New Film in Works -- "Rising" by Ron Hagell with Terrance Henderson

Rising_Logo “Rising ”is a new contemporary dance film by Ron Hagell, with choreography by Terrance Henderson. It is being made for The Jasper Project as a part of the “Marked by the Water” commemoration of the first anniversary of the 1000 Year Flood on October 4, 2016.

 

Both Hagell and Henderson have felt strongly that the artists of Columbia need to “make artwork” in response to this major event that brought upheaval to so many lives in our hometown. To that end both artists, experienced in dance and filmmaking, came together to devise this new work.

 

The artists were close to some of those whose homes were engulfed on the night of October 4, 2015 particularly along Gills Creek in the Rosewood section of the city. In the aftermath many had lost a lifetime’s worth of treasured possessions and their homes but thankfully, with the help of neighbors and strangers, few lives were lost.

 

Talking through the disaster’s lead-up and with a good deal of knowledge of the community since the flood, both felt that there has been a change in our community and that a comment about this could be the starting point for new work.

 

If we think back to our state and town in the years and months leading up to this event it is clear that South Carolina has been in a socio-cultural slump for some time. There were many problems that came to a head prior to the flood. The Charleston shooting happened and this lead to the final chapter in the decades long struggle to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds. While one negative incident led to a positive one, the economic and political plight of many blacks and other citizens of the state did not change. Old problems of inequality and racial division seemed as intractable as ever. The SC State Supreme Court ruling regarding basic education rights for all children showed us how serious the situation had become. But many still believed that, even with these news headlines, change would only come in the far distant future - if at all.

 

Then the flood came.

 

Since the flood came so quickly and waters rose to heights never before witnessed in living memory, those affected needed a great deal of assistance from across the whole community. In most areas the destruction was so great that normal services could not cope. In these cases many communities saw neighbors and stranger helping each other in a myriad of ways regardless of race or social standing. The flood brought down barriers and in their place we have felt a change that has stayed around. It’s a ripple on the surface of our town, where history runs deeper than the three rivers. But it’s there and we hope it will lead to a new beginning and a bridge to change.

 

Our dance film speaks to this hopeful future but rests in the arms of our Southern traditional/spiritual music. As with most contemporary dance, every element of the work is symbolic. The historic photograph stands-in for much that is lost – washed away by the waters. But still our victim is helped to rise from the flood into a new life with the help of others.

 

 

 

 

“Rising” Film Production Organization:

Production: Studio 53 – Contact: Ron Hagell or Shirley Smith

Telephone: (917) 216-2098 or (803) 609-0840

r.hagell@gmail.com

Filmmaker (script and direction) – Ron Hagell

Choreographer and Music Arranger – Terrance Henderson

Principal Vocalist – Katrina Blanding

Supporting Vocals – Terrance Henderson and Kendrick Marion

Art Director – Eileen Blyth

Auditions are currently underway for dancers and additional crew. The film will be completed in late September for screening on October 4, 2016.

This film is being produced under the auspices of the Jasper Project as a part of “Marked by the Water,” under the leadership of Cynthia Boiter, Ed Madden and Mary Gilkerson.

 

 

REVIEW: Trustus Theatre's The Flick

FLick-crop By: Kyle Petersen

I can still smell the warm, slightly musty aroma of the Nick right now.

Not the new, wonderfully renovated Fox Theatre that The Nickelodeon occupies now, of course, but that old, worn-out room hiding behind the State House. Where there were maybe 60 seats and a small screen. Where you could buy a bucket of beers that would furtively clink together over the course of a film. Where the smell of popcorn mingled with the smell of the underground, and watching an independent film felt like it might still be a subversive act in this sleepy Southern town.

The Flick, Trustus Theatre’s latest production and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for playwright Annie Baker, isn’t about a theatre exactly like the old Nick, but it’s close enough to make me misty. In part because the play itself grapples with nostalgia and sentiment in the confines of a theatre that’s not too different from that old black box, and one that goes through tangentially similar growing pains over the course of the narrative (right down to the shift from film reels to digital projectors).

The story takes place in a small, rundown movie theatre that’s clearly on its last legs. The three main characters are all employees there, and the action takes place almost entirely between screenings as they clean the floors over and over again, something that should make the action feel repetitive but somehow doesn’t, mostly through Baker’s deft ability to write a kind of comedic realism that is always sharp but never showy. Most of the early action centers on Sam (Ben Blazer), the thirtysomething experienced hand who gripes about not being promoted to projectionist, and Avery (Kendrick Marion), a young, bespectacled black nerd who is taking some time off from college to work in a movie theatre. A third character, the free-spirited and gregarious Rose, is the projectionist, and is gradually woven in as the trio gets to know each other slowly and awkwardly, the way people do in real life.

There is drama and tension here, but Baker opts for an anti-sensational approach to the action as she “holds a mirror up” to the reality of tedious, behind-the-scenes minimum wage jobs that are often occupied by people whose dreams have been thwarted or never really blossomed to begin with.  But the narrative pace also allows so many different themes and reflections to emerge over the course of the lengthy run time—the subtle, nuanced ways race and class affect how we approach the world, the often confusing and conflicting ways workplace relationships evolve, and the impact of movies on how we understand and bond with one another.

Much of the buzz around this play has billed it as a “love letter to the cinema,” but that doesn’t seem quite right to me. That’s not to say that the love of movies doesn’t play a prominent role, but to me the play seemed to be more curious about how places and things become imbued with the people we connect them with, that this rundown movie theatre became a place where Rose, Avery, and Sam learned from and about each other. The trio is thrown together through the odd happenstance of needing work and loving film, and little else, yet they forge a very specific kind of friendship through the hours and hours of menial work they do together in the confines of that single-screen theatre.

