Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big Hair and Big 1980s Sounds at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Where were you in ’82?
If you are like me, no matter where you were or what you were doing it was to the beat of bombastic 1980s “big hair” bands like Foreigner, Night Ranger, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Pat Benetar and Whitesnake.
“Rock of Ages,’ running through Jan. 9 at Broward Center for the Arts, takes some of the greatest hits of these groups and incorporates the lyrics into a boy-meets-girl tale of fortune-seeking, bitter disappointments and rueful life lessons.
Yeah, Chris D’Arienzo’s book is pretty clichéd and corny, but the production itself is a catchy, guilty pleasure wave of comedy, wailing vocals, gymnastic dance moves and thundering heavy metal rock music.
The nominal star of the show is Constantine Maroulis, who plays nice-guy everyman Drew Bowie, a waiter and aspiring musician at a Los Angeles Sunset Strip club called the Bourbon Room (think Whisky-a-Go-Go), run by a towering hulk of man named Dennis Dupree (Nick Cordero).
Drew’s female counterpart is star-struck Kansas cutie Sherrie, played by Rebecca Faulkenberry.
Maroulis, an “American Idol” finalist, originated the role of Drew Off and on Broadway and was rewarded with a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor. Maroulis has the requisite long mop of curly dark hair and a piercing tenor voice that easily penetrates to the back of the balcony.
Narrating the show, which is set in 1987 but has some songs into the 1990s, is a character named Lonny (Patrick Lewallen). Lonny often breaks the “fourth wall” and talks and jokes in a conspiring fashion with the audience.
Pop songs are often blended in a clever manner, as when Drew and Sherrie have a picnic and sip wine coolers overlooking L.A. while singing “More Than Words” (Extreme, 1990), “Heaven” (Warrant, 1989) and “To Be With You” (Mr. Big, 1991).
There is an inevitable girl-loses-boy twist when Sherrie unwisely has a fling with Stacy Jaxx (Mig Ayesa), the preening, egotistical lead singer of house band Arsenal. Sherrie also loses her gig as a waitress, and she is reduced to working as an “exotic dancer” (stripper) at the disreputable Venus Club, run by the commanding Justice (Teresa Stanley).
Things get rocky at the Bourbon Room when father and son German developers Hertz (Bret Tuomi) and Franz (Travis Walker).
Love makes unexpected turns when Lonny declares devotion to Dennis and light-in-the-loafers Franz takes up with Casey Tuma’s Regina (rhymes with vagina), a crusading, socially-conscious city planner.
None of this matters very much. What does matter is the anthemic songs, played with expert bravado by a precision band, highlighted by lightning-fast guitar-shredding by Chris Ciccino.
Director Kristin Hanggi was nominated for a Tony Award, but this is not the kind of show that wins Tonys. It’s the kind of show that sells tickets. If you loved the extreme looks, music and attitude of the 1980s, you’ll love this show.
Tickets are $25-$65. Call 954-462-0222 or visit

