Theater

Mamma Mia! (review)

Mamma Mia! (review)

THE PLAY: A young woman invites 3 men (one of whom may be her father) to her wedding on a Greek island where she’s grown up with her independent mother.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This story starts on a simple set of white stucco with blue projections and costumes to reflect the Mediterranean Sea. By the end of Act One, it’s all out Broadway with colorful flashing lights and big dance numbers. This is one of the original jukebox musicals (it premiered in 1999), but the major difference from many of the later ones is that this relies more on dialogue and plot. The good-natured comedy is broad around the edges, but still manages to provide audience-pleasing moments. The cast is uniformly strong: the wonderful voices produce beautiful harmonies and the performances are winning throughout (the sound on the chorus numbers is jumbled but it’s not really about the lyrics anyway). “I Do” is the creatively choreographed, comic highlight, but all of the numbers are well-staged and enjoyable.  The simple design with great swaths of color is attractive and appealing. And in case you didn’t know, there’s a greatest-hits sing-along at the curtain call. Running time: 2:30

 

THE POINT: If you like your musicals light, colorful and broad, this final tour of the popular long-running favorite will provide lots of tuneful fun!

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

A Broadway in Richmond presentation at the Altria Theater thru 7/25

 

Meet Sharon Ott (7 videos)

Meet Sharon Ott (7 videos)

Sharon Ott is the new Chair of TheatreVCU. Read the SIFTER intro here. We had a great chat last week. Click on each question to watch the answer. (There’s also a full-length version at the botton if you’d prefer.)

 

 

  1. Why did you go from a long and illustrious career as an artistic director to academia? (1:32)

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  1. How did you get from SCAD to VCU? (:44)

 

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  1. Are you planning to teach and direct at VCU? (1:03)

 

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  1. What about your husband? (:39)

 

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  1. What is it about Richmond that appealed to you? (1:23)

 

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  1. What are your hopes/plans for developing TheatreVCU? (1:31)

 

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Sharon’s entire interview. (7:28)

 

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Five Flights (review)

Five Flights (review)

THE PLAY: A husband builds a house-sized aviary for his wife’s soul. After he dies, the family fights over the crumbling building’s fate.

 

THE PRODUCTION: I couldn’t wrap my head around this play: It’s written more as incidents instead of interactions with several odd side trips (the origin story monologue, the gay relationship, the ballet, 2 bird lectures). That being said, the production has sparks of amusement and a lively pace (until the dramatic turns in Act 2, which aren’t as effective). The cast does a respectable job (standouts include Travis Williams’ comic energy and Terry Menefee Gau’s sharp flair). Director H. Lynn Smith guides most of the interactions with a quick pace and simple, effective staging. The set is pipe and drape with a model of the aviary up front. Alan Armstrong’s lighting is simple but effective. Running time: 1:44  Listen to my interview with Smith on this week’s Curtain Call (after 3pm today).

 

THE POINT: The production is pleasant, but the meandering play lacks focus or closure.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

An IAMSHE Production at CAT Theatre thru 7/29

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

 

Travis Williams, Crystal Oakley, Abigail Davis-Hess

Artsies news

Artsies news

The theme for this year’s Artsies, is “A Decade of Excellence.” As you can tell by that title, this year marks the 10th year that the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle has sponsored the community’s recognition of excellence in Richmond-area theatre.

 

The first year was held at a packed Firehouse Theatre, but it’s now at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. Many of the things that happened that first year have become traditions for the show: fun, flamboyant musical performances, irreverent jokes by presenters, appearances by Richmond celebs and grateful appreciation from those who are recognized.

 

This year’s emcees will help theatregoers celebrate our 10th Anniversary with lots of surprises. There will also be videos to showcase members of the community reminiscing about where they were a decade ago. Dates when our theatre family and friends can contribute their memories will be announced soon.

 

To kick off the tenth year, the Circle is creating the RVA Theatre Hall of Fame. This first year will recognize three seminal members from the early days of local professional theatre. This is an important way to recognize those who have helped make our theatre scene the vibrant community it is today.  We’ll announce these first honorees with a video at the event.

 

All proceeds from “Artsies” ticket sales will go to the Theatre Artists Fund of Greater Richmond. Formal attire is encouraged for the awards ceremony, which is open to the public. The event is Monday, October 9th and tickets are $20. They go on sale September 1 through Virginia Repertory Theatre at va-rep.org or (804) 282-2620.

The Musical of Musicals, The Musical (review)

The Musical of Musicals, The Musical (review)

THE PLAY: A satirical tribute to 5 major composers of musicals: Rogers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb, Sondheim, Herman and Webber.

