Theatre Review “Finding Neverland” @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts – Orlando, FL

Finding Neverland
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Orlando, FL
June 6th, 2017

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Finding Neverland is a story about how author and playwright J.M. Barrie overcame creative struggles when four children and their widowed mother came into his life one day in Kensington Park in London, just after the turn of the century in the early 1900’s. Jack, George, Michael, Peter, and their mother Sylvia Llewelyn Davies broke Barrie out of a creative “slump” he was in by helping him to rediscover his inner child, reminding him that sometimes you shouldn’t take life too seriously and should just have some fun.

Barrie draws his inspiration primarily through Peter, who lost his playfulness and imagination following the passing of his father. Although Jack, George, Michael and their mother tried to maintain positivity following their loss, Peter just wasn’t the same. He had seemed to “grow up” too soon. But when Barrie and the Davies’ all met that fateful day in Kensington Gardens, Barrie couldn’t help but feel like he had to somehow restore Peter to the child he was before his father’s passing. In the process of doing so, Barrie ultimately found the child that had been suppressed within himself for far too long. As a result of Barrie finding that child buried deep inside, he remembered Neverland – an imaginary place he had fashioned in his mind when he was a young boy. That imaginary place, combined with inspiration Barrie drew from his various adventures with the Davies family, is what drove Barrie to give life to the story of Peter Pan as we now know it.

Neverland itself can be summed up as a beautiful story… about how we came to know another beautiful story. There’s laughter, joy, a little bit of sadness, and a whole lot of fun. But Neverland, in its Broadway play format – now traveling North America – is truly a masterpiece of the stage. It’s not just the story that made it such an enjoyable experience – but also the fantastic cast that brings the story to life in front of a live audience.

For just a few short hours, I hung on every line and every lyric of the dialogue and song that projected towards me from the stage. I couldn’t wait for the next witty line, silly joke – or even sad twist in an overall whimsical and upbeat storyline. The four young actors that played the Davies children were wonderful. Rory Donovan, who plays the roles of both Charles Frohman, the man who backed Barrie’s plays, as well as Captain James Hook – was fantastic. His Hook was intimidating yet hilarious at the same time. The entire cast worked so well together, was so polished and really seemed like they were having the time of their lives up on the stage.

Throughout the play I didn’t look at my watch, check my phone, or even have a single thought about anything else in the world outside of that theatre – not even once. When the play broke for intermission I was annoyed; I didn’t want the fun to stop. When it finally ended, I wanted it to start from the beginning all over again. If you have a chance to catch this play while it’s on tour do yourself a favor, and anyone else who you might consider bringing along, and go buy some tickets right now. I promise you that you’ll have a blast, and for at least a few short hours you’ll forget about everything else in the world and do nothing by laugh and smile. And we could all use more of that in our lives.

Theatre Review: Wicked @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando FL

“Wicked” opened on Broadway in New York back in 2003 and has since com “a cultural phenomenon” according to Variety and called “the best musical of the decade” by Entertainment Weekly. “Wicked” has been performed in over 100 cities in 14 countries around the world being translated into six languages and is the winner of over 100 international major awards, including a Grammy® and three Tony® Awards. And this month it is in Orlando, FL at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts’s Walt Disney Theater from January 11 – 29, 2017.

If you have never seen or heard of “Wicked” here is a quick premise: The surprising tale of an unlikely friendship between two women in the Land of Oz, Wicked tells the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good, long before Dorothy dropped in. Elphaba, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. Glinda is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. The remarkable odyssey of how these unexpected friends changed each other’s lives for good has made Wicked one of world’s most popular musicals.

This show was simply outstanding. Simply outstanding! I grew up in New York and visit the theatre district many many many times and have seen hundreds of plays. I loved the grand scale of it all. The sets, the cast, the music! It was all so amazing to me. When I moved to Florida in 2010, I thought I wasn’t going to be  able to see that scale of amazing again in the theatre…and that was true until I found the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts’s Walt Disney Theater. These people put on shows like I have never seen. “Wicked” was so just epic and breathtaking that I feel like I have to see it twice to soak in all the magic that it was!

I am sure that Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth were amazing in their original roles on Broadway. No doubt. But these two leads in Orlando were absolutely breathtaking! Their voices really pick you up and take your through this amazing story behind “The Wizard of Oz”. The talent on this production overall is just A+. With all the shows I’ve seen I have to admit this was in no question of the best in recent year! Must see this show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts or at least during its North American tour.

