Holiday Shows A-Plenty Across Midlands Stages

christmasbells2 There's no shortage of seasonal favorites to be found around town.  The winter holidays are all about tradition; as days grow shorter, darker, and colder, we're comforted by what is familiar.  Local theatres are no exception, offering revivals of yuletide favorites, as well as productions of classics from the screen and stage.  Here are just a few!

The Waltons was a huge hit on television, but in Earl Hamner's novels and on the big screen, they were the Spencers, and Hamner adapted his memories of growing up in rural Virginia into a stage play as well.  Narrated by Clay-Boy Spencer, The Homecoming recalls a pivotal Christmas, a missing father, and lean times during the Depression. Lexington's Village Square Theatre returns with this favorite from a few seasons ago for one weekend only, December 4-7. MonaLisa Botts directs; for information, call 803-359-1436, or visit http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com.

homecoming

Similar small town warmth and values, filtered through a quirkier Southern Gothic perspective, earned Pamela Parker a Pulitzer nomination for her play Second Samuel.  West Columbia's On Stage Productions is reviving their successful production from earlier this year.  The Jasper review of that production said "like Steel Magnolias, the local ladies gather to chat at the beauty parlor, while the men convene at 'Frisky’s Bait and Brew,' the kind of place where you can get a Nehi and a Moon Pie as easily as a cold beer or a shot of whiskey...(The play) can be enjoyed at face value as a variation on Mayberry or Vicky Lawrence’s Momma’s Family, or taken at a much deeper level."

SecondSamuel2014-HolidayShow_pages Most of director Robert Harrelson's cast return, including Debra Leopard, MJ Maurer, Courtney Long, Anne Merritt Snider, Courtney Long, Sam Edelson, and Antoine T. Marion.  Run dates are December 4-13; for information, call 407-319-2596, or visit http://www.onstagesc.com/.  There will also be a special staged reading of the sequel, A Very Second Samuel Christmas  on Saturday, December 6, with the playwright in attendance - your chance to give feedback on a new  work in progress!

Town Theatre is also bringing back a popular hit, the stage adaptation by David Ives and Paul Blake of Irving Berlin's White Christmas. Based on the 1954 film, this musical, nominated for multiple Tony and Drama Desk Awards, is directed and choreographed by Shannon Willis Scruggs, with musical direction by Sharon McElveen Altman.  Frank Thompson and Scott Vaughan play Army buddies who stage a show at a quaint Vermont inn, encountering show biz shenanigans and romantic entanglements with Abigail Ludwig and Celeste Mills along the way.   Joining them are Bill DeWitt, Kathy Hartzog, Parker Byun, Andy Nyland, and Bob Blencowe;  the show continues this week, closing with a matinee on Sunday, December 7, and you can find a review at Onstage Columbia.

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Two other special performances are also scheduled for holiday fun. First,  Jamie Carr Harrington directs  Disney’s Sleeping Beauty - Kids, the culmination of her Fall Youth Program.  This timeless classic will magic its way into your heart this holiday season. There will be music and dancing, as well as magic spells and evil curses.  Maleficent crashes little Aurora’s Christening party, and places a curse on the baby simply because she was not invited. A urora is whisked away to the woods where she lives for 16 years.  Once upon a dream she meets a handsome stranger, who ends up being the prince who will break the spell with true love’s kiss. Come see Town Theatre’s Youth Program bring a little magic now to the stage, with ayoung beauty who pricks her finger on a spindle and falls asleep due to a curse. There will be fun bumbling fairies, happy woodland creatures, and fantastical goons. (Gotta love fantastical goons! ~ ed.) The show runs Dec. 12-14, with multiple matinee and evening performances.
beauty

Also, Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year Finalist Frank Thompson directs A Christmas Carol Columbia - a new version of the Dickens novella, presented live on stage as a radio play, and written by James Kirk. (The author, not the captain.) This special performance will be presented just one, at 3 PM on Sunday, Dec. 21st.  For ticket information on all three productions, call 803-799-2510, or visit www.towntheatre.com.

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The St. Paul’s Players are presenting  The Fourth Wise Man, a musical adaptation of the short story “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), an author, educator, and clergyman who is credited with writing the lyrics for “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”  The Fourth Wise Man is the story of Artaban, portrayed by Jim Jarvis.  Other cast members are John Arnold, Brenda Byrd, Olin Jenkins, Randy Nolff, Mark Wade, and Valerie Ward.  Artaban, one of the Magi who has studied the stars, endeavors to journey with Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthazar to pay tribute to the Christ Child. He carries three gifts, a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl; however, during his travels he faces tests and challenges. What happens when he finally has the chance to meet Jesus face-to-face?

The St. Paul’s Players' production of The Fourth Wise Man will be presented in the Good Shepherd Theatre at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, on the corner of Bull and Blanding Streets in downtown Columbia.  A dinner theatre performance will be held on Friday, December 5 at 6 p.m.  The cost is $10.00 per person, with advance reservations required. Call (803) 779-0030 to make reservations.  Two more performances will be held on Saturday, December 6 at 3 p.m. andat  7 p.m. There is no cost for the Saturday performances and no required reservations. For more information, contact John W. Henry, Producer, at 803-917-1002, or Paula Benson, Director, at 803-206-4965.
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Trustus Theatre found great success last year with Patrick Barlow's post-modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which remained faithful to the original Dickens material, while incorporating technical wizardry, live music enhanced with synthesizer effects, and sexy, steampunk-influenced costumes for the Ghosts.  You can read the Jasper review of that production here,  but there have been a few changes for this year's iteration, with Kendrick Marion joining Director Chad Henderson and last year's cast, including Catherine Hunsinger, Avery Bateman, Scott Herr,  and Stann Gwynn as Scrooge. The show runs through December 20 on the Thigpen Main Stage.

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Trustus also has a couple of special events scheduled this month. First,  late nights are back with The Ladies of Lady Street Late Night Cabaret, featuring the best in female impersonation. Join a highly entertaining quartet of both local and guest performers on Friday December 12th at 11:00pm.  The hour-long show features an entertaining mix of female impersonation, celebrity illusions, showgirl costumes, comedy, glamour and live singing. Vista Queen Emeritus Patti O’Furniture leads a cast that features Dorae Saunders (as seen on “America’s Got Talent” and former Miss US of A at Large),  the live singing talents of Denise Russell, and Veronica La Blank (Columbia’s Wild Card of Drag.) This is the second offering of a series of four shows during Trustus’ 30th season. The show takes place on the Thigpen Mainstage;    tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at www.trustus.org or at the door.  Doors open at 10:45pm after the evening performance of A Christmas Carol. The show is at 11:00pm. The Trustus bar will open at 10:45pm and will remain open during the show. Or, make a night of it, and check out the Trustus production of A Christmas Carol that same night at 8pm. Tickets for that show are also available online.

Mark Rapp, appearing at Trustus Theatre

Then get ready for Jingle Bell Jazz, featuring the Mark Rapp Quartet and special guests on  December 17th.  Celebrated jazz trumpeter Mark Rapp and his quartet present a grooving, swinging, funky fun Christmas concert that will leave you toasty, warm and happy for the holidays. Rapp has prepared unique jazz arrangements of such Christmas classics as: Angels We Have Heard on High, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, O Come All Ye Faithful, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer to Wham!’s Last Christmas.Rapp has performed with such distinct artists from Branford Marsalis to Hootie and the Blowfish, released 5 diverse recordings, and is featured leading and playing the closing track of Disney’s "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" CD which also features such artists as Dave Brubeck and Esperanza Spalding. Mark is a featured artist in Mellen Press' "How Jazz Trumpeters Understand Their Music" among a prestigious list including Terence Blanchard, Lew Soloff, Freddie Hubbard, Tim Hagans, Dave Douglas and more. Mark has performed in jazz festivals around the world from the Fillmore Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, WC Handy Festival, to Jazz Festivals in Switzerland, Croatia and Brazil.  The concert performance will begin at 9pm. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased from www.trustus.org.  For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732 .

mistletoe Theatre Rowe is presenting  Murder Under the Mistletoe at both its Columbia and Lexington locations: Scheduled dates are:

Lexington: December 4-7, 11-14, 18-21

Columbia: December 6, 7, 11, 12, 18, 19, 21

For information, call 803-200-2012, or visit http://scdinnertheatre.com.

shakespeareskidz
Shakespeare's Kidz, the youth program of the South Carolina Shakespeare Company, presents MidWinter's Eve: A Shakespeare's Kidz Tale on December 11th, at 6:00 pm at the Richland Country Library - and it's free!  Written and directed by London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art graduate Katie Mixon, the show is a fun, family friendly, heart-warming inside look at Christmas in Elizabethan England. It's the night before Christmas, when William Shakespeare pops off for some holiday cheer with the wife for the evening. The Shakespeare brood is on their own! Young twins Judith and Hamnet dance, and duel with swords, while Susanna dreams of romance. Friends Emilia, Malvolio, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern join the party, with a search for the Yule Log, and visits from The Lord of Misrule!   Will the Shakespeare kids and their friends survive the night, or will chaos trump all?

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Featured in the cast of young performers are Elin Johnson, Joss Kim, Maize Cook, Walt Cook, Napoleon Rodriguez, Guillermo Rodriguez Oliveira, and Lindsay Knowlton.  The perforance is approximately 30 minutes;  you're encouraged to arrive at few minutes early to make your way downstairs and claim a good seat!  For more information, visit   http://www.shakespearesc.org/kidz.html.

jack frost

Columbia Children's Theatre presents Jack Frost, the world premiere of a new musical for children, with music by Paul Lindley II, and book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy. Run dates are December 5-14.

Something’s up with the weather.  The leaves are turning non-existent colors, unexpected snows are blanketing the orange groves and farmers are getting frost bite in the summer.  What is going on?  Is it global warming?  No, it’s Jack Frost being “creative” again. When Jack’s rebellion and yearning for self-expression start landing him in hot water, his parents The Snow Queen and The Frost King, decide that a little time spent with the industrious and practical Kringle family would teach the head-strong lad a lesson. So, in a move straight out of Trading Spaces, Jack and Crystal Kringle trade lives and suffice it to say cleaning up after reindeer is not exactly Jack’s cup of iced tea.  With a book and lyrics by Crystal-Alisa Aldamuy and music by Paul Gilbert Lindley II this wintry world premiere musical is just the thing to warm your heart!

Show Times:

~ August Krickel

The Rumors About Bloomers: Sirena Dib Talks About Playing Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!" at Town Theatre

As a fan of period pieces and costume history, I naturally jump at the chance to play roles in shows that require historically inspired costumes. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is no exception.  Set in Oklahoma territory in 1906, it has given me the chance to break out the turn-of-the-century Americana wear, and experience “how the west was worn.”

(L-R) Sirena Dib, Rob Sprankle, Parker Byun; photo by Matthew Mills

 

I was fortunate enough to have been cast as the comic role of Ado Annie, an iconic role I can now check off my bucket list. For those of you not familiar with the show, Ado Annie is a carefree girl who is especially friendly with the men in the territory. The once flat and scrawny girl has “rounded up,” and her newfound assets have gained her more than a bit of attention from the boys, attention she does not seem to mind one bit. Her marquee song, “Cain’t Say No,” really illustrates the love triangle her dalliances created, and how she struggles with choosing just one suitor. It is a struggle she unabashedly perpetuates when she admits how she prefers whichever one she is with at the moment.

