Theater

Forever Plaid (review)

Forever Plaid (review)

THE PLAY: A men’s group from the 50s returns to modern Earth, where they sing a concert of their 4-part harmony classics.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This quartet perfectly captures the naiveté of the singers. As this delightfully awkward group performs, their stylized, goofy period choreography is full of amusing mistakes and misfires. Even if their routines are (purposely) off, their voices are always on…a lovely blend of doo-wop harmonies and earnest solos. It also helps that the sound mix by Derek Dumais makes every word clear without ever calling attention to the amplification. Standouts include their rendition of “She Loves You” and the incredible Ed Sullivan Show montage. That being said, anyone who doesn’t remember that Sunday nite show is likely to miss many of the period gags. Director Wes Seals gets lots of credit for the creative, comic moves and sweet interactions. There’s a constant sense of innocent fun. The attractive set by Terrie Powers features 2 arches with curtains, stars and glitter and BJ Wilkinson’s lights add variety and mood to the numbers. Running time: 1:25

 

THE POINT: Anyone who can appreciate the nostalgia of 50s men’s quartets will enjoy a purely delightful “harmony” of comedy and song.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A Virginia Rep production at Hanover Tavern thru 8/25

Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (review)

Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (review)

THE PLAY: A girl with polka dots is the new student at a school attended only by kids with squares.

 

THE PRODUCTION: To any adults in the audience, this play teaches a not-so-subtle lesson about integration and racial discrimination. Even if the youngsters don’t grasp the theme, they’ll be entertained by the songs, which reinforce the message with simple lyrics and easy melodies. The performances are earnest and energetic with pleasant voices (except for Sydnee Graves, who had some pitch issues, while her characters proved delightful). Director Jan Guarino has kept staging simple to allow focus on the relationships. The set echoes the square motif in muted tones, while the costumes and wigs add plenty of color. One wonderful note: The final song about acceptance mentions being gay as OK. As far as I know, this is a first positive reference in a major children’s show. Running time: 55 minutes

 

THE POINT: This play sends a message of racial tolerance with sweet songs and earnest performances.

 

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

A production of Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn thru 8/11

 

Caroline Lynch, Quan Chau, Madeleine Witmer, Sydnee Graves (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

Dance Nation (review)

Dance Nation (review)

THE PLAY: A dance team prepares for the finals, while expressing personal feelings about their adolescent longings and burgeoning sexuality.

 

THE PRODUCTION: When I was watching this play, the first thing that came to mind was The Wolves, which TheatreVCU produced last season (my review). Actually, this play was written first, but it’s similar in that they’re both modern works with minimal narrative that focus on character moments with young women. This group of preteens expresses their doubts and insecurities (sometimes in R-rated moments) with occasional humor, but more often with anger or confusion. The all-adult cast is uniformly forceful, embodying reflections of their youth with intense resolve. Director Maggie Roop has boosted this ensemble with powerful energy. Dasia Gregg’s set is simply a dance studio with typical surrounding props. There are a few focused lights for moments outside the studio. NOTE: Sit in the 2nd row for a subwoofer boost. Running time: 1:45

 

THE POINT: This sometimes raw exploration of a group of pre-teens and their emotional expression is given a sometime visceral, tightly-wound production.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

At TheatreLAB thru 8/3

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

Photos by Tom Topinka

The Taming of the Shrew (review)

The Taming of the Shrew (review)

THE PLAY: The sweet younger daughter of an Italian merchant can’t be married until the feisty older daughter (Katarina) finds a husband. Enter Petruchio to take on the task of restraining Kate’s wild streak.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This all-female production features a fine cast, but it’s director Chelsea Burke’s lively direction that makes the show’s strongest impact. She brings a bawdy physicality to the staging that’s not only a continually inventive use of the basically-empty space, but adds immensely to the production’s comic appeal. Even though the dialogue is sometimes hard to understand, the staging effectively relays the romantic conflict and comedy. Bianca Bryan makes an assured Petruchio, while Michelle Greensmith’s Kate is appropriately spunky. The most enjoyable characters are created by Desirée Dabney (with her offhand adlibs) and Maggie Bavolack (a delightfully creaky old man). From the opening medley of women’s empowerment songs, it’s clear that this cast is having fun. However, the already long running time could have used some trimming and the act-opening songs are an obvious choice (although they do affirm the message, especially the moving closing number). Other than the obvious issues, I didn’t find any theatrical advantage to this women-driven concept. Even Cora Delbridge’s costumes looked like girls playing dress up in a potpourri of men’s thrift store clothes (with the exception of Kate’s lovely dresses).  Running time: 2:40

 

THE POINT: The all-women cast under Chelsea Burke’s continually creative direction is enjoying the show as much as the audience.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

A Quill Theatre production at Agecroft Hall thru 8/4

 

Photos by Aaron Sutten

Dancing at the Firehouse

Dancing at the Firehouse

K Dance will be a company-in-residence at Firehouse Theatre. After more than 20 years of nomadic existence, the residency provides K Dance with a permanent home. With this partnership, Firehouse gains dance programming that fits its mission to be an artistic home for performing art/artists from all disciplines. This is made possible with a generous grant from CultureWorks.

