Theatre Review: “The Book of Mormon”

Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

If you are a listener to our “Behind the Mikes” podcast (and if not, why aren’t you) you’ll recall that a few weeks ago we were talking about the most recent great original film musical. Not something like “Dreamgirls” or “Les Miserables,” which were translated from the Broadway stage, but a musical written just for the movies. The first one that popped into my mind was 1999’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” From it’s opening song to it’s grand finale’, the film tells it’s story through virtually every style of music known to man. To say that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are talented would be an understatement. 12 years later, Parker and Stone teamed up with “Avenue Q” co-composer/co-lyricist Robert Lopez and have created one of the most entertaining and inspirational shows in Broadway history. “The Book of Mormon.”

In Utah a group of young men wait patiently. They have all spent months studying to go abroad to spread the word of God through their ministry, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or, as they are more commonly referred to, the Mormons. As each pair of boys is named they learn their destinations. Japan. Norway. France. Exotic places all. Finally, only Elder Price (Gabe Gibbs), the highest regarded person in the group, and Elder Cunningham (Chad Burris), who is pretty much the opposite of Elder Price, are left. They soon find themselves teamed up and heading for beautiful….Africa. Two years in the jungles fighting aids and poverty. Woo hoo!

There isn’t a lot you can say for a musical that contains four letter words, Darth Vader and an image of a Hell that contains both Hitler AND Johnnie Cochran except this: IT’S BRILLIANT! The songs are both clever and catchy and the cast spectacular. Even the story, which many reading this may think mocks the Mormon faith, is uplifting. That’s a trifecta that very few shows ever hit.

As Elder Price, Gibbs brings a wide-eyed youthful joy to the role. He KNOWS that Heavenly Father is on his side. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Burris was actually the understudy for the actor scheduled to play Elder Cunningham. He was both funny and touching in his performance. And, if anyone ever decides to do a bio-pic on the late Chris Farley, I would hope that Burris would get an audition. He brings the kind of energy and innocence to the role as well as Farley ever did in his film performances. Other cast standouts include Bryce Charles (another stand-in) as Nabulungi and Sterling Jarvis as Mafala. The ensemble cast was also spot on, a tribute to the kind of shows that the Broadway Across America consistently bring to Kansas City.

Of course since, according to the show, the Garden of Eden IS located in Jackson County, Missouri, maybe the show got a little nudge from Heavenly Father!

The tour continues on through August 2017. Here are a list of it’s next few destinations:

December 13 – 18, 2016 Fayetteville
December 20 – 31, 2016 Dallas
January 3 – 15, 2017 Houston
January 17 – 22, 2017 Jacksonville
January 24 – 29, 2017 Ft. Meyers
January 31 – February 5, 2017 Greenville

Paradiso Chapter 1 “NYC’s Most Interactive Escape Room”

In a New York Comic Con weekend filled with virtual reality experiences, nothing entertained my imagination more than Michael Counts’s escape room, PARADISO: CHAPTER 1. Billed as “part immersive theater, part escape room, part existential game,” Paradiso satisfies multiple action movie nerd fantasies in one pulse pounding hour.

The Paradiso experience begins, if you choose to provide your smartphone number, before you reach the venue with some ominous video messages ‘exposing’ the Virgil corporation who you are due to meet at your appointed time. Everyone in my party also received different clues to help us but to keep secret from each other.

In midtown we met up with our contact in a functioning karaoke bar to begin our experience. Ostensibly we are being welcomed into the offices of the Virgil Corporation who are on the lookout for genetically gifted escape artists. A wonderfully spacey secretary doled out forms and waivers in Virgil’s reception before the “normal” procedures were quickly overridden and the ‘real’ escape experience begins. Cue the Saw-ready voice changer demands from the heavens. Suddenly the office was revealed to be full of puzzles and my team sprang into action.

