Theatre Review “RENT: 20th Anniversary Tour” Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando FL

FAIRWINDS Broadway in Orlando presents RENT: 20th Anniversary Tour
Show dates: Tuesday–Sunday, June 5–10, 2018
Show times vary
Tickets start at $34.25

RENT is a Broadway musical that I have seen many many times since 1996. This show is special. It has always been special and it will always be special. It was a show that is ahead of it’s time and still as smart as ever. Having seen this show on Broadway numerous time and now seeing it for the first time at the Walt Disney Theatre at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and it was like I was transported to the first time I saw it over 20 years ago now! I have never been to show where the audience was literally sitting on the edge of their chairs, dancing and singing along like this! The cheers! The applause! It was literally magic! It was like seeing it for the first time again. This show is an experience! Do not miss it!

The cast of the anniversary tour really delivered for me. I had VERY high standards for these songs and the way they are sang specifically. I really love this movie. I have been listening to it for more than half my life. The cast at this theater gave it their all. They knocked it out of the park! Roger was a real highlight for me and Angel, of boy, Angel he was simply amazing! Some notes about the Walt Disney Theater that I have been noting over the last few months, sitting in Orchestra Left in Row J and around there, we had some of the performances cut off due to the angling. It wasn’t anything major but I think it could have been adjusted since orchestra right had a lot of unused space. In the beginning of the performance, there was a little bit of an issue with the music overpowering the singing but over the first song I did not notice it again.

The set this performance did remind me of RENT. It represented the show perfectly but I just miss that Broadway feeling of getting entirely new set each Act. We stay in one scene the whole performance and I was looking for something new each scene with some new objects onto the stage. But don’t let this take away from a magical evening, I can guarantee you there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. The last thing I want to mention is that the range of age from this performance was outstanding. It ranged from early teens to senior citizens. I mean for a show to have that much range…this many years later is something special. RENT has been touring to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary for the last two years now and I don’t know when I will see it live again…and I encourage you to see this while you can!

Official Synopsis: In 1996, an original rock musical by a little-known composer opened on Broadway…and forever changed the landscape of American theatre. Two decades later, Jonathan Larson’s RENT continues to speak loudly and defiantly to audiences across generations and all over the world. And now, this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning masterpiece returns to the stage in a vibrant 20th anniversary touring production. A re-imagining of Puccini’s La Bohème, RENT follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With its inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear, this timeless celebration of friendship and creativity reminds us to measure our lives with the only thing that truly matters—love.

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Theater Review: “On Your Feet” – Kansas City

 

“On You Feet”

May 22, 2018

Starlight Theater – Kansas City

REVIEW BY JUANITA SMITH

 

They were one of the most popular bands of the 1980s, selling over 100 million albums worldwide.   But before the Miami Sound Machine started, what was the story that brought Emilio and Gloria Estefan together?

With set pieces set in Cuba and Miami, “On Your Feet” is a highly entertaining tale about two people destined to meet and create some of the most popular music of the last century.  It is also a story of the power of love, which comes into play after tragedy strikes and music is the furthest thing.

The show rides along on the mighty shoulders (and voices) of Mauricio Martinez and Christie Prades who, as Emilio and Gloria, share the majority of the vocal duties.  Both are well cast and their chemistry is evident.

The supporting cast is equally strong.  The choreography is top notch and the direction keeps the show flowing easily.  And then there are the songs!

If you’re looking for an entertaining night at the theater, you can’t go wrong with “On Your Feet.”

The show plays in Kansas City through May 27th.  For upcoming show information and tickets, click HERE

 

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Theater Review: “The Lion King” in Kansas City

Disney’s “The Lion King”

Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri

May 10, 2018

 

AMAZING!  That is the first word that popped into my head as “The Lion King” began.  While being mesmerized by the animated and musical Rafiki (Makelisiwe Goga), we were treated by a parade of animals down the aisle, from the rear of the theater to the stage.  Birds.  Gazelles.  Elephants.  They strode past in their proud majesty and filled the stage.  And for the next two and half hours, the excitement never died.

“Rafiki” in THE LION KING North American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Based on the 1994 animated film of the same name, the story of “The Lion King” is much as it was in the film.  Some of the characters are fleshed out more and there are more songs, also written by Elton John and Tim Rice.  The characters are familiar and are portrayed in an amazing way.  While the majority of the lions just wear lion heads, other characters are portrayed by actors holding/wearing puppets.  The effect is jaw-dropping.  Even the lovable duo of Timon and Pumba are portrayed this way, a way that is not distracting in the least.

