Saturday, November 30, 2013

Radio City Comes to West Palm Beach


The Rockettes Spread Holiday Cheer

By Skip Sheffield

Need cheering up?
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes is a sure thing to bring out the wide-eyed, happy child in a person of any age.
The “Christmas Spectacular” is in residence for the first time through Dec. 8 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Kravis Center is ideally-suited to house this massive, high-tech, multi-media show, with its huge stage, lofty fly space and wide aisles.
For those who have seen the Radio City Christmas Spectacular before there is a sense of continuity, for many of the 12 scenes with set and costume changes have been seen in years before. This show is custom-made for West Palm Beach, with local references made in the introduction of the fabulous dancing Rockettes in reindeer headgear hauling Santa Claus and his sleigh across the stage. Radio City singers are introduced in Scene 2 wishing us a Merry Christmas. The familiar “Twelve Days of Christmas” are done up Rockette-style with 160 tapping toes of the precision Rockette dancers.
Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is served up especially for children, with giant, over-stuffed dancing animals and a tiny dancing ballerina named Clara (Kate Gardinier alternating with Jessica Snider)
A personal favorite is the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, culminating in a choreographed collapse finale.
New York at Christmas” is done in spectacular fashion, with a nearly full-size red double-decker bus that rotates 360 while projections of downtown Manhattan offer the illusion of motion.
A traditional second act part of the show is the religious story of the birth of Jesus, quoting scripture in a “Living Nativity,” reminding Christians of the reason for the season.
A brief history of Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes tells of the spectacular debut in 1933 to the low point in 1978 when the theater almost closed. What a loss that would have been for all Americans.
Happily Radio City Music Hall was renovated in 1999 and the Rockettes are alive and well in New York City and West Palm Beach, offering an upbeat alternative to our daily diet of bad news.
Tickets are $51.50-$143.50. Call 800-572-8471 or go to

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Not-so-Sweet "Dolce Vita"


Galatea Ranzi and Toni Servillo

Not So Sweet Life of “Great Beauty”

What is the flip side of “La Dolce Vita?”
A short answer is “The Great Beauty,” which is Italy’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards.
Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardella, a jaded journalist with one hit novel to his credit. The film, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, begins with a quotation from Celine’s “Journey Into the Night.”
This sets the somber tone in an otherwise exquisitely beautiful Rome in which Jep reflects on his largely wasted, womanizing, partying, superficial life upon his 65th birthday.
In this sumptuous, beautifully-photographed elegy (cinematography by Luca Bigazzi), we see a parade of Felliniesque characters from Jep’s childhood and Catholic upbringing to his swinging, libertine heyday as a star journalist to his current reflective state after the death of an old girlfriend.
Rome has never looked more beautiful than in this fantasy, in which Jep’s designer apartment is just across the street from the Coliseum. The women are beautiful in various stages of dress and undress and the men are philosophical and fatalistic.
“I was looking for the great beauty but I never found it,” Jep says at the end of the film. I beg to differ. All he had to do was open his eyes to the glory of Rome.