Haley Sprankle as LAurey, Sirena Dib as Ado Annie;  photo by Matthew Mills

 

Getting back to the costumes, I was presented with some physical challenges specifically related to period costume and the, how shall we put it, assets needed to embody the character. The first challenge was relaying the character’s promiscuity when the traditional clothes of the time were anything but. Credit goes to the costume designer, Lori Stepp, for finding a dress that takes the style of the period while appropriately representing Ado’s character. Our first costume fitting was especially interesting, as her modifications to a modest country dress did not leave quite enough to the imagination, even for Ado’s liberal qualities.

Rob Sprankle as Ali Hakim, in a clinch with Sirena Dib as Ado Annie; photo by Matthew Mills

 

Once the costume was ready, it was time to apply the finishing touches to complete the portrayal. Now do not get me wrong, I am happy with my figure, but it was important to REALLY emphasize prominent features to drive the point of Ado’s attractiveness home. I first learned a few cleavage-centric theatrical makeup techniques from former castmate Travis Roof, when playing another well-known coquette in Town Theatre’s Grease.  For Oklahoma!, I had the help of my fellow cast members, Katie Faris Loeper and David Johnson, to help use these bosom- boosting effects again in order to make sure the harsh stage lights did not prohibit the girls from reaching the heavens from the audience’s perspective.

Rob Spranle and Sirena Dib perform at the Rosewood Arts Festival; photo by Frank Thompson

 

The historical undergarments have created both challenges and fun for all the girls backstage. A big challenge has been staying cool under the stage lights when wearing layers upon layers of clothing. I feel like I can only begin to fathom what it must have been like in Oklahoma in 1906 when society actually REQUIRED women to wear layers of underwear and corsets, all while raising families and working on the farm. Second challenge: smelly cast mates? On the other hand, some of our undergarment mishaps and funny stories inspired us to create what we call an, “Undercover Wall” where female members of the cast post inside jokes, quotes, or stories onto post it notes on the wall for all to read. The wall has become a unique cast bonding activity that makes backstage a special place for the cast of the show.

 

Haley Sprankle as Laurey, Sirena Dib as Ado Annie; photo by Frank Thompson

My love-affair with attire aside, what I enjoy most about playing Ado Annie is that she is a character who is ahead of her time. She is honest to herself and open about her enjoyment in the company of others, especially of the intimate sort. She does not feel the need to hide who she really is to those in her community, and does not apologize for being herself even though others may judge her. I like to think of her as a rebel, who helps pave the way for other women. In a world where courtship was about impressing the father and playing by the strict rules of society, whether you like it or not, Ado Annie decides to take a flirtatiously modern approach. She makes no excuses and has no regrets, and woe to the men in her life who try to keep her from flaunting her bloomers to anyone who has a mind to look.

~ Sirena Dib

Town Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! will be running this weekend, Thursday October 2 through Sunday October 5, and again the following week, Thursday October 9 through Saturday October 11.  Curtain is at 8 PM (except for a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 5th.)   Call 803-799-2510 for tickets, or visit www.towntheatre.com for more info.

Oklahoma

 

"Notes From an Awkward Ingénue" - Haley Sprankle on playing the lead in "Oklahoma!" at Town Theatre

Blocking rehearsals. All actors experience these, otherwise there would be no structure to the movement and physicality of the production. “… And then you kiss, kiss, kiss.”

But not every actor experiences what it’s like to be the ingénue.

After my whopping 18 years of life, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and becoming Miss Laurey Williams in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Town Theatre.

Theatre has encompassed almost every aspect of my life since I can remember. As a young girl, I sat in on my dad’s rehearsals for 1776 at Workshop Theatre and dreamed of one day playing Abigail Adams. I grew up idolizing people like Kristin Abbott (now Kristin Giant), Giulia Dalbec, Linda Posey (now Linda Collins), and Laurel Posey in each new production they were in whether they were in the ensemble or leading the show. At the age of five, I finally stepped on stage with the cast of Workshop Theatre’s Gypsy as the Balloon Girl.

Now, 13 years later, here I am.

Going into auditions for this show, I tried to keep an open mind with little expectations. I went in thinking that, with my past roles and experiences, Ado Annie would be the best fit for me if I were to be cast in a named role. She’s cute, has the one-liners, and has a certain quirky charm that fits my awkward personality.

Haley Sprankle (center, in green) as Laurey in "Oklahoma!"

In past musicals, I’ve played more comedic characters like Dainty June (Gypsy), a teenaged girl whose mother dresses her up as a child to perform, or Frenchie (Grease), a beauty school dropout. Those characters came naturally to me because they were such caricatures of a person with just some little moments of reality.

It was not until recently that I dabbled in the world of playing the “love interest.”  In Disney's The Little Mermaid, at Village Square Theatre in Lexington, I got a glimpse of what that was like as Ariel, but being surrounded by kids and by a very cartoon-like environment, it felt surreal. I then stepped into the role of Daisy Buchanan in Biloxi Blues at Workshop Theatre this past year. Although she was a genuine character, she was still a young school girl, experiencing puppy love for the first time.

After all that, I would have never thought that I would get to experience what it was like to play the romantic lead.

In an audition or callback setting, I try to stay true to myself and let the characterization come organically, but having little romantic experience, I figured that Laurey was out of the question. I went up on stage, sang and read from the script and score, and went home not expecting much but with a small spark of hope.

“How would you like to be our Laurey?”

When I woke up to those words, I felt like I was still dreaming.

Once cast, I felt so humbled and honored to portray such an iconic character in musical theatre at such a young age. With names like Shirley Jones to be associated with, approaching this role was no easy feat. I had to overcome my own fear of vulnerability and simply let the character happen.

I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful team of people to work with, who constantly support me, and offer helpful tips and advice, while also allowing me to explore this world and character on my own. Working with people like Sirena Dib (Ado Annie) and Kathy Hartzog (Aunt Eller) - both of whom have such great talent, and more experience playing leads than I - has allowed me to rise to the occasion and learn through their actions.

“Am I making you feel awkward?”

Playing such a serious, picturesque character is something that is way out of my comfort zone. I’ll admit that after growing up in the theatre, I’ve developed somewhat of an eccentric personality. Although I am very serious about my performance and the process of it, my silliness offstage often translates to awkwardness. Normally, I utilize that awkward eclectic energy, and put it into my characterization when I’m in the ensemble or playing a more unconventional character.

Laurey Williams, however, is anything but awkward. She is confident, witty, and sure of herself. Laurey Williams knows how to make a man fall in love with her without even trying.  Laurey Williams is nowhere near Haley Sprankle.

Somehow, throughout the process, I had to learn how to let go of the idiosyncratic nature of Haley Sprankle, and embrace the confidence and grace of Miss Laurey Williams.

As another newcomer to the world of playing a romantic lead, Bryan Meyers has been so wonderful throughout the process. We’ve been able to learn with each other how to portray romance on stage believably. Despite my all of my awkward tendencies and quirky behavior, he’s really been able to hone in on the charm and romance that surrounds his character.

Kathy Hartzog, Haley Sprankle, and Bryan performing a scene from "Oklahoma!" at the Rosewood Arts Festival

Now, after about six weeks of rehearsal, opening weekend has finally come. Although I never would have imagined having this opportunity, I am so grateful and proud of how far not only I have come, but the cast as a whole has come.

“Places! Places, everyone!”

On opening night, the curtain rose, and I took my place on stage.

It all seems like a blur now, but what I can tell you is after that final bow, I couldn’t have been happier.

When I’m onstage, I’m no longer Haley Sprankle.

I am Laurey Williams.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma! runs through Sat. Oct. 11 at Town Theatre; visit www.towntheatre.com for ticket information.

"Oklahoma!" opens this weekend at Town Theatre - a preview by August Krickel

Oklahoma

Oklahoma!  - yes, the exclamation point is part of the title - is one of those those shows that everyone knows by heart - or do they?  It's part of our shared cultural heritage, and most of us can probably sing the first line or two of the title song, since it actually begins with the title.  You know, "O-o-o-o-o...klahoma, where the... something something goes something something..." and that's where our memories start to cloud.  It's actually now  the official state song of Oklahoma. A few of us may also connect the familiar song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," to the musical, and might even know the next line "oh what a beautiful day," and the basic tune. We may even have heard or used the expression about the corn being "as high as an elephant's eye," whether or not we knew its source. Having been a mainstay of high school and community theatre repertoires for decades, Oklahoma! is something we all know backwards and forwards.
Or is it?  I fell into that trap too, realizing only recently that I have never seen the show live, and to my knowledge have only seen the famous film version once, when I was in 5th grade or so.  And in those days I was much more interested in spotting the mom from The Partridge Family  (i.e. Shirley Jones) in the lead, playing opposite the real-life father of one of the girls from Petticoat Junction (i.e. Gordon MacRae, father of Meredith), with Mr. Douglas from Green Acres (Eddie Albert) providing comic relief.  Then I realized that for years, I've been mistakenly thinking one of the big hits from the show, "People Will Say We're in Love," was from South Pacific!  That's not too bad a lapse, though, since the same composers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote both.  Along with Sound of Music, The King and I, and the tv Cinderella. Wait, the same guys wrote all of those?  Exactly.  Meaning that Oklahoma! may be worth a little more attention than we might naturally be inclined to give something that we think is so familiar already.  Especially since it's opening at Town Theatre in just a few days, featuring some of Columbia's top talent.

(L-R) Zanna Mills, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib, Haley Sprankle, Bryan , Kristy O'Keefe

Would you believe Hugh Jackman - yes, The Wolverine - starred as the lead, heroic Curly the cowboy,  in a London revival in 1998?  Yep, he was doing big musicals long before the film of Les Miserables. When that version transferred to Broadway in 2002, Curly was played by Patrick Wilson.  Yes, the second Nite Owl in Watchmen!  That revival was nominated for many Tony Awards; the Tonys didn't exist yet when the musical first came out in 1943, but it's a frequent nominee and winner whenever it's revived. Harry Groener was even nominated for a Tony as Will (the juvenile love interest in a subplot)  in a 1979 revival, and yes, that's the guy who later played the evil Mayor of Sunnydale on Buffy (well golly!)  so there's that.

Curly sings of the glories of O-K-L...well, you know. — with Joey Florez, Therese Talbot, Helen Hood Porth, Zanna Mills and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So why is Oklahoma! such a big deal?  The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is certainly a large part.  This was their first collaboration together, after many hits with other writing partners. How it came into being is fascinating though. The story was originally a non-musical play from 1930 called Green Grow the Lilacs, that wasn't a big hit, even though it was about settlers in Indian Territory only a few decades removed from when that was actually happening, and even though there was serious star power in the cast:  future film star Franchot Tone as Curly,  future country music star Tex Ritter (yes, father of John!) as a cowpoke, and Lee Strasberg (yes, the Method acting teacher, and Hyman Roth in Godfather II !) as a comic peddler.   Producers saw a summer stock production of Lilacs, years later, that incorporated authentic square dancing and folk music from the period/locale, and thought this might make a better musical than straight play.And boy did it.   It ran for more than five years, a  record for Broadway in those days, unbroken for twelve years, and was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize. And this was right in the middle of World War II, when there were plenty of other things on the public's mind, and not a lot of disposable income for entertainment.  The two biggest components that both critics and audiences raved about then, as now, were the way in which the songs and dances became an integral part of the story-telling process - previously musicals often just stopped the action long enough for the leads to break into song, as a chorus entered to back them up - and an unheard-of extended ballet sequence (it's part of a dream that plays out live on stage) choreographed by Agnes DeMille, one of the titans of the dance world in those days.