As usual, Trustus produced an ace production for this relatively austere play. The set features beat-up old movie theatre seats that were pulled up from Spotlight Cinema on St. Andrews that had to be a bear to install on the tilted floor that gave the set just the right verisimilitude, as did the real film projector on loan to the theatre. For a play with the potential to sprawl with literal untidy messes, director Dewey Scott-Wiley kept the blocking and pacing fairly tight, with only a few dramatic pauses of work to drive home the sense of endless cleaning that dominates these characters' lives. All of the performances are quite strong—Marion’s performance particular is astounding, in large part because his previous roles have emphasized his powerhouse singing voice and required flamboyant performances, whereas here he shrinks up into a succession of halting pauses, facial tics, and frowns as Avery, worlds away from R&B frontman Jimmy Thunder in Dreamgirls. Both Ben Blazer as Sam and Christine Hellman as Rose had to put on tough Boston brogues and embody individuals that can bounce from stereotypically dead-end types to puzzlingly complex in a heartbeat. Each brings their character to life with a deceptive sense of ease that would have left this production gasping without them. Trustus Apprentice Company member Colin Milligan also performs admirably in his debut with the small role he plays as the cast's fourth member.

Sandwiched between two productions which seem to guarantee a much more boisterous and fun night of entertainment on the Trustus schedule—Peter and the Star Catcher before this and Green Day’s American Idiot following the run—there might be a sense that this is an eat-your-vegetables play, something too self-involved and navel-gazing in its commitment to contemporary realism and the role of storytelling and theatrics. I can’t guarantee you won’t leave the theatre feeling that way, but for my money The Flick is an example of how singularly powerful theatre can actually be. This is a story that requires you to think about people, stories and lives that can exist—that can be imaginatively projected—in a confined space, and how we are still asking old questions and searching for new answers in those spaces. More power to Trustus for continuing, commenting, and expanding that powerful and time-honored tradition with The Flick.

The Flick runs through Saturday, June 4. Go to trustus.org for ticket information.

Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean: Jason Stokes Premiers Original Historical Screenplay, Composure - by Haley Sprankle

composure  

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Columbia where we lay our scene...

 

The year is 1903. The Tillman family, headed by the Lieutenant Governor for the State of South Carolina, and the Gonzales family, headed by the founder of The State newspaper, are in a known feud. This ancient grudge (that began in the 1880s) broke to new mutiny as Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman murders NG Gonzales.

 

That’s where local actor, filmmaker, and screenwriter Jason Stokes’ story begins.

 

“I first heard about this story at my ‘real’ work (Media Director for the South Carolina Bar) in 2000 during a presentation on the subject by Donnie Myers. I was fascinated by the story in part because of the sensational nature of the crime, but the more I began to research the story I realized that there was much more to it than just a murder and a murder trial,” Stokes explains.  “The Tillmans and The Gonzaleses were two powerful families in the city of Columbia who did not like each other for various reasons. This feud began in the late 1880’s and continued even after the events of January 15, 1903. During that time one side wielded power and opinion in the public press while the other side railed against the Gonzaleses and The State newspaper with every stump speech.”

 

This Saturday, Stokes presents an original screenplay titled Composure based on this rich piece of Columbia’s history. His cast includes such luminary local talent such as Paul Kaufmann, Eric Bultman, Stann Gwynn, Terrance Henderson, Hunter Boyle, Clint Poston, Katie Leitner, Stan Gardner, G. Scott Wild, Libby Campbell, Kevin Bush, Jonathan Jackson, Nate Herring, and Kendrick Marion.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate not only to have these talented actors lend their craft to this project but they are also valued friends and colleagues. I promise to anyone in attendance, if the story doesn’t impress you the talent certainly will,” Stokes says.

 

While Stokes is certainly no stranger to the Columbia arts community, having been seen in productions ranging from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Rent, not many know that he is a writer.

 

“I began writing just after my father passed away in 1989. My mother gave me a notebook to write down memories of my father when I had them but, being an adolescent, as I started writing down a memory or story it would veer away from facts to whatever fiction my mind was dreaming up at the time. So I’ve been writing for the last 27 years (to varying degrees of success),” Stokes said.

 

After writing about 30 screenplays, some of which have television spec scripts pitched to shows such as The West Wing and Castle, Stokes has developed his own style and writing process.

 

“Each screenplay is different, but they all seem to start before I really know where they are going. For example, I’ll write a scene that I either have no idea what it’s trying to say in a grand scheme, or I don’t know where it belongs in the story I’m thinking about,” Stokes delineates. “Composure was no different. The surface story was there but to make it interesting and make it build to something that makes people think was the challenge. This being a historical piece I just kept doing more and more research to see if I could find anything new to add to the layers, which took time. I worked off-and-on on the screenplay for about three years, and it wasn’t until I decided to begin with the murder and then bounce back and forth in time during the trial, to add the ‘why’ of the murder, that made it really exciting for me to want to write it.”

 

Being an actor himself adds a particularly interesting dynamic to Stokes’ work and process, as well.

 

“As an actor, it’s always a blessing to work on a well written piece of work, Tennessee Williams, Terrance McNally, Jonathan Larson, you want to chew on it as long as you can because really good, juicy dialogue and lyrics don’t come around all the time. So when I write I like to think of the story and dialogue in the vein; Would this be something I would want to sink my teeth into as an actor and rejoice in the fact that I GET to say these lines and tell this story?” Stokes adds.