Chapter 1 features four more spaces after that reception office, each offering their own distinct look. For my money, the best room was a vintage library where we encountered a frantic handcuffed woman who upped the tension and hastily armed my teammate with a pistol. Other thrills included an air duct for us to feel extra John McClane-y and a massive bomb to be disarmed complete with digital countdown clock. The actors, handcuff lady included, make for an extra level of intrigue as they can help or hinder your progress and to this day none of my team can decide on if we allied ourselves correctly.

Teams who have diversified their skills roster get rewarded as the in-game puzzles range from visual clues to math and physical puzzles. If you’ve ever fantasized who would be in your Oceans-type heist amongst friends, that’s the crew to bring. And going into this Halloween weekend, Paradiso provides an excellent alternate to conventional horror houses by getting your heart-racing without scaring you silly. Ultimately my escape team was done in by some algebra in the final room–who knew that would come in handy?!–but we eagerly look forward to many more chapters to come.

View the Paradiso trailer below, and find ticketing information at its official website.

Theater Review: “If/Then” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, MO
July 26th, 2016

Our review: 4 out of 5 stars

What if? That is the question many of us have asked ourselves. What if, the day we did something that changed our lives, we didn’t. Instead of walking down one street and meeting the woman of your dreams you went the other way and found no one?

That is the question poised, as well as the name of the first musical number, in the show “If/Then,” now playing at Starlight Theater through July 31st.

Our show concerns itself with Elizabeth (Jackie Burns), who has returned to New York after a failed marriage in Portland. While waiting to meet an old friend, Lucas (Anthony Rapp) she meets a new one, Kate (a very funny and talented Tamyra Gray). Each want her to do something different. Each also call her by a different name. To Lucas she is Beth, hard working and dedicated. To Kate, who feels that Beth is the name of a woman living alone with her cats, she is Liz, ready to take on the world and all it has to offer. Liz/Beth also has a chance meeting with Josh, a young soldier just back from a tour of duty. As the show progresses, we often find Liz/Beth being put in a situation where, depending on which way she goes, has an immense impact on her life. What if?

Nominated for two Tony Awards when if first appeared on Broadway, “If/Then” was a perfect show to highlight the vocal talents of the great Idina Menzel. Ms. Burns is up to the challenge of stepping into Menzel’s vocal shoes here. It was nice to finally get the chance to see Anthony Rapp on stage. The only drawback is that his voice is so recognizable, thanks to a little show he did on Broadway two decades ago, that throughout most of the first act I could hear people around me, who apparently didn’t read the Playbill, that he was “the guy from RENT.” Ms. Gray, who you may remember was one of the first people to appear on “American Idol,” was also in great voice. All in all, an entertaining show.

The show continues on to Hartford, Connecticut the first week of August then moves on to Atlanta. For more information head here.

Theatre Review: “The Bridges of Madison County” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
June 14, 2016

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Theatre Review By Mike Smith

1965. In small town Winterset, Iowa, Francesca (Elizabeth Stanley) sees a stranger coming down her driveway. With her husband and children off to show their prize steer at a fair in Indiana, she is at first apprehensive about the man’s arrival. But from the moment she first meets Robert (Andrew Samonsky), a photographer for National Geographic who has lost his way, her life will never be the same.

Based on the novel by Robert James Waller, which also inspired the very popular film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, “The Bridges of Madison County” is a faithful adaptation by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Marsha Norman, opened up a little to provide for more characters and a little humor, which comes courtesy of the various neighbors who can’t help but notice the handsome stranger and his spending time with the married lady.

Winner of two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, the show boasts some excellent songs that not only set the mood of the show but progress it along. The cast, from top to bottom is well cast. My one problem was Ms. Stanley’s accent. Francesca is supposed to be from Italy, but she is played as a combination of Meryl Streep from “Sophie’s Choice” and Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles,” where “Like” is pronounced “Lock” and “Play” sounds like “Ply.” A small squabble, to be sure, but it was something I really noticed.

