Backstage: A New Musical Revue at Town Theatre, August 19

The Ensemble (Jennifer Davis, John Dixon, Jalil Bonds, Emily Clelland, Lisa Akly, Rachel Rizzutti, Nate Stern, and Samantha Livoti) eagerly read a review of their new show. Photo credit: Rebecca Seezen and Jimmy Wall  

The theme is familiar — an aging actress threatened by youth — but we’re giving it a fresh, new spin! BACKSTAGE will bring it all together through shared stories of a group of performers who frequent a bar constructed on the stage of a closed theater. Don’t miss an all star line up of Town veterans, including Dell Goodrich (Stand By Your Man), Mary Joy Williams (Nice Work If You Can Get It), Megan Douthitt (Mary Poppins), Corey Langley (The Addams Family), Bill LaLima (Les Mis), Bob Blencowe (Stand By Your Man), Allison Allgood (Sugar), Samantha Livoti (Singin’ in the Rain), Kathy Hartzog (The Honky Tonk Angels), Nate Stern (The Addams Family), Rebecca Seezen (Spamalot),  as well as a number of talented newcomers including Robin Saviola and Rachel Rizzutti (both seen in Village Square's 9 to 5)! Enjoy a “behind the scenes” look at show business through the songs of Applause (All About Eve), Curtains, Grey Gardens, The Act, The Magic Show, Seesaw, A Class Act, Me and Juliet, Barnum, Little Me and Mack & Mabel.

Production Assistant Eve (Mary Joy Williams) sees the Broadway Star (Dell Goodrich) that she can be someday in the mirror. Photo credit: Rebecca Seezen and Jimmy Wall

BACKSTAGE is written, directed, and choreographed by Charlie Goodrich with musical direction by Kathy Seppamaki (both recently seen in Nice Work If You Can Get It). BACKSTAGE is being presented as a part of Town Theatre’s commitment to emerging artists.

Come early for a complementary wine reception starting at 7:15 PM. Tickets are $10 general admission and may be purchased online at towntheatre.com or by calling the box office at (803) 799-2510.

Reminder: Nominations for Jasper Artists of the Year are due August 26th! More info here,

 

 

Double Review: Br'er Rabbit - Columbia Children's Theatre and NiA Theatre

BrerRabbit Thumb Theatre review by Melissa Swick Ellington

A NiA production in collaboration with Columbia Children’s Theatre is a sure sign of clever family entertainment, and the current offering of Br’er Rabbit will delight audiences of all ages. Written by Darion McCloud, H. Loretta Brown, and Heather McCue, this version of the trickster’s tale celebrates music and rhythm, vibrant characters, audience interplay, and cunning creativity. Recognizing the complex legacy of Br’er Rabbit in his director’s notes, McCloud envisions an approach to the folk character that “really does belong to all of us.” With this production, NiA and CCT present an interpretation of the tale which delivers “that upshot of joy.” (Further observations on the history surrounding the “Br’er” tradition are explored in the accompanying interview by young Kat Bjorn.)

A master storyteller himself, the magnetic performer McCloud is perfectly cast in the storytelling role of Anansi the spider. McCloud’s interaction with the young audience members seems natural and genuine. Even his dynamic facial expressions foster an atmosphere of encouraging warmth. As the crafty and appealing Br’er Rabbit, Bonita Peeples plays the resourceful trickster with quick-witted glee. Peeples draws in the audience with admirable skill, made evident by children’s eagerness to cover for Br’er Rabbit when the other animals realize they have been fooled by the rascal. At the performance attended by this reviewer, kids insisted “She’s nowhere!” and “Run for your life!” in their efforts to help the beloved main character. (An added treat: audiences even get to appreciate her glorious singing voice!)

The entire ensemble delivers first rate performances which include McCue as the brainy and sassy Br’er Tiger, Charlie Goodrich as Br’er Bear, Michael Clark as Br’er Lion, and Jimmy Wall as Mr. Man and Tar Baby.  Supported by percussionist Don Laurin Johnson, this talented group weaves a captivating web of magical sounds and sights. Moments of aural symphony encourage audience members to clap along, and in the case of my preschooler, offer an enthusiastic “Yeah!” At certain performances, alternate actors appear in the roles of Br’er Lion (Clark Wallace), Br’er Bear (Brown), and Mr. Man/Tar Baby (Julian Deleon and Goodrich).