Book of Mormon Debuts at Broward Center


A Rollicking “Book of Mormon” at Broward Center

By Skip Sheffield

Who knew Mormons were such fun?
Evidently Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez saw the inherent comic potential in America’s unique Church of the Latter Day Saints sect.
“The Book of Mormon” is onstage through Dec. 22 at Broward Center for the Arts. It is hilarious, irreverent, audacious, and one of the most entertaining Broadway shows of all time. This national touring company is absolutely first-rate.
Just about everyone has encountered those polite, clean-cut, usually Caucasian young men who knock at doors and try to entice whoever will listen to the wonders of the Book of Mormon.
Even the most devout Mormon will have to admit their religion is different. For one thing, they believe a resurrected Jesus Christ came to America in the 19th century and paid a personal visit to one Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Before that, in 1827 an angel named Moroni allegedly appeared to Smith with golden plates inscribed by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas from 2200 B.C. to 421 A.D.
There is a lot more to Mormonism than this, but Parker and Stone, creators of “South Park” and Lopez, writer-composer of “Avenue Q,” saw the gag potential in the unorthodox beliefs of Mormons as well as their penchant for spreading their gospel through “Elders,” who are actually young men from teen age to early 20s. The setup is two mismatched naïve elders who much to their surprise, are dispatched to Uganda in darkest Africa rather than stateside duty.
On the surface Elder Kevin Price (Mark Evans) is the ideal Mormon: good-looking, tall and self-assured. His partner Elder Arnold Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill, remember his name from “Happy Days”) is the opposite: short, chubby, and functionally illiterate to the minutiae of the Mormon faith. On the plus side Arnold has a quite a creative imagination.
The lads launch the show with the catchy ditty “Hello,” joined by other young Mormons already in Uganda.
Upon their arrival, the lads are robbed of their possessions by soldiers of a character we can’t name in a family newspaper, but is inspired by the real, bloodthirsty man known as General Butt Naked.
After their introduction to a bemused chief Mafala Hatimbi (Stanley Wayne Mathis), the boys are treated to a litany of woes: poverty, famine, AIDS and the cruel practice of female circumcision.
How can a funny musical be constructed around such serious subjects, you may wonder. The answer is the attitude of the natives, expressed in the fatalistic song “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” whose translation cannot be printed verbatim. Suffice it to say the natives are a tough, feisty lot who have a strong, black sense of humor.
Principal among the Africans is the chief’s daughter, Princess Nabulungi, played by the radiant, irresistible Samantha Marie Ware.
A side plot of sorts is provided by the ever-smiling Elder McKinley (Grey Henson), who fights “unnatural” sexual tendencies. Henson does double duty as the Angel Moroni.
There are many more fun things about the show: guys in drag playing the female parts, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” with precision choreography and hook-laden songs played with gusto by a small pit orchestra. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along with the Mormon theme song, “We Are Africa!”

Tickets are $44.50-$154.50 and may be reserved by calling 954-462-0222 or going to

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"The Book of Mormon" in Fort lauderdale


“Book of Mormon” at Broward Center

Area theater lovers are in for a treat with the South Florida debut of the smash Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon,” opening Tuesday, Nov. 26 and running through Dec. 22.
“The Book of Mormon” was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park,” and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q.”
"Mormon" is the story of two naïve Mormon “elders,” or missionaries, who are sent to war-torn Uganda to convert the “heathens,” with decidedly mixed results.
While “Mormon” is a satire about all organized religion, it is not blasphemous. In fact it is embraced by some of the very Mormons it pokes fun at.
“It is really a sweet story,” insists Grey Henson, who plays Elder McKinley, the unofficial group leader of Mormons in Uganda with a special secret of his own. “It’s a lot about growing up through the lens of Mormonism.”
Henson was cast straight out of Carnegie-Mellon University because he is “so white.”
“We are all pleasant young white boys,” explains the Macon, Georgia native. “Many Mormons have come to the show, and some have remarked on how accurate it is. I have a nice little role. It’s a really cool job.”
Tickets are $44.50-$154.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

Vince Vaughn an American "Delivery Man"


Vince Vaughn Fans Should Like “Delivery Man”

If you are a big fan of Vince Vaughn you will no doubt enjoy “The Delivery Man.” Otherwise there is no reason to see such a recent remake of the fine French-Canadian comedy “Starbuck,” which came out in 2011.
Original writer-director Ken Scott and original playwright Martin Petit have simply moved the story from Montreal to New York City and translated the script into English.
Vince Vaughn is David, an amiable slacker who coasts along as the delivery man of the title for his father’s butcher shop. David has an adorable girlfriend named Emma (Cobie Smulders) but he has not committed to marriage. David’s life is about to go topsy-turvy because of something he did 20 years ago. David was a regular donor of sperm to a fertility clinic. A class action suit has revealed an unknown male’s sperm fathered 533 children anonymously. The lawsuit was filed by 142 of these descendents.
Against the advice of his best friend Brett (Chris Pratt), David begins investigating his offspring. It is a diverse group indeed.

Like “Starbuck” “The Delivery Man” is meant to be an alternative tribute to love and family in the truest sense. Vaughn delivers as a grown child-man who finally learns to accept responsibility for his actions and act like a man. If you have seen “Starbuck” though, there is no need to re-visit.

