Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nicole Kidman, Damsel-in-Distress

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Nicole Kidman in Distress Again

By Skip Sheffield

Nicole Kidman makes one fine damsel-in-distress. Who can forget her performance in the extremely weird “Eyes Wide Shut?”
Ms. Kidman is in peril once again as an amnesiac wife in the mystery-thriller “Before I Go To Sleep.” Some terrible brain trauma happened to Christine Lucas (Kidman), a British housewife who wakes up each morning with a blank slate. She can’t remember who she is, what she does, where she has been or even if Ben (Colin Firth), the man who cares for her, is really her husband.
If we weren’t treated to extreme close-ups of Kidman’s pretty face and beautiful blue eyes there wouldn’t be much reason to watch “Before I Go To Sleep,” which is directed and adapted for the screen by Rowan Joffe (“The American”) from the 2011 first novel by S. J. Watson.
Amnesia is a flimsy but ever-popular premise for a mystery-thriller. It is easy to shoot holes in the credibility of the plot, but it is fun to watch Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth emoting up a storm. Then there is Mark Strong as Christine’s psychiatrist. Is he a good guy or bad? Does he have ulterior motives?
British novelist Watson has a certain amount of medical training, which enables him to make Christine’s convenient amnesia more believable. Still, there are many “Oh, come on” moments and a “What the..” ending. Yet any movie that quotes A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” word-for-word gains points in my book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Every Girl a Princess at "Cinderella"

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"Cinderella" To Enchant Miami and West Palm Beach

By Skip Sheffield

You are not likely to find a more gorgeous stage musical than “Cinderella,” playing through Nov. 2 at the Arsht Center in Miami. The production will travel to Kravis Center in West Palm Beach Nov. 11-16.
This is the first national touring production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that first saw light as a 1957 television special, starring a young Julie Andrews. It was at the time the most-watched television show in history.
R&H re-teamed for a stage musical in 1965 starring Leslie Ann Warren. A 1997 revival starred Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother.
Most of us remember "Cinderella" from the 1950 Walt Disney animated version. The stage version of the story is much simpler, based on a European folk story hundreds of years old and popularized in English by the Brothers Grimm as one of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" in the 19th century.
The national tour boasts fabulous costumes and nifty stage effects, which include a harness that enables Marie (Kecia Lewis) the Fairy Godmother to levitage and soar above the Arsht Center stage. This is not one of R&H's best scores, but the band is live and very good.
Kecia Lewis is one of several delights as one of the sauciest Godmothers you will ever see.
Soprano Paige Faure is so tiny, doll-like and slim she embodies the fairy-like spirit named Ella, called Cinderella by her cruel stepmother named Madame (Beth Glover) and her selfish stepsisters Charlotte (Aymee Garcia) and Gabrielle (Ashley Park).
Prince Charming in this edition is called Topher (Andy Jones), short for Christopher. Jones is a handsome, fine tenor befitting his character.
The manipulative Sebastion, the Prince's chief advisor, is played with gusto and humor by Blake Hammond. The good guy who fights for villagers' rights is Jean-Michel, played by David Andino. One of the best voices in the cast belongs to Antoine L. Smith as Lord Pinkerton, who serves as a kind of herald.
One of the most amazing things about the show is Cinderella's incredibly fast costume changes before our very eyes. One minute she is Ella the cinder girl and the next her dress and even her hair are changed for the enchanting girl who will instantly win the Prince's heart.
If you have young daughters, bring them to "Cinderella." They will feel enchanted too.
For ticket information call the Arsht Center at 305-949-6722 or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000. For Kravis Center call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.

Monday, October 27, 2014

All Song, All Dance, All Joyful "Swing!"

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"Swing!" a Singing, Dancing Nostalgiafest.

By Skip Sheffield

Give your mind a rest and just “Swing!”
The Wick Theatre kicks off its second season with the nostalgic Big Band song and dance revue “Swing!,” continuing through Nov. 16 at the Countess deHoernle Theatre, 5901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.
Most of the song and dance routines in “Swing!” are from the World War II era, but some date back to the 1930s, when the Big Band craze started.
For those of us in the Baby Boom generation, World War II was still fresh when we were growing up. There have been so many wars in the years since World War II seems innocent by comparison.
So yes, "Swing!" is unapologetically nostalgic. What makes it special are the superbly limber, agile, athletic dancers male and female. The stage is set by the 1931 Duke Ellington classic "It Don't Mean a Thing" (If It Ain't Got That Swing), and the action continues non-stop for 24 numbers, with a brief intermission and another 11 numbers concluding with a big all-star finale.
In all there are an even dozen dancers with Lindsay Bell the captain under the overall direction of Kelly Shook. Featured singers are Alix Paige and Michael Ursua and there is an onstage band led by pianist and musical director Paul Reekie. A special tip of the hat to trombonist Jason Pyle, who makes his instrument "talk" with a mute on the showcase number "Cry Me a River" with Amelia Millar and Pyle trading vocal and instrumental licks.
This show transports me back to my formative years when our father, a Big Band fan of the first order, played the music of the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Fats Waller and Frank Sinatra at maximum volume, much to the annoyance of our neighbors. There are few things in life as happy and optimistic than music of the Big Band era. If you need a lift, here it is.
Tickets are $58-$62. Call 561-995-2333 or go to www.thewick.org.