 People Will Say We're In Love... — with Haley Allison Sprankle and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So that's the show.  What's special about this production?  I'd say the people - lots of good folks that Jasper loves are in this one.   Frank Thompson directs - he's better known as a prolific comic actor, appearing as everyone from Captain Hook in Peter Pan to Igor in Young Frankenstein,  but he has directed shows like Chicago and A Christmas Story at the Kershaw Fine Arts Center,  Ho Ho Ho at Columbia Children's Theatre, and 9 to 5Stand By Your Man, and South Pacific at Town Theatre.  Plus he brought his Chicago cast to perform at the first even Jasper ever held at the Arcade, back in early 2012.   I had just recently met him, after reviewing him in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, and making some wisecrack about how ironic hipsters from the Whig would douse themselves in lighter fluid and look for lighters rather than sit through that show's wholesome Christmas music... and he still thought he got a good review!  Well, he did, after a fashion.  Christy Shealy Mills choreographs, and we interviewed her last spring for this blog; you can still read all about her here. Daniel Gainey is music director, and he's done outstanding work as both actor (in In the Next Room at Trustus and Legally Blonde at Workshop) and as music director for shows like Songs for a New World and Camp Rock the Musical at Workshop. Lori Stepp is costumer,  Danny Harrington is scenic designer, and we profiled  him in the July 2012 issue of Jasper - there's an expanded version of that story here.

(L-R) Sirena Dib, Kathy Hartzog, Haley Sprankle, Rob Sprankle

Then there's the cast. Heroine Laurey is played by Haley Sprankle.  Yep, one of Jasper's new interns, whose work has already appeared on this blog twice in the past week.  The first time I ever saw her on stage was in the ensemble Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; as the curtain opened, she and several other dancers were frozen in place, and her extension went up to Mars.  A few months later I wrote of her in Grease:   "She has one of the stronger voices in the cast (you can always tell where she is in group numbers) and is one of the better dancers as well. Add comic timing to that, and Sprankle is a remarkable triple threat."    Two years after that I wrote this about her performance in Biloxi Blues:  "Winsome Haley Sprankle shines as Daisy, the adorable sort of red-headed Catholic school girl that we’d all go fight Hitler for in a heartbeat."  In other words, I was a fan long before she came aboard the Jasper team.  Bryan Meyers, who was in the cast of Les Miserables (winner of the Free Times Best of Columbia award for best production) plays Curly opposite her.  Will Parker, the second lead, is played by Parker Byun, who's done good work in plenty of shows recently, including playing the lead in Tarzan the Musical last year.

 A yip-eye-oh-eee-aaay... — with Kristy O'Keefe, Bryan R Meyers, Haley Allison Sprankle, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib and Zanna Mills at Town Theatre.

 

 

Will Moreau

But wait, there's more!  Haley's father Rob Sprankle, who joins Jasper as a staff photographer in the issue that comes out in about 48 hours, plays the peddler Ali Hakim.  He's had roles ranging from the King in The King and I  to Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Opposite him (in a triangle with the Will character) as Ado Annie  is Sirena Dib, seen as Fiona in Shrek the Musical this past spring, as the lead in Cinderella at Workshop, and as Martie in Grease when Haley Sprankle was playing Frenchy, and Frank Thompson was Vince Fontaine.   She too will be joining the Jasper staff, plus we featured her in the centerfold of the November 2012 Jasper,  along with some other talented young performers.  That same issue also profiled Will Moreau, who plays Annie's father. Other principal roles include Kathy Hartzog as Aunt Eller,  Kevin Loeper as Jud Fry, and Kristy O’Keefe dancing the ballet role of Dream Laurey.

And that, parders, is why I think Oklahoma! is worth checking out. Good people, good material, and the chance to see it done live.   Oklahoma! opens this Friday, September 19 and runs through October 11;  Thursdays through Saturdays are at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $15-25 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 799- 2510. For more information, visit www.towntheatre.com.

 ~ August Krickel

 

 

 

 

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Sondheim’s “Follies” presented in concert Friday at Town Theatre (Pt. 2) - a guest blog by Charlie Goodrich

  Yvonne DeCarlo in "Follies" on Broadway

(In Part 1, Charlie Goodrich discussed his desire for years to produce Stephen Sondheim's Follies live on stage. Here he continues with the casting process.)

I now had 5 more major roles to cast among the “Present Day” characters: Roscoe, Ben, Phyllis, Vincent, and Vanessa.  Several months back, I had approached Jeremy Buzzard about being my musical director.  Buzzard, a brilliantly talented operatic singer, had appeared with me in Les Mis as the Bishop of Digne.  Jeremy enthusiastically agreed.  When it came time to find an “aging” tenor to portray Roscoe, the singer that opens the show with “Beautiful Girls,” it dawned on me that I had Jeremy already involved, and could make use of his gorgeous vocals, despite the fact that he is 40 years too young to play Roscoe.  With a little aging up though, he would be perfect, and Jeremy gladly agreed.  I was having a hard time figuring out whom to cast as the cool and sophisticated couple, Ben and Phyllis.  In my mind, I had 2 great candidates, but they are in their 30’s, not 50’s.  I finally realized, just as with casting Jeremy, that age is only a number, and looks can be adjusted to suit the part.  For Phyllis, I needed an actress that possessed poise, class, a beautiful singing voice, and strong dancing skills.  Phyllis not only taps in “Who’s That Woman,” but also has a tour de force dance solo in “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  I approached my own sister Rebecca Seezen, recently seen as Fantine in Les Mis, to take on the part, and she accepted.  For Ben, I needed an actor that is tall, attractive, and intelligent.  I worked with such an actor in Les Mis, Bryan Meyers, who I found to be all of those things, and to possess a beautiful voice.  Bryan enthusiastically took on the part, his first major lead in a theatrical production.  Awesomely enough, he found out last week that he will be starring as Curly in Town’s season opener, Oklahoma, and he joked that I was his talent scout.

Finally, I needed two ballroom dancers to play Vincent and Vanessa, and dance the beautiful “Bolero D’Amour.”  The number, which originated in the first production, has since been cut from most subsequent productions and deemed unnecessary to the plot.  I disagreed.  I find the beautiful dancing embodied by these characters to be a wonderful addition to a score made up primarily of emotional ballads.  My go-to for Vincent was Tracy Steele, who has choreographed me in several productions, and has the perfect sophistication and grace needed for the role. He also is an instructor at Columbia’s Ballroom Company.  He not only agreed to dance the role of Vincent, but to also choreograph the number. For the role of Vanessa, I thought of my friend and frequent director and costar, Jamie Carr Harrington.  I remembered Jamie stating that she enjoys dancing immensely and unfortunately does not have the chance to do so often.  She told me, “To me, dancing is fun because it is freeing.”  I agree with her 100 % and jumped on the opportunity to get her back on the dance floor.  With both of them cast, I was elated and excited to see this dance come together.   While I will touch on rehearsals and choreography in more detail in upcoming paragraphs, it is more relevant to mention the developmental process of “Bolero,” now rather than later.   I watched over a period of several Saturday mornings this summer as Tracy intricately pieced the Bolero together.  With each rehearsal, my excitement grew because this number is going to be a smash! Seeing Tracy’s choreography come to life reinforces exactly why I put this number in my production, because, as Tracy stated recently, “Dance represents a type of freedom.  It’s another language of expression used to convey emotion.  Dance is a conversation without words.”

Tracy Steele and Jamie Carr Harrington as Vincent and Vanessa

Then it came the time to cast the younger counterparts of the mentioned “Reunion Attendees.”  All of these casting choices became easy, because once again, there is an abundance of twenty-something and teenage talent in Columbia:  Richard Hahn, a local singer, would portray Young Roscoe; familiar faces from dozens of productions, Sophie Castell and William Ellis, would play Young Emily and Theodore; Erika Bryant, most noted for her portrayal of Cosette in Les Mis, agreed to play Young Solange.  Awesomely, Abigail Smith Ludwig (recently seen in Trustus’ Evil Dead: the Musical) agreed to play the younger version of her mother, Young Hattie.  Ashlyn Combs, fresh from playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid at Workshop,  would also play the younger version of her mother as Young Meredith.  She is joined in the tap dance by immensely talented teenage dancers Kimberly Porth, Zanna Mills, and Alli Reilly, who will portray Young Christine, Dee Dee, and Carlotta, respectively.  Allison Allgood (Shrek, Les Mis, and Lenny in Crimes of the Heart) will lead them as Young Stella.  Matt Wright, fresh from his performance as Donkey in Shrek and newly local ballerina Melanie Carrier, will dance the Bolero with their older counterparts as Young Vincent and Young Vanessa.  Karly Minacapelli, praised as Ellen in Miss Saigon, will beautifully accompany Mrs. Carmella Martin as Young Heidi.  Finally, Kristy O’Keefe, fresh from her performance as Tiger Lilly in Peter Pan will humorously bring to life the lyrics of “Foxtrot,” while her older counterpart sings, as Young Sandra.

Erika Bryant and Jami Steele (Young Solange and Solange) rehearse “Ah Paris” with Musical Director Jeremy Buzzard

The largest “youthful” parts however, belong to the younger versions of our four principles. Ben. Phyllis, Buddy, and Sally.  Young Ben needed the same qualities as his older counterpart, and it was easy for me to envision Anthony Chu, memorable as Bahorel and a Sailor in Les Mis, to take on the role.  Young Buddy, too, needed to be like his older counterpart, and I cast Drew Kennedy.  Drew is most noted as a local singer and guitarist, and was last seen on stage at Town in Joseph.

Drew Kennedy as Young Buddy, Andy Nyland as Buddy

For Young Sally, I fortunately got to make use of another mother daughter pair and cast Beth Allawos Olson in the part.  Beth not only resembles her mother, but perfectly brings to life the happiness and gaiety of Young Sally.  Unlike her 3 costars, Young Phyllis is the polar opposite of her older counterpart.  She is full of life, bubbly, pert, and ever hopeful.  Susie Gibbons, with whom I have worked with in Annie Get Your Gun, Les Mis, and Shrek, and who possesses a beautiful voice and amazing dance skills, was a natural choice.

Anthony Chu and Susie Gibbons                                           as  Young Ben and Young Phyllis

The last character I had to cast was neither a former Weismann performer nor a ghostly apparition, but rather a figment of Buddy’s imagination: his young mistress in Texas, Margie.  Usually in most productions of Follies, Margie is played by a member of the ensemble, and is only seen in “Buddy’s Blues.”  However, she is mentioned and addressed by Buddy in “The Right Girl.”  A great idea hit me: why not cast an actress as Margie, and have her appear out of Buddy’s imagination during the aforementioned number.  The very talented Emily Northrop agreed to portray Margie, and is sensational.

Ruth Ann Ingham and Andy Nyland as Sally and Buddy

Now that I had Follies perfectly cast, it was time to organize my plans for the production.  I made a schedule to get Jeremy working with all of the performers on their music.   Knowing how talented they all are, I knew that even Sondheim would not be too much of a challenge to their wonderful musical skills.  Dance wise, I knew that I wanted to recreate original Michael Bennett choreography/blocking for the majority of the numbers, especially in “Who’s That Woman,” and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  But could I do it myself?  My only experience choreographing to date was one number, “No Time at All,” in the Pippin segment of my Damn Sweet Pajama Cabaret.  But I decided to jump in feet first and tackle the intricate Bennett choreography.  This decision would create my biggest challenge as a director/performer to date.  Luckily, the majority of it is available on YouTube.  Watching the original cast perform these dances hundreds of times, I was able to teach myself the choreography, while perfecting it in front of the mirror in the Town Theatre Green Room.