An innovative approach to physical theatricality pervades the production. From the beguiling staging of the opening spider sequence to the finely tuned collaboration of Peeples and McCue in the big chase through the rousing group dance in the final scene, these performers embody characters and story with boldness and flair. Adults will particularly enjoy the pop culture references (check out that Scarecrow!) and wordplay such as the “arugula” jokes, while the kids relish the opportunity to offer ideas on sticky substances for the Tar Baby (peanut butter and jelly, gum, melted candy, and marshmallows were popular choices).

McCloud provides creative vision as director, costumer, and sound designer, and Wall conjures effective visuals as makeup designer. Costumes evoke animal identity while also inviting children to imagine. McCue (company manager), Crystal Aldamuy (stage manager), and Jim Litzinger (sound and light technician) contribute to a cohesive production team.

As one youngster declared early in the performance, “I knew it was going to be funny!” Columbia families have come to anticipate high quality theatre at CCT, and the collaboration with NiA to produce Br’er Rabbit is an enjoyable success. Treat yourself to the rollicking good time of Br’er Rabbit, and you will likely agree with my preschool son’s post-show exultation: “That was FUN!”

(l-r): Heather McCue (Br’er Tiger), Jimmy Wall (Tar Baby), Darion McCloud (director, Anansi), Thespian Formerly Known as Scarecrow, Charlie Goodrich (Br’er Bear), Michael Clark (Br’er Lion)

 

Rising Second Grader Interviews Cast of Columbia Children’s Theatre Br’er Rabbit by Kat Bjorn (with some help from her Papa, Arik)

 

Kat’s Papa:  Hey folks, technically this part isn’t a review of Columbia Children’s Theatre’s current production, Br’er Rabbit, but seriously, you have to see this show—even adults without kids.  You see, there’s a Scarecrow Formerly Known as Prince; Br’er Lions & Tigers & Bears, oh my!; plus more Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da than you can shake a briar patch at.  Also—

Kat Bjorn:  Papa, shhh!!  I’m starting the interview now.

Papa:  Okay, time to go be scribe.  Seriously, see this show!

 

Kat Bjorn:  What does “Br’er” mean?

Darion McCloud (Anansi the Storyteller):  That’s a good question.  It means “brother,” but it can be used for boys and girls—all humanity, really.

Heather McCue (Br’er Tiger):  Lady tigers thank you!

 

Kat Bjorn:  (pointing at Br’er Lion) Are you a lady?

Michael Clark (Br’er Lion):  Are you referring to my fabulous wig—I mean mane?

 

Kat Bjorn:  Take off your mane.

Br’er Lion:  Don’t mind if I do; it’s getting hot in here.

 

Jerry Stevenson, CCT Artistic Director:  He’s not even a natural blonde.

Kat Bjorn:  If “Br’er” means “brother,” and they’re brothers, how come Br’er Lion, Br’er Tiger and Br’er Bear are always trying to kill Br’er Rabbit?

Br’er Tiger:  Do you have any brothers and sisters?  I have a sister, and we fight like cats and dogs.

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  Also, let’s face it, they’re predators.  And rabbits taste good.

Kat Bjorn:  The characters, right?  People don’t really eat people.

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  Correct.  NiA Company does not endorse cannibalism.

Jim Litzinger, CCT Managing Director:  Nor does Columbia Children’s Theatre!

 

Kat Bjorn:  Next question.  My Papa says the Br’er Rabbit tales were sometimes codes for African-Americans a long time ago.  What does this mean, and what’s a code?

 

Anansi the Storyteller:  A code is when people say one thing but mean something else.  And your Papa is right.  During slavery, black people were treated really badly.  They used these stories to feel better.  Br’er Rabbit was code for black people; Br’er Fox and the other Br’er predators were the slaveholders.

 

Br’er Tiger:  It had a lot to do with power

Anansi the Storyteller:  Right.  They had to speak in code or risk getting punished.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Why does Br’er Rabbit carry a knapsack in the show poster but not in the play?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Um, director’s choice, I guess.

Papa whispers to Kat.