 

Don’t miss the two hours’ traffic of the Trustus Side Door Theatre this Saturday, January 16 for free! Doors and bar open at 6:30 with the performance beginning at 7:30.

 

“Opinion reporting is nothing new, as evident by this story, but with the advent of technology and polarizing news outlets only compounding the divisive nature and climate I think we find ourselves in today, this is a true story that still has relevance and meaning,” Stokes says. “No one story, one person, one political ideology can be measured strictly in absolutes. If the audience can be entertained and enlightened in some way through the events of these gentlemen, then maybe the cast and I will have offered a different perspective in which to view our own world.”

Diving a little deeper … In the Red and Brown Water at Trustus Theatre: A Preview by Rosalind Graverson

red and brown  

When Columbia starts trusting the arts programs and supporting them more, the organizations can start taking more risks and exploring. Trustus Theatre has reached a point where they can start sharing unique theatre experiences with their audiences. That's exactly what their production of In the Red and Brown Water is.

 

First in The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the series blends Yoruba mythology with a modern day story set in the Louisiana projects. The trilogy is described as a choreopoem, combining poetry, movement, music, and song. The language throughout the show is beautifully lyrical, but it's not what you expect to hear from the average citizen of Louisiana.  Along with the poetry, the actors are also called to say their stage directions, reminiscent of Shakespeare's asides.

 

The cast features some familiar faces: Avery Bateman, Kendrick Marion, Katrina Blanding, Kevin Bush, Annette Dees Grevious, and Jabar Hankins; and some new ones as well: Bakari Lebby, LaTrell Brennan, Felicia Meyers, and Leroy Kelly.

 

Not only does the audience get to experience something new, but the production team and cast do as well. We asked Avery Bateman to share some of her experiences getting to know her character, Oya, and Kendrick Marion to explain some of the differences in the rehearsal process between this production and a more typical play or musical.

 

Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Avery: “Oya is a completely different character in comparison to the others I've portrayed throughout the years. She delves deep into a part of my spirit that I have not returned to in a while. She is both regal and vulnerable. Her regal persona is that of her Orisha/Goddess name. "Oya" known as "The Mother of Nine" is the orisha or storms, wind, change, magic, death and the cemetery, and the guardian between worlds. She is the bringer of death and new life (hope). Oya's orisha persona has every right to stand high and tall with pride. However, her vulnerable persona, her humane side is a type of soul that is complex and broken. Oya's broken spirit gives her a complexity that I as an actress must sit and think about every now and then so that I give her the correct amount of balance when on stage. I must say that I am extremely blessed to not have experienced all that "Oya the human" has experienced in my youth. Everything that she loves deeply is taken from her against her will. I've not had the privilege of portraying a person of this definition in all my years of theatre. I've only ever portrayed the comic-relief character or the misunderstood villian or the obliviously happy sunshine. All of them had great dimension but none of them reached into my chest and broke my heart as much as Oya. I love this character; she has helped me understand love and life in a way I don't think I would have ever understood fully if not for this show.”

 

Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

Kendrick: “This production differs from your normal straight play because there are so many other elements and textures involved with this piece. The text itself reads like poetry, and McCraney challenges the actors to portray it as such, while still making it feel natural and conversational. Both the music (most of which we arranged) and the stylized movement help to tell the story in an almost ethereal way. This has been an incredibly challenging piece, but an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for Columbia to take the journey to San Pere, Louisiana with us!”

 

Also, in the gallery at Trustus, Ernest Lee , The Chicken Man, will have his art showing and for sale. Wednesday, February 4th at 7:30, he will have a meet and greet and give a talk, "The Life and Art of Ernest Lee, The 'Chicken Man.'"

 

Be sure to get your tickets for In The Red and Brown Water, opening Friday, January 23rd and running through February 7th.

Trustus Reprises A Christmas Carol

Stann Gywnn and Catherine Hunsinger Trustus Theatre is reviving its hit production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the Thigpen Main Stage this November. This recent adaptation by Patrick Barlow, the Tony-award winning playwright of The 39 Steps, is a whirlwind telling of the classic holiday story where five actors take on all of the roles. Scrooge and all of his ghostly counterparts will return to the Thigpen Main Stage as A Christmas Carol opens Friday November 21st at 8:00pm. The show will run through December 20th, 2014. Tickets may be purchased at www.trustus.org.

 

Last season’s production of Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the Dickens classic was met with raves from sold-out audiences and critics, so Trustus decided to revive the production in their 30th season. While A Christmas Carol is a family-friendly production, what makes this version a Trustus show is that the script challenges five gifted actors to embody all of the characters while creating a live musical score on stage. The product is an unforgettable evening where a classic story is told in an unexpected way.

 

For the uninitiated, A Christmas Carol introduces audiences to Ebenezer Scrooge - a wealthy miser who has neither love for humankind nor any holiday cheer. His clerk Bob Cratchit works in a cold corner of the office just to make ends meet for his family, especially his ailing son Tiny Tim. When Scrooge is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, a night of haunts begins as spirits take Scrooge to the past, present, and future in an attempt to show him the good in humanity and the benefits of charity.

 

Trustus Co-Artistic Director Chad Henderson is back in the director’s chair for this revival. “A Christmas Carol is my favorite holiday story and tradition,” said Henderson. “Scrooge’s journey of redemption has always been appealing to me. This story is a classic because it’s one-of-a-kind – a Christmas ghost story. I’m looking forward to revisiting this production and creating some new moments that will surprise the audience.”