Rebecca Seezen and Susie Gibbons as Phyllis and Young Phyllis

“The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” is a complicated, quick, but exhilarating song and dance that ultimately won Alexis Smith the Tony Award for Best Actress in 1971.  The choreography that Michael Bennett gave her to work with has been unmatched since, and to me, is the only choreography that makes the number as effective as it should be.  However, for my production, instead of having Phyllis backed by a dozen chorus dancers, I am having her backed by only 2 specifically chosen males. One of them is Young Ben, who embodies the youthful personification of her husband, and represents the reason in which Phyllis fell in love.  The other is Kevin, also played by Matt Wright, who, in the libretto, is a young waiter that Phyllis fools around with at the reunion.

Rebecca Seezen and Bryan Meyers

“Who’s That Woman,” the original showstopper in the 1971 production, is perhaps, my favorite number.  Seven former chorus girls began to tap dance, and as the number increases in intensity, the ghosts of these women appear in the background upstage dancing the same dance.  In a burst of brilliance, past meets present as the number reaches a shameless climax.  As the 14 ladies finish the dance, the lights go out, and we see the seven “present day” ladies alone on stage, the ghosts having vanished.

Bryan Meyers and Ruth Ann Ingham

I found this use of past meeting present to be simply amazing, and decided to incorporate in all the numbers that I could.  Therefore, all of the “younger” characters have solos as they perform songs and dances with their older counterparts.  This illusion is seen now not just in “Who’s That Woman?” but also “Beautiful Girls,” “The Rain on the Roof,” “Ah Paris,” “Broadway Baby,” “Bolero D’Amour,” “One More Kiss,” and “Can That Boy Foxtrot.”  While “Bolero,” and “Kiss,” traditionally have always made use of this illusion, the other mentioned numbers have not, and I am excited to bring this innovation to them.  It was important to me that each actor appearing in Follies have his or her time and talent utilized as much as possible.  By doing so, all of my performers can exhibit to the audience why they are 38 of the most talented folks in Columbia.

Ethel Barrymore Colt in the original cast of "Follies"

Now that you know the background on the show, and my reasons in casting, there is nothing else for you to do but see the show! I can assure you that this is going to be a fantastic show.  My actors have worked so hard throughout the summer to present Sondheim’s classic to the Columbia audience for the first time.  Rehearsals have come together brilliantly.

Just to recap, the numbers that you will see performed are: “Beautiful Girls,” (Roscoe and Company) “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” (Buddy, Ben, Phyllis, Sally, Young Buddy, Young Ben, Young Phyllis, Young Sally) “The Rain on the Roof,” (Emily and Theodore; Young Emily and Young Theodore) “Ah Paris,” (Solange and Young Solange) “Broadway Baby,” (Hattie and Young Hattie) “The Road You Didn’t Take,” (Ben) “Bolero D’Amour,” (Vincent, Vanessa, Young Vincent, and Young Vanessa) “In Buddy’s Eyes,” (Sally) “Who’s That Woman,” (Stella, Meredith, Christine, Dee Dee, Phyllis, Sally, Carlotta, & Their Youthful Counterparts) “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” (Sandra and Young Sandra) “I’m Still Here,” (Carlotta) “Too Many Mornings,” (Ben and Sally) “The Right Girl,” (Buddy and Margie) “One More Kiss,” (Heidi and Young Heidi) “Could I Leave You,”  (Phyllis) “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” (Young Ben and Young Phyllis) “Love Will See Us Through,” (Young Buddy and Young Sally) “Buddy’s Blues,” (Buddy, Young Sally, and Margie) “Losing My Mind,” (Sally) “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” (Phyllis, Kevin, and Young Ben) and “Live, Laugh, Love.” (Ben and Company).

The show goes up on Friday, August 15, at 8:00 PM at Town Theatre. Tickets are $10/General Admission, and are available by phone (799-2510) or at the door. Thank you for taking the time to read about a project that is of the utmost importance to me, and I look forward to seeing each and every one of you at Follies!

Selections from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Concert

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Directed by Charlie Goodrich

Musical Direction by Jeremy Buzzard

All Choreography (After Michael Bennett) by Charlie Goodrich

Except: Bolero D’ Amour Choreography by Tracy Steele

Costumes by Christy Shealy Mills

Scenic/Tech Design by Danny Harrington

Lights by Amanda Hines

Sound Design by Robert Brickner

Stage Manager: Jill Brantley

Assistant Stage Manager: Russell Castell

Dance Captain: Allison Allgood

Pianist: Susie Gibbons

Photography by Rebecca Seezen, Britt Jerome, and Charlie Goodrich

Bringing to life Stephen Sondheim’s "Follies" in concert (pt. 1) - a guest blog by Charlie Goodrich

It all started with Yvonne De Carlo.  Yes the actress, Yvonne De Carlo.  I happened to pick up a book entitled Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time one afternoon in the spring of 2009 during my final semester of grad school in the USC Russell House Bookstore.  I opened it up, looked through a few pages, and knew I had to have this book in my personal library.  That evening, I began to flip through and read about all of the various shows that the authors had designated as “The Greatest.”  When I got to the “F’s,” I noticed a rather long article about a musical simply entitled Follies.  As I read, what caught my eye immediately was that the Stephen Sondheim musical had starred Yvonne De Carlo. De Carlo was an actress that I had been a fan of for as long as I could remember, beginning in elementary school, when I would watch reruns of The Munsters on Nick At Nite. As I went through middle and high school, I became what one might call a “film buff,” and began to watch every classic movie that I could get my hands on.  I began to notice De Carlo in such films as The Ten Commandments and McLintock!  Remembering my fondness for The Munsters, I always watched any and every film I came across with her name in the credits.  Not only was De Carlo beautiful, talented, and a joy to watch perform; she had something so engaging about her, a quality that surely had a lot to do with her stardom.  It always baffled me that such a beautiful and classy lady took on a role as a Bride of Frankenstein-esque horror film housewife, but I was extremely grateful that she did.  Her approach to the role of Lily Munster was by all means brilliant.  I noticed De Carlo’s name and photo in Broadway Musicals, and began to read the article on Follies more in depth.

a page from the original Broadway Playbill

Follies, as I found, was designated by many critics, as perhaps THE greatest Broadway musical ever produced, despite the fact that it was a financial failure when originally staged in 1971.  It had a very loose script, and primarily focused on a group of former chorus girls and boys attending a reunion at the fictional Weismann Theatre, the night before its demolition.  I began to read about all of the classic show-stopping moments in the original production, including De Carlo’s marvelous rendition of the now classic Sondheim tune, “I’m Still Here.”  I had to hear one of my favorite actresses belt this number, which I read was written specially for her about her life.  Within 10 minutes, I had downloaded the Original Cast recording off ITunes and in less than 24 hours was hooked on Follies.  I began to research the show obsessively. My research was aided in part by the definitive tell-all book on the original production entitled Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies, by Ted Chapin, who worked as the Production Assistant.

The first thing about the 1971 production that I noticed had made it so great was the casting. Everyone among the cast of actors had in one way or another lived the life of the characters that he or she portrayed.  De Carlo, for example, was a former chorus girl that transitioned into movie stardom and now appears on a campy television series, just like her alter ego Carlotta Campion.  Alexis Smith had started out as a ballet-dancing chorine, who went onto a successful career in films that showcased her dramatic and sophisticated capabilities.  This career was not a far cry from the cool Phyllis, her stage counterpart, a chorine turned society woman.  Dorothy Collins, also formerly a chorine and now a warm, witty, and talented television personality, singer, and devoted mother, embodied perfectly Sally, the “everywoman housewife,” with an emotionally crippling vulnerability lurking beneath the surface.  Gene Nelson was a former tap dancing acrobatic movie star, best known for his portrayal as Will Parker in the film adaptation of Oklahoma.  Now retired from acting and dancing and primarily a director and family man, he too mirrors his character Buddy all too closely.  I could go on forever about how each original cast member WAS in fact his or her character, but to save time, I will quickly mention a few noteworthy personalities.  Fifi D’Orsay, former French Canadian chanteuse and comedienne, portrayed Solange, also a chanteuse and comedienne.  Ethel Shutta, a huge Broadway musical star from the 1920’s, played Hattie, who had the same history.  Ethel Barrymore Colt, the daughter of Ethel Barrymore, portrayed Christine, a former chorus girl.  While Colt spent the majority of her career appearing in straight plays and singing soprano arias in supper clubs, she started out as a chorine in The George White Scandals.  Finally, Helon Blount, now a seasoned character actress, portrayed Dee Dee, another former chorus girl.  Before drifting into character work, Blount had been a dancer and Off-Broadway musical star for a number of years.

I soon began thinking about the perfect actors in Columbia to portray this plethora of interesting characters.  I wanted to  direct a production of Follies with the same intricate casting as the original production.  A number of names popped into my head, and while I soon had the entire show cast in my mind, I set my plans aside for a few years.  The time didn’t seem right, and I was not sure of an available venue to direct such a show.  And I didn't feel confident in my directorial skills yet.  It was not until I went back to school to study Theatre,  finishing in 2011, that I felt ready.  I directed a production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer at USC’s Benson Theatre.  I also directed an original Bob Fosse revue that I entitled Damn Sweet Pajama Cabaret, while working professionally at The Lost Colony in the Outer Banks.  Upon returning to Columbia in the fall of 2011, I again became super-involved in local theatre.  While performing in numerous productions, Follies always remained in the back of my mind.  With each show I worked on came one or two more perfect candidates for my dream production.  Finally, in 2013, I spoke with a friend, local actor and director Frank Thompson, about the many fundraisers that he organized to benefit Town Theatre, all of which contained his original ideas.  He then encouraged me to approach Sandra Willis, Executive Director of Town, with my vision of Follies as a fundraiser that could benefit the theatre.  Fortunately, Mrs. Willis loved my idea, and we made plans for the production to occur in the summer of 2014.  Obviously mounting the entire show was too big an undertaking for a fundraiser.  However, a concert version of the major hits from the show would be perfect for August, a month between Town’s summer show and its next season opener.

It was now time to choose what numbers from Sondheim’s score I wanted in my concert, and which actors to  invite.  Being faithful to James Goldman’s original Libretto for the show, I wanted to use all original 38 characters, because I knew that there was enough talent to fill these parts in the Columbia area, and then some.  19 of these characters are the reunion attendees that I spoke of earlier, former chorus girls and boys that sang and danced enthusiastically in their youth, but were now retired for the most part.  The other half are the ghostly “young” counterparts of these characters.  Part of the brilliance of Follies is the fact that while the former Weismann performers are attending this reunion, the ghosts of their youth wander throughout the action, sometimes performing, sometimes not, but always serving as a constant reminder, a memento mori if you will, of the natural human occurrence of aging and decay.  These youths physically embody the major metaphor of the show: “all things beautiful must die,” a line from “One More Kiss.”  The innocent rapture of our youth gradually gives way to the harsh and abrasive reality of adult life. Marriages careers, families, etc are never what we envisioned them to be.  Using this brilliant dichotomy, Goldman and Sondheim fashion a show that reflects upon the decay of our society as a whole, particularly in post-World War America.