Kat Bjorn:  Did it have anything to do with budget?

Jerry Stevenson, CCT Artistic Director:  Knapsacks definitely would have broken the bank.

 

Kat Bjorn:  I’m pretty good at crafts.  I could make a knapsack pretty cheap.

Anansi the Storyteller:  We’ll have to hire you next time as a financial consultant.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Excuse me, Mr. Scarecrow, can you tell us about “Purple Rain”?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Actually, that’s the Actor Formerly Known as Scarecrow.  The scarecrow’s real name is Button-Bright.  It’s named after a character in L. Frank Baum’s Sky Island.  The Prince mask is another story altogether.

 

Kat Bjorn:  In the book we’re reading at home, Uncle Remus is the storyteller.  But in this play, it’s Anansi the Spider.  Why?

Anansi the Storyteller:  Actually, many of the Br’er Rabbit stories were originally African folktales.  And in Africa, Anansi the Spider narrates the tales.

 

Br’er Lion:  Well, I never got there, did I—thanks to Br’er Rabbit!  So we’ll never know!

Kat Bjorn:  How do you prepare to act like an animal character?

 

Bonita Peeples (Br’er Rabbit):  I use my imagination!  I try to think childlike.  And rehearsal is a great place for me to practice my imagination!

Kat Bjorn:  What was your favorite part of the show?

 

Jimmy Wall (Tar Baby):  When they’re planning to cook Br’er Rabbit.

Br’er Rabbit:  When Br’er Rabbit interrupts Sister Moon in the shower.

Br’er Lion:  The Tar Baby story.

 

Kat Bjorn:  Final question:  How come Br’er Rabbit always outsmarts Br’ers Lion, Tiger & Bear, but isn’t smart enough to realize Tar Baby isn’t really alive?

Br’er Rabbit:  You can’t be smart about everything—but I did get myself out of that jam, didn’t I?

 

Bre’er Rabbit runs June 12-21 with performances at the following dates and times:  Friday, June 12 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 13 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 14 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, June 20 at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 21 at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $10 for adult and children 3 and up.  Seniors & Military ticket prices are $8.  Tickets are $5 for the Saturday 7 p.m. performance.  The Columbia Children’s Theatre is located at the Second Level of Richland Mall, 3400 Forest Drive (corner of Beltline and Forest Drive).  Enter the Second Level parking garage walkway and park in Level 2-L for easy access.  Call 691.4548 for more information or to reserve tickets for groups.  To learn more about Columbia Children’s Theatre , visit http://columbiachildrenstheatre.com/ .

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: NiA Company Brings Back the Complex Slavery Tale The Whipping Man for an April 11-13th Run

11072297_834054930001388_3878248336643888339_o By Haley Sprankle

So often, when the topic of slavery arises, many make the rash assumption that all slave owners were bad and that all slaves hated their masters. It is assumed that slavery is solely an issue of racial prejudice. This clouds our understanding of slavery, all of its complexity and paradoxes, and how it ultimately comes down to incredibly personal and fraught relationships.

Fortunately, Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man, which the NiA Company is performing once again after a 2013 production, breaks that pattern.

The Whipping Man is on the surface about a Jewish Confederate officer that returns home at the end of the Civil War to find two of his former slaves waiting among the ruins,” says Charlie Goodrich, who plays Caleb, the aforementioned office. “However, more specifically, I think that it is simply about a family, one that exists beyond biological or socio-economical barriers.  The three men that appear on stage fight, poke fun, celebrate, and enjoy each other’s company as members of a family do.  No matter the political circumstances, the familial bond still exists between them.”

The play revolves around three characters; Caleb, John (played by Michael Clark), the elder of the two remaining slaves of Caleb’s family, and Simon (played by Darion McCloud), the younger of the two. The three characters celebrate the traditional Jewish holiday of Passover together as they attempt to ascertain the nature of their new relationship.

The Whipping Man addresses how it was possible for believers of a Faith that reveled in its celebrations of freedom could live with, condone, and put into practice an institution that vehemently juxtaposes itself against what they believed in the first place,” Goodrich explains. “Foremost, the play takes place during Passover in April of 1865.  The Jewish Festival of Passover commemorates the Israelites exodus from their enslavement in Egypt.  The three characters celebrate Passover with a Seder meal not long after the two former slaves were freed.  Throughout the dialogue leading up to this meal, various characters address what it meant to exist in the Jewish Faith as slaveholder and slave, and how this existence proved to be sometimes problematic in their understanding of this faith.”