The original show, which is now the third longest running show in Broadway history, was nominated for an amazing eleven Tony Awards, winning six, including Best Musical.  I’ve been attending shows, both on Broadway and off, since 1980, and I would easily put “The Lion King” in my top 10 of best shows ever.

“The Lion King” runs in Kansas City at the Music Hall through May 27th.  For ticket information, or to see where the tour is heading next, click HERE.

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S’ Wonderful News! Iconic Musical AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Comes to Movie Theaters September 2018

Tickets on sale across the U.S. from July 12, 2018

May 2018: Trafalgar Releasing has announced the North American theatrical release of the highly acclaimed musical, An American in Paris, coming to movie theaters across the USA on Thursday, September 20 and Sunday, September 23.This new rendition of An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway, where it became the most awarded musical of the 2015/16 season, including four Tony® Awards. While the U.S touring production continues to see great success with performances booking until July 2018, theater enthusiasts across North America can now experience the magic of the hit Broadway Musical performance from London’s West End in their local movie theater this fall.

With the gorgeous music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin (including the classic hits ‘S Wonderful and I Got Rhythm), book by Craig Lucas and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, this breathtakingly beautiful new musical is inspired by the Oscar® winning MGM film and tells the impassioned story of discovering love in the ‘City of Light’ in 1945.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI striving to make it as a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love in the aftermath of war…

The film stars Tony Award nominees, New York City Ballet principle dancer Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan and British Royal Ballet dancer Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, reprising their roles from the original Broadway production and a company of over 50 actors, dancers and musicians including Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, Zoë Rainey as Milo Davenport, David Seadon-Young as Adam Hochberg and Jane Asher as Madame Baurel.

The company also features Julian Forsyth and Ashley Andrews, Sophie Apollonia, Zoe Arshamian, Sarah Bakker, James Barton, Alicia Beck, Chrissy Brooke, James Butcher, Jonathan Caguioa, Jennifer Davison, Katie Deacon, Rebecca Fennelly, Sebastian Goffin, Alyn Hawke, Nicky Henshall, Genevieve Heron, Amy Hollins, Frankie Jenna, Justin-Lee Jones, Robin Kent, Kristen McGarrity, Julia J. Nagle, Daniela Norman, Aaron Smyth, Todd Talbot, Max Westwell, Jack Wilcox, Carrie Willis, Stuart Winter and Liam Wrate.

“An old-fashioned, big-hearted, spare-no-expense Broadway romance”
~ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
.
An American in Paris is directed and choreographed by the internationally renowned, British-born Christopher Wheeldon, recipient of the Tony® Award 2015: Best Choreographer for this production. An Artistic Associate of the Royal Ballet, Wheeldon received an OBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours ‘for services to promoting the interests and reputation of British classical and theatrical dance worldwide’. The set and costumes are designed by the celebrated West End and Broadway designer Bob Crowley (The Audience; Mary Poppins) with projections by the prominent British designers 59 Productions (War Horse; London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony), lighting by Natasha Katz and sound by Jon Weston.The musical score is adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher with orchestrations by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott; dance arrangements by Sam Davis; musical supervision by Todd Ellison; and musical direction by John Rigby.

Tickets for An America in Paris will be on sale starting Thursday, July 12 and can be purchased at AnAmericanInParisCinema.com.

For information regarding the National Tour please visit AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com.

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

Waitress: The Musical
Show dates: Tuesday–Sunday, March 20–25, 2018
Tickets: start at $34.25
Walt Disney Theater at @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
445 South Magnolia Avenue
Orlando, FL 32801

Let me just start my saying that I have never seen or even wanted to see the 2007 film, “Waitress” starring Keri Russell, which this musical version is based on. I wouldn’t have ever even seen the play if it wasn’t for a few of my friends who say the play on Broadway over the last few years and RAVED about it! Suddenly my interest was kicked off and to top it off the musical features music and orchestration by Sara Bareilles. From the opening scene of the “Waitress”, I knew I was hooked.

Here is the official premise of the show: Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, Waitress tells the story of Jenna – a waitress and expert pie maker, Jenna dreams of a way out of her small town and loveless marriage. A baking contest in a nearby county and the town’s new doctor may offer her a chance at a fresh start, while her fellow waitresses offer their own recipes for happiness. But Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life.