Clockwise from top: Bryan Meyers as Ben, Melanie Carrier as the Ghostly Showgirl Young Vanessa, Andy Nyland as Buddy, Kathy Hartzog as Carlotta, Ruth Ann Ingham as Sally, and Rebecca Seezen as Phyllis.

When casting the “reunion attendees,” I needed 19 local actors of a certain age that had been doing theatre for a number of years and seemed to embody their characters as well as the original Broadway cast members did. The first part I cast was easy, Ruth Ann Ingham as Sally Durant Plummer.  Ruth Ann has been my music teacher, vocal coach, and friend for going on twenty years now.  I could not wait to hear her beautiful operatic voice tackle the classic Sondheim ballad, “Losing Mind.”  Then I asked Andy Nyland, an expressive and talented singer and actor with whom I had appeared in 6 productions to play Sally’s husband Buddy.  Andy has the perfect voice for the part and agreed to join the project. Next, it was extremely simple to cast Kathy Hartzog as Carlotta.  Kathy has been entertaining audiences in Columbia theatres for many years with her impeccable comedic timing and warm personality.  “I’m Still Here,” would be a piece of cake for her.  The rest of the soloist casting began to happen even more quickly:  Nancy Ann Smith to sing “Broadway Baby,” as the wry and witty Hattie; Jami Steele to portray the fabulous Solange and sing “Ah Paris;” Frank Thompson and Shannon Willis Scruggs to portray the fun and adorable vaudevillian couple, Emily and Theodore Whitman, and sing “The Rain on the Roof;”  and Will Moreau to play the humorous former director Dmitri Weismann.   All of these actors are staples at Town Theatre, and the audience will recognize each of them from the numerous memorable roles that they have created over the last twenty years.

I then enlisted Christy Shealy Mills to portray Stella Deems, a former tap soloist and ensemble leader in the former Weismann showstopper, “Who’s That Woman,” which Stella and her friends recreate at the reunion.  Stella is backed up by 6 former chorine tappers in the number, including Sally, Carlotta, and the yet to be cast Phyllis.  The other female characters in the number are: Meredith, the youngest former Weismann Girl; Christine, the former leader of the parade of beautiful girls in the follies opening numbers; and Dee Dee, a serious and confidant former chorine.  I easily found 3 women that could tap dance and bring to life these ladies: Becky Lucas Combs, who I had grown up with, to play Meredith; my cousin and frequent costar Agnes Babb as Christine; and my friend and co-performer Robin Blume as Dee Dee.

Agnes Babb and Christy Shealy Mills

I still had a few more roles to cast.  I also decided to expand upon the role of Sandra, who in the original production was a swing understudy, portrayed by the retired Russian ballerina and pin-up girl Sonja Levkova.  I cast a highly talented actress that I had worked with in Elvis Has Left the Building and Les Mis, Resi Talbot, who was relatively new to Columbia theatre, in this role.  I also chose a song that was cut from the original production for Resi to perform: the hilariously smart “Can That Boy Foxtrot.”  “Foxtrot” was intended as Yvonne De Carlo’s big moment, but when the actress couldn’t make the largely euphemistic lyrics work, it was cut and replaced with “I’m Still Here.” The song has become a cult classic over the years, and was included in the Sondheim Revue, Side by Side by Sondheim.  Knowing Resi had the comic timing necessary, I gladly offered her the chance to sing it, and she took me up on my offer.

follies4

I also needed to cast the role of Heidi Schiller; an 80-year-old retired opera singer, and the oldest attendee at the Weismann Reunion.  I approached Mrs. Carmella Tronco Martin, the retired owner of Villa Tronco (also my place of employment.)  Mrs. Martin is the daughter of the late Sadie Tronco, who founded the restaurant in 1940.  In her 80s, Mrs. Martin is just as sharp and witty as ever, and at first nervously dismissed my offer, stating, “I can’t sing.”  What Mrs. Martin didn’t know was that I had heard her sing karaoke at an event I helped the restaurant cater a few years back, and knew that she possesses a lovely voice.  When I informed her that she would share the stage with the “ghost” of her younger self, she seemed more confident, and agreed to make her stage debut at the age of 89 (!!) in Follies.  I was delighted, because it is a rare in a production of the show, including even the 1971 production, to have an actress actually in her 80’s play the part.

Coming up in Part 2:  more casting challenges!

Selections from Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" in Concert  goes up on Friday, August 15, at 8:00 PM at Town Theatre. Tickets are $10/General Admission, and are available by phone (799-2510) or at the door.

 

Selections from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Concert

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Directed by Charlie Goodrich

Musical Direction by Jeremy Buzzard

All Choreography (after Michael Bennett) by Charlie Goodrich

Except: Bolero D’ Amour Choreography by Tracy Steele

Costumes by Christy Shealy Mills

Scenic/Tech Design by Danny Harrington

Lights by Amanda Hines

Sound Design by Robert Brickner

Stage Manager: Jill Brantley

Assistant Stage Manager: Russell Castell

Dance Captain: Allison Allgood

Pianist: Susie Gibbons

Photography by Rebecca Seezen, Britt Jerome, and Charlie Goodrich

"9 to 5" opens at Village Square Theatre in Lexington; "Elvis Has Left the Building" opens at Town Theatre

The new year is upon us, and that means theatre is coming alive everywhere.  Love, Loss, and What I Wore continues its sold-out run at Trustus Theatre (but you can read the Jasper review here) while Workshop Theatre continues with Crimes of the Heart (you can read What Jasper Said about it here.)  Town Theatre and the Lexington County Arts Association are opening news shows this weekend - some advance press material is below!

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The Lexington County Arts Association  will be pulling back the curtain of the corporate world this January at the Village Square Theatre.  Pushed to the boiling points by their boss, three female co-workers concoct a plan to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss.  They conspire to take control of their company and learn there’s nothing they can’t do — even in a man’s world.  Set in the late 1970s, 9 to 5 - The Musical is a hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era. Outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic, 9 to 5 - The Musical is about teaming up and taking care of business.   The production is brought to the stage by the team of director Brandi Owensby and musical director John Norris. The talented cast features a quirky ensemble, a hodgepodge of comedic supporting characters, and Susie Gibbons as Doralee, Janice Holbrook as Violet (Debb Adams, understudy, shown in the press photo), Harrison Ayer as Franklin Hart, and newcomer Rachel Rizzuti as Judy.  The show is a crowd-pleasing hilarious romp about teaming up, getting credit and getting even with the boss. And who hasn't mused about that?
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9 to 5 - The Musical, with music by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, is based on the 1980 hit movie Nine to Five. The show will be opening at Village Square Theatre beginning on Friday, January 17 and running two weeks through Sunday, January 26. There will be three performances each weekend (Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.). Parental guidance suggested (adult content, language). Ticket  prices are $19.00 for adults and $15.00 for children and can be purchased at www.villagesquaretheatre.com or by calling the box office at 803-359-1436. Village Square Theatre is located in Lexington just off highway 378 at 105 Caughman Road (behind Bojangle’s and Firestone Auto Care).

Elvis_Town_2 Meanwhile, across the river over at Town Theatre,  it’s 1970, and Elvis Presley is missing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, needs his star for an extremely important live performance. (You see, he owes a certain mobster a bit of money). Oh, and the show is in 24 hours. When the search for the real Elvis proves fruitless, he looks for the next best thing -- an Elvis impersonator, but where can he find one that he can pass off as the real Elvis? What has the real Elvis been up to anyway? The answers to these questions, and much more, will be revealed as Town’s version of this hilarious comedy unfolds.

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Andy Nyland (9 to 5) recreates the manipulative Colonel Parker with Therese “Resi” Talbot (Les Miserables) as Trudy, his long-suffering secretary. Charlie Goodrich (The Foreigner) and Chip Collins (Annie) take the parts of Roscoe and Candy. We simply cannot tell you what they do – you’ll just have to see it to believe it! Last but not least is Mary Miles (Miss Saigon), the saucy and fearless news reporter who simply will not take “no” for an answer. The play by mother and son team, Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate, is actually based on a true event in the life of Elvis Presley. Aside from that fact, the story you are about to see is totally fictitious (at least as far as we know!). You’ll want to check out our playbill for the background. You will be amazed! So come, laugh and have a good time with this bit of “folklore” surrounding the life of The King of Rock and Roll. This riotously funny story will have you wanting more and keep you guessing until the end. Elvis Has Left the Building runs Jan 17 - Feb 1; curtain Wed.-Sat. is at 8 pm, with Sundays at 3 pmAdults - $20; Seniors over 65/active duty military/full-time college - $17; Youth 17 and younger $15.  Box office: 803-799-2510, or visit www.towntheatre.com.

Confessions of a Good Man Opens at Harbison, Tarzan + Doctor Dolittle Continue at Town and Workshop

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Walking on Water (WOW) Productions playwrights Tangie Beaty and Donna Johnson have teamed up with author Kevin A. Rasberry to present their brand new production, Confessions of a Good Man.  The show is a prelude of sorts to Rasberry’s book, Evolution of a Good Man, which will be released in 2013 as well. WOW will be returning to the Harbison Theater at Midlands Technical College to bring this show to life for FOUR  nights only! Run  dates are Thursday July 25 - Sunday July 28, and tickets range in price from $20 - $30 (with group rates available.)

Confessions of a Good Man is an inspirational stage play that gives a glance into the mind and struggles of one man. The production tells the tale of three brothers who grew up in the same household, but ended up with three vastly different lives. Each of the brothers takes his own path to try and become like their father, the epitome of a good man. Although the goal seems to elude them all, each of their paths lead to the same place...home. Family secrets, lies and love both bind this family together and keeps them bound. Will a confession free or destroy them?

National Gospel recording artist Blanche McAllister-Dykes, a South Carolina native, will join cast members Kayla Baker, Dana Bufford, Deon Generette, Rod Lorick, Regina Skeeters, and Will Young, IV.   WOW Productions' mission is to inspire, educate, encourage and empower artists and audiences to make communities more conscious and compassionate places. WOW believes in utilizing local and upcoming artists who also share the desire to utilize the performing arts in making a difference in not only their surrounding communities, but nationwide.  For more information about WOW Productions and Confessions of a Good Man please visit www.wowproduction.org or call 803.807.2969.

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Town Theatre meanwhile continues its run of Tarzan the Stage Musical, based on the animated Disney film, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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Tarzan’s adventure begins when a shipwreck leaves him orphaned on the shores of West Africa. This helpless baby is taken under the protection of a gorilla tribe and becomes part of their family. Growing into a great hunter and leader, Tarzan is much-loved by his ape mother, Kala, but yearns for acceptance from his ape father, Kerchak. When he eventually encounters his first human – Jane Porter, a curious young explorer – both of their worlds are transformed forever. Despite challenges, foes and differences, Jane and Tarzan find that together they can overcome all odds. This unlikely love story, full of adventure and songs by Grammy winner and rock icon Phil Collins promises touch your heart, while thrilling you as Tarzan literally swings over the heads of the audience and onto the stage.

Alternating in the role of Young Tarzan is Luke Melnyk (The Music Man) and Jadon Stanek (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) with newcomer Liberty Broussard and Caroline Quinn (Annie) alternating as Young Terk. Parker Byun (Miss Saigon, The Music Man) plays the grown Tarzan, with Town newcomer Celeste Morris as his leading lady, Jane Porter. The influence of parental guidance pervades the show in ape form with Kala, portrayed by Laurel Posey (Guys & Dolls) and Kerchak, taken by Scott Stepp (Annie Get Your Gun, The Odd Couple), and in human form with Professor Porter, played by Frank Thompson (White Christmas, Harvey). And what is a Disney tale without a scoundrel or two? Creating strife from the-get go is Kristy O’Keefe (Joseph…) as the leopard and Chad Forrister (The 39 Steps) as the conniving Clayton, a nefarious hunter. On the opposite end of the mischief spectrum is the feisty adult Terk played by Jackie Rowe (Peter Pan.)