The Holocaust From a Literary Angle


“The Book Thief” a Tribute to Literacy and Life

By Skip Sheffield

It may sound like an oxymoron, but “The Book Thief” is one of the sunniest, most upbeat stories about the Holocaust ever.
“The Book Thief” is based on a best-selling novel by Australian Marcus Zusak and adapted by British director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”). "Book Thief" is not really “about” the Holocaust; it is just set at that time. It is more about the human spirit and the love and quest for knowledge.
The character of Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) represents that quest. Liesel is a Jewish girl whose parents are wise enough in 1938 to see the impending threat of Nazi oppression. Her father flees and her mother puts Liesel up for adoption to a sympathetic German family.
The father Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) fought for Germany in World War I but he is no fan of Hitler or the Nazis.
The mother Rosa (Emily Watson) is crabby and bitter and fearful that harboring a Jewish girl could put the family in danger. Rosa helps support the family by doing laundry for wealthier people.
Rosa’s fears are further heightened when Hans takes in a young fugitive Jewish man Max (Ben Schnetzer), whose father was a friend and fellow soldier who saved Hans’ life.
Liesel is fortunate that her fair hair and light complexion makes her look more like the Nazi “Aryan ideal.”
Liesel’s best friend is Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) a fair-haired German boy who wants nothing to do with the Hitler Youth. In fact Rudy idolizes Olympic star Jesse Owens, an African-American who infuriated the Nazis in 1936.
Rudy has quite a crush on Liesel and campaigns to at least kiss her. Max is more a platonic friend. It is Max who helps Liesel learn to read and kindles a love of books in her. Also contributing to Liesel’s literacy is the Mayor’s wife Ilsa (Barbara Auer), who has an extensive library and also is none too fond of the Nazis.
Liesel is played by Sophie Nelisse, a young gymnast from Quebec who was nominated for a Genie Award, the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar, for her role in “Monsieur Lazhar.” Sophie delivers a wonderfully naturalistic performance. She is a gifted actress who is one to watch.
Sophie and her mother and writer-director Brian Percival visited the Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton for a question-and-answer session and meet-and-greet.
“The Book Thief” is a wonderful story for any of faith and intellectual curiosity. I suspect we will be hearing more about it at Oscar time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas in Vermont in Boca Raton


Christmas in Vermont Via Boca Raton

By Skip Sheffield

No need to dream of a white Christmas. You’ll find one live and onstage at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton through Dec. 25.

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is a stage version of the beloved 1954 film, created on its 50th anniversary in 2004.“White Christmas” is an absurdly dated pre-feminist conventional romance – which is why its presentation with precision accuracy as a period piece by director Stacey Stephens is important.

For those not familiar with the film, “White Christmas” begins on the battlefield in Europe, 1944. It’s Christmas Eve and an American battalion is trying to make the best of a bad situation as bombs drop.  Bob Wallace (James Cichewicz) and Phil Davis (Cannon Starnes) are best comrades-in-arms, under the command of crusty General Henry Waverly (Alan Gerstel). In addition to being good soldiers, Bob and Phil are accomplished song and dance men.

The story flashes forward 10 years to 1954. Bob and Phil are readying for a big show in Miami Beach. Those plans are short circuited when the talented sisters act of Betty (Kelly Shook) and Judy Hayes (Julie Kleiner) use womanly wiles to sidetrack the guys to Vermont.

Bob is sweet on Judy and Phil has fallen for Betty, so resistance is futile. They board a train at Grand Central Station and disembark in Vermont, only to face an immediate crisis -- being booked for a ski lodge Christmas show, but the area has an unseasonal heat wave and no snow in sight.

Inn manager Martha Watson (Missy McArdle) is frantic. She has been hiding bills from the Inn’s owner. With no snow the whole kit and caboodle could go down.

In a coincidence that happens only in stage musicals, the Inn’s owner is the very same Gen. Waverly (Alan Gerstel), now retired, but that could change. There are some romantic intrigues that involve a misunderstanding and a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, but that’s not important. What’s important is the singing, dancing and timeless Irving Berlin tunes.

James Cichewicz and Cannon Starnes are of leading-man quality both in voice and on foot. Kelly Shook and Julie Kleiner are simply adorable, and Kleiner gets bonus points for her bold dance moves, going out into the audience to tap atop a low wall that divides the theater.

Alan Gerstel brings great compassion and red-white-and-blue patriotism to his otherwise humble general. The show-stopper is “Megaphone Martha” Watson (Miss McArdle), who channels Ethel Merman and gets away with it on “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” She really means it.