 

The Trustus production boasts the acclaimed cast from last year's production. Local favorite Stann Gwynn (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Doubt) will be portraying the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Trustus Company members Catherine Hunsinger (Constance), Avery Bateman (Ragtime, Ain't Misbehavin'), Scott Herr (The House of Blue Leaves, The Velvet Weapon), and new cast member Kendrick Marion (Ain't Misbehavin', The Black Man...Complex) join forces to bring the other characters of Dickens' story to life on stage.

 

While this adaptation calls for four actors to play numerous roles throughout the performance, it also asks them to create a live score throughout the show. Carols, sound effects and underscoring will be created and performed live on stage by the players. The music will be an unexpected mix of keyboards, cello, beatboxing, a Line6 delay modulator, a VocalistLive, violin, guitar, and of course the combined voices of the performers. “The live music is a unique combination of sounds,” said Director Chad Henderson. “It’s derived from the traditions of Reggie Watts, Danny Elfman, Justin Timberlake, and Panic! At The Disco.” While audiences may hear non-traditional takes on the carols in the show, they can be assured that the classic Dickens tale remains intact.

 

Trustus Theatre’s A Christmas Carol opens on the Trustus Main Stage on Friday, November 21st at 8:00pm and runs through December 20th, 2014. Thigpen Main Stage shows start at 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays, and Sunday matinees are at 3:00pm. Tickets are $22.00 for adults, $20.00 for military and seniors, and $15.00 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain.

 

Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady St. and on Pulaski St. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building.

 

For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season information.

 

"See Rock City & Other Destinations" at Trustus: A Stage-cation Well Worth the Trip - a review by Arik Bjorn

Americans are suckers for a good travelogue set within the boundaries of their own white whale nation. Perhaps this is because so many of us spend most of our lives in some little corner of the vastness that is the Fruited Plain. For millions, just a trip from Manhattan to Coney Island, or from a one gas station town in North Carolina to Lookout Mountain, Georgia, represents an odyssey. And a visitor from Niagara Falls may as well be an extraterrestrial being to someone living in far-off Roswell, New Mexico. As I drove home from Trustus Theatre’s production of See Rock City and Other Destinations—tempted to put the pedal to the metal and drive north on I-95, past South of the Border and to wherever life takes me—I couldn’t think of any other significant musicals with expedition as a central theme. (Sorry, Oh! Calcutta! doesn’t count.) Yet there are so many great American travel books. My favorites include Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality and Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. But every American travel narrative, in my opinion, bows to the greatness that is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. (Charley was Steinbeck’s trusty French standard poodle.)  There are many diadem quotations in this book, but this one is a true gem: “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. … The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

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And that is the message at the heart of Adam Mathias and Brad Alexander’s award-winning production (2011 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Book and Outstanding Lyrics), presented in yellow-golf-sweater and tour-guide-khaki splendor by veteran director Dewey Scott-Wiley. As Scott-Wiley states: “We may embark on these journeys looking for escape…these destinations have the power to open our hearts and minds to real change.”

Steinbeck would agree.

In short, See Rock City presents separately parceled stories about average Americans pursuing humble dreams against the backdrop of popular tourist destinations: two strangers eating pie en route to a breathtaking view in the title town, Rock City; a conspiracy theorist seeking otherworldly companionship and self-validation near Area 51; a chemistry of multi-generational coupling before the normally unromantic backdrop of the Alamo; sisters celebrating ice, whales and ashes on an Alaskan cruise ship; two “d!ckheads” discovering forbidden love during a Coney Island freak show ride; and a bride-to-be barreling with nervous laughter at Niagara Falls.

The trick to nailing any stage expedition is set design. I admit I was nervous at first when I sat in my cozy Trustus seat and beheld the minimalist design that included not much more than two red diner stools. But once the curtains opened, Baxter Engle’s amazing three-screen projection design turned the entire stage into an animated album of famous American landmarks: the Space Needle, Wrigley Field, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. The projections continued throughout the show, providing the patron with a believable sensation of “being there.” In fact, during the Niagara Falls vignette, I practically felt water spraying on my chest—then realized I had spilled Cabernet on myself. (Still, though, adult beverages in the comfort of one’s seat. Go, Trustus!)

Another major success of the production was the musical trio of Randy Moore (musical director, piano), Ryan Knott (cello) and Jeremy Polley (guitar). Moore makes a spot-on choice by concentrating on strings and conjuring the spirit of Woody Guthrie and so many other American road-trip artists. In fact, halfway through the production my mind couldn’t shake sounds gone-by of Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon;"  I could practically taste the beef jerky of road trip yore.

rockcity

Thousands of hours of effort go into every stage production, and every reviewer shouts curses at his or her limited space to credit those who deserve praise. The entire See Rock City troupe is worthy of accolades for acting and song; same for all of the technical staff. Truly outstanding are the voices of Kendrick Marion as Cutter the “motherf&%#er” prep school student and Kevin Bush as Jess of the Rock City-bound jalopy. I’ve seen Matthew DeGuire in many a role on Columbia stages, but it’s well worth the price of admission just to see him as a carney in lumberjack plaid and as Grampy, channeling the voice of post-stroke Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall. Vicky Saye Henderson and Kyle (happy birthday!) Collins demonstrate ballet-like romantic chemistry, and it was a pleasure to see USC bioinformatics doctoral candidate Chase Nelson prove that science and the arts can mix—just don’t tell his Ph.D. advisor that he camps out in the New Mexico desert waiting for aliens. And stealing the first act is a “green jar from Home Depot,” tossed back and forth by Henderson,  Linda Posey Collins, and Caroline Jones Weidner; what it contains, you’ll have to travel to Trustus to see.

Kevin Bush, in "See Rock City & Other Destinations" - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

See Rock City & Other Destinations is a weekend-worthy stage-cation and a wonderful theatrical reminder that setting sail for somewhere else, letting a trip “take you,” is what life is all about. Who knows what you’ll discover when you get yourself to the theater.