 

Core components of the residency include co-producing two of K Dance’s signature programs at Firehouse: The YES Dance Festival (a showcase of work by some of the hottest contemporary choreographers/dance companies) and SHORTS (a program of one-acts that integrate choreography into the storytelling). In addition, they’ll be creating new educational and performance programs with K Dance’s Artistic Director Kaye Weinstein Gary that focus on dance/movement theatre.

 

Firehouse’s Producing Artistic Director Joel Bassin says “we’ve had wonderful experiences with K Dance during the past two years that we’ve been the site of their dance and one-act festivals. Kaye’s expansive and energetic artistic vision will make a valuable contribute to Firehouse’s activities.”

 

K Dance’s Artistic Director Kaye Weinstein Gary says “this is an incredibly exciting opportunity that will help me advance my artistic vision in a permanent space and build K Dance’s institutional capacity with the administrative and production support of Firehouse.” This season’s YES Dance Festival will be 12/20 & 21. SHORTS 2020 will be in April.

Artsies hosts announced

Artsies hosts announced

The Bard’s famous expression holds special meaning for this year’s Artsies, the community’s recognition of excellence in Richmond-area theater. “All the World’s a Stage” is the theme for the 12th annual Richmond Theatre Critics Circle awards. The theme highlights the freedom of professional theater artists (local and otherwise) to travel between markets.

 

This year’s celebration will be held Sunday, October 27, 7:30 p.m. at the November Theatre.

 

It will be hosted by two popular Richmond actors with years of noteworthy experience in different markets, Bianca Bryan and Jerold Solomon.

 

Bryan already had a long résumé of successful appearances in New York, before she commuted to Richmond for her Artsy-nominated role in Barksdale’s 2008 production of “A Clean House.” Since then, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role in Quill’s “Assassins” and Best Actress in a Play for TheatreLAB’s “Grounded” during the 2016-17 season. Last year, she was awarded an Artsy for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Firehouse Theatre’s “Wings.” She was last seen playing Mrs. Lovett in TheatreLAB’s production of “Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

 

Solomon had racked up numerous roles both in Richmond and on national tours before landing a spot in the cast of the Tony Award-winning 2008 Broadway revival of “South Pacific,” which ran until 2010. He returned to Richmond and won an Artsy for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Virginia Rep’s production of “The Whipping Man” (2014-15 season). He also was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for Virginia Rep’s production of “Dreamgirls” and Best Actor in a Play for “The Mountaintop,” produced by Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Rep. Solomon is currently playing the title role in Virginia Rep’s production of “The Wiz.”

 

All proceeds from Artsies ticket sales support the Theatre Artist Fund of Greater Richmond. The event is open to the public and formal attire is encouraged, but not required (it is a theatre crowd, after all). Tickets are $20 for orchestra seating and $25 for balcony. Tickets go on sale September 1 through Virginia Rep’s website or (804) 282-2620.

The event afterparty will once again be sponsored by University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts. Specifics along with additional event details will be released later this summer.

The members of the RTCC include Claire Boswell (Style Weekly), Tony Farrell (Richmond Times-Dispatch), Rich Griset (Style Weekly), Julinda Lewis (RVArt Review), and Jerry Williams (Sifter/WRIR-FM). RTCC members and Theatre Alliance Panelists must have seen at least two-thirds of the locally-produced shows during the season in order to vote in the award nomination process.

 

 

Animal Control (review)

Animal Control (review)

THE PLAY: An unfortunate incident at a dog park results in a confrontation at the animal shelter.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This show by local playwright Chandler Hubbard had its world premiere at Firehouse in May (here’s my review). It’s been reworked with 2 recast roles and even though my timer shows it running 10 minutes longer, it seems more dramatically compact. Each act opens with 2 people standing behind a chain-link fence (adding nothing to the show), but the first scenes between the shelter’s manager (Donna Marie Miller) and her assistant (Journey Entzminger) go on too long. While they serve as sounding board for the bosses’ anxiety, they don’t add much depth to the narrative and drag the momentum (the 3rd act exchange ran just long enough). As for the new cast members, Stevie Rice creates a menacing redneck whose final moments are heartbreaking. Margarette Joyner’s performance is not only compelling, but adds a welcome dab of humor. Miller’s arc is also more effective. Director Joel Bassin has tightened the tension, which makes the show completely compelling (when it sticks to the issue). Running time: 2:10 with 2 intermissions.