For the younger audience there is precocious Susan Waverly (Bianca Matthews), who is 14 going on 21.

The costumes are fabulous. Music is recorded and the cast was still fine-tuning the vocal and dance coordination.  Still, it’s virtually impossible to walk away from this show and not have your spirits lifted. “Happy Holiday” and “Blue Skies” indeed.
Tickets are $58. Call 561-995-2333 or

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Darkness in "Sunlight Jr."


“Sunlight Jr.” a Dark Portrait of Florida Life

By Skip Sheffield

The best thing I can say about “Sunlight Jr.” is that it makes me really glad I do not live in the Greater Tampa Bay area.
“Sunlight Jr.,” written and directed by Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby”), paints Tampa/Clearwater at its worst; a barren land of strip malls, tawdry motels, trailer parks and trailer trash. It is playing locally at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon play a low-rent, low-educated couple, Melissa and Richie, who live in one of those tawdry motels near a strip mall that has the 24-hour convenience store of the title.
Melissa is a cashier at Sunlight Jr. Her boss is a sexist pig who cruelly orders her on the graveyard shift, making her hard life even more miserable.
Richie is an embittered paraplegic due to a construction accident. His only subsistence is a small disability check, doled out reluctantly by social workers who suspect he is just a lazy bum.
When Melissa announces she is pregnant, Richie only momentarily expresses alarm, and then claims he is happy. The two are obviously in love and really have the hots for each other, so why not get married?
Well, Melissa is being stalked by a creepy ex-boyfriend (Norman Reedus) who deals drugs and harasses her. If that weren’t bad enough, Melissa gets fired from her crappy job. If you think there is a silver lining to this story you would be wrong.

It is admirable that Laurie Collyer feels such empathy with the poor, downtrodden, disadvantaged and self-destructive members of society, but their sad tale of woe is not very interesting, let alone uplifting.

Amazing Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"


Matthew McConaughey’s Amazing “Dallas Buyers Club”

By Skip Sheffield

Matthew McConaughey will be giving Robert Redford a run for his money in the 2014 Oscar sweepstakes. McConaughey’s gripping performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” will also provide strong competition for Tom Hanks and Chiwetel Ijiofor in the Best Actor category.
If that weren’t enough to boast a film’s merit, co-star Jared Leto is a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a story of a real man: rodeo rough neck and electrician Ron Woodroof. Woodroof was profiled near his death in 1992 by Bill Mintaglio of the Dallas Morning News. In order to play the skeletal role, McConaughey went on a crash diet to lose almost 50 pounds. Jared Leto lost around 30 pounds from an already slim frame to play a flamboyant gay transvestite known as Rayon.
The story, adapted for the screen by Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten, begins in July, 1985. After Woodroof is injured in an electrical accident, he awakens in a hospital to grim news. He is HIV Positive, announces impassive Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare). Woodroof does not take the news well. Worse, he is told he has only about 30 days to live.
In 1985 AIDS was becoming known as the “Gay Plague.” Not only was Ron Woodroof not homosexual, he was fiercely homophobic, dismissing gay men as “faggots” and “Tinker Belle.” It was not understood at that time that women can carry the HIV virus.
Once he got over his initial anger and disbelief, Woodroof set about proving medical science wrong. He bribed an orderly into providing him with AZT, an experimental drug being used against the AIDS virus. In doses too strong AZT is a deadly poison, Woodroof later learned from a renegade, discredited Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) in a makeshift Mexican clinic.
With the help of the revolutionary, unproven potions of Dr. Vass and the moral support of sympathetic Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), the improvised team developed a regimen effective enough to sell to other victims through the Buyers Club of the title.
For this desperate role McConaughey leaves his handsome-hunk, leading-man image behind. He has never invested himself as fully in a character as he does in this redneck, racist, sexist, dishonest stereotype who finds his humanity through his own suffering and the suffering of others.
Musician (“30 Seconds to Mars”) turned actor Jared Leto proves he has the dramatic power to both make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings as the fragile, doomed Rayon.
“Dallas Buyers Club” French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee proves his mettle as well in leading this extraordinary motion picture. You may never feel the same about Texas again.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Redford Ramps Up His Reputation


Spoiler Alert: “All is Lost.”

That’s all you need to know about Robert Redford’s one man-against-the-sea struggle.