Like I mentioned “Waitress” features original music and lyrics by 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles and I really enjoy the music (listening as I type as well). The songs were strong, uplifting and really beautiful. Desi Oakley, who played the lead Jenna, has an outstanding voice. She really blows you away with some of her songs. They have such range and perfectly pitched. Jeremy Morse, who played the role of Ogie, easily stole the show and was extremely funny. He has previously starred in the same role back in 2015 in the American Repertory Theater staging of “Waitress”. Also really dug that there was a live band on the stage in the background throughout most of the show, which blended in so well I forgot they were their sometimes.

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts delivered another winning show for me. Being from New York originally and missing Broadway a little, shows like this makes me miss it much less. Here is a little tip since I believe I found the perfect seats for this theatre. We were in Row Q in the Left Orchestra and we had perfect seats, it is at the divide, so no one in front of you and plenty of leg room. Definitely will look for these seats again in the future.

“Waitress” has a lot of heart. It plays to your funny bone the first Act and just kicks you in the stomach for the second Act and delivers a great finish. I believe shows like this are important because they feature strong women and have a positive message of love and the beauty of life. I have to admit one thing that after this show I REALLY wanted me some pie! So make sure to not go hungry because this show will leave your mouth watering.Now if you excuse me I am craving some pie and I need to watch the movie finally!

Theatre Review “The Lion King” @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts – Orlando, FL

The Lion King
Show dates: February 14–March 11, 2018
Walt Disney Theater at @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
445 South Magnolia Avenue
Orlando, FL 32801
Tickets: start at $35.25

I remember like it was yesterday when “The Lion King” opened up on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theater in October of 1997. I saw it that year and was mesmerized by the outfits and the set, just beautiful! Years later I had a chance to see it again in Las Vegas in 2009 and again I experienced that wonderful same feeling. Last night, I experienced that same feeling again. From the moment the lights went down, I immediately got the chills! The music came on and the cast come flooded through the seating area in full costume, singing at full volume. This was magic!

The Walt Disney Theater at @ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is a wonderful spot to enjoy theatre. Coming from Broadway, this theatre easily rivals the experience for me personally. The sound is fantastic. The seating is so comfortable much better than a ton of the old Broadway theaters, I can recall. They even utilized two of the box seating areas and had musicians playing living music throughout, which really added a nice 3D sound. I have to admit though, they seemed a little distracting during the song, “Be Prepared” since it seemed a little out of sync.

Buyi Zama has played Rafiki in the stage production of “The Lion King” since day one and it was such an amazing experience to get to see her again in this role, now for the third time. She doesn’t miss a beat and she is on point from seeing her over 20 years ago! Coming off the last ‘Gazelle’ National tour, Mark Campbell, returned a Scar and easily commanded the stage. Besides a little technical difficulty with his mask, was on par if not better than John Vickery in the Broadway production! Literally gave me chills when he spoke!

Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in THE LION KINGNorth American Tour. ©Disney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Having seen “The Lion King” live on Broadway and in Las Vegas, this easily one of my most enjoyable to see how it came to life. This felt like a full Broadway production. Even after the show, we got a chance to go backstage and got to view how everything is stored and all the costumes and how the set works. It was amazing. I also got some insight from Mark Campbell, who describes some difference in how the sets move in and out of place and how climbs up the set pieces during the herd sequence, so it really just showed how much goes in behind-the-scenes.

The ensemble cast should also get a shout out here because they were just amazing, when we were backstage we saw how easy of the ensemble cast has 10-15 outfit changes per show. It was simply extraordinary. “The Lion King” started its nearly one month run on February 14 and runs till March 11, 2018, so if you can catch a show I would highly recommend it. Tickets can be purchased here!

Theater Review – THE COLOR PURPLE – Kansas City

The Color Purple
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts – Kansas City, Missouri
January 16, 2018

 

Since it’s publication in 1983, Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” has won many awards.  The Pulitzer.   A couple of Tonys.  Heck, if it wasn’t for some bizarre Steven Spielberg backlash the 1985 film version would have one a couple of Oscars.

 

The musical version of “The Color Purple” opened on Broadway in 2005, closing after running for over two years.  In 2016 the show returned to Broadway, where it won the Tony award for Best Revival of a Musical.  Now the show is on the road and it is definitely not one to miss.