 

THE POINT: Once the conflict begins to unfold, this production handles a complex theme with thoughtful intelligence. More importantly, this production creates one of the most powerfully moving experiences of the season.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

At Firehouse Theatre thru 7/27

 

Listen to my review as aired on WRIR:

 

Donna Marie Miller, Stevie Rice, Margarette Joyner, Adam Turck (photo by Bill Sigafoos)

Two seasons at once!

Two seasons at once!

TheatreLAB held their annual Roast and Toast last nite, where 2 theatres announced their seasons. Artistic Director Deejay Gray sums up his vision of TheatreLAB’s upcoming season: “Climate Change. #MeToo. Black Lives Matter. The 1%. Police Brutality. Gender Inequality. Political Divide. Our world is in crisis and we need to talk about Power and Privilege.”

 

Here’s the season:

 

ADMISSIONS (Joshua Harmon) Direction by Deejay Gray, 9/12-28
A new play from Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews, Significant Other) that explores the ideals and contradictions of Liberal White America with a story about the head of the admissions department at a stodgy New England prep school who fights to diversify the student body. Winner of the 2019 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Play!

 

URINETOWN (Music & Lyrics by Mark Hollmann, Book by Greg Kotis) Direction by Matt Polson, Choreography by Nicole Morris-Anastasi, 11/21 – 12/28
Winner of three Tony Awards, this unusual musical is set in a world where water is the most valuable commodity. It’s a satire of the capitalism, bureaucracy and musical theatre itself.

 

THE REVOLUTIONISTS (Lauren Gunderson) Direction by Chelsea Burke, 2/27-3/21/2020
Four beautiful, badass women lose their heads in this irreverent, girl-powered comedy set during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To celebrate Women’s History Month.

 

DUTCHMAN (LeRoi Jones) Direction by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, 5/14/6/6

When LeRoi Jones wrote this controversial play in 1964, it was a sensation that remains a ritual drama with a sociological purpose. It’s a highly symbolic version of the Adam and Eve story, wherein a naive bourgeois black man is murdered by a calculating white seductress.

 

PUFFS: or, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic (Matt Cox) Direction by Katrinah Carol Lewis, Summer
The Puffs are a group of well-meaning, loyal outsiders who went to a certain Wizard School at the same time as the most famous one, but they’re not destined to save the world.

 

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON (Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Book by Alex Timbers) Direction by Maggie Roop, Music Direction by John-Stuart Fauquet, Summer
This show draw parallels to today’s political/populist landscape with their rock musical about the seventh U.S. president. (Co-produced by 5th Wall Theatre)

 

TheatreLAB season tickets are on sale now by clicking here. NOTE: Early Bird Pricing (saving up to $45) ends at MIDNIGHT TONIGHT.

 

SPEAKING OF 5TH WALL

They produced all of last season’s shows at TheatreLAB’s The Basement and that partnership will continue this year. Artistic Director also announced their season

 

LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS (Tammy Ryan) Directed by Keith Fitzgerald, 10/10-11/2

A recently divorced “East Ender” from Pittsburgh, meets a former Sudanese “lost boy” working in the produce section of Whole Foods and their worlds become enmeshed.

 

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (Tennessee Williams) Directed by Morrie Piersol, 1/23-2/15/20

Williams’ semi-autobiographical play about the dominate mother, her angry son and the physically and emotionally handicapped daughter.

 

FUFILLMENT CENTER (Abe Koogler) Directed by Carol Piersol,  4/9-5/2

Four people’s lives revolve around a giant online retailer’s shipping center.

 

Click here for season tickets to 5th Wall’s season.

Girlfriend (review)

Girlfriend (review)

THE PLAY: Just after graduating from high school, 2 boys strike up a friendship that develops into something more.