Photo by David Barber. — with Parker Byun and Celeste Morris.

Director/Choreographer for this production is Shannon Willis Scruggs; the Scenic Designer/Technical Director is Danny Harrington; and the Costumer is Lori Stepp. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Tarzan come to life on Town's stage, with only four shows remaining: Thursday July 25- Sunday, July 28. Curtain is at 7:30 pm, and 3 pm on the fimal Sunday matinee. Tickets are $15-25. Call the box office at 803-799-2510, or for more information visit www.towntheatre.com.

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Workshop Theatre meanwhile continues its production of the family-friendly musical Doctor Dolittle , with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, and based on the classic film.  This is a tale about the adventures of a doctor who learns to speak to animals, and who takes a journey from the small English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh to the far corners of the world. In the beginning, Doctor Dolittle is wrongly accused of murder and the animals and his friends rally together to prove his innocence. Once Dolittle is pronounced innocent, he continues with his search for the Great Pink Sea Snail -- the oldest and wisest of the creatures on earth. This is the classic tale of kindness to animals based on the stories of Hugh Lofting.

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Lee O. Smith (Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka) plays Doctor Dolittle, the wacky, but kind doctor who can talk to animals. He is joined by Kate Huggins (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) as Emma, Hans Boeschen (Legally Blonde the Musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) as Matthew Mugg, Liza Hunter (Disney Camp Rock) and Marra Edwards (The Color Purple, Disney Camp Rock) as Polynesia, Doctor Dolittle's parrot, and Workshop newcomer Ben Connelly as Tommy. along with a host of youth actors.

E.G. Heard Engle (Disney's Camp Rock, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) directs a talented cast of veteran actors and up-and-coming youth. Music director Daniel Gainey (Disney's Camp Rock, Songs for a New World) helps create a harmonious sound, and choreographer Katie Hilliger (Disney's Camp Rock, Hairspray) brings her energetic style to the dances.  For ticket information, call the box office at 803-799-6551 from noon to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com.  Only three performances remain:  Thursday July 25 - Saturday. July 27.

You can read reviews by August Krickel for both Tarzan the Stage Musical and Doctor Dolittle at Onstage Columbia.

 

 

Midlands Theatres Announce New Seasons!

Dueling Shreks.  Dueling Les Miserables. Dueling Clybourne Parks, dueling Hamlets ...well, I guess technically any production of Hamlet is a dueling Hamlet.  Neil Simon and Anthony Shaffer. Tom Stoppard and John Guare. Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline. Dracula and Frankenstein, Ash and Elvis.  Revivals of classics, and brand-new shows direct from Broadway. Looks like there is something for everyone in the next year! I'm not sure that Jasper has ever broken any news before, but to my knowledge, this is the first report from last week's "One Last Hurrah" celebration at the Art Bar, the culmination of One Month, One Columbia. Representatives from many of the area's theatres announced their seasons for 2013-2014.  A few were not able to make it, and I've lifted some titles and dates from their websites.  Others do a calendar year format rather than a "school year," so in those cases I've listed what info is available.

The-Comedy-and-Tragedy-Masks

First Disclaimer: I have not included commercial venues (like the Township, the Koger Center, etc.) that book productions, but they have some great shows coming up too.  Nor have I included one-time shows, high school shows (however excellent they may be), church and religion-based events, dance and music productions, etc.  I'm all in favor of those too, but this is about local community and professional theatres.

Second Disclaimer: theatre seasons often change, so this is in no way a definitive or comprehensive listing.  Look for something in a future print issue of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts for details and more specific dates and information.

Third Disclaimer: the event was held at the Art Bar, so my memory may not be perfect.  If there's anything significant that I have listed incorrectly, drop me a note at akrickel@jaspercolumbia.com .

That said, in no particular order, we have the following shows to look forward to!

Town Theatre

Les Miserables - September

The Foreigner - late fall

Elvis Has Left the Building - January

Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story - March

Shrek: The Musical - May

..........

High Voltage Theatre

Dracula (a new stage version by Chris Cook, developed in collaboration with Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram Stoker) at the West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater - October 10-13, 17-20, 24-27, 30-31

classic thriller at Tapp's Art Center (details tba) - February

classic thriller at West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater (details tba) - Spring

..........

USC's Theatre South Carolina

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard - Sept. 27 - Oct. 5 at Drayton Hall

The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov - Nov. 15-23 at Longstreet Theatre

The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow - Feb. 21 -  March 1 - Longstreet Theatre

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (OK, like you didn't know that) - April 18-26 - venue tba

plus a full season of black box shows (details tba)

hamlet

Stage 5 Theatre

Hamlet - September

Lombardi - November

Special Holiday Event - December

Clybourne Park – April

..........

Lexington Arts Association (at the Village Square Theatre)

Shrek: The Musical - September 20 - October 6

Steel Magnolias - November 1 - November 10

Always…Patsy Cline - December 6 - December 15 (non-season show)

9 to 5: The Musical - January 17 – January 26

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka JR. - March 7 - March 23

a musical revue (details tba) - May 9 - May 18

..........

Workshop Theatre

Beehive - September

Sleuth - late fall

Crimes of the Heart - January

Biloxi Blues - March

Young Frankenstein - May (including Frau ....BLUCHER!)

..........

Theatre Rowe

Murder Ahoy! - June 27 - July 28

Over the River and Through the Woods - August 16-17, 23-25

The Altos (tentative) - September 20-22, 27-29

Little Shop of Horrors - October 18-19, 25-26, 31

tragedy-and-comedy

Chapin Theatre Company

How to Eat Like A Child (based on the book by Delia Ephron) - Aug. 2-4 at the Old Chapin Firehouse / American Legion Building

Unnecessary Farce, by Paul Slade Smith -  Sept. 19-22, 26-28 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College

..........

South Carolina Shakespeare Company

Hamlet - Oct. 16 - 26

Les Miserables - Apr. 16 - May 3

..........

On Stage Productions

An Evening of One-Acts - September

Yes, Virginia - The Musical - December

Second Samuel - February

Hey G - April

..........An Evening of One Acts -  September - 

Columbia Children's Theatre

The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley - September

Ho Ho Ho! - November/December

Puss In Boots (a new comic version by CCT's Jerry Stevenson) - February

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fair(l)y (Stoopid) Tales - April

The Commedia Snow White - June

..........

Trustus Theatre

Thigpen Main Stage:

Ragtime - September

Venus in Fur - November

A Christmas Carol - December

Clybourne Park - January-February

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, by Tom Stoppard, with music by Andre Previn; featuring the SC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Morohiko Nakahara - Feb.-March

See Rock City and Other Destinations - spring

The House of Blue Leaves - May

Evil Dead: The Musical - summer - groovy.

Winner of the Playwrights' Festival - August

Side Door Theatre

Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche (returning from its sold-out run in January) - Fall

El Diario De un Psiquiatra (A Psychiatrist's Diary) - a world premiere by Julia Vargas, presented in Spanish by La Tropa - November

Love, Lost and What I Wore, by Delia Ephron - January

a NiA Company show - Spring

Off-Off-Lady Series

The Adding Machine (pending rights) April 24-May 4 - venue tba

In the Red and Brown Water - June - at the Harbison Theatre

..........

WOW (Walking on Water) Productions

Confessions of a Good Man - a new play by local authors Tangie Beaty, Donna Johnson, and Kevin A. Rasberry - July 25-28 at the Harbison Theatre

other original works in 2013-14 - TBA

..........

If you didn't notice, including the groups collaborating in the Side Door, that's 15 different theatre groups!  In little bitty Columbia, SC - who knew?  Well, you probably did, since as I'm saying more and more these days... Columbia has always been a theatre town.  Look for details on all of the above in coming months here, and in print issues of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts. And many thanks to Larry Hembree and Debora Lloyd, the co-chairs for Theatre for OneColumbia, for organizing and facilitating One Last Hurrah!

~ August Krickel

 

Memorable Theatre Moments from 2012 - August Krickel's picks

This time last year, on a lark, I put together a stream-of-consciousness recollection of some things I had enjoyed on stage over the preceding year.  Would you believe - we set a new record for site visits with that blog post!  Sure, sure, the site and blog were still young, and most of it was folks logging in to see if they were mentioned or not, but still, it showed everyone involved that there is significant interest in theatre among the greater Columbia arts community.  As I wrote at the time, "theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done."  This year I have been fortunate to see most of the shows at the main theatres in downtown Columbia:  7 of 8 done on the Thigpen Mainstage (plus a late-night show) at Trustus, 3 of the 5 done at the Trustus Side Door, 5 of 6 at both Town and Workshop, plus a couple at Columbia Children's Theatre.  That's 23 freakin' shows, which sadly means that I didn't have time to see any at the many excellent theatres and venues on campuses and in the suburbs.  So with that disclaimer, I give you the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2012: - the opening image as the curtain rose in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre, with dancers frozen in exotic poses. In particular, Haley Sprankle, Grace Fanning and Becky Combs were draped over their partners with extension that went from here to the moon, and it perfectly captured the look and feel of the carefree and free-spirited Riviera setting.

- Doug Gleason in Scoundrels, goofing and camping it up shamelessly, then breaking into song with the voice of an angel, not a buffoon.  In my review, I wrote that he reminded me of the young Bill Canaday, a gifted comic actor now happily retired from the state and (at least temporarily) the stage. Several people mentioned to the real Bill that they saw his name in a theatre review, and he laughed and later told me that this was like the actor's nightmare - was he supposed to have been in a show somewhere?  Did he miss his entrance?

- Elizabeth Stepp as a huffy, haughty insect, miffed over being shooed away in Pinkalicious at Columbia Children's Theatre.  Lindsay Brasington, vamping and cooing for the press as she imagined being the first doctor to diagnose acute "pinkititis." George Dinsmore, dramatically confessing to his wife after all these years, his dark secret that he too secretly had a fondness...for the color ....pink.  (At which point Sumner Bender leaned over and whispered to me "But they named their daughter ... Pinkalicious?"

- Shelby Sessler's tour-de-force as three separate and distinct characters in Alfred

Hitchcock’s 39 Steps at Town.  Only a couple of weeks after portraying the titular tyke in Pinkalicious above,  she played a va-va-voomish German femme fatale,  a forlorn Scottish farm wife, and a proper yet spunky yet romantic British lady. As the German she somehow managed to not only play dead, but to feign rigor mortis, stretched out over an armchair... I still don't know how she managed it.  As the lady, she and her castmates mimed all the effects to convey a train speeding down the tracks.... and if you looked down, very subtly her hand was fanning the hem of her skirt back and forth to add the effect of wind.  Not surprisingly, she was one of three finalists for Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year, and organized the entertainment for the November issue release party at City Art.