 

The show begins in rural Georgia in 1909.  We meet sisters Nettie (N’jameh Camara) and Celie (Adrianna Hicks).  Nettie is smart and wants to be a teacher.  Celie has always been mistreated and is about to give birth to her second child – by her stepfather.  The baby is born and given away.  We meet Mister (an amazing Gavin Gregory), a widower looking to marry Nettie.  However, when told she is unavailable he settles for Celie, thinking of her not as a wife but as someone to raise his kids and clean his house.    Not exactly a honeymoon.

 

Powerfully told, “The Color Purple” is fairly faithful to the book and film many people will be familiar with.  Many of the familiar characters are here:  Sofia (Carrie Compere), Harpo (J. Daughtry), Squeak (Erica Durham) and, of course, the amazing Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart).  The story is presented on a minimalistic stage, which consists mostly of a set of risers and a set of wooden chairs.  But the show moves smoothly (though a little slow in the first act) and the cast is amazing.  Both Ms. Hicks and Ms. Stewart have the power to bring down the house with their vocals.  As Sofia, my favorite character in every incarnation of this story, Ms. Compere is both funny and heartbreaking. And I must make special mention of Mr. Gregory, who manages to make a character as dark and seemingly heartless as Mister sympathetic.

 

If you’re familiar with the story, you will genuinely enjoy this production.  If you’re not, you need to take this opportunity to make it’s acquaintance.

 

The show is playing at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City through January 21st.  For tickets and information on this show and future productions, click   HERE

Stage Review – “Les Miserables” – Kansas City

Kansas City Theater Review: “Kinky Boots”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
September 29, 2017

Review by: JR Deeter

The stage musical “Kinky Boots” is based on the 2005 British film of the same name. I first became aware of this inspiring story while watching the 2013 Tony awards program. I enjoyed the musical numbers like “Sex Is in the Heel,” “Not My Fathers Son,” and “Soul of a Man.” The performance this evening at Starlight really did those songs justice and really, the entire score of songs was great. Lead actors Lance Bordelon and Joseph N. Banks were perfect in there respective rolls of Charlie and Lola/Simon. The supporting cast did an exceptional job as well, especially the ensemble group known as the Angels. For the musical, written by Harvey Fierstein with music & lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, a strong message of inclusion is brought out, promoting the feeling that everyone deserves respect for who they are.

The story tells of a four-generation tradition of proprietors of a men’s shoe factory, Charlie dreams of something more…and his fiancé, Nicola, is dragging him to the big city of London to pursue that dream. The sudden death of Charlie’s father brings him back into the factory to figure out how to tell the staff, who are like family to him, that the company is bankrupt and going to have to close. On a return trip to London, he encounters what he believes to be a woman being beat up by a couple of guys. He intervenes and meets the amazing Lola, the drag queen star of the club Charlie was visiting. Over time a friendship begins to develop and soon, with encouragement from his factory workers, who do not want to see the factory close, Charlie realizes a change is necessary from the old, stodgy men’s shoes to something more….and that is to provid kinky style boots for the transvestites who perform in the club. They are in need of a better designed boot, one that can handle the weight of a man, and still look fabulous and sexy. Lola brings her ideas and a partnership is born. Everything is going great, until an episode of intolerance shows that there are still those in society who do not accept what they cannot understand, or what is different than what they believe is normal. After teaching the misguided few a valuable lesson, by means of a boxing match (yes, turns out in his younger days, Lola, or Simon was trained by his father to be a prize fighter). Lola and Charlie find themselves at odds over designs, models for an upcoming show in Milan, and just their friendship in general. Lola seeks closure from her failed relationship with her father, who has rejected her for the lifestyle she choose. All seems lost, but like most musicals, everything works out in the end. Charlie and Lola realize they need each other to accomplish their goals and even the former bully comes around and admits his misgivings. The fashion show starts out as a disaster, but Lola and her Angels arrive just in time to save the day, and all is right with their world.

A very entertaining show, with a valuable lesson and and musical numbers that are outstanding. Cyndi Lauper has created memorable songs and music that shine bright all the way through. Not bad for a first timer. In 2013 “Kinky Boots” received 13 Tony Award nominations and won six trophys, including Best Musical and, for Cyndi Lauper, Best Score.

Tagsylvania Is Back For It’s 8th Season Featuring “Motel 666”

 

For its eighth consecutive season Tag’s Summer Stage in Big Flats, NY makes a ghastly transformation as it shifts from upbeat concert venue to a dark foreboding home of the undead. Rated as one of the top 31 Must See Haunts by Haunted Attraction Magazine the sprawling facility is home to four different attractions this season. Along with long standing staples “Lectures Layer”, “Psycho Swamp” and “Jerkus Circus” is the newly constructed “Motel 666” a two story dilapidated motel which is said to be the home of long since deceased travelers who checked in but never left. Complete with its own frightfully, comedic desk clerk who welcomes visitors with open arms making the new attraction right at home with the other long standing haunts.