 

THE PRODUCTION: The title is ironic because this play only features 2 male actors (although the titular character figures in the story and it’s also the title of composer Matthew Sweet’s hit 1991 album). As the “gay”‘ one, Cooper Sved fills the stage with boundless energy and undeniable charm. It’s a wondrous performance. As the athlete who’s struggling with his attraction, Ray Wrightstone has the more challenging role and he manages to embody some of the necessary conflicting emotions. Director Chelsea Burke has kept the pace lively and emphasized their undeniable chemistry. Aza Raine’s choreography is fun and almost wacky (in a good way).  Sweet’s palatable pop rock songs go down easy, which is boosted by the solid voices. They’re helped by the robust 4-piece band under the direction of Levi Meerovich. They also provide some excellent backing vocals. Most of the time, Dylan Eubanks’ sound worked well, although some of the dialogue got lost during the louder instrumentals. Running time: 1:15 (no intermission)

 

THE POINT: This is an affecting little romance that beautifully captures the awkward interactions of two teens.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

At Richmond Triangle Players thru 7/9

The Wiz (review)

The Wiz (review)

THE PLAY: This musical version of The Wizard of Oz is inspired by black pop culture.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Choreographer/director Kikau Alvaro applies his unique approach to dancing and staging with inventive visual surprises, distinctive dance moves and delightful performances. In 3 roles,Desirée Roots is the funniest she’s ever been. As Dorothy, Mariah Lyttle brings scant personality to the role, but (like everyone else in the cast) she has an incredible voice. Her 3 sidekicks, Dylan T. Jackson (Scarecrow), D. Jerome Wells (Tin Man) and Brandon LaReau (Cowardly Lion) have comic qualities to spare, with LaReau making the most enjoyable impression. The rambunctious energy of Act One gives way to the more dramatic second act, which is dominated by incredible solos from Jerold E. Solomon (The Wiz), Jessi Johnson (Glinda) and Lyttle (finally getting a chance to shine). Although it’s called Afrofuturism in the program, the sets by Kimberly V. Powers display no discernible cohesive design (every scene seems to have its own style). Jeanne Nugent’s costumes are grab bag of color and glitz. Anthony Smith’s orchestra provides solid musical support. Running time: 2:05

 

THE POINT: A visually-inventive, delightfully-entertaining romp down the Yellow Brick Road.

 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

At Virginia Rep thru 8/4

 

Mariah Lyttle (Dorothy) and cast. (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

The Savannah Sipping Society (review)

The Savannah Sipping Society (review)

THE PLAY: Four single women “of a certain age” gather for weekly drinking sessions to talk about their lives and expand their horizons.

 

THE PRODUCTION: In 2014, the Mill staged their first production by this trio of writers whose claim to fame is their connection with “Golden Girls” (review of Dixie Swim Club here). This is the 4th show by the group and it continues with the sitcom setup that’s proven so successful. This time the quartet of actors is comfortable with their characters, the comedy and those thick Southern accents. There are plenty of punch lines and most of them land with laughter. Director Tom Width has kept things moving with a bright, sunny pace that matches the lovely yellow verandah set (which he designed). One confusing note: there are palm trees edging the exterior, instead of oaks hanging with moss. Maura Lunch Cravey has designed costumes that are not only attractive but flattering. Running time: 2:10

 

THE POINT: Audiences who appreciate a sitcom on the stage will be entertained with big gulps of comic fun and a few sips of sweetness.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

At Swift Creek Mill Theatre thru 7/13

 

Listen to my review (with Southern accent) as aired on WRIR:

 

 

Jacqueline Jones, Jennifer Frank, Joy Williams, Robin Arthur

Grey Gardens: The Musical (review)

Grey Gardens: The Musical (review)

THE PLAY: This musical is based on the astounding 70s documentary about a mother and daughter from an aristocratic America family who became eccentric recluses.

 

THE PRODUCTION: If you’re not familiar with the documentary (or even the HBO feature), these 2 women may stretch credulity, but they are indeed real. Susan Sanford plays Big Edie in Act One, then goes all out as the iconic Little Edie in Act Two. She takes full advantage of the opportunity to display her considerable dramatic, comic and singing skills. Overall, the first act feels cluttered with so many songs. so much activity and so much drama. Grey Garrett (as Little Edie) conveys the emotions that foreshadowed her future with her affecting “Daddy’s Girl.” Boomie Pedersen effectively portrays the flustered, older Big Edie in Act Two, but it’s Sandford’s droll portrayal of her daughter that makes the show fun. Director Deb Clinton does her best to tackle the narrative’s chaotic challenges with solid pacing and varied staging, while allowing the more dramatic moments their due. The 5-piece band under Kim Fox’s direction provides strong support and the technical elements are all fine without being exceptional. Running time: 2:30

 

THE POINT: The first act creates an emotionally-charged miasma of dysfunction that’s propelled to eccentric excess with Susan Sanford’s hilarious, spot-on creation of Little Edie.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

At Richmond Triangle Players thru 7/13

 

Boomie Pedersen & Susan Sanford (Photos by John MacLellan)

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