 

 

- Avery Bateman and Kanika Moore playing multiple roles in Passing Strange at Trustus.  Bateman cracked me up as a materialistic princess-type whose life with hero Mario McClean was pre-planned within about 5 seconds; then she and Moore turn up as Dutch girls, then Germans. "Have a conversation vit' ze hand," Moore declares, almost getting American slang right. Even music director Tom Beard got a line in on stage, rising in outrage, when the cynical German nihilist characters dismiss the punk movement as commercialism, to protest "What about The Clash, man???"    Also loved the vivid colors that symbolized the free-spirited European setting of Passing Strange, provided via original paintings from ten local artists, and director Chad Henderson's always-moving, never-a-dull-moment, no-one-wasted-on-stage  blocking.  (And sure enough, Henderson was voted Theatre Artist of the Year by Jasper readers!)

- Randy Strange's lush, opulent, plantation-interior set for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Workshop Theatre. There was something to take everyone's breath away in this classic show, from Jason Stokes in a towel, to E.G. Heard (and on alternating nights, Samantha Elkins) in a negligee. Ironically, the beautiful and talented Heard teaches theatre at my old high school, while the equally lovely and gifted Elkins teaches drama at the one I was zoned for. I seem to recall my old theatre teacher was nicknamed "Sasquatch" - my how times have changed!

- G. Scott Wild utilizing the teeny Side Door Theatre space at Trustus more efficiently and realistically than I had ever seen before, with his set design for A Behanding in Spokane. The entire show takes place in a hotel room, and Wild wisely used every single

inch of available space, including the main entrance into the theatre as the room's only door, complete with deadbolt and peephole.  And Wild himself, perfectly capturing a world-weary, frustrated (possible) serial killer, then seamlessly segueing into the character's actual nature: a world-weary, frustrated, hen-pecked nebbish.  When you meet him, you realize Wild is quite young, but with little make-up and primarily mannerisms, he effectively embodied a character 20+ years older than he. Christopher Walken played this role in New York, but I somehow suspect that Walken played Walken, while Wild embodied and fleshed out the character.

- Also, in Spokane, Elisabeth Smith Baker embraced a challenging character role.   In my review, I wrote that she somehow managed "to be pathetic and sympathetic, winsome and adorable in a skanky sort of way, vulnerable, crafty and resourceful, yet sometimes just dumb as a post. She has some nice moments of physical comedy that would make Lucille Ball proud.   At one point she makes a quite logical decision to try to charm her way out of a life and death situation, yet her effort is so obviously contrived that only an idiot would fall for it... and of course, one does."

- Sumner Bender and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, both getting a chance to sink their teeth substantial roles in In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Trustus.  Color-blind casting is always a tricky challenge, and Bender and her infant's wet nurse need to be white and black respectively, because of specifics in the script, but Rodillo-Fowler played another society lady, and peer to Bender.  Was she perhaps the mixed-heritage daughter of a prominent admiral or missionary? Could she have simply been adopted, and raised in starchy whitebread Victorian society?  Or was she (as my spirit-guide Dr. Moreau suggested) a Native American? Most importantly, it didn't matter.

- Vibrator also featured the return of Steve Harley, not seen enough on local stages in recent years. I got some mileage out of this line of his:  "Hysteria is very rare in men, but then he is an artist.” The artist referenced was played by Daniel Gainey, one of a number of gifted young actors who seemingly came out of nowhere to captivate local audiences. (See Wild and Gleeson above, and Andy Bell below; with Gainey, "nowhere" was actually many roles in opera and operatic musical theatre.)

- Speaking of Gleeson, he played a vastly different type in Andrew Lippa's Wild Party at Workshop, still a clown, but a scary one. The extreme physicality of some of the choreography was impressive, as were his scenes with Giulia Marie Dalbec (his leading lady in Scoundrels above, but more on her in a moment.) Also in the cast as part of the ensemble was Grace Fanning, as an underage party girl in the Roaring 20's. At one point the lyrics describe each "type" as they enter: a dancer, a producer, a madam, a boxer, and.... as Fanning sashays in, anticipating something like "a flapper," "a beauty," "a vamp" .... all she gets is: "a minor." The look of shock and outrage on her face was priceless, a combo of "I'm busted!" and "Is that all I get?"

- the strong supporting cast in Grease at Town, finally getting to sing all their best songs. The film version cut out a lot of the 50's do-wop homages, and focused on Sandy and Danny.  Here, Sirena Dib got to break hearts with "Freddy My Lo-ove," and Patrick

Dodds (still sporting his high hair from Spring Awakening) not only got a chance to smile on stage, but rocked out with "Those Magic Changes," two of my favorite songs of all time. Hunter Bolton reclaimed Kenickie's "Greased Lightning" (complete with the original lyrics describing exactly what sort of wagon it is) while Jenny Morse and Mark Zeigler beautifully harmonized in "Mooning," a song I had forgotten entirely. Leandra Ellis-Gaston got to drop the (Italian) F-bomb on Town Theatre's stage (it's just the seemingly meaningless "fangu," but it means the same thing) and was another example of how color-blind casting rarely hurts

anything.  Sure, the script calls for Rizzo to be Italian, but who's to say her dad wasn't progressive, and married an African-American?  Dodds also got some incredible moments of physical comedy with Haley Sprankle, as he tries to match her, move for move, at the prom.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Stepp, a gifted comedienne, literally throwing herself into each scene with abandon, as a beautiful Cinderella (at Columbia Children's Theatre) who still managed to get plenty of laughs.

 

 

 

 

- Gerald Floyd's increasing frustration with life after death in Almost An Evening (at the Trustus Side Door) navigating obstacles that ran from a maddeningly matter-of-fact receptionist (Vicky Saye Henderson, another Theatre Artist of the Year finalist) to a smooth-talking, winking bureaucrat (Jason Stokes.) Followed by his sympathetic portrayal of a grieving Texas father, in his scene with Kendrick Marion, playing against type as a stuffy, repressed government operative.

- the graphic puppet sex and nudity in Avenue Q at Trustus. And Kevin Bush hastily inventing his girlfriend Alberta...from ...um... Vancouver...in Canada.  And Katie Leitner voicing and manipulating two very different-sounding characters, Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, with the aid of Elisabeth Smith Baker, who voiced plenty of others too, including one of the Bad Idea Bears. "Important day at work tomorrow?  Let's do some shots!"

 

- the commitment by director Shannon Willis Scruggs and costumer Lori Stepp to go all the way into the absurd in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Town.  The musical numbers are pastiches of various styles (country, rockabilly, calypso, etc.) and here, almost like a live cartoon, the cast morphed quickly into Frenchmen with berets, cheerleaders with pom-poms, you name it. Frank Thompson as the King, baby, i.e. an Elvis-style Pharaoh, was particularly amusing.  James Harley noted in his review that "some of the show’s best energy comes from deep within the ensemble, Charlie Goodrich leading the way with 100% commitment to every movement he makes on stage."  There were dozens of people on stage at any given time, so I made a point to look for Goodrich within each number, and sure enough, whether or not he had any lines, he was always the best at reacting appropriately to whatever was going on.  And conceiving the "hairy Midianites" as members of ZZ Top was just inspired.

- Katie Foshee, who has enlivened the ensembles of about a hundred musicals in recent years, stepping into (and owning) the lead role in Camp Rock - The Musical at Workshop.  Avery Herndon and Alex Webster too were adorable as they as they succumbed to puppy-love-at-first sight, and Kathryn Reddic made a great mean girl.  From her bio, Reddic would have had Linda Khoury for drama in high school, meaning that she is well-versed in Shakespeare, and as a current English major at Vanderbilt she is surely immersed in Shelley and Keats, Joyce and Yeats, Chekhov and Strindberg, yet she rocked out like Beyonce in some complex hip-hop dance numbers.  Commodore girls represent, y'all.

- James Harley back on stage in Palace of the Moorish Kings at Trustus, under-playing a complex character who wasn't given a lot of lines or movement. Silence can sometimes speak volumes, and Harley had some great moments where he started to say something... then words failed him, and the point was nevertheless made.  But he did get a few memorable lines as a member of the "greatest generation," who never felt entirely comfortable as being seen as a hero, since he never killed anyone, never did anything heroic, and only served after being drafted.

- Elisabeth Smith Baker (yet again!) so sweet and natural in Next to Normal at Trustus.  And the show's big "reveal," which fooled me entirely, even though I more or less was familiar with the plot.  Andy Bell made a great transition from musician to actor/singer on stage, and the entire cast distinguished themselves as professionally as if they were the original cast on Broadway. The set too (by Danny Harrington, with input from Chad Henderson) showed how even the big-name New York shows are going for simple, stylized, low-cost sets these days, which often work better than trying to achieve realism.

- Giulia Marie Dalbec dominating the year with not one but four bravura performances.  While she has played countless roles as vixens, ingénues, or someone'sgirlfriend or daughter, Dalbec made her mark as a name-brand lead in Scoundrels and Wild Party (above) and as Elle in Legally Blonde at Workshop. The word that immediately comes to mind to describe her on stage now is "confident" - and with that confidence, she bravely took on the role of the meek Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (also at Workshop) and nailed that one too.  Half the time Honey was drunk, or passed out, or ignored by everyone else, but Dalbec was always engaged in believable action and movements, however subtle.

 

- Robert Michalski's swaggering cameo as a UPS delivery guy in Blonde; I don't think I've ever seen a performer simply walk across a stage and then through the audience and get such a big laugh.  As I wrote at the time, he definitely had a package, and was determined to deliver it.

- Elena Martinez-Vidal's characterization (complete with New England accent) of Martha (in Virginia Woolf) as an aging Snookie, the college president's scandalous daughter who bluffs her way through academia via booze, sex, humor and bravado.

- Paul Kaufmann playing 35 different characters in I Am My Own Wife at the Trustus Side Door. Clad for most of the time in a dress!  The main figure was an East German "tranny granny" who may or may not have been a pioneering cultural historian, a murderer, an informer for the secret police, and/or a courageous activist and supporter of the oppressed gay community in Berlin.  After a while you got used to most of the various German and American "voices" ...and out of the blue, he's also a crisp Anglo-Indian reporter called Pradeep Gupta, with the perfect, smooth, musical lilt to his voice that you'd expect.  And this was a week after playing the male lead in Next to Normal !

 

 

- the striking, sunset-hued panels that comprised most of the set for Next Fall at Trustus. And the banter between G. Scott Wild and Jason Stokes (both yet again!) as mismatched lovebirds who just happen to be guys.  And the odd (but probably fairly common) paradox of fundamentalist Christian characters as they try to rationalize their own "sinful" lifestyle, especially as detailed by Bobby Bloom.

- Abigail Smith Ludwig, conveying the flowing, soft, lyrical beauty of German syllables and consonants in a  disgruntled rendition of "O Tannenbaum" in Winter Wonderettes at Town. And Alexa Cotran, yet another remarkable discovery, a very young performer who matched her older castmates note for note, scene for scene. Cotran bears a striking resemblance to my first grade teacher, who had that exact same huge 1960's hairdo, perfectly coiffed here by Cherelle Guyton, who was responsible for most of the good-looking hair in the shows mentioned above.

- the wonderful cast of [title of show] at Trustus in just about every moment on stage. Laurel Posey recounting her recurring lead role as "corporate whore," and Robin Gottlieb segueing from a cute number on secondary characters into Aerosmith were especially funny, but somehow the genuine moments in this little show touched me as few usually do.  "Who says four chairs and a keyboard can’t make a musical?  We’re enough with only that keyboard - we’re okay with only four chairs. We’ll be fine with only four chairs - we’ll rock hard with only four chairs!"  That sort of do-it-yourself mentality and optimism can be applied to so many things in life, as can their conclusion that it's better to be "nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."  Score one vote for the rice crispy treats, as this was far and away my favorite show of the year.