As a bonus for our Kansas City readers, you yourself can visit the real Bridges of Madison county by heading north on I-35 for 2 hours. You’ll find Winterset to be a nice little town where you can go into the same restaurant used in the film and sit on the same stool that Clint Eastwood rested his butt on (I’ve done it). It’s also the hometown of John Wayne so men, while you’re lady is looking at the bridges you can visit the birthplace of the Duke! Like the show, a good time is guaranteed for all.

Theatre Review: “Matilda” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Matilda the Musical
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 24, 2015
Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Review by Mike Smith

As an owner of a satellite radio one of my guilty pleasures is the “On Broadway” channel. Lots of show tunes, both old and new. One of the shows whose score I’d heard, but hadn’t seen, was the story of the girl who likes to read, “Matilda.” I was happy to learn that it would be kicking off the season this year at Starlight. That being said, I wasn’t as happy when I left the theater.

Based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, “Matilda” tells the story of a young girl born to uninterested parents. Her mother (Darcy Stewart) is upset that her labor has interrupted her goal of dancing in an upcoming contest. Dad (Brandon McGibbon) is a car salesman who is so upset at having a girl he continuously refers to Matilda (a very good Lily Brooks O’Bryant) as a boy. “I’m a girl,” the young lady repeatedly reminds him. They send her off to school, but, as a young child, she is put in the worse class where all she gets for her love of reading is lectures by the school mistress, Miss Trunchbull (David Abelles). Hilarity ensues.

OK, first the good part. The songs are catchy and the young cast members are in good voice and have nailed the choreography. The bad part, especially with the parents, is that their British accents seem forced. And that’s being polite. It’s almost as if they had attended the “Dick Van Dyke School of Accents.” When he played Bert in the film “Mary Poppins,” Van Dyke’s accent was so atrocious – and yes, I know that word rhymes with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – the book’s author, P.L. Travers – refused to let Walt Disney make a sequel.

If you like watching talented children then go see “Matilda.” If not, read the book.

Theatre Review: “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

CINDERELLA
July 7, 2015
Starlight Theater, Kansas City, Missouri

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

Imagine I’m telling you this in my “old man” voice: Back in my day, theater on television was a rarity. Two things that kids looked forward to were the annual presentations of Mary Martin in “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella,” starring Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. This touring production captures the magic of my early television memories.

The story is well known. Cinderella (Paige Faure) lives with her mean step-mother (Beth Glover) and two step-sisters (Kaitlyn Davidson and Aymee Garcia). While step-mom dreams up ways of marrying her daughters off and moving up in life, Cinderella toils in the house, cooking, cleaning and making the beds. A chance meeting with Prince Topher (Andy Huntington Jones) allows her to dream of a better life When the Prince invites every eligible lady in the kingdom to the ball, in the hopes of meeting his future bride, Cinderella longs to go. But she could use a little help…

Well produced and performed, this version of “Cinderella” mixes up great songs (by the legendary Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers), a strong cast and a familiar story to make it sure to entertain everyone in the audience, both young and old. The cast is in fine voice and the choreography is sharply performed. Both leads have great range and the supporting characters, especially Cinderella’s mean relatives, prove themselves fine comediennes. And the magic isn’t reserved just for the performances. Some amazing sleight of hand occurs when Cinderella obtains her ball gown. I urge you to pay attention and if you can tell me how they do it, please drop me a line. The accompanying orchestra also helped keep the show moving, helping give a familiar story a few much needed high notes.

“Cinderella” continues at Starlight through Sunday, July 12, 2015.

Theatre Review “Pippin” Starlight Theater – Kansas City, MO

Pippin
June 30th, 2015
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Mo.

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

How have I never heard of “Pippin”? Even musicals I don’t like, I’ve heard of or I’ve unfortunately seen. The name Pippin conjures up the British boy, Pip, from the TV show “South Park”. So maybe my brain is simply confusing the misfortunes of a TV show character with this musical, because that’s the only thing I could think about before the curtain came up. It’s a shame too because my brain should only think of this musical when hearing “Pippin” from now on. “Pippin” is undoubtedly the best musical, show, and stage production I have ever seen at Starlight.

