins

 

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design (Musical): Bill Miller, Wings

Christian DeAngelis, Preludes

Joe Doran, Fun Home

Michael Jarett, The Last Five Years

BJ Wilkinson, West Side Story

 

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design (Musical): David Melton, The View Upstairs

Scott Bradley, West Side Story

Tennessee Dixon, Preludes

Adam Ferguson, Alice

Vinnie Gonzalez, Wings

 

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design (Musical): Jason Blue Herbert, Wings

Derek Dumais, Fun Home

Derek Dumais, Mary Poppins

Derek Dumais, West Side Story

Ryan Dygert, Preludes

 

Best Play: Appropriate, Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Rep

Cloud 9, Richmond Triangle Players

Corpus Christi, Richmond Triangle Players

Hand to God, 5th Wall/TheatreLAB

The Normal Heart, Richmond Triangle Players

Top Dog/Underdog, TheatreLAB

 

Best Direction (Play): Anna Senechal Johnson, Appropriate

Josh Chenard, Desire under the Elms, Firehouse

Gary C. Hopper, Hand to God

Katrinah Carol Lewis, Top Dog/Underdog

James Ricks, Lysistrata, Quill

 

Best Actor (Play): Adam Turck, Hand to God

Matt Bloch, Cloud 9

Bostin Christopher, The Christians, Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Rep

Jim Morgan, The Normal Heart

Jeremy V. Morris, Top Dog/Underdog

 

Best Actress (Play): Susan Sanford, Appropriate

Trezana Beverley, A Raisin in the Sun

Kimberly Jones Clark, Hand to God

Maggie Roop, Crimes of the Heart, Virginia Rep (Hanover Tavern)

Laine Satterfield, Cloud 9

Catherine Shaffner, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, Virginia Rep (Hanover Tavern)

 

Best Supporting Actor (Play): Happy Mahaney, Appropriate

Chandler Hubbard, Corpus Christi

John Mincks, Miracle on South Division Street, Virginia Rep (Hanover Tavern)

Matt Shofner, Romeo & Juliet (VMFA), Quill

Adam Valentine, Hand to God

 

Best Supporting Actress (Play): Donna Marie Miller, Food, Clothing, and Shelter, Firehouse

Maggie Bavolack, Lysistrata

Jasmine Coles, A Raisin in the Sun

Melissa Johnston Price, Romeo & Juliet

Jill Bari Steinberg, Appropriate

 

Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design (Play): Aaron Mastin, Shakespeare in Love, Virginia Rep

Cora Delbridge, As You Like It, Quill

Cora Delbridge, Romeo & Juliet

Sheila Russ, The Normal Heart

Emily Tappan, A Raisin in the Sun

 

Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design (Play): Michael Jarett, Moth, TheatreLAB

Andrew Bonniwell, I Am My Own Wife, Richmond Triangle Players/5th Wall

Leslie Cook-Day, Preludes

Bill Miller, Desire under the Elms

 

Outstanding Achievement in Set Design (Play): Rich Mason, Appropriate

Katherine Field, A Raisin in the Sun

Rich Mason, The Christians

Terrie Powers, Crimes of the Heart

Chris Raintree, Desire under the Elms

 

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design (Play): Paul Deiss, The Woman in Black, Swift Creek Mill

Derek Dumais, A Raisin in the Sun

Robbie Kinter, An Oak Tree, Firehouse

 

Special Achievement in Dance

Matthew Couvillon for recreating Jerome Robbins’ choreography for Virginia Rep’s “West Side Story.”