God a Subject in Two Current Plays

By Skip Sheffield

Two plays opened this weekend in West Palm Beach. Coincidentally, both of them debate the existence of God. Even stranger, both are largely comic, but with inescapable philosophical implications.
“Goldie, Max & Milk” is the funnier production, presented at Kravis Center for a long run though Jan. 16.
A woman, Karen Hartman, wrote “Goldie, Max & Milk.” Another woman, Margaret M. Ledford, directs the show, which has four female characters and just one male.
It is interesting and amusing to note the character of Mike (David Hemphill) though played breezily for laughs, is essential to the premise of the play (and to the existence of all men). Mike is sperm donor to the lesbian, atheist single-mom Maxine (Erin Joy Schmidt), whose lover Lisa (Carla Harting) has left her after convincing Max to become a mother. Oh, and by the way Mike, a free-wheeling dope dealer, is Lisa’s ne’er-do well-younger brother.
Max is poor, afraid and insecure in her crummy Brooklyn apartment, and perhaps because of this she is having trouble lactating; producing the mother’s milk essential to the good health of her infant. She doesn’t believe in God, but as an optimist she allows there could be something called the soul.
In desperation Max calls a social worker named Goldie (Deborah l. Sherman), who is an Orthodox Jew and a “lactation coach” for nursing mothers.
Who knew there was such a thing?
I certainly did not, but the device allows for a comedic clash of cultures and beliefs as “New-Agey,” anti-organized-religion Max is forced to cope with a woman whose views are so set and so diametrically opposed to her own.
But wait, there’s more to test Goldie’s mettle. Her eldest daughter Shayna (Sarah Lord) is what you could delicately call “bi-curious,” and she is fascinated by mom’s newest client.
Sex is a funny thing, and playwright Hartman milks the subject (pardon the pun) for maximum effect. On the other hand there is real pain in the characters of down, out, but not defeated Max; loving, nurturing but rigid Goldie, and her uncertain, vulnerable daughter Shayna, who is enduring a painful sexual identity crisis of her own.
At times “Goldie, Max & Milk” is like a TV sitcom, with fast-flung bon mots and quick comebacks, but then it hits back with doses of real emotion. This is not a comedy for everyone, but for people who want to explore and appreciate the greater value of true “family values,” it is reassuring to know we still can laugh.
Tickets are $47 and $50. Call 800-514-3837 or visit

Freud and C.S. Lewis Debate God’s Existence

“Freud’s Last Session” is a paradoxical comedy by Mark St. Germain, playing through Feb. 6 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan St., West Palm Beach.
The play is paradoxical because it is not really a comedy at all but an extended debate between two intellectuals representing opposing spectrums of human faith, values and belief.
Dr. Sigmund Freud (Dennis Creaghan, uncannily resembling the famed thinker) was the father of modern psychoanalysis and a staunch atheist.
C.S. Lewis was a novelist and allegorist whose works such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” are being read and re-interpreted to this day. Lewis was probably England’s most ardent defender of the Christian faith, which he declared publicly in his apologia “The Pilgrim’s Regress” in 1933.
Playwright St. Germain finds a kinship in these divergent characters through their intellectual brilliance, their restless quest for knowledge, their courage to face and challenge any opponent, and not the least of all, their ready, self-deprecating wit.
The play is set in London at the crucial point in the year 1939 When King George VI is about to make his famous Sept. 3 speech regretfully announcing England’s declaration of war against Germany and its allies.
Freud has summoned the younger professor and writer to his study for an unspecified reason. There is a lot going on at the time. London is evacuating, planes are flying overhead, and air raid sirens are being tested.
As a result Lewis is late, allowing Freud some good-natured scolding. This sets the combative tone of their meeting. Freud has read “Pilgrim’s Regress,” and he wants to know why a highly-intelligent, otherwise rational man can suddenly express a belief in a man who died 2,000 years ago claiming to be the Son of God and the savior of all who would believe in him.
Freud is desperately ill with oral cancer, and only too well-aware of his own mortality, which gives an added edge to the question of where one spends eternity after this physical life is over.
Having been raised in a religious home (I am a preacher’s grandkid), I have heard these debates a thousand times. Rarely have I heard the opposing points of view expressed so eloquently and cleverly.
I think the point of the playwright is that dialogue is essential if opposing factions are ever to live together in peace. This play is performed quickly in less than 90 minutes, without intermission. In that brief interlude it leaves one with the feeling maybe there is hope for communication regardless of poles of belief as long as individuals respect a worthy opponent.
Tickets are $47. Parking is just $1 an hour at the nearby City Center Garage (first hour free) and it is free on Sunday. Call 561-514-4042 or visit