“Pippin” is a difficult story to unravel. It has so many layers, but the revelations and showcase of each individual layer is what makes this musical a joy to watch. So without giving too much of the story away, “Pippin” obvious follows the tale of a boy named Pippin. He is the noble son of King Charles. He’s frustrated because nothing in life that’s holding his attention or giving him a thrill. He’s the next in line to the throne and there are plenty of different paths for him to choose.

I know, it doesn’t sound like the most exciting or original of stories, but this is a story that’s told through a narrator, or as the bill calls it, the leading player. This person serves the narrative, the fourth wall breaking (to be fair, there’s a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall in this), and the magical guide for Pippin on his life. Sure Pippin’s pulled this way and that way, but the leading player serves as a compass for Pippin. Without the leading player, he may as well settle into being a knight, or a ruthless king, or a wandering hedonist.

“Pippin” goes against every musical convention I’ve come to expect. Most don’t acknowledge or much less tell the audience what to do. OK, maybe “Spamalot” does, but “Pippin” plays with the idea that this is a story in a very meta way. It acknowledges there’s a script, there’s a story, there’s a climax and that there’s an inevitable end, but in a way that both serves the fact that this is a musical and serves the fictional world of Pippin.

It could easily be convoluted, but it’s handled very well and clearly. As for the meaning or theme, it’s definitely in the eye of the beholder. I have my own, just like I’m sure many others will. “Pippin” is a critique against trying to find greater meaning in life when the real meaning can easily be right in front of you. It likes to say that it’s easy to lose focus of what makes us happy and it’s hard to simply accept what makes us happy. In a melancholy way though, there is no escape from this never ending process for humans and may just be part of our worldly experience.

As for the performances, they were stellar. The stunts performed in this production would put the Ringling Brothers out of business. The tricks and sleight of hands were unexpected, never cheap, and inspired child like magic in some of the oldest of those in attendance. The music is funky, with a big band twist, it’s also symphonically generic, but in a good way, and at times it has echoes of aged top 40 pop music. No moment is wasted and no ensemble set piece ever feels forced.

“Pippin” is a tony award winning musical, and for good reason. It’s easy to see why something so intricate and grand would be hard for high schools, small community theaters, and others to try and replicate. After watching this wonderful production, I can’t imagine watching it on a smaller stage or within the confines of a smaller production. Just like an eye popping summer blockbuster, “Pippin” must be experienced on a big stage with the best of the biz.

Theatre Review “Once: The Musical” Tour – Kansas City, MO

Once: The Musical
June 17th, 2015
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Kansas City, Mo.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

A few years ago I was given the chance to watch the movie “Once”. I had never heard of it and I didn’t know a single thing about it. From the first song of the movie, I was hooked and within its 85 minutes, I fell in love. Now, fast forward to the present and I, once again, had no idea that there was a stage adaptation of this movie and that it was wildly popular ever since the first curtain call on Broadway. I know that a transition from film to stage is difficult, so I quelled my expectations. Luckily they were exceeded.

Just like the movie, “Once” follows a scruffy faced street musician, who works at his dad’s shop repairing household items. The repair business is a simple side project to his passion. He performs soothing toe tapping songs and soulful songs about love loss. His name? Not necessarily given. He’s simply known as Guy, but he represents so many disenfranchised musicians hoping to make it big, his story is fairly common, so his name isn’t required.

Whilst performing, he’s approached by Girl, who, for lack of a better word, is a girl. She eagerly plays piano alongside him and they quickly connect through their tune, “Falling Slowly.” He’s obviously smitten, but she isn’t as interested. She has a kid, lives with her family, and has a husband. She also notices that all his music, which comes from the heart, is linked to a girl in his past. Girl knows that Guy can still go back to that long lost love, and she doesn’t believe he should go chasing after her.