 

Ernie McClintock Best Ensemble Acting: Alice, TheatreLAB

Cloud 9, Richmond Triangle Players

Corpus Christi, Richmond Triangle Players

Miracle on South Division Street, Virginia Rep

Preludes, Firehouse

 

Promising Newcomer: Keisha Wallace, Food, Clothing, and Shelter

Mara Barrett, Free Man of Color, Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company

Stone Casey, The Diviners, Chamberlayne Actors Theatre

Violet Craghead-Way, Fun Home

Jordan Pearson, Akeelah and the Bee, Virginia Rep Children’s Theatre

 

Best Original Work: To Damascus by Walter Braxton, Firehouse

The Dream Seller and the Forest Dwellers by Jerry Maple Jr., Heritage

Food, Clothing, and Shelter by Bo Wilson, Firehouse

River Ditty by Matthew Mooney Keuter, Virginia Rep

The Laramie Project (review)

The Laramie Project (review)

THE PLAY: Twenty years ago, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in a small Wyoming town. This play is based on interviews with residents.

 

THE PRODUCTION: You might feel compelled to attend this play to pay homage to Sheppard’s legacy, but you’ll also share an evening of dramatic excellence. The ensemble is stellar. Every actor plays numerous roles, giving each character unique qualities, while bringing vibrant life and emotion to every line. What could have been a static presentation of sound bites is turned into a spellbinding drama (leavened with bits of humor) thanks to dynamic, yet sensitive staging by director Lucian Restivo. He also designed a simple, but effective set with rustic planks, props and a stylized fence. Even though a few cues were missed on opening nite, Michael Jarett’s lighting beautifully heightens the drama. The costumes are simple contemporary clothes, but Shelia Russ has made each garment appropriate. Running time: 2:40

 

THE POINT: This production is not only effective and powerful, it’s also an extraordinary theatrical experience.

 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

At Richmond Triangle Players thru 10/15

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Photo by John MacLellan

The Wolves (review)

The Wolves (review)

THE PLAY: A high school girls’ soccer team interacts as they warm up for their games.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This play isn’t plot-based, but focused on the dynamics of the girls’ personalities. It starts with overlapping exchanges that feature rapid-fire dialogue and also make it a challenge to catch all of what’s being said (the bad acoustics don’t help). The is a real team ensemble, completely at home playing characters near their own age (all VCU students). Each one manages to create a unique character with Anna Katogirtis staking a claim for her comic asides. Director Sharon Ott has actively staged the warm-up exercises to add another level of skill to the performances, while allowing later dramatic scenes to quietly develop emotion. Dasia Gregg has created an artistic interpretation of a soccer dome featuring a giant scoop of Astroturf and rows of florescent lights (which sometimes put on  a show). Running time: 1:20

 

THE POINT: Although this will certainly appeal to a young audience (who can relate to the youthful interactions), this cast embraces their characters and the drama with naturalistic skill.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

A co-production of VCUArts/Theatre and Cadence Theatre Company on the Raymond Hodges Stage thru 10/7

 

Photos by Aaron Sutten

Significant Other (review)

Significant Other (review)

THE PLAY: A gay man has 3 close girlfriends, but his life changes as each of them gets married.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This show revolves around the showcase role of Jordan, played by Artistic Director Deejay Gray. His performance starts flighty, but as the drama develops, he beautifully embodies the emotional complexity of the character and turns in a truly touching performance. That being said, Act 2 gets a bit tedious with repetitive dialogue and too many moments with him on the verge of tears. The rest of the ensemble does wonderful work with Mallory Keene’s self-absorbed friend getting lots of attention (inevitably). Director Matt Shofner has kept the scenes flowing seamlessly and helped the actors to create natural relationships. Adam Dorland’s basic black brick set serves the show well. Michael Jarett’s tasteful lights include a few spots for emphasis (and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a light cue get a laff). Ruth Hedberg has designed (or assembled) lots of great looks for the women. Joey Luck’s subtle sound adds ambience without being obtrusive. Running time: 2:15

 

THE POINT: While the entire ensemble does good work, this show relies on the sweet, yet poignant performance by Deejay Gray

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

At TheatreLAB thru 9/29

 

Jessi Johnson, Mallory Keene, Deejay Gray, Kelsey Cordrey (Photos by Tom Topinka)

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