Monday, February 8, 2016

Time-Travel to 16th Century With Renaissance Festival

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Quiet Waters Park Time-Travels to 16th Century for Renaissance Festival

By Skip Sheffield

I joust you not.
 But if it’s jousting you want to see, come to the 24th annual Florida Renaissance Festival at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach. The Festival opens Saturday, Feb. 13 and continues for an unprecedented seven weekends through March 27.
For this year’s event, producer Bobby Rodriguez has chosen the theme “Renaissance Around the World.” As always there will a full complement of 100 16th century costumed performers on 12 stages featuring 20 acts from around the world, performing acts of dexterity, low and high comedy, juggling, minstrel music, sword fighting, horseback jousting, pirate high jinks and aerial acts.
The Renaissance Festival is the brainchild of Bobby Rodriguez, who is a working musician, bandleader and head of his own talent agency.
“This is my baby,” Rodriguez declares. “We have extended it to a seventh weekend for the first time this year. We used to have three weeks to set it all up, but this year we have to hustle and get it up in just two weeks.”
Rodriguez says he is bringing back by popular demand the rare, massive carillon instrument of bronze bells. As part of the Voyage to the Orient, there will be dragon boat races on the Quiet Waters Lake.
Favorite acts include “The Harper and the Minstrel,” “Trash or Treasure,” “The Kelly Irish Dancers,” “The Duelists,” magic with “Moonie the Magnificent,” “Buckle & Swash: The Cobblestone Characters” and “Caroline Williams Liberty Horse Act.”
Themed weekends are as follows.
“Swashbucklers & Sirens” Feb. 13-15.
“Vikings & Valkyries” Feb. 20-21.
“Fantasy and Adventure” Feb. 26-28.
“Voyage to the Orient” March 5-6.
“Kilts & Colleens” March 12-13.
“Time Travelers’ Weekend” March 19-20.
“Carnivale Masquerade” March 26-27.

Hours are 10 a.m. until sunset. Tickets are $21 adults and $9 children 6-11 years (under 5 free). Season passes are $75. Call 800-3-REN-FES or go to www.ren-fest.com.


Impressive Debut By Charles Gluck With "Unlikely Heroes"

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“Unlikely Heroes” a Remarkable Debut Play

By Skip Sheffield

From out of nowhere comes playwright Charles Gluck mounting his first play in a full-fledged production continuing through Feb. 21 at the black box theater of Mizner Park Cultural Center.
Dr. Charles Gluck dreamed of a life in theater, but he deferred to his parents’ wishes and became a doctor specializing in gastroenterology. Now after retiring nearly 30 years into his practice he has gotten his wish. It is called “Unlikely Heroes” and it is a comedy-drama about a Jewish family beset by sibling rivalry, deceit, self-loathing and contempt. Did I mention it was a comedy? At first, yes.
Leo (Michael H. Small) is the blowhard older brother of David (Avi Hoffman) and head of a company that manufactures girls’ dance wear. Leo has a tendency to take on more than the company can produce and let his younger brother deal with it.
David had not been very successful in life before his brother took him in and gave him a second chance. David has an overbearing wife Mindy (Margot Moreland) and a simmering resentment of his domineering brother. The couple has a classic slacker of a son Bradley (Robert Johnston), who is 27 and spends his time in the basement playing video games.
Leo has a pretty wife Susan (Patti Gardner) who tries her best to be Susie Homemaker, but is terrified of growing old and childless.
The brothers have a younger sister Gail (Kim Ostrenko) who opted for a career rather than marriage and now wonders at age 50 if it was all worth it.
The play turns on a major revelation in Act Two which affect all family members and turns the comedy into a biting life-and-death drama.
“Unlikely Heroes” is a remarkable first effort by an unproved playwright. Director Avi Hoffman has cast some of the best actors South Florida has to offer. The standout is Michael H. Small as a caddish, deceitful egotist who is brought low by circumstance. Each character has his or her say-so. A revelation is Robert Johnson’s Bradley, who does not have much to say until his emotions explode.
“Unlikely Heroes” is performed briskly and tickets are just $35. Call 800-595-4849 or go to UnlikelyHeroesPlay.tix.com.