So it comes down to if they hook up or not. And obviously I’m not going to tell you because that’s part of the charm of this production. The story mainly stays intact and hovers closely to its source material. Certain aspects are changed because you don’t have the luxury of having multiple, expansive scenes. The only problem is the characters. The characters have been tweaked a bit to be more humorous and more relatable.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a nagging aspect in the back of my mind because these are two characters that I remember fondly for the story that they tell. When some jokes are thrown in to help break up the tension between the two, it feels out of place. The other characters that provide comedic relief also provide some cheap laughs that don’t fit in with the musical as a whole.

But what makes “Once” truly outstanding is the cast and crew. This is a musical that requires our singers to play instruments, interact, and constantly be moving. The choreography to change sets within the confines of a stage while swinging instruments to and fro is perfect. So every bit of praise that I have goes to the people who helped bring “Once” to life. And despite my disappointment with their characters, I’m very pleased with how well they handled the material.

Re-Imagined “Camelot” Comes to Kansas City

CAMELOT
June 9, 2015
Starlight Theatre
Kansas City, Missouri

Our score: 3 out of 5 stars

Of all the “classic” Broadway musicals I’ve wanted to see, none ranked up as high on the list as “Camelot.” I don’t know if it was because my mom always played the album (she LOVED Robert Goulet) or if it was because I knew that it had been President John F. Kennedy’s favorite show. Coincidentally, Kennedy had been a classmate at Harvard with the show’s author and lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner. And while I’m not going to rave about this production, I’m glad I saw it.

The show opens with King Arthur (Adam Grabau) chatting with his friend and mentor, Merlin (Mark Poppleton). Arthur is about to wed, sight unseen, the Lady Guenevere (Mary McNulty) in an effort to bring peace to the kingdom. They meet cute and both are happy to learn that the other is quite attractive. The marriage goes well but Merlin is lured away. Five years later Arthur has decided to let more than sword fights and battles rule the kingdom. Convinced that things can be worked out with words, he invites other Knights to sit with him at his Round Table. Among those Knights is the French Lancelot Dulac. While his boastful tone upsets some, Arthur finds it refreshing. And after Lancelot bests Arthur’s three best Knights, even bringing one back from the dead after killing him, Arthur is convinced that Lancelot is his champion. Guenevere also sees something in Lancelot. Awkward!

Well presented, though if the press information is to be believed, quite scaled down for the “Game of Thrones” set, this production of “Camelot” posts three great leads and an incredible selection of music. It also features a scaled down (5-piece) orchestra (I think Munch’s Make Believe Band at Chuck E. Cheese has more members) which was sometimes very hard to her over the strong vocals. The three leads do well both in character and in song. Poppleton turns up again as King Pellinore and gives the show some much needed comic moments. In the second act we meet Mordred (Kasidy Devlin), foretold by Merlin as someone Arthur should distance himself from. Unfortunately he is more annoying than evil. If the Knights of the Round Table were the Sweathogs, Mordred would be Arnold Horshack.

This is the final stop of the current tour but if it picks up again later this year you should give it a look if you can.

“Camelot” runs at Starlight through this Sunday, June 14.

Theatre Review “Million Dollar Quartet” Kansas City, Missouri

“Million Dollar Quartet”
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 22, 2015