Monday, December 27, 2010

Jack Black Goofs on Gulliver

This is not your grandfather’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” It’s not your father’s either.
Jonathan Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1726 as a satire of the British monarchy, government and human nature in general. It is by far Swift’s most popular work, and it has been so enduringly loved it has never been out of print.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a Hollywood studio, bereft of original ideas, would adapt the tale as a CGI-gimmicky Jack Black comedy.
A little Jack Black goes a long way. I happen to like his audacity and mischievous grin, but as a romantic lead I find the idea as far-fetched as Swift’s tiny and giant people in far-off lands.
Lemuel Gulliver (Black) works in the mail room of a New York City publishing house. He is a classic slacker and probably would be a mail room boy forever if it weren’t for a crush on Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), the pretty editor of a travel magazine.
Somehow (this is far-fetched, remember?) he fakes his way into taking a travel assignment to Bermuda that Darcy doesn’t want.
And so Gulliver sets off in a rented road bound for the Bermuda Triangle with no crew or provisions. A storm brews, water spouts, and Gulliver awakes on the shore of an island, tied up by tiny ropes tied by tiny people.
The tiny King Theodore (Scottish actor Billy Connelly) rather likes oafish Gulliver, as does his daughter, Princess Mary (Emily Blunt).
Gulliver also makes friends with Horatio (Jason Segal), who is smitten with the fair Princess.
Ah, but Mary is promised to General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the egotistical head of Lilliput’s army.
That’s pretty much it, except for a brief detour to Brobdingnag, where Gulliver becomes plaything of a giant little girl, and an absolutely absurd battle royale finale in which Gulliver battles Theodore inside a giant Transformer-type robot contraption.
Who this is supposed to appeal to is anyone’s guess. It’s too mushy for kids, too ridiculous for adults, and too fakey for those who love special effects. Big Jack, I think you bombed out this time.

"True Grit" Truer, Grittier Than Original

“True Grit” Truer, Grittier Than the Original

By Skip Sheffield

John Wayne is so indelibly attached to the comic Western “True Grit” it seems audacious anyone would have the nerve to remake it.
The Coen brothers have never shrunk from a challenge. They went back to the original source material, the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, to reinterpret the yarn of spunky young Arkansas pioneer Mattie Ross, and the fat, aging, one-eyed, alcoholic bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn to avenge the death of her father.
The 2010 Mattie, played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, is tougher, less girlish and altogether more convincing than Kim Darby was more than 40 years ago.
The spotlight is more on Mattie this time around, and deservedly so. She is filled with righteous anger over the murder of her father by the sneaky, cowardly Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
The name Cheney has new meaning for this generation, and Josh Brolin sees fit to make his blackguard as reprehensible as possible.
Perhaps because of his Oscar win last year for “Crazy Heart,” Jeff Bridges is relaxed, confident, without shame and very generous to his young co-star as a younger, less spotlight-hogging Rooster Cogburn.
“I intend to kill Tom Cheney with it,” Mattie states to the man she buys a pistol from. Then she bargains to buy back the horse that was stolen from her feather.
When she approaches Rooster Cogburn (she heard he had “true grit”), he looks at her skeptically and demands $100 to undertake the search. He promptly leaves without her.
Mattie cements her determination by fording and swimming a rushing river to chase after Rooster, who has been joined by another bounty hunter, Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon, barely recognizable), who wants the price on Cheney’s head.
This ragged trio takes off across the vast badlands, beautifully photographed by Joel and Ethan Coen’s favorite cinematographer, Roger Deakins.
They meet a catalog of typical Western characters along the way, during which a form of protective parental mode develops in the previously irresponsible Rooster. He still drinks and slouches in the saddle, but this Rooster is no buffoon. Despite all his faults he does indeed possess true grit. So does Mattie.
John Wayne received his Academy Award more for his body of work than his role as Rooster Cogburn. I remember scratching my head at the time and thinking what they say about Academy Awards is true: they don’t always go to the most deserving party.
The competition is too stiff for Jeff Bridges to win a second consecutive Oscar, but odds are better than even that young Miss Steinfeld will be remembered at nomination time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Festival Boca Returns

