Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wretched Excess in Orlando

“Queen of Versailles” a Materialistic Horror Show

Wretched excess: we see a lot of it in South Florida in tasteless, oversized McMansions with expensive cars in the garages and pushy, pretentious people in residence.
There is no wretched excess quite like that depicted in “The Queen of Versailles,” a film documentary by Lauren Greenfield, shot largely on location in Orlando, Florida.
It is there that David Siegel and his former beauty queen wife Jackie plan to build the largest private residence in the USA. Versailles is what this 90,000 square-foot, 30 bedroom 19-bath monster is called. It is about as genuine as the ersatz Eiffel Tower on the Las Vegas strip.
“Queen of Versailles” is not just about a giant house. It is about the vacuous, disgustingly materialistic people who would be its inhabitants.
David, 74, and Jackie Siegel, now 43 were riding high when filming began in 2007.
David is founder and CEO of Westgate, the largest timeshare company in the world. Timesharing, which some prefer to call interval ownership, allows people of lesser means to at least temporarily live out their vacation fantasy dreams. Founded in 1980, the cornerstone of Westgate is easy credit. Siegel learned of the timeshare concept and perfected it into an art of high-pressure convincing ordinary people to live beyond their means. David Siegel actually brags that it was he who got George W. Bush elected President in Florida, and not necessarily by legal means.
It was that administration’s loose credit policies that lead to a day of reckoning and the crash of 2008. Credit dried up. Adjustable-rate mortgages adjusted upwards and banks called in debts.
David Siegel was caught in the crosshairs of the credit crisis. While his wife and eight kids blithely went about their free-spending ways, David worked overtime trying to salvage his empire.
Much of “Queen of Versailles” plays like a dark comedy as we watch this once super-rich family squirm and try to adjust to a more ordinary reality.
To me it is more of a horror movie about what is worst about America.
David Siegel sued the filmmakers for defamation of character because the film implied his organization was in dire straits and his dream mansion in foreclosure.
Siegel did lose his flagship timeshare, PH Westgate in Las Vegas, but evidently his company has rebounded and construction has allegedly resumed on Versailles.
I don’t care. It would be hard to feel sorry for the Siegels, even if they lost everything. Versailles is not a place I would want to live in or even visit. But if you view this as a real-life cautionary tale, I think you will see a lot of familiar, unflattering things, and it may give you pause to realize the emptiness of life based only on the accumulation of material wealth.

A Star Ballerina Returns to Boca

By Skip Sheffield

Welcome back Sarah Smith!
Sarah is a professional dancer with New York’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT) but she got her start in Boca Raton at Boca Ballet Theatre (BBT) and Harid Conservatory.
Sarah has returned to guest a number of times with BBT. Most recently she was in the annual production of “The Nutcracker.” Sarah has also guest-starred in “Giselle,” “Romeo & Juliet” and “La Bayadere” at BBT.
She is back this weekend to star as Swanhilda in E.T.A. Hoffman’s “Coppelia.” Playing her boyfriend Franz is fellow ABT professional, Gary Davis.
Directed by BBT co-founder and co-artistic director Dan Guin, “Coppelia” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 and 2 p.m. Sunday Aug. 6 in the Florida Atlantic University Theatre.
Based on Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” “Coppelia” is a light-hearted tale of a boy, a girl, and a girl who is actually a doll miraculously brought to life. BBT co-founders Dan Guin and Jane Tyree danced the roles of Franz and Swanhilda a number of times in their dancing career.
Tickets are $35 adults and $25 for seniors and children. Call 561-995-0709 or visit www.bocaballet.org.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Unforgettable “Fantasticks” at Palm Beach Dramaworks