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

On December 4, 1956 the stars aligned as they never would again. That day, Carl Perkins and his band walked into Sun Records, located at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, with the intent on recording a new hit. Carl’s choice of song was a rocking version of a song called “Matchbox.” Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips, had his latest act, a young boy named Jerry Lee Lewis, sit in to play piano during the session. Later that day, Johnny Cash rolled in to see Perkins (though in his autobiography Cash maintains that he was the first one there that day). Even later, the studio is graced by Elvis Presley and his current girl. As the musicians relaxed they began what turned into a (46) song jam session. Rumor is that Phillips called a friend at the newspaper, who came by and captured a legendary photo of the session. The next day that photo appeared in the paper, dubbing the boys the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Heavy on classic songs and buoyed by the energy of it’s cast, the current touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which played at Starlight this weekend, is a show that will have you out of your seats and into your dancing shoes. The enthusiasm is brought on by the strong performances of the cast. As Carl Perkins, Gabe Bowling carries the bulk of the musical load, with his outstanding guitar playing and vocals. He gives Perkins a small chip on his shoulder, one brought about by Presley having sung “Blue Suede Shoes” (which Perkins wrote and which was his first big hit) on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Scott Moreau does a fine job mimicking Johnny Cash’s musical style, though his vocals seemed uneven on some spots. As Presley, young Jacob Rowley nails the King’s vocals and mannerisms perfectly. I was shocked to learn that he is only 19 years old. For someone who wasn’t born until almost two decades after Presley passed, his performance was amazing. The highlight performance, for me, Colte Julian as the precocious Jerry Lee Lewis. Playing the piano in Lewis’ patented “let it all hang out” style, Julian hit all the right notes, both musically and with a great sense of humor. In a non-musical role, Bryan Langlitz, as Sam Phillips, keeps the show moving through his narration.

Where as a lot of the music sung during the original get together was Gospel (both Presley and Cash were very spiritual and released several successful albums in their career) the show is made up of familiar songs from all of the artists. That the music is being played live (all of the performers play their own instruments) makes the show even more exciting. The backing band (stand up bass player Chuck Zayas and drummer Patrick Morrow) keep the beat moving throughout. If you’re in the mood for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, I urge you take in the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The show heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma for shows beginning on May 26th and then continues throughout the summer. For more information head to http://milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-info.html

Theatre Review: Original Hedwig’s Final Weeks on Broadway

I’ve never been so cold. I’m standing outside a Broadway theatre on a snowy March night, and I’m from Texas. I can’t feel my face.

“Is this ridiculous?” I ask the fellow fan next to me, referring to the rose I’m holding for the show’s star.

“Nope,” she says.

She gets it. We’re Hedheads, and we’re here getting frostbite for the same reason: to see the queen. John Cameron Mitchell, the co-creator and current star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is due to exit the Belasco Theatre stage door any minute.

Diehard fans and critics alike are practically yelling at you to go see this show before his run ends on April 26—and with good reason. Seeing him perform is pure magic, at once vulnerable and sardonic, witty and sexy. He is so genuine and raw on stage that distinguishing new jokes from improvised quips is next to impossible in one viewing. (“You’re seeing the original cast,” referring to Mitchell’s/Hedwig’s knee brace, is my new favorite.) But there’s more to Mitchell’s Hedwig than his brilliantly moving and funny performance and Stephen Trask’s phenomenal music. There’s a reason some fans are crossing continents to see him do this.

I’ve attempted to explain the significance of the queen’s return to people who know nothing about the show: This is different than any other actor playing Hedwig because when you watch the others, you’re watching a performance; when you see Mitchell, you’re seeing Hedwig, the character, in real life. It’s as if the 2001 film was a documentary and now you’re going to a real, live Hedwig and the Angry Inch concert.

For those unfamiliar, the musical is less a traditional play and more a rock concert with monologues in between songs. An overarching theme about the search for one’s missing “other half” is beautifully woven into both the lyrics and Hedwig’s tragicomic backstory. Somewhat paradoxically, watching Mitchell play Hedwig almost undermines the show’s closing message of finding wholeness within oneself, because fans leave feeling like we’ve found our other half—right there, on stage, spitting on us and shouting in German.

The knee brace Mitchell is sporting is starkly apropos, becoming another sad-yet-humorous aspect of Hedwig’s story. Although the sight of it tugs the heartstrings, one of the best things about the brace might be the way it further blurs the line between Mitchell and Hedwig—in a way, she’s realer than she’s ever been.