See Rock City & Other Destinations runs March 14-April 5 (Thursdays through Sundays) with all performances beginning at 8 p.m. with the exception of 3 p.m. matinee performances on March 23 and March 30. (There is no matinee on March 16.) Tickets are $27 for adults, $25 for military and senior, and $20 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain. Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street in the Vista. Call 254.9732 for more information or to reserve tickets. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building. To learn more about Trustus Theatre , visit www.trustus.org . The Thursday preview performance of See Rock City & Other Destinations was a “Dining with Friends” fundraiser to benefit the AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina. Kudos to this group for its excellent philanthropic work!

~ Arik Bjorn

 

Henderson Bros. Are At It Again

Terrance Henderson of the Henderson Bros. -- photo by James Quantz Henderson Bros. Burlesque returns to the Capital City this February for another round of teases, bawdiness, and skin. Last year’s premiere performance saw over 600 patrons at the one-night-only event, and co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson have crafted another night of naughty fun with new acts, dances, and teases. Henderson Bros. Burlesque will run February 13th through the 15th, with show times at 8:00pm every night. There will be a special late night performance at 10:00pm on February 14th. Reserved seating may be purchased online at www.trustus.org, and standing room tickets may be purchased by calling the Trustus Box Office only: (803) 254-9732. Seated tickets are $30, and standing tickets are $20.

 History of Henderson Bros. Burlesque

 Last year over 600 patrons attended the one-night-only performance of Henderson Bros. Burlesque at 2013’s What’s Love at 701 Whaley. With the success of the first show, Trustus decided to bring the show to the Thigpen Main Stage this February. Since Trustus offers less seating than 701, the show will be performed over the course of three nights – but seating will still be limited.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson are not actual relatives, but they certainly see a union in their creative approaches to entertainment. The two have collaborated on many shows at Trustus Theatre since 2009, and they’ve been brainstorming a burlesque show for the past two years. “Doing a burlesque show was one of those ideas that come up over a couple of drinks,” said co-creator and director Chad Henderson. “I had been reading a lot about the history of burlesque, and felt like Columbia was way overdue for a big theatrical burlesque show. I went to Terrance because I knew I wanted his choreography involved in the show, and he said he’d been wanting to produce a Burly-Q show as well. We kept brainstorming and sharing ideas because we were planning on producing it ourselves.”

The end result was a rocking evening that had patrons dancing in the aisles and begging for more.

 

 What’s The Show Like?

 Henderson Bros. Burlesque is one part burlesque teases, one part dance show, and one part rock concert. It’s a variety show that’s a professionally thrown party.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque, boasts over 20 performers. Chad Henderson, the 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre, will be directing the production. Co-creator Terrance Henderson the 2013 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Dance will be singing his heart out as the Emcee Nauti Boogie, as well as choreographing the ensemble pieces in the show. He’ll be backed vocally by Kendrick Marion and Katrina Blanding.

Music Director Jeremy Polley (Alter Ego) will be directing a 7-piece band featuring guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The music in the show, hand-picked by the Hendersons, ranges from jazz standards, funk, hip-hop, club music, and rock. Songs from Beyonce, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Christina Aquilera, and more will be reverberating through the Main Stage. Patrons can count on needing their dancing shoes.

Local actor Hunter Boyle will be returning as Vaudeville clown Bumbleclap McGee, the resident funny-man of the Henderson Bros. Burlesque. Bumbleclap will be bringing back jokes from the days of Vaudeville, with a lot of wit, winks, and nudges. Rumor is that he’ll be bringing a live version of “What Does the Fox Say?” to the performance this year.

The burlesque performers in the show range in age, sex, race, build, and character – providing a little something for everyone who attends. Performer Sugar St. Germaine will be teasing with a fan dance, Burgundy Brown will be driving the crowd crazy with her beaded New Orleans inspired act, and Latte Love will be drive the audience wild with her trademark dressing screen act. Other performers will be performing ensemble Crazy-Horse inspired group teases – including a male dancer feature where the only thing they’ll be wearing by the end is a wash cloth. We suggest patrons bring handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their brow.

 

A Whole Lot of Misbehavin’ Goin’ On! - Stephen Ingle reviews the new show at Trustus Theatre

  Having never been to a musical at Trustus Theatre before, I went in with an open mind, and my suspension of disbelief was as high as the sky. Upon discovering that Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue, my expectations lowered a bit. In fact, when I first walked in and saw that the band was the focal point at center stage, and that the set design was predominantly muted by a grey wash, I thought that perhaps this might not be quite the show for me. I mean, who wants the band or orchestra to be the focal point? However, from the first musical number, I could tell I was in for a very entertaining evening.

the cast of Ain't Misbehavin' -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

With a cast of only five members and non-stop musical numbers, one might not expect for there to be much character development, or relationships between the characters. In this case one would be wrong. Director Terrence Henderson took what could have been an otherwise repetitive evening of Thomas “Fats” Waller songs and dynamically wove a very fun and diverse tapestry of quirky characters, relationships, and amazing singing. This show is more than simply an homage to Fats Waller. Typically, I would choose the standout performances to highlight in my review. However, all of the performances were equal in effectiveness. Devin Anderson has once again shown audiences that she has both the vocal and acting chops to fill any stage. Last seen in The Color Purple at Workshop Theatre, Anderson has revealed to audiences that she is much more than a one-note dramatic actress. Her various characterizations and songs will make you laugh and feel as you may never have before. In my opinion, Avery Bateman is the stage equivalent to the Sun, and can blindingly brighten any theatre. Much like Anderson, I last saw Katrina Blanding in The Color Purple in a very dramatic performance. Like Anderson, Katrina created a wonderful, multi-layered character that I couldn’t take my eyes off of, even during another performer’s songs. Rounding out the cast are Kendrick Marion and Samuel McWhite, the latter of whom I also saw in The Color Purple. These two gentlemen, while providing the perfect foils for the strong female characters, each had his own particular flavor. Marion played more of the fun, charming, energetic, and nice guy while McWhite boasted as more of the player going through the female characters smoothly and confidently. They were the perfect bookends in the library of Waller tunes.

