Theatre Review: “The King and I” – Kansas City

‘The King and I”

Starlight Theater – Kansas City, Missouri

June 14, 2018

 

I can imagine it’s pretty hard to write a Broadway musical.

In 1943, a couple of guys named Richard and Oscar took a popular novel and turned it into one of the most popular musicals of all time; “Oklahoma!”  They followed it up with “Carousel,” “State Fair” and ‘South Pacific.”  Four hits in a row.  What would Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Hammerstein come up with for their next show?

Our story begins with Anna Leonowens (Elena Shaddow) aboard a boat with her son, Louis (Ryan Stout).  They have traveled from England to visit the court of the King of Siam, where Anna has been employed as the new teacher for the King’s wives and children.  Both mother and son are taken by the pageantry that accompanies their journey to the palace, as well as the exuberance of the King (Jose Llana) himself.  The King wishes to have his country adapt more modernist attitudes, and he hopes this English teacher can help him change.  And help him she does.

“The King and I” is a show I’ve been dying to see performed live since I first saw the film in the early 1970s.  The closest I ever got was a touring production, starring Yul Brynner, that came through Baltimore in the mid 1980s.  Sadly, I didn’t get to see the show, but I later did eat in the same Chines restaurant made popular by the fact that, when Brynner visited for dinner, somebody stole his shoes.   And, while it would have been amazing to see Brynner in his career-defining role, this new tour is equally every bit its equal.

Elena Shaddow and Jose Llana in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Both leads give amazing, energized performances and I would be remiss if I did not point out that Mr. Llana makes the role of the King his own.  The supporting cast is just as good and the music….well, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, for God’s sake!  What’s amazing is that Rodgers and Hammerstein still had “Cinderella” (a perennial favorite on television), “Flower Drum Song” and “The Sound of Music” to follow.  Filled with familiar songs like “Hello Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance,” the show is easily one of the best productions I’ve seen at Starlight in a long time.

The show plays in Kansas City through June 17th.  For tickets to a performance, either in Kansas City or later in the tour, click HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review: “The Book of Mormon”

Music Hall
Kansas City, Missouri

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our score: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review “Million Dollar Quartet” Kansas City, Missouri

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

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review: Original Hedwig’s Final Weeks on Broadway

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

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

“Nope,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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