By Skip Sheffield

There is a reason why “The Fantasticks” is the longest-running musical of all time: it is as close to perfection as you’ll ever find in a small-scale musical.
Palm Beach Dramaworks is presenting their take on this timeless classic through Aug. 5 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
“The Fantasticks” is simplicity itself. It requires bare-minimum sets, costumes and orchestration. Creators Tom Jones (books and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) borrowed from a number of traditions, including commedia ‘dell arte, Rosand’s “Les Romanesques,” Wilder’s “Our Town,” Japanese Noh Theater and historical American frontier traveling tent shows for the story.
Dramaworks’ production is surely and sensitively directed by J. Barry Lewis, with musical direction by Craig Ames, who performs onstage at the grand piano, with Kay Kemper on harp.
Ames knows the score like the back of his hand, which allows him to keep in constant touch with the actors for every subtle (and not so subtle) nuance of the script.
“The Fantasticks” is a parable of romantic first love, subsequent disillusionment and ultimate maturation.
Luisa (Jennifer Molly Bell) is a dreamy 16-year-old girl who readily admits she is “insane.”
The object of her affection is next-door neighbor Matt (Jacob Heimer), an “older man” of almost 20. He in turn is mad about Luisa. They express their love in the beautifully harmonized “Metaphor,” which rhapsodizes about every sappy cliché of first-time love.
What the couple doesn’t know is that their respective fathers have been conspiring to bring them together through reverse psychology. The girl’s father Bellomy (Barry J. Tarello) and the boy’s father Hucklebee (Cliff Goulet) have hired a mute man (Cliff Burgess) to construct a wall to separate the would-be lovers. The dads express their reasoning in “Never Say No,” which is exactly how they plan to bring the kids together.
To seal the deal, they hire a mysterious man who calls himself El Gallo (Jim Ballard, who also serves as narrator) to stage an abduction of Louisa so that Matt can intervene to save the day and be Louisa’s hero. To pull off the scheme, El Gallo hires two old, decrepit and inept traveling actors to play all additional roles.
Because “The Fantasticks” is so syrupy sweet on one hand and bitterly disillusioned on the other, it needs the slapstick comedy of these actor buffoons.
Dennis Creaghan has played many distinguished roles in the theaters of South Florida, but for his Shakespeare misquoting Old Actor, he throws all caution to the winds in a hilarious caricature of all pretentious actors.
His bogus Indian cohort, Mortimer (Tangi Colombel, overstuffed with huge belly) specializes in the art of dying, even if it is not called for.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang agley (go awry)” Robert Burns wrote in 1785. “And leave nothing but grief and pain.”
“The Fantasticks” is not so harsh, but it reminds us nothing worthwhile is achieved without struggle and suffering. This is expressed in the score’s best-known song, “Try to remember,” beautifully sung by baritone Jim Ballard.
I first saw “The Fantasticks” when I was the age of Matt in the original run of the show at Sullivan Street Playhouse in NYC in the summer of 1967. It couldn’t have been more magical. I saw it with the girl I loved.
That is a distant memory, but it is lovingly revived by this lovely production of an evergreen classic.
Tickets are $55 ($10 students) and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042 or visiting www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar Resurrects Theater


A Lively, Young “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Caldwell Theatre

By Skip Sheffield

There is an infusion of new life into the former Caldwell Theatre Company- at least through July 15.
That’s how long the Entre’Acte Theatrix production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is scheduled to run.
Revolutionary when it was first presented as a rock opera concept album in 1970 and a stage production in 1971, it remains revolutionary today. In essence, “Superstar” is a passion play set to rock music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice. The play is different from traditional passion plays before it for its emphasis on Jesus as a man, and its take on his traitorous apostle Judas as a tragic, even sympathetic character. Some conservatives condemned the show as “blasphemous.” In South Africa it was banned outright. Now it is a staple of theater companies all over the world.
The Entre’Acte cast, directed by Jessica Kris, is young and fresh and more age-appropriate to the historical characters. In this show the strongest singer is Anthony Nuccio as Judas, which adds even more impact to the character. Nuccio has phenomenal range, flexibility and power in his voice and as actor he has a convincing ability to express his character’s torment.
John Parker is perfectly fine as Jesus, but his unruly wig gets a thumbs-down. It actually becomes a distraction from an otherwise moving performance.
The third most important character in this concept is Mary Magdalene, played by Val Roche. A “fallen woman” who sees Jesus’ divinity, Mary also grows to love him as a man, as is expressed in one of the show’s most popular songs, “I Don’t know How to Love Him.”
There were some recurring technical problems with the sound amplification system which unfortunately detracted from some of the show’s more dramatic moments. The vocal harmonizing by the cast is uniformly good, and the costumes are colorful and funny.
The fate of the beautiful Count deHoernle Theatre, as the building is called, remains clouded. It is laudable that producer Vicki Halmos and the Vicki and Peter Halmos Foundation have stepped up to make use of the facility, but it is doubtful any individual or foundation alone could assume the enormous debt that has accumulated since the opening of the new facility.
If you value live theater, and if you love to see talented young performers giving their all, I urge you to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” while you can. You might be reminded of the show’s timeless message and feel uplifted.
Reserved seats are $25; $15 for groups and children under 12 and $10 student rush (with ID). Call 877-710-7779.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Spider-man Pretty Amazing