L-R: Avery BAteman, Katrina Blanding, Devin Anderson, Samuel McWhite, Kendrick Marion -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

Much like other musical revues, and shows like Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ easily could have provided an evening of entertaining songs without any other substance. Henderson thankfully did not accept this as his vision of the production. Although the set was a bit bland, which I venture to guess could have been on purpose so the colorful characters and their costumes could be illuminated, it was divided into its own little worlds inside this Cotton Club. The bar seemed to have been a nice little rest area for the entertainers to have a drink, and a place for Blanding’s character to go fume about the attention Bateman’s character was getting from the men. The sitting area on stage left provided a place where the audience could be let in to the dynamic of relationships between the company members. Finally, the upstairs dressing room allowed us to peek behind the curtain and see how the “performers” took breaks.

L-R: Avery Bateman, Devin Anderson, Katrina Blanding -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

All in all this revue proved to provide more than just songs from a time gone by. In fact, early in the first act there was a nice reminder of this time with a video projection onstage of Fats Waller and the era in which he lived. The music, under the direction of Walter Graham, was both playful and effective, and the members seemed to be having as much fun as the cast.  Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that not only did Terrance Henderson direct, but also choreographed. The dancing was as fun, energetic, and seemingly natural as the acting and singing performances. As with the rest of the performances, the dancing resonated as more spontaneous and impromptu than choreographed.  Ain't Misbehavin' runs through Sat. July 20th at Trustus Theatre; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for more information, or visit www.trustus.org.

~ Stephen Ingle

 

Review -- Songs for a New World at Workshop Theatre

Songs for a new world Workshop Theatre’s latest production, Songs for a new World is a dialog-free series of songs by Jason Robert Brown.  Each song transports you to a single moment in a character’s life where they have to make a decision, make a first step, or move forward in a way that will change their life forever.  There’s no singular story being told, but each of the songs are meant to form a sort of story arc nonetheless. Brown says, "It's about one moment. It's about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.”

Songs for a New World was originally intended for a four person cast.  In this production, the cast has been inflated to 9, plus 4 dancers.  This leads to several issues.  First off, there are differing levels of vocal talent and range among the actors in this show.  The actors who are capable of making their brief vignette powerful and moving stand in sharp contrast to those who are working outside of their vocal range, some of whom seem to struggle to hit the right notes. Another addition that detracted from this production [for me] was the dancers.  Wayland Anderson’s choreography was beautiful, thoughtful, and well-executed, but didn’t belong in the world of this show.  There is a beauty in simplicity and that is what this production needs.  The blocking was visually interesting, but less would have truly been more. It’s difficult to concentrate on the character bearing their soul in front of you when you’re surrounded by visual clutter.

Don’t think I’m saying this production is without merit.  There is too much talent involved in this production for that.  While I don’t agree with all of the decisions he’s made here, Chad Henderson (director) has choreographed some of the most striking scene transitions I’ve seen, all in keeping with a theme of traveling across the ocean to some unknowable land.  There are some amazing performances as well.  Vicky Saye Henderson makes a hilarious Park Avenue matron who threatens her husband from the ledge of their penthouse apartment—deciding whether or not to jump into the crowd below (Song:  “Just One Step”).  With a strong voice and a powerful presence, she steps into the shoes of her many characters and takes you with her.  Kendrick Marion’s determination and vigor inspires and moves from his first number ("On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492.") until the very end.  I would have liked to have seen and heard more from Kanika Kay Moore, whose strong soprano would have been an asset in several pieces.  Andy Bell was another surprisingly underused talent.

Vicky Saye Henderson; photo courtesy of Jeni McCaughan and Workshop Theatre

Songs for a New World is a bold choice for Workshop, and I applaud them for choosing something this unique and difficult.  Theatre shouldn’t just be about making safe bets.   I eagerly look forward to the rest of their season.

 

-- Jillian Owens

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

 

Guest Blogger Jillian Owens - the Refashionista - Reviews "Almost An Evening" at the Trustus Black Box

Trustus Theatre's latest Black Box production, Almost an Evening, shows us that while it may take two Coen brothers to bring their signature “What the hell was that????”-ness to films, one Coen brother (Ethan) is more than up to the task of bringing that same mind-bending (perhaps mind-humping would be a better word) writing style to the theatre. The show consists of three one-act vignettes, featuring 8 cast members, most of whom appear in all three plays, in dramatically different roles.  While most productions of Almost an Evening have the same director for each of the plays, Trustus split this task between three directors, and with mixed results.

Part one is directed by Heather McCue, and aptly titled, “Waiting”.  It takes place in the most depressing waiting room you could possibly imagine.   This is where Nelson, played by Gerald Floyd, suddenly finds himself.  He soon surmises that this is purgatory, and is reassured that he will be going to heaven in a mere 822 years.  What follows is an exploration of one man’s high-stakes struggle with bureaucracy and despair.  Floyd makes a sympathetic and realistic Everyman, and brings a great deal of emotional range to his role.  Jason Stokes makes a brilliantly snarky Mr. Sebatacheck.  The Receptionist, played by Vicky Saye Henderson, barely speaks, but manages to say pleeeeenty.   The whole thing is darkly funny, and the ending (or lack thereof) will surprise you.