While taking a moment to catch your breath between scares visitors can partake in a variety of activities such as the “Escape the Precinct” escape room experience, a “Dark Shadows Maze”, the “Vortex” or meet with a Psychic or Tarot Card reader. If that still isn’t enough try your hand at a number of Carnival themed games while enjoying some of the fall themed food and beverages. Open weekends during the month of October haunt goers can visit http://tagsylvania.com/ for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets…If they dare.

 

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Kansas City Theater Review: “Motown the Musical”

Starlight Theater, Kansas City, MO
August 22, 2017

It is truly part of the soundtrack of my life. In fact, I would bet cash money that if you’re over the age of 16 you’ve heard the sound of Motown. From Smokey Robinson to the Four Tops. Diana Ross to the Jackson 5. Rick James to Rockwell. For almost 60 years we have grooved to the music delivered to us by the great Berry Gordy. If you’ve seen “Dreamgirls” you kind of had an idea of what went on behind the scenes. With “Motown” you know the truth.

The show opens during the famed “Motown” 25 television special, which was put together to honor the label and it’s artists but it mostly remembered for being the show where Michael Jackson introduced the Moonwalk! While current and former Motown artists (the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker) perform for the audience, we see an assistant trying to persuade Motown founder Gordy (Chester Gregory) to attend the event. Gordy is upset, having lost many of his founding musicians to bigger record labels with bigger budgets. It wasn’t always like this, he notes.

A step back into one of the most important parts of musical history, “Motown” is an amazing homage to the music most of us grew up listening to. But it’s more then just a “greatest hits” variety show. It takes a look inside the famous walls of Hitsville U.S.A. and the struggles that were endured, both musically and personally. Among the main parts of the story line are the budding romance between the married Gordy and Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Gordy has chosen to mentor Ross to be the best she can and this mentoring has slowly grown into love. In fighting among the groups, choices of songs and the rights of artists to do what they feel is important. Gaye fights to record an album of socially conscious songs and though Gordy resists at first, he relents and the world is given “What’s Going On,” followed by “Mercy, Mercy Me.” You needn’t wonder if the music is timeless, as both of those songs should be mandatory listening today.

As the story progresses into the 1970s, we meet the Jackson 5 (this group was easily the most anticipated of the evening, earning the loudest applause). The 70s slow down until the company faces the prospects of having to sell. But the late 70s and early 80s, with groups like the Commodores and singers like Rick James (btch) keep the company going. All in all you will hear a virtual jukebox of over 50 great songs, all performed by an amazing cast, led by Mr. Gregory, Ms. Semmes and Jarran Muse, who brings the soul and the spirit of the late Marvin Gaye to life. If you love music and the power it has over us, this is the show for you!

“Motown: The Musical” continues in Kansas City through August 27th. Here is the show’s touring schedule through the end of October:

Chicago, IL: Oct. 3 – Oct. 8, 2017 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre
Huntsville, AL: Oct. 10 – Oct. 15, 2017 at the Broadway Theatre League
Peoria, IL: Oct. 17 – Oct. 19, 2017 at the Peoria Civic Center
Lincoln, NE: Oct. 21 – Oct. 22, 2017 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts
Mason City, IA: Oct. 25 – Oct. 26, 2017 at the North Iowa Community Auditorium
Sioux Falls, SD: Oct. 27 – Oct. 29, 2017 at the Washington Pavilion

Kansas City Theater Review: “The Bodyguard – The Musical”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
August 8, 2017

Bang! The sound of a gunshot fills the theater while, behind the curtain, a voice cautions, “You know what I do!” Whether the other person does or doesn’t is irrelevant. With another shot, he is dead.

The above transpires in the first few minutes of “The Bodyguard: The Musical.” Based on the popular Lawrence Kasdan film, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, the show is hoping to recreate it’s huge London success on a tour of the states.

To those familiar with the film, you know that the story involves pop superstar and budding film star Rachel Marron (an outstanding Deborah Cox) and her hate/hate more relationship with Secret Service agent turned personal bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who has been hired by Rachel’s manager to look after the singer after a series of threatening notes are found. Frank is a no-nonsense kind of guy and this rubs Rachel the wrong way. Not only is she worried about her privacy but that of her young son, Fletcher. As the show progresses we are treated to some nice choreography and some amazing Whitney Houston songs. In fact, this show is so full of Houston’s hits that it should have been called “WHITNEY! – The Musical.”