By Skip Sheffield

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is more than just a reboot of a beloved comic book super hero. It’s a massive infusion of steroids into a faltering 40-year-old fable.
It was just ten years ago that Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man cinematic franchise was rebooted by director Sam Raimi, with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. They went on to star in two sequels.
Andrew Garfield, who was so terrific in “Social Network,” is even better as this year’s Peter Parker.
Though he is thin and slight like Tobey Maguire, there is something manlier about Andrew Garfield. He has an air of anger and danger, underscored with deep sorrow.
The story begins with a prologue that explains more about Peter than we previously knew. Peter evidently idolized his father (Campbell Scott), but one day when he was about 6 Peter’s parents left in a big hurry and dumped him off with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field).
Peter, now 17, is in his senior year at a Forest Hill, Queens science high school. He is bullied by Flash (Chris Zylka) the football hero, and he is in awe of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a beautiful but seemingly unobtainable classmate.
In the course of masquerading as an intern at the humongous Oscorp headquarters, Peter is done a favor by Gwen, who covers for him, and he goes off to do a little investigating on his own.
Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) was the research partner of Peter’s father and he is now the chief research scientist at Oscorp. Connors is missing his right arm, and he has become obsessed with the idea of regeneration. If a lizard can grow back a severed tail he reasons, perhaps a human could do the same thing with a limb.
Prowling in one of the laboratories Peter encounters a mass of spiders and one gives him a painful bite.
It was no ordinary spider but one charged with radioactivity. Suddenly Peter develops spider-like abilities to snatch things out of mid-air, crawl up walls and stick to ceilings upside down.
Garfield’s Peter has a lot more fun than Maguire ever had with his newfound powers. Furthermore he has a much stronger romantic chemistry with his leading lady than his predecessor.
Emma Stone is wide-eyed adorable, but she is also feisty and a fitting match for her super boyfriend, who ironically becomes a target of her protective father, police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary).
There are some goofy things about this movie, not the least of which is the mutant monster villain. Director Marc Webb has the good sense to laugh at the sillier aspects of the plot. Webb directed the bittersweet romance “(500) Days of Summer,” and he is equally at home with action and the ways of the heart.
Yes, Hollywood seems to be bankrupt of original ideas, but in this case they have improved on a tried-and-true formula. Welcome back Spidey!
Shakespeare in Key West
FAU is offering a buy-one, get-one-free deal on the rest of its Summer Rep Shows through July 28. If you like the music of Jerry Herman (“Hello Dolly,” “Mame,” “La Cage aux Folles,” etc), you’ll appreciate “Showtune: A Jerry Herman Musical Revue,” which showcases Herman’s best-known and some little-known gems in the FAU Theatre.
In the Studio One Theater, director Jean-Louis Baldet has come up with a goofy take on Shakespeare’s romantic romp “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” The setting is Key West in the year 1947. Why, I don’t know, but it gives the cast a chance to wear exaggerated 1940s attire, which is fun. So is the kazoo chorus.
Ferdinand, the “King of Key West” (Darrick Perry), is from Jamaica, mon, with accent to match. The pint-sized “Princess of France” (Lynn Wilhite) seems to be enjoying things more so than her court.
One of the drawbacks of pairing professional actors with students is that you can really tell which is which when the actors simply open their mouths to spout Elizabethean English. Holofernia (Equity actress Kathryn Lee Johnston), a “professor of etymology and philology,” has so much better enunciation and projection she seems to be out of another play.
But any show that has the entire cast join in on the 1938 Sammy Fain classic “I’ll Be Seeing You” is OK in my book.
Tickets are $20 general admission; $14 group and $12 students. Call 800-564-9539 or go to www.fau.edu/festivalrep.