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

 

Related Content

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.

Related Content

 

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.

 

Related Content

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

Theater Review “War Horse” Kansas City, Missouri

“War Horse”
April 1, 2014
Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

It was an incredible evening in Kansas City this week when the Tony Award winning play “War Horse” rode triumphantly into the Music Hall for a one week engagement.

Based on the popular children’s book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo (adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford, the play was also the basis for the very successful Steven Spielberg-helmed film from 2011.

The play begins in August 1912 in England. A horse auction is about to commence. In a bidding war between the Narracott brothers – well-to-do Arthur (Andrew Long) and down-on-his-luck Ted (Gene Gillette). As the two go at it, they drive the price to more than three times the usual. Ted wins but he must spend the mortgage money on the creature. What’s worse, while Ted was looking for a plow horse, he has come home with a hunter. He entrusts the care of the horse to his son, Albert (Michael Wyatt Cox). Albert names the horse “Joey,” and with love and kindness, the two bond. Soon, young Joey is a majestic steed…rearing up in joy when Albert is near. It is a bond that will continue to hold, even when separated by war.

Winner of 5 Tony Awards (and a special Tony for it’s remarkable puppetry), including Best Play, “War Horse” is a show that you will remember forever. Not only for its great cast and outstanding set design, but for the amazing work of the South African Handspring Puppet Company. What they have created is nothing short of miraculous. Life size horses gallop and play on the stage, guided not only by the puppeteers inside the creation but the one guiding the head as well, capturing the very essence of movement and grace. With the “handlers” dressed as others in the cast, they blend in so nicely that one can easily begin to believe the horses are real.

As the story progresses over six year, Joey learns to do things he wasn’t intended to and uses those skills to not only help himself but to save the lives of those around him. He is truly the star of this production and I can’t tip my hat enough to the artists that bring him, and the other horses, to life. The human actors also do a great job. As Albert, Cox displays just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence that is slowly lost as he goes off to battle in an effort to search for his friend. Both Long and Gillette portray the conflict between the two Narracott brothers sharply. Yes, there is some anger and animosity there, but underneath there is love. Others who deserve special notice include Maria Elena Ramirez as Albert’s mother, Andrew May as a German officer who soon understands the horror of war and Caden Douglas as the hard charging Captain Stewart. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cast that brings Joey to life: Jon Hoche, Brian Robert Burns and Jessica Krueger. Bravo!

“War Horse” continues in Kansas City through April 6.
UPCOMING DATES
April 8        Orpheum Theater               Omaha, Nebraska
April 22     Capitol Theater                    Salt Lake City, Utah
April 29     Popejoy Hall                         Albequerque, New Mexico
May 6          Bass Concert Hall               Austin, Texas

Orlando Shakespeare Theater Turns up the Holiday Cheer with “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”


Theater captures the spirit of Frank Capra’s cinematic classic

Orlando, FL – Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF warms Central Florida audiences with the holiday cheer of Joe Landry’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Performed as a 1940s live radio broadcast and directed by Florida Rep’s founding Producing Artistic Director, Robert Cacioppo, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play begins December 4 and runs through December 29, 2013 at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park. Tickets ($17-$40) may be purchased by calling the Box Office at (407) 447-1700 or online at http://orlandoshakes.org.

Inspired by Frank Capra’s beloved American film, Orlando Shakes’ It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play includes a five-member ensemble that brings to life a dozen familiar characters performed in the style of a 1940s live radio broadcast. Complete with commercial jingles and man-made sound effects, audiences will fall in love all over again with the selfless George Bailey and the gentle angel who saves his life on Christmas Eve. A holiday classic suitable for the entire family!

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a joy for audiences young and old,” said Director Robert Cacioppo. “I am thrilled that Orlando Shakes’ Artistic Director Jim Helsinger offered me the opportunity to revisit this play with a truly wonderful cast.”