The show’s plot consists of every way possible to introduce another classic Whitney Houston to the audience. The songs are classics, but the plot is a dud. It didn’t really work as a film but translated to the stage, especially in musical form, is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay off. On the plus side, both leads are committed to their roles and Ms. Cox’s voice is loud and clear. The choreography is top notch and the direction keeps the show moving. If you’re a fan of the film you may want to skip “The Bodyguard.” If you’re into the music of Whitney Houston, then by all means take it in.

Kansas City Theater Review: “An American in Paris”

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
July 11, 2017

It’s one of the most beloved film musicals of all time, winner of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was often referred to by its star, the great Gene Kelly, as his favorite of his films. I’m talking, of course, about 1951’s “An American in Paris,” which introduced a new generation to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Paris. World War II has just ended and American G.I. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an aspiring painter, has decided to stay in the City of Lights in hopes of gaining new inspirations to put brush to canvas. He meets fellow soldier Adam (Etai Benson), who delivers the story to the audience. He also meets Henri (Nick Spangler), an aspiring performer. The three men are anxious to remove all memories of the war and begin whatever great adventure life has planned for them. Things go well until they meet the beautiful Lise (Sara Esty), a young ballet dancer. While Adam’s relationship with LIse is professional, both Jerry and Henri fall in love with her, with complications aplenty.

First off my sincere thanks for the marvelous performance turned in by the entire cast on a night where, as the curtain rose, the temperature was near 90 degrees. Thankfully there was a nice breeze all night because the night went by swiftly. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has embraced the ballet aspect of the story, with much of the on-stage movement based on that form of dance. The graceful movements of those involved were perfect accompaniments with the musical score. No wonder Mr. Wheeldon was nominated for the Tony Award for both his directing and choreography, winning the award for the latter.

The four leads were in fine voice, breathing fresh life into such well known standards as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and “‘S Wonderful.” The costumes were bright and colorful and the set design, though a little dark, evoked Paris in the late 1940’s.

Again, the video screens were a little distracting but I will give Starlight credit for using mostly wide-shots of the stage (“Mamma Mia” utilized a lot of close-ups, meaning those watching on the screens were missing a lot of the dancing), giving the audience a complete view of the award-winning choreography.

 

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Theater Review: “Jersey Boys” – Kansas City

Jersey Boys
Starlight Theatre, Kansas City MO
June 27, 2017

Review By: J.R. Deeter

If you are of a certain age, you certainly know the musical history of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. From the early 1960’s with breakthrough hits like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” the hits just kept coming…..few bands consistently gave their fans hit after hit on the Billboard Pop Chart.

What most people may not have known, and do not realize, is the story of how four boys from Jersey came together, from lowly beginnings and backgrounds while dealing with constant band name changes (they finally settled on The Four Seasons, borrowed from a local bowling alley) to struggle and then soar to the highest levels of success, before falling completely apart. One member removed, one member walked away, with two left to try again….and succeed again. It really is a great American rags to riches story and two and a half hours of pure entertainment.

Starlight Theater is a beautiful outdoor venue in Kansas City and the theater can be a very enjoyable experience, when the weather is nice. For our performance it was “Oh What A Night”!

The cast did a fantastic job, both musically and in portraying their respective roles, picking up after what seemed like a few stumbled moments during the opening scenes. Aaron De Jesus shines as Frankie Castelluccio, soon to become Frankie Valli, with an “i”. His voice was the best part of the show by far leading and hitting the high falsetto notes Valli is most famous for.

Matthew Dailey as Tommy DeVito, Keith Hines as Nick Massi, and Cory Jeacoma as Bob Gaudio were also very entertaining, as each member gets to tell his version of the story. As the show moves through the hit songs and the personal experiences of the guys, you can get a feel for what it was like for them, although I do think there is just enough embellishment for entertainment value. The supporting cast held their own, the female members handling many different roles and pulling it off easily. The Jersey Boys Orchestra was top notch and the music was fresh and crisp.

Note to Starlight: While I can appreciate the offer of the large screens installed this season about mid level up on the left and right side of the stage for the benefit of the folks in the back, I did find myself drawn to keep looking away from the performance on the stage. I feel it is more appropriate for a concert event….let’s keep theater events theater.

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.

 

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