Friday, October 24, 2014

Billy Crudup is "Rudderless"

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Billy Crudup a Haunted Soul in "Rudderless"

By Skip Sheffield

In brief, “Rudderless” is playing in only one venue, the Tower Theater in Miami, but this directorial debut by actor William H. Macy is now available by Video on Demand (VOD) if you so desire.
Billy Crudup plays Sam Penning, a high-powered advertising executive whose life blows up when his estranged son Josh (Miles Heizer) inexplicably goes on a rampage, murdering six fellow students at Central Plains State University. Sam immediately starts drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Divorced from his wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) he buys a sailboat and lives aboard, staying drunk most of the time. Sam hits the bottom of the barrel when he is fired from his menial house-painting job. When Emily dumps a load of his son’s effects on him, he discovers a number of CDs with really promising songs. He starts playing his son’s guitar and singing his songs. At the urging of young local musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin), Sam plays at a bar’s open mic night. Quentin enlists some other boys, and soon a full band is playing Josh Penning’s songs to local acclaim. With the help of a local music shop owner (Laurence Fisburne) the band seems poised to tour professionally, but when Josh’s old girlfriend (Selena Gomez) shows up, the gig is up.
Crudup shows what a fine actor he is, and Macy, who plays a small part, shows impressive directorial chops. It doesn’t hurt that co-star Felicity Huffman is his wife. As a struggling musician myself, I found “Rudderless” quite pertinent.

"Blue Room" a Morality Lesson

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Sex and Murder Most Foul in “The Blue Room”

By Skip Sheffield

“The Wages of Sin is death.”

That’s what it says in the Bible, Romans 6:23. I doubt that’s what Belgian novelist Georges Simenon was thinking when he wrote his novel “The Blue Room.”
“Blue Room” is the basis for a sexy French murder mystery written by and starring Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). Amalric plays Julien Gahyde, a farm equipment salesman with a lovely wife Delphine (Lea Drucker) and a somewhat fragile daughter Suzanne (Mona Jaffart).
We meet Julien in bed with Esther Despierre (Stenanie Cleau).
“Do you love me Julien?” she says.
“”I think so,” he replies.
We then cut to a police interrogation of Julien. How many times has he enjoyed the carnal company of Esther? Only eight times in 11 months,” he replies.
The entire movie cuts back and forth between events leading up to two suspicious deaths, and the subsequent police investigation and court trial of the suspects. Although there is nudity and implied sex, rarely has an affair been so unsexy.
Why do people stray? In Julien’s case it seems to be boredom accompanied by opportunity. Esther’s ailing husband, a doctor, is rarely around the flat they have above a pharmacy, where Esther works. Suzanne has many allergies and maladies, so Julien regularly visits the pharmacy. Though he professes love for Delphine, it is obvious the thrill is gone, and she knows it. A weekend getaway to the Riviera fails to re-fire the passion of a love dying.
Meanwhile Esther is putting on the pressure for Julien to make a decision: divorce his wife and marry her or end the affair.
Mathieu Amalric is adept at portraying a weak character with a guilty conscience. As the investigation and trail wear on, Esther is interrogated too. Actress Stephanie Cleau co-wrote the screen adaptation with Amalric, so they are literally on the same page.
If you like mysteries with murder most foul, done with a Gallic twist, it is fun trying to second-guess the plot twists. Georges Simenon was after all a master of murder mysteries, and his famous detective, Jules Maigret, is the Gallic equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.