Festival of Arts Boca Raton Back for Fifth season

By Skip Sheffield

Festival of the Arts Boca Raton will return for a fifth season March 4-12 though with a somewhat scaled-down schedule and younger, less famous artists.
“A city must have a cultural arts component in order to be a world-class community,” stated Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel at a press conference at the Mizner Cultural Arts building. “A cultural component is vital to the success of any community. It is fun to see Festival Boca is younger this year.”
At the youthful end of the spectrum, the phenomenal 10-year-old operatic soprano Jackie Evancho will perform with the Young Stars of the Metropolitan Opera at the Festival finale on Saturday, March 12.
Instead of the costly Russian National Orchestra, the Festival has engaged the much more reasonable Boca Raton Symphonia Orchestra, which also gives a boost to the local musical community.
Festival Boca 2010 might not have happened at all with the generosity of Richard and Barbara Schmidt and the Schmidt Family Foundation.”
“We provided seed money to make the Festival possible,” revealed Dick Schmidt. “The city has stepped up its role too by taking over the amphitheater. We would hate to see the Festival fall victim to politics.”
The Festival begins 7 p.m. Friday, March 4 with the traditional Future Stars Competition of young performers, presented by the Rotary Club of Boca Raton.
The literary component begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 5 with a talk by Kate Walbert, author of “A Short History of Women,” in the Cultural Arts Center.
The Canadian Brass Headlines at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.
Literature continues at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 6 with Kevin Bleyer, Emmy Award-winning writer for The Jon Stewart Show and author of “Earth: The Book.”
The musical component continues at 7:30 p.m. Sunday with the American debut of Montenegro classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic, 27.
As the literary program is a “work in progress,” the Monday, March 7 author is to be announced. At 7:30 p.m. Monday evening Ballet Hispanico debuts.
The Latin theme continues 7:30 p.m. Wednesday with Piano Latino, featuring veteran Eddie Palmieri, Dominican Grammy Award-winner Michael Camilo and Cuban-born Alfredo Rodriguez, 24, discovered by Quincy Jones at the 2006 Montreaux Jazz Festival.
Improvisational genius pianist Gabriela Montero of Venezuela plays classics and takes requests at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10.
An author is to be announced for Friday, March 11.
As the Russian National Orchestra is not touring this year, the Boca Raton Symphonia is providing live music for the family movie classic “The Wizard of Oz” at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Distinguished writer-in-residence Doris Kearns returns at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and the Festival finale, “A Night at the Opera” stars Jackie Evancho and the Young Stars of the Metropolitan Opera with the Boca Raton Symphonia, under the baton of famed French pianist/conductor Philippe Entremont.
Individual tickets are $35-$125 and packages are available. Call 561-368-8445 or 866-571-ARTS or visit

Things are Not Idyllic in “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden”

Ernest Hemingway never wanted his “Garden of Eden” to be published.
Nevertheless his final novel was published posthumously in 1986 Now it is a movie, starring Jack Huston as the Hemingway-like World war I veteran and young novelist David Bourne, Mena Suvari as his young, wealthy, reckless wife Catherine and Caterina Murino as the couple’s sexy, seductive Italian friend, Marita. It is showing at FAU’s new Living Room Theaters.
The newlywed young American couple is enjoying life bombing around the French Riviera in a 1927 Bugatti sports car Catherine bought for David. They rent a seaside villa for the season, and Catherine soon grows bored and restless while David attempts to write.
One afternoon Catherine shows up with Marita in tow, and Catherine practically dares David to have an affair with the Italian beauty.
A ménage a trois develops with predictably unhappy results.
Mena Suvari is no longer the dewy-eyed doll she was in “American Beauty,” and with her hair chopped off and bleached platinum, she looks fairly ridiculous. Jack Huston looks even sillier with his platinum hair and dark eyebrows.
“Garden of Eden” may have been Hemingway’s attempt to emulate his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, but “Tender is the Night” this is not.

Two stars