Aside from the religious aspect, the play also calls into question not only the humanity of the situation the characters face, but the humanity of each character.

“Playing the aforementioned Confederate soldier has created an interesting crossroads between my personal feelings and the history of my family in this state,” confesses Goodrich. “It’s no secret that I’m a pretty liberal individual who has not always felt at home in a state that has historically been primarily conservative.  So, it’s no shocker that I went into the production thinking that a Confederate soldier would probably be a total 180 from myself.  However, a portion of my Grandmother’s family has been in this state since the 1690’s.  Towards the end of the 18th century, a portion of them moved from the Lowcountry to York County.  Most of this land, near the town of McConnells, is farm country, and my ancestors owned and ran plantations.  Coming across some of their wills in my ancestral research years ago, I discovered that they were slave owners.”

“This discovery got me to thinking: while I am liberal now, how would I have thought 150 years ago?  While I, in no way, support slavery or oppression, would I have gone along with my family then or rebelled against them? It’s so easy for me to judge slaveholders now, but how do I know what my ancestors in the same situation were thinking? Did they like owning slaves or was it just Southern tradition that they were observing?  To make a long story short, researching my ancestors has opened me up to approaching Caleb without bias.  He’s just a man, and like every other man, he has strengths and weaknesses as well as assets and flaws.  He makes mistakes and is faced with a lot of the same life decisions that exist to this day. I’ve even been able to find parts of myself within him, and vice versa. Becoming Caleb has proven to be not just a fascinating and rewarding experience, but a relevant one as well.”

Throughout the production, the cast and crew have partnered with Historic Columbia, Columbia Commemorates, One Columbia, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia in tandem with the end of Historic Columbia’s Burning of Columbia celebration that began in February.

“Partnering with all of these institutions has been highly beneficial, most especially in bringing in different audiences to see our show.  Columbia Commemorates and Historic Columbia will bring in history buffs; One Columbia will bring in artists; while Unitarian Universalist will bring in an entire congregation of people that are curious to see the play that will be produced in their sanctuary.  Unitarian Universalist also used to be a synagogue, and performing the piece there will add to the atmosphere of the play.  Furthermore, all of our rehearsals have been at the Unitarian church as well, and the staff and members there could not have been more kind, receptive, and helpful. It has been a pleasure to work with them in such close proximity,” Goodrich says.

So now we ask, what did it mean to be a slave? What did it mean to be a slave owner? What does it mean to be a family?

With some intriguing answers to such questions, The Whipping Man runs April 11-13 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. Tickets can be purchased through reservations@historiccolumbia.org or at the door.

“I hope the audience will leave with a stronger insight into what it meant to be a slave or a slaveholder at the time of the Civil War,” Goodrich concludes. “Also, I hope audience members leave with a better understanding of what it truly means to be a ‘slave.’  The word is not, for a lack of a better phrase, all ‘black and white.’  There are countless ways that people can be enslaved or enslave themselves, and the playwright does an astute job of bringing up this issue.”

Five Guys Named Moe: Workshop Theatre Opens New Season at 701 Whaley - by Haley Sprankle

New beginnings spark for Workshop Theatre as they open their 2014-2015 season with the  jukebox musical Five Guys Named Moe.   The biggest change the company is facing is their new  performance location in The Market Space at 701 Whaley Street. guysnamedmoe3

"Five Guys Named Moe is the first production in this new space," says the show's director, Lou Boeschen.  "No precedents have been set indicating how we should transform this completely empty space into an intimate theatre. This  can be both good and bad. You are open to think outside the box and set the stage any way you  like, but you don't have the experiences of a prior production to show what works or doesn't  work in the space.”

This new space opens up vast opportunities for inventive, fresh new staging opportunities, which add a new level of artistry that audiences may not have seen at Workshop before. Each director is able  to completely create his or her desired environment, allowing a lot of liberties with blocking and  staging.