 

THE PRODUCTION: If you’re a theatre geek (and know those names above), you’ll find this show an endless source of inside comic references. The songs are written in the style of each composer and almost every lyric has a clever allusion to a famous musical. The quartet on stage carries it off with aplomb. They’re more about vocal strength than comic skill, but they still manage to provide plenty of humorous moments (Derrick Jacques was a standout on both counts).  Credit for much of the merriment goes to the skilled direction of Tom Width. Musical Director Paul Deiss provides solid accompaniment at the on-stage piano. Width’s set features fun-shaped frames with stretchy panels that sometimes get projections.  Maura Lynch Cravey’s costumes are neutral black with color pops and simple props. Joe Doran’s lighting adds colorful variety, but the actors sometimes ended up in the low-lit areas (it may be slow cues, not the design). Running time: 1:45

 

THE POINT: Theatre insiders will enjoy this hilarious send-up that features an able cast and countless comic references. Others should enjoy the general antics.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

At Swift Creek Mill Theatre thru 8/19

 

Derrick Jacques, Caroline Whisnant, Paige Reisenfeld, David Atkins (Photos by Robyn O’Neil)

Da (review)

Da (review)

THE PLAY: When a man returns to his Irish village to bury his father, he flashes back to his relationship with his family and others who influenced his youth.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Start with a cast of excellent actors and you can expect an exceptional ensemble. That’s the case here. Led by Landon Nagel’s earnest performance and the easy charm of Alan Sader, this cast effectively brings out the play’s quiet comedy and understated drama. One immediately noticeable feature is the beautifully lyrical language that’s spoken with impeccable Irish accents. This steeps the show in an even more nostalgic embrace. Adding more appeal are Sue Griffin’s richly textured costumes and Terrie Powers’ quaint, charming cottage (although the abstract exterior clashes a bit with the rustic charm of the interior). Steve Perigard’s assured direction and fluid staging effectively mirrors the mutability of the narrative. He’s crafted affectionate interactions, although the more dramatic moments in Act Two tend to slow the show. Running time: 2:30

 

THE POINT: This exceptional ensemble captures the sweet nostalgia and gentle charms of this sensitive drama.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

A Virginia Rep production at Hanover Tavern thru 8/20

 

Trevor Craft, John Moon, Alan Sader, and Kelly Kennedy (Photos by Jay Paul)

The Little Engine that Could (review)

The Little Engine that Could (review)

THE PLAY: This musical retelling of the “I think I can” story is reframed thru the relationship of a grandfather and his memories.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Most children will already know this story, so writer Scott Wichmann has included a framing device to expand the message and fill out the original slim plot. He and composer Jason Marks have created likeable songs with approachable lyrics and melodies derived from classic show tune styles. The addition Heidi Rugg’s puppet animals bring a layer of fantasy. while several mentions of Richmond give the story a local slant. The cast is uniformly enjoyable with sweet, smiling energy. Director Chase Kniffen has added humorous elements, but the climax is underwhelming and the youngsters seemed to get a bit restless during the “message” portions. The tech elements are all colorful. Running time: :55

 

THE POINT: The enthusiastic cast brings plenty of spirit and the music is enjoyable, but the sincerity of the message outweighs the fun.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

A production of Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn thru 7/30

 

Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Macbeth (review)

Macbeth (review)

THE PLAY: Shakespeare’s classic about a noble and his wife who plot to ascend to the throne of Scotland.

 

THE PRODUCTION: When the stilted opening witches scene held no mystique, that didn’t bode well for what was to come. I kept waiting for these accomplished actors to connect, but it never happened (Ryan Wilson was an exception).  One of the challenges of performing Shakespeare is making his eloquent language make sense, but this cast’s dialogue didn’t connect. They also went to the effort of embracing “the Scottish play” by putting most of the men in kilts, yet (with the exception of one character in the first act), nobody had a Scottish brogue. Considering all of these things, it’s clear that the numerous faults lie in the hands of visiting director Jemma Alix Levy. Other flaws: the eerie sound effects were too loud, the swordplay was embarrassingly tentative and the sparse staging featured no theatrical flourishes or dramatic intensity to distract from the bugs, cicadas and trains. Running time: 2:15

 

THE POINT: The performances are lacking fervor, but this production’s misguided staging rests primarily with the direction.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

The Richmond Shakespeare Festival produced by Quill Theatre at Agecrocft thru 7/30

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

 

Jessica Meyer, Levi Meerovich, Ryan Wilson, Axle Burtness, and Irene Kuykendall (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

The Toxic Avenger (review)

The Toxic Avenger (review)