Thursday, February 4, 2016

"The Choice" Another Nicholas Sparks Weeper

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Weep Along With “The Choice”

By Skip Sheffield

Nicholas Sparks has become a wealthy man writing weepy romances. “The Letter” was the first to be adapted to the screen. “The Choice” is the latest, and it is a lot like those that preceded it.
Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) and Travis Parker (Benjamin Walker) are neighbors in a small coastal North Carolina community. Travis is a carefree boat captain and ladies’ man. Gabby is a serious medical student who is in a relationship. When she moves near Travis, he can’t help but noticed the fresh-faced young beauty.
According to the Nichols Sparks formula, the seemingly mismatched couple will fight attraction, then ultimately give in to it. Then something will happen to challenge the relationship.
“The Choice” is distinguished by beautiful coastal North Carolina vistas. The beautiful scenery almost over shadows the love story. As a bonus you have friendly dogs and cute, cuddly puppies.
Benjamin Walker is a likable true Southerner who fits comfortably into the role of confident boat captain. He is less confident as a young father faced with an extreme challenge.
Teresa Palmer is a naturally gorgeous Australian actress who brings an ethereal quality to her Gabby. It is hard not to root for her.

Many in the preview audience were moved to tears by “The Choice.” I am not so easily moved, but if you are looking for a good weeper, here you go.

"Hail Caesar" Imagine "Trumbo" as a Comedy

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“Hail Caesar” is “Trumbo” as a Comedy

By Skip Sheffield

“Hail Caesar” is the Coen brothers comical answer to the ultra-serious “Trumbo.”
Set in the early 1950s, “Hail Caesar” is a story-within-a-story that spoofs Hollywood of the fading golden era.
The title refers to a sword and sandals epic that is really about the victory of Jesus Christ over the occupying Romans circa 33 A.D. George Clooney plays the larger-than-life star, Baird Whitlock. Baird plays a cruel Roman centurion who literally sees the light when Christ is crucified. That is if they can find Baird, who disappears from the set in mid-filming.
Cynical studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) figures Baird is off on another bender, but in fact Baird has been drugged and kidnapped and hauled off to a beautiful Malibu beach house where he meets members of “The Future.” It is a group of Hollywood screenwriters with Communist leanings, and they hope to indoctrinate Bird to their point of view. Oh, and they want $100,000 ransom.
“Hail Caesar” is a self-consciously aren’t-we-clever parody on 1950s Hollywood. Alden Ehrenreich plays drawling cowboy star Hobie Doyle who is drawn in over his head by effete director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) to be a romantic leading man. Scarlett Johansson is a hoot as an Esther Williams-style swimming actress who discovers she is pregnant and is have trouble fitting into her mermaid suit.
Tilda Swindon does her deadpan best as twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker, obviously modelled on Anna Landers and Abigail van Buren
The list goes on. There’s Channing Tatum as devious actor Burt Gurney; Jonah Hill as clueless accountant Joseph Silverman and Veronica Osorio as the Carmen Miranda-style Carlotta Valdez.
Though all the trials and tribulations is Eddie Mannix’ loyal secretary, Natalie (Heather Goldenhersh).

As someone who knows Hollywood history more than the average Joe, I got the jokes and laughed a lot at “Hail Caesar.” Someone without foreknowledge may be baffled. But everyone seems to be having fun.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Young, Female Rising Star on the Podium for Symphonia Boca Rton

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Two Rising Stars in Concert for Boca Symphonia Feb. 4-7

By Skip Sheffield

For its February concerts, Symphonia Boca Raton has a rising star on the podium and another one at the keyboard.
Carolyn Kuan is young, Asian, and abundantly enthusiastic about exploring new boundaries of classical music. Alexandre Moutouzkine is the piano soloist. A child prodigy, Russian-born Moutouzkine won the St. Petersburgh International Piano Competition at age 14 and emigrated to the USA at age 19. He has since travelled the world and won countless awards.
The program, labelled “From Paris to Prague,” features works by American composer Aaron Copland (Music for the Theatre); French composers Francis Poulenc (Aubade, Concerto Choreographique) and Gabriel Faure (Ballad for Piano and Orchestra, op 19), and everybody’s favorite, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Symphony No. 38 “Prague”).
Carolyn Kuan was born in Taiwan and began playing piano at age 5. She left her family behind to come to America and attend high school here. She could barely speak English when she arrived, but she was a quick study; good enough to enter and graduate from Smith College. She earned her Master of Music diploma from the University of Illinois.
Kuan conducted the Chinese New Year concerts for the San Francisco Symphony from 2007-2012. In November 2011 she was appointed conductor of the Hartford Symphony. She was the first woman and the youngest ever at the post. She recently signed a six-year contract to stay on.
She conducted the entire 2014-2015 season of the Santa Fe Opera, innovating with Eastern and Western singers and instruments. She has conducted the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. She made her recording debut in 2012, conducting the New Zealand Symphony in works by various Chinese composers.
The Connoisseur Concert will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7 at Roberts Theatre at St. Andrew’s School, 3900 Jog Road, Boca Raton. A pre-concert conversation will take place from 2-2:30 p.m. for those who want to know more about the pieces beforehand.
Single tickets are $45-$75. Call 866-687-1201 or e-mail tickets@thesymphonia.org.