Theatre Review “Slava’s Snowshow” Orlando FL, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Tuesday, February 17, 2015–Sunday, March 1, 2015
Walt Disney Theater
120 minutes (2 hours)

“Slava’s Snowshow” is like nothing I have ever seen before on the stage. I have seen a dozen of the Cirque du Soleil shows and since Slava is the original Cirque du Soleil clown, I knew sort of what to expect. Still I haven’t been to a show that literally it has almost been a week since I saw it and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. This award winning international clown show has been touring for 20 years and I hope it goes for another 20 years. Even though this is a circus show, it is really magical. The set is extremely simple yet so effective. There is so much done with so little. The colors are so vibrant and the use of music blends in so beautifully.

Since this show is called “Snowshow”, I also expected the use of snow but never like this. Watch the 30 second clip below to just get a glimpse of what you can expect. You literally have snow exploded at you like a avalanche and it is breathtaking. Before the break, there is also a part with a spider web that takes over the entire theater. Words connect explain how terrifying yet at the same time exhilarating experience it was. to top it off it end with dozens of balls flying into the audience and the kids went crazy for that!

This was the first time that I got to visit the brand new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, FL and it is a marvel it is own. The parking situation is not great at all though and the staff was also quite nasty and rude. I don’t just mean one person either, I mean every single employee that we encountered was unpleasant. Luckily it got overshadowed by this amazing show. If it comes to your city, I highly recommend.

DVD Review “Captain Phillips”

Actors: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Catherine Keener, Faysal Ahmed
Directors: Paul Greengrass
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: January 21, 2014
Run Time: 134 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Tom Hanks is a such tremendous actor and I have been a big fan of his work recently, especially with “Cloud Atlas”. His performance in “Captain Phillips” was no question some of his best work to date. It is very emotional and very intense. The film was based on real events and is so well done that it literally has you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I originally wasn’t planning on rush out to theaters to see this but I am really glad I did since I really enjoyed this. I just wonder what happened to Hank’s Oscar nod? Either way this comes highly recommended!

Official Premise: Captain Phillips is a multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is – through director Paul Greengrass’s distinctive lens – simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller, and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama’s commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (two time Academy award®-winner Tom Hanks), and the Somali pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who takes him hostage. Phillips and Muse are set on an unstoppable collision course when Muse and his crew target Phillips’ unarmed ship; in the ensuing standoff, 145 miles off the Somali coast, both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control.

This film works well on DVD, it is a not a film that screams Blu-ray release. The audio and video are still solid since the film relies more on the actor’s performances then flashy effects. What is good at least is that there are the same special features that is included on the DVD as there is on the Blu-ray. That has not always been the same recently either. There is a very interesting audio commentary track with director Paul Greengrass. There is also a three-part featurette “Capturing Captain Phillips” including “Embarkation”, “Full Ahead” and “Stand Fast”. Lastly there is also a UltraViolet Digital Copy, so that is a nice bonus!

Film Review “Captain Phillips”

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Directed By: Paul Greengrass
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 14 mins
Sony Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ulitmatum” and the writer of “Flight Plan” and “The Hunger Games”; Tom Hanks stars as “Captain Phillips,” the true story about an American captain and his crew being hijacked by Somali Pirates off the coast of Africa in 2009.

While carrying supplies and food for poverty stricken villages in Somalia and Kenya, The Maersk Alabama became the first American ship in 200 years to be hijacked by pirates. The story follows Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), from the hijacking of the Alabama to the capture of the pirates and escape of captain and crew. We are introduced to the world of the Somali pirates, their planning (or lack there of) and their successful taking over of ships with just a small row boat with a motor. Because the Alabama was a freight carrier with a tall hull, the thinking on board was that there was little to no chance of the ship being hijacked. Which means the crew is less than prepared for the struggles they endure and are rendered helpless when their captain and leader is taken hostage by four pirates in a small covered life boat.

This story was broadcast all over the news in 2009 and captivated much of America at the time. Here we see the story that wasn’t presented on the news; the communication between Phillips and the pirates; the struggle of isolation and not knowing. The film also takes you into the chase by the US Navy and the attempted rescues that take place.

In my opinion the film ran a little too long. If you’re familiar with the story and the outcome before watching the movie you’ll find yourself sitting there for the last 30 mins just waiting for the end. However, if you have no recollection of the incident, as surprisingly some people around me in the theatre weren’t, it is a suspenseful ride throughout. This film is about courage, trust, and determination and you see it at both sides of the spectrum. Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks; you know he is going to deliver in any role he takes on. But it’s the crew of pirates that really make the film and truly build the story. First time actors Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdrahman, Faysal Ambed, and Mahat Ali all deliver performances that are so genuine, intimidating and sometimes frightening, it made me wonder if they were actors or the real deal!