Basking in the glow of his inimitable performance, I’ve never been happier to freeze my toes off.

John Cameron Mitchell can be seen through April 26th at the Belasco Theatre with Darren Criss scheduled to take over Hedwig on April 29th.

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.

Theatre Review “The Book of Mormon” Kansas City, Music Hall

When I lived in Baltimore it was easy for me to make the 3-hour drive to New York City to see the next great musical. “Phantom of the Opera.” “Les Miz.” “Miss Saigon.” It opened and I was there. Not so easy to do when you live in Kansas City. Which means I had to wait four years to see “The Book of Mormon.” And it was well worth the wait.

The show tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to help convert the local population into joining the church. Things are tough in Africa, with the villagers dealing not only with the AIDS crisis but a terrible thug dictator who insists that all women be circumcised. If right about now you’re questioningly thinking to yourself, “this is a BROADWAY musical,” I should point out that the show was created by the team behind “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as well as Robert Lopez, who created the Tony Award winning Best Musical “Avenue Q,” which is best remembered as the show that beat “Wicked” for the award. Mr. Lopez also recently won an Oscar for co-writing the song “Let it Go” from “Frozen.” The book is outrageous, and exactly what you would expect from the three authors. As for the songs…there’s a reason that the animated film “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” is often referred to as one of the best Broadway musicals that never made it to New York. The tunes are catchy, the lyrics infectiously funny. The audience loved every minute of it, with the highlight coming during the song “I Believe” when the singer exclaims, “And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri,” which is where Kansas City sits.

The cast was outstanding, with Billy Harrigan Tighe and A.J. Holmes excelling as Elder’s Price and Cunningham. The supporting players were equally good. The show was one of the most original I’ve ever seen, much deserving of the nine Tony Awards it won. Where else can you see Jesus Christ, “Star Trek’s” Lieutenant Uhura and Yoda all in the same musical number? No where else…that’s where! The show is so good that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually runs ads in the Playbill. If that’s not a divine blessing from Heavenly Father, I don’t know what is.

“The Book of Mormon” continues in Kansas City at the Music Hall through March 8th.

Upcoming Dates
CHICAGO – now through May 17
MADISON, WISCONSIN – March 10 – 15
SAN FRANCISCO – April 15 – June 27
MILWAUKEE – May 19 – 31
BUFFALO – June 2 – 7
WASHINGTON D.C. – June 16 – August 16

“Chicago” Kicks off the Season in Kansas City

“Chicago”
January 20, 2015
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

The term “Straight from Broadway” is often used when a popular show hits the road. But in the case of the touring production of “Chicago,” which opened at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts this week, it’s more than just an expression.

“Chicago” tells the story of two women, Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin) and Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod), who are currently facing a day in court for murder. The married Roxie killed her lover, as did Velma. To make it interesting, Velma also killed the woman involved with her lover…her sister. Both have employed the smooth talking attorney Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley) to represent them. Let the fun begin!

Originally directed and choreographed by the late, great Bob Fosse, “Chicago” enjoyed a nice two-year run when it opened on Broadway in 1975. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards but won none, having opened the same year as the Pulitzer Prize-winning juggernaut called “A Chorus Line.” The show was revived on Broadway in 1996 and is STILL playing now, making it the 2nd longest running musical in Broadway history, behind “The Phantom of the Opera.” Featuring a brilliant musical score by Kansas City native John Kander and his lyric writing partner, Fred Ebb, the performance put on tonight was easily one of the best ever to play Kansas City.

The three leads are spot perfect in their performances. Both ladies have played their roles for quite a while and their familiarity with the characters makes their work seem effortless. The same with O’Hurley. Here’s where the “Straight from Broadway” comes in. Less than 48 hours before taking the stage tonight, Mr. O’Hurley was taking his final bows on the stage of the Ambassador Theater in New York City, where he just concluded a six-week run in “Chicago” on Broadway. His Billy Flynn is oily when he needs to be but also shows an unexpected bit of heart as well. The three are surrounded by a supporting cast that hits all the notes and nails all of the steps. I’m sure Bob Fosse was looking down and smiling tonight.