THE PLAY: This musical is based on the B-movies from Troma about a nerd who gets dunked in a vat of toxic slime and becomes a mutant pollution-fighting hero.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Debra Wagoner and Alexander Sapp are 2 of RVA’s most talented actors and they both shine in these showcase roles. Sapp creates a continually sweet, funny character as the Avenger. Wagoner’s spot-on timing and madcap style shine in every scene, esp. the show-stopping duet she does with herself! Rachel Rose Gilmour rounds out the trio with another finely-tuned comic performance. The two “Dudes” (Chris Hester & William Anderson) provide plenty of deranged fun as a variety of characters. The uniformly spectacular voices add extra heft…almost every number feels like a show stopper. Musical director Starlet Knight’s tight band makes the music even hotter. Over-the-top camp can be a mess in the wrong hands, but director Keith Fitzgerald has staged the deranged merriment with sloppy precision and lots of clever bits, while Emily Dandridge’s zany choreography contributes to the merriment. Of course, the design should be funky and ratty and TJ Spensieri junkyard set works, although the graffiti could have been more attractive. Erin Barclay’s lighting added colorful elements (but those follow spots need to be better coordinated) and the costumes by Sheila Russ make for even more visual delight. Running time: 2:08

 

THE POINT: This superb cast excels at the campy, comically-gruesome fun to create the most raucous hilarity you’ll see in a theatre this summer!

 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

A 5th Wall Theatre production at The Basement thru 7/30

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Rachel Rose Gilmour & Alexander Sapp (Photos by John MacLellan)

A decade later (video: 1:56)

A decade later (video: 1:56)

This summer marks the 28th year for “New Voices for the Theatre,” a statewide high school playwriting competition and residency. The students work with an accomplished playwright to hone their work before being produced by professional theatre artists in The Festival of New Works. This year’s Playwright-in-Residence is Cassandra Medley, who’s returning after 10 years (visit her website). We chatted during a break from one their sessions.

 

This year’s Festival is July 7 & 8, 7pm at VCU’s Shafer Street Playhouse (221 N. Shafer St). Open to the public with a suggested donation of $5.

 

Watch Video

Heathers, The Musical (review)

Heathers, The Musical (review)

THE PLAY: This is a musical adaptation of the dark 80’s teen cult classic about cliques, bullying, suicide and revenge.

 

THE PRODUCTION: When most of the cast is hovering around 20, you can expect plenty of youthful exuberance. And that’s this production’s strength. They do a uniformly good job of acting and singing with an outstanding Carmen Wiley as Veronica, bringing depth, comedy and a wonderful voice to her performance. Director Deb Clinton has engineered a crisp production, but it lacks the arch stylized approach of the movie. Choreographer Aza Raine has created some snappy moves. Set designer Ben Burke framed the stage with a black & white tile-and-locker motif and added some pull outs to allow for additional elements…efficient but not especially attractive. Ruth Hedberg has outfitted the popular girls in appropriate eye candy. With Michael Jarett’s lighting it looks like he got a bunch of new toys and decided to pull out all the stops, resulting in overblown, unfocused chaos. The play itself takes a shallow approach to deep subjects. It’s prosaic dialogue leaves most of the humor to the lyrics. There’s drama (and several messages) in the content, but it doesn’t translate into the production. Running time: 2:15

 

THE POINT: While the play itself skims thru the serious subject matter with little depth or skill, the cast and staging are full of youthful pluck.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

A co-production of Firehouse & TheatreLAB at Firehouse thru 7/16

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

The cast. (Photos by Bill Sigafoos)

In the Heights (review)

In the Heights (review)

THE PLAY:  A hip-hop influenced musical about life and dreams among the inhabitants of an Hispanic immigrant neighborhood in New York’s Washington Heights.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Instead of a traditional narrative, this play celebrates several character situations in an explosion of color and life. As with author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit “Hamilton,” this show is full of his dense, rich language. So much information is flying by, it’s a challenge to keep up…and that’s this production’s only flaw…the lyrics are often lost in the mix with Ben Miller’s excellent orchestra. Otherwise, this is a slick production with a slammin’ ensemble: robust performances (anchored by JJ Caruncho’s likeable presence), solid voices and Karla Garcia’s spirited choreography. The show is saturated with an electric vitality that’s a credit to Nathaniel Shaw’s taut direction. The dominating street set (which has been scaled down from the original Broadway design) limits the acting to the front area of the stage. Sarah Grady’s costumes and Joe Doran’s lighting effectively echo the play’s colorful esthetic. Running time: 2:20

 

THE POINT: A vibrant, vivid ensemble brings Latino flavor and theatrical fervor to this spirited, superb staging.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A Virginia Rep production at the November Theatre thru 7/30

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Shea Gomez, Josh Marin, Arielle Jacobs, JJ Caruncho, and ensemble. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

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