I wouldn’t say this is a must see in the theaters but this film IS a must see. I have no doubts that Hanks, Paul Greengrass and the film itself will be recognized during award season.

Bassist Ricky Phillips talks working with Styx, Reo Speedwagon and Ted Nugent

Ricky Phillips is no stranger to world of rock music. Over his 30+ year career Phillips has played bass for a number of successful groups. He is probably best known for holding down the low end for the legendary classic rock band Styx. Media Mikes had the chance to talk with Ricky recently about the bands current tour with Reo Speedwagon and Ted Nugent as well as about the bands recent Blu-Ray release titled “Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight- Live”.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us some background on the bands current tour with Reo Speedwagon and Ted Nugent?
Ricky Phillips: Both Styx and Reo Speedwagon have some incredible history that goes way back. We are both from Illinois and have toured together before but this is the first one we have done together in about 3 or 4 years. We did do some one off shows here and there but the idea came up to put us together and have Ted Nugent open. It is sort of a collaboration of Mid-West rock bands. The attendance at these shows has just been amazing. When you go out each year you never know what the shows will be like. The first leg of the tour went well and was sort of business as usual. This second leg has been sold out every night which just blew us away. It’s really crazy how it’s caught on. This success may lead to us doing a similar tour sometime next year. The fans seem to really enjoy the line up and if you think about it each group is quite different so we are trying to put a different slant on mid-west rock.

AL: What has been the biggest difference in the crowds as of late?
RP: There are so many young people now that have discovered classic rock bands. They seem to be at a point in their music listening lives where they are looking for what came before. We are those guys. When I and the rest of the guys in the band were younger and at this point we were heavily influenced by the British music movement. From there we looked back and found artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Guys like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were into these acts so we started searching them out as well. It is pretty cool seeing these new young faces as they watch and sing along. We have a great cross section of fans.

AL: Can you tell us about the DVD/Blu-Ray the band recently released?
RP: The “Styx: Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight- Live” came out really great. The Blu-Ray did amazing and I couldn’t believe how many people were waiting for that. I think we were actually number 2 in sales for the first couple weeks on Amazon.com. Those two albums go together so well that the discs came out beautifully. Doing those shows was like going back the vinyl era where you dropped the needle and boom the music kicks in. We did each album in its entirety the way it was recorded so fans could have that feeling of knowing what the next song is. They could get wrapped up in the songs. We would then take an intermission and come back and play “Pieces of Eight”. It was just so much fun. When we first did those records and you were trying to get them on the radio you would pack one side with what you thought were going to be the hits. You were trying to foresee the future. When you do a live concert things are exactly the opposite. You generally start with the B cuts then the hits and close out with your encores. It was a bizarre way to do a live show like an album but it seemed to work really well. The Blu-Ray version of the show is definitely the way to see it.

AL: Was it hard going back and playing some of the material that you hadn’t played in awhile?
RP: At first it was a little tough. We worked pretty hard on the material and once we got in to it we knew we weren’t turning back. We did a lot of switching off between vocals parts as there are just so many stacked vocal parts on those albums. We even threw a microphone back to our drummer Todd Sucherman who is a great singer. Getting those extra voices were crucial and probably the biggest challenge. We like challenges like that and we welcomed it. Things turned out really well.

AL: VH1 recently did a re-mastered episode of the “Styx: Behind the Music” episode. What was it like having to delve once again back in to the bands history?
RP: Personally I am not a fan of those kinds of shows. I am a bit of a weirdo. I don’t like people knowing my bands business. I liked the concept of not knowing about a band until you went and saw them live. You might see a picture or two of a band in a magazine or something but that was about it. I loved that mystique. Watching these types of shows is a little difficult. I know fans like them and we are in a different age now. With reality television and things I guess these types of shows fit right in. The episode is pretty well represented I think. They shot some footage of me while I was in England and I was a little afraid to watch the show. After seeing I thought it was good and gladthat it was out there for fans to see how the band came about and how we have evolved.

AL: What other plans are in the works for the band?
RP: The band will continue to tour and live its daily life. As that happens things are always evolving and stuff start to tell their own stories. We have been writing new material and talking about getting it recorded for some time. I have started to hear more and more about it as of late. We may find some time in our schedules to actually do that. For us it’s really about the touring business. After this tour wraps up I think we have about a week off and then we go back out doing “An Evening with Styx”. I kind of know what parts of the country we will be in but I don’t know the exact venues.