Part Two, Four Benches, directed by Daniel Bumgardner, felt a bit lacking in comparison.  The action of this vignette occurs between four benches, hence the title.  Kendrick Marion plays a secret agent with a heavy heart and a guilty conscience - but it felt as if Marion was in the wrong play.  His performance seemed forced, with lots of mugging and a poorly executed British accent.  His stiff mannerisms didn’t play as his character being uncomfortable in a tragic situation, but rather as an actor who isn’t comfortable in his role.  The other two main characters, played by Stokes and Floyd, were vastly more fleshed out and compelling, and delivered their heavy Texas accents convincingly.  This had the potential to be the most powerful and moving of the three vignettes, but it never quite happened.

Part Three is easily the most lighthearted part of this show, and the best-acted.  Directed by Larry Hembree, Debate opens as a bizarre play-within-a-play argument between a God Who Judges and a God Who Loves, but soon evolves into a heated battle of the sexes.  Shane Silman, who plays bit parts in the other vignettes, is a perfect ego-driven playwright/actor who just wants a little respect (and a lot of praise, dammit.)  Here Marion absolutely shines as a peevish and pissed-off Maître D’.  He shows great flair for comedic timing and physical comedy, and is obviously in his element.  Henderson is a sweet girlfriend with an edge whom you really shouldn’t piss off (when the glasses come off, you’re in trouble) and Robin Gottlieb is a delightfully spunky partner for a bickering session with Stokes.  It ends on an upbeat note, as if to cleanse the audience’s pallet of all the darkness and despair of the first two plays, so they can go grab a cocktail with almost-easy minds.

Almost an Evening runs from June 20th-June 30th, with performances at 7:30 PM on Wednesdays, and 11:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.  This is definitely an adults-only show (why would you have the kiddos up at 11:30 PM anyways?) with profanity, violence, and nudity (ladies…you are in for a treat!)  Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, Almost an Evening will easily provide a thought-provoking and humorous night of entertainment…no almost about it.

~ Jillian Owens

Review -- Passing Strange at Trustus

  Passing Strange is one part rock concert specifically tailored for theatre aficionados, and two parts Broadway play that's particularly accessible to artists and musicians.  Incorporating elements from both forms, the show is an autobiographical reminiscence of one young man's search for artistic, ethnic and spiritual identity.  Raising some interesting points and issues, the new production at Trustus Theatre never forgets to keep the audience rocking, even as they may ponder larger questions.

The show was written by Stew (the stage name of musician Mark Stewart, i.e. like "Bono" or "Sting"), who also composed the score with Heidi Rodewald; both worked with original stage director Annie Dorsen (who gets an "in collaboration with" credit) to realize Stew's vision. In addition to Stew the real-life author, there is Stew the narrator, played by himself on Broadway and here by Samuel McWhite, and Stew the Youth, played by Mario McClean. The Narrator alternately sings and tells of his formative years as a teen and young adult, as the Youth brings them to life on stage. Sometimes the Narrator, with the perspective and wisdom of a mature adult, explains what the Youth was really thinking; at other times he makes jokes about his younger self's naiveté, or wistfully shares an insight realized too late.  Just as often, McClean shows the audience the depth and intensity of a sensitive artist's sorrows, hopes, and joys, as McWhite, backed by a capable 5-piece band (led by Musical Director Tom Beard on keyboards) sings Stew's often witty and self-deprecating lyrics. It's an inventive narrative technique, since one is never quite sure whose perspective is the more accurate.

Both McClean and McWhite (and you couldn't find a more fortuitous combination of names to play different aspects of the same character!) have pleasant, rich voices that easily adapt to the show's meandering journey through musical styles, from rockers to ballads, and McClean displays an impressive vocal range.  McClean also captures his character's utter innocence in his mid-teens, then convincingly grows into a gifted, if fairly cocky, young intellectual; meanwhile the world-weary Narrator reminds the audience of the choices he might have made along the way.  Towards the show's end, the suffering on his face is palpable McWhite attempts to relay difficult truths; without saying a word, he conveys both reluctant acceptance and defiant denial of the lessons his older self strives to teach.

Stew the composer is a rock guitarist, but shows an impressive mastery of just about every musical form. Some songs, especially those set in the earlier part of his life, are smooth soul, and recall acts like the 5th Dimension.  Others are bluesy, with McWhite channeling artists like B. B. King. Later numbers reflect anarchist metal and punk influences; quite a few reminded me of Pete Townshend's softer, piano compositions from his solo projects, and from the classic Tommy, songs like "Welcome" and "Sally Simpson."  Stew won a Tony for his book, but not for his score, however, and while all the songs are pleasant enough, there are no "Let the Sun Shine In" anthems to be found.  I must note that often his rhymes, while amusing, border on the obvious, and at times can be almost Dr. Seuss-like in their simplicity. Still, that too can be used for good comedic effect, as when every possible rhyme for "keys" is used to describe how a generous, trusting European offers her apartment to the Youth; he compares that with the way a snobby American might reject him, concluding "bitch, please - she gave me her keys."