Monday, February 1, 2016

"Reborning" in Delray Beach

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The Artistic Challenge of “Reborning”

By Skip Sheffield

“Reborning” does not mean born again. The crux of Zayd Dohrn’s challenging, fascinating, disturbing psychological play is more about the power of creation, both human and artistic. “Reborning” continues through Feb. 14 at Arts Garage, 94 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach.
Kelly (Elizabeth Price) is a sculptor who has found she can make more money creating astoundingly natural-looking dolls.
Her boyfriend Daizy (Nicholas Wilder) is also a sculptor. He too has found a practical use for his talents. He creates male body parts for a sex toy company.
Kelly is so good at her art; she is approached by Emily (Deborah Kondelik), a wealthy older woman who wants her to create a doll in the image of her late daughter, who died at age 2.
Kelly dutifully creates the doll, which is just about perfect, but not quite in the eyes of perfectionist Emily. After a debate about how to recreate an image most convincingly (working from still photo or moving picture), Kelly agrees to try to further perfect the doll. She tells Emily to come back in a week.
Meanwhile Daizy, a laid-back, mild-mannered fellow, is caught in the crossfire. He just wants to have sex with Kelly, as they have not in a long time. Kelly has become so obsessive he has stopped eating and sleeping.
“Reborning” starts out as a comedy under Keith Garrison’s direction. Daizy makes dildoes, ha-ha. Emily is shocked, oops. Kelley is embarrassed. As the play progresses it gets darker and darker. Kelly was horribly abused and abandoned as an infant. She has ample scars as proof, including no fingerprints, but her psychic wounds are even deeper.
Emily is wounded too, and needy. The play simmers nicely into a blazing finale, all in 1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission. “Reborning” is not for children or the faint of heart. I found it bracing and challenging in its ultimate questions, and beautifully acted all around.
Tickets are $30 general admission, $40 reserved seat and $45 premium. Call 561-450-6357 or go to www.artsgarage.org.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wacky, Wonderful, Profane "Book of Mormon" at Broward Center

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Wacky, Irreverent “Book of Mormon” Charms at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

What a wacky, irreverent, dirty and ultimately wonderful musical “The Book of Mormon” is. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” and Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q,” it continues through Feb. 7 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is the third production of “Book of Mormon” I’ve seen. I feel it is the best. The singing, dancing and joke delivery are near perfect. The script has been revised and tweaked in each subsequent touring company. There is a new visual comedy bit at the very end that makes for a perfect finale. I won’t give it away except to say it involves Arnold Cunningham (Chad Burris), the shyer, less handsome “elder” who discovers he is a lot more charismatic than he ever knew.
“Book of Mormon” is a satirical comedy aimed mostly at the peculiarities of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Ladder-Day Saints. Original church prophet Angel Moroni (Daxon Bloomquist) is an easy target. Supposedly back in 362 A.D. God spoke to him directly and he engraved God’s instructions on golden plates. The plates were buried in Upstate New York for safe-keeping. There they remained until 1823, when they were discovered by Joseph Smith. Smith allegedly translated the information into a book that became the Book of Mormon. The church was formally opened in 1830 in New York. Smith was murdered by an angry mob in 1844 and church leadership was taken over by Brigham Young from 1844 until his death in 1877. All these characters are played for laughs, including Jesus Christ. One of the oddest claims of the church is that Jesus appeared to Moroni in the USA after his resurrection.
Ryan Price is requisitely handsome and charming as the outgoing Elder Kevin Price. How can a 19-year-old boy be an “elder?” Never mind.
Chubby Chad Burris is the scene-stealer as Elder Arnold Cunningham, a guy who “makes things up,” but finds a way to communicate with the Ugandans, where Price and Cunningham had been dispatched as missionaries. Among the natives Arnold charms is Nabulungi (Candace Quarrels), daughter of the local Chief. The most colorful character is a brutal, Idi Amin-style General we shall just call BFN, powerfully played by David Aaron Damane.
There is a big production number on the African song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” with a big punchline when the meaning is revealed.
“Book of Mormon” is the kind of show you can discover new things on every viewing. It is no accident it won a whopping nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. If you don’t mind some foul language or pointed satire at rigid religious ideas, you should enjoy it as much as I.
Tickets are $40-$150 at TicketMaster or the box office Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.