Cacioppo, who previously directed the production at Florida Rep in 2011, will be recreating his elaborate pre-show prologue in Orlando. Prior to the performance, theatergoers will take part in a holiday sing-along amongst busy telegram boys, popcorn girls, and 1940’s paparazzi. ”I urge Orlando audiences to show up early, because that’s when the fun begins!”Cacioppo said.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play features actors Brad DePlanche, David Edwards, Duke Lafoon, Suzanne O’Donnell, and Piper Rae Patterson. Secondary performers include Anachebe Asomugha, Sophie Bell, Bridgette Hoover, Chris Metz, Alexander Ross Neal, Jeffrey Todd Parrott, and Seth Wallen. The creative team includes Scenic Designer Richard Crowell, Costume Designer Mel Barger, Lighting Designer Mary Heffernan, and Sound Designer Britt Sandusky.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION AND RELATED EVENTS

PRE-SHOW CHAT
Join us in the Patron’s Room on December 6 at 6:45 p.m. for a brief, informative discussion with the director and members of the artistic team about the creative process.

OPENING NIGHT PARTY
Directly following the show on December 6, audience members are invited to celebrate with the cast, crew, designers, and Orlando Shakes staff at the Opening Night Party. The party begins after the show (approx. 10 p.m.) and everyone is invited. No RSVP necessary.

PLAYSHOP
School-age children can participate in a fun and creative camp during select Orlando Shakespeare Theater performances. Led by Orlando Shakes Actor/Educators, theatergoers’ children ages 5 to 12 will enjoy supervised arts and crafts, play educational games, and maybe even learn a song or dance. For It’s a Wonderful Life, the service is available to all ticket buyers on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2 p.m. for just $15 per child. Advance registration is required. Call the Box Office at (407) 447-1700 for tickets and information.

THURSDAY TALK BACK
Stay after the performance on Thursday, December 19 for an informal Q & A with the cast and members of the design team.

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE INFORMATION
Preview Dates: December 4 & 5 at 7:30 p.m. ($18)
Opening Date: December 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Senior Matinees: December 11 & 18 at 2 p.m. ($17)
$20 Under 30: December 13 at 7:30 p.m. ($20)

TICKET INFORMATION

DATES AND PRICES
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. – all seats $35, $30, $20
Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. – all seats $40, $35, $30

DISCOUNTS
Group Sales: 20% off groups of 10+
Student Rush: $12 – 30 minutes prior to show w/ valid student ID
Military/Student Price: $10 off single ticket prices
Single and Season Tickets are available by calling (407) 447-1700, online at http://www.orlandoshakes.org, or in person at the Box Office located inside the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 East Rollins Street in Orlando’s Loch Haven Cultural Park.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is made possible through the generous support of Holland & Knight, LLP, Raymond James Financial, and Florida Hospital. Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF is supported by United Arts of Central Florida with funds from the United Arts collaborative campaign and by State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Florida Arts Council.

###

PHOTOGRAPHY CREDIT

Publicity photos feature actors Brad DePlanche, Suzanne O’Donnell, and Piper Rae Patterson. Photos by Landon St. Gordon.

ABOUT ORLANDO SHAKESPEARE THEATER

Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season, Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF has grown into one of the region’s most acclaimed Equity theaters producing classic, contemporary, and children’s plays. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Jim Helsinger and Managing Director PJ Albert, Orlando Shakespeare Theater continues to provide an innovative world-class theatrical experience to its patrons, while showcasing William Shakespeare’s legacy as the cornerstone of the company. Through PlayFest and Harriett’s New Play Series, Orlando Shakespeare Theater has garnered national recognition for the development of over 100 new works within the past 10 years. Orlando Shakes also provides immersive educational programming serving Central Florida schools and the local community at large.

Twitter: @orlandoshakes or http://www.twitter.com/orlandoshakes
Instagram: @orlandoshakes or http://www.instagram.com/orlandoshakes
Facebook: “Orlando Shakes” or http://www.facebook.com/orlandoshakes

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

Miss Saigon
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
September 7, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

In April 1991 one of the great “spectacle” musicals opened on Broadway. The show was “Miss Saigon,” which I had the privilege to see shortly after its opening. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning three for Lead Actor in a Musical (Jonathan Pryce), Lead Actress in a Musical (Lea Salonga) and Featured Actor in a Musical (Hinton Battle). “The Will Rogers Follies” took home the bulk of the awards that year, including Best Musical. But “Miss Saigon” had the last laugh. While “The Will Rogers Follies” ran for two years, “Miss Saigon” ran for almost ten. In fact, as I write this, it is the 12th longest running show in Broadway history. The current touring production opened this week at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and it proved a fitting end to a successful season under the stars.