Star Robert Redford is heard uttering those words in a voiceover prologue to writer-director J.C. Chandor’s drama of survival. Chandor made his impressive debut in 2011 with the Wall Street melodrama Margin Call.
Nonetheless, and with any actor other than Redford at the helm of this escape from peril, All Is Lost might not interest us at all.

But it is Robert Redford -- an American film icon at age 77 -- who pointedly and proudly displays his wrinkles and blemishes, putting himself through the proverbial ringer as the unnamed solo sailor of a 39-foot sailboat, out somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the Somali Straits.

Why the character would undertake such a perilous journey at any age (let alone 77) is never explained, nor is there any background as to his family, friends or previous life. He is just there, and just as inexplicably his boat rams a large metal container of sneakers, followed by much water pouring in from the resulting gash.

The water makes quick work of the vessel’s electronics, but luckily our man seems to have memorized the Boy Scout manual. With no power and no means of communication, Redford improvises with an old-fashioned sextant, charts and celestial reckoning. Our man also had the foresight to carry fiberglass cloth and resin to make a temporary repair. He even improvises a desalinization process and gets a fish strike on a hand-line, prompting temporary joy.

But wait – a huge storm imperils him further.  The boat again takes on water and our man is reduced to floating helplessly in an inflatable life raft, drifting tantalizingly close to huge container ships in the shipping lanes.

Robert Redford has never won a Best Actor Academy Award . Clearly this is his best shot -- with scowls, grimaces, ah-ha moments and expressions of defeat and despair conveying the range of his hopes, fears and frustrations mutely but powerfully.

“All is Lost” got a standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It remains to be seen if the American public will appreciate this existential Kabuki theater as well – but I think Redford deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least.

Longing for Love at the Arts Garage


Looking for Love in Delray Beach

By Skip Sheffield

It’s right there in the title “The Longing and the Short of It,” running through Nov. 24 at the Arts garage, 180 N.E. First St., Delray Beach.
Canadian composer/playwright Daniel Mate loves wordplay. He also knows pursuit is the essence of romantic love; not necessarily the consummation.
“The Longing” is not a full musical, nor is it a musical revue. Mate calls it a song cycle, and that it is; a collection of 24 original songs on the topic of love and the lack or loss of it in the 21st century.
This song cycle, guest directed by Max Friedman, though mainly centered on the pursuit of love, friendship and acceptance, also touches on the peculiarities and fragmentation of 21st century society and relationships. In this way it reminded me a bit of the landmark British satirical TV comedy series, “That Was the Week That Was,” although less political. There is no plot and there are no named characters. The cast of three men and three women are types loosely represent the age decade of the character: 20s, 30s and 50s. The stage is set in “The Long Run,” which is the first song and is reprised at the finale. The sentiments are familiar: “Twenty was a breeze;” “Thirty was a blast;” “Fifty’s pretty real.” These are snapshots of larger experience.
The younger women are played by Alix Paige and Liz Lark Brown while award-winning local favorite Elizabeth Dimon is the more mature character.
The men are Noah Zachary, Henry Gainza and John Herrera, a Tony-nominated Broadway veteran.
Mate finds humor in the serious subject of intervention without dismissing the very real problem. Likewise he fins physical farce in a young man’s ardent, oversexed approach to a female.
Sometimes it’s a simple as “You make my brain work right” or as ironic as “I Don’t Think of You” (It’s All Good).
The cleverness of Mate’s lyrics keeps the listener engaged while the interaction of the characters, all in fine voice, alleviates the need for a plot.
Mate’s music is similarly catchy, complex and clever and the four-piece onstage band of Paul Reekie (piano) Bob Bunin (guitar), Dave Wilkinson (bass) and Steve Salo (drums) smoothly accepts the challenge of the shifting styles, pitches and cadences.
No doubt you will have a favorite among the two dozen songs. I thought “Before I go” is a particularly poignant breakup song. “On My Wall” is pointed commentary on the superficiality of online “relationships.” If you’ve ever tried to write a song, you will relate to “If I Wrote a Song.” I find solace in the modest aspiration of “Something Like Okay.”
“The Longing” has been in development for three years. It is still a work in progress, but it is definitely something like OK.

Shows are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30-$45. Call 561-450-6357 or go to