Fight Racism With Satire

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Satirical “Dear White People” Uses Laughter as Weapon

By Skip Sheffield

One of the best ways to fight racism is with humor, and in particular, satire.
“Dear White People” is a satire about racism on the college campus. It won writer/director Justin Simien Sundance Film Festival’s 2014 Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. The timing is certainly right, for the key climactic scene takes place at a Halloween costume party.
The setting is fictitious Winchester University, presumably somewhere in the South. Winchester is a private school filled with wealthy, white snobs, jocks and frat boys. The four main characters are “token” black people admitted to help the school fill its minimum of minority students so donors could pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant.
Samantha “Sam” White (Tessa Thompson) is the most militant, activist member of the group- never afraid to speak out against perceived injustices. Perhaps not ironically she has the lightest skin. In the days before political correctness she would have been known as a mulatto. It can also be an insult.
Sam’s male counterpart is Troy Fairbanks, a handsome, ambitious, seemingly ideal guy who secretly has some bad traits that may get in the way of his desire to be class president.
Colandra “Coco” Conners is a sexy, gregarious woman who makes her views known on a public “Vlog” (video blog).
Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is the closest thing to an everyman character- that is if everyman had a bushy, towering Afro hairdo straight out of 1968.
In case we miss these characters are types, the director labels and defines them at the start of the story. Then he goes on to confound those stereotypes.
The white characters are for the most part stereotypes too, except for Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), editorial of the school paper who has liberal tendencies. We will see how liberal as the story unfolds.
The two main authority figures are Dean Fairbanks (Dennis Haysbert), a man who seems equally wise to the ways of white and black people, and President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen), whose main concern is keeping benefactors happy.
It seems like race relations haven’t improved much since I was a college student, eons ago. At least with this film we have Justin Simien shining a light in dark corners and saying “Hey people, these things still exist,” yet with the beneficial balm of humor.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In Time for Halloween is "Carrie: The Musical"

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Just in Time for Halloween: “Carrie: The Musical”

By Skip Sheffield

It’s not exactly the feel-good show of the season, but Slow Burn Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical,” playing through Nov. 2 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theater, is nothing if not diverting and entertaining.
Stephen King’s novel of religious zealotry, high school bullying, teenage cruelty and telekinesis seems an unlikely choice for a stage musical. It still is.
That’s why the 1988 Broadway debut of the $8 million production was deemed a “notorious flop.” In fact some audience members booed as the final curtain rang down opening night.
Slow Burn artistic director Patrick Fitzwater has never been one to back down from a challenge. Once again he has met it by adapting an improved script and hand-picking the youngest cast of highly talented performers, aided and abetted by three older pros.
The pedigree of “Carrie: The Musical” is impressive. The book is by Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the 1976 movie version of Stephen King’s hit 1974 novel. The music is by Leslie’s younger brother Michael Gore, who won an Oscar for his 1981 “Fame” soundtrack, and Dean Pitchford, who also won an Oscar for collaborating on that film.
Fitzwater and musical director Caryl Fantel have concentrated on the musicality of the show. The ensemble harmonies are virtually flawless, and Fitzwater cast Equity powerhouse Shelly Keeler in her Slow Burn debut in the crucial role of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White.
“Religious zealot” is not really a strong enough description of Margaret White. Her narrow, fundamentalist view of what is sinful and what is good is obsessive and borders on demented. Her husband has understandably left her, adding bile to her bitter, warped view of life.
Her only daughter, poor Carrie (Anne Chamberlain), bears the brunt of her resentments. As a result Carrie is stunted emotionally and even physically. Although she is 17, Carrie has never had a period. When it comes, at the worst possible time in the school shower, it sets in motions a series of events that will end horribly at the high school prom.
Shelly Keeler is far and away the best, strongest singer in the cast. This helps balance the fact she is playing such a disagreeable character. Keeler brings home the pain and anguish of Margaret in the ballad “When There’s No One,” which is also the best song of the score.
Anne Chamberlain holds her own with her monster mom. Her character is described as “not pretty,” but Chamberlain is. This does not detract from her torment.
Jessica Brooke Sanford is the sympathetic Ying of Sue Snell, who attempts to defend Carrie. Cristina Flores is the cruel Yang of Chris, Carrie’s malicious classmate who hatches the plot that goes so horribly wrong.
Alexander Zenoz is most appealing as Tommy, Carrie’s good-guy prom date. Kristian Bikic is appropriately punkish as juvenile delinquent Billy.
Serving yeoman duty as the responsible adults as Anne Marie Olson as gym teacher Miss Gardiner and Matthew Korinko as school principal Mr. Stephens.
The timing of “Carrie: The Musical” couldn’t be better. This show is the perfect setup for the harmless hijinks of Halloween.

Tickets are $40. Student and Theater League discount tickets are available at the door. Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 866-811-4111 or go to slowburntheatre.org.