Saigon. 1975. As the war in Vietnam comes to a close we meet Chris (Charlie Brady) and John (Nkrumah Gatling) as they pay a visit to Dreamland, the local club where you can find ANYTHING you desire, courtesy of the club’s owner, who calls himself The Engineer (Orville Mendoza). The club is buzzing with the heat of a steamy night as well as the heat coming off the girls who work there. New to the club is Kim (Manna Nichols), who has just lost her family and now finds herself homeless and alone. As the girls gyrate and compete to win the nightly crown of “Miss Saigon,” Chris spots Kim from across the room. In this terrible place torn apart by war he has discovered an angel. John arranges with the Engineer that Kim and Chris spend the night together and, when morning comes, they are in love. But any plans they make for the future come to a halt when Chris, his fellow Marines and the US Ambassador evacuate Saigon.

Brilliantly staged, this production of “Miss Saigon” is equal in scope to the one I took in more than two decades ago at the Broadway Theater (that is the name of the theater…it’s actually on 53rd Street and is currently hosting the revival of “Cinderella”). I’ve always been impressed with Starlight’s ability to reproduce the scale of Broadway on their stage and they do it again with this show. The cast is well voiced and bring an emotional quality needed to the subject matter. I must give special attention to both Mendoza and Nichols who were, in my opinion, as good as their Tony Award winning predecessors. On an unseasonably hot September night their voices soared high and clear over the audience. Technically the show is also first rate, from the direction to the new choreography by Baayork Lee. Theatre fans may recognize Miss Lee as the original Connie in “A Chorus Line.” She has done an outstanding job or translating the show in her own way.

Recent rumors of a “Miss Saigon” film are running rampant, based on a comment producer Cameron MacIntosh made regarding the success of the recent “Les Miserables.” Since that film made almost $150 million in the US alone, I’m betting that the heat will soon be on at a theatre near you!

“Miss Saigon” continues at Starlight through September 13.
Additional Dates
Hartford September 16
Detroit September 24
St. Paul October 8

Blu-ray Review “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie” (Collector’s Edition)

Actors: Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy
Directors: Jim Mallon
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Shout! Factory
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Run Time: 74 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I have been a way of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or MST3K (to hardcore fans) since it first started airing on TV. I have always admired classic 50/60’s cheesy sci-fi/horror films growing up and this was a great way to enjoy it on a new level through humor. MST3K was produced and set between seasons 6 and 7 of the show and felt like a regular episode of the show yet quite epic at the same time. Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot), Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Michael J. Nelson are just a riot together. If you are a fan of this type of humor also check out Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy’s latest collaboration, RiffTrax, which are downloadable audio commentaries for many many great (I mean horrible films). “This Island Earth” is such a fun film, bad, but still fun. The jokes are never better and still funny after all these years. I highly recommended release for all fans of MST3K!

Official Premise: After six seasons of sublime, nerdy fun on television, the cult comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 took to the big screen in 1996 for its deliriously funny takedown of the 1955 alien invasion epic This Island Earth. Evil scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester explains the premise at the start: in his quest for world domination, he devises a scheme to subject the human race to the worst movies ever made. He tests his plan on Mike Nelson, the sole human aboard an Earth-orbiting space station known as the Satellite of Love. But our hero and his two robot sidekicks turn a lemon into a much funnier lemon by showering This Island Earth with wisecracks, ridicule and general silliness. The human race may never be rid of cheesy movies, but when the critics are this nutty, who cares?

Shout! Factory released this Collector’s Edition as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. I have to admit, I was actually rather impressed with the 1080p transfer. We have all see MST3K and we know that the films that they critique are not the highest quality of cinema. They are usually old 50/60’s public domain films but they did a good job of cleaning this up for its high-def debut. The DTS-HD Master Audio track also works well with the film’s very fast and snappy jokes.

What I am most excited about is the fact that there are some decent special features included for this release. There is “The Making of Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie”, which gives a lot of great insight about the MST3K crew and the production. There are deleted scenes including the removed sequences from the riffed motion picture and the alternate ending. So this is a must for all fans! “Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie: The Motion Picture Odyssey” includes new interviews with cast and crew and never-before-seen behind the scenes footage. This is again a must for any fan. “This Island Earth: 2 1/2 Years In the Making” shows how much preparation it was to put this today. Lastly there is the original trailer included.