- the actual do-it-yourself production of Plan 9 from Outer Space - Live and Undead 2.0 presented at Trustus, but essentially cobbled together on a shoe-string six months earlier at Tapp's Art Center.  Thanks to enlisting the aid of some of Columbia's finest actors, the show almost became a real play, even though the basic idea was to do a tongue-in-cheek spoof of what many feel is the worst movie ever made. So many of the cast were inspired in their campy re-imagining of the film's original dialogue, including Jennifer Mae Hill as a sexy stewardess (Hill was a gifted actress at Trustus, Chapin, and elsewhere long before she got into doll-making) and Chad Forrister as the stolid hero. Forrister was also the hero of 39 Steps above, and has perfected the mock-heroic, ever-so-slightly-exaggerated tone required by these spoofs.  Victoria Wilson was beautiful as an evil alien, but used a

rich, serious, Shakespearean voice that reminded you of Judith Anderson or Maggie Smith. Some of Forrister's best moments came with Catherine Hunsinger, playing the soon-to-be-abducted heroine.  There's an exercise in acting classes called "give and take," where two actors alternate allowing each other to take focus and dominate a scene. Hunsinger could have gotten some laughs as a stereotypical 1950's housewife, and given some to Forrister; instead, she wisely chose to downplay her performance, setting him up for vastly bigger laughs than either would have gotten separately.  As I wrote in the review, "Another example of her generosity on stage comes when the zombie-fied Scott Means attacks her; she swoons melodramatically...but at the same time, falls over the actor's shoulder in a perfectly-timed movement, allowing him to lift her easily, with as much grace as two ballet dancers.  Well, or pro wrestlers."

Hunsinger is a fearless performer, taking an emotionally demanding role in Spring Awakening the year before as the (semi-compliant) victim of a disturbing rape/seduction by the show's protagonist, yet somehow she managed to allow him to still seem deserving of the audience's sympathy. And then she tackled the Olivia Newton-John role in Grease (above) which is surely a daunting vocal challenge for the most talented of singers, but she filled Sandy's saddle oxfords with ease.  That incredible voice had its biggest test in Plan 9, as Hunsinger's character was pursued across stage and into the house by zombies.  The

original villains' make-up from the film was absurd enough, and here it was made even campier, yet Hunsinger chose to play the entire scene straight. As Chris Bickel cued some vintage movie chase-scene music and Hunsinger gamely screamed her head off, just for a moment I was no longer at Trustus.  Just for a moment I was a 13-year-old watching the Mummy or the Wolfman or the Creature abduct some forgotten heroine on the Universal or Hammer Studios back lot. Just for a few seconds there was a genuine chill down my back, as a brave young actress fully committed to being a terrified damsel in distress, running for her life from unspeakable horror.   Theatre is supposed to transport you, to take you out of yourself, and so this was for me, however briefly, the most memorable moment on stage in 2012.

So there are some of the things I enjoyed in the last year.  How about you?  That "comments" section below is there for a reason. What did you enjoy on stage in 2012?

~ August Krickel

 

Complete History of America (abridged) at Town, Little Mermaid at Lexington

Some of Jasper's favorite performers are opening in shows tonight.  Bill DeWitt, who played a dozen different residents of Tuna, TX a few years back in A Tuna Christmas, is joined by Frank Thompson, who along with DeWitt portrayed several dozen separate characters in The 39 Steps this past spring; teaming up with Charlie Goodrich, who has been acting nonstop this year (Andre in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sonny in Grease, Judah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and many other roles) the trio set out to recreate the complete history of America... just slightly abridged.  Yes, it's another production originally created by the Reduced Shakespeare Conpany, with three performers doing madcap, semi-improv comic versions of the story of our nation.  Jamie Carr Harrington directs, and her assistant director is Shelby Sessler, one of the three finalists for Jasper's Theatre Artist of the Year, and the female lead(s) in 39 Steps with Thompson and DeWitt. From press material:

From Washington to Watergate, yea verily from the Bering Straits to Baghdad, from New World to New World Order – The Complete History of America (abridged) is a ninety minute rollercoaster ride through the glorious quagmire that is American History, reminding us that it’s not the length of your history that matters – it’s what you’ve done with it!

The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a delightfully zany evening and wildly inaccurate crash course in American history. In only an hour and a half you'll have a screwball evening of fun starting with who actually discovered America, all the way to the current  President! See Bill DeWitt (The 39 Steps), Frank Thompson (Harold Hill in The Music Man) and Charlie Goodrich (Judah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) attempt to put history in its place. Proceeds will go to Town's Repair-the-Roof Campaign.

Town Theatre will present this two night only engagement on Nov. 2nd and 3rd at 7:30 PM.  Tickets are ONLY $12 in advance and $15 at the door. This will be the funniest history lesson you'll ever have.  Call 803-799-2510 for more information.

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On the other side of the river, the Lexington County Arts Association presents Disney's The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the Village Square Theatre; it runs tonight through Sun. Nov. 18th, with shows at 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays, plus Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 3 PM. We're especially excited to see Haley Sprankle step into the lead role of Ariel - this young actress has stood out in the ensembles of everything from Legally Blonde to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and was a memorable and hilarious Frenchie, the beauty school dropout, in Grease (which coincidentally featured Goodrich and Thompson from above.)

From press material:

In a magical kingdom fathoms below, the beautiful young mermaid Ariel (Haley Sprankle) longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. But first, she'll have to defy her father King Triton (Tanner Connelly), make a deal with the evil sea witch Ursula (Bailey Gray) and convince Prince Eric (Rut Spence) that she’s the girl with the enchanting voice.  Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story and the Disney film, directed by Debra Leopard, Eliza Caughman Spence and Becky Croft, with musical direction by Jonathan Eason; lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, music by Alan Menken, and book by Doug Wright.

A Little Princess, Camp Rock, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all running through this weekend

As I type this, the temperature has passed one hundred degrees yet again.  Wouldn't this be the perfect time to relax inside a nice, cool, dark theatre and see a live show?  If so, you have lots of chances through this weekend, as three local theatre companies present the final performances of their  summer productions. Chapin Theatre Company (aka Chapin Community Theatre) is currently  performing in the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, located at  7300 College St. in Irmo.  Currently running is A Little Princess., adapted from the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, with shows tonight (Thursday, 7/26) Friday and Saturday, and a final Sunday afternoon matinee.   This production, directed by Debra Leopard,  features Molly Corbett in the title role, with Jeff Sigley, MonaLisa Botts, and Eliza C. Spence among the adults in the cast.    From their press release:

A Little Princess is the classic story of Sara Crews, a little girl born in India who is sent to a London private school after her mother dies. After word arrives that her father has lost his fortune and disappeared, she is banished to the garret where she must use her creative imagination and spirited optimism to overcome her circumstances. Ultimately, she becomes an inspiration for girls and boys everywhere. An uplifting tale for children of all ages, NewsDay said there is "a lot of magic in it."  Visit www.chapintheatre.org for ticket information.

Workshop Theatre meanwhile is presenting three more performances of  Disney's Camp Rock - The Musical, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM. Read What Jasper Said about the show at  http://jaspercolumbia.net/blog/?p=1841 .

Town Theatre has four more performances scheduled for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Thursday through Saturday evening st 7:30 PM, and a final Sunday matinee at 3 PM.  Scott Vaughan plays the lead role of Joseph, Shannon Willis Scruggs directs and choreographs, and Lou Warth is the music director.   From their press release:

Based on the book of Genesis, this exciting musical follows the story of a young man with a knack for having prophetic dreams. He incurs the jealousy of his eleven brothers who sell him into slavery in Egypt where his talents eventually save the country from famine and secure him a position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. In due time, he is reunited with his now contrite and guilt-ridden brethren.  Its catchy music by Andrew Lloyd Webber utilizes a variety of musical styles and genres including rock ‘n’ roll, country-western, reggae, disco and even a French art song. Music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics are by Tim Rice. Joseph… is a winning show that is ideal family entertainment. Prepare to enter a world of dreams, for – as Joseph learns – “any dream will do.”     Visit http://towntheatre.com for ticket information.

 

 

Shakespeare in Finlay Park, Grease at Town, Wild Party at Workshop

April was the month for several hundred amazing cultural events all going on seemingly at once. The hubbub may have died down a bit, but there's still plenty to do in May, especially if you're an enthusiast of live theatre.  For example, did you know Columbia regularly has Shakespeare in the Park?  Who needs New York? This spring, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company is presenting a comic tribute to not one but all of Shakespeare's works, first in Finlay Park this week, then at Saluda Shoals next week.  The show opens with a preview performance tonight, Tues. May 15th, and then continues Wed. through Sat. (5/19) in the Finlay Park Amphitheatre, with all shows starting at 7:30 PM.  The cast then migrates to Saluda Shoals Park for three more performances, Thurs. May 25th through Sat. May 27th, with all shows again at 7:30 PM.

From their press release:

 

SC Shakespeare Company has a sense of humor about its patron saint!

For the past 19 years, SC Shakespeare has given Columbia a great many of the Bard’s most famous plays from The Taming of the Shrew to Henry V. This spring, they wanted to give Columbia audiences something a little different but very enjoyable for patrons and their families.

The company presents The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. It's been performed internationally, including hit productions all over the US and Europe.  The show pays homage to Shakespeare as much as it mocks him, and is actually a fair introduction to the Bard for a first-timer by watching the players dance, act, parody, and soliloquize through Shakespeare's works, raucously and without regard to political correctness. And, while the play pokes fun at the Bard’s works, it never looks down on the actual writings, showing a great deal of respect for both the material and the author.

Directed by Robert Bloom, the three players - Jeff Driggers, Marques Moore, and Elizabeth Stepp - are a young and vibrant trio, entertaining and involving the audience as much as possible in skewering all 37 of the Bard’s plays in one two hour show (with intermission)!   The comedy is edgy - demanding craft: even the simplest gags require taste, timing, discipline, and the willingness to push things to the limit but not beyond. The end result: both homage and honest fun!

Come out with family and friends for a raucous evening of laughter.

For more information, please visit www.ShakespeareSC.org or call 803-787-2273.

We must note that Bloom made a vigorous and assertive Benvolio in a Finlay Park Romeo and Juliet a few years ago, smacking down those Capulets like flies, and Stepp has caught our eye with some amusing performances at Columbia Children's Theatre, so we suspect this is a show not to be missed.

In other news, there are three other great shows also running in town currently, and it's not the worst of dilemmas, at least in the broader sense, to have to figure out which great performance you want to see first, since there's something for just about every taste.  By now you already know about the new show at Trustus, In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, which runs through Sat. May 26th. (If not, my review is at http://jaspercolumbia.net/blog/?p=1478.)  Town Theatre meanwhile is presenting Grease, and there's a review at www.OnstageColumbia.com .  This show has been held over, and now also runs through Sat. May 26th. Most recently, Andrew Lippa's Wild Party just opened this weekend at Workshop Theatre, and there's a review for it as well at the same site.  Sure enough, it too runs through Sat. 26th, meaning Sunday the 27th will be a sad day for local theatre-goers.  Not to worry - pick up a copy of the new Jasper - The Word of Columbia Arts (issue # 5, which is being released in about 3 hours) for details on what shows are being done this summer!    And look for a review of The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) from Jillian Owens in a few days at that same site, www.OnstageColumbia.com .

~ August Krickel