Katrina Garvin, as Stew's mother,  makes the most of her moments on stage. Her voice is just as beautiful as it was in last summer's Smokey Joe's Cafe, and here she gets to show off her acting skills, alternately stern, loving, comical, or a combination of all three.  Four performers depict every other character, and one might think there was a hidden ensemble of another dozen singers somewhere.  It's just the four, however, and each has one or more meaty character parts. Terrence Henderson, who doubles as choreographer,  chews the scenery shamelessly and hilariously as an over-the-top performance artist, while Kanika Moore is at first scary and authoritarian as a nihilist/revolutionary/Bohemian, then softens as we see her genuine affection for the Youth.  Her demand that he "have a conversation with the hand!" is just priceless.  Avery Bateman gets lots of laughs as a suburban, church-choir princess, then is sweet, appealing and vulnerable as the Youth's Dutch girlfriend, while Kendrick Marion does fine supporting work as assorted friends and colleagues in each of those settings.

One of the show's many ironies is that in a theatre world, and a local theatre community, where good roles for actors of color are hard to find, all of the performers are African-American, yet they spend much of their time convincingly playing Dutch and Germans. And that is another irony: although the search for meaning in life and art is universal, Stew's journey is different than one might expect.  A baby boomer born in Los Angeles, he might easily have been one of the children answering James Brown with "I'm black and I'm proud!"   Stew, however, is black and ambivalent, verging on (but not quite) self-loathing. Growing up in a traditional, religious, middle-class home, his rebellion is not against 'the man," but against his mother's church, and the societal expectations placed on him by his peers, that as an intellectual, he will naturally gravitate into a Cliff Huxtable-style respectability. Instead, he forms a punk band, then flees first to Amsterdam, then Berlin, where he can find his musical voice.  The supreme irony, however, is that in a culture oblivious to his color, the Youth affects an oppressed background that he hasn't completely experienced, compelling his German peers to concede "his ghetto angst is far superior to ours."  It's quite a courageous move for the author Stew to admit that to some extent he exploited his own heritage for artistic acceptance, and when the Youth asks (paraphrasing from memory here) if anyone really understands what it's like to struggle on the streets of South Central, the Narrator stops the action, wryly observing that no one in the show, characters or performers, really understands that.  The show's title, a quote from Othello that refers to a fascinating, exotic tale, also is a reference to an accusation that just as African-Americans once tried to "pass" for white, for acceptance, so the Youth is passing for ghetto, to be accepted as a performer.

Director Chad Henderson wisely emphasizes the non-theatrical aspects of the play. Bland white drapes suggest the sheltered and clean-cut background of the youth, then open to reveal a Europe represented by vivid abstract paintings, exploding with color and vitality.  (Full disclosure: Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts  partnered with Trustus on the original art featured in the production, and all works can be bid on via silent auction though the run of the show. Most of the artists as well as Henderson have been featured in the magazine, and we heartily encourage you to support local art and artists this way.  This writer's involvement with all of that, however, has been limited to drinking a beer or two while looking at the paintings, and saying "Wow - cool art.") There is no set, nor is one needed; all action plays out naturally in front of the live band, with the occasional table, chair or hand prop used when necessary.  When characters are on stage but not directly involved in a scene, they behave naturally, listening to music on headphones, writing some private composition, or occasionally sharing a joint with the band. Yet when the time comes for a choral number, often you hear their voices while they remain focused on their personal business, seemingly uninvolved in the action. It's a technique we also saw in the recent Spring Awakening, and the result is quite effective.  Director, Musical Director, and Choreographer reunite with cast members Bateman and Marion from that show, which explored similar dramatic territory: intellect searching for truth in the midst of youth and sexuality (and Germany!) set to contemporary rock music, and performed by an energetic and talented young cast.

At the recent Jasper release party, I joked with a friend about a review he once got where the critic didn't realize how much she enjoyed the show. She detailed how good the performances were, but griped about the play itself.  So skip to the next paragraph if you are interested solely in this specific production's qualities, which are excellent.  I must commend Trustus for yet again taking a risk, being adventurous, and producing not one but two bold musical choices in quick succession, both tackling controversial themes via non-traditional storytelling and contemporary rock music.  (The composers for both Passing Strange and Spring Awakening were respected but non-mainstream rock artists who transitioned to musical theatre, and both shows premiered within months of each other in New York.)  Yet for me, the universality of this show's themes was severely undercut by an unsatisfying conclusion, or lack thereof, a gripe I also made about the generally enjoyable Spring Awakening.  The Youth asserts that "life is a mistake that only art can correct," while the ostensibly wiser Narrator cautions him that "song is a bong" (again, those witty but nursery rhyme-ish lyrics) and that what the youth is looking for in life can only be found in art.  Which are two sides of the same coin, in a way.  The Narrator maintains that love is the highest power of all... but what I longed for was a stronger declaration.  Either an extra scene showing wisdom that led the Youth to mature into the Narrator, or a song channeling The Faces'  "Oo La La" that clarifies how the Youth will have to learn it all on his own, or an admission that even now, the Narrator doesn't have all the answers.  In many ways, I was left with the impression that his former girlfriend, the German nihilist, might still see the author falling prey to the same weakness: mining his own history for immediate effect, in lieu of finding a deeper emotional truth. The ground he covers has been done before, and better, in everything from Tommy and Quadrophenia, to Purple Rain and Pippin. Still, if this was Stew's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I look forward to whatever next project becomes his Ulysses.

That said, the less one has seen the artist's struggle to find his identity depicted on stage before, the more one will marvel at this show's existential themes, acted out live with an accompanying rock band.  As above, Passing Strange is theatre for non-theatre-goers, pop music with an intellectual edge, an art exhibition with music and lyrics. Go for the art,  go for the talented cast, and go because this sort of show, one that addresses timeless yet intangible questions while actually entertaining you, just isn't done often enough in Columbia.  Passing Strange runs through April 14th; call the Trustus box office at 254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel