Kansas City Theater Review: “Rock of Ages”

ROCK OF AGES
Starlight Theater - Kansas City, Missouri
May 31, 2019

My first Broadway show was “42nd Street” in 1981. Yes, I’m old. But I’m also able to tell people that I saw Jerry Orbach on Broadway. And Julie Andrews. And Chita Rivera. But enough about me. I’ve seen plenty of shows in the past three-plus decades but I have never seen anything as fun and exciting as “Rock of Ages.”

Our story begins in the small town of Paola, Kansas. Yes, it’s a real town and, yes, it’s really small. My son’s baseball team used to play there every year and I remember the big hoopla when Walmart showed up! We meet Sherrie (Katie LaMark). She’s a small town girl…living in a lonely world. And her dream is to make it to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Despite her parent’s disapproval she heads west and ends up on the Sunset Strip. She is soon mugged and is rescued by Drew (Anthony Nuccio). Drew works at the Bourbon Club, famous for helping launch the careers of many a band. Drew gets Sherrie a job and soon….well, you’ll have to see the show.

Drew (Anthony Nuccio) and Sherrie (Katie LaMark) share a dream of stardom.

I’ve been seeing shows at Starlight for years, and this was, by far, the BEST one I’ve ever seen there. I had only seen the film so I wasn’t prepared for my evening at the Bourbon Club. The music is all classic 80s rock and metal hits. Pretty much every band you can remember is represented. Except, ironically, Def Leppard, whose hit song gives the show it’s name. We are told by the Narrator (an amazing John-Michael Breen) that there is no Leppard in the show because the band wouldn’t license their music. Ironic, isn’t it?

The performances were also outstanding. As Sherrie and Drew, LaMark and Nuccio have a strong chemistry and an underlying sweetness that has you rooting for them. Both also have great voices. During “Oh, Sherrie” Mr. Nuccio held one note for an amazing 33 seconds, which brought the already enthusiastic audience to near euphoria. I would love to see him tackle the lead in “Jekyll and Hyde.” And extra credit to Ms. LaMark for dealing with a major technical glitch (her face mic was not working at the beginning of Act II and, with her character having to remain on stage for some time, delivered a strong performance using a hand-held microphone. Also credit to the tech crew because, in the few seconds she was able to go off-stage, the problem was corrected. Fine performances were also delivered by the supporting cast, with many in the audience falling under the spell of Sam Harvey, who plays quintessential (and problem child) front man Stacee Jaxx – which is possibly the coolest rock star name ever. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the kick-ass band that provides the music.

John-Michael Breen

I’m saving this paragraph for the highlight of the show – John-Michael Breen. He not only narrates the show but appears as the Bourbon Club’s sound guy, Lonny. Lonny loves three things. Rock and Roll and his Fogmaster 5000 fog machine are two of them. Mr. Breen gives the show the majority of it’s laughs and both the cast and the audience feed off of his enthusiasm. I will definitely keep an eye on his career and hope to catch him on stage in the future.

As I said in the beginning, I’ve seen some great Broadway shows, from “Phantom” to “Les Miz” – from “Cats” to “Spamalot – and “Rock of Ages” has definitely jumped onto my all-time favorites list.

Curtain Call

“Rock of Ages” is only in Kansas City through Sunday, June 2nd. For information on upcoming tour dates, click HERE.

The Revival of American Theater

It’s not just television that is currently experiencing a golden age in American culture. The theater too is riding a dramatic upswing, both in terms of creative output and commercial success, attracting younger audiences to plays and musicals alike.

There are probably a variety of reasons for this happy situation. Theater is a medium of immediacy which provides a visceral thrill that can’t be streamed, downloaded or enjoyed later. In theater the action is always happening right now, and you have to be in the audience on the night to experience it.

For decades, theater suffered because it couldn’t win the competition with younger mediums like film and TV. The mistake was to fight these mediums on their own terms. Theater is now winning because it is concentrating on what it does best: thought-provoking live performances. It’s ironic that this great revival of the stage has come at a time when movies and television are also better and more popular than ever.

Breaking new ground

Back in the 1990s the theatrical resurgence began with staged adaptations of popular movie properties like Beauty And The Beast, Mary Poppins and The Lion King. This move succeeded in drawing in a new, younger audience. The likes of Aladdin, The Lion King, Frozen, Mean Girls and Wicked are still going strong, continuing to break their own box office records.

At the same time however, Tony Kushner’s ground-breaking play, Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia On National Themes (1992) ushered in a new era of American drama that reflects a heightened awareness of identity and intersectional themes of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and class.

Changing times

Brooklyn-born playwright Lynn Nottage is perhaps the best example of those currently working in this tradition. Nottage is the only playwright to have won the Pulitzer Prize for two separate plays. In 2009 she was awarded this coveted accolade for Ruined, which looked unflinchingly at the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2017 she won it again for Sweat, produced by Louise Gund initially at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, then off-Broadway in 2016 and finally on Broadway in 2017.

Sweat looked at changing economic and industrial patterns, plus familiar themes of race and identity, in one of the poorest cities in the US, Reading, Pennsylvania. The play was seen by many as an explanation for Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 and as such was deemed “The first theatrical landmark of the Trump era” by the New Yorker.

Challenging sensibilities

As well as Nottage, the prolific, inventive and innovative Suzan Lori-Parks has also won many accolades for plays like Topdog/Underdog (2001) and Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1, 2 + 3 (2014), both of which look at racial identity and how it intersects with American history. An Octoroon was Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ radical re-appropriation of an 1859 melodrama about race and slavery which won the Obie Award for Best New Play in 2014, while Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park (2010) viscerally challenged the sensibilities and assumptions of its predominantly white liberal audience.

Younger audiences

Meanwhile the big shows on Broadway continue to break records. In January, Hamilton: An American Musical became the first Broadway show to gross over $4m in one week, while in the same month To Kill a Mockingbird took the highest single-week gross of any non-musical American stage production ever. Both were outdone however by Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, which had the highest single-week gross of any play in Broadway history.

Hamilton is credited with bringing a younger audience to the theater with its rap score and discussion of contemporary issues like race, gender and freedom, despite being set during the American Revolution. It debuted in 2015 and was an immediate critical and commercial success. Many have credited it with the 1.8m increase in attendance at Broadway musicals from 2013 to 2016, and the record-breaking attendances since.

A golden age

The 21st Century is proving to be a golden age for American theater, with writers addressing the urgent topics of today as well as finding new ways to address age-old themes. Meanwhile audiences are flocking to the stage in a commercial revival that few expected, but which contrasts remarkably with the struggles of film, television, print and the music industry to adapt to a digital age where audiences expect entertainment on demand and, more worryingly, free of charge.

Live theater can’t be streamed or bootlegged and at its best offers an experience to be remembered for a lifetime. Right now we are seeing American theater at its best. Those who only get their culture and entertainment mediated via a screen are definitely missing out.       

Kansas City Theater Review: “RENT”

RENT

Music Hall – Kansas City, Missouri

April 29, 2019

The Broadway (and off-Broadway) stage has often been the place where a generation can speak without rebuke.  The 1990’s saw the production of two very important shows that shed light on the, at the time, the little discussed subject of AIDS.  The first show was Tony Kushner’s epic “Angels in America.”  The other?  Jonathan Larson’s “RENT.” 

Opening off-Broadway on January 25, 1996, “RENT” tells the story of a group of struggling artists (filmmaker, musician, performance art) living in the SoHo area of New York City.  Their goal is to present their art to the world without compromising – to not “give into” the man.  This week, the 20th Anniversary Tour is in Kansas City, with moderate success.

To me, the evening, like the show, was in two acts.  The first act, in this writer’s opinion, was slow, which is a word I normally would not apply to a musical where the cast moves non-stop while performing dozens of songs.  I’m not sure if it was opening night jitters, or bus-lag, but several of the characters just didn’t seem to be “into it” during the first act.  The performances were fine…it’s just that many seemed to be a beat behind.

Musically, the show is magnificent.  I’m sure everyone has heard “Seasons of Love” at least once in their life, and this song, which opens Act II, is performed with heart to spare.  Other favorites were “Santa Fe,” “Take Me or Leave Me,” and “La Vie Boheme.”  Highlights in the cast were Lyndie Moe as Maureen and Devinre Adams as Collins, who is my favorite character in the show. 

 Sadly, Jonathan Larson never saw “RENT” performed before a live audience.  On the morning of January 25, 1996, Larson died after two different hospitals mis-diagnosed a heart condition.  With his parent’s consent, the show went on that night.  For his work, Larson posthumously won 3 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. 

“RENT’ continues it’s run in Kansas City through Sunday, May 5th

Kansas City Theater Review: “Anastasia”

REVIEW by DAN LYBARGER

ANASTASIA Music Hall, Kansas City, MO March 12, 2019

If The Lion King and Aladdin work as stage plays because they remind audiences the joy they experienced watching the original animated movies, the makers of Anastasia succeed because the original 1997 cartoon, while enjoyable, isn’t a classic.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s animated film has some gorgeous 2D animation, but their reworking of the legend of Anna Anderson, who falsely claimed to be Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter had a problematic story.

For example, the chief villain was an undead version of Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd), who had difficulty keeping his rotting body in one piece. Despite the G-rating the film had, it disturbed some of the children and even adults who watched it.

For those with stronger memories, the cartoon also incorporated some ideas from Anatole Litvak’s 1956 movie, with served as a powerful comeback for Ingrid Bergman, after her affair with Roberto Rossellini almost ended her career.


The new musical adaptation, which debuted on March 12 at the Music Hall in Kansas City, keeps some of the characters from the original tale but reworks the plot extensively. Thanks to playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valor! Compassion!Master Class), Rasputin is gone, and a more credible antagonist has taken his place. This time around, the Bolsheviks are eager to stamp out rumors that the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the chaotic mass execution that took place in 1918.

Nearly a decade later, a Party operative named Gleb (Jason Michael Evans) is trying to remove all traces of the royal family, but a pair of con artists named Dmitry (Stephen Brower) and Vlad (Edward Staudenmayer) are hoping to capitalize on whatever is left of the dynasty.

With the Soviet economy unable to deliver the prosperity the Revolution promised, the two hope that if they can find a suitable impostor to pose as Anastasia, they can collect a finder’s fee that will set them up for life in Paris. While streetwalkers of Leningrad can’t pass themselves as royalty the way Vlad can, a street sweeper named Anya (Lila Coogan) might.

She’s in Leningrad after having been discharged from a hospital in Odessa. She’s got no memory of her life before the Revolution, so it’s easier for Dmitry and Vlad to teach her how mingle at what’s left of the Russian court in Paris, and the amnesia conveniently explains why she hasn’t bothered to claim what’s left of the Romanov fortune.

Now, all the three of them must do is escape the draconian Leningrad authorities and convince the bereaved and highly skeptical Dowager Empress (Joy Franz) that Anya is the Grand Duchess.

Neither is a simple task.

The chief selling point of Bluth and Goldman’s cartoon was its gorgeous visuals, and the current production features several delicious bits of eye candy.

Thanks to sliding panels and rear projection, Anastasia leaps from the Tsar’s palace to an intimidating Bolshevik office to a moving train to the elegant streets of 1920s Paris. While Anastasia might have been enjoyable with the cast simply wailing and hoofing, the lightning fast scene changes and bits of action, keep the play moving briskly.

The play gains momentum in the second act as Vlad uses his old contact Countess Lily (Tari Kelly) to help him set up a meeting with the Dowager Empress. Now that the long exposition is over, the story becomes more engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Coogan can play both a princess and a waif with equal finesse and belts out Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns’ songs effortlessly.

She may be small, but she can easily dominate the stage.

The cast handle Flaherty’s demanding score well, although it’s hard to imagine any of the tunes catching on outside of the play, although “Once Upon a December” is certainly haunting, especially with images of ghosts projected behind the actors.

As a lifelong obsessive over the fall of the Romanovs, I often have to remind myself to let movies and plays about them play on their own terms. Anna Anderson, who was the best-known impostor to pretend to be the ill-fated Grand Duchess, had some believers, but DNA tests in the 1990s proved she had no claim on the lost throne. Her dark and twisted odyssey would make a great movie or play, but it wouldn’t make much of a family musical.

That said, the story of an amnesiac princess is inherently engrossing because we all wonder if there is something more to our lives than our memories let on.

There is no mystery to whether any royalty emerged from the massacre alive, but there is a deep well of stories about the end of the dynasty. It’s seemingly inexhaustible.

Theater Review: “Chicago” – Kansas City

CHICAGO
September 14, 2018
Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri
When the Kander and Ebb musical “Chicago” opened on Broadway in 1975, it caused a sensation.  The show, directed and choreographed by the great Bob Fosse,  played for three years and earned an impressive (11) Tony Award nominations.  Sadly, it didn’t win any, running into the juggernaut that was “A Chorus Line.”
In 1996, the show was revived on Broadway and that version fared much better at the Tonys, taking home (6) of the (8) awards it was nominated for, including the award for Best Revival of a Musical.  What’s even more impressive is that, since November 14, 1996, “Chicago” has never left Broadway, earning the right to call itself the longest running American musical in theater history!    This weekend, the touring production made its way to Kansas City and, despite some technical difficulties, greatly entertained.
We meet Velma Kelly (Amra-Faye Wright) as she entertains her nightclub audience with the show’s signature number, “All That Jazz.”  We follow this with a quick peek into the bedroom of Roxie Hart (Angel Reda) to discover her in an argument with her lover.  Moments later, Roxie shoots him dead. When the police arrive, Roxie’s husband, Amos (Paul Vogt) takes the blame for the shooting, but quickly recants when he learns the truth.  Roxie is taken to jail, where she will await trial for murder.  But not before a little singing and a lot of dancing!
There are a million reasons to see this show at Starlight.  First off, it’s one of the best outdoor venues in the country.  The shows are usually excellent or, if not, entertaining.  “Chicago” boasts an amazing cast and a top-notch orchestra.  Both Ms. Wright and Ms. Reda (who is from nearby Overland Park, Kansas) are strong dancers with great vocal chops.  My quibble above regarding technical difficulties comes from the fact that, for the first hour of the show, there was an obvious problem with Ms. Wright’s body microphone.  The fact that I could hear her in my seats stems from the fact that she can belt out a song.  Once the problem was fixed both actresses were at the top of their game.
The rest of the cast is equally strong.  As publicity loving attorney Billy Flynn, Peter Lockyer is as smooth as silk.  Jennifer Fouche’ steals her scenes as Matron “Mother” Morton and Mr. Vogt puts an ache in your heart as he sings “Mr. Cellophane.”   The choreography (by the amazing Ann Reinking, and based on Fosse’s original work) is spectacular, delivering in spades the moves that are so associated with the late choreographer.
If you’re looking for some fun under the stars this weekend, I’d highly recommend a trip to “Chicago!”

Kansas City Theater Review: “Hairspray – the Musical”

“Hairspray – the Musical”

Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

July 27, 2018

 

I spent 13 years living in Baltimore.  As a movie theatre manager I was very fortunate to manage the theatre of choice of local filmmaker John Waters.  He was a frequent guest and, when I asked, would stop by the office for a few minutes after his film just to talk about what he had coming up.  Of course, I was glad to play the original film “Hairspray,” and am proud to be friends with some of the local talent used in the film.  Years later, Mr. Waters took the film to Broadway, where, 15 years ago, the musical version earned 13 Tony Award nominations, winning 8, including Best Musical.   This week, the fun and energy you can only find in Charm City is on display at the Starlight Theater as “Hairspray – the Musical” arrives.

Baltimore 1962.  Like many cities in America, civil rights are on the front burner.  We meet Tracy Turnblad (an outstanding Jessica Alcorn) as she greets the day, and the audience, with the bouncy “Good morning, Baltimore.”  Tracy is a fan of the Corny Collins afternoon dance program on television and secretly dreams to not only be a dancer on the show, but to end up in the arms of the show’s best male dancer, Link Larkin (Eric Geil).  Tracy lives at home with her parents.  Mother Edna (Brad Oscar) takes in washing and hasn’t been outside the apartment in years.  Her father, Wilbur (Bruce Roach), runs a joke shop called the Har-Har Hut.  Tracy has a friend named Penny, who encourages her to follow her dream.  And so she does.

First off, I must comment on the energy the entire cast brought to the show.  It’s always a plus when you can sense that the cast and crew WANT to be there.  The musical numbers were infectious.  If you knew the words (guilty) you quietly sang along.  If you didn’t, you were dancing in your seats.  As Tracy, Ms. Alcorn soars.  She is the heart and spirit of the show and she shines in a role that a lesser actress could easily dilute spirit-wise.  Supporting roles played by Katie Karel (Penny), Cathy Barnett (Velma Van Tussle) and Erin Riley (Amber) stand out here, as does Regina Levert whose Motormouth Maybelle steals the scenes she is in.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Kansas City audiences are having the rare treat of seeing a true Broadway legend in Brad Oscar.  Ever since Harvey Fierstein first originated the character, Edna has been played with dignity.  Mr. Oscar continues that tradition here.

“Hairspray – the Musical” plays at Starlight through August 2nd.  For tickets to those shows click HERE.

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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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

4DX Theater Experience Review “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release date
Running time: 149 minutes

4DX Score: 4 out of 5 stars
Film Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Recently, I have been contacted to see if I wanted to review one of this Summer’s movies the brand new 4DX Theater Experience. This is not your typical movie going experience. Here is an example of the effects that you can expect going into a 4DX screening: water, air, bubbles, fog, scents, motion seats with vibration and ticklers as well as environmental effects like rain, storming, snow, wind and lightning. This seemed like the ONLY way to see a film like “Transformers”. Currently, I believe there are only a handful of these theaters across the United States, one of them luckily being in Orlando FL at the Regal Pointe Orlando Stadium. If you are in the area or are lucky enough to have one local to you, I would highly recommend checking out this experience at least once.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is the fifth installment in the Hasbro toy inspired franchise. Honestly, each film sort of blends together. The plots in the past films have been convoluted and confused and this film is no different. Is it entertaining…YES! Will I remember it and be able to distinguish between it and the previous four films….NOPE! Just pure popcorn Summer fun. If you dig explosions and robots, then it worth checking out then for a mindless two and half hours. But let me tell you one thing, seeing this film in 4DX definitely made it a better experience for sure and if you are thinking about seeing a 4DX film, “Transformers” is a great example to test it out with.

If you have ever visited Disney World parks and went on the attractions “Honey I Shrunk the Audience”, “Captain EO” or “Mickey’s PhilharMagic”, this 4DX Theater Experience reminded me of all of those combined together and more. I have to admit though, by the end of the two and a half hour movie of “Transformers”, I was exhausted. This is definitely not for those people that just want to kick their feet up and escape into a movie. This is a workout. You are almost constantly moving the whole time, some times subtle movement and sometimes huge motion jumps, twists and turns…I definitely saw a popcorn bag get tossed during my screening. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see every new film that comes out like this but I can definitely see it being an event to do every once in a while right the right film comes out. If you are curious though about this do not wait, definitely check it out because it is definitely an experience.

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.

 

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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.

Concert Review “An Evening with Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield” Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA

“An Evening with Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield”
Date: Saturday, March 14th 2015
Venue: Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Singer songwriters Jessica Lea Mayfield and Seth Avett made a stop in the quaint town of Glenside, PA on March 14th to perform at the intimate Keswick Theater. The duo is out on a brief 13 show tour in support of their recent release titled “Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield sing Elliot Smith”. The album a 12 song showcase of some of singer/songwriter Elliot Smith’s best works is the first collaboration between Mayfield and Avett and hopefully not the last as the magic heard on the album was flawlessly created on stage.

About 40 miles outside of Philadelphia sits the historic Keswick Theater. The theater which originally opened on Christmas Eve in 1928 was the perfect setting for the night’s performance as the vintage theater seemed a perfect host for Avett and Mayfield’s sound which was made up off the two sharing singing and guitar duties along with Paul Defiglia on stand up bass. Though small in their approach the trio’s sound instantly filled the theater and sounded as good if not better than some of the recorded studio tracks. Songs such as “Baby Britain”, “Between the Bars” and “Twilight” were definite highlights of the set as were “I Me Mine” originally by The Beatles and a great version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”. The set also featured several songs from Mayfield and Avett’s personal catalogs along with a brand new track from Avett titled “Lines On My Face”.

The night’s performance was certainly very solid and sounded great however before you knew it, it was over. Clocking in at less than 90 minutes (which included the band leaving the stage prior to the night’s encore) there was certainly plenty of time left for more material especially since the show features no opening act. With the shows being billed as “An Evening with Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield” I guess I was expecting a little more. Don’t get me wrong 21 songs is not a short set list by any means however when most of those songs come in at 4 minutes or less and the artists(especially Avett) have a fair amount of material they could pull from to make these13 shows something really special however don’t it certainly was a bit disconcerting.

Set List:
1.) Bay Britain (Elliot Smith)
2.) A Fond Farewell (Elliot Smith)
3.) Pitseleh (Elliot Smith)
4.) Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
5.) There is a Time (The Darlings)
6.) Let’s Get Lost (Elliot Smith)
7.) Ballad of Big Nothing (Elliot Smith)
8.) Rain on My Tin Roof (Seth Avett)
9.) Somebody That I Used to Know (Elliot Smith)
10.) Settin’ the Woods on Fire (Hank Williams)
11.) For Today (Jessica Mayfield)
12.) Angeles (Elliot Smith)
13.) Lines On My Face (Seth Avett)
14.) Kiss Me Again (Jessica Mayfield)
15.) Memory Lane (Elliot Smith)
16.) I Will (The Beatles)
17.) Our Hearts are Wrong (Jessica Mayfield)
18.) Between the Bars (Elliot Smith)
19.) I Me Mine (The Beatles)
20.) Miss Misery (Elliot Smith)
21.) Twilight (Elliot Smith)

Concert Review: Slayer – Uptown Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

Slayer
Uptown Theater
05/13/2014
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

I guess you could say this is Slayer’s way of squeezing out a few pennies before the onslaught of summer tour dates and finishing up their 11th studio album. It’s understandable that a band, especially with the resources at a hand, wouldn’t mind going on a little stint across the U.S., but this is the first time since 1990 that Slayer has toured with Suicidal Tendencies (I was two when that tour tore across the states) and they have Exodus to boot on this trek. If this is what Slayer does for a “short tour”, they need to do it more.

If you’ve never been to Kansas City, then I shall fill you in on the absurd weather that we receive. During the seasonal transition months, it can be stupid muggy or ridiculously brisk. This was one of those Spring/Summer evenings that was quite chilly, so reluctant to say, a bunch of heavily pierced and leather wearing men were ready to pack in like a sardine can into the Uptown Theater and sweat it out. A line outside literally stretched a block as Exodus began it’s sound check. So it’s obvious who people were there to see.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Exodus and they didn’t disappoint. A small collective of hairy men were near the front going insane while die-hard fans rode the barrier wall up front. For three bands that highly respect each other and have a good four to five hours of play time to split amongst them, it’s a bit weird that Exodus would only be allowed a little less than half an hour. Would have loved to see them at least play one new song off their last three albums, but once “Piranha” came on, I was livid with joy that’d they play the first song I heard of theirs many, many years ago.

I don’t know a lot about Suicidal Tendencies and they’re not necessarily high on my list of go to music in the car, but I have a great amount of respect for a band that really helped mold a fluid hardcore/thrash metal sound. These guys must have gotten straight out of a time machine because their energy was through the roof. I didn’t know any of the songs right off the bat, but after the first time hearing the chorus, I couldn’t help but mouth a couple of their violent anthems. I think their youthfulness is bolstered by the new addition, Thomas Pridgen, at drummer. He hasn’t even performed on any of their albums and yet he played with such manic enthusiasm, you’d think he was fighting for a spot in their line-up. Ironically they continued the trend of not playing a single new song on the night.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Slayer, but that rush of adrenaline before they get on stage never goes away. Their stage staple is always an upside down cross and yet they find a new way to present it or light it on fire. Gary Holt, who’s replacing Jeff Hanneman, is solid and Paul Bostaph, who’s back in the band for a third time, is also good. Hanneman and Dave Lombardo will definitely be missed and it felt awkward watching a band that only performed songs featuring those two previous members. I can’t tell if it’s a tribute to their contributions or not. Give the fans what they want though, anything before 1990 is classic Slayer.

While I got to hear plenty of songs I’ve never heard before live like “Chemical Warfare”, “At Dawn They Sleep”, and “Black Magic”, I wouldn’t have been upset if they slipped in God Hates Us All or Hate Worldwide. I even heard their newest single “Implode” online and thought that was definitely something they’d shred. Nope, they stuck to their first five albums. I’m still waiting for the day I at least here one song off of Diabolus in Musica. Maybe it’s because I saw the insane energy of Suicidal Tendencies just an hour before, but the energy of Slayer just wasn’t there. The go-to band of the metal community was upstaged at their own headlining show.

Outside of a pair of gentleman, there’s not a single ounce of young blood on this tour. While it’s great to see these guys who are pushing towards their 50’s chug out some old tunes, I would have loved to see some new music. For someone my age, it’s not necessarily nostalgic to hear some of the best 80’s pit music, but I understand it’s what made you popular and it’s what people know. While Slayer is planning on putting out their new album this year, it doesn’t show a lot of promise when they don’t play the single they released before embarking on this tour (and from what I read didn’t play it at Rock on the Range). Are they simply appeasing to fans or worried that they’ve been spent the past two to three decades making garbage? Maybe I’m overthinking it…or maybe I’m worried Slayer’s about to hit a slump.

Exodus Set-List
Bonded by Blood
Piranha
War is My Shephard
Blacklist
The Toxic Waltz
Strike of the Beast

Suicidal Tendencies Set-List
You Can’t Bring Me Down
Trip at the Brain
War Inside My Head
Subliminal
Possessed to Skate
I Saw Your Mommy
Cyco Vision
Pledge Your Allegiance

Slayer Set-List:
Hell Awaits
The Antichrist
Necrophiliac
Mandatory Suicide
Captor of Sin
War Ensemble
Postmortem
Altar of Sacrifice
Jesus Saves
At Dawn They Sleep
Die by the Sword
Hallowed Point
Seasons in the Abyss
Chemical Warfare
Dead Skin Mask
Raining Blood
Black Magic
South of Heaven
Angel of Death

Theater Review “Ghost: The Musical” Bob Carr Performing Arts Center – Orlando, FL

“Ghost The Musical”
Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
Orlando, FL
May 13-18, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

“Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers is probably one of my all-time favorite long songs. I remember watching the film “Ghost” as a kid (probably too young to even get the film) and I fell in love with that song. The film is such a classic and whew knew that it could ever be turned into a Broadway play. Leave it up to the amazing, Bruce Joel Rubin (original writer of “Ghost”), who gave the words to “Ghost: The Musical” and the very fresh pop/rock score delivered by Grammy winner Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Glenn Ballard (writer of Josh Groban’s “Believe” and Alanis Morisstette’s “You Outta Know”). The show is such an experience, that is the only way I am able describe it. It is exhilarating and also at the same time exhausting. They not only capture the essence of the original film but also improve it to make this one of the best plays that I have ever seen on the stage.

We all know the story but just in case you don’t, here is official premise: “‘Ghost: The Musical’ follows Sam and Molly, a young couple whose connection takes a shocking turn after Sam’s untimely death. Trapped between two worlds, Sam refuses to leave Molly when he learns she is in grave danger. Desperate to communicate with her, he turns to a storefront psychic who helps him protect Molly and avenge his death”. What I love the most about this play was that my wife hadn’t seen the film in years and yet she enjoyed it just as much as myself who had just watched the film again to refresh earlier this week.

From the moment the play starts, you are wowed with amazing visuals projected at the stage. You feel like you are being swept through New York City. This video presentation is used throughout the show along with amazing light, smoke and strobe light effects. There is one particular scene that really blew me away, which takes place on a subway car that left me speechless. I have seen many different plays at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and none of them have ever been like this. I felt like I was literally sitting on Broadway watching this performance. It was so solid and well done that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since and have already looked up tickets for another showing.

Since this show is a musical, I was very interested how they were going to tell the story of “Ghost” through music. Right from the “Overture”, I fell in love with the songs (and even purchased the soundtrack). I loved the spin that they put on “Unchained Melody” and of course it is also cued through the entire show. I cannot get the track “Here Right Now” out of my head. I have had it on repeat. “More” is a tale about the life in NYC really hits home with my having lived and worked there for many years. “Are You a Believer” was a highlight of the show and literally had me rolling in my chair.

Steven Grant Douglas gave life (or after life) to the role of Sam Wheat. He was very strong and easily the best acting performance for the show. Katie Postotnik plays Molly Jenson and this girl can really sing. She nails the song “With You”. I could see her on the stages of Broadway since she really has the chops, so she takes the best singing in the show. Last but certainly not least everyone’s favorite Oda Mae Brown (who won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar for from the film) is played by Carla R. Stewart. Let me tell you this woman had the audience in tears, laughing that is. She was the perfect comedic relief for this film and was hit for hit with each of the jokes. Put these amazing performance together with a wonderful production and you have a guaranteed hit with “Ghost: The Musical”, do not this miss on the stage!

“Ghost: The Musical” will be at Bob Carr Performing Arts Center from May 13th-18th. If you miss it in Orlando, be sure to check it out on the rest of its US National Tour below:
WORCESTER
HANOVER THEATRE
JUNE 5 – JUNE 8

HARTFORD
BUSHNELL
JUNE 10 – JUNE 15

MINNEAPOLIS
ORPHEUM THEATRE
JUNE 18 – JUNE 23

LOS ANGELES
HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES
JUNE 27 – JULY 13

COSTA MESA
SEGERSTROM CENTER
JULY 29 – AUGUST 10

LAS VEGAS
THE SMITH CENTER
AUGUST 12 – AUGUST 17