“When I first started to visualize Five Guys Named Moe, it was difficult not to see it in the  familiar setting of Craft Auditorium at the corner of Bull and Gervais Streets," said Boeschen.  "After meeting with  set designer, Lee Shepherd, I was able to quickly adjust my thinking. I came to Lee with several  ideas about how I wanted the stage area to be arranged with different levels and a dedicated  place for the band. He took those ideas and, using his expertise for building a set off-site and  moving it into a performance space, came up with a fantastic design.”

The front porch at the Market Space at 701 Whaley

Not only will the new space be created to fit the musical and the vision that Boeschen has, but it also  must accommodate a live band, which is not always the case with every theatre.   “There will be a live band led by our musical director, Roland Haynes, Jr. He's assembled a quintet of  talented musicians, a few of whom he plays jazz gigs with regularly," explained Boeschen. "The music is the core of this  piece, a character in a sense. It is important to me that the band be a part of the action on stage.  From their bandstand on the right side of the stage area, the cast members are able to interact  with Roland and the other musicians.”

The cast has been rehearsing in the Workshop Theatre rehearsal space on Elmwood Avenue, and will be able to  move into the theatre just a short four days before they open.

fiveguys2

“Throughout the rehearsal process, I referred to the ground plan design often when explaining  blocking and spacing to the cast," Boeschen recalls.  "The cast is using some of the smaller set pieces already in the  rehearsal space, which is not much smaller than the area that will be set as a stage at 701  Whaley.  Joy Alexander, the choreographer, has worked hard to create perfect choreography for  this style of show, but she has also kept it very flexible. The first night on the set, Sunday, will  be used for blocking and adjusting choreography spacing. I am anticipating needing to  make a few adjustments, but nothing major,” said Boeschen.

Along with all the adjustments and accommodations that the theatre faces as they debut in their  new performance space, Boeschen will also debut as a director.

fiveguys1“I felt it was time to get my feet wet and direct a show. I didn't want to tackle a huge musical  production my first time at the helm, however, so a small revue-style show seemed like a good  starting point. I submitted my interest to direct and was chosen by the play selection committee  at Workshop to direct Five Guys Named Moe. I love Louis Jordan's music, and the story written  by Clarke Peters that connects the songs is genuine,” said Boeschen.

fiveguys3Although Workshop has produced Five Guys Named Moe before, this new cast brings a fresh  take on the musical.  “There are a couple of names and faces in the cast that audiences will recognize from previous  productions at Workshop, Town Theatre, Trustus and even Opera USC, but we have some  newcomers as well. The guys all have rich musical backgrounds, which is a blessing for a show  like Five Guys Named Moe. I've enjoyed working with both the seasoned performers and the  first-timers, as they each bring a distinct energy and eagerness to the process,” Boeschen said.

Five Guys Named Moe runs September 18-21 in The Market Space at 701 Whaley. Regular priced adult tickets are $22, senior and active military tickets are $20, student tickets are $16,  and children (12 & under) are $12.  Come out for a new experience at a new location with an old friend, Workshop  Theatre.

~ Haley Sprankle, Jasper intern

From press material:

The Story: His woman left him, he’s broke, and it’s almost five o’clock in the mornin’. But don’t be worryin’ ’bout our hero, Nomax. Out of Nomax’s ’30s-style radio pop Five Guys Named Moe. They cajole, wheedle, comfort and jazz him with the whimsical hit songs of Louis Jordan, one of the most beloved songwriting talents of the twentieth century. With more than fifty top ten singles on the rhythm and blues charts, this great composer and saxophonist brought a popular new slant to jazz that paved the way for the rock-and-roll of the 1950’s.

Five Guys Named Moe show dates and times: Thursday, September 18 @ 8 pm Friday, September 19 @ 8 pm Saturday, September 20 @ 3 pm and 8 pm Sunday, September 21 @ 3 pm and 8 pm

Go to workshoptheatre.com to purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 803-799-6551 between noon and 5:30 pm. Workshop Theatre’s Box Office is located at 635 Elmwood Ave., Columbia, SC, 29201. Box Office hours are from noon to 5:30 pm. Reservations can be made online 24 hours a day through the website.

 

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!

9to51

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?
9to52
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.

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.