If your only knowledge of “Chicago” is the Oscar-winning film, I urge you to see it live on stage. You won’t be disappointed.

“Chicago” runs at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, January 25.

UPCOMING DATES
January 27 – February 1, 2015 San Antonio, Texas
February 3-4, 2015 Gainesville, Florida
February 6-7, 2015 Clearwater, Florida
February 10-15, 2015 Washington D.C.

Theatre Review “A Christmas Story, The Musical” Orlando Repertory Theatre

A Christmas Story: The Musical
November 10 – December 28, 2014
Orlando Repertory Theatre
1001 East Princeton Street
Orlando, FL

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

You know those flyers that you get in the mail and just throw away cause they are usually garage? I think I will be taking a closer look at them now. I received one a few days again and it was holiday themed, my favorite holiday, so I decided to give it a look. In there I found an advertisement for the Orlando Repertory Theatre (The REP) presenting a production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” based on the story by Jean Shepherd with book by Joseph Robinette, and words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. I have seen this production before and have been dying to see it again since. Now I had the chance!

Official Premise: A Christmas Story, The Musical is the classic account of Ralphie Parker’s hilariously desperate quest to ensure that the most perfect of gifts ends up under his tree this Christmas – a Red Ryder® Carbine-Action BB Gun! All the cherished moments are here – the Old Man’s leg lamp, the tongue-on-a-flagpole, the bunny suit, the Santa slide, and all of Ralphie’s extravagant daydreams! Enjoy the perennial favorite in a new way with this Tony-nominated Best Musical.

Turning a classic movie like “A Christmas Story” into a musical was definitely a definitely task I am sure. The songs are good. I have to admit though. I have the soundtrack but it has never been a must-listen for me. “Counting Down to Christmas” is a catchy one. “What A Mother Does” is sweet and had the wife sniffing a little bit. “A Major Award” is definitely a real hoot.  The cast for this production was also good. Highlights for me were Clifford Lyons as Jean Shepherd, Candace Neal as Mrs. Shields, and my favorite Sage Starkey as The Old Man. At first I thought that Sage was too young to play the Old Man, to be honest, but once he stepped on stage, I knew he was going to nail it. Gavin would have been proud!

I thought the production itself was very well done. It really represented “A Christmas Story” very well. It also felt very festive. I have seen many plays in my time and they could have gotten away with much less here. They really had great sets and really get design for this one. I also love the range of these actors. The dialogue and songs were perfectly balanced throughout the theater. I was seeing in Row I, if I remember correct, closer to the top of the theater, centered, and we really enjoyed the entire presentation of the play. I have seen shows at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and sat 10 rows from stage and couldn’t hear them as well as this theatre.

Prior to this, I have never visited the Orlando Repertory Theatre. Following this, this theatre is going to be in my spotlight. From the moment the wife and I stepped into this theatre, we both just looked at each other and said “Wow!” I loved the vibe of the theatre and I love how intimate it felt. I also appreciate that in addition to productions, The REP conducts community engagement initiatives and the REP Youth Academy provides classes and workshops for children, along with professional development opportunities to classroom teachers. I will be returning to this theatre in the very near future. And if you are looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit, you have your answer right here!

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs Saturdays and Sundays from November 10 – December 28, 2014 at 2pm and 5:30pm. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for students, seniors (55+), and members of the military with valid ID, and $12 for the youth (ages 3 to 17). All performances of A Christmas Story, The Musical take place at the Orlando Repertory Theatre at 1001 East Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803. Tickets may be purchased online, over the phone, or at the Box Office. Please visit www.orlandorep.com or call 407-896-7365 for more information. Don’t miss it